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Henry Osborn Taylor

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Title: The Mediaeval Mind (Volume I of II)
       A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages

Author: Henry Osborn Taylor

Release Date: October 4, 2013 [EBook #43880]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


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J. I. T.



[Pg vii]


The Middle Ages! They seem so far away; intellectually so preposterous, spiritually so strange. Bits of them may touch our sympathy, please our taste; their window-glass, their sculpture, certain of their stories, their romances,—as if those straitened ages really were the time of romance, which they were not, God knows, in the sense commonly taken. Yet perhaps they were such intellectually, or at least spiritually. Their terra—not for them incognita, though full of mystery and pall and vaguer glory—was not the earth. It was the land of metaphysical construction and the land of spiritual passion. There lay their romance, thither pointed their veriest thinking, thither drew their utter yearning.

Is it possible that the Middle Ages should speak to us, as through a common humanity? Their mask is by no means dumb: in full voice speaks the noble beauty of Chartres Cathedral. Such mediaeval product, we hope, is of the universal human, and therefore of us as well as of the bygone craftsmen. Why it moves us, we are not certain, being ignorant, perhaps, of the building’s formative and earnestly intended meaning. Do we care to get at that? There is no way save by entering the mediaeval depths, penetrating to the rationale of the Middle Ages, learning the doctrinale, or emotionale, of the modes in which they still present themselves so persuasively.

But if the pageant of those centuries charm our eyes with forms that seem so full of meaning, why should we[Pg viii] stand indifferent to the harnessed processes of mediaeval thinking and the passion surging through the thought? Thought marshalled the great mediaeval procession, which moved to measures of pulsating and glorifying emotion. Shall we not press on, through knowledge, and search out its efficient causes, so that we too may feel the reality of the mediaeval argumentation, with the possible validity of mediaeval conclusions, and tread those channels of mediaeval passion which were cleared and deepened by the thought? This would be to reach human comradeship with mediaeval motives, no longer found too remote for our sympathy, or too fantastic or shallow for our understanding.

But where is the path through these footless mazes? Obviously, if we would attain, perhaps, no unified, but at least an orderly presentation of mediaeval intellectual and emotional development, we must avoid entanglements with manifold and not always relevant detail. We must not drift too far with studies of daily life, habits and dress, wars and raiding, crimes and brutalities, or trade and craft and agriculture. Nor will it be wise to keep too close to theology or within the lines of growth of secular and ecclesiastical institutions. Let the student be mindful of his purpose (which is my purpose in this book) to follow through the Middle Ages the development of intellectual energy and the growth of emotion. Holding this end in view, we, students all, shall not stray from our quest after those human qualities which impelled the strivings of mediaeval men and women, informed their imaginations, and moved them to love and tears and pity.

The plan and method by which I have endeavoured to realize this purpose in my book may be gathered from the Table of Contents and the First Chapter, which is introductory. These will obviate the need of sketching here the order of presentation of the successive or co-ordinated topics forming the subject-matter.

[Pg ix]Yet one word as to the standpoint from which the book is written. An historian explains by the standards and limitations of the times to which his people belong. He judges—for he must also judge—by his own best wisdom. His sympathy cannot but reach out to those who lived up to their best understanding of life; for who can do more? Yet woe unto that man whose mind is closed, whose standards are material and base.

Not only shalt thou do what seems well to thee; but thou shalt do right, with wisdom. History has laid some thousands of years of emphasis on this. Thou shalt not only be sincere, but thou shalt be righteous, and not iniquitous; beneficent, and not malignant; loving and lovable, and not hating and hateful. Thou shalt be a promoter of light, and not of darkness; an illuminator, and not an obscurer. Not only shalt thou seek to choose aright, but at thy peril thou shalt so choose. “Unto him that hath shall be given”—nothing is said about sincerity. The fool, the maniac, is sincere; the mainsprings of the good which we may commend lie deeper.

So, and at his peril likewise, must the historian judge. He cannot state the facts and sit aloof, impartial between good and ill, between success and failure, progress and retrogression, the soul’s health and loveliness, and spiritual foulness and disease. He must love and hate, and at his peril love aright and hate what is truly hateful. And although his sympathies quiver to understand and feel as the man and woman before him, his sympathies must be controlled by wisdom.

Whatever may be one’s beliefs, a realization of the power and import of the Christian Faith is needed for an understanding of the thoughts and feelings moving the men and women of the Middle Ages, and for a just appreciation of their aspirations and ideals. Perhaps the fittest standard to apply to them is one’s own broadest conception of the Christian scheme, the Christian scheme whole and[Pg x] entire with the full life of Christ’s Gospel. Every age has offered an interpretation of that Gospel and an attempt at fulfilment. Neither the interpretation of the Church Fathers, nor that of the Middle Ages satisfies us now. And by our further understanding of life and the Gospel of life, we criticize the judgment of mediaeval men. We have to sympathize with their best, and understand their lives out of their lives and the conditions in which they were passed. But we must judge according to our own best wisdom, and out of ourselves offer our comment and contribution.


Many translations from mediaeval (chiefly Latin) writings will be found in this work, which seeks to make the Middle Ages speak for themselves. With a very few exceptions, mentioned in the foot-notes, these translations are my own. I have tried to keep them literal, and at all events free from the intrusion of thoughts and suggestions not in the originals.



[Pg xi]


Genesis of the Mediaeval Genius 3
The Latinizing of the West 23
Greek Philosophy as the Antecedent of the Patristic Apprehension of Fact 33
Intellectual Interests of the Latin Fathers 61
Latin Transmitters of Antique and Patristic Thought 88
The Barbaric Disruption of the Empire 110
 [Pg xii]
The Celtic Strain in Gaul and Ireland 124
Teuton Qualities: Anglo-Saxon, German, Norse 138
The Bringing of Christianity and Antique Knowledge to the Northern Peoples 169
I.Irish Activities; Columbanus of Luxeuil.
II.Conversion of the English; the learning of Bede and Alfred.
III.Gaul and Germany; from Clovis to St. Winifried-Boniface.
Carolingian Period: the First Stage in the Appropriation of the Patristic and Antique 207
Mental Aspects of the Eleventh Century: Italy 238
I.From Charlemagne to Hildebrand.
II.The Human Situation.
III.The Italian Continuity of Antique Culture.
IV.Italy’s Intellectual Piety: Peter Damiani and St. Anselm.
 [Pg xiii]
Mental Aspects of the Eleventh Century: France 280
II.Odilo of Cluny.
III.Fulbert and the School of Chartres; Trivium and Quadrivium.
IV.Berengar of Tours, Roscellin, and the coming time.
Mental Aspects of the Eleventh Century: Germany; England 307
I.German Appropriation of Christianity and Antique Culture.
II.Othloh’s Spiritual Conflict.
III.England; Closing Comparisons.
The Growth of Mediaeval Emotion 330
I.The Patristic Chart of Passion.
II.Emotionalizing of Latin Christianity.
The Reforms of Monasticism 353
Mediaeval Extremes; Benedict of Aniane; Cluny; Citeaux’s Charta Charitatis;
the vita contemplativa accepts the vita activa.
 [Pg xiv]
The Hermit Temper 368
Peter Damiani; Romuald; Dominicus Loricatus; Bruno and Guigo, Carthusians.
The Quality of Love in St. Bernard 392
St. Francis of Assisi 415
Mystic Visions of Ascetic Women 442
Elizabeth of Schönau; Hildegard of Bingen; Mary of Ognies; Liutgard of Tongern;
Mechthild of Magdeburg.
The Spotted Actuality 471
The Testimony of Invective and Satire; Archbishop Rigaud’s Register; Engelbert
of Cologne; Popular Credences.
The World of Salimbene 494
 [Pg xv]
Feudalism and Knighthood 521
Feudal and Christian Origin of Knightly Virtue; the Order of the Temple; Godfrey
of Bouillon; St. Louis; Froissart’s Chronicles.
Romantic Chivalry and Courtly Love 558
From Roland to Tristan and Lancelot.
Parzival, the Brave Man slowly Wise 588



[Pg 1]


[Pg 2]


[Pg 3]



The antique civilization of the Roman Empire was followed by that depression of decadence and barbarization which separates antiquity from the Middle Ages. Out of the confusion of this intervening period emerged the mediaeval peoples of western Europe. These, as knowledge increased with them, began to manifest spiritual traits having no clear counterpart in the ancient sources from which they drew the matter of their thought and contemplation.

The past which furnished the content of mediaeval thought was twofold, very dual, even carrying within itself the elements of irreconcilable conflict; and yet with its opposing fronts seemingly confederated, if not made into one. Sprung from such warring elements, fashioned by all the interests of life in heaven as well as life on earth, the traits and faculties of mediaeval humanity were to make a motley company. Clearly each mediaeval century will offer a manifold of disparity and irrelationship, not to be brought to unity, any more than can be followed to the breast of one mighty wind-god the blasts that blow from every quarter over the waters of our own time. Nevertheless, each mediaeval century, and if one will, the entire Middle Ages, seen in distant perspective, presents a consistent picture, in which dominant mediaeval traits, retaining their due pre-eminence, may afford a just conception of the mediaeval genius.[1]

 [Pg 4]


While complex in themselves, and intricate in their interaction, the elements that were to form the spiritual constituency of the Middle Ages of western Europe may be disentangled and regarded separately. There was first the element of the antique, which was descended from the thought and knowledge current in Italy and the western provinces of the Roman Empire, where Latin was the common language. In those Roman times, this fund of thought and knowledge consisted of Greek metaphysics, physical science, and ethics, and also of much that the Latins had themselves evolved, especially in private law and political institutions.

Rome had borrowed her philosophy and the motives of her literature and art from Greece. At first, quite provincially, she drew as from a foreign source; but as the great Republic extended her boundaries around the Mediterranean world, and brought under her levelling power the Hellenized or still Asiatic East, and Africa and Spain and Gaul as well, Greek thought, as the informing principle of knowledge, was diffused throughout all this Roman Empire, and ceased to be alien to the Latin West. Yet the peoples of the West did not become Hellenized, or change their speech for Greek. Latin held its own against its subtle rival, and continued to advance with power through the lands which had spoken other tongues before their Roman subjugation; and it was the soul of Latium, and not the soul of Hellas, that imbued these lands with a new homogeneity of civic order. The Greek knowledge which spread through them was transmuted in Latin speech or writings; while the great Latin authors who modelled Latin literature upon the Greek, and did so much to fill the Latin mind with Greek thoughts, recast their borrowings in their own style as well as language, and re-tempered the matter to accord with the Roman natures of themselves and their countrymen. Hence only through Latin paraphrase, and through transformation in the Latin classics, Greek thought reached the mediaeval peoples; until the thirteenth century,[Pg 5] when a better acquaintance was opened with the Greek sources, yet still through closer Latin translations, as will be seen.

Thus it was with the pagan antique as an element of mediaeval culture. Nor was it very different with the patristic, or Christian antique, element. For in the fourth and fifth centuries, the influence of pagan Greece on pagan Rome tended to repeat itself in the relations between the Greek and the Latin Fathers of the Church. The dogmatic formulation of Christianity was mainly the work of the former. Tertullian, a Latin, had indeed been an early and important contributor to the process. But, in general, the Latin Fathers were to approve and confirm the work of Athanasius and of his coadjutors and predecessors, who thought and wrote in Greek. Nevertheless, Augustine and other Latin Fathers ordered and made anew what had come from their elder brethren in the East, Latinizing it in form and temper as well as language. At the same time, they supplemented it with matter drawn from their own thinking. And so, the thoughts of the Greek Fathers having been well transmuted in the writings of Ambrose, Hilary, and Augustine, patristic theology and the entire mass of Christianized knowledge and opinion came to the Middle Ages in a Latin medium.

A third and vaguest factor in the evolution of the mediaeval genius consisted in the diverse and manifold capacities of the mediaeval peoples: Italians whose ancestors had been very part of the antique; inhabitants of Spain and Gaul who were descended from once Latinized provincials; and lastly that widespread Teuton folk, whose forbears had barbarized and broken the Roman Empire in those centuries when a decadent civilization could no longer make Romans of barbarians. Moreover, the way in which Christianity was brought to the Teuton peoples and accepted by them, and the manner of their introduction to the pagan culture, reduced at last to following in the Christian train, did not cease for centuries to react upon the course of mediaeval development.

The distinguishing characteristics which make the Middle Ages a period in the history of western Europe were[Pg 6] the result of the interaction of the elements of mediaeval development working together, and did not spring from the singular nature of any one of them. Accordingly, the proper beginning of the Middle Ages, so far as one may speak of a beginning, should lie in the time of the conjunction of these elements in a joint activity. That could not be before the barbaric disturbers of the Roman peace had settled down to life and progress under the action of Latin Christianity and the surviving antique culture. Nor may this beginning be placed before the time when Gregory the Great (died 604) had refashioned Augustine, and much that was earlier, to the measure of the coming centuries; nor before Boëthius (died 523), Cassiodorus (died 575), and Isidore of Seville (died 636), had prepared the antique pabulum for the mediaeval stomach. All these men were intermediaries or transmitters, and belong to the epoch of transition from the antique and the patristic to the properly inceptive time, when new learners were beginning, in typically mediaeval ways, to rehandle the patristic material and what remained of the antique. Contemporary with those intermediaries, or following hard upon them, were the great missionaries or converters, who laboured to introduce Christianity, with antique thought incorporated in it, and the squalid survival of antique education sheltered in its train, to Teuton peoples in Gaul, England, and Rhenish Germany. Among these was the truculent Irishman, St. Columbanus (died 615), founder of Luxeuil and Bobbio, whose disciple was St. Gall, and whose contemporary was St. Augustine of Canterbury, whom Gregory the Great sent to convert the Anglo-Saxons. A good century later, St. Winifried-Boniface is working to establish Christianity in Germany.[2] Thus it will not be easy to find a large and catholic beginning for the Middle Ages until the eighth century is reached, and we are come on what is called the Carolingian period.

Let us approach a little nearer, and consider the situation of western Europe, with respect to antique culture and Latin Christianity, in the centuries following the disruption of the Roman Empire. The broadest distinction is to be drawn between Italy and the lands north of the Alps. Under[Pg 7] the Empire, there was an Italian people. However diverse may have been its ancient stocks, this people had long since become Latin in language, culture, sentiment and tradition. They were the heirs of the Greek, and the creators of the Roman literature, art, philosophy, and law. They were never to become barbarians, although they suffered decadence. Like all great peoples, they had shown a power to assimilate foreigners, which was not lost, but only degraded and diminished, in the fourth and fifth centuries, when Teutonic slaves, immigrants, invaders, seemed to be barbarizing the Latin order quite as much as it was Latinizing them. In these and the following times the culture of Italy sank lamentably low. Yet there was no break of civilization, but only a deep decline and then a re-emergence, in the course of which the Latin civilization had become Italian. For a lowered form of classical education had survived, and the better classes continued to be educated people according to the degraded standard and lessened intellectual energies of those times.[3]

Undoubtedly, in its decline this Latin civilization of Italy could no longer raise barbarians to the level of the Augustan age. Yet it still was making them over into the likeness of its own weakened children. The Visigoths broke into Italy, then, as we are told, passed into southern France; other confused barbarians came and went, and then the Ostrogoths, with Theodoric at their head, an excellent but not very numerous folk. They stayed in Italy, and fought and died, or lived on, changing into indistinguishable Italians, save for flashes of yellow hair, appearing and reappearing where the Goths had lived. And then the Lombards, crueller than the Goths, but better able to maintain their energies effective. Their numbers also were not great, compared with the Italians. And thereafter, in spite of their fierceness and the tenacity of their Germanic customs, the succeeding Lombard generations became imbued with the culture of Italy. They became North Italians, gravitating to the towns of Lombardy, or perhaps, farther to the south, holding together in settlements of their own, or forming the nucleus of a hill-dwelling country nobility.

[Pg 8]The Italian stock remained predominant over all the incomers of northern blood. It certainly needed no introduction to what had largely been its own creation, the Latin civilization. With weakened hands, it still held to the education, the culture, of its own past; it still read its ancient literature, and imitated it in miserable verse. The incoming barbarians had hastened the land’s intellectual downfall. But all the plagues of inroad and pestilence and famine, which intermittently devastated Italy from the fifth to the tenth century, left some squalid continuity of education. And those barbarian stocks which stayed in that home of the classics, became imbued with whatever culture existed around them, and tended gradually to coalesce with the Italians.

Evidently in its old home, where it merely had become decadent, this ancient culture would fill a rôle quite different from any specific influence which it might exert in a country where the Latin education was freshly introduced. In Italy, a general survival of Roman law and institution, custom and tradition, endured so far as these various elements of the Italian civilization had not been lost or dispossessed, or left high and dry above the receding tide of culture and intelligence. Christianity had been superimposed upon paganism; and the Christian faith held thoughts incompatible with antique views of life. Teutonic customs were brought in, and the Lombard codes were enacted, working some specific supersession of the Roman law. The tone, the sentiment, the mind of the Italian people had altered from the patterns presented by Cicero, or Virgil, or Horace, or Tacitus. Nevertheless, the antique remained as the soil from which things grew, or as the somewhat turgid atmosphere breathed by living beings. It was not merely a form of education or vehicle of edifying knowledge, nor solely a literary standard. The common modes of the antique were there as well, its daily habits, its urbanity and its dross.

The relationship toward the antique held by the peoples of the Iberian peninsula and the lands which eventually were to make France, was not quite the same as that held by the Italians. Spain, save in intractable mountain regions,[Pg 9] had become a domicile of Latin culture before its people were converted to Christianity. Then it became a stronghold of early Catholicism. Latin and Catholic Spain absorbed its Visigothic invaders, who in a few generations had appropriated the antique culture, and had turned from Arianism to the orthodoxy of their new home. Under Visigothic rule, the Spanish Church became exceptionally authoritative, and its Latin and Catholic learning flourished at the beginning of the seventh century. These conditions gave way before the Moorish conquest, which was most complete in the most thoroughly Romanized portions of the land. Yet the permanent Latinization of the territory where Christianity continued, is borne witness to by the languages growing from the vulgar Latin dialects. The endurance of Latin culture is shown by the polished Latinity of Theodulphus, a Spanish Goth, who left his home at the invitation of Charlemagne, and died, the best Latin verse-maker of his time, as Bishop of Orleans in 821. Thus the education, culture, and languages of Spain were all from the antique. Yet the genius of the land was to be specifically Spanish rather than assimilated to any such deep-soiled paganism as underlay the ecclesiastical Christianization of Italy.

As for France, in the southern part which had been Provincia, the antique endured in laws and institutions, in architecture and in ways of life, to a degree second only to its dynamic continuity in Italy. And this in spite of the crude masses of Teutondom which poured into Provincia to be leavened by its culture. In northern France there were more barbarian folk and a less universally diffused Latinity. The Merovingian period swept most of the last away, leaving a fair field to be sown afresh with the Latin education of the Carolingian revival. Yet the inherited discipline of obedience to the Roman order was not obliterated from the Gallic stock, and the lasting Latinization of Gaul endured in the Romance tongues, which were also to be impressed upon all German invaders. Franks, Burgundians, or Alemanni, who came in contact with the provincials, began to be affected by their language, their religion, their ways of living, and by whatever survival of letters there was[Pg 10] among them. The Romance dialects were to triumph, were to become French; and in the earliest extant pieces of this vernacular poetry, the effect of Latin verse-forms appears. Yet Franks and Burgundians were not Latinized in spirit; and, in truth, the Gauls before them had only become good imitation Latins. At all events, from these mixed and intermediate conditions, a people were to emerge who were not German, nor altogether Latin, in spite of their Romance speech. Latin culture was not quite as a foreign influence upon these Gallo-Roman, Teutonically re-inspirited, incipient, French. Nor were they born and bred to it, like the Italians. The antique was not to dominate the French genius; it was not to stem the growth of what was, so to speak, Gothic or northern or Teutonic. The glass-painting, the sculpture, the architecture of northern France were to become their own great French selves; and while the literature was to hold to forms derived from the antique and the Romanesque, the spirit and the contents did not come from Italy.

The office of Latin culture in Germany and England was to be more definite and limited. Germany had never been subdued to the Roman order; in Anglo-Saxon England, Roman civilization had been effaced by the Saxon conquest, which, like the Moorish conquest of Spain, was most complete in those parts of the land where the Roman influence had been strongest. In neither of these lands was there any antique atmosphere, or antique pagan substratum—save as the universal human soul is pagan! Latinity came to Germans and Anglo-Saxons as a foreign culture, which was not to pertain to all men’s daily living. It was matter for the educated, for the clergy. Its vehicle was a formal language, having no connection with the vernacular. And when the antique culture had obtained certain resting-places in England and Germany, the first benign labours of those Germans or Anglo-Saxons who had mastered the language consisted in the translation of edifying Latin matter into their own tongues. So Latinity in England and Germany was likely to remain a distinguishable influence. The Anglo-Saxons and the rest in England were to become Englishmen, the Germans were to remain Germans; nor was[Pg 11] either race ever to become Latinized, however deeply the educated people of these countries might imbibe Latinity, and exercise their intellects upon all that was contained in the antique metaphysics and natural science, literature and law.

Thus diverse were the situations of the young mediaeval peoples with respect to the antique store. There were like differences of situation in regard to Latin Christianity. It had been formed (from some points of view one might say, created) by the civilized peoples of the Roman Empire who had been converted in the course of the original diffusion of the Faith. It was, in fact, the product of the conversion of the Roman Empire, and, in Italy and the Latin provinces received its final fashioning and temper from the Latin Fathers. Thus within the Latin-speaking portions of the Empire was formed the system which was to be presented to the Teutonic heathen peoples of the north. They had neither made it nor grown up with it. It was brought to the Franks, to the Anglo-Saxons, and to the Germans east of the Rhine, as a new and foreign faith. And the import of the fact that it was introduced to them as an authoritative religion brought from afar, did not lessen as Christianity became a formative element in their natures.

One may say that an attitude of humble inferiority before Christianity and Latin culture was an initial condition of mediaeval development, having much to do with setting its future lines. In Italy, men looked back to what seemed even as a greater ancestral self, while in the minds of the northern peoples the ancient Empire represented all knowledge and the summit of human greatness. The formulated and ordered Latin Christianity evoked even deeper homage. Well it might, since besides the resistless Gospel (its source of life) it held the intelligence and the organizing power of Rome, which had passed into its own last creation, the Catholic Church. And when this Christianity, so mighty in itself and august through the prestige of Rome, was presented as under authority, its new converts might well be struck with awe.[4] It was such awe as this that acknowledged the claims of the Roman bishops, and made possible a Roman[Pg 12] and Catholic Church—the most potent unifying influence of the Middle Ages.

Still more was the character of mediaeval progress set by the action and effect of these two forces. The Latin culture provided the means and method of elementary education, as well as the material for study; while Latin Christianity, with transforming power, worked itself into the souls of the young mediaeval peoples. The two were assuredly the moulding forces of all mediaeval development; and whatever sprang to life beyond the range of their action was not, properly speaking, mediaeval, even though seeing the light in the twelfth century.[5] Yet one should not think of these two great influences as entities, unchanging and utterly distinct from what must be called for simplicity’s sake the native traits of the mediaeval peoples. The antique culture had never ceased to form part of the nature and faculties of Italians, and to some extent still made the inherited equipment of the Latinized or Latin-descended people of Spain and France. In the same lands also, Latin Christianity had attained its form. And even in England and Germany, Christianity and Latin culture would be distinct from the Teuton folk only at the first moment of presentation and acceptance. Thereupon the two would begin to enter into and affect their new disciples, and would themselves change under the process of their own assimilation by these Teutonic natures.

[Pg 13]Nevertheless, the Latin Christianity of the Fathers and the antique fund of sentiment and knowledge, through their self-conserving strength, affected men in constant ways. Under their action the peoples of western Europe, from the eighth to the thirteenth century, passed through a homogeneous growth, and evolved a spirit different from that of any other period of history—a spirit which stood in awe before its monitors divine and human, and deemed that knowledge was to be drawn from the storehouse of the past; which seemed to rely on everything except its sin-crushed self, and trusted everything except its senses; which in the actual looked for the ideal, in the concrete saw the symbol, in the earthly Church beheld the heavenly, and in fleshly joys discerned the devil’s lures; which lived in the unreconciled opposition between the lust and vain-glory of earth and the attainment of salvation; which felt life’s terror and its pitifulness, and its eternal hope; around which waved concrete infinitudes, and over which flamed the terror of darkness and the Judgment Day.



Under the action of Latin Christianity and the antique culture the mediaeval genius developed, as it fused the constituents of its growth into temperament and power. Its energies were neither to produce an extension of knowledge, nor originate substantial novelties either of thought or imaginative conception. They were rather to expend themselves in the creation of new forms—forms of apprehending and presenting what was (or might be) known from the old books, and all that from century to century was ever more plastically felt. This principle is most important for the true appreciation of the intellectual and emotional phenomena of the Middle Ages.

When a sublime religion is presented to capable but half-civilized peoples, and at the same time an acquaintance is opened to them with the education, the knowledge, the literature of a great civilization, they cannot create new forms or presentations of what they have received, until the same has been assimilated, and has become plastic in their[Pg 14] minds, as it were, part of their faculty and feeling. Manifestly the northern peoples could not at once transmute the lofty and superabundant matter of Latin Christianity and its accompanying Latin culture, and present the same in new forms. Nor in truth could Italy, involved as she was in a disturbed decadence, wherein she seemed to be receding from an understanding of the nobler portions of her antique and Christian heritage, rather than progressing toward a vital use of one or the other. In Spain and France there was some decadence among Latinized provincials; and the Teutonic conquerors were novices in both Christianity and Latinity. In these lands neither decadence nor the novelty of the matter was the sole embarrassment, but both combined to hinder creativeness, although the decadence was less obvious than in Italy, and the newness of the matter less utter than in Germany.

The ancient material was appropriated, and then re-expressed in new forms, through two general ways of transmutation, the intellectual and the emotional. Although patently distinguishable, these would usually work together, with one or the other dominating the joint progress.

Of the two, the intellectual is the easier to analyze. Thinking is necessarily dependent on the thinker, although it appear less intimately part of him than his emotions, and less expressive of his character. Accordingly, the mediaeval genius shows somewhat more palely in its intellectual productions, than in the more emotional phases of literature and art. Yet the former exemplify not only mediaeval capacities, but also the mediaeval intellectual temperament, or, as it were, the synthetic predisposition of the mediaeval mind. This temperament, this intellectual predisposition, became in general more marked through the centuries from the ninth to the twelfth. People could not go on generation after generation occupied with like topics of intellectual interest, reasoning upon them along certain lines of religious and ethical suggestion, without developing or intensifying some general type of intellectual temper.

From the Carolingian period onward, the men interested in knowledge learned the patristic theology, and, in gradually expanding compass, acquired antique logic and metaphysics,[Pg 15] mathematics, natural science and jurisprudence. What they learned, they laboured to restate or expound. With each succeeding generation, the subjects of mediaeval study were made more closely part of the intelligence occupied with them; because the matter had been considered for a longer time, and had been constantly restated and restudied in terms more nearly adapted to the comprehension of the men who were learning and restating it. At length mediaeval men made the antique and patristic material, or rather their understanding of it, dynamically their own. Their comprehension of it became part of their intellectual faculties, they could think for themselves in its terms, think almost originally and creatively, and could present as their own the matter of their thoughts in restatements, that is in forms, essentially new.

From century to century may be traced the process of restatement of patristic Christianity, with the antique material contained in it. The Christianity of the fifth century contained an amplitude of thought and learning. To the creative work of earlier and chiefly eastern men, the Latin intellect finally incorporate in Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine had added its further great accomplishment and ordering. The sum of dogma was well-nigh made up; the Trinity was established; Christian learning had reached a compass beyond which it was not to pass for the next thousand years; the doctrines as to the “sacred mysteries,” as to the functions of the Church and its spiritual authority, existed in substance; the principles of symbolism and allegory had been set; the great mass of allegorical Scriptural interpretations had been devised; the spiritual relationship of man to God’s ordainment, to wit, the part to be played by the human will in man’s salvation or damnation, had been reasoned out; and man’s need and love of God, his nothingness apart from the Source and King and End of Life, had been uttered in words which men still use. Evidently succeeding generations of less illumination could not add to this vast intellectual creation; much indeed had to be done before they could comprehend and make it theirs, so as to use it as an element of their own thinking, or possess it as an inspiration of passionate, imaginative reverie.

[Pg 16]At the darkening close of the patristic period, Gregory the Great was still partially creative in his barbarizing handling of patristic themes.[6] After his death, for some three centuries, theologians were to devote themselves to mastering the great heritage from the Church Fathers. It was still a time of racial antipathy and conflict. The disparate elements of the mediaeval personality were as yet unblended. How could the unformed intellect of such a period grasp the patristic store of thought in its integrity? Still less might this wavering human spirit, uncertain of itself and unadjusted to novel and great conceptions, transform, and so renew, them with fresh life. Scarcely any proper recasting of patristic doctrine will be found in the Carolingian period, but merely a shuffling of the matter. There were some exceptions, arising, as in the case of Eriugena, from the extraordinary genius of this thinker; or again from the narrow controversial treatment of a matter argued with rupturing detachment of patristic opinions from their setting and balancing qualifications.[7] But the typical works of the eighth and ninth centuries were commentaries upon Scripture, consisting chiefly of excerpts from the Fathers. The flower of them all was the compendious Glossa Ordinaria of Walafrid Strabo, a pupil of the voluminous commentator Rabanus Maurus.[8]

Through the tenth and eleventh centuries, one finds no great advance in the systematic restatement of Christian doctrine.[9] Nevertheless, two hundred years of devotion have been put upon it; and statements of parts of it occur, showing that the eleventh century has made progress over the ninth in its thoughtful and vital appropriation of Latin Christianity. A man like German Othloh has thought for himself within its lines;[10] Anselm of Canterbury has set forth pieces of it with a depth of reflection and intimacy of[Pg 17] understanding which make his works creative;[11] Peter Damiani through intensity of feeling has become the embodiment of Christian asceticism and the grace of Christian tears;[12] and Hildebrand has established the mediaeval papal church. Of a truth, the mediaeval man was adjusting himself, and reaching his understanding of what the past had given him.

The twelfth century presents a universal progress in philosophic and theological thinking. It is the century of Abaelard, of Hugo of St. Victor, and St. Bernard, and of Peter Lombard. The first of these penetrates into the logical premises of systematic thought as no mediaeval man had done before him; St. Bernard moves the world through his emotional and political comprehension of the Faith; Hugo of St. Victor offers a sacramental explanation of the universe and man, based upon symbolism as the working principle of creation; and Peter Lombard makes or, at least, typifies, the systematic advance, from the Commentary to the Books of Sentences, in which he presents patristic doctrine arranged according to the cardinal topics of the Christian scheme. Here Abaelard’s Sic et non had been a precursor rather carping in its excessive clear-sightedness.

Thus, as a rule, each successive mediaeval period shows a more organic restatement of the old material. Yet this principle may be impeded or deflected, in its exemplifications, by social turmoil and disaster, or even by the use of further antique matter, demanding assimilation. For example, upon the introduction of the complete works of Aristotle in the thirteenth century, an enormous intellectual effort was required for the mastery of their contents. They were not mastered at once, or by all people who studied the philosopher. So the works of Hugo of St. Victor, of the first half of the twelfth century, are more original in their organic restatement of less vast material than are the works of Albertus Magnus, Aristotle’s prodigious expounder, one hundred years later. But Thomas Aquinas accomplishes a final Catholic presentation of the whole enlarged material, patristic and antique.[13]

One may perceive three stages in this chief phase of[Pg 18] mediaeval intellectual progress, consisting in the appropriation of Latin Christianity: its first conning, its more vital appropriation, its re-expression, with added elements of thought. There were also three stages in the evolution of the outer forms of this same catholic mastery and re-expression of doctrine: first, the Scriptural Commentary; secondly, the Books of Sentences; and thirdly, the Summa Theologiae, of which Thomas Aquinas is the final definitive creator. The philosophical material used in its making was the substantial philosophy of Aristotle, mastered at length by this Christian Titan of the thirteenth century. In the Summa, both visibly as well as more inwardly and essentially considered, the Latin Christianity of the Fathers received an organically new form.

Quite as impressive, more moving, and possibly more creative, than the intellectual recasting of the ancient patristic matter, were its emotional transformations. The sequence and character of mediaeval development is clearly seen in the evolution of new forms of emotional, and especially of poetic and plastic, expression. The intellectual transformation of the antique and more especially the patristic matter, was accompanied by currents of desire and aversion, running with increasing definiteness and power. As patristic thought became more organically mediaeval, more intrinsically part of the intellectual faculties of men, it constituted with increasing incisiveness the suggestion and the rationale of emotional experiences, and set the lines accordingly of impassioned expression in devotional prose and verse, and in the more serious forms of art. Patristic theology, the authoritative statement of the Christian faith, contained men’s furthest hopes and deepest fears, set forth together with the divine Means by which those might be realized and these allayed. As generation after generation clung to this system as to the stay of their salvation, the intellectual consideration of it became instinct with the emotions of desire and aversion, and with love and gratitude toward the suffering means and instruments which made salvation possible—the Crucified, the Weeping Mother, and the martyred or self-torturing saints. All these had suffered; they were sublime objects for human compassion. Who could think upon them[Pg 19] without tears? Thus mediaeval religious thought became a well of emotion.

Emotion breaks its way to expression; it feeds itself upon its expression, thereby increasing in resistlessness; it even becomes identical with its expression. Surely it creates the modes of its expression, seeking continually the more facile, the more unimpeded, which is to say, the adequate and perfect form. Typical mediaeval emotion, which was religious, cast itself around the Gospel of Christ and the theology of the Fathers as studied and pondered on in the mediaeval centuries. Seeking fitting forms of expression, which are at once modes of relief and forms of added power, the passionate energy of the mediaeval genius constrained the intellectual faculties to unite with it in the production of these forms. They were to become more personal and original than any mere scholastic restatement of the patristic and antique thought. Yet the perfect form of the emotional expression was not quickly reached. It could not outrun the intelligent appropriation of Latin Christianity. Its media, moreover, as in the case of sculpture, might present retarding difficulties, to be overcome before that means of presentation could be mastered. A sequence may be observed in the evolution of the mediaeval emotional expression of patristic Christianity. One of the first attained was impassioned devotional Latin prose, like that of Peter Damiani or St. Anselm of Canterbury.[14] But prose is a halting means of emotional expression. It is too circumstantial and too slow. Only in the chanted strophe, winged with the power of rhythm, can emotion pour out its unimpeded strength. But before the thought can be fused in verse, it must be plastic, molten indeed. Even then, the finished verse is not produced at once. The perfected mediaeval Latin strophe was a final form of religious emotional expression, which was not attained until the twelfth century.[15]

Impassioned prose may be art; the loftier forms of verse are surely art. And art is not spontaneous, but carefully intended; no babbling of a child, but a mutual fitting of form and content, in which efficient unison the artist’s intellect has worked. Such intellectual, such artistic endeavour,[Pg 20] was evinced in the long development of mediaeval plastic art. The sculpture and the painted glass, which tell the Christian story in Chartres Cathedral, set forth the patristic and antique matter in forms expressive of the feeling and emotion which had gathered around the scheme of Latin Christianity. They were forms never to be outdone for appropriateness and power. Several centuries not only of spiritual growth, but of mechanical and artistic endeavour, had been needed for their perfecting.

In these and like emotional recastings, or indeed creations, patristic and antique elements were transformed and transfigured. And again, in fields non-religious and non-philosophical, through a combined evolution of the mediaeval mind and heart, novelties of sentiment and situation were introduced into antique themes of fiction; new forms of romance, new phases of human love and devotion were evolved, in which (witness the poetry of chivalric love in Provençal and Old French) the energies of intellect and passion were curiously blended.[16] These represented a side of human growth not unrelated to the supreme mediaeval achievement, the vital appropriation and emotional humanizing of patristic Christianity. For that carried an impassioning of its teachings with love and tears, a fostering of them with devotion, an adorning of them with quivering fantasies, a translation of them into art, into poetry, into romance. With what wealth of love and terror, with what grandeur of imagination, with what power of mystery and symbolism, did the Middle Ages glorify their heritage, turning its precepts into spirit.

Of a surety the emotional is not to be separated from the intellectual recasting of Christianity. The greatest exponents of the one had their share in the other. Hugo of St. Victor as well as St. Bernard were mighty agents of this spiritually passionate mode of apprehending Latin Christianity, and transfusing it with emotion, or reviving the Gospel elements in it. Here work, knowingly or instinctively, many men and women, Peter Damiani and St. Francis of Assisi, St. Hildegard of Bingen and Mechthild of Magdeburg, who, according to their diverse temperaments, overmasteringly[Pg 21] and burningly loved Christ. With them the intellectual appropriation of dogmatic Christianity was subordinate.

Such men and women were poets and artists, even when they wrote no poetry, and did not carve or paint. For their lives were poems, unisons of overmastering thoughts and the emotions inspired by them. The life of Francis was a living poem. It was kin to the Dies Irae, the Stabat Mater, the hymns of Adam of St. Victor, and in a later time, the Divina Commedia. For all these poems, in their different ways, using Christian thought and feeling as symbols, created imaginative presentations of universal human moods, even as the lives of Francis and many a cloistered soul presented like moods in visible embodiment.

Such lives likewise close in with art. They poured themselves around the symbols of the human person of Christ and its sacrificial presence in the Eucharist; they grasped the infinite and universal through these tangibilities. But the poems also sprang into being through a concrete realizing in mood, and a visualizing in narrative, of such symbols. And the same need of grasping the infinite and universal through symbols was the inspiration of mediaeval art: it built the cathedrals, painted their windows, filled their niches with statues, carving prophet types, carving the times and seasons of God’s providence, carving the vices and virtues of the soul and its eternal destiny, and at the same time augmenting the Liturgy with symbolic words and acts. So saint and poet and artist-craftsman join in that appropriation of Christianity which was putting life into whatever had come from the Latin Fathers, by pondering upon it, loving it, living it, imagining it, and making it into poetry and art.

It is better not to generalize further, or attempt more specifically to characterize the mediaeval genius. As its manifestations pass before our consideration, we shall see the complexity of thought and life within the interplay of the moulding forces of mediaeval development, as they strove with each other or wrought in harmony, as they were displayed in frightful contrasts between the brutalities of life, and the lofty, but not less real, strainings of the spirit, or again in the opposition between inchoately variant ideals and the endeavour for their more inclusive reconcilement.[Pg 22] Various phases of the mediaeval spirit were to unfold only too diversely with popes, kings and knights, monks, nuns, and heretics, satirists, troubadours and minnesingers; in emotional yearnings and intellectual ideals; in the literature of love and the literature of its suppression; in mistress-worship, and the worship of the Virgin and the passion-flooded Christ of Canticles. Sublimely will this spirit show itself in the resistless apotheosis of symbolism, and in art and poetry giving utterance to the mediaeval conceptions of order and beauty. Other of its phases will be evinced in the striving of earnest souls for spiritual certitude; in the scholastic structure and accomplishment; in the ways in which men felt the spell of the Classics; and everywhere and universally in the mediaeval conflict between life’s fulness and the insistency of the soul’s salvation.



[Pg 23]



The intellectual and spiritual life of the partly Hellenized and, at last, Christianized, Roman Empire furnished the contents of the intellectual and spiritual development of the Middle Ages.[17] In Latin forms the Christian and antique elements passed to the mediaeval period. Their Latinization, their continuance, and their passing on, were due to the existence of the Empire as a political and social fact. Rome’s equal government facilitated the transmission of Greek thought through the Mediterranean west; Roman arms, Roman qualities conquered Spain and Gaul, subdued them to the Roman order, opened them to Graeco-Latin influences, also to Christianity. Indelibly Latinized in language and temper, Spain, Gaul, and Italy present first a homogeneity of culture and civic order, and then a common decadence and confusion. But decadence and confusion did not obliterate the ancient elements; which painfully endured, passing down disfigured and bedimmed, to form the basis of mediaeval culture.

The all-important Latinization of western Europe began with the unification of Italy under Rome. This took five centuries of war. In central Italy, Marsians, Samnites, Umbrians, Etruscans, were slowly conquered; and in the south Rome stood forth at last triumphant after the war against Tarentum and Pyrrhus of Epirus. With Rome’s political domination, the Latin language also won its way to supremacy throughout the peninsula, being drastically forced,[Pg 24] along with Roman civic institutions, upon Tarentum and the other Greek communities of Magna Graecia.[18] Yet in revenge, from this time on, Greek medicine and manners, mythology, art, poetry, philosophy—Greek thought in every guise—entered the Latin pale.

At the time of which we speak, the third century before Christ, the northern boundaries of Italy were still the rivers Arno and, to the east, the Aesis, which flows into the Adriatic, near Ancona. North-west of the Arno, Ligurian highlanders held the mountain lands as far as Nice. North of the Aesis lay the valley of the Po. That great plain may have been occupied at an early time by Etruscan communities scattered through a Celtic population gradually settling to an agricultural life. Whatever may be the facts as to the existence of these earlier Celts, other and ruder Celtic tribes swarmed down from the Alps[19] about 400 B.C., spread through the Po Valley, pushing the Etruscans back into Etruria, and following them there to carry on the war. After this comes the well-known story of Roman interference, leading to Roman overthrow at the river Allia in 390, and the capture of the city by these “Gauls.” The latter then retired northward, to occupy the Po Valley; though bands of them settled as far south as the Aesis.

Time and again, Rome was to be reminded of the Celtic peril. Between the first and second Punic wars, the Celts, reinforced from beyond the Alps, attacked Etruria and threatened Rome. Defeating them, the Consuls pushed north to subdue the Po Valley (222 B.C.). South of the river the Celts were expelled, and their place was filled by Roman colonists. The fortress cities of Placentia (Piacenza) and Cremona were founded on the right and left banks of the Po, and south-east of them Mutina (Modena). The[Pg 25] Flaminian road was extended across the Apennines to Fanum, and thence to Ariminum (Rimini), thus connecting the two Italian seas.

Hannibal’s invasion of Italy brought fresh disturbance, and when the war with him was over, Rome set herself to the final subjugation of the Celts north of the Po. Upon their submission the Latinization of the whole valley began, and advanced apace; but the evidence is scanty. Statius Caecilius, a comic Latin poet, was a manumitted Insubrian Celt who had been brought to Rome probably as a prisoner of war. He died in 168 B.C. Some generations after him, Cornelius Nepos was born in upper Italy, and Catullus at Verona; Celtic blood may have flowed in their veins. In the meanwhile the whole region had been organized as Gallia Cisalpina, with its southern boundary fixed at the Rubicon, which flows near Rimini.

The Celts of northern Italy were the first palpably non-Italian people to adopt the Latin language. Second in time and thoroughness to their Latinization was that of Spain. Military reasons led to its conquest. Hamilcar’s genius had created there a Carthaginian power, as a base for the invasion of Italy. This project, accomplished by Hamilcar’s son, brought home to the Roman Senate the need to control the Spanish peninsula. The expulsion of the Carthaginians, which followed, did not give mastery over the land; and two centuries of Roman persistence were required to subdue the indomitable Iberians.

So, in the end, Spain was conquered, and became a Latin country. Its tribal cantons were replaced with urban communities, and many Roman colonies were founded, to grow to prosperous cities. These were strongholds of Latin. Cordova became a very famous home of education and letters. Apparently the southern Spaniards had fully adopted the ways and speech of Rome before Strabo wrote his Geography, about A.D. 20. The change was slower in the mountains of Asturia, but quite rapid in the north-eastern region known as Nearer Spain, Hispania Citerior, as it was called. There, at the town of Osca (Huesca), Sertorius eighty years before Christ had established the first Latin school for the native Spanish youth.

[Pg 26]The reign of Augustus, and especially his two years’ sojourn in Spain (26 and 25 B.C.) brought quiet to the peninsula, and thereafter no part of the Empire enjoyed such unbroken peace. Of all lands outside of Italy, with the possible exception of Provincia, Spain became most completely Roman in its institutions, and most unequivocally Latin in its culture. It was the most populous of the European provinces;[20] and no other held so many Roman citizens, or so many cities early endowed with Roman civic rights.[21] The great Augustan literature was the work of natives of Italy.[22] But in the Silver Age that followed, many of the chief Latin authors—the elder and younger Seneca, Lucan, Quintilian—were Spaniards. They were unquestioned representatives of Latin literature, with no provincial twang in their writings. Then, of Rome’s emperors, Trajan was born in Spain, and Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius were of Spanish blood.

Perhaps even more completely Latinized was Narbonensis, commonly called Provincia. Its official name was drawn from the ancient town of Narbo (Narbonne), which in 118 B.C. was refounded as a Roman colony in partial accomplishment of the plans of Caius Gracchus. The boundaries of this colony touched those of the Greek city-state Massilia (Marseilles), whose rights were respected until it sided against Caesar in the Civil War. Save for the Massilian territory, which it later included, Provincia stretched from the eastern Pyrenees by the way of Nemausus (Nîmes) and the Arelate (Arles) north-easterly through the Rhone Valley, taking in Vienne and Valence in the country of the Allobroges, and then onward to the edge of Lake Geneva; thence southerly along the Maritime Alps to the sea. Many of its towns owed their prosperity to Caesar. In his time the country west of the Rhone was already half Latin, and was filling[Pg 27] up with men from Italy.[23] Two or three generations later, Pliny dubbed it Italia verius quam provincia. At all events, like northern Italy and Spain, Provincia, throughout its length and breadth, had appropriated the Latin civilization of Rome; that civilization city-born and city-reared, solvent of cantonal organization and tribal custom, destructive of former ways of living and standards of conduct; a civilization which was commercial as well as military in its means, and urban in its ends; which loved the life of the forum, the theatre, the circus, the public bath, and seemed to gain its finest essence from the instruction of the grammarian and rhetorician. The language and literature of this civilization were those of an imperial city, and were to be the language and literature of the Latin city universal, in whatever western land its walls might rise.

North of Provincia stretched the great territory reaching from the Atlantic to the Rhine, and with its edges following that river northerly, and again westerly to the sea. This was Caesar’s conquest, his omnis Gallia. The resistlessness of Rome, her civic and military superiority over the western peoples whom she conquered, may be grasped from the record of Gallic subjugation by one in whom great Roman qualities were united. Perhaps the deepest impression received by the reader of those Commentaries is of the man behind the book, Caesar himself. The Gallic War passes before us as a presentation, or medium of realization, of that all-compelling personality, with whom to consider was to plan, and to resolve was to accomplish, without hesitation or fear, by the force of mind. It is in the mirror of this man’s contempt for restless irresolution, for unsteadiness and impotence, that Gallic qualities are shown, the reflection undisturbed either by intolerance or sympathy. The Gauls were always anxious for change, mobiliter celeriterque inflamed to war or revolution, says Caesar in his memorable words; and, like all men, they were by nature zealous for liberty, hating the servile state—so it behoved Caesar to distribute his legions with foresight in a certain crisis.[24] Thus, without[Pg 28] shrug or smile, writes the greatest of revolutionists who for himself was also seeking liberty of action, freely and devisingly, not hurried by impatience or any such planless restlessness as, for example, drove Dumnorix the Aeduan to plot feebly, futilely, without plan or policy, against fate, to wit Caesar—so he met his death.[25]

Instability appears as peculiarly characteristic of the Gauls. They were not barbarians, but an ingenious folk, quick-witted and loquacious.[26] Their domestic customs were reasonable; they had taxes and judicial tribunals; their religion held belief in immortality, and in other respects was not below the paganism of Italy. It was directed by the priestly caste of Druids, who possessed considerable knowledge, and used the Greek alphabet in writing. They also presided at trials, and excommunicated suitors who would not obey their judicial decrees.[27]

The country was divided into about ninety states (civitates). Monarchies appear among them, but the greater number were aristocracies torn with jealousy, and always in alarm lest some noble’s overweening influence upset the government. The common people and poor debtors seem scarcely to have counted. Factions existed in every state, village, and even household, says Caesar,[28] headed by the rival states of the Aedui and Sequani. Espousing, as he professed to, the Aeduan cause, Caesar could always appear as an ally of one faction. At the last a general confederacy took up arms against him under the noble Auvernian, Vercingetorix.[29] But the instability of his authority forced the hand of this brilliant leader.

In fine, it would seem that the Gallic peoples had progressed in civilization as far as their limited political[Pg 29] capacity and self-control would allow. These were the limitations set by the Gallic character. It is a Gallic custom, says Caesar, to stop travellers, and insist upon their telling what they know or have heard. In the towns the crowd will throng around a merchant and make him tell where he has come from and give them the news. Upon such hearsay the Gauls enter upon measures of the gravest importance. The states which are deemed the best governed, he adds, have a law that whenever any one has heard a report or rumour of public moment, he shall communicate it to a magistrate and to none else. The magistrates conceal or divulge such news in their discretion. It is not permitted to discuss public affairs save in an assembly.[30]

Apparently Caesar is not joking in these passages, which speak of a statecraft based on gossip gathered in the streets, carried straight to a magistrate, and neither discussed nor divulged on the way! Quite otherwise were Roman officials to govern, when Caesar’s great campaigns had subdued these mercurial Gauls. It was after his death that Augustus established the Roman order through the land. In those famous partes tres of the Commentaries he settled it: Iberian and Celtic Aquitania, Celtic Lugdunensis, and Celtic-Teuton Belgica, making together the three Gauls. It is significant that the emperor kept them as imperial provinces, still needing military administration, while he handed over Provincia to the Senate.

Provincia had been Romanized in law and government as the “Three Gauls” never were to be. Augustus followed Caesar in respecting the tribal and cantonal divisions of the latter, making only such changes as were necessary. Gallic cities under the Empire show no great uniformity. Each appears as the continuance of the local tribe, whose life and politics were focused in the town. The city (civitas) did not end with the town walls, but included the surrounding country and perhaps many villages. A number of these cities preserved their ancient constitutions; others conformed to the type of Roman colonies, whose constitutions were modelled on those of Italian cities. Colonia Claudia Agrippina (Cologne) is an example. But all the cities of[Pg 30] the “Three Gauls” as well as those of Provincia, whatever their form of government, conducted their affairs with senate, magistrates and police of their choosing, had their municipal property, and controlled their internal finances. A diet was established for the “Three Gauls” at Lyons, to which the cities sent delegates. Whatever were its powers, its existence tended to foster a sense of common Gallic nationality. The Roman franchise, however, was but sparingly bestowed on individuals, and was not granted to any Gallic city (except Lyons) until the time of Claudius, himself born at Lyons. He refounded Cologne as a colony, granted the franchise to Trèves, and abolished the provisions forbidding Gauls to hold the imperial magistracies. With the reorganization of the Empire under Diocletian, Trèves became the capital not only of Gaul, but of Spain and Britain also.

Although there was thus no violent Romanization of Gaul, Roman civilization rapidly progressed under imperial fostering, and by virtue of its own energy. Roman roads traversed the country; bridges spanned the rivers; aqueducts were constructed; cities grew, trade increased, agriculture improved, and the vine was introduced. At the time of Caesar’s conquest, the quick-minded Gauls were prepared to profit from a superior civilization; and under the mighty peace of Rome, men settled down to the blessings of safe living and law regularly enforced.

The spread of the Latin tongue and the finer elements of Latin culture followed the establishment of the Roman order. One Gallic city and then another adopted the new language according to its circumstances and situation. Of course the cities of Provincia took the lead, largely Italian as they were in population. On the other hand, Latin made slow progress among the hills of Auvergne. But farther north, the Roman city of Lyons was Latin-tongued from its foundation. Thence to the remoter north and west and east, Latin spread by cities, the foci of affairs and provincial administration. The imperial government did not demand of its subjects that they should abandon their native speech, but required in Gaul, as elsewhere, the use of Latin in the transaction of official business. This compelled all to study Latin who had affairs in law courts or with officials, or hoped to become magistrates.[Pg 31] Undoubtedly the rich and noble, especially in the towns, learned Latin quickly, and it soon became the vehicle of polite, as well as official, intercourse. It was also the language of the schools attended by the noble Gallic youth. But among the rural population, the native tongues continued indefinitely. Obviously one cannot assign any specific time for the popular and general change from Celtic; but it appears to have very generally taken place before the Frankish conquest.[31]

By that time, too, those who would naturally constitute the educated classes, possessed a Latin education. First in the cities of Provincia, Nîmes, Arles, Vienne, Fréjus, Aix in Provence, then of course at Lyons and in Aquitaine, and later through the cities of the north-east, Trèves, Mainz, Cologne, and most laggingly through the north-west Belgic lands lying over against the channel and the North Sea, Latin education spread. Grammar and rhetoric were taught, and the great Classics were explained and read, till the Gauls doubtless felt themselves Roman in spirit as in tongue.

Of course they were mistaken. To be sure the Gaul was a citizen of the Empire, which not only represented safety and civilization, but in fact was the entire civilized world. He had no thought of revolting from that, any more than from his daily habits or his daily food. Often he felt himself sentimentally affected toward this universal symbol of his welfare. He had Latin speech; he had Roman fashions; he took his warm baths and his cold, enjoyed the sports of the amphitheatre, studied Roman literature, and talked of the Respublica and Aurea Roma. Yet he was, after all, merely a Romanized inhabitant of Gaul. Roman law and government, Latin education, and the colour of the Roman spirit had been imparted; but the inworking, creative genius of Rome was not within her gift or his capacity. The[Pg 32] Gauls, however, are the chief example of a mediating people. Romanized and not made Roman, their epoch, their geographical situation, and their modified faculties, all made them intermediaries between the Roman and the Teuton.

If the Romanization of the “Three Gauls” was least thorough in Belgica, there was even less of it across the channel. Britain, as far north as the Clyde and Firth of Forth, was a Roman province for three or four hundred years. Latin was the language of the towns; but probably never supplanted the Celtic in the country. The Romanization of the Britons however, whether thorough or superficial, affected a people who were to be apparently submerged. They seem to have transmitted none of their Latin civilization to their Anglo-Saxon conquerors. Yet even the latter when they came to Britain were not quite untouched by Rome. They were familiar with Roman wares, if not with Roman ways; and certain Latin words which are found in all Teutonic languages had doubtless entered Anglo-Saxon.[32] But this early Roman influence was slight, compared with that which afterwards came with Christianity. Nor did the Roman culture, before the introduction of Christianity, exert a deep effect on Germany, at least beyond the neighbourhood of the large Roman or Romanized towns like Cologne and Mainz. In many ways, indeed, the Germans were touched by Rome. Roman diplomacy, exciting tribe against tribe, was decimating them. Roman influence, and sojourn at Rome, had taught much to many German princes. Roman weapons, Roman utensils and wares of all kinds were used from the Danube to the Baltic. But all this did not Romanize the Germans, any more than a number of Latin words, which had crept in, Latinized their language.[33]



[Pg 33]



The Latin West afforded the milieu in which the thoughts and sentiments of the antique and partly Christian world were held in Latin forms and preserved from obliteration during the fifth and succeeding centuries, until taken up by the currents of mingled decrepitude and callowness which marked the coming of the mediaeval time. Latin Christianity survived, and made its way across those stormy centuries, to its mediaeval harbourage. The antique also was carried over, either in the ship of Latin Christianity, or in tenders freighted by certain Latin Christians who dealt in secular learning, though not in “unbroken packages.” Those unbroken packages, to wit, the Latin classics, and after many centuries the Greek, also floated over. But in the early mediaeval times, men preferred the pagan matter rehashed, as in the Etymologies of Isidore.

The great ship of Christian doctrine not only bore bits of the pagan antique stowed here and there, but itself was built with many a plank of antique timber, and there was antique adulteration in its Christian freight; or, in other words, the theology of the Church Fathers was partly made of Greek philosophy, and was put together in modes of Greek philosophic reasoning. The Fathers lived in the Roman Empire, or in what was left of it in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. Many of them were born of pagan parents, and all received the common education in grammar, rhetoric, and literature, which were pagan and permeated with pagan philosophy. For philosophy did not then stand apart from life and education; but had become a source of[Pg 34] principles of conduct and “daily thoughts for daily needs.” Many of the Fathers in their pagan, or at least unsanctified youth, had deeply studied it.

Philosophy held the sum of knowledge in the Empire, and from it came the concepts in which all the Fathers reasoned. But the Latin Fathers, who were juristically and rhetorically educated, might also reason through conceptions, or in a terminology, taken from the Roman Law. Nevertheless, in the rational process of formulating Christian dogma, Greek philosophy was the overwhelmingly important factor, because it furnished knowledge and the metaphysical concepts, and because the greater number of Christian theologians were Hellenic in spirit, and wrote Greek; while the Latins reset in Latin, and sometimes juristic, phrase what their eastern brethren had evolved.[34]

Obviously, for our purpose, which is to appreciate the spiritual endowment of the Middle Ages, it is essential to have cognizance of patristic thought. And in order to understand the mental processes of the Fathers, their attitude toward knowledge and their perception of fact, one must consider their intellectual environment; which was, of course, made up of the store of knowledge and philosophic interests prevailing in the Roman Empire. So we have to gauge the intellectual interests of the pagan world, first in the earlier times when thinkers were bringing together knowledge and philosophic concepts, and then in the later period when its accumulated and somewhat altered thought made the actual environment of the Church.

What race had ever a more genial appreciation of the facts of nature and of mortal life, than the Greeks? The older Greek philosophies had sprung from open and unprejudiced observation of the visible world. They were physical inquiries. With Socrates philosophy turned, as it were, from[Pg 35] fact to truth, to a consideration of the validity of human understanding. Thereupon the Greek mind became entranced with its own creations. Man was the measure of all things, for the Sophists. More irrefragably and pregnantly, man became the measure of all things for Socrates and Plato. The aphorism might be discarded; but its transcendental import was established in an imaginative dialectic whose correspondence to the divinest splendours of the human mind warranted its truth. With Platonists—and the world was always to be filled with them—perceptions of physical facts and the data of human life and history, were henceforth to constitute the outer actuality of a creation within the mind. Every observed fact is an apparent tangibility; but its reality consists in its unison with the ultimate realities of rational conception. The apprehension of the fact must be made to conform to these. For this reason every fact has a secondary, nay, primary, because spiritual, meaning. Its true interpretation lies in that significance which accords with the mind’s consistent system of conceptions, which present the fact as it must be thought, and therefore as it is; it is the fact brought into right relationship with spiritual and ethical verity. Of course, methods of apprehending terrestrial and celestial phenomena as illustrations of ideally conceived principles, were unlikely to foster habits of close observation. The apparent facts of sense would probably be imaginatively treated if not transformed in the process of their apprehension. Nor, with respect to human story, would such methods draw fixed lines between the narration of what men are pleased to call the actual occurrence, and the shaping of a tale to meet the exigencies of argument or illustration.

All this is obvious in Plato. The Timaeus was his vision of the universe, in which physical facts became plastic material for the spirit’s power to mould into the likeness of ideal conceptions. The creation of the universe is conformed to the structure of Platonic dialectic. If any meaning be certain through the words and imagery of this dialogue, it is that the world and all creatures which it contains derive such reality as they have from conformity to the thoughts or ideal patterns in the divine mind. Visible things are real[Pg 36] only so far as they conform to those perfect conceptions. Moreover, the visible creation has another value, that of its ethical significance. Physical phenomena symbolize the conformity of humanity to its best ideal of conduct. Man may learn to regulate the lawless movements of his soul from the courses of the stars, the noblest of created gods.

Thus as to natural phenomena; and likewise as to the human story, fact or fiction. The myth of the shadow-seers in the cave, with which the seventh book of the Republic opens, is just as illustratively and ideally true as that opening tale in the Timaeus of the ancient Athenian state, which fought for its own and others’ freedom against the people of Atlantis—till the earthquake ended the old Athenian race, and the Atlantean continent was swallowed in the sea. This story has piqued curiosity for two thousand years. Was it tradition, or the creation of an artist dialectician? In either case its ideal and edifying truth stood or fell, not by reason of conformity to any basic antecedent fact, but according to its harmony with the beautiful and good.

Plato’s method of conceiving fact might be applied to man’s thoughts of God, of the origin of the world and the courses of the stars; also to the artistic manipulation of illustrative or edifying story. Matters, large, remote, and mysterious, admit of idealizing ways of apprehension. But it might seem idiocy, rather than idealism, to apply this method to the plain facts of common life, which may be handled and looked at all around—to which there is no mysterious other side, like the moon’s, for ever turned away. Nevertheless the method and its motives drew men from careful observation of nature, and would invest biography and history with interests promoting the ingenious application, rather than the close scrutiny, of fact.

Thus Platonism and its way of treating narrative could not but foster the allegorical interpretation of ancient tradition and literature, which was already in vogue in Plato’s time. It mattered not that he would have nothing to do with the current allegories through which men moralized or rationalized the old tales of the doings of the gods. He was himself a weaver of the loveliest allegories when it[Pg 37] served his purpose. And after him the allegorical habit entered into the interpretation of all ancient story. In the course of time allegory will be applied by the Jew Philo of Alexandria to the Pentateuch; and one or two centuries later it will play a great rôle in Christian polemics against Jew and then against Manichean. It will become par excellence the chief mode of patristic exegesis, and pass on as a legacy of spiritual truth to the mediaeval church.

Aristotle strikes us as a man of different type from Plato. Whether his intellectual interests were broader than his teacher’s is hardly for ordinary people to say. He certainly was more actively interested in the investigation of nature. Head of an actual school (as Plato had been), and assisted by the co-operation of able men, he presents himself, with what he accomplished, at least in threefold guise: as a metaphysician and the perfecter, if not creator, of formal logic; as an observer of the facts of nature and the institutions and arts of men; as a man of encyclopaedic learning. These three phases of intellectual effort proportioned each other in a mind of universal power and appetition. Yet it has been thought that there was more metaphysics and formal logic in Aristotle than was good for his natural science.

The lost and extant writings which have been ascribed to him, embraced a hundred and fifty titles and amounted to four hundred books. Those which have been of universal influence upon human inquiry suffice to illustrate the scope of his labours. There were the treatises upon Logic and first among them the Categories or classes of propositions, and the De interpretatione on the constituent parts and kinds of sentences. These two elementary treatises (the authorship of which has been questioned) were the only Aristotelian writings generally used through the West until the latter half of the twelfth century, when the remainder of the logical treatises became known, to wit, the Prior Analytics, upon the syllogism; the Posterior Analytics upon logical demonstration; the Topics, or demonstrations having probability; and the Sophistical Elenchi, upon false conclusions and their refutation. Together these constitute the Organon or complete logical instrument, as it became known to the[Pg 38] latter half of the twelfth century, and as we possess it to-day.

The Rhetoric follows, not disconnected with the logical treatises. Then may be named the Metaphysics, and then the writings devoted to Nature, to wit, the Physics, Concerning the Heavens, Concerning Genesis and Decay, the Meteorology, the Mechanical Problems, the History of Animals, the Anatomical descriptions, the Psychology, the Parts of Animals, the Generation of Animals. There was a Botany, which is lost. Finally, one names the great works on Ethics, Politics, and Poetry.

Every one is overwhelmed by the compass of the achievement of this intellect. As to the transcendent value of the works on Logic, Metaphysics, Psychology, Rhetoric, Ethics, Politics, and Poetry, the world of scholarship has long been practically at one. There is a difference of opinion as to the quantity and quality of actual investigation represented by the writings on Natural History. But Aristotle is commonly regarded as the founder of systematic Zoology. On the whole, perhaps one will not err in repeating what has been said hundreds of times, that the works ascribed to Aristotle, and which undoubtedly were produced by him or his co-labourers under his direction, represent the most prodigious intellectual achievement ever connected with any single name.

In the school of Aristotle, one phase or another of the master’s activity would be likely to absorb the student’s energy and fasten his entire attention. Aristotle’s own pupil and successor was the admirable Theophrastus, a man of comprehensive attainment, who nevertheless devoted himself principally to carrying on his master’s labours in botany, and other branches of natural science. A History of Physics was one of the most important of his works. Another pupil of Aristotle was Eudemus of Rhodes, who became a physicist and a historian of the three sciences of Geometry, Arithmetic, and Astronomy. He exhibits the learned activities thenceforth to characterize the Peripatetics. It would have been difficult to carry further the logic or metaphysics of the master. But his work in natural science might be supplemented, while the body of his writings offered[Pg 39] a vast field for the labours of the commentator. And so, in fact, Peripatetic energies in the succeeding generations were divided between science and learning, the latter centring chiefly in historical and grammatical labours and the exposition of the master’s writing.[35]

Aristotelianism was not to be the philosophy of the closing pre-Christian centuries, any more than it was to be the philosophy of the thousand years and more following the Crucifixion. During all that time, its logic held its own, and a number of its metaphysical principles were absorbed in other systems. But Aristotelianism as a system soon ceased to be in vogue, and by the sixth century was no longer known.

Yet one might find an echo of its, or some like, spirit in all men who were seeking knowledge from the world of nature, from history and humane learning. There were always such; and some famous examples may be drawn even from among the practical-minded Romans. One thinks at once of Cicero’s splendid breadth of humane and literary interest. His friend Terentius Varro was a more encyclopaedic personality, and an eager student in all fields of knowledge. Although not an investigator of nature he wrote on agriculture, on navigation, on geometry, as well as the Latin tongue, and on Antiquities, divine and human, even on philosophy.[36]

Another lover of knowledge was the elder Pliny, who died from venturing too near to observe the eruption which destroyed Pompeii. He was an important functionary under the emperor Vespasian, just as Varro had held offices of authority in the time of the Republic. Pliny’s Historia naturalis was an astounding compilation, intended to cover the whole plain of common and uncommon knowledge. The compiler neither observed for himself nor weighed the statements of others. His compilation is a happy harbourage for the preposterous as well as reasonable, where the traveller’s tale of far-off wonders takes its place beside the testimony of Aristotle. All is fish that comes to the net[Pg 40] of the good Pliny, though it be that wonderful piscis, the Echinus, which though but a cubit long has such tenacity of grip and purpose that it holds fast the largest galley, and with the resistance of its fins, renders impotent the efforts of a hundred rowers. Fish for Pliny also are all the stories of antiquity, of dog-headed, one-legged, big-footed men, of the Pigmies and the Cranes, of the Phoenix and the Basilisk. He delights in the more intricate causality of nature’s phenomena, and tells how the bowels of the field-mouse increase in number with the days of the moon, and the energy of the ant decreases as the orb of Venus wanes.[37] But this credulous person was a marvel of curiosity and diligence, and we are all his debtors for an acquaintance with the hearsay opinions current in the antique world.

Varro and Pliny were encyclopaedists. Yet before, as well as after them, the men possessed by the passion for knowledge of the natural world, were frequently devoted to some branch of inquiry, rather than encyclopaedic gleaners, or universal philosophers. Hippocrates, Socrates’s contemporary, had left a name rightly enduring as the greatest of physicians. In the third century before Christ Euclid is a great mathematician, and Hipparchus and Archimedes have place for ever, the one among the great astronomers, the other among the great terrestrial physicists. All these men represent reflection and theory, as well as investigation and experiment. Leaping forward to the second century A.D., we find among others two great lovers of science. Galen of Pergamos was a worthy follower, if not a peer, of the great physician of classic Greece; and Ptolemy of Alexandria emulated the Alexandrian Hipparchus, whose fame he revered, and whose labours (with his own) he transmitted to posterity. Each of these men may be regarded as advancing some portion of the universal plan of Aristotle.

Another philosophy, Stoicism, had already reached a wide acceptance. As for the causes of this, doubtless the decline of Greek civic freedom before the third century B.C., had tended to throw thoughtful men back upon their inner life; and those who had lost their taste for the popular religion, needed a philosophy to live by. Stoicism became[Pg 41] especially popular among the Romans. It was ethics, a philosophy of practice rather than of knowledge. The Stoic looked out upon the world from the inner fortress of the human will. That guarded or rather constituted his well-being. He cared for such knowledge, call it instruction rather, as would make good the principle that human well-being lay in the rightly self-directing will. He did not seriously care for metaphysics, or for knowledge of the natural world, save as one or the other subserved the ends of his philosophy as a guide of life. Thus the Stoic physics, so important a part in the Stoic system, was inspired by utilitarian motives and deflected from unprejudiced observation by teleological considerations and reflections on the dispensations of Providence. Of course, some of the Stoics show a further range of intellectual interest; Seneca, for example, who was a fine moralist and wrote beautiful essays upon the conduct of life. He, like a number of other people, composed a book of Quaestiones naturales, which was chiefly devoted to the weather, a subject always very close to man. But he was not a serious meteorologist. For him the interest of the fact lay rather in its use or in its moral bearing. After Seneca the Stoic interest in fact narrows still further, as with Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.

Like things might be said of the school of Epicurus, a child of different colour, yet birthmate of the Stoa. For in that philosophy as in Stoicism, all knowledge beyond ethics had a subordinate rôle. As a Stoic or Epicurean, a man was not likely to contribute to the advance of any branch of science. Yet habits of eclectic thought and common curiosity, or call it love of knowledge, made many nominal members of these schools eager students and compilers from the works of others.

We have yet to speak of the system most representative of latter-day paganism, and of enormous import for the first thousand years of Christian thought. Neo-Platonism was the last great creation of Greek philosophy. More specifically, it was the noblest product of that latter-day paganism which was yearning somewhat distractedly, impelled by cravings which paganism could neither quench nor satisfy.

[Pg 42]Spirit is; it is the Real. It makes the body, thereby presenting itself in sensible form; it is not confined by body or dependent on body as its cause or necessary ground. In many ways men have expressed, and will express hereafter, the creative or causal antecedence of the spiritual principle. In many ways they have striven to establish this principle in God who is Spirit, or in the Absolute One. Many also have been the processes of individualization and diverse the mediatorial means, through which philosopher, apostle, or Church Doctor has tried to bring this principle down to man, and conceive him as spirit manifesting an intelligible selfhood through the organs of sense. Platonism was a beautiful, if elusive, expression of this endeavour, and Neo-Platonism a very palpable although darkening statement of the same.

All men, except fools, have their irrational sides. Who does not believe what his reason shall labour in vain to justify? Such belief may have its roots spread through generalizations broader than any specific rational processes of which the man is conscious. And a man is marked by the character of his supra-rational convictions, or beliefs or credulous conjectures. One thinks how Plato wove and coloured his dialectic, and angled with it, after those transcendencies that he well knew could never be so hooked and taken. His conviction—non-dialectical—of the supreme and beautiful reality of spirit led him on through all his arguments, some of which appear as playful, while others are very earnest.

Less elusive than Plato’s was the supra-rationality of his distant disciple, the Egyptian Plotinus (died 270), creator of Neo-Platonism. With him the supra-rational represented an élan, a reaching beyond the clearly seen or clearly known, to the Spirit itself. He had a disciple Porphyry, like himself a sage—and yet a different sage. Porphyry’s supra-rationalities hungered for many things from which his rational nature turned askance. But he has a disciple, Iamblicus by name, whose rational nature not only ceases to protest, but of its free will prostitutes itself in the service of unreason.

The synthetic genius of Plotinus enabled him to weave[Pg 43] into his system valuable elements from Aristotle and the Stoics. But he was above all a Platonist. He presents the spiritual triad: the One, the Mind, the Soul. From the One comes the Mind, that is, the Nous, which embraces the totality of the knowable or intelligible, to wit, the Cosmos of Ideas. From that, come the Soul of the World and the souls of men. Matter, which is no-thing, gains form and partial reality when informed with soul. Plotinus’s attitude toward knowledge of the concrete natural or historic fact, displays a transcendental indifference exceeding that of Plato. Perceptible facts with him are but half-real manifestations of the informing spirit. They were quite plastic, malleable, reducible. Moreover, thoughts of the evil of the multiple world of sense held for Plotinus and his followers a bitterness of ethical unreality which Plato was too great an Athenian to feel.

Dualistic ethics which find in matter the principle of unreality or evil, diminish the human interest in physical fact. The ethics of Plotinus consisted in purification and detachment from things of sense. This is asceticism. And Plotinus was an ascetic, not through endeavour, but from contempt. He did not struggle to renounce the world, but despised it with the spontaneity of a sublimated temperament. He seemed like a man ashamed of being in the body, Porphyry says of him. Nor did he wish to cure any contemptible bodily ailments, or wash his wretched body.

Plotinus’s Absolute, the First or One, might not be grasped by reason. Yet to approach and contemplate It was the best for man. Life’s crown was the ecstasy of the supra-rational and supra-intelligible vision of It. This Plotinean irrationality was lofty; but it was too transcendent, too difficult, and too unrelated to the human heart, to satisfy other men. No fear but that his followers would bring it down to the level of their irrational tendencies.

The borrowed materials of this philosophy were made by its founder into a veritable system. It included, potentially at least, the popular beliefs, which, however, interested this metaphysical Copt very little. But in those superstitious centuries, before as well as after him, these cruder elements were gathered and made much of by men of note. There[Pg 44] was a tendency to contrast the spiritual and real with the manifold of material nonentity, and a cognate tendency to emphasize the opposition between the spiritual and good, and the material and evil, or between opposing spiritual principles. With less metaphysical people such opposition would take more entrancing shapes in the battles of gods and demons. Probably it would cause ascetic repression of the physical passions. Both tendencies had shown themselves before Plotinus came to build them into his system. Friend Plutarch, for instance, of Chaeroneia, was a man of pleasant temper and catholic curiosity. His philosophy was no great matter. He was gently credulous, and interested in anything marvellous and every imaginable god and demon. This good Greek was no ascetic, and yet had much to say of the strife between the good and evil principle. Like thoughts begat asceticism in men of a different temperament; for instance in the once famous Apollonius of Tyana and others, who were called Neo-Pythagoreans, whatever that meant. Such men had also their irrationalities, which perhaps made up the major part of their natures. They did indeed belong to those centuries when Astrology flourished at the imperial Court,[38] and every mode of magic mystery drew its gaping votaries; when men were ravenously drawing toward everything, except the plain concrete fact steadily viewed and quietly reasoned on.

But it was within the schools of Neo-Platonism, in the generations after Plotinus, that these tendencies flourished, beneath the shelter of his elastic principles. Here three kindred currents made a resistless stream: a transcendental, fact-compelling dialectic; unveiled recognition of the supreme virtue of supra-rational convictions and experiences; and an asceticism which contemned matter and abhorred the things of sense. What more was needed to close the faculties of observation, befool the reason, and destroy knowledge in the end?

Porphyry and Iamblicus show the turning of the tide. The first of these was a Tyrian, learned, intelligent, austere. His life extends from about the year 232 to the year 300.[Pg 45] His famous Introduction to the Categories of Aristotle was a corner-stone of the early mediaeval knowledge of logic. He wrote a keenly rational work against the Christians, in which his critical acumen pointed out that the Book of Daniel was not composed before the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. He did much to render intelligible the writings of his master Plotinus, and made a compend of Neo-Platonism in the form of Sentences. These survive, as well as his work on Abstinence from Eating Flesh, and other treatises, allegorical and philosophic.

He was to Plotinus as Soul, in the Neo-Platonic system, was to Mind—Soul which somehow was darkly, passionately tangled in the body of which it was the living principle. The individual soul of Porphyry wrestled with all the matters which the mind of Plotinus made slight account of. Plotinus lived aloof in a region of metaphysics warmed with occasional ecstasy. Porphyry, willy nilly, was drawn down to life, and suffered all the pain of keen mentality when limed and netted with the anxieties of common superstitions. He was forever groping in a murky atmosphere. He could not clear himself of credulity, deny and argue as he might. Nor could asceticism pacify his mind. Philosophically he followed Plotinus’s teachings, and understood them too, which was a marvel. Many of his own, or possibly reflected, thoughts are excellent. No Christian could hold a more spiritual conception of sacrifice than Porphyry when thinking of the worship of the Mind—the Nous or Second God. Offer to it silence and chaste thought, which will unite us to it, and make us like itself. The perfect sacrifice is to disengage the soul from passions.[39] What could be finer? And again says Porphyry: The body is the soul’s garment, to be laid aside; the wise man needs only God; evil spirits have no power over a pure soul. But, but, but—at his last statement Porphyry’s confidence breaks. He is worried because it is so hard to know the good from evil demons; and the latter throng the temples, and must be exorcised before the true God will appear. This same man had said that God’s true temple was the wise man’s soul! Alas! Porphyry’s nature reeks with contradictions. His letter to the Egyptian priest,[Pg 46] Anebo, consists of sharply-put questions as to the validity of any kind of theurgy or divination. How can men know anything as to these things? What reason to suppose that this, that, or the other rite—all anxiously enumerated—is rightly directed or has effect? None! none! none! such is the answer expected by the questions.

But Porphyry’s own soul answers otherwise. His works—the De abstinentia for example—teem with detailed and believing discussion of every kind of theurgic practice and magic rite, whereby the divine and demonic natures may be moved. He believed in oracles and sorcery. Vainly did the more keenly intellectual side of his nature seek to hold such matters at arm’s length; his other instincts hungered for them, craved to touch and taste and handle, as the child hankers for what is forbidden. There is angel-lore, but far more devil-lore, in Porphyry, and below the earth the demons have their realm, and at their head a demon-king. Thus organized, these malformed devil-shapes torment the lives of men, malignant deceivers, spiteful trippers-up, as they are.

Such a man beset by demons (which his intelligence declares to have no power over him!), such a man, austere and grim, would practise fanatically the asceticism recognized so calmly by the system of Plotinus. With Porphyry, strenuously, anxiously, the upper grades of virtue become violent purification and detachment from things of sense. Here he is in grim earnest.

It is wonderful that this man should have had a critical sense of historic fact, as when he saw the comparatively late date of the Book of Daniel. He could see the holes in others’ garments. But save for some such polemic purpose, the bare, crude fact interests him little. He is an elaborate fashioner of allegory, and would so interpret the fictions of the poets. Plotinus, when it suited him, had played with myths, like Plato. No such light hand, and scarcely concealed smile, has Porphyry. As for physical investigations, they interest him no more seriously than they did his master, and when he touches upon natural fact he is as credulous as Pliny. “The Arabians,” says he, “understand the speech of crows, and the Tyrrhenians that of eagles; and perhaps[Pg 47] we and all men would understand all living beings if a dragon licked our ears.”[40]

These inner conflicts darkened Porphyry’s life, and doubtless made some of the motives which were turning his thoughts to suicide, when Plotinus showed him that this was not the true way of detachment. There was no conflict, but complete surrender, and happy abandonment in Iamblicus the Divine (θεῖος) who when he prayed might be lifted ten cubits from the ground—so thought his disciples—and around whose theurgic fingers, dabbling in a magic basin of water, Cupids played and kissed each other. His life, told by the Neo-Platonic biographer, Eunapius, is as full of miracle as the contemporary Life of St. Antony by Athanasius. Iamblicus floats before us a beautiful and marvellously garbed priest, a dweller in the recesses of temples. He frankly gave himself to theurgy, convinced that the Soul needs the aid of every superhuman being—hero, god, demon, angel.[41] He was credulous on principle. It is of first importance, he writes, that the devotee should not let the marvellous character of an occurrence arouse incredulity within him. He needs above all a “science” (ἐπιστήμη) which shall teach him to disbelieve nothing as to the gods.[42] For the divine principle is essentially miraculous, and magic is the open door, yes, and the way up to it, the anagogic path.

All this and more besides is set forth in the De mysteriis, the chief composition of his school. It was the answer to that doubting letter of Porphyry to Anebo, and contains full proof and exposition of the occult art of moving god or demon. We all have an inborn knowledge (ἔμφυτος γνῶσις)[43] of the gods. But it is not thought or contemplation that unites us to them; it is the power of the theurgic rite or cabalistic word, understood only by the gods. We cannot understand the reason of these acts and their effects.[44]

There is no lower depth. Plotinus’s reason-surpassing[Pg 48] vision of the One (which represents in him the principle of irrationality) is at last brought down to the irrational act, the occult magic deed or word. Truly the worshipper needs his best credulity—which is bespoken by Iamblicus and by this book. The work seems to argue, somewhat obscurely, that the prayer or invocation or rite, does not actually draw the god to us, but draws us toward the god, making our wills fit to share in his. The writer of such a work is likely to be confused in his statement of principles; but will expand more genially when expounding the natures of demons, heroes, angels, and gods, and the effect of them upon humanity. Perhaps the matter still seems dark; but the picturesque details are bright enough. For the writer describes the manifestations and apparitions of these beings—their ἐπιφανείαι and φάσματα. The apparitions of the gods are μονοειδῆ, simple and uniform: those of the demons are ποικίλα, that is, various and manifold; those of the angels are more simple than those of the demons, but inferior to those of the gods. The archangels in their apparitions are more like the gods; while the ἄρχοντες, the “governors,” have variety and yet order. The gods as they appear to men, are radiant with divine effulgence, the archangels terrible yet kind; the demons are frightful, producing perturbation and terror—on all of which the work enlarges. Speaking more specifically of the effect of these apparitions on the thaumaturgist, the writer says that visions of the gods bring a mighty power, and divine love and joy ineffable; the archangels bring steadfastness and power of will and intellectual contemplation; the angels bring rational wisdom and truth and virtue. But the vision of demons brings the desires of sense and the vigour to fulfil them.

So low sank Neo-Platonism in pagan circles. Of course it did not create this mass of superstitious fantasy. It merely fell in cordially, and over every superstition flung the justification of its principles. In the process it changed from a philosophy to a system of theurgic practice. The common superstitions of the time, or their like, were old enough. But now—and here was the portentous fact—they had wound themselves into the natures of intellectual people;[Pg 49] and Neo-Platonism represents the chief formal facilitation of this result.

A contemporary phenomenon, and perhaps the most popular of pagan cults in the third and fourth centuries, was the worship of Mithra, around which Neo-Platonism could throw its cloak as well as around any other form of pagan worship. Mithraism, a partially Hellenized growth from the old Mazdaean (even Indo-Iranian) faith, had been carried from one boundary of the Empire to the other, by soldiers or by merchants who had imbibed its doctrines in the East. It shot over the Empire like a flame. A warrior cult, the late pagan emperors gave it their adhesion. It was, in fine, the pagan Antaeus destined to succumb in the grasp of the Christian Hercules.

With it, or after it, came Manicheism, also from the East. This was quite as good a philosophy as the Neo-Platonism of Iamblicus. The system called after Manes was a crass dualism, containing fantastic and largely borrowed speculation as to the world and man. Satan was there and all his devils. He was the begetter of mankind, in Adam. But Satan himself, in previous struggles with good angels, had gained some elements of light; and these passed into Adam’s nature. Eve, however, is sensuality. After man’s engendering, the strife begins between the good and evil spirits to control his lot. In ethics, of course, Manicheism was dualistic and ascetic, like Neo-Platonism, and also like the Christianity of the Eastern and Western Empire. Manicheism, unlike Mithraism, was not to succumb, but merely to retreat before Christianity. Again and again from the East, through the lower confines of the present Russia, through Hungary, it made advance. The Bogomiles were its children; likewise the Cathari in the north of Italy, and the Albigenses of Provence.[45]

Platonism, Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, Mithraism, and Manicheism, these names, taken for simplicity’s sake, serve to indicate the mind and temper of the educated world in which Christianity was spreading. Obviously the Christian Fathers’ ways of thinking were given by all that made up their environment, their education, their second natures.[Pg 50] They were men of their period, and as Christians their intellectual standards did not rise nor their understanding of fact alter, although their approvals and disapprovals might be changed. Their natures might be stimulated and uplifted by the Faith and its polemic ardours, and yet their manner of approaching and apprehending facts, its facts, for example, might continue substantially those of their pagan contemporaries or predecessors.

In the fourth century the leaders of the Church both in the East and West were greater men than contemporary pagan priests or philosophers or rhetoricians. For the strongest minds had enlisted on the Christian side, and a great cause inspired their highest energies with an efficient purpose. There is no comparison between Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa and Chrysostom in the East; Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine in the West; and pagans, like Libanius, the favourite of the Emperor Julian, or even Julian himself, or Symmachus, the opponent of St. Ambrose in the cause of the pagan Altar of Victory. That was a lost cause, and the cause of paganism was becoming more and more broken, dissipated, uninspiring. Nevertheless, in spite of the superiority of the Christian doctors, in spite also of the mighty cause which marshalled their endeavours so efficiently, they present, both in their higher intelligence and their lower irrationalities, abundant likeness to the pagans.

It has appeared that metaphysical interests absorbed the attention of Plotinus, who has nevertheless his supreme irrationality atop of all. Porphyry also possessed a strong reasoning nature, but was drawn irresistibly to all the things, gods, demons, divination and theurgy, of which one half of him disapproved. Plotinus, quite in accordance with his philosophic principles, has an easy contempt for physical life. With Porphyry this has become ardent asceticism. It was also remarked that Plotinus’s system was a synthesis of much antecedent thought; and that its receptivity was rendered extremely elastic by the Neo-Platonic principle that man’s ultimate approach to God lay through ecstasy and not through reason. Herein, rather latent and not yet sorely taxed, was a broad justification of common beliefs and[Pg 51] practices. To all these Iamblicus gladly opened the door. Rather than a philosopher, he was a priest, a thaumaturgist and magician. Finally, it is obvious that neither Iamblicus nor Porphyry nor Plotinus was primarily or even seriously interested in any clear objective knowledge of material facts. Plotinus merely noticed them casually in order to illustrate his principles, while Iamblicus looked to them for miracles.

Christianity as well as Neo-Platonism was an expression of the principle that life’s primordial reality is spirit. And likewise with Christians, as with Neo-Platonists, phases of irrationality may be observed in ascending and descending order. At the summit the sublimest Christian supra-rationality, the love of God, uplifts itself. From that height the irrational conviction grades down to credulity preoccupied with the demoniacal and miraculous. Fruitful comparisons may be drawn between Neo-Platonists and Christian doctors.[46]

Origen (died 253), like Plotinus, of Coptic descent, and the most brilliant genius of the Eastern Church, was by some fifteen years the senior of the Neo-Platonist. It is not certain that either of them directly influenced the other. In intellectual power the two were peers. Both were absorbed in the higher phases of their thought, but neither excluded the more popular beliefs from the system which he was occupied in constructing. Plotinus had no mind to shut the door against the beliefs of polytheism; and Origen accepted on his part the demons and angels of current Christian credence.[47] In fact, he occupied himself with them more than Plotinus did with the gods of the Hellenic pantheon. Of course Origen, like every other Christian doctor, had his fundamental and saving irrationality in his acceptance of the Christian revelation and the risen Christ. This had already taken its most drastic form in the credo quia absurdum of Tertullian the Latin Father, who was twenty-five years his[Pg 52] senior. Herein one observes the acceptance of the miraculous on principle. That the great facts of the Christian creed were beyond the proof or disproof of reason was a principle definitely accepted by all the Fathers.

Further, since all Catholic Christians accepted the Scriptures as revealed truth, they were obliged to accept many things which their reason, unaided, might struggle with in vain. Here was a large opportunity, as to which Christians would act according to their tempers, in emphasizing and amplifying the authoritative or miraculous, i.e. irrational, element. And besides, outside even of these Scriptural matters and their interpretations, there would be the general question of the educated Christian’s interest in the miraculous. Great mental power and devotion to the construction of dogma by no means precluded a lively interest in this, as may be seen in that very miraculous life of St. Anthony, written probably by Athanasius himself. This biography is more preoccupied with the demoniacal and miraculous than Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus; indeed in this respect it is not outdone by Eunapius’s Life of Iamblicus. Turning to the Latin West, one may compare with them that charming prototypal Vita Sancti, the Life of St. Martin by Sulpicius Severus.[48] A glance at these writings shows a similarity of interest with Christian and Neo-Platonist, and in both is found the same unquestioning acceptance of the miraculous.

Thus one observes how the supernatural manifestation, the miraculous event, was admitted and justified on principle in both the Neo-Platonic and the Christian system. In both, moreover, metaphysical or symbolizing tendencies had withdrawn attention from a close scrutiny of any fact, observed, imagined, or reported. With both, the primary value of historical or physical fact lay in its illumination of general convictions or accepted principles. And with both, the supernatural fact was the fact par excellence, in that it was the direct manifestation of the divine or spiritual power.

[Pg 53]Iamblicus had announced that man must not be incredulous as to superhuman beings and their supernatural doings. On the Christian side, there was no bit of popular credence in miracle or magic mystery, or any notion as to devils, angels, and departed saints, for which justification could not be found in the writings of the great Doctors of the Church. These learned and intellectual men evince different degrees of interest in such matters; but none stands altogether aloof, or denies in toto. No evidence is needed here. A broad illustration, however, lies in the fact that before the fourth century the chief Christian rites had become sacramental mysteries, necessarily miraculous in their nature and their efficacy. This was true of Baptism; it was more stupendously true of the Eucharist. Mystically, but none the less really, and above all inevitably, the bread and wine have miraculously become the body and the blood. The process, one may say, began with Origen; with Cyril of Jerusalem it is completed; Gregory of Nyssa regards it as a continuation of the verity of the Incarnation, and Chrysostom is with him.[49] One pauses to remark that the relationship between the pagan and Christian mysteries was not one of causal antecedence so much as one of analogous growth. A pollen of terms and concepts blew hither and thither, and effected a cross-fertilization of vigorously growing plants. The life-sap of the Christian mysteries, as with those of Mithra, was the passion for a symbolism of the unknown and the inexpressible.

But one must not stop here. The whole Christian Church, as well as Porphyry and Iamblicus, accepted angels and devils, and recognized their intervention or interference in human affairs. Then displacing the local pagan divinities come the saints, and Mary above all. They are honoured, they are worshipped. Only an Augustine has some gentle warning to utter against carrying these matters to excess.

In connection with all this, one may notice an illuminating point, or rather motive. In the third and fourth centuries the common yearning of the Graeco-Roman world[Pg 54] was for an approach to God; it was looking for the anagogic path, the way up from man and multiplicity to unity and God. An absorbing interest was taken in the means. Neo-Platonism, the creature of this time, whatever else it was, was mediatorial, a system of mediation between man and the Absolute First Principle. Passing halfway over from paganism to Christianity, the Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius is also essentially a system of mediation, which has many affinities (as well it might!) with the system of Plotinus.[50] Within Catholic Christianity the great work of Athanasius was to establish Christ’s sole and all-sufficient mediation. Catholicism was permanently set upon the mediatorship of Christ, God and man, the one God-man reconciling the nature which He had veritably, and not seemingly, assumed, to the divine substance which He had never ceased to be. Athanasius’s struggle for this principle was bitter and hard-pressed, because within Christianity as well as without, men were demanding easier and more tangible stages and means of mediation.

Of such, Catholic Christianity was to recognize a vast multitude, perhaps not dogmatically as a necessary part of itself; but practically and universally. Angels, saints, the Virgin over all, are mediators between man and God. This began to be true at an early period, and was established before the fourth century.[51] Moreover, every bit of rite and mystery and miracle, as in paganism, so in Catholicism, was essentially a means of mediation, a way of bringing the divine principle to bear on man and his affairs, and so of bringing man within the sphere of the divine efficiency.

Let us make some further Christian comparisons with our Neo-Platonic friends Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblicus. As we have adduced Origen, it would also be easy to find other parallels from the Eastern Church. But as the purpose[Pg 55] is to mark the origin of the intellectual tendencies of the Western Middle Ages, we may at once draw examples from the Latin Fathers. For their views set the forms of mediaeval intellectual interests, and for centuries directed and even limited the mediaeval capacity for apprehending whatever it was given to the Middle Ages to set themselves to know. To pass thus from the East to the West is permissible, since the same pagan cults and modes of thought passed from one boundary of the Empire to the other. Plotinus himself lived and taught in Rome for the last twenty-five years of his life, and there wrote his Enneads in Greek. So on the Christian side, the Catholic Church throughout the East and West presents a solidarity of development, both as to dogma and organization, and also as to popular acceptances.

Let us train our attention upon some points of likeness between Plotinus and St. Augustine. The latter’s teachings contain much Platonism; and with this greatest of Latin Fathers, who did not read much Greek, Platonism was inextricably mingled with Neo-Platonism. It is possible to search the works of Augustine and discover this, that, or the other statement reflecting Plato or Plotinus.[52] Yet their most interesting effect on Augustine will not be found in Platonic theorems consciously followed or abjured by the latter. Platonism was “in the air,” at least was in the air breathed by an Augustine. Our specific bishop of Hippo knew little of Plato’s writings. But Plato had lived: his thoughts had influenced many generations, and in their diffusion had been modified, and had lost many a specific feature. Thereafter Plotinus had constructed Neo-Platonism; that too had permeated the minds of many, itself loosened in the process. These views, these phases of thought and mood, were held or felt by many men, who may not have known their source. And Augustine was not only part of all this, but in mind and temper was Platonically inclined. Thus the most important elements of Platonism and Neo-Platonism in Augustine were his cognate spiritual mood and his attitude toward the world of physical fact.

Note the personal affinity between Augustine and Plotinus.[Pg 56] Both are absorbed in the higher pointings of their thought; neither is much occupied with its left-handed relationships, which, however, are by no means to be disowned. The minds and souls of both are set upon God the Spirit; the minds and eyes of both are closed to the knowledge of the natural world. Thus neither Plotinus nor Augustine was much affected by the popular beliefs of Christianity or paganism. The former cared little for demon-lore or divination, and was not seriously touched by polytheism. No more was the latter affected by the worship of saints and relics, or by other elements of Christian credulity, which when brought to his attention pass from his mind as quickly as his duties of Christian bishop will permit.

But it was half otherwise with Porphyry, and altogether otherwise with Iamblicus. The first of these was drawn, repelled, and tortured by the common superstitions, especially the magic and theurgy which made men gape; but Iamblicus gladly sported in these mottled currents. On the Christian side, Jerome might be compared with them, or a later man, the last of the Latin Fathers, Gregory the Great. Clear as was the temporal wisdom of this great pope, and heavy as were his duties during the troubled times of his pontificate (590-604), still his mind was busy with the miraculous and diabolic. His mind and temperament have absorbed at least the fruitage of prior superstitions, whether Christian or pagan need not be decided. He certainly was not influenced by Iamblicus. Nor need one look upon these phases of his nature as specifically the result of the absorption of pagan elements. He and his forebears had but gone the path of credulity and mortal blindness, thronged by both pagans and Christians. And so in Gregory the tendencies making for intellectual obliquity do their perfect work. His religious dualism is strident; his resultant ascetism is extreme; and finally the symbolical, the allegorical, habit has shut his mind to the perception of the literal (shall we say, actual) meaning, when engaged with Scripture, as his great Commentary on Job bears witness. The same tendencies, but usually in milder type, had shown themselves with Augustine, who, in these respects, stands to Gregory as Plotinus to Iamblicus. Augustine can push allegory to absurdity; he[Pg 57] can be ascetic; he is dualistic. But all these things have not barbarized his mind, as they have Gregory’s.[53] Similarly the elements, which in Plotinus’s personality were held in innocuous abeyance, dominated the entire personality of Iamblicus, and made him a high priest of folly.

Thus we have observed the phases of thought which set the intellectual conditions of the later pagan times, and affected the mental processes of the Latin Fathers. The matter may be summarized briefly in conclusion. Platonism had created an intellectual and intelligible world, wherein a dissolving dialectic turned the cognition of material phenomena into a reflection of the mind’s ideals. This was more palpable in Neo-Platonism than it had been in Plato’s system. Stoicism on the other hand represented a rule of life, the sanction of which was inner peace. Its working principle was the rightly directed action of the self-controlling will. Fundamentally ethical, it set itself to frame a corresponding conception of the universe. Platonism and Neo-Platonism found in material facts illustrations or symbols of ideal truths and principles of human life. Stoicism was interested in them as affording a foundation for ethics. None of these systems was seriously interested in facts apart from their symbolical exemplification of truth, or their bearing on the conduct of life; and the same principles that affected the observation of nature were applied to the interpretation of myth, tradition, and history.

In the opening centuries of the Christian Era the world was becoming less self-reliant. It was tending to look to authority for its peace of mind. In religion men not only sought, as formerly, for superhuman aid, but were reaching outward for what their own rational self-control no longer gave. They needed not merely to be helped by the gods, but to be sustained and saved. Consequently, prodigious interest was taken in the means of bringing man to the divine, and obtaining the saving support which the gods alone could give. The philosophic thought of the time became palpably mediatorial. Neo-Platonism was a system of mediation between man and the Absolute First Principle; and soon its lower phases became occupied with such[Pg 58] palpable means as divination and oracles, magic and theurgy.

The human reason has always proved unable to effect this mediation between man and God. The higher Neo-Platonism presented as the furthest goal a supra-rational and ecstatic vision. This was its union with the divine. The lower Neo-Platonism turned this lofty supra-rationality into a principle of credulity more and more agape for fascinating or helpful miracles. Thus a constant looking for divine or demonic action became characteristic of the pagan intelligence.

The Gospel of Christ, in spreading throughout the pagan world, was certain to gather to itself the incidents of its apprehension by pagans, and take various forms, one of which was to become the dominant or Catholic. Conversely, Christians (and we have in mind the educated people) would retain their methods of thinking in spite of change in the contents of their thought. This would be true even of the great and learned Christian leaders, the Fathers of the Church. At the same time the Faith reinspired and redirected their energies. Yet (be it repeated for the sake of emphasis) their mental processes, their ways of apprehending and appreciating facts, would continue those of that paganism which in them had changed to Christianity.

Every phase of intellectual tendency just summarized as characteristic of the pagan world, entered the modes in which the Fathers of the Latin Church apprehended and built out their new religion. First of all, the attitude toward knowledge. No pagan philosophy, not Platonism or any system that came after it, had afforded an incentive for concentration of desire equal to that presented in the person and the precepts of Jesus. The desire of the Kingdom of Heaven was a master-motive such as no previous idealism had offered. It would bring into conformity with itself not only all the practical considerations of life, but verily the whole human desire to know. First it mastered the mind of Tertullian; and in spite of variance and deviation it endured through the Middle Ages as the controlling principle of intellectual effort. Its decree was this: the knowledge which men need and should desire is that which will help[Pg 59] them to save and perfect their souls for the Kingdom of God. Some would interpret this broadly, others narrowly; some would actually be constrained by it, and others merely do it a polite obeisance. But acknowledged it was by well-nigh all men, according to their individual tempers and the varying times in which they lived.

Platonism was an idealistic cosmos; Stoicism a cosmos of subjective ethics and teleological conceptions of the physical world. The furthest outcome of both might be represented by Augustine’s cosmos of the soul and God. As for reasoning processes, inwardly inspired and then applied to the world of nature and history, Christianity combined the idealizing, fact-compelling ways of Platonic dialectic with the Stoical interest in moral edification. And, more utterly than either Platonist or Stoic, the Christian Father lacked interest in knowledge of the concrete fact for its own sake. His mental glance was even more oblique than theirs, fixed as it was upon the moral or spiritual—the anagogic—inference. Of course he carried symbolism and allegory further than Stoic and Platonist had done, one reason being that he was impelled by the specific motive of harmonizing the Old Testament with the Gospel, and thereby proving the divine mission of Jesus.

Idealism might tend toward dualistic ethics, and issue in asceticism, as was the tendency in Stoicism and the open result with Plotinus and his disciples. Such, with mightier power and firmer motive, was the outcome of Christian ethics, in monasticism. Christianity was not a dualistic philosophy; but neither was Stoicism nor Neo-Platonism. Yet, like them, it was burningly dualistic in its warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

We turn to other but connected matters: salvation, mediatorship, theory and practice. The need of salvation made men Christians; the God-man was the one and sufficient mediator between man and God. Such was the high dogma, established with toil and pain. And the practice graded downward to mediatorial persons, acts, and things, marvellous, manifold, and utterly analogous to their pagan kin. The mediatorial persons were the Virgin and the saints; the sacraments were the magic mediatorial acts;[Pg 60] the relic was the magic mediatorial thing. And, as with Neo-Platonism, there was in Christianity a principle of supra-rational belief in all these matters. At the top the revelation of Christ, and the high love of God which He inspired. This was not set on reason, but above it. And, as with Neo-Platonism, the supra-rational principle of Christianity was led down through conduits of credulity, resembling those we have become familiar with in our descent from Plotinus to Iamblicus.



[Pg 61]



So it was that the intellectual conditions of the Roman Empire affected the attitude of the Church Fathers toward knowledge, and determined their ways of apprehending fact. There was, indeed, scarcely a spiritual tendency or way of thinking, in the surrounding paganism, that did not enter their mental processes and make part of their understanding of Christianity. On the other hand, the militant and polemic position of the Church in the Empire furnished new interests, opened new fields of effort, and produced new modes of intellectual energy. And every element emanating from the pagan environment was, on entering the Christian pale, reinspired by Christian necessities and brought into a working concord with the master-motive of the Faith.

Salvation was the master Christian motive. The Gospel of Christ was a gospel of salvation unto eternal life. It presented itself in the self-sacrifice of divine love, not without warnings touching its rejection. It was understood and accepted according to the capacities of those to whom it was offered, capacities which it should reinspire and direct anew, and yet not change essentially. The young Christian communities had to adjust their tempers to the new Faith. They also fell under the unconscious need of defining it, in order to satisfy their own intelligence and present it in a valid form to the minds of men as yet unconverted. Consequently, the new Gospel of Salvation drew the energies of Christian communities to the work of defining that which they had accepted, and of establishing its religious and rational validity. The intellectual interests of these communities were first unified by the master-motive of salvation,[Pg 62] and then ordered and redirected according to the doctrinal and polemic exigencies of this new Faith precipitated into the Graeco-Roman world.

The intellectual interests of the Christian Fathers are not to be classified under categories of desire to know, for the sake of knowledge, but under categories of desire to be saved, and to that end possess knowledge in its saving forms. Their desire was less to know, than to know how—how to be saved and contribute to the salvation of others. Their need rightly to understand the Faith, define it and maintain it, was of such drastic power as to force into ancillary rôles every line of inquiry and intellectual effort. This need inspired those central intellectual labours of the Fathers which directly made for the Faith’s dogmatic substantiation and ecclesiastical supremacy; and then it mastered all provinces of education and inquiry which might seem to possess independent intellectual interest. They were either to be drawn to its support or discredited as irrelevant distractions.

This compelling Christian need did not, in fact, impress into its service the total sum of intellectual interests among Christians. Mortal curiosity survived, and the love of belles lettres. Yet its dominance was real. The Church Fathers were absorbed in the building up of Christian doctrine and ecclesiastical authority. The productions of Christian authorship through the first four centuries were entirely religious, so far as the extant works bear witness. This is true of both the Greek and the Latin Fathers, and affords a prodigious proof that the inspiration and the exigencies of the new religion had drawn into one spiritual vortex the energies and interests of Christian communities.

Some of the Fathers have left statements of their principles, coupled with more or less intimate accounts of their own spiritual attitude. Among the Eastern Christians Origen has already been referred to. With him Christianity was the sum of knowledge; and his life’s endeavour was to realize this view by co-ordinating all worthy forms of knowledge within the scheme of salvation through Christ. His mind was imbued with a vast desire to know. This he did not derive from Christianity. But his understanding of[Pg 63] Christianity gave him the schematic principle guiding his inquiries. His aim was to direct his labours with Christianity as an end—τελικῶς εἰς χριστιανισμόν, as he says so pregnantly. He would use Greek philosophy as a propaedeutic for Christianity; he would seek from geometry and astronomy what might serve to explain Scripture; and so with all branches of learning.[54]

This was the expression of a mind of prodigious energy. For more personal disclosures we may turn at once to the Latin Fathers. Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers (d. 367), was a foremost Latin polemicist against the Arians in the middle of the fourth century. He was born a pagan; and in the introductory book to his chief work, the De Trinitate, he tells how he turned, with all his intellect and higher aspirations, to the Faith. Taking a noble view of human nature, he makes bold to say that men usually spurn the sensual and material, and yearn for a more worthy life. Thus they have reached patience, temperance, and other virtues, believing that death is not the end of all. He himself, however, did not rest satisfied with the pagan religion or the teachings of pagan philosophers; but he found doctrines to his liking in the books of Moses, and then in the Gospel of John. It was clear to him that prophecy led up to the revelation of Jesus Christ, and in that at length he gained a safe harbour. Thus Hilary explains that his better aspirations had led him on and upward to the Gospel; and when he had reached that end and unification of spiritual yearning, it was but natural that it should thenceforth hold the sum of his intellectual interests.

A like result appears with greater power in Augustine. His Confessions give the mode in which his spiritual progress presented itself to him some time after he had become a Catholic Christian.[55] His whole life sets forth the same theme, presenting the religious passion of the man drawing into itself his energies and interests. God and the Soul—these two would he know, and these alone. But these alone indeed! As if they did not embrace all life pointed and updrawn toward its salvation. God was the[Pg 64] overmastering object of intellectual interest and of passionate love. All knowledge should direct itself toward knowing Him. By grace, within God’s light and love, was the Soul, knower and lover, expectant of eternal life. Nothing that was transient could be its chief good, or its good at all except so far as leading on to its chief good of salvation, life eternal, in and through the Trinity. One may read Augustine’s self-disclosures or the passages containing statements of the ultimate religious principles whereby he and all men should live, or one may proceed to examine his long life and the vast entire product of his labour. The result will be the same. His whole strength will be found devoted to the cause of Catholic Church and Faith; and all his intellectual interests will be seen converging to that end. He writes nothing save with Catholic religious purpose; and nothing in any of his writings had interest for the writer save as it bore upon that central aim. He may be engaged in a great work of ultimate Christian doctrine, as in his De Trinitate; he may be involved in controversy with Manichean, with Donatist or Pelagian; he may be offering pastoral instruction, as in his many letters; he may survey, as in the Civitas Dei, the whole range of human life and human knowledge; but never does his mind really bear away from its master-motive.

The justification for this centering of human interests and energies lay in the nature of the summum bonum for man. According to the principles of the City of God, eternal life is the supreme good and eternal death the supreme evil. Evidently no temporal satisfaction or happiness compares with the eternal. This is good logic; but it is enforced with arguments drawn from the Christian temper, which viewed earth as a vale of tears. The deep Catholic pessimism toward mortal life is Augustine’s in full measure: “Quis enim sufficit quantovis eloquentiae flumine, vitae hujus miserias explicare?” Virtue itself, the best of mortal goods, does nothing here on earth but wage perpetual war with vices. Though man’s life is and must be social, how filled is it with distress! The saints are blessed with hope. And mortal good which has not that hope is a false joy and a great misery. For it lacks the real blessedness of[Pg 65] the soul, which is the true wisdom that directs itself to the end where God shall be all in all in eternal certitude and perfect peace. Here our peace is with God through faith; and yet is rather a solatium miseriae than a gaudium beatitudinis, as it will be hereafter. But the end of those who do not belong to the City of God will be miseria sempiterna, which is also called the second death, since the soul alienated from God cannot be said to live, nor that body be said to live which is enduring eternal pains.[56] Augustine devotes a whole book, the twenty-first, to an exposition of the sempiternal, non-purgatorial, punishment of the damned, whom the compassionate intercession of the saints will not save, nor many other considerations which have been deemed eventually saving by the fondly lenient opinions of men. His views were as dark as those of Gregory the Great. Only imaginative elaboration was needed to expand them to the full compass of mediaeval fear.

Augustine brought all intellectual interests into the closure of the Christian Faith, or discredited whatever stubbornly remained without. He did the same with ethics. For he transformed the virtues into accord with his Catholic conception of man’s chief good. That must consist in cleaving to what is most blessed to cleave to, which is God. To Him we can cleave only through dilectio, amor, and charitas. Virtue which leads us to the vita beata is nothing but summus amor Dei. So he defines the four cardinal virtues anew. Temperance is love keeping itself whole and incorrupt for God; fortitude is love easily bearing all things for God’s sake; justice is love serving God only, and for that reason rightly ruling in the other matters, which are subject to man; and prudence is love well discriminating between what helps and what impedes as to God (in deum).[57] Conversely, the heathen virtues, as the heathen had in fact conceived them, were vices rather than virtues to Augustine. For they lacked knowledge of the true God, and therefore were affected with fundamental ignorance, and were also tainted with pride.[58] Through his unique power of religious[Pg 66] perception, Augustine discerned the inconsistency between pagan ethics, and the Christian thoughts of divine grace moving the humbly and lovingly acceptant soul.

The treatise on Christian Doctrine clearly expresses Augustine’s views as to the value of knowledge. He starts, in his usual way, from a fundamental principle, which is here the distinction between the use of something for a purpose and the enjoyment of something in and for itself. “To enjoy is to cleave fast in the love of a thing for its own sake. But to use is to employ a thing in obtaining what one loves.” For an illustration he draws upon that Christian sentiment which from the first had made the Christian feel as a sojourner on earth.[59]

“It is as if we were sojourners unable to live happily away from our own country, and we wished to use the means of journeying by land and sea to end our misery and return to our fatherland, which is to be enjoyed. But the charm of the journey or the very movement of the vehicle delighting us, we are taken by a froward sweetness and become careless of reaching our own country whose sweetness would make us happy. Now if, journeying through this world, away from God, we wish to return to our own land where we may be happy, this world must be used, not enjoyed; that the invisible things of God may be apprehended through those created things before our eyes, and we may gain the eternal and spiritual from the corporeal and temporal.”

From this illustration Augustine leaps at once to his final inference that only the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is to be enjoyed.[60] It follows as a corollary that the important knowledge for man is that which will bring him to God surely and for eternity. Such is knowledge of Holy Writ and its teachings. Other knowledge is valuable as it aids us to this.

Proceeding from this point of view, Augustine speaks more specifically. To understand Scripture one needs to know the words and also the things referred to. Knowledge of the latter is useful, because it sheds light on their figurative significance. For example, to know the serpent’s habit of presenting its whole body to the assailant, in order[Pg 67] to protect its head, helps to understand our Lord’s command to be wise as serpents, and for the sake of our Head, which is Christ, present our whole bodies to the persecutors. Again, the statement that the serpent rids itself of its skin by squeezing through a narrow hole, accords with the Scriptural injunction to imitate the serpent’s wisdom, and put off the old man that we may put on the new, and in a narrow place—Enter ye in at the strait gate, says the Lord.[61] The writer gives a rule for deciding whether in any instance a literal or figurative interpretation of Scripture should be employed, a rule representing a phase of the idealizing way of treating facts which began with Plato or before him, and through many channels entered the practice of Christian doctors. “Whatever in the divine word cannot properly be referred to morum honestas or fidei veritas is to be taken figuratively. The first pertains to love of God and one’s neighbour; the second to knowing God and one’s neighbour.”[62]

Augustine then refers to matters of human invention, like the letters of the alphabet, which are useful to know. History also is well, as it helps us to understand Scripture; and a knowledge of physical objects will help us to understand the Scriptural references. Likewise a moderate knowledge of rhetoric and dialectic enables one the better to understand and expound Scripture. Some men have made useful vocabularies of the Scriptural Hebrew and Syriac words and compends of history, which throw light on Scriptural questions. So, to save Christians from needless labour, I think it would be well if some one would make a general description of unknown places, animals, plants and minerals, and other things mentioned in Scripture; and the same might be done as to the numbers which Scripture uses. These suggestions were curiously prophetic. Christians were soon to produce just such compends, as will be seen when noticing the labours of Isidore of Seville.[63] Augustine speaks sometimes in scorn and sometimes in sorrow of those who remain ignorant of God, and learn philosophies, or deem that they achieve something great by curiously examining[Pg 68] into that universal mass of matter which we call the world.[64]

Augustine’s word and his example sufficiently attest the fact that the Christian Faith constituted the primary intellectual interest with the Fathers. While not annihilating other activities of the mind, this dominant interest lowered their dignity by forcing them into a common subservience. Exerting its manifold energies in defining and building out the Faith, in protecting it from open attack or insidious corruption, it drew to its exigencies the whole strength of its votaries. There resulted the perfected organization of the Catholic Church and the production of a vast doctrinal literature. The latter may be characterized as constructive of dogma, theoretically interpretative of Scripture, and polemically directed against pagans, Jews, heretics or schismatics, as the case might be.

It was constructive of dogma through the intellectual necessity of apprehending the Faith in concepts and modes of reasoning accepted as valid by the Graeco-Roman world. In the dogmatic treatises emanating from the Hellenic East, the concepts and modes of reasoning were those of the later phases of Greek philosophy. Prominent examples are the De principiis of Origen or the Orationes of Athanasius against the Arians. For the Latin West, Tertullian’s Adversus Marcionem or the treatises of Hilary and Augustine upon the Trinity serve for examples. The Western writings are distinguished from their Eastern kin by the entry of the juristic element, filling them with a mass of conceptions from the Roman Law.[65] They also develop a more searching psychology. In both of these respects, Tertullian and Augustine were the great creators.

Secondly, this literature, at least in theory, was interpretative or expository of Scripture. Undoubtedly Origen and Athanasius and Augustine approached the Faith with ideas formed from philosophical study and their own reflections; and their metaphysical and allegorical treatment of Scripture texts elicited a significance different from the[Pg 69] meaning which we now should draw. Yet Christianity was an authoritatively revealed religion, and the letter of that revelation was Holy Scripture, to wit, the gradually formed canon of the Old and New Testaments. If the reasoning or conclusions which resulted in the Nicene Creed were not just what Scripture would seem to suggest, at all events they had to be and were confirmed by Scripture, interpreted, to be sure, under the stress of controversy and the influence of all that had gone into the intellectual natures of the Greek and Latin Fathers. And the patristic faculty of doctrinal exposition, that is, of reasoning constructively along the lines of Scriptural interpretation, was marvellous. Such a writing as Augustine’s Anti-Pelagian De spiritu et littera is a striking example.

Moreover, the Faith, which is to say, the Scriptures rightly interpreted, contained the sum of knowledge needful for salvation, and indeed everything that men should seek to know. Therefore there was no question possessing valid claim upon human curiosity which the Scriptures, through their interpreters, might not be called upon to answer. For example, Augustine feels obliged to solve through Scriptural interpretation and inference such an apparently obscure question as that of the different degrees of knowledge of God possessed by demons and angels.[66] Indeed, many an unanswerable question had beset the ways by which Augustine himself and other doctors had reached their spiritual harbourage in Catholic Christianity. They sought to confirm from Scripture their solutions of their own doubts. At all events, from Scripture they were obliged to answer other questioners seeking instruction or needing refutation.[67]

Thirdly, it is too well known to require more than a mere reminder, that dogmatic treatises commonly were controversial or polemic, directed as might be against pagans or Jews, or Gnostics or Manicheans, or against Arians or[Pg 70] Montanists or Donatists. Practically all Christian doctrine was of militant growth, advancing by argumentative denial and then by counter-formulation.

As already noticed at some length, the later phases of pagan philosophic inquiry had other motives besides the wish for knowledge. These motives were connected with man’s social welfare or his relations with supernatural powers. The Stoical and Epicurean interest in knowledge had a practical incentive. And Neo-Platonism was a philosophy of saving union with the divine, rather than an open-minded search for ultimate knowledge. But no Hellenic or quasi-Romanized philosophy so drastically drew all subjects of speculation and inquiry within the purview and dominance of a single motive at once intellectual and emotional as the Christian Faith.

Naturally the surviving intellectual ardour of the Graeco-Roman world passed into the literature of Christian doctrine. For example, the Faith, with its master-motive of salvation, drew within its work of militant formulation and pertinent discussion that round of intellectual interest and energy which had issued in Neo-Platonism. Likewise such ethical earnestness as had come down through Stoicism was drawn within the master Christian energy. And so far as any interest survived in zoology or physics or astronomy, it also was absorbed in curious Christian endeavours to educe an edifying conformity between the statements or references of Scripture and the round of phenomena of the natural world. Then history likewise passed from heathenism to the service of the Church, and became polemic narrative, or filled itself with edifying tales, mostly of miracles.

In fine, no branch of human inquiry or intellectual interest was left unsubjugated by the dominant motives of the Faith. First of all, philosophy itself—the general inquiry for final knowledge—no longer had an independent existence. It had none with Hilary, none with Ambrose, and none whatsoever with Augustine after he became a Catholic Christian. Patristic philosophy consisted in the formulation of Christian doctrine, which in theory was an eliciting of the truth of Scripture. It embodied the substantial results, or survivals if one will, of Greek philosophy, so far as it did not controvert and discard them. As for the reasoning process,[Pg 71] the dialectic whereby such results were reached, as distinguished from the results themselves, that also passed into doctrinal writings. The great Christian Fathers were masters of it. Augustine recognized it as a proper tool; but like other tools its value was not in itself but in its usefulness. As a tool, dialectic, or logic as it has commonly been called, was to preserve a distinct, if not independent, existence. Aristotle had devoted to it a group of special treatises.[68] No one had anything to add to this Organon, or Aristotelian tool, which was to be preserved in Latin by the Boëthian translations.[69] No attempt was made to supplant them with Christian treatises.

So it was with elementary education. The grammarians, Servius, Priscianus, and probably Donatus, were pagans. As far as concerned grammatical and rhetorical studies, the Fathers had to admit that the best theory and examples were in pagan writings. It also happened that the book which was to become the common text-book of the Seven Arts was by a pagan, of Neo-Platonic views. This was the De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, by Martianus Capella.[70] Possibly some good Christian of the time could have composed a worse book, or at least one somewhat more deflected from the natural objects of primary education. But the De nuptiis is astonishingly poor and dry. The writer was an unintelligent compiler, who took his matter not from the original sources, but from compilers before him, Varro above all. Capella talks of Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Euclid, Ptolemy; but if he had ever read them, it was to little profit. Book VI., for example, is occupied with “Geometria.” The first part of it is simply geography; then come nine pages[71] of geometry, consisting of definitions, with a few axioms; and then, instead of following with theorems, the maid, who personifies “Geometria,” presents as a bridal offering the books of Euclid, amid great[Pg 72] applause. Had she ever opened them, one queries. Book VII., “Arithmetica,” is even worse. It begins with the current foolishness regarding the virtues and interesting qualities of the first ten numbers: “How shall I commemorate thee, O Seven, always to be revered, neither begotten like the other numbers, nor procreative, a virgin even as Minerva?” Capella never is original. From Pythagoras on, the curiosities of numbers had interested the pagan mind.[72] These fantasies gained new power and application in the writings of the Fathers. For them, the numbers used in Scripture had prefigurative significance. Such notions came to Christianity from its environment, and then took on a new apologetic purpose. Here an intellect like Augustine’s is no whit above its fellows. In arguing from Scripture numbers he is at his very obvious worst.[73] Fortunately the coming time was to have better treatises, like the De arithmetica of Boëthius, which was quite free from mysticism. But in Boëthius’s time, as well as before and after him, it was the allegorical significance of numbers apologetically pointed that aroused deepest interest.

Astronomy makes one of Capella’s seven Artes. His eighth book, a rather abject compilation, is devoted to it. His matter, of course, is not yet Christianized. But Christianity was to draw Astronomy into its service; and the determination of the date of Easter and other Church festivals became the chief end of what survived of astronomical knowledge.

The patristic attitude toward cosmogony and natural science plainly appears in the Hexaëmeron of St. Ambrose.[74] This was a commentary on the first chapters of Genesis, or rather an argumentative exposition of the Scriptural account of the Creation, primarily directed against those who asserted that the world was uncreated and eternal. As one turns the leaves of this writing, it becomes clear that the interest of Ambrose is always religious, and that his soul is gazing beyond the works of the Creation to another world. He[Pg 73] has no interest in physical phenomena, which have no laws for him except the will of God.

“To discuss the nature and position of the earth,” says he, “does not help us in our hope of the life to come. It is enough to know what Scripture states, ‘that He hung up the earth upon nothing’ (Job xxvi. 7). Why then argue whether He hung it up in air or upon the water, and raise a controversy as to how the thin air could sustain the earth; or why, if upon the waters, the earth does not go crashing down to the bottom?... Not because the earth is in the middle, as if suspended on even balance, but because the majesty of God constrains it by the law of His will, does it endure stable upon the unstable and the void.”

The archbishop then explains that God did not fix the earth’s stability as an artisan would, with compass and level, but as the Omnipotent, by the might of His command. If we would understand why the earth is unmoved, we must not try to measure creation as with a compass, but must look to the will of God: “voluntate Dei immobilis manet et stat in saeculum terra.” And again Ambrose asks, Why argue as to the elements which make the heaven? Why trouble oneself with these physical inquiries? “Sufficeth for our salvation, not such disputation, but the verity of the precepts, not the acuteness of argument, but the mind’s faith, so that rather than the creature, we may serve the Creator, who is God blessed forever.”[75]

Thus with Ambrose, the whole creation springs from the immediate working of God’s inscrutable will. It is all essentially a miracle, like those which He wrought in after times to aid or save men: they also were but operations of His will. God said Fiat lux, and there was light. Thus His will creates; and nature is His work (opus Dei natura est). And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters; and it was so. “Hear the word, Fiat. His will is the measure of things; His word ends the work.” The division of the waters above and beneath the firmament was a work of His will; just as He divided the waters of the Red Sea before the eyes of the Jews in order that those things might be believed which the Jews had not seen. He could have[Pg 74] saved them by another means. The fiat of God is nature’s strength (virtus) and the substance of its endurance (diurnitatis substantia) so long as He wishes it to continue where He has appointed it.[76]

According to this reasoning, the miracle, except for its infrequency, is in the same category with other occurrences. Here Ambrose is fully supported by Augustine. With the latter, God is the source of all causation: He is the cause of usual as well as of extraordinary occurrences, i.e. miracles. The exceptional or extraordinary character of certain occurrences is what makes them miracles.[77]

Here are fundamental principles of patristic faith. The will of God is the one cause of all things. It is unsearchable. But we have been taught much regarding God’s love and compassionateness, and of His desire to edify and save His people. These qualities prompt His actions toward them. Therefore we may expect His acts to evince edifying and saving purpose. All the narratives of Scripture are for our edification. How many mighty saving acts do they record, from the Creation, onward through the story of Israel, to the birth and resurrection of Christ! And surely God still cares for His people. Nor is there any reason to suppose that He has ceased to edify and save them through signs and wonders. Shall we not still look for miracles from His grace?

Thus in the nature of Christianity, as a miraculously founded and revealed religion, lay the ground for expecting miracles, or, at least, for not deeming them unlikely to occur. And to the same result from all sides conspired the influences which had been obscuring natural knowledge. We have followed those influences in pagan circles from Plato on through Neo-Platonism and other systems current in the first centuries of the Christian era. We have seen them obliterate rational conceptions of nature’s processes and destroy the interest that impels to unbiassed investigation. The character and exigencies of the Faith intensified the operation of like tendencies among Christians. Their eyes were lifted from the earth. They were not concerned with its transitory things, soon to be consumed. Their hope was fixed in the[Pg 75] assurance of their Faith; their minds were set upon its confirmation. They and their Faith seemed to have no use for a knowledge of earth’s phenomena save as bearing illustrative or confirmatory testimony to the truth of Scripture. Moreover, the militant exigencies of their situation made them set excessive store on the miraculous foundation and continuing confirmation of their religion.

For these reasons the eyes of the Fathers were closed to the natural world, or at least their vision was affected with an obliquity parallel to the needs of doctrine. Any veritable physical or natural knowledge rapidly dwindled among them. What remained continued to exist because explanatory of Scripture and illustrative of spiritual allegories. To such an intellectual temper nothing seems impossible, provided it accord, or can be interpreted to accord, with doctrines elicited from Scripture. Soon there will cease to exist any natural knowledge sufficient to distinguish the normal and possible from the impossible and miraculous. One may recall how little knowledge of the physiology and habits of animals was shown in Pliny’s Natural History.[78] He had not even a rough idea of what was physiologically possible. Personally, he may or may not have believed that the bowels of the field-mouse increase in number with the waxing of the moon; but he had no sufficiently clear appreciation of the causes and relations of natural phenomena to know that such an idea was absurd. It was almost an accident, whether he believed it or not. It is safe to say that neither Ambrose nor Jerome nor Augustine had any clearer understanding of such things than Pliny. They had read far less about them, and knew less than he. Pliny, at all events, had no motive for understanding or presenting natural facts in any other way than as he had read or been told about them, or perhaps had noticed for himself. Augustine and Ambrose had a motive. Their sole interest in natural fact lay in its confirmatory evidence of Scriptural truth. They were constantly impelled to understand facts in conformity with their understanding of Scripture, and to accept or deny accordingly. Thus Augustine denies the existence of Antipodes, men on the opposite side of the earth, who walk with their feet[Pg 76] opposite to our own.[79] That did not harmonize with his general conception of Scriptural cosmogony.

For the result, one can point to a concrete instance which is typical of much. In patristic circles the knowledge of the animal kingdom came to be represented by the curious book called the Physiologus. It was a series of descriptions of animals, probably based on stories current in Alexandria, and appears to have been put together in Greek early in the second century. Internal evidence has led to the supposition that it emanated from Gnostic circles. It soon came into common use among the Greek and Latin Fathers. Origen draws from it by name. In the West, to refer only to the fourth and fifth centuries, Ambrose seems to use it constantly, Jerome occasionally, and also Augustine.

Well known as these stories are, one or two examples may be given to recall their character: The Lion has three characteristics; as he walks or runs he brushes his footprints with his tail, so that the hunters may not track him. This signifies the secrecy of the Incarnation—of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Secondly, the Lion sleeps with his eyes open; so slept the body of Christ upon the Cross, while His Godhead watched at the right hand of the Father. Thirdly, the Lioness brings forth her cub dead; on the third day the father comes and roars in its face, and wakes it to life. This signifies our Lord’s resurrection on the third day.

The Pelican is distinguished by its love for its young. As these begin to grow they strike at their parents’ faces, and the parents strike back and kill them. Then the parents take pity, and on the third day the mother comes and opens her side and lets the blood flow on the dead young ones, and they become alive again. Thus God cast off mankind after the Fall, and delivered them over to death; but He took pity on us, as a mother, for by the Crucifixion He awoke us with His blood to eternal life.

The Unicorn cannot be taken by hunters, because of his great strength, but lets himself be captured by a pure virgin. So Christ, mightier than the heavenly powers, took on humanity in a virgin’s womb.

The Phoenix lives in India, and when five hundred years[Pg 77] old fills his wings with fragrant herbs and flies to Heliopolis, where he commits himself to the flames in the Temple of the Sun. From his ashes comes a worm, which the second day becomes a fledgling, and on the third a full-grown phoenix, who flies away to his old dwelling-place. The Phoenix is the symbol of Christ; the two wings filled with sweet-smelling herbs are the Old and New Testaments, full of divine teaching.[80]

These examples illustrate the two general characteristics of the accounts in the Physiologus: they have the same legendary quality whether the animal is real or fabulous; the subjects are chosen, and the accounts are shaped, by doctrinal considerations. Indeed, from the first the Physiologus seems to have been a selection of those animal stories which lent themselves most readily to theological application. It would be pointless to distinguish between the actual and fabulous in such a book; nor did the minds of the readers make any such distinction. For Ambrose or Augustine the importance of the story lay in its doctrinal significance, or moral, which was quite careless of the truth of facts of which it was the “point.” The facts were told as introductory argument.

The interest of the Fathers in physics and natural history bears analogy to their interest in history and biography. Looking back to classical times, one finds that historians were led by other motives than the mere endeavour to ascertain and state the facts. The Homeric Epos was the literary forerunner of the history which Herodotus wrote of the Persian Wars; and the latter often was less interested in the closeness of his facts than in their aptness and rhetorical probability. Doubtless he followed legends when telling how Greek and Persian spoke or acted. But had not legend already sifted the chaff of irrelevancy from the story, leaving the grain of convincing fitness, which is also rhetorical probability? Likewise, Thucydides, in composing the History[Pg 78] of the Peloponnesian War, that masterpiece of reasoned statement, was not over-anxious as to accuracy of actual word and fact reported. He carefully inquired regarding the events, in some of which he had been an actor. Often he knew or ascertained what the chief speakers said in those dramatic situations which kept arising in this war of neighbours. Yet, instead of reporting actual words, he gives the sentiments which, according to the laws of rhetorical probability, they must have uttered. So he presents the psychology and turning-point of the matter.

This was true historical rhetoric; the historian’s art of setting forth a situation veritably, by presenting its intrinsic necessities. Xenophon’s Cyropaedia went a step farther; it was a historical romance, which neither followed fact nor proceeded according to the necessities of the actual situation. But it did proceed according to moral proprieties, and so was edifying and plausible.

The classical Latin practice accorded with the Greek. Cicero speaks of history as opus oratorium, that is, a work having rhetorical and literary qualities. It should set forth the events and situations according to their inherent necessities which constitute their rhetorical truth. Then it should possess the civic and social qualities of good oratory: morals and public utility. These are, in fact, the characteristics of the works of Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus. None of them troubled himself much over an accuracy of detail irrelevant to his larger purpose. Tacitus is interested in memorable facts; he would relate them in such form that they might carry their lesson, and bear their part in the education of the citizen, for whom it is salutary to study the past. He condemns, indeed, the historians of the Empire who, under an evil emperor, lie from fear, and, upon his death, lie from hate. But such condemnation of immoral lying does not forbid the shaping of a story according to artistic probability and moral ends. Some shaping and adorning of fact might be allowed the historian, acting with motives of public policy, or seeking to glorify or defend his country.[81] This quite accords with the view of Varro and Cicero, that good policy should sometimes outweigh truth:[Pg 79] whether or not the accounts of the gods were true, it was well for the people to believe.

Thus the Fathers of the Church were accustomed to a historical tradition and practice in which facts were presented so as to conduce to worthy ends. Various motives lie back of human interest in truth. A knowledge of the world’s origin, of man’s creation, destiny, and relationship to God, may be sought for its own sake as the highest human good; and yet it may be also sought for the sake of some ulterior and, to the seeker, more important end. With the Christian Fathers that more important end was salvation. To obtain a saving knowledge was the object of their most strenuous inquiries. Doubtless all men take some pleasure simply in knowing; and, on the other hand, there are few among wisdom’s most disinterested lovers that have not some thought of the connection between knowledge and the other goods of human life, to which it may conduce. Yet if seekers after knowledge be roughly divided into two classes, those who wish to know for the sake of knowing, and those who look to another end to which true knowledge is a means, then the Fathers of the Church fall in the latter class.

If truth be sought for the sake of something else, why may it not also be sacrificed? A work of art is achieved by shaping the story for the drama’s sake, and if we weave fiction to suit the end, why not weave fiction with fact, or, still better, see the fact in such guise as to suit the requirements of our purpose? Many are the aspects and relationships of any fact; its actuality is exhaustless.[82] In how many ways does a human life present itself? What[Pg 80] narrative could exhaust the actuality and significance of the assassination of Julius Caesar? Indeed, no fact has such narrow or compelling singleness of significance or actuality that all its truth can be put in any statement! And again, who is it that can draw the line between reality and conviction?

It is clear that the limited and special interest taken by the Church Fathers in physical and historic facts would affect their apprehension of them. One may ask what was real to Plato in the world of physical phenomena. At all events, Christian Platonists, like Origen or Gregory of Nyssa,[83] saw the paramount reality of such phenomena in the spiritual ideas implicated and evinced by them. The world’s reality would thus be resolved into the world’s moral or spiritual significance, and in that case its truth might be educed through moral and allegorical interpretation. Of course, such an understanding of reality involves hosts of assumptions which were valid in the fourth century, but are not commonly accepted now; and chief among them is this very assumption that the deepest meaning of ancient poets, and the Scriptures above all, is allegorical.

This is but a central illustration of what would determine the Fathers’ conception of the truth of physical events. Again: the Creation was a great miracle; its cause, the will of God. The Cause of the Creation was spiritual, and spiritual was its purpose, to wit, the edification and salvation of God’s people; the building, preservation, and final consummation of the City of God. Did not the deepest truth of the matter lie in this spiritual cause and purpose? And afterwards to what other end tended all human history? It was one long exemplification of the purpose of God through the ways of providence. The conception of what constituted a fitting exemplification of that purpose would control the choice of facts and shape their presentation. Then what was more natural than that events should exhibit this purpose, that it might be perceived by the people of God? It would clearly appear in saving interpositions or remarkable chronological coincidences. Such, even more palpably than the other links in the[Pg 81] providential chain, were direct manifestations of the will of God, and were miraculous because of their extraordinary character. History, made anew through these convictions, became a demonstration of the truth of Christian doctrine—in other words, apologetic.

The most universal and comprehensive example of this was Augustine’s City of God, already adverted to. Its subject was the ways of God with men. It embraced history, philosophy, and religion. It was the final Christian apology, and the conclusive proof of Christian doctrine, adversum paganos. To this end Augustine unites the manifold topics which he discusses; and to this end his apparent digressions eventually return, bearing their sheaves of corroborative evidence. In no province of inquiry does his apologetic purpose appear with clearer power than in his treatment of history, profane and sacred.[84] Through the centuries the currents of divine purpose are seen to draw into their dual course the otherwise pointless eddyings of human affairs. Beneath the Providence of God, a revolving succession of kingdoms fill out the destinies of the earthly Commonwealth of war and rapine, until the red torrents are pressed together into the terrestrial greatness of imperial Rome. No power of heathen gods effected this result, nor all the falsities of pagan philosophy: but the will of the one true Christian God. The fortunes of the heavenly City are traced through the prefigurative stories of antediluvian and patriarchal times, and then on through the prophetic history of the chosen people, until the end of prophecy appears—Christ and the Catholic Church.

The Civitas Dei is the crowning example of the drastic power with which the Church Fathers conformed the data of human understanding into a substantiation of Catholic Christianity.[85] At the time of its composition, the Faith[Pg 82] needed advocacy in the world. Alaric entered Rome in 410; and it was to meet the cry of those who would lay that catastrophe at the Church’s doors that Augustine began the Civitas Dei. Soon after, an ardent young Spaniard named Orosius came on pilgrimage to the great doctor at Hippo, and finding favour in his eyes, was asked to write a profane history proving the abundance of calamities which had afflicted mankind before the time of Christ. So Orosius devoted some years (417-418) to the compilation of a universal chronicle, using Latin sources, and calling his work Seven Books of Histories “adversum paganos.”[86] Addressing Augustine in his prologue, he says:

“Thou hast commanded me that as against the vain rhetoric of those who, aliens to God’s Commonwealth, coming from country cross-roads and villages are called pagans, because they know earthly things, who seek not unto the future and ignore the past, yet cry down the present time as filled with evil, just because Christ is believed and God is worshipped;—thou hast commanded that I should gather from histories and annals whatever mighty ills and miseries and terrors there have been from wars and pestilence, from famine, earthquake, and floods, from volcanic eruptions, from lightning or from hail, and also from monstrous crimes in the past centuries; and that I should arrange and set forth the matter briefly in a book.”

Orosius’s story of the four great Empires—Babylonian, Macedonian, African, and Roman—makes a red tale of carnage. He deemed “that such things should be commemorated, in order that with the secret of God’s ineffable judgments partly laid open, those stupid murmurers at our Christian times should understand that the one God ordained the fortunes of Babylon in the beginning, and at the end those of Rome; understand also that it is through His clemency that we live, although wretchedly because of[Pg 83] our intemperance. Like was the origin of Babylon and Rome, and like their power, greatness, and their fortunes good and ill; but unlike their destinies, since Babylon lost her kingdom and Rome keeps hers”; and Orosius refers to the clemency of the barbarian victors who as Christians spared Christians.[87]

At the opening of his seventh book he again presents his purpose and conclusions:

“I think enough evidence has been brought together, to prove that the one and true God, made known by the Christian Faith, created the world and His creature as He wished, and that He has ordered and directed it through many things, of which it has not seen the purpose, and has ordained it for one event, declared through One; and likewise has made manifest His power and patience by arguments manifold. Whereat, I perceive, straitened and anxious minds have stumbled, to think of so much patience joined to so great power. For, if He was able to create the world, and establish its peace, and impart to it a knowledge of His worship and Himself, what was the need of so great and (as they say) so hurtful patience, exerted to the end that at last, through the errors, slaughters and the toils of men, there should result what might rather have arisen in the beginning by His virtue, which you preach? To whom I can truly reply: the human race from the beginning was so created and appointed that living under religion with peace without labour, by the fruit of obedience it might merit eternity; but it abused the Creator’s goodness, turned liberty into wilful licence, and through disdain fell into forgetfulness; now the patience of God is just and doubly just, operating that this disdain might not wholly ruin those whom He wished to spare, but might be reduced through labours; and also so that He might always hold out guidance although to an ignorant creature, to whom if penitent He would mercifully restore the means of grace.”

Such was the point of view and such the motives of this book, which was to be par excellence the source of ancient history for the Middle Ages. But, concerned chiefly with the Gentile nations, Orosius has few palpable miracles to tell. The miracle lies in God’s ineffabilis ordinatio of events, and especially in marvellous chronological parallels shown in the histories of nations, for our edification. Likewise for mediaeval men these ineffable chronological correspondences[Pg 84] (which never existed in fact) were to be evidence of God’s providential guidance of the world.

Some thirty years after Orosius wrote, a priest of Marseilles, Salvian by name, composed a different sort of treatise, with a like object of demonstrating the righteous validity of God’s providential ordering of affairs, especially in those troubled times of barbarian invasion through which the Empire then was passing. The book declared its purpose in its title—De gubernatione Dei.[88] Its tenor is further elucidated by the title bestowed upon it by a contemporary: De praesenti (Dei) judicio. It is famous for the pictures (doubtless overwrought) which it gives of the low state of morals among the Roman provincials, and of the comparative decency of the barbarians.

These examples sufficiently indicate the broad apologetic purpose in the patristic writing of history. There was another class of composition, biographical rather than historical, the object of which was to give edifying examples of the grace of God working in holy men. The reference, of course, is to the Vitae sanctorum whose number from the fourth century onward becomes legion. They set forth the marvellous virtues of anchorites and their miracles. In the East, the prime example is the Athanasian Life of Anthony; Jerome also wrote, in Latin, the lives of Anthony’s forerunner Paulus and of other saints. But for the Latin West the typical example was the Life of St. Martin of Tours, most popular of saints, by Sulpicius Severus.

To dub this class of compositions (and there are classes within classes here) uncritical, credulous, intentionally untruthful, is not warranted without a preliminary consideration of their purpose. That in general was to edify; the writer is telling a moral tale, illustrative of God’s grace in the instances of holy men. But the divine grace is the real matter; the saint’s life is but the example. God’s grace exists; it operates in this way. As to the illustrative details of its operation, why be over-anxious as to their correctness? Only the vita must be interesting, to fix the reader’s attention, and must be edifying, to improve him. These principles exerted sometimes a less, sometimes a[Pg 85] greater influence; and accordingly, while perhaps none of the vitae is without pious colouring, as a class they range from fairly trustworthy biographies to vehicles of edifying myth.[89]

Miracles are never lacking. The vita commonly was drawn less from personal knowledge than from report or tradition. Report grows passing from mouth to mouth, and is enlarged with illustrative incidents. Since no disbelief blocked the acceptance of miracles, their growth outstripped that of the other elements of the story, because they interested the most people. Yet there was little originality, and the vitae constantly reproduced like incidents. Especially, Biblical prototypes were followed, as one sees in the Dialogi of Gregory the Great, telling of the career of St. Benedict of Nursia. The Pope finds that the great founder of western monasticism performed many of the miracles ascribed to Scriptural characters.[90] Herein we see the working of suggestion and imitation upon a “legend”; but Gregory found rather an additional wonder-striking feature, that God not only had wrought miracles through Benedict, but in His ineffable wisdom had chosen to conform the saint’s deeds to the pattern of Scriptural prototypes. And so, in the Vitae sanctorum, the joinder of suggestion and the will to believe literally worked marvels.

Usually the Fathers of the Church were as interested in miracles as the uneducated laity. Ambrose, the great Archbishop of Milan, writes a long letter to his sister[Pg 86] Marcellina upon finding the relics of certain martyrs, and the miracles wrought by this treasure-trove.[91] As for Jerome, of course, he is very open-minded, and none too careful in his own accounts. His passion for the relics of the saints appears in his polemic Contra Vigilantium. What interest, either in the writing or the hearing, would men have taken in a hermit desert life that was bare of miracles? The desert and the forest solitude have always been full of wonders. In Jerome’s Lives of Paulus and Hilarion, the romantic and picturesque elements consist exclusively in the miraculous. And again, how could any one devote himself to the cult of an almost contemporary saint or the worship of a martyr, and not find abundant miracles? Sulpicius Severus wrote the Vita of St. Martin while the saint was still alive; and there would have been no reason for the worship of St. Felix, carried on through years by Paulinus of Nola, if Felix’s relics had not had saving power. It was to this charming tender of the dead, afterwards beatified as St. Paulinus of Nola,[92] that Augustine addressed his moderating treatise on these matters, entitled De cura pro mortuis. He can see no advantage in burying a body close to a martyr’s tomb unless in order to stimulate the prayers of the living. How the martyrs help us surpasses my understanding, says the writer; but it is known that they do help. Very few were as critical as the Bishop of Hippo; and all men recognized the efficacy of prayers to the martyred saints, and the magic power of their relics.

Having said so much of the intellectual obliquities of the Church Fathers, it were well to dwell a moment on their power. Their inspiration was the Christian Faith, working within them and bending their strength to its call. Their mental energies conformed to their understanding of the Faith and their interpretation of its Scriptural presentation. Their achievement was Catholic Christianity consisting in the union of two complements, ecclesiastical organization and the complete and consistent organism of doctrine. Here, in fact, two living organisms were united as body and soul. Each was fitted to the other, and neither could have[Pg 87] existed alone. In their union they were to prove unequalled in history for coherence and efficiency. Great then was the energy and intellectual power of the men who constructed Church and doctrine. Great was Paul; great was Tertullian; great were Origen, Athanasius, and the Greek Gregories. Great also were those Latin Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, Augustine their last and greatest, who finally completed Church and doctrine for transmission to the Middle Ages—the doctrine, however, destined to be re-adjusted as to emphasis, and barbarized in character by him whose mind at least is patristically recreative, but whose soul is mediaeval, Gregorius Magnus.[93]



[Pg 88]



For the Latin West the creative patristic epoch closes with the death of Augustine. There follows a period marked by the cessation of intellectual originality. Men are engaged upon translations from the Greek; they are busy commenting upon older writings, or are expounding with a change of emphasis the systematic constructions of their predecessors. Epitomes and compendia appear, simplified and mechanical abstracts of the bare elements of inherited knowledge and current education. Compilations are made, put together of excerpts taken unshriven and unshorn into the compiler’s writing. Knowledge is brought down to a more barbaric level. Yet temperament lingers for a while, and still appears in the results.

The representatives of this post-patristic period of translation, comment, and compendium, and of re-expression with temperamental change of emphasis, are the two contemporaries, Boëthius and Cassiodorus; then Gregory the Great, who became pope soon after Cassiodorus closed his eyes at the age of ninety or more; and, lastly, Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, who died in 636, twenty-two years after Gregory. All these were Latin bred, and belonged to the Roman world rather than to those new peoples whose barbarism was hastening the disruption of a decadent order, but whose recently converted zeal was soon to help on the further diffusion of Latin Christianity. They appear as transmitters of antique and patristic thought; because, originating little, they put together matter congenial to[Pg 89] their own lowering intellectual predilections, and therefore suitable mental pabulum for times of mingled decadence and barbarism, and also for the following periods of mediaeval re-emergence which continued to hark back to the obvious and the easy.

Instead of transmitters, a word indicating function, one might call these men intermediaries, and so indicate their position as well as rôle. Both words, however, should be taken relatively. For all the Fathers heretofore considered were in some sense transmitters or intermediaries, even though creative in their work of systematizing, adding to, or otherwise transforming their matter. Yet one would not dub Augustine a transmitter, because he was far more of a remaker or creator. But a dark refashioner indeed will Gregory the Great appear; while Boëthius, Cassiodorus, Isidore are rather sheer transmitters, or intermediaries, the last-named worthy destined to be the most popular of them all, through his unerring faculty of selecting for his compilations the foolish and the flat.

Among them, Boëthius alone was attached to the antique by affinity of sentiment and temper. Although doubtless a professing Christian, his sentiments were those of pagan philosophy. The De consolatione philosophiae, which comes to us as his very self, is a work of eclectic pagan moralizing, fused to a personal unity by the author’s artistic and emotional nature, then deeply stirred by his imprisonment and peril. He had enjoyed the favour of the great Ostrogoth, Theodoric, ruler of Italy, but now was fallen under suspicion, and had been put in prison, where he was executed in the year 525 at the age of forty-three. His book moves all readers by its controlled and noble pathos, rendered more appealing through the romantic interest surrounding its composition. It became par excellence the mediaeval source of such ethical precept and consolation as might be drawn from rational self-control and acquiescence in the ways of Providence. But at present we are concerned with the range of Boëthius’s intellectual interests and his labours for the transmission of learning. He was an antique-minded man, whose love of knowledge did not revolve around “salvation,” the patristic focus of[Pg 90] intellectual effort. Rather he was moved by an ardent wish to place before his Latin contemporaries what was best in the classic education and philosophy. He is first of all a translator from Greek to Latin, and, secondly, a helpful commentator on the works which he translates.

He was little over twenty years of age when he wrote his first work, the De arithmetica.[94] It was a free translation of the Arithmetic of Nichomachus, a Neo-Pythagorean who flourished about the year 100. Boëthius’s work opens with a dedicatory Praefatio to his father-in-law Symmachus. In that and in the first chapter he evinces a broad conception of education, and shows that lovers of wisdom should not despise arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, the fourfold path or quadrivium, a word which he may have been the first to use in this sense.[95] With him arithmetic treats of quantity in and by itself; music, of quantity related to measure; geometry, of moveless, and astronomy, of moving, quantity. He was a better Greek scholar than mathematician; and his free translation ignores some of the finer points of Nichomachus’s work, which would have impressed one better versed in mathematics.[96]

The young scholar followed up his maiden work with a treatise on Music, showing a knowledge of Greek harmonics. Then came a De geometria, in which the writer draws from Euclid as well as from the practical knowledge of Roman surveyors.[97] He composed or translated other works on elementary branches of education, as appears from a royal letter written by Cassiodorus in the name of Theodoric: “In your translations Pythagoras the musician, Ptolemy the astronomer, Nichomachus the arithmetician, Euclid the geometer are read by Italians, while Plato the theologian and Aristotle the logician dispute in Roman voice; and you have given back the mechanician Archimedes in Latin to the Sicilians.”[98] Making[Pg 91] all allowance for politeness, this letter indicates the large accomplishment of Boëthius, who was but twenty-five years old when it was written. We turn to the commentated Aristotelian translations which he now undertook.[99] “Although the duties of the consular office[100] prevent the bestowal of our time upon these studies, it still seems a proper part of our care for the Republic to instruct its citizens in the learning which is gained by the labours of the lamp. Since the valour of a bygone time brought dominion over other cities to this one Republic, I shall not merit ill of my countrymen if I shall have instructed the manners of our State with the arts of Greek wisdom.”[101] These sentences open the second book of Boëthius’s translation of the Categories of Aristotle. His plan of work enlarged, apparently, and grew more definite, as the years passed, each adding its quota of accomplishment. At all events, some time afterwards, when he may have been not far from thirty-five, he speaks in the flush of an intellectual anticipation which the many years of labour still to be counted on seemed to justify:

“Labour ennobles the human race and completes it with the fruits of genius; but idleness deadens the mind. Not experience, but ignorance, of labour turns us from it. For what man who has made trial of labour has ever forsaken it? And the power of the mind lies in keeping the mind tense; to unstring it is to ruin it. My fixed intention, if the potent favour of the deity will so grant, is (although others have laboured in this field, yet not with satisfactory method) to translate into Latin every work of Aristotle that comes to my hand, and furnish it with a Latin commentary. Thus I may present, well ordered and illustrated with the light of comment, whatever subtilty of logic’s art, whatever weight of moral experience, and whatever insight into natural truth, may be gathered from Aristotle. And I mean to translate all the dialogues of Plato, or reduce them in my commentary to a Latin form. Having accomplished this, I shall not have despised the opinions of Aristotle and Plato if I evoke a certain concord between them [Pg 92]and show in how many things of importance for philosophy they agree—if only life and leisure last. But now let us return to our subject.”[102]

One sees a veritable love of intellectual labour and a love of the resulting mental increment. It is distinctly the antique, not the patristic, attitude towards interests of the mind. In spite of his unhappy sixth century way of writing, and the mental fallings away indicated by it, Boëthius possessed the old pagan spirit, and shows indeed how tastes might differ in the sixth century. He never translated the whole of Aristotle and Plato; and his idea of reconciling the two evinces the shallow eclectic spirit of the closing pagan times. Nevertheless, he carried out his purpose to the extent of rendering into Latin, with abundant comment, the entire Organon, that is, all the logical writings of Aristotle. First of all, and with elaborate explanation, he rendered Porphyry’s famous Introduction to the Categories of the Master. Then the Categories themselves, likewise with abundant explanation. Then Aristotle’s De interpretatione, in two editions, the first with simple comment suited to beginners, the second with the best elaboration of formal logic that he could devise or compile.[103] These elementary portions of the Organon, as transmitted in the Boëthian translations, made the logical discipline of the mediaeval schools until the latter part of the twelfth century. He translated also Aristotle’s Prior and Posterior Analytics, the Topics, and the Sophistical Elenchi. But such advanced treatises were beyond the requirements of the early mediaeval centuries. With the lessening of intellectual energy they passed into oblivion, to re-emerge only when called for by the livelier mental activities of a later time.

The list of Boëthius’s works is not yet exhausted, for he wrote some minor logical treatises, and a voluminous commentary on Cicero’s Topica. He was probably the author of certain Christian theological tracts, themselves less famous than the controversy which long has raged as to[Pg 93] their authorship.[104] If he wrote them, he did but make polite obeisance to the ruling intellectual preoccupations of the time.

Boëthius’s commentaries reproduced the comments of other commentators,[105] and he presents merely the logical processes of thought. But these, analyzed and tabulated, were just the parts of philosophy to be seized by a period whose lack of mental originality was rapidly lowering to a barbaric frame of mind. The logical works of Boëthius were formal, pedantic, even mechanical. They necessarily presented the method rather than the substance of philosophic truth. But their study would exercise the mind, and they were peculiarly adapted to serve as discipline for the coming centuries, which could not become progressive until they had mastered their antique inheritance, including this chief method of presenting the elemental forms of truth.

The “life and leisure” of Boëthius were cut off by his untimely death. Cassiodorus, although a year or two older, outlived him by half a century. He was born at Squillace, a Calabrian town which looks out south-easterly over the little gulf bearing the same name. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been generals and high officials. He himself served for forty years under Theodoric and his successors, and at last became praetorian praefect, the chief office in the Gothic Roman kingdom.[106] Through his birth, his education, his long official career, and perhaps his pliancy, he belonged to both Goths and Romans, and like the great king whom he first served, stood for a policy of reconcilement and assimilation of the two peoples, and also for tolerance as between Arian and Catholic.

Some years after Theodoric’s death, when the Gothic kingdom had passed through internecine struggles and seemed at last to have fallen before the skill of Belisarius, Cassiodorus forsook the troubles of the world. He retired to his birthplace Squillace, and there in propitious situations founded a pleasant cloister for coenobites and an austerer[Pg 94] hermitage for those who would lead lives of arduous seclusion. For himself, he chose the former. It was the year of grace 540, three years before the death of Benedict of Nursia. Cassiodorus was past sixty. In retiring from the world he followed the instinct of his time, yet temperately and with an increment of wisdom. For he was the first influential man to recognize the fitness of the cloister for the labours of the pious student and copyist. It is not too much to regard him as the inaugurator of the learned, compiling, commenting and transcribing functions of monasticism. Not only as a patron, but through his own works, he was here a leader. His writings composed after his retirement represent the intellectual interests of western monasticism in the last half of the sixth century. They indicate the round of study proper for monks; just the grammar, the orthography, and other elementary branches which they might know; just the history with which it behoved them to be acquainted; and then, outbulking all the rest, those Scriptural studies to which they might well devote their lives for the sake of their own and others’ souls.

In passing these writings in review, it is unnecessary to pause over the interesting collection of letters—Variae epistolae—which were the fruit of Cassiodorus’s official life, before he shut the convent’s outer door against the toils of office. He “edited” them near the close of his public career. Before that ended he had made a wretched Chronicon, carelessly and none too honestly compiled. He had also written his Gothic History, a far better work. It survives only in the compend of the ignorant Jordanes, a fact the like of which will be found repeatedly recurring in the sixth and following centuries, when a barbaric mentality continually prefers the compend to the larger and better original, which demands greater effort from the reader. A little later Cassiodorus composed his De anima, a treatise on the nature, qualities, and destinies of the Soul. Although made at the request of friends, it indicated the turning of the statesman’s interest to the matters occupying his latter years, during which his literary labours were guided by a paternal purpose. One may place it with the works coming from his pen in those thirty years of retirement, when study[Pg 95] and composition were rather stimulated than disturbed by care of his convent and estates, the modicum of active occupation needed by an old man whose life had been passed in the management of State affairs. Its preface sets out the topical arrangement in a manner prophetic of scholastic methods:

“Let us first learn why it is called Anima; secondly, its definition; thirdly, its substantial quality; fourthly, whether any form should be ascribed to it; fifthly, what are its moral virtues; sixthly, its natural powers (virtutes naturales) by which it holds the body together; seventhly, as to its origin; eighthly, where is its especial seat; ninthly, as to the body’s form; tenthly, as to the properties of the souls of sinners; eleventhly, as to those of the souls of the just; and twelfthly, as to the resurrection.”[107]

The short treatise which follows is neither original nor penetrating. It closes with an encomium on the number twelve, with praise of Christ and with a prayer.

Soon after Cassiodorus had installed himself in Vivaria, as he called his convent, from the fishponds and gardens surrounding it, he set himself to work to transcribe the Scriptures, and commenced a huge Commentary on the Psalms. But he interrupted these undertakings in 543 in order to write for his monks a syllabus of their sacred and secular education. The title of the work was Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum.[108] In opening he refers to his failure to found a school of Christian teaching at Rome, on account of the wars. Partially to repair this want, he will compose an introduction to the study of Scripture and letters. It will not set out his own opinions, but those of former men. Through the expositions of the Fathers we ascend to divine Scripture, as by a ladder. The proper order is for the “tiros of Christ” first to learn the Psalms, and then proceed to study the rest of Scripture in carefully corrected codices. When the “soldiers of Christ” have completed the reading of Scripture, and fixed it in their minds by constant meditation, they will begin to recognize passages when cited, and be able to find them. They should also know the Latin commentators, and even the Greek, who have expounded the various books.

[Pg 96]The first book of these Institutiones is strictly a guide to Scripture study, and in no way a commentary. For example, beginning with the “Octateuch,” as making up the first “codex” of Scripture, Cassiodorus tells what Latin and what Greek Fathers have expounded it. He proceeds, briefly, in the same way with the rest of the Old and New Testaments. He mentions the Ecumenical Councils, which had passed upon Christian doctrine, and then refers to the division of Scripture by Jerome, by Augustine, and in the Septuagint. He states rules for preserving the purity of the text, exclaims over its ineffable value, and mentions famous doctrinal works, like Augustine’s De Trinitate and the De officiis of Ambrose. He then recommends the study of Church historians and names the great ones, who while incidentally telling of secular events have shown that such hung not on chance nor on the power of the feeble gods, but solely on the Creator’s will. Then he shortly characterizes the great Latin Doctors, Cyprian, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine, and mentions a convenient collection of excerpts from the works of the last-named saint, made by a certain priest. Next he admonishes the student as to the careful reading of Scripture, and suggests convenient abbreviations for noting citations. He speaks of the desirability of knowing enough cosmography to understand when Scripture speaks of countries, towns, mountains, or rivers, and then reverts to the need of an acquaintance with the Seven Arts; this secular wisdom, having been originally pilfered from Scripture, should now be called back to its true service. Those monks who lack intelligence for such studies may properly work in the fields and gardens which surround Vivaria (Columella and other writers on agriculture are to be found in the convent library), and to all the care of the sick is recommended. The second book of the Institutiones is a brief and unequal compend of the Seven Arts, in which Dialectic is treated at greatest length.

The remaining works of Cassiodorus appear as special aids to the student in carrying out the programme of the first book of the Institutiones. Such an aid was the bulky Commentary on the Psalms; another such was the famous Historia tripartita, made of the Church histories of Socrates,[Pg 97] Sozomen, and Theodoret, translated by a friend of Cassiodorus, and crudely thrown together by himself into one narrative. Finally, such another work was the compilation upon Latin orthography which the good old man made for his monks in his ninety-third year.

This long and useful life does not display the zeal for knowledge for its own sake which marks the labours of Boëthius. It is the Christian utilitarian view of knowledge that Cassiodorus represents, and yet not narrowly, nor with a trace of that intolerance of whatever did not bear directly on salvation, which is to be found in Gregory. From Boëthius’s love of philosophy, and from the practical interest of Cassiodorus in education, it is indeed a change to the spiritual anxiousness and fear of hell besetting this great pope.[109]

In appreciating a man’s opinions and his mental clarity or murkiness, one should consider his temperament and the temper of his time. Gregory was constrained as well as driven by temperamental yearnings and aversions, aggravated by the humour of the century that produced Benedict of Nursia and was contemplating gloomily the Empire’s ruin and decay, now more acutely borne in upon the consciousness of thoughtful people than in the age of Augustine. His temper drew from prevailing moods, and in turn impressed its spiritual incisiveness upon the influences which it absorbed; and his writings, so expressive of his own temperament and all that fed it, were to work mightily upon the minds and moods of men to come.

Born of a distinguished Roman family about the year 540, he was some thirty-five years old when Cassiodorus died. His education was the best that Rome could give. In spite of disclaimer on his part, rhetorical training shows in the antithetic power of his style; for example, in that resounding sentence in the dedicatory letter prefixed to his Moralia, wherein he would seem to be casting grammar to the winds. Although quoted until threadbare, it is so illustrative as to justify citation: “Nam sicut hujus quoque[Pg 98] epistolae tenor enunciat, non metacismi collisionem fugio, non barbarismi confusionem devito, situs motusque et praepositionum casus servare contemno, quia indignum vehementer existimo, ut verba coelestis oraculi restringam sub regulis Donati.”[110] By no means will he flee the concussion of the oft-repeated M, or avoid the confusing barbarism; he will despise the laws of place and case, because he deems it utterly unfit to confine the words of the heavenly oracle beneath the rules of Donatus. By all of which Gregory means that he proposes to write freely, according to the needs of his subject, and to disregard the artificial rules of the somewhat emptied rhetoric, let us say, of Cassiodorus’s epistles.

In his early manhood naturally he was called to take part in affairs, and was made Praetor urbanus. But soon the prevalent feeling of the difficulty of serving God in the world drove him to retirement. His father’s palace on the Coelian hill he changed to a convent, upon the site of which now stands the Church of San Gregorio Magno; and there he became a monk. Passionately he loved the monk’s life, for which he was to long in vain through most of the years to come. Soon he was dragged forth from the companionship of “Mary” to serve with “Martha.” The toiling papacy could not allow a man of his abilities to remain hidden. He was harnessed to its active service, and sent as the papal representative to the Imperial Court at Constantinople; whence he returned, after several years, in 585. Re-entering his monastery on the Coelian, he became its abbot; but was drawn out again, and made pope by acclamation and insistency in the year 590. There is no need to speak of the efficient and ceaseless activity of this pontiff, whose body was never free from pain, nor his soul released from longing for seclusion which only the grave was to bring.

Gregory’s mind was less antique, and more barbarous and mediaeval than Augustine’s, whose doctrine he reproduced with garbling changes of tone and emphasis. In the century and a half between the two, the Roman institutions had broken down, decadence had advanced, and the patristic[Pg 99] mind had passed from indifference to the laws of physical phenomena to something like sheer barbaric ignorance of the same. Whatever in Ambrose, Jerome, or Augustine represented conviction or opinion, has in Gregory become mental habit, spontaneity of acceptance, matter of course. The miraculous is with him a frame of mind; and the allegorical method of understanding Scripture is no longer intended, not to say wilful, as with Augustine, but has become persistent unconscious habit. Augustine desired to know God and the Soul, and the true Christian doctrine with whatever made for its substantiation. He is conscious of closing his mind to everything irrelevant to this. Gregory’s nature has settled itself within this scheme of Christian knowledge which Augustine framed. He has no intellectual inclinations reaching out beyond. He is not conscious of closing his mind to extraneous knowledge. His mental habits and temperament are so perfectly adjusted to the confines of this circle, that all beyond has ceased to exist for him.

So with Gregory the patristic limitation of intellectual interest, indifference to physical phenomena, and acceptance of the miraculous are no longer merely thoughts and opinions consciously entertained; they make part of his nature. There was nothing novel in his views regarding knowledge, sacred and profane. But there is a turbid force of temperament in his expressions. In consequence, his vehement words to Bishop Desiderius of Vienne[111] have been so taken as to make the great pope a barbarizing idiot. He exclaims with horror at the report that the bishop is occupying himself teaching grammar; he is shocked that an episcopal mouth should be singing praises of Jove, which are unfit for a lay brother to utter. But Gregory is not decrying here, any more than in the sentence quoted from the letter prefixed to his Moralia, a decent command of Latin. He is merely declaring with temperamental vehemence that to teach grammar and poetry is not the proper function of a bishop—the bishop in this case of a most important see. Gregory had no more taste for secular studies than Tertullian four centuries before him. For both, however, letters had their handmaidenly function,[Pg 100] which they performed effectively in the instances of these two great rhetoricians.[112]

It is needless to say that the entire literary labour of Gregory was religious. His works, as in time, so in quality, are midway between those of Ambrose and Augustine and those of the Carolingian rearrangers of patristic opinion. Gregory, who laboured chiefly as a commentator upon Scripture, was not highly original in his thoughts, yet was no mere excerpter of patristic interpretations, like Rabanus Maurus or Walafrid Strabo, who belong to the ninth century.[113] In studying Scripture, he thought and interpreted in allegories. But he was also a man experienced in life’s exigencies, and his religious admonishings were wise and searching. His prodigious Commentary upon Job has with reason been called Gregory’s Moralia.[114] And as the moral advice and exhortation sprang from Gregory the bishop, so the allegorical interpretations largely were his own, or at least not borrowed and applied mechanically.

Gregory represents the patristic mind passing into a more barbarous stage. He delighted in miracles, and wrote his famous Dialogues on the Lives and Miracles of the Italian Saints[115] to solace the cares of his pontificate. The work exhibits a naïve acceptance of every kind of miracle, and presents the supple mediaeval devil in all his deceitful metamorphoses.[116]

[Pg 101]Quite in accord with Gregory’s interest in these stories is his elaboration of certain points of doctrine, for example, the worship of the saints, whose intercession and supererogatory righteousness may be turned by prayer and worship to the devotee’s benefit. Thus he comments upon the eighth verse of the twenty-fourth chapter of Job:

“They are wet with the showers of the mountains, and embrace the rocks as a shelter. The showers of the mountains are the words of the doctors. Concerning which mountains it is said with the voice of the Church: ‘I will lift up my eyes unto the hills.’ The showers of the mountains water these, for the streams of the holy fathers saturate. We receive the ‘shelter’ as a covering of good works, by which one is covered so that before the eyes of omnipotent God the filthiness of his perversity is concealed. Wherefore it is written, ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered’ (Ps. xxxii. 1). And under the name of stones whom do we understand except the strong men of the Church? To whom it is said through the first shepherd: ‘Ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house’ (1 Peter ii. 5). So those who confide in no work of their own, run to the protection of the holy martyrs, and press with tears to their sacred bodies, pleading to obtain pardon through their intercession.”[117]

Another point of Gregorian emphasis: no delict is remitted without punishment.[118] To complement which principle, Gregory develops the doctrine of penance in its three elements, contritio, conversio mentis, satisfactio. Our whole life should be one long penitence and penance, and baptism of tears; for our first baptism cannot wash out later sins, and cannot be repeated. In the fourth book of the Dialogi he develops his cognate doctrine of Purgatory,[119] and amplifies upon the situation and character of hell. These things are implicit in Augustine and existed before him: with Gregory they have become explicit, elaborated, and[Pg 102] insisted on with recurrent emphasis. Thus Augustinianism is altered in form and barbarized.[120]

Gregory is throughout prefigurative of the Middle Ages, which he likewise prefigures in his greatness as a sovereign bishop and a man of ecclesiastical affairs. He is energetic and wise and temperate. The practical wisdom of the Catholic Church is in him and in his rightly famed book of Pastoral Rule. The temperance and wisdom of his letters of instructions to Augustine of Canterbury are admirable. The practical exigency seemed always to have the effect of tempering any extreme opinion which apart from it he might have expressed; as one sees, for example, in those letters to this apostle to the English, or in his letter to Serenus, Bishop of Marseilles, who had been too violent as to paintings and images. Gregory’s stand is moderate and reasonable. Likewise he opposes the use of force to convert the Jews, although insisting firmly that no Jew may hold a Christian slave.[121]

There has been occasion to remark that decadence tends to join hands with barbarism on a common intellectual level. Had Boëthius lived in a greater epoch, he might not have been an adapter of an elementary arithmetic and geometry, and his best years would not have been devoted to the translation and illustration of logical treatises. Undoubtedly his labours were needed by the times in which he lived and by the centuries which followed them in spirit as well as chronologically. He was the principal purveyor of the strictly speaking intellectual grist of the early Middle Ages; and it was most apt that the great scholastic controversy as to universals should have drawn its initial text from his translation of Porphyry’s Introduction to the Categories of Aristotle.[122] Gregory, on the other hand, was a purveyor of theology, the subject to which logic chiefly was to be applied. He purveyed matter very much to the mediaeval taste; for example, his wise practical admonishments; his[Pg 103] elaboration of such a doctrine as that of penance, so tangible that it could be handled, and felt with one’s very fingers; and, finally, his supreme intellectual endeavour, the allegorical trellising of Scripture, to which the Middle Ages were to devote their thoughts, and were to make warm and living with the love and yearning of their souls. The converging currents—decadence and barbarism—meet and join in Gregory’s powerful personality. He embodies the intellectual decadence which has lost all independent wish for knowledge and has dropped the whole round of the mind’s mortal interests; which has seized upon the near, the tangible, and the ominous in theology till it has rooted religion in the fear of hell. All this may be viewed as a decadent abandonment of the more intellectual and spiritual complement to the brute facts of sin, penance, and hell barely escaped. But, on the other hand, it was also barbarization, and held the strength of barbaric narrowing of motives and the resistlessness of barbaric fear.

Such were the rôles of Boëthius and Gregory in the transmission of antique and patristic intellectual interests into the mediaeval time. Quite different was that of Gregory’s younger contemporary, Isidore, the princely and vastly influential Bishop of Seville, the primary see in that land of Spain, which, however it might change dynasties, was destined never to be free from some kind of sacerdotal bondage. In Isidore’s time, the kingdom of the Visigoths had recently turned from Arianism to Catholicism, and wore its new priestly yoke with ardour. Boëthius had provided a formal discipline and Gregory much substance already mediaevalized. But the whole ground-plan of Isidore’s mind corresponded with the aptitudes and methods of the Carolingian period, which was to be the schoolday of the Middle Ages. By reason of his own habits of study, by reason of the quality of his mind, which led him to select the palpable, the foolish, and the mechanically correlated, by reason, in fine, of his mental faculties and interests, Isidore gathered and arranged in his treatises a conglomerate of knowledge, secular and sacred, exactly suited to the coming centuries.

In drawing from its spiritual heritage, an age takes what it cares for; and if comparatively decadent or barbarized or[Pg 104] childlike in its intellectual affinities, it will still manage to draw what is like itself. In that case, probably it will not draw directly from the great sources, but from intermediaries who have partially debased them. From these turbid compositions the still duller age will continue to select the obvious and the worse. This indicates the character of Isidore’s work. His writings speak for themselves through their titles, and are so flat, so transparent, so palpably taken from the nearest authorities, that there is no call to analyze them. But their titles with some slight indication of their contents will show the excerpt character of Isidore’s mental processes, and illustrate by anticipation the like qualities reappearing with the Carolingian doctors.

Isidore’s Quaestiones in vetus Testamentum[123] is his chief work in the nature of a Scripture commentary. It is confined to those passages of the Old Testament which were deemed most pregnant with allegorical meaning. His Preface discloses his usual method of procedure: “We have taken certain of those incidents of the sacred history which were told or done figuratively, and are filled with mystic sacraments, and have woven them together in sequence in this little work; and, collecting the opinions of the old churchmen, we have made a choice of flowers as from divers meadows; and briefly presenting a few matters from so many, with some changes or additions, we offer them not only to studious but fastidious readers who detest prolixity.” Every one may feel assured that he will be reading the interpretations of the Fathers, and not those of Isidore—“my voice is but their tongue.” He states that his sources are Origen, Victorinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Fulgentius, Cassian, and “Gregory so distinguished for his eloquence in our own time.” The spirit of the mediaeval commentary is in this Preface. The phrase about “culling the opinions of the Fathers like flowers from divers meadows,” will be repeated hundreds of times. Such a commentary is a thing of excerpts; so it rests upon authority. The writer thus comforts both his reader and himself; neither runs the[Pg 105] peril of originality, and together they repose on the broad bosom of the Fathers.

Throughout his writings, Isidore commonly proceeds in this way, whether he says so or not. We may name first the casual works which represent separate parcels of his encyclopaedic gleanings, and then glance at his putting together of them, in his Etymologiae.[124] The muster opens with two books of Distinctions (Differentiarum). The first is concerned with the distinctions of like-sounding and like-meaning words. It is alphabetically arranged. The second is concerned with the distinctions of things: it begins with God and the Creation, and passes to the physical parts and spiritual traits of man. No need to say that it contains nothing that is Isidore’s own. Now come the Allegoriae quaedam sacrae Scripturae, which give in chronological order the allegorical signification of all the important persons mentioned in the Old Testament and the New. It was one of the earliest hand-books of Scriptural allegories, and is a sheer bit of the Middle Ages in spirit and method. The substance, of course, is taken from the Fathers. Next, a little work, De ortu et obitu Patrum, states in short paragraphs the birthplace, span of life, place of sepulture, and noticeable traits of Scriptural personages.

There follows a collection of brief Isidorean prefaces to the books of Scripture. Then comes a curious book, which may have been suggested to the writer by the words of Augustine himself. This is the Liber numerorum, the book of the numbers occurring in the Scriptures. It tells the qualities and mystical significance of every number from one to sixteen, and of the chief ones between sixteen and sixty. These numbers were “most holy and most full of mysteries” to Augustine,[125] and Augustine is the man whom Isidore chiefly draws on in this treatise—Augustine at his very worst. One might search far for an apter instance of an ecclesiastical writer elaborately exploiting the most foolish statements that could possibly be found in the writings of a great predecessor.

[Pg 106]Isidore composed a polemic treatise on the Catholic Faith against the Jews—De fide Catholica contra Judaeos. The good bishop had nothing to add to the patristic discussion of this weighty controversy. His book is filled with quotations from Scripture. It put the matter together in a way suited to his epoch and the coming centuries, and at an early time was translated into the German and other vernacular tongues. Three books of Sententiae follow, upon the contents of Christian doctrine—as to God, the world, evil, the angels, man, Christ and the Church. They consist of excerpts from the writings of Gregory the Great and earlier Church Fathers.[126] A more original work is the De ecclesiasticis officiis, upon the services of the Church and the orders of clergy and laity. It presents the liturgical practices and ecclesiastical regulations of Isidore’s epoch.

Isidore seems to have put most pious feeling into a work called by him Synonyma, to which name was added the supplementary designation: De lamentatione animae. First the Soul pours out its lament in excruciating iteration, repeating the same commonplace of Christian piety in synonymous phrases. When its lengthy plaint is ended, Reason replies with admonitions synonymously reiterated in the same fashion.[127] This work combined a grammatical with a pious purpose, and became very popular through its doubly edifying nature, and because it strung together so many easy commonplaces of Christian piety. Isidore also drew up a Regula for monks, and a book on the Order of Creation has been ascribed to him. This completes the sum of his extant works upon religious topics, from which we pass to those of a secular character.

The first of these is the De rerum natura, written to[Pg 107] enlighten his king, Sisebut, “on the scheme (ratio) of the days and months, the bounds of the year and the change of seasons, the nature of the elements, the courses of the sun and moon and stars, and the signs of tempests and winds, the position of the earth, and the ebb and flow of the sea.” Of all of which, continues Isidore, “we have made brief note, from the writings of the ancients (veteribus viris), and especially those who were of the Catholic Faith. For it is not a vain knowledge (superstitiosa scientia) to know the nature of these things, if we consider them according to sound and sober teaching.”[128] So Isidore compiles a book of secular physical knowledge, the substance of which is taken from the Hexaemeron of Ambrose and the works of other Fathers, and also from the lost Prata of pagan Suetonius.[129]

Of course Isidore busied himself also with history. He made a dismal universal Chronicon, and perhaps a History of the Kings of the Goths, through which stirs a breath of national pride; and after the model of Jerome, he wrote a De viris illustribus, concerned with some fifty worthies of the Church flourishing between Jerome’s time and his own.

Here we end the somewhat dry enumeration of the various works of Isidore outside of his famous “twenty books of Etymologies.” This work has been aptly styled a Konversationslexikon, to use the excellent German word. It was named Etymologiae, because the author always gives the etymology of everything which he describes or defines. Indeed the tenth book contains only the etymological definitions of words alphabetically arranged. These etymologies follow the haphazard similarities of the words, and often are nonsensical. Sometimes they show a fantastic caprice indicating a mind steeped in allegorical interpretations, as, for example, when “Amicus is said to be, by derivation, animi custos; also from hamus, that is, chain of love, whence we say hami or hooks because they hold.”[130] This is not ignorance so much as fancy.

The Etymologiae were meant to cover the current[Pg 108] knowledge of the time, doctrinal as well as secular. But the latter predominates, as it would in a Konversationslexikon. The general arrangement of the treatise is not alphabetical, but topical. To indicate the sources of its contents would be difficult as well as tedious. Isidore drew on many previous authors and compilers: to Cassiodorus and Boëthius he went for Rhetoric and Dialectic, and made frequent trips to the Prata of Suetonius for natural knowledge—or ignorance. In matters of doctrine he draws on the Church Fathers; and for his epitome of jurisprudence in the fifth book, upon the Fathers from Tertullian on, and (probably) upon some elementary book of legal Institutes.[131] Glancing[Pg 109] at the handling of topics in the Etymologies one feels it to have been a huge collection of terms and definitions. The actual information conveyed is very slight. Isidore is under the spell of words. Were they fetishes to him? did they carry moral potency? At all events the working of his mind reflects the age-long dominance of grammar and rhetoric in Roman education, which treated other topics almost as illustrations of these chief branches.[132]



[Pg 110]



The Latinizing of northern Italy, Spain, and Gaul was part of the expansion of Roman dominion. Throughout these lands, alien peoples submitted to the Roman order and acquired new traits from the training of its discipline. Voluntarily or under compulsion they exchanged their institutions and customs for those of Roman Italy, and their native tongues for Latin. The education and culture of the upper classes became identical with that gained in the schools about the Forum, and Roman literature was the literature which they studied and produced. In a greater or less degree their characters were Latinized, while their traditions were abandoned for those of Rome. Yet, although Romanized and Latinized, these peoples were not Roman. Their culture was acquired, their characters were changed, yet with old traits surviving. In character and faculties, as in geographical position, they were intermediate, and in rôle they were mediatorial. Much of what they had received, and what they had themselves become, they perforce transmitted to the ruder humanity which, as the Empire weakened, pressed in, serving, plundering, murdering, and finally amalgamating with these provincials. The surviving Latin culture passed to the mingled populations which were turning to inchoate Romance nations in Italy, Spain, and Gaul. Likewise Christianity, Romanized, paganized, barbarized, had been accepted through these countries. And now these mingled peoples, these inchoate Romance nations, were to accomplish a broader mediation in extending[Pg 111] the rudiments of Latin culture, along with the great new Religion, to the barbarous peoples beyond the Romance pale.

The mediating rôles of the Roman provincials began with their first subjection to Roman order. For barbarians were continually brought into the provinces as slaves or prisoners of war. Next, they entered to serve as auxiliary troops, coming especially from the wavering Teutonic outskirts of the Empire. And during that time of misrule and military anarchy which came between the death of Commodus (A.D. 192) and the accession of Diocletian (A.D. 284), Teutonic inroads threatened the imperial fabric. But, apart from palpable invasions, there was a constant increase in the Teutonic inflow from the close of the second century. More and more the Teutons tilled the fields; more and more they filled the armies. They became officers of the army and officials of the Government. So long as the vigour of life and growth continued in the Latinized population of the Empire, and so long as the Roman law and order held, the assimilative power of Latin culture and Roman institutions was enormous; the barbarians became Romanized. But when self-conserving strength and coercive energy waned with Romans and provincials, when the law’s protection was no longer sure, and a dry rot infected civic institutions, then Roman civilization lost some of its transforming virtue. The barbarism of the Teutonic influx became more obstinate as the transmuting forces of civilization weakened. Evidently the decadent civilization of the Empire could no longer raise these barbarians to the level of its greater periods; it could at most impress them with such culture and such order as it still possessed. Moreover, reacting upon these disturbed and infirm conditions, barbarism put forth a positive transforming energy, tending to barbarize the Empire, its government, its army, its inhabitants. The decay of Roman institutions and the grafting of Teutonic institutions upon Roman survivals were as universal as the mingling of races, tempers, and traditions. The course of events may briefly be reviewed.

In the third century the Goths began, by land and sea, to raid the eastern provinces of the undivided Roman[Pg 112] Empire; down the Danube they sailed, and out upon the Euxine; then their plundering fleets spread through the eastern Mediterranean. They were attacked, repulsed, overthrown, and slaughtered in hordes in the year 270. Some of the survivors remained in bondage, some retired north beyond the Danube. Aurelian gave up to them the province of Dacia: the latest conquest of the Empire, the first to be abandoned. These Dacian settlers thenceforth appear as Visigoths. For a century the Empire had no great trouble from them. Dacia was the scene of the career of Ulfilas (b. 311, d. 380), the Arian apostle of the Goths. They became Christian in part, and in part remained fiercely heathen. About 372, harassed by the Huns, they pressed south to escape over the Danube. Valens permitted them to cross; then Roman treachery followed, answered by desperate Gothic raids in Thrace, till at last Valens was defeated and slain at Hadrianople in 378.

It was sixteen years after this that Theodosius the Great marched from the East to Italy to suppress Arbogast, the overweening Frank, who had cast out his weak master Valentinian. The leader of the Visigothic auxiliaries was Alaric. When the great emperor died, Alaric was proclaimed King of the Visigoths, and soon proceeded to ravage and conquer Greece. Stilicho, son of a Vandal chief—one sees how all the high officers are Teutons—was the uncertain stay of Theodosius’s weakling sons, Honorius and Arcadius. In 400 Alaric attempted to invade Italy, but was foiled by Stilicho, who five years later circumvented and destroyed another horde of Goths, both men and women, who had penetrated Italy to the Apennines. In 408 Alaric made a second attempt to enter, and this time was successful, for Stilicho was dead. Thrice he besieged Rome, capturing it in 410. Then he died, his quick death to be a warning to Attila. The new Gothic king, Ataulf, conceived the plan of uniting Romans and Goths in a renewed and strengthened kingdom. But this task was not for him, and in two years he left Italy with his Visigoths to establish a kingdom in the south of Gaul.

Attila comes next upon the scene. The eastern Empire had endured the oppression of this terrible Turanian, and[Pg 113] had paid him tribute for some years, before he decided to march westward by a route north of the Alps, and attack Gaul. He penetrated to Orleans, which he besieged in vain. Many nations were in the two armies that were now to meet in battle on the “Catalaunian Plains.” On Attila’s side, besides his Huns, were subject Franks, Bructeri, Thuringians, Burgundians, and the hosts of Gepidae and Ostrogoths. Opposed were the Roman forces, Bretons, Burgundians, Alans, Saxons, Salian Franks, and the army of the Visigoths. Defeated, but not overthrown, the lion Hun withdrew across the Rhine; but the next spring, in 452, he descended from the eastern Alps upon Aquileia and destroyed it, and next sacked the cities of Venetia and the Po Valley as far as Milan. Then he passed eastward to the river Mincio, where he was met by a Roman embassy, in which Pope Leo was the most imposing figure. Before this embassy the Scourge of God withdrew, awed or persuaded, or in superstitious fear. The following year, upon Attila’s death, his realm broke up; Gepidae and Goths beat the Huns in battle, and again Teutons held sway in Central Europe.

The fear of the Hun had hardly ceased when the Vandals came from Africa, and leisurely plundered Rome. They were Teutons, perhaps kin to the Goths. But theirs had been a far migration. At the opening of the fifth century they had entered Gaul and fought the Franks, then passed on to Spain, where they were broken by the Visigoths. So they crossed to Africa and founded a kingdom there, whence they invaded Italy. By this time, the middle of the fifth century, the fighting and ruling energy in the western Empire was barbarian. The stocks had become mixed through intermarriage and the confusion of wars and frequent change of sides. An illustrative figure is Count Ricimer, whose father was a noble Suevian, while his mother was a Visigothic princess. He directed the Roman State from 456 to 472, placing one after another of his Roman puppets on the imperial throne.

In the famous year 476 the Roman army was made up of barbarians, mainly drawn from lands now included in Bohemia, Austria, and Hungary. There were large[Pg 114] contingents of Rugii and Heruli, who had flocked in bands to Italy as adventurers. Such troops had the status of foederati, that is, barbarian auxiliaries or allies. Suddenly they demanded one-third of the lands of Italy.[134] Upon refusal of their demand, they made a king from among themselves, the Herulian Odoacer, and Romulus Augustulus flitted from the shadowy imperial throne. By reason of his dramatic name, rather than by any marked circumstance of his deposition, he has come to typify with historians the close of the line of western emperors.

The Herulian soldier-king or “Patrician,” Odoacer, a nondescript transition personage, ruled twelve years. Then the nation of the Ostrogoths, which had learned much from the vicissitudes of fortune in the East, obtained the eastern emperor’s sanction, and made its perilous way to the gates of Italy under the king, Theodoric. This invading people numbered perhaps two hundred thousand souls; their fighting men were forty thousand. Odoacer was beaten on the river Isonzo; he retreated to the line of the Adige, and was again defeated at Verona. After standing a long siege in Ravenna, he made terms with Theodoric, and was murdered by him.

The Goths were among the best of the barbarians, and Theodoric was the greatest of the Goths. The eastern emperors probably regarded him as their representative in Italy; and he coined money only with the Emperor’s image. But in fact he was a sovereign; and, through his sovereignty over both Goths and Romans, from a Teutonic king he became an absolute monarch, even as his contemporary Clovis became, under analogous circumstances. He was a just despot, with his subjects’ welfare at heart. The Goths received one-third of the Italian lands, in return for which their duty was to defend the whole. This third may have been that previously possessed by Odoacer’s troops. Under Theodoric the relations between Goths and “Romans” were friendly. It was from the Code of Theodosius and other Roman sources that he drew the substance of his legislation,[Pg 115] the Edictum which about the year 510 he promulgated for both Goths and Romans (barbari Romanique).[135] His aim—and here the influence of his minister Cassiodorus appears—was to harmonize the relations of the two peoples and assimilate the ways of the Goths to those of their more civilized neighbours. But if his rule brought prosperity to Italy, after his death came desolating wars between the Goths under their noble kings, and Justinian’s great generals, Belisarius and Narses. These wars ruined the Ostrogothic nation. Only some remnants were left to reascend the Alps in 553. Behind them Italy was a waste.

An imperial eastern Roman restoration followed. It was not to endure. For already the able and savage Lombard Alboin was making ready to lead down his army of Lombards, Saxons, Gepidae and unassorted Teutons, and perhaps Slavs. No strength was left to oppose him in plague-stricken Italy. So the Lombard conquered easily, and set up a kingdom which, united or divided under kings and dukes, endured for two hundred years. Then Charlemagne—his father Pippin had been before him—at the entreaty of the Pope, invaded Italy with a host of mingled Teuton tribes, and put an end to the Lombard kingdom, but not to Lombard blood and Lombard traits.

The result of all these invasions was a progressive barbarization of Italy, which was not altogether unfortunate, because fraught with some renewal of strength. The Teutons brought their customs; and at least one Teuton people, the Lombards, maintained them masterfully. The Ostrogoth, Theodoric, had preserved the Italian municipal organization, and had drawn his code for all from Roman sources. But the first Lombard Code, that of King Rothari, promulgated about 643, ignored Roman law, and apparently the very existence of Romans. Though written in barbarous Latin, it is Lombard through and through. So, to a scarcely less degree, is the Code of King Liutprand, promulgated about 725.[136] Even then the Lombards looked upon themselves as distinct from the “Romans.” Their laws were still those of the Lombards, yet of Lombards settling down to urban life.[Pg 116] Within Lombard territories the “Romans” were subjects. In Liutprand’s Code they seem to be referred to under the name of aldii and aldiae, male and female persons, who were not slaves and yet not free. Instead of surrendering one-third of the land, the Romans were obliged to furnish one-third of its produce. Hence their Lombard masters were interested in keeping them fixed to the soil, perhaps in a state of serfdom. Little is known as to the intermarriage of the stocks, or when the Lombards adopted a Latin speech.[137]

It is difficult, either in Italy or elsewhere, to follow the changes and reciprocal working of Roman and Teutonic institutions through these obscure centuries. They wrought upon each other universally, and became what neither had been before. The Roman State was there no longer; where the names of its officials survived they stood for altered functions. The Roman law prevailed within the dominions of the eastern Empire and the popes. Everywhere the crass barbarian law and the pure Roman institution was passing away, or changing into something new. In Italy another pregnant change was taking place, the passing of the functions of government to the bishops of Rome. Its stages are marked by the names of great men upon whose shoulders fell the authority no longer held by a remote ruler. Leo the Great heads the embassy which turns back the Hun; a century and a half afterwards Gregory the Great leads the opposition to the Lombards, still somewhat unkempt savages. Thereafter each succeeding pope, in fact the papacy by necessity of its position and its aspirations, opposes the Lombards when they have ceased to be either savage or Arian. It is an absent supporter that the papacy desires, and not a rival close at hand: Charlemagne, not Desiderius.

When the Visigoths under Ataulf left Italy they passed into southern Gaul, and there established themselves with Toulouse as the centre of the Visigothic kingdom. They soon extended their rule to Spain, with the connivance of sundry Roman rulers. Some time before them Vandals, Suevi and Alans, having crossed the Rhine into Gaul, had been drawn across the Pyrenees by half-traitorous invitations[Pg 117] of rival Roman governors. The Visigoths now attacked these peoples, with the result that the Suevi retreated to the north-west of the peninsula, and at length the restless Vandals accepted the invitation of the traitor Count Boniface, and crossed to Africa. Visigothic fortunes varied under an irregular succession of non-hereditary and occasionally murdered kings. Their kingdom reached its farthest limit in the reign of Euric (466-486), who extended its boundaries northward to the Loire and southward over nearly all of Spain.[138]

Under the Visigoths the lot of the Latinized provincials, who with their ancestors had long been Roman citizens, was not a hard one. The Roman system of quartering soldiers upon provincials, with a right to one-third of the house, afforded precedent for the manner of settlement of the Visigoths and other Teuton invaders after them. The Visigoths received two-thirds not only of the houses but also of the lands, which indeed were bare of cultivators. The municipal organization of the towns was left intact, and in general the nomenclature and structure of Roman officialdom were preserved. As the Romans were the more numerous and the cleverer, they regained their wealth and social consideration. In 506, Alaric II. promulgated his famous code, the Lex Romana Visigothorum, usually called the “Breviarium,” for his Roman subjects. Although the next year Clovis broke down the Visigothic kingdom in Gaul, and confined it to narrow limits around Narbonne, this code remained in force, a lasting source of Roman law for the inhabitants of the south and west of Gaul.[139]

[Pg 118]Throughout Visigothic Spain there existed, in conflict if not in force, a complex mass of diverse laws and customs, written and unwritten, Roman, Gothic, ecclesiastical. Soon after the middle of the seventh century a general code was compiled for both Goths and Roman provincials, between whom marriages were formally sanctioned. This codification was the legal expression of a national unity, which however had no great political vigour. For what with its inheritance of intolerable taxation, of dwindling agriculture, of enfeebled institutions and social degeneracy, the Visigothic state fell an easy victim before the Arabs in 711. It had been subject to all manner of administrative abuse. In name the government was secular. But in fact the bishops of the great sees were all-powerful to clog, if not to administer, justice and the affairs of State within their domains; the nobles abetted them in their misgovernment. So it came that instead of a united Government supported by a strong military power, there was divided misrule, and an army without discipline or valour. This misrule was also cruelly intolerant. The bitter persecution of the Jews, and the law that none but a Catholic should live in Spain, if not causes, were at least symptoms, of a fatal impotence, and prophetic of like measures taken by later rulers in that chosen land of religious persecution.[140]

[Pg 119]In Gaul, contact between Latinized provincials and Teutonic invaders produced interesting results. Mingled peoples came into being, whose polity and institutions were neither Roman nor Teutonic, and whose literature and intellectual achievement were to unite the racial qualities of both. The hybrid political and social phenomena of the Frankish period were engendered by a series of events which may be outlined as follows. The Franks, Salic and Ripuarian, were clustered in the region of the lower and middle Rhine. Like other Teutonic groups dwelling near the boundaries of the weakening Empire, they were alternately plunderers of Roman territory and auxiliaries in the imperial army, or its independent allies against Huns or Saxons or Alans. One Childeric, whose career opens in saga and ends in history, was king or hereditary leader of a part of the Salian Franks. This active man appears in frequent relations with Aegidius, the half-independent Roman ruler of that north-western portion of Gaul which was not held by Visigoths or Burgundians. If Childeric’s forefathers had oftener been enemies than allies of the Empire, he was its ally, and perhaps commander of the forces which helped to preserve this outlying portion of its territory.

Aegidius died in 463, and the territories ruled by him passed to his son Syagrius practically as an independent kingdom. Childeric in the next eighteen years increased his power among the Salian Franks, and extended his territories through victories over other Teutonic groups. Upon his death in 481 his kingdom passed to his son Chlodoweg, or, as it is easier to call him, Clovis, then in his sixteenth year. The next five years were employed by this precocious genius of barbarian craft in strengthening his kingship among the Salians. At the age of twenty he attacked Syagrius, and overthrew his power at Soissons. The last Roman ruler of a part of Gaul fled to the Visigoths for refuge: their king delivered him to Clovis, who had him killed. So Clovis’s realm was extended first to the Seine and then to the Loire. The Gallo-Romans were not driven out or dispossessed, but received a new master, who on his part treated them forbearingly and accepted them as subjects.[Pg 120] The royal domains of Syagrius perhaps were large enough to satisfy the cupidity of the victors.

Clovis was now king of Gallo-Romans as well as Salian Franks. Thus strengthened he could fight other Franks with success, and carry on a great war against the Alemanni to the south-east. At the “battle of Tolbiac,” in which he finally overthrew these people, the heathen Frank invoked the Christian God (so tells Gregory of Tours), and vowed to accept the Faith if Christ gave him the victory. This is like the legend of Constantine at the battle of the Malvern Bridge, nor is the probability of its essential truth lessened because of this resemblance. Both Roman emperor and Frankish king turned from heathenism to Christianity as to the stronger supernatural support. And if ever man received tenfold reward in this world from his faith it was this treacherous and bloody Frank.

Hitherto the Teuton tribes, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians who had accepted Christianity, were Arians by reason of the circumstances of their “conversion.” On the other hand, the Romanized inhabitants of Italy, Spain, and Gaul were Catholics, and the influence of their Arian-hating clergy was enormous. Evidently when Clovis, under the influence of Catholic bishops and a Catholic wife, became a Catholic, the power of the Church and the sympathy of the laity would make his power irresistible. For the Catholic population was greatly in the majority, even in the countries held by Burgundian or Visigothic kings. The Burgundian rulers had half turned to Catholicism, and the Visigothic monarchy treated it with respect. Yet the Burgundian kings did not win the Church’s confidence, nor did the Visigoths disarm its active hostility. With such ability as Clovis and his sons possessed, their conversion to Catholicism ensured victory over their rivals, and made a bond of friendship between them and their Gallo-Roman subjects.[141]

The extension of Clovis’s kingdom, his overthrow of the Visigothic power, his partial conquest of the Burgundians, would have been even more rapid and decisive but for the opposing diplomacy of the great Arian ruler, Theodoric the[Pg 121] Ostrogoth, whose prestige and power even the bold Frank dared not defy. Moreover, the Burgundians stood well with their Roman subjects, whom they treated generously, and permitted to live under a code of Roman law. When it came to war between them and Clovis, the advantage rested with the latter; but possibly the fear of Theodoric, or the pressure of war with the Alemanni, deferred the final conquest of the Burgundian kingdom for another generation.

In 507 Clovis attacked the Visigothic kingdom, and incorporated it with his dominions in the course of the next year. Whether or not he had cried out, in the words of Gregory of Tours, “it is a shame that these Arians should hold a part of Gaul; let us attack them with God’s help and take their land,” at all events the war had a religious sanction, and its successful issue was facilitated by the Catholic clergy within the Visigothic territory. Clovis’s career was now nearing its end. In his last years, by treachery, murder, and open war when needed, he made himself king of all the Franks, Ripuarian and Salian. The intense partisan sympathy of the Church for this its eldest royal Teuton son speaks in the words of Gregory of Tours, concluding his recital of these deeds of incomparable villainy: “Thus day by day God cast down his (Clovis’s) enemies before him, because he did what was right in His eyes”!

The unresting sons and grandsons of Clovis not only conquered Burgundy, but extended their rule far to the east, into the heart of Germany, and Merovingians became masters of Thuringia and Bavaria. That such a realm should hold together was impossible. From Clovis to Charlemagne it was the regular practice to divide the realm at death among the ruler’s sons, and for the ablest among them to pursue and slay the others, and so unite the realm again. Besides this principle of internecine conflict, differences of race and language and degrees of Latinization ensured eventual disruption.

Nothing passes away, and very little quite begins, but all things change; and so the verity of social and political phenomena lies in the becoming, rather than in any temporary phase—as one may perceive in the Merovingian, later Carolingian, regnum Francorum. Therein Roman[Pg 122] institutions survived either as decayed actualities or as names or effigies; therein were conditions and even institutions which arose and were developed through the decay of previous institutions, through the weakening of the imperial peace and justice, the growth of abuses, and the need of the weak to put themselves under the protection of the nearest strong. This huge conglomerate of a government also held sturdy Teuton elements. There was the kingship and the strong body of personal followers, the latter an outgrowth of the comitatus, or rather of the needs of any barbaric chieftaincy. There was wergeld, not so much exclusively a Teutonic institution, as belonging to a rough society which sees the need of checking feuds, and finds the means in a system of compensation to the injured person or his kin, who would otherwise make reprisals; there was also Sippe, the rights and duties of kin among themselves, and of the kinship as a corporate unit toward the world without; and therein, in general, was continuance of the warrior spirit of the Franks and other Teutons, of their social ways and mode of dress, of their methods of warfare and their thoughts of barbaric hardihood.

These elements, and much more besides, were in process of mutual interplay and amalgamation. Childeric had been king of some of the Salian Franks, and had allied himself with the last fragment of the Roman Empire in Gaul. Clovis, his son, is greater: he makes himself king of more Franks, and becomes the head of the Roman-Frankish combination by overthrowing Syagrius and taking his place as lord of the Gallo-Romans. As towards them he becomes even as Syagrius and the emperors before him, absolute ruler, princeps. This authority enhanced the dignity of Clovis’s kingship over his own Franks and the Alemanni, and his personal power increased with each new conquest. He became a novel sort of monarch, combining heterogeneous prerogatives. Hence his sovereignty and that of his successors was not a simple development of Teutonic kingship, nor was it a continuation of Roman imperial or proconsular rule, but rather a new composite evolution. Some of its contradictions and anomalies were symbolized by Clovis’s acceptance of the title of Consul and stamping[Pg 123] the effigies of the eastern emperors upon his coins—as if they held any power in the regnum Francorum! As between Gallo-Romans and Franks, the headship had gone over to the latter; yet there was neither hatred on the one side nor oppression from the other. A common catholicism and many similarities of condition promoted mutual sympathy and union. For example, through the decay of the imperial power, oppression had increased, and the common Gallo-Roman people were compelled to place themselves under the patronage of powerful personages who could give them the protection which they could no longer look for from the Government. So relationships of personal dependence developed, not essentially dissimilar from those subsisting between the Franks and their kings, when the kings were mere leaders of small tribes or war bands. But the vastness of the Salian realm impaired the personal relationship between king and subjects, and again the latter, Frankish or Gallo-Roman, needed nearer protectors, and found them in neighbouring great proprietors and functionaries, Frankish or Gallo-Roman as the case might be.[142]

Through all the turmoil of the Merovingian period, there was doubtless individual injustice and hardship everywhere, but no racial tyranny. The Gallo-Roman kept his language and property, and continued to live under the Roman law. He was not inferior to the Frank, except that the latter was entitled to a higher wergeld for personal injury, which, however, soon was equalized. The Frank also lived under his own law, Salic or Ripuarian. But the general mingling of peoples in the end made it impossible to distinguish the law personally applicable; and thereupon, both as to Franks and Gallo-Romans, the territorial law superseded the law of race.[143] And when, after two centuries, the Merovingian kingdom, through change of dynasty, became the Carolingian, political discrepancies between Frank and Gallo-Roman had passed away. Yet this huge colossus of a realm with its shoulders of iron and its feet of clay, still included enough disparities of race and land, language and institution, to ensure its dissolution.



[Pg 124]



The northern races who were to form part of the currents of mediaeval life are grouped under the names of Celts and Teutons.[144] The chief sections of the former, dwelling in northern Italy and Gaul and Spain, were Latinized and then Christianized long before the mediaeval period, and themselves helped to create the patristic and even the antique side of the mediaeval patrimony. Their rôle was largely mediatorial, and geographically, as well as in their[Pg 125] time of receiving Latin culture, they were intermediaries between the classic sources and the Teutons, who also were to drink of these magic draughts, but not so deeply as to be transformed to Latin peoples. The rôle of the Teutons in the mediaeval evolution was to accept Christianity and learn something of the pagan antique, and then to react upon what they had received and change it in their natures.

Central Europe seems to have been the early home alike of Celts and Teutons. Thence successive migratory groups appear to have passed westwardly and southerly. Both races spoke Aryan tongues, and according to the earliest notices of classic writers resembled each other physically—large, blue-eyed, with yellow or tawny hair. The more penetrating accounts of Caesar and Tacitus disclose their distinctive racial traits, which contrast still more clearly in the remains of the early Celtic (Irish) and Teutonic literatures. Whatever were the ethnological affinities between Celt and Teuton, and however imperceptibly these races may have shaded into each other, for example, in northern France and Belgium, their characters were different, and their opposing racial traits have never ceased to display themselves in the literature as well as in the political and social history of western Europe.

The time and manner of the Celtic occupation of Gaul and Spain remain obscure.[145] It took place long before the turmoils of the second century B.C., when the Teutonic tribes began to assert themselves, probably in the north of the present Germany, and to press south-westwardly upon Celtic neighbours on both sides of the Rhine. Some of them pushed on towards lands held by the Belgae, and then passed southward toward Aquitania, drawing Belgic and Celtic peoples with them. Afterwards turning eastwardly they invaded the Roman Provincia in southern Gaul, and through their victories threatened the great Republic. This[Pg 126] was the peril of the Cimbri and Teutones, which Marius quelled by the waters of the Durance and then among the hills of Piedmont. The invasion did not change the ethnology of Gaul, which, however, was not altogether Celtic in Caesar’s time. The opening sentences of his Commentaries indicate anything but racial unity. The Roman province was mainly Ligurian in blood. West of the province, between the Pyrenees and the Garonne, were the “Aquitani,” chiefly of Iberian stock. The Celtae, whose western boundary was the ocean, reached from the Garonne as far north as the Seine, and eastwardly across the centre of Gaul to the head waters of the Rhine. North of them were the Belgae, extending from the Seine and the British Channel to the lower Rhine. These Belgae also apparently were Celts, and yet, as their lands touched those of the Germans on the Rhine, they naturally show Teutonic affinities, and some of their tribes contained strains of Teuton blood. But it is not blood alone that makes the race; and Gaul, with its dominant Celtic element, was making Gauls out of all these peoples. At all events a common likeness may be discerned in the picture of Gallic traits which Caesar gives.[146]

Gallic civilization had then advanced as far as the native political incapacity of the Gauls would permit. Quick-witted and intelligent, they were to gain from Rome the discipline they needed. Once accustomed to the enforcement of a stable order, their finer qualities responded by a ready acceptance of the benefits of civilization and a rapid appropriation of Latin culture. Not a sentence of the Gallic literature survives. But that this people were endowed with eloquence and possessed of a sense of form, was to be shown by works in their adopted tongue.[147] Romanized and Latinized, they were converted to Christianity and then renewed with fresh Teutonic blood. So they enter upon the[Pg 127] mediaeval period; and when, after the millennial year, the voices of the Middle Ages cease simply to utter the barbaric or echo the antique, it becomes clear that nowhere is there a happier balance of intellectual faculty and emotional capacity than in these peoples of mingled stock who long had dwelt in the country which we know as France.

Since the Celts of Gaul have left no witness of themselves in Gallic institutions or literature, it is necessary to turn to Ireland for clearer evidence of Celtic qualities. There one may see what might come of a predominantly Celtic people who lacked the lesson of Roman conquest and the discipline of Roman order. The early history of the Irish, their presentation of themselves in imaginative literature, their attainment in learning and accomplishment in art, are not unlike what might have been expected from Caesar’s Gauls under similar conditions of comparative isolation. Irish history displays the social turmoil and barbarism resulting from the insular aggravation of the Celtic weaknesses noticeable in Caesar’s sketch; and the same are carried to burlesque excess in the old Irish literature. On the other hand, Irish qualities of temperament and mind bear such fair fruit in literature and art as might be imagined springing from the Gallic stem but for the Roman graft.[148]

No trustworthy story can be put together from the myth, tradition, and conscious fiction which record the unprogressive[Pg 128] turbulence of pre-Christian Ireland. But the Irish character and capacities are clearly mirrored in this enormous Gaelic literature. Truculence and vanity pervade it, and a passion for hyperbole. A weak sense of fact and a lack of steady rational purpose are also conspicuous. It is as ferocious as may be. Yet, withal, it keeps the charm of the Irish temperament. Its pathos is moving, even lovely. Some of the poetry has a mystic sensuousness; the lines fall on the ear like the lapping of ripples on an unseen shore; the imagery has a fantastic and romantic beauty, and the reader is wafted along on waves of temperament and feeling.[149]

Whatever themes sprang from the pagan age, probably nothing was written down before the Christian time, when Christian matter might be foisted into the pagan story. The Sagas belonging to the so-called Ulster Cycle afford the best illustration of early Irish traits.[150] They reflect a society[Pg 129] apparently at the “Homeric” stage of development, though the Irish heroes suffer in comparison with the Greek by reason of the immeasurable inferiority of these Gaelic Sagas to the Iliad and Odyssey. There is the same custom of fighting from chariots, the same tried charioteer, the hero’s closest friend, and the same unstable relationship between the chieftains and the king.[151]

The Achilles of the Ulster Cycle is Cuchulain. The Tain Bo Cuailgne (Englished rather improperly as the “Cattle-raid of Cooley”) is the long and famous Saga that brings his glory to its height.[152] Other Sagas tell of his mysterious birth, his youthful deeds, his wooing, his various feats, and then the moving, fateful story of his death. Loved by many women, cherished by heroes, beautiful in face and form, possessed of strength, agility, and skill in arms beyond belief, uncontrolled, chivalric, his battle-ardour unquenchable, he is a brilliant epic hero. But his story is weakened by hyperbole. Even to-day we know how sword-strokes and spear-thrust kill. So do great narrators, who likewise realize the literary power of truth. Through the Iliad there is no combat between heroes where spear and sword do not pierce and kill as they do in fact. So in the Sagas of the Norse, the man falls before the mortal blow. But in the Ulster Cycle, day after day, two heroes may mangle each other in every impossible and fantastic way, beyond the bounds of the faintest shadow of verisimilitude.[153] In this weakness of hyperbole the Irish Sagas are[Pg 130] outdone only by the monstrous doings of the epics of India.

Besides hyperbole, Irish tales display another weakness, which is not unpleasing, although an element of failure both in the people and their literature. This is the quality of non-arrival. Some old tales evince it in the unsteadfast purpose of the narrative, the hero quite forgetting the initial motive of his action. In the Voyage of Mældun, for instance, a son sets out upon the ocean to seek his father’s murderers, a motive which is lost sight of amid the marvels of the voyage.[154] As may be imagined, qualities of vanity, truculence, irrationality, hyperbole, and non-arrival or lack of sequence, frequently impart an air of bouffe to the Irish Sagas, making them humorous beyond the intention of their composers.[155]

Yet true heroic notes are to be heard.[156] And however rare the tales which have not the makings of a brawl on every page, these truculent Sagas sometimes speak with power and pathos, and sweetly present the loveliness of nature or the charms of women; all in a manner happily indicative of the impressionable Irish temperament. Examples are the moving tales of The Children of Usnach and the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne.[157] They bring to[Pg 131] mind the Tristram story, which grew up among a kindred people. The first of them only belongs to the Ulster Cycle. Both are stories of a beautiful and headstrong maiden betrothed to an old king. Each maid rebels against union with an old man; each falls in love with a young hero, and, unabashed, asks him to flee with her. In the former tale the heroine’s charms win the hero, while in the latter he is overcome by the violent insistence of a woman not to be gainsaid. In both stories love brings the hero to his death.

The Irish genius also showed an aptitude for lyric expression, and at an early period developed elaborate modes of rhymed and alliterative verse.[158] Peculiarly beautiful are the poems reflecting the Gaelic belief in a future life. A charming description of Elysium is offered by The Voyage of Bran, a Saga of the Otherworld, dating from the seventh century. Its verse portions preponderate, the prose serving as their frame.[159] But it opens in prose, telling how one day, walking near his stronghold, Bran heard sweet music behind him, and as often as he turned the music was still behind him. He fell asleep at last from the sweetness of the strains. When he awoke, he found by him a branch silvery with white blossoms. He took it to his home, where was seen a woman who sang:

“A branch of the apple-tree from Emain I bring;
Twigs of white silver are on it,
Crystal boughs with blossoms.
There is a distant isle,
Around which sea-horses (waves) glisten:”

And the woman sings on, picturing “Mag Mell of many flowers,” and of the host ever rowing thither from across the sea; till at last Bran and his people set forth in their boat and row on and on, till they are welcomed by sweet women with music and wine in island-fields of flowers and bird-song. There is no sad strain in the music from this Gaelic land beyond the grave.

Irish traits observed in poem and Saga are reflected in accounts of not improbable events, and exemplified in[Pg 132] Christian saints; for the Irish did not change their spots upon conversion. How Christianity failed to affect the manners of the ancient Irish is illustrated in the story of the Cursing of Tara, where tradition says the high-kings of Ireland held sway. The account is scarcely historical; yet Tara existed, and fell to decay in the sixth century.[160] Its cursing was on this wise. King Dermot was high-king of Ireland. His laws were obeyed throughout the land, and over its length and breadth marched his spear-bearer asserting the royal authority, and holding the king’s spear across his body before him. Every town and castle must open wide enough to let this spear pass, carried crosswise. The spear-bearer comes to the strong house of Ædh. He finds the outer palisade breached to let the spear through, but not the inner house. The bearer demands that it be torn open. “Order it so as to please thyself,” quoth Ædh, as he smote off his head.

King Dermot sent his men to lay waste to Ædh’s land and seize his person. Ædh flees, and at last takes refuge with St. Ruadhan. The king again sends messengers, but they are foiled, till he comes himself, seizes the outlaw, and carries him off to hang him at Tara. Thereupon St. Ruadhan seeks St. Brendan of Birr and others. They proceed to Tara and demand the prisoner. The king answers that the Church cannot protect law-breakers. So all the clergy rang their bells and chanted psalms against the king before Tara, and fasted on him (in order that their imprecations might be more potent), and he fasted on them. King and clergy fasted on each other, till one night the clergy made a show of eating in sight of the town, but passed the meat and ale beneath their cowls. So the king was tricked into taking meat; and an evil dream came to him, by which he knew the clergy would succeed in destroying his kingdom.

In the morning the king went and said to the clergy: “Ill have ye done to undo my kingdom, because I maintained the righteous cause. Be thy diocese, Ruadhan, the first one ruined, and may thy monks desert thee.”

[Pg 133]Said the saint: “May thy kingdom droop speedily.”

Said the king: “Thy see shall be empty, and swine shall root up thy churchyards.”

Said the saint: “Tara shall be desolate, and therein shall no dwelling be for ever.”

It was the custom of ancient bards to utter an imprecation or “satire” against those offending them.[161] The irate fasting and cursing by the Irish clergy was a thinly Christianized continuation of the same Irish habit, inspired by the same Irish temper. There was no chasm between the pagan bards and the Christian clergy, who loved the Sagas and preserved them. They had also their predecessors in the Druids, who had performed the functions of diviners, magicians, priests, and teachers, which were assumed by the clergy in the fifth and sixth centuries.[162] Doubtless many of the Druids became monks.

Christianity came to the Irish as a new ardour, effacing none of their characteristics. Irish monks and Irish saints were as irascible as Irish bards and Saga heroes. The Irish temper lived on in St. Columba of Iona and St. Columbanus of Luxeuil and Bobbio. Both of these men left Ireland to spread monastic Christianity, and also because, as Irishmen, they loved to rove, like their forefathers. Christianity furnished this Irish propensity with a definite aim in the mission-passion to convert the heathen. It likewise brought the ascetic hermit-passion, which drove these travel-loving islanders over the sea in search of solitude; and so a yearning came on Irish monks to sail forth to some distant isle and gain within the seclusion of the sea a hermitage beyond the reach of man. There are many stories of these explorers. They sailed along the Hebrides, they settled on the Shetland Islands, they reached the Faroes, and even brought back news of Iceland. But before the seventh century closed, their sea hermitages were harried by Norsemen who were sailing upon quite different ventures. From an opposite direction they too had[Pg 134] reached the Shetlands and the Hebrides, and had pushed on farther south among the islands off the west coast of Scotland. So there come sorry tales of monks fleeing from one island to another. These harryings and flights had gone on for a century and more before the Vikings landed in Ireland, apparently for the first time, in 795.[163] There followed two centuries of fierce struggle with the invaders, during which much besides blows was exchanged. Vikings and Irish learned from each other; Norse strains passed into Irish literature, and conversely the Norse story-tellers probably obtained the Saga form of composition.

The rôle of the Irish in the diffusion of Christianity with its accompaniment of Latin culture will be noted hereafter, and a sketch of the unquestionably Irish saint Columbanus will be given in illustration. A few paragraphs on his almost namesake of Iona, whose career hardly extended beyond Celtic circles, may fitly close the present chapter on the Celtic genius. In him is seen the truculent Irishman and the clan-abbot of royal birth, violent, dominating by his impetuosity and the strident fervour of his voice; also the saint, devoted, loving, to his followers. Colum,[164] surnamed Cille, “of the church,” from his incessant devotions, and by his Latin name known as Columba, was born at Gartan, Donegal, in the extreme north-west of Ireland, about the year 520. His family was chief in that[Pg 135] part of the country, and through both his parents he was descended from kings. He does not belong to those early Irish saints represented by Patrick and his storied coadjutors of both sexes, whose missionary activities were not constrained within any ascetic rule; but to the later generation who lived in those monastic communities which were so very typically Irish.[165]

Columba appears to have passed his youth wandering from one monastery to another, and his manhood in founding them. But so strong a nature could not hold aloof from the wars of his clan, which belonged to the northern branch of the Hy-neill race, then maintaining its independence against the southern branch. The head of the latter was that very King Dermot (usually called Diarmaid or Diarmuid) against whom St. Ruadhan[166] and the clergy fasted and rang their bells. Columba appears to have had no part in the cursing of Tara. But Dermot was the king against whom the wars[Pg 136] of his family were waged, and all the traditions point to the saint as their instigator. The account given by Keating, the seventeenth century historian of Gaelic Ireland, is curious.[167]

“Diarmuid ... King of Ireland, made the Feast of Tara, and a nobleman was killed at that feast by Curran, son of Aodh; wherefore Diarmuid killed him in revenge for that, because he committed murder at the Feast of Tara, against the law and the sanctuary of the feast; and before Curran was put to death he fled to the protection of Colum-Cille, and notwithstanding the protection of Colum-Cille he was killed by Diarmuid. And from that it arose that Colum-Cille mustered the Clanna Neill of the North, because his own protection and the protection of the sons of Earc was violated. Whereupon the battle of Cul Dreimhne was gained over Diarmuid and over the Connaughtmen, so that they were defeated through the prayer of Colum-Cille.”

Keating adds that another book relates another cause of this battle, to wit:

“... the false judgment which Diarmuid gave against Colum-Cille when he wrote the gospel out of the book of Finnian without his knowledge.[168] Finnian said that it was to himself belonged the son-book which was written from his book, and they both selected Diarmuid as judge between them. This is the decision that Diarmuid made: that to every book belongs its son-book, as to every cow belongs her calf.”

Less consistent is the tradition that Columba left Ireland because of the sentence passed upon him by certain of his fellow-saints, as penance for the bloodshed which he had occasioned. Indeed, for his motives one need hardly look beyond the desire to spread the Gospel, and the passion of the Irish monk peregrinam ducere vitam. Reaching the west of Scotland, Columba was granted that rugged little island then called Hy, but Iova afterwards, and now Iona. This was in 563, and he continued abbot of Hy until his death in 597. Not that he stayed there all these years, for he moved about ceaselessly, founding churches among the Picts and Scots. Some thirty foundations are attributed to him, besides his thirty odd in Ireland.

[Pg 137]Adamnan’s Vita largely consists of stories of the saint’s miracles and prophecies and the interpositions of Providence in his behalf. It nevertheless gives a consistent picture of this man of powerful frame and mighty voice, restless and unrestrained, ascetically tempered, working always for the spread of his religion. We see him compelling men to set sail with him despite the tempest, or again rushing into “the green glass water up to his knees” to curse a plunderer in the name of Christ. “He was not a gentle hero,” says an old Gaelic Eulogy. Yet if somewhat quick to curse, he was still readier to bless, and if he could be masterful, his life had its own humility. “Surely it was great lowliness in Colomb Cille that he himself used to take off his monks’ sandals and wash their feet for them. He often used to carry his portion of corn on his back to the mill, and grind it and bring it home to his house. He never used to put linen or wool against his skin. His side used to come against the bare mould.”[169]

So this impetuous life passes before our eyes filled with adventure, touched with romance, its colours heightened through tradition. As it draws to its close the love in it seems to exceed the wrath; and thus it ends: as the old man was resting himself the day before his death, seated by the barn of the monastery, the white work-horse came and laid its head against his breast. Late the same night, reclining on his stone bed he spoke his last words, enjoining peace and charity among the monks. Rising before dawn, he entered the church alone, knelt beside the altar, and there he died.[170]—His memory still hangs the peace of God and man over the Island of Iona.



[Pg 138]



There were intellectual as well as emotional differences between the Celts and Teutons. A certain hard rationality and grasp of fact mark the mentality of the latter. On land or sea they view the situation, realize its opportunities, their own strength, and the opposing odds: with definite and persistent purpose they move, they fight, they labour. The quality of purposefulness becomes clearer as they emerge from the forest obscurity of their origins into the open light of history. To a definite goal of conquest and settlement Theodoric led the Ostrogoths from Moesia westward, and fought his way into Italy. With persistent purposefulness Clovis and his Merovingian successors intrigued and fought. Among Anglo-Saxon pirates the aim of plunder quickly grew to that of conquest. And in times which were to follow, there was purpose in every voyage and battle of the Vikings. The Teutons disclose more strength and persistency of desire than the Celts. Their feelings were slower, less impulsive; also less quickly diverted, more unswerving, even fiercer in their strength. The general characteristic of Teutonic emotion is its close connection with some motive grounded in rational purpose.

Caesar’s short sketch of the Germans[171] gives the impression of barbarous peoples, numerous, brave, overweening. They had not reached the agricultural stage, but were devoted to war and hunting. There were no Druids among[Pg 139] them. Their bodies were inured to hardship. They lived in robust independence, and were subject to their chiefs only in war. Their fiercest folk, the Suevi, from boyhood would submit neither to labour nor discipline, that their strength and spirit might be unchecked. It was deemed shameful for a youth to have to do with women before his twentieth year.

The Roman world knew more about these Germans by the year A.D. 99 when Tacitus composed his Germania. They had scarcely yet turned to agriculture. Respect for women appears clearly. These barbarians are most reluctant to give their maidens as hostages; they listen to their women’s voices and deem that there is something holy and prophetic in their nature. Upon marriage, oxen, a horse, and shield and lance make up the husband’s morgengabe to his bride: she is to have part in her husband’s valour. Fornication and adultery are rare, the adulteress is ruthlessly punished; men and maidens marry late. The men of the tribe decide important matters, which, however, the chiefs have previously discussed apart. The people sit down armed; the priests proclaim silence; the king or war-leader is listened to, and the assembly is swayed by his persuasion and repute. They dissent with murmurs, or assent brandishing their spears. There is thus participation by the tribe, and yet deference to reputation. This description discloses Teutonic freedom as different from Celtic political unrestraint. Tacitus also speaks of the Germanic Comitatus, consisting of a chief and a band of youths drawn together by his repute, who fight by his side and are disgraced if they survive him dead upon the field. In time of peace they may seek another leader from a tribe at war; for the Germans are impatient of peace and toil, and slothful except when fighting or hunting. They had further traits and customs which are barbaric rather than specifically Teutonic: cruelty and faithlessness toward enemies, feuds, wergeld, drinking bouts, gambling, slavery, absence of testaments.

Between the time of Tacitus and the fifth century many changes came over the Teuton tribes. Early tribal names vanished, while a regrouping into larger and apparently[Pg 140] more mobile aggregates took place. The obscure revolutions occurring in Central Europe in the second, third, and fourth centuries do not indicate social progress, but rather retrogression from an almost agricultural state toward stages of migratory unrest.[172] We have already noted the fortunes of those tribes that helped to barbarize and disrupt the Roman Empire, and lost themselves among the Romance populations of Italy, Gaul, and Spain. We are here concerned with those that preserved their native speech and qualities, and as Teuton peoples became contributories to the currents of mediaeval evolution.



When the excellent Apollinaris Sidonius, writing in the middle of the fifth century to a young friend about to enter the Roman naval service off the coasts of Gaul, characterized the Saxon pirates as the fiercest and most treacherous of foes, whose way is to dash upon their prey amid the tempest, and for whom shipwreck is a school, he spoke truly, and also illustrated the difference that lies in point of view.[173] Fierce they were, and hardy seamen, likewise treacherous in Roman eyes, and insatiate plunderers. From the side of the sea they represented the barbarian disorder threatening the world. The Roman was scarcely interested in the fact that these men kept troth among themselves with energy and sacrifice of life. The Saxons, Angles, Jutes, whose homes ashore lay between the Weser and the Elbe and through Sleswig, Holstein, and Denmark, possessed interesting qualities before they landed in Britain, where under novel circumstances they were to develop their character and institutions with a rapidity that soon raised them above the condition of their kin who had stayed at home. Bands of them had touched Britain before the year 411, when the Roman legions were withdrawn. But it was only with the landing of Hengest and Horsa in 449 that they began to[Pg 141] come in conquering force. The Anglo-Saxon conquest of the island went on for two centuries. Information regarding it is of the scantiest; but the Britons seem to have been submerged or driven westward. There is at least no evidence of any friendly mingling of the races. The invaders accepted neither Christianity nor Roman culture from the conquered, and Britain became a heathen England.

While these Teuton peoples were driving through their conquest and also fighting fiercely with each other, their characters and institutions were becoming distinctively Anglo-Saxon. Under stress of ceaseless war, military leaders became hereditary kings, whose powers, at least in intervals of peace, were controlled by the Witan or Council of the Wise, and limited by the jurisdiction of the Hundred Court. Likewise the temporary ties of the Teutonic Comitatus became permanent in the body of king’s companions (thegns, thanes), whose influence was destined to supplant that of the eorls, the older nobility of blood. The Comitatus principle pervades Anglo-Saxon history as well as literature; it runs through the Beowulf epic; Anglo-Saxon Biblical versifiers transfer it to the followers of Abraham and the disciples of Christ; and every child knows the story of Lilla, faithful thegn, who flung himself between his Northumbrian king, Edwin, and the sword of the assassin—the latter sent by a West Saxon king and doubtless one of his faithful thegns. Their law consisted mainly in the graded wergeld for homicide, in an elaborate tariff of compensation for personal injuries, and in penalties for cattle-raiding. Beyond the matter of theft, property law was still unwritten custom, and contract law did not exist. The rules of procedure, for instance in the Hundred Court, were elaborate, as is usual in a primitive society where the substantial rights are simple, and the important thing is to induce the parties to submit to an adjudication. Similar Teutonic customs obtained elsewhere. But the course of their development in Saxon England displays an ever clearer recognition of fundamental principles of English law: justice is public; the parties immediately concerned must bring the case to court and there conduct it according to rules of procedure; the court of freemen hear and determine,[Pg 142] but do not extend the inquiry beyond the evidence adduced before them; to interpret and declare the law is the function of the court, not of the king and his officers.[174]

During these first centuries in England, the Anglo-Saxon endowment of character and faculty becomes clearly shown in events and expressed in literature. A battle-loving people whose joy in fight flashes from their “shield-play” and “sword-game” epithets, even as their fondness for seafaring is seen in such phrases as “wave-floater,” “foam-necked,” “like a swan” breasting the “swan-road” of the sea. But their sword-games and wave-floatings had purpose, a quality that became large and steady as generation after generation, unstopped by fortress, forest, or river, pushed on the conquest of England. When that conquest had been completed, and these Saxons were in turn hard pressed by their Danish kin more lately sailing from the north, their courage still could not be overborne. It is reflected in the overweening mood of Maldon, the poem which is also called The Death of Byrhtnoth. The cold grey scene lies in the north of England. The Viking invaders demand rings of gold; Byrhtnoth, the Alderman of the East Saxons, retorts scornfully. So the fight begins with arrows and spear throwings across the black water. The Saxons hold the ford. The Sea-wolves cannot force it. They call for leave to cross. In his overmood Byrhtnoth answers: “To you this is yielded: come straightway to us; God only wots who shall hold fast the place of battle.” In the bitter end when Byrhtnoth is killed, still speaks his thane: “Mind shall the harder be, heart the keener, mood the greater, as our might lessens. Here lies our Elder hewn to death. I am old; I will not go hence. I think to lay me down by the side of my lord.”

The spiritual gifts of the Anglo-Saxons are discernible in their language, which so adequately could render the Bible[175] and the phraseology of the Seven Liberal Arts.[Pg 143] Its terms were somewhat more concrete and physical than the Latin, but readily lent themselves to figurative meanings. More palpably the poetry with its reflection upon life shows the endowment of the race. Marked is its elegiac mood. In an old poem is heard the voice of one who sails with hapless care the exile’s way, and must forego his dear lord’s gifts: in sleep he kisses him, and again lays hands and head upon those knees, as in times past. Then wakes the friendless man, and sees the ocean’s waves, the gulls spreading their wings, rime and snow falling. More impersonal is the heavy tone of a meditative fragment over the ruins, apparently, of a Roman city:

“Wondrous is this wall-stone,
fates have broken it,
have burst the stronghold,
roofs are fallen,
towers tottering,
hoar gate-towers despoiled,
shattered the battlements,
riven, fallen.
Earth’s grasp holdeth
the mighty workmen
worn away, done for,
in the hard grip of the grave.”

But the noblest presentation of character in pagan Anglo-Saxon poetry is afforded by the epic poem of Beowulf, which tells the story of a Geatic hero who sets out for Denmark to slay a monster, accomplishes the feat, is nobly rewarded by the Danish king, and returns to rule his own people justly for fifty winters, when his valiant and beneficent life ends in a last victorious conflict with a hoard-guarding dragon. Here myth and tradition were not peculiarly Anglo-Saxon; but the finally recast and finished work, noble in diction, sentiment, and action, expresses the highest ethics of Anglo-Saxon heathendom. Beowulf does what he ought to do, heroically; and finds[Pg 144] satisfaction and reward. He does not seek his pleasure, though that comes with gold and mead-drinking; consciousness of deeds done bravely and the assurance of fame sweeten death at last.[176]

A century or more after the composition of this poem, there lived an Anglo-Saxon whose aims were spiritualized through Christianity, whose vigorous mind was broadened by such knowledge and philosophy as his epoch had gathered from antique sources, and whose energies were trained in generalship and the office of a king. He presents a life intrinsically good and true, manifesting itself in warfare against heathen barbarism and in endeavour to rule his people righteously and enlarge their knowledge. Many of the qualities and activities of Alfred had no place in the life of Beowulf. Yet the heathen hero and the Christian king were hewn from the same rock of Saxon manhood. Alfred’s life was established upon principles of right conduct generically the same as those of the poem. But Christianity, experience, contact with learned men, and education through books, had informed him of man’s spiritual nature, and taught him that human welfare depended on knowledge and intent and will. Accordingly, his beneficence does not stop with the armed safe-guarding of his realm, but seeks to compass the instruction of those who should have knowledge in order the better to guide the faith and conduct of the people. “He seems to me a very foolish man and inexcusable, who will not increase his knowledge the while that he is in this world, and always wish and will that he may come to the everlasting life where nothing shall be dark or unknown.”[177]



In spite of the general Teutonic traits and customs which the Germans east and west of the Rhine possessed in[Pg 145] common with the Anglo-Saxons, distinct qualities appear in the one and the other from the moment of our nearer acquaintance with their separate history and literature. So scanty, however, are the literary remains of German heathendom that recourse must be had to Christian productions to discover, for example, that with the Germans the sentiment of home and its dear relationships[178] is as marked as the Anglo-Saxon’s elegiac meditative mood. Language bears its witness to the spiritual endowment of both peoples. The German dialects along the Rhine were rich in abstract nouns ending in ung and keit and schaft and tum.[179]

There remains one piece of untouched German heathenism, the Hildebrandslied, which dates from the end of the eighth century, and may possibly be the sole survivor of a collection of German poems made at Charlemagne’s command.[180] It is a tale of single combat between a father and son, the counterpart of which is found in the Persian, Irish, and Norse literatures. Such an incident might be diversely rendered; armies might watch their champions engage, or the combat might occur unwitnessed in some mountain gorge; it might be described pathetically or in warrior mood, and the heroes might fight in ignorance, or one of them know well, who was the man confronting him. In German, this story is a part of that huge mass of legend which grew up around the memory of the terrible Hun Attila, and transformed him to the Atli of Norse literature, and to the worthy King Etzel of the Nibelungenlied, at whose Court the flower of Burgundian chivalry went down in that fierce feud in which Etzel had little part. Among his vassal kings appears the mighty exile Dietrich of Bern, who in the Nibelungen reluctantly overcomes the last of the Burgundian heroes. This Dietrich is none other than Theodoric the Ostrogoth, transformed in legend and represented as driven from his kingdom of Italy by Odoacer, and for the time forced to take refuge with[Pg 146] Etzel; for the legend was not troubled by the fact that Attila was dead before Theodoric was born. Bern is the name given to Verona, and legend saw Theodoric’s castle in that most beautiful of Roman amphitheatres, where the traveller still may sit and meditate on many things. It is told also that Theodoric recovered his kingdom in the legendary Rabenschlacht fought by Ravenna’s walls. Old Hildebrand was his master-at-arms, who had fled with him. In the Nibelungen it is he that cuts down Kriemhild, Etzel’s queen, before the monarch’s eyes; for he could not endure that a woman’s hand had slain Gunther and Hagen, whom, exhausted at last, Dietrich’s strength had set before her helpless and bound. And now, after years of absence, he has recrossed the mountains with his king come to claim his kingdom, and before the armies he challenges the champion of the opposing host. Here the Old German poem, which is called the Hildebrandslied, takes up the story:

“Hildebrand spoke, the wiser man, and asked as to the other’s father—‘Or tell me of what race art thou; ’twill be enough; every one in the realm is known to me.’

“Hadubrand spoke, Hildebrand’s son: ‘Our people, the old and knowing of them, tell me Hildebrand was my father’s name; mine is Hadubrand. Aforetime he fled to the east, from Otacher’s hate, fled with Dietrich and his knights. He left wife to mourn, and ungrown child. Dietrich’s need called him. He was always in the front; fighting was dear to him. I do not believe he is alive.’

“‘God forbid, from heaven above, that thou shouldst wage fight with so near kin.’ He took from his arm the ring given by the king, lord of the Huns. ‘Lo! I give it thee graciously.’

“Hadubrand spoke: ‘With spear alone a man receives gift, point against point. Too cunning art thou, old Hun. Beguiling me with words thou wouldst thrust me with thy spear. Thou art so old—thou hast a trick in store. Seafaring men have told me Hildebrand is dead.’

“Hildebrand spoke: ‘O mighty God, a drear fate happens. Sixty summers and winters, ever placed by men among the spearmen, I have so borne myself that bane got I never. Now shall my own child smite me with the sword, or I be his death.’”

There is a break here in the poem; but the uncontrolled son evidently taunted the father with cowardice. The old warrior cries:

[Pg 147]“‘Be he the vilest of all the East people who now would refuse thee the fight thou hankerest after. Happen it and show which of us must give up his armour.’”

The end fails, but probably the son was slain.

Stubborn and grim appears the Old German character. Point to point shall foes exchange gifts. Such also was the way when a lord made reward; on the spear’s point presenting the arm-ring to him who had served, he accepting it in like fashion, each on his guard perhaps. The Hildebrandslied exhibits other qualities of the German spirit, as its bluntness and lack of tact; even its clumsiness is evinced in the seventy lines of the poem, which although broken is not a fragment, but a short poem—a ballad graceless and shapeless because of its stiff unvarying lines.

In a later poem, which gives the story of Walter of Aquitaine, the same set and stubborn mood appears, although lightened by rough banter. This legend existed in Old German as well as Anglo-Saxon. In the tenth century, Ekkehart, a monk of St. Gall, freely altering and adding to the tale, made of it the small Latin epic which is extant.[181] Monk as he was, he tells a spirited story in his rugged hexameters. He had studied classic authors to good purpose; and his poem of Walter fleeing with his love Hildegund from the Hunnish Court (for the all-pervasive Attila is here also) is vivid, diversified, well-constructed—qualities which may not have been in the story till he remodelled it. Its leading incidents still present German traits. Walter and Hildegund carry off a treasure in their flight; and it is to get this treasure that Gunther urges Hagen (for they are here too) to attack the fugitive. This is Teutonic. It was for plunder that Teuton tribes fought their bravest fights from the time of Alaric and Genseric to the Viking age, and the hoard has a great part in Teutonic story. In the Waltarius Gunther’s driving avarice, Walter’s[Pg 148] stubborn defence of his gold are Teutonic. The humour and the banter are more distinctly German, and nobly German is the relationship of trust and honour between Walter and the maiden who is fleeing with him. Yet the story does not revolve around the woman in it, but rather around the shrewdly got and bravely guarded treasure.

German traits obvious in the Hildebrandslied, and strong through the Latin of the Waltarius, evince themselves in the epic of the Nibelungenlied and in the Kudrun, often called its companion piece. The former holds the strength of German manhood and the power of German hate, with the edged energy of speech accompanying it. In the latter, German womanhood is at its best. Both poems, in their extant form, belong to the middle or latter part of the twelfth century, and are not unaffected by influences which were not native German.

The Nibelungenlied is but dimly reminiscent of any bygone love between Siegfried and Brunhilde, and carries within its own narrative a sufficient explanation of Brunhilde’s jealous anger and Siegfried’s death. Kriemhild is left to nurse the wrath which shall never cease to devise vengeance for her husband’s murderers. Years afterwards, Hagen warns Gunther, about to accept Etzel’s invitation, that Kriemhild is lancraeche (long vengeful). The course of that vengeance is told with power; for the constructive soul of a race contributed to this Volksepos. The actors in the tragedy are strikingly drawn and contrasted, and are lifted in true epic fashion above the common stature by intensity of feeling and the power of will to realize through unswerving action the prompting of their natures. The fatefulness of the tale is true to tragic reality, in which the far results of an ill deed involve the innocent with the guilty.

A comparison of the poem with the Hildebrandslied shows that the sense of the pathetic had deepened in the intervening centuries. There is scarcely any pathos in the earlier composition, although its subject is the fatal combat between father and son. But the Nibelungen, with a fiercer hate, can set forth the heroic pathos of the lot of one, who, struggling between fealties, is driven on to dishonour and to death. This is the pathos of the death of Rüdiger, who had[Pg 149] received the Burgundians in his castle on their way to Etzel’s Court, had exchanged gifts with them, and betrothed his daughter to the youngest of the three kings. He was as unsuspecting as Etzel of Kriemhild’s plot. But in the end Kriemhild forces him, on his fealty as liegeman, to outrage his heart and honour, and attack those whom he had sheltered and guided onward—to their death.

Not much love in this tale, only hate insatiable. But the greatness of hate may show the passional power of the hating soul. The centuries have raised to high relief the elemental Teutonic qualities of hate, greed, courage and devotion, and human personality has enlarged with the heightened power of will. The reader is affected with admiration and sympathy. First he is drawn to Siegfried’s bright morning courage, his noble masterfulness—his character appears touched with the ideals of chivalry.[182] After his death the interest turns to Kriemhild planning for revenge. It may be that sympathy is repelled as her hate draws within its tide so much of guiltlessness and honour; and as the doomed Nibelungen heroes show themselves haughty, strong-handed, and stout-hearted to the end, he cheers them on, and most heartily that grim, consistent Hagen in whom the old German troth and treachery for troth’s sake are incarnate.

The Kudrun[183] is a happier story, ending in weddings instead of death. There was no licentiousness or infidelity between man and wife in the Nibelungen, and through all its hate and horror no outrage is done to woman’s honour. That may be taken as the leading theme of the Kudrun. An ardent wooer, to be sure, may seize and carry off the heroine, and his father drag her by the hair on her refusal to wed his son; but her honour, and the honour of all women[Pg 150] in the poem, is respected and maintained. The ideal of womanhood is noble throughout: an old king thus bids farewell to his daughter on setting forth to be married: “You shall so wear your crown that I and your mother may never hear that any one hates you. Rich as you are, it would mar your fame to give any occasion for blame.”[184]

A mediaeval epic may tell of the fortunes of several generations, and the Kudrun devotes a number of books to the heroine’s ancestors, making a half-savage narrative, in which one feels a conflict between ancient barbarities and a newer and more courtly order. When the venturesome wooing and wedded fortune of Kudrun’s mother have been told, the poem turns to its chief heroine, who grows to stately maidenhood, and becomes betrothed to a young king, Herwig. A rejected wooer, the “Norman” Prince Hartmuth, by a sudden descent upon the land in the absence of its defenders, carries off Kudrun and her women by force of arms, and the king, her father, is killed in an abortive attempt to recapture her. In Hartmuth’s castle by the sea Kudrun spends bitter years waiting for deliverance. His sister, Ortrun, is kind to her, but his mother, Gerlint, treats her shamefully. The maiden is steadfast. Between her and Hartmuth stands a double barrier: his father had killed hers; she was betrothed to Herwig. Hartmuth repels his wicked mother’s advice to force her to his will. In his absence on a foray Gerlint compels Kudrun to do unfitting tasks. Hartmuth, returning, asks her: “Kudrun, fair lady, how has it been with you while I and my knights were away?”

“Here I have been forced to serve, to your sin and my[Pg 151] shame,”[185] answers Kudrun—a great answer, in its truth and self-control.

After an interval of kind treatment the old “she-wolf” Gerlint sets Kudrun with her faithful Hildeburg to washing clothes in the sea. It is winter; their garments are mean, their feet are naked. They see a boat approaching, in which are Kudrun’s brother Ortwin, and Herwig her betrothed, who had come before their host as spies. A recognition follows. Herwig is for carrying them off; Ortwin forbids it. “With open force they were taken; my hand shall not steal them back”; dear as Kudrun is, he can take her only nâch êren (as becomes his honour). When they have gone, Kudrun throws the clothes to be washed into the sea. “No more will I wash for Gerlint; two kings have kissed me and held me in their arms.”

Kudrun returns to the castle, which soon is stormed. She saves Hartmuth and his sister from the slaughter, and all sail home, where the thought is now of wedding festivals.

Kudrun is married to Herwig; at her advice Ortwin weds Ortrun, and then she thinks of Hartmuth’s plight, and asks her friend Hildeburg whether she will have him for a husband. Hildeburg consents. Kudrun commands that Hartmuth be brought, and bids him be seated by the side of her dear friend “who had washed clothes along with her!”

“Queen, you would reproach me with that. I grieved at the shame they put on you. It was kept from me.”

“I cannot let it pass. I must speak with you alone, Hartmuth.”

“God grant she means well with me,” thought he. She took him aside and spoke: “If you will do as I bid, you will part with your troubles.”

Hartmuth answered: “I know you are so noble that your behest can be only honourable and good. I can find nothing in my heart to keep me from doing your bidding gladly, Queen.”[186] The high quality of speech between these two will rarely be outdone.

There is directness and troth in all these German poems. Troth is an ideal which must carry truth within it. The more thoughtful and reflecting German spirit will evince[Pg 152] loyalty to truth itself as an ideal. Wolfram’s poem of Parzival has this; and by virtue of this same ideal, Walter von der Vogelweide’s judgments upon life and emperors and popes are whole and steady, unveiling the sham, condemning the lie and defying the liar.[187] In them dawns the spirit of Luther and the German Reformation, with its love of truth stronger than its love of art.



Chronologically these last illustrations of German traits belong to the mediaeval time; and in fact the Nibelungenlied and Kudrun, and much more Wolfram’s Parzival and Walter’s poems, are mediaeval, because to some extent affected by that interplay of influences which made the mediaeval genius.[188] On the other hand, the almost contemporaneous Norse Sagas and the somewhat older Eddic poems exhibit Teutonic traits in their northern integrity. For the Norse period of free and independent growth continued long after the distinctive barbarism of other Teutons had become mediaevalized. There resulted under the strenuous conditions of Norse life that unique heightening of energy which is manifested in the deeds of the Viking age and reflected in Norse literature.[189]

This time of extreme activity opens in the eighth century, toward the end of which Viking ravagers began[Pg 153] to harry the British Isles. St. Cuthbert’s holy island of Lindisfarne was sacked in 793, and similar raids multiplied with portentous rapidity. The coasts of Ireland and Great Britain, and the islands lying about them, were well plundered while the ninth century was young. In Ireland permanent conquests were made near Dublin, at Waterford, and Limerick. The second half of this century witnesses the great Danish Viking invasion of England. On the Continent the Vikings worried the skirts of the Carolingian colossus, and the Lowlands suffered before Charlemagne was in his grave. After his death the trouble began in earnest. Not only the coasts were ravaged, but the river towns trembled, on the Elbe, the Rhine, the Somme, the Seine, the Loire. Paris foiled or succumbed to more than one fierce siege. About the middle of the ninth century the Vikings began to winter where they had plundered in the summer.

The north was ruled by chiefs and petty kings until Harold Fairhair overcame the chiefs of Norway and made himself supreme about the year 870. But he established his power only after great sea-fights, and many of the conquered choosing exile rather than submission, took refuge in the Orkneys, the Faroes, and other islands. Harold pursued with his fleets, and forced them to further flight. It was this exodus from the islands and from Norway in the last years of the ninth century that gave Iceland the greater part of its population. Thither also came other bold spirits from the Norse holdings in Ireland.

While these events were happening in the west, the Scandinavians had not failed to push easterly. Some settled in Russia, by the Gulf of Finland, others along the south shore of the Baltic between the Vistula and Oder. So their holdings in the tenth century encircled the north of Europe; for besides Sleswig, Denmark, and Scandinavia, they held the coast of Holland, also Normandy, where Rollo came in 912. Of insular domain, they held Iceland, parts of Scotland, and the islands north and west of it, some bits of Ireland, and much of England. Moreover, Scandinavians filled the Varangian corps of the Byzantine emperors, and old Runic inscriptions are found on marbles at Athens. Their narrow[Pg 154] barks traversed the eastern Mediterranean[190] long before Norman Roger and Norman Robert conquered Sicily and southern Italy. Such reach of conquest shows them to have been moved by no passion for adventure. Their fierce valour was part of their great capacity for the strategy of war. As pirates, as invaders, as settlers, they dared and fought and fended for a purpose—to get what they wanted, and to hold it fast. When they had mastered the foe and conquered his land, they settled down, in England and Normandy and Sicily.

Such genius for fighting was in accord with shrewdness and industry in peace. The Vikings laboured, whether in Norway or in Iceland. In the Edda the freeman learns to break oxen, till the ground, timber houses, build barns, make carts and ploughs.[191] So a tenth-century Viking king may be found in the field directing the cutting and stacking of his corn and the gathering of it into barns. They were also traders and even money-lenders. The Icelanders, whom we know so intimately from the Sagas, went regularly upon voyages of trade or piracy before settling down to farm and wife. Sharp of speech, efficient in affairs, and often adepts in the law, they eagerly took part in the meetings of the Althing and its settlement of suits. If such settlement was rejected, private war or the holmgang (an appointed single combat on a small island) was the regular recourse. But it was murder to kill in the night or without previous notice. Nothing should be said behind an enemy’s back that the speaker would not make good; and every man must keep his plighted word.

Much of the Norse wisdom consists in a shrewd wariness. Contempt for the chattering fool runs through the Edda.[192][Pg 155] Let a man be chary of speech and in action unflinching. Eddic poetry is full of action; even its didactic pieces are dramatic. The Edda is as hard as steel. In the mythological pieces the action has the ruthlessness of the elements, while the stories of conduct show elemental passions working in elemental strength. The men and women are not rounded and complete; but certain disengaged motives are raised to the Titanic and thrown out with power. Neither present anguish, nor death surely foreseen, checks the course of vengeance for broken faith in those famous Eddic lays of Atli, of Sigurd and Sigrifa, Helgi and Sigrun, Brynhild and Gudrun, out of which the Volsunga Saga was subsequently put together, and to which the Nibelungenlied is kin. They seem to carry the same story, with change of names and incidents. Always the hero’s fate is netted by woman’s vengeance and the curse of the Hoard. But still the women feel most; the men strike, or are struck. Hard and cold grey, with hidden fire, was the temper of these people. Their love was not over-tender, and yet stronger than death: cries Brynhild’s ghost riding hellward, “Men and women will always be born to live in woe. We two, Sigurd and I, shall never part again.” And the power of such love speaks in the deed and word of Sigrun, who answers the ghostly call of slain Helgi from his barrow, and enters it to cast her arms about him there: “I am as glad to meet thee as are the greedy hawks of Odin when they scent the slain. I will kiss thee, my dead king, ere thou cast off thy bloody coat. Thy hair, my Helgi, is thick with rime, thy body is drenched with gory dew, dead-cold are thy hands.”

The characters which appear in large grey traits in the Edda, come nearer to us in the Icelandic Sagas. The Edda has something of a far, unearthly gloom; the Saga the light of day. Saga-folk are extraordinarily individual; men and women are portrayed, body and soul, with homely, telling[Pg 156] realism. Nevertheless, within a fuller round of human trait, Eddic qualities endure. There is the same clear purpose and the strong resolve, and still the deed keeps pace with the intent.[193]

The period which the Sagas would delineate commences when the Norse chiefs sail to Iceland with kith and kin and following to be rid of Harold Fairhair, and lasts for a century or more on through the time of King Olaf Tryggvason who, shield over head, sprang into the sea in the year 1000, and the life of that other Olaf, none too rightly called the Saint, who in 1030 perished in battle fighting against overwhelming odds. Following hard upon this heroic time comes the age of telling of it, telling of it at the mid-summer Althing, telling of it at Yuletide feasts, and otherwise through the long winter nights in Iceland. These tellings are the Sagas in process of creation; for a Saga is essentially a tale told by word of mouth to listeners. Thus pass another hundred years of careful telling, memorizing, and retelling of these tales, kept close to the old incidents and deeds, yet ever with a higher truth intruding. They are[Pg 157] becoming true to reality itself, in concrete types, and not simply narratives of facts actually occurring—if indeed facts ever occur in any such unequivocal singleness of actuality and with such compelling singleness of meaning, that one man shall not read them in one way and another otherwise. And the more imaginative reading may be the truer.

This century of Saga-growth in memory and word of mouth came to an end, and men began to write them down. For still another hundred years (beginning about 1140) this process lasted. In its nature it was something of a remodelling. As oral tales to be listened to, the Sagas had come to these scribe-authors, and as such the latter wrote them down, yet with such modification as would be involved in writing out for mind and eye and ear that which the ear had heard and the memory retained. In some instances the scribe-author set himself the more ambitious task of casting certain tales together in a single, yet composite story. Such is the Njála, greatest of all Sagas; it may have been written about the year 1220.[194]

As representative of the Norse personality, the Sagas,[Pg 158] like all national literature, bear a twofold testimony: that of their own literary qualities, and that of the characters which they portray. In the first place, a Saga is absolute narrative: it relates deeds, incidents, and sayings, in the manner and order in which they would strike the eye and ear of the listener, did the matter pass before him. The narrator offers no analysis of motives; he inserts no reflections upon characters and situations. He does not even relate the incidents from the vantage-ground of a full knowledge of them, but from the point of view of each instant’s impression upon the participants or onlookers. The result is an objective and vivid presentation of the story. Next, the Sagas are economical of incident as well as language. That incident is told which the story needs for the presentation of the hero’s career; those circumstances are given which the incident needs in order that its significance may be perceived; such sayings of the actors are related as reveal most in fewest words. There is nothing more extraordinary in these stories than the significance of the small incident, and the extent of revelation carried by a terse remark.

For example, in the Gisli Saga, Gisli has gone out in the winter night to the house of his brother Thorkel, with whom he is on good terms, and there has slain Thorkel’s wife’s brother in his bed. In the darkness and confusion he escapes unrecognized, gets back to his own house and into bed, where he lies as if asleep. At daybreak the dead man’s friends come packing to Gisli’s farm:

“Now they come to the farm, Thorkel and Eyjolf, and go up to the shut-bed where Gisli and his wife slept; but Thorkel, Gisli’s brother, stepped up first on to the floor, and stands at the side of the bed, and sees Gisli’s shoes lying all frozen and snowy. He kicked them under the foot-board, so that no other man should see them.”[195]

This little incident of the shoes not only shows how near was Gisli to detection and death, but also discloses the way in which Thorkel meant to act and did act toward his brother: to wit, shield him so long as it might be done without exposing himself.

[Pg 159]Another illustration. The Njáls Saga opens with a sketch of the girl Hallgerda, so drawn that it presages most of the trouble in the story. There were two well-to-do brothers, Hauskuld and Hrut:

“It happened once that Hauskuld bade his friends to a feast, and his brother Hrut was there, and sat next to him. Hauskuld had a daughter named Hallgerda, who was playing on the floor with some other girls. She was fair of face and tall of growth, and her hair was as soft as silk; it was so long, too, that it came down to her waist. Hauskuld called out to her, ‘Come hither to me, daughter.’ So she went up to him, and he took her by the chin and kissed her; after that she went away. Then Hauskuld said to Hrut, ‘What dost thou think of this maiden? Is she not fair?’ Hrut held his peace. Hauskuld said the same thing to him a second time, and then Hrut answered, ‘Fair enough is this maid, and many will smart for it; but this I know not, whence thief’s eyes have come into our race.’ Then Hauskuld was wroth, and for a time the brothers saw little of each other.”[196]

The picture of Hallgerda will never leave the reader’s mind throughout the story, of which she is the evil genius. It is after she has caused the death of her first husband and is sought by a second, that she is sent for by her father to ask what her mind may be:

“Then they sent for Hallgerda, and she came thither, and two women with her. She had on a cloak of rich blue woof, and under it a scarlet kirtle, and a silver girdle round her waist; but her hair came down on both sides of her bosom, and she had turned the locks up under her girdle. She sat down between Hrut and her father, and she greeted them all with kind words, and spoke well and boldly, and asked what was the news. After that she ceased speaking.”

This is the woman that the girl has grown to be; and she is still at the beginning of her mischief. Such narrative art discloses both in the tale-teller and the audience an intelligence which sees the essential fact and is impatient of encumbrance. It is the same intelligence that made these Vikings so efficient in war, and in peace quick to seize cogent means.

Truthfulness is another quality of the Sagas. Indeed their respect for historical or biographical fact sometimes[Pg 160] hindered the evolution of a perfect story. They hesitated to omit or alter well-remembered incidents. Nevertheless a certain remodelling came, as generation after generation of narrators made the incidents more striking and the characters more marked, and, under the exigencies of storytelling, omitted details which, although actual, were irrelevant to the current of the story. The disadvantages from truthfulness were slight, compared with the admirable artistic qualities preserved by it. It kept the stories true to reality, excluding unreality, exaggeration, absurdity. Hence these Sagas are convincing: no reader can withhold belief. They contain no incredible incidents. On occasions they tell of portents, prescience, and second sight, but not so as to raise a smile. They relate a very few encounters with trolls—the hideous, unlaid, still embodied dead. But those accounts conform to the hard-wrung superstitions of a people not given to credulity. So they are real. The reality of Grettir’s night-wrestling with Glam, the troll, is hardly to be matched.[197] Truthfulness likewise characterizes their heroes: no man lies about his deeds, and no man’s word is doubted.

While the Saga-folk include no cowards or men of petty manners, there is still great diversity of character among them. Some are lazy and some industrious, some quarrelsome and some good-natured, some dangerous, some forbearing, gloomy or cheerful, open-minded or biassed, shrewd or stupid, generous or avaricious. Such contrasts of character abound both in the Sagas of Icelandic life and those which handle the broader matter of history. One may note in the Heimskringla[198] of the Kings of Norway the contrasted characters of the kings Olaf Tryggvason and St. Olaf. The latter appears as a hard-working, canny ruler, a lover of[Pg 161] order, a legislator and enforcer of the laws; in person, short, thick-set, carrying his head a little bent. A Viking had he been, and was a fighter, till he fell in his last great battle undaunted by odds.

But the other Olaf, Norway’s darling hero, is epic: tall, golden-haired, peerless from his boyhood, beloved and hated. His marvellous physical masteries are told, his cliff-climbing, his walking on the sweeping oars keeping three war-axes tossing in the air. He smote well with either hand and cast two spears at once. He was the gladdest and gamesomest of men, kind and lowly-hearted, eager in all matters, bountiful of gifts, glorious of attire, before all men for high heart in battle, and grimmest of all men in his wrath; marvellous great pains he laid upon his foes. “No man durst gainsay him, and all the land was christened wheresoever he came.” Five short years made up his reign. At the end, neither he was broken nor his power. But a plot, moved by the hatred of a spurned heathen queen, delivered him to unequal combat with his enemies, the Kings of Denmark and Sweden, and Eric the great Viking Earl.

Olaf is sailing home from Wendland. The hostile fleet crouches behind an island. Sundry of Olaf’s ships pass by. Then the kings spy a great ship sailing—that will be Olaf’s Long Worm they say; Eric says no. Anon come four ships, and a great dragon amid them—the Long Worm? not yet. At last she comes, greatest and bravest of all, and Olaf in her, standing on the poop, with gilded shield and golden helm and a red kirtle over his mail coat. His men bade to sail on, and not fight so great a host; but Olaf said, “Never have I fled from battle.” So Olaf’s ships are lashed in line, at the centre the Long Worm, its prow forward of the others because of her greater length. Olaf would have it thus in spite of the “windy weather in the bows” predicted by her captain. The enemies’ ships close around them. Olaf’s grapplings are too much for the Danes; they draw back. Their places are taken by the ships of Sweden. They fare no better. At last Earl Eric lays fast his iron-beaks to Olaf’s ships; Danes and Swedes take courage and return. It is hand to hand now, the ships laid aboard of each other.

[Pg 162]At last all of Olaf’s ships are cleared of men and cut adrift, save the Long Worm. There fight Olaf’s chosen, mad with battle. Einar, Olaf’s strong bowman, from the Worm aft in the main hold, shot at Earl Eric; one arrow pierced the tiller by his head, the second flew beneath his arm. Says the Earl to Finn, his bowman, “Shoot me yonder big man.” Finn shot, and the arrow struck full upon Einar’s bow as he was drawing it the third time, and it broke in the middle.

“What broke there so loud?” said Olaf.

“Norway, king, from thine hands,” answered Einar.

“No such crash as that,” said the king; “take my bow and shoot.”

But the foeman’s strength was overpowering. Olaf’s men were cut down amidships. They hardly held the poop and bow. Earl Eric leads the boarders. The ship is full of foes. Olaf will not be taken. He leaps overboard. About the ship swarm boats to seize him; but he threw his shield over his head and sank quickly in the sea.

The private Sagas construct in powerful lines the characters of the heroes from the stories of their lives. A great example is the Saga of Egil,[199] whose father was a Norse chief who had sailed to Iceland, where Egil was born. As a child he was moody, intractible, and dangerous, and once killed an older lad who had got the better of him at ball playing. There was no great love between him and his father. When he was twelve years old his father used him roughly. He entered the great hall and walked up to his father’s steward and slew him. Then he went to his seat. After that, father and son said little to each other. The boy was bent on going cruising with his older brother, Thorolf. The father yields, and Egil goes a-harrying. Fierce is his course in Norway, where they come. On the sea his vessel bears him from deed to deed of blood and daring. His strength won him booty and reward; he won a friend too, Arinbjorn, and there was always troth between them.

Thorolf and Egil took service with King Athelstane, who was threatened with attack from the King of the Scots.[Pg 163] The brothers led the Vikings in Athelstane’s force. In the battle Thorolf loses his life; but Egil hears the shout when Thorolf falls. His furious valour wins the day for Athelstane. After the fight he buries his brother and sings staves over his grave.

“Then went Egil and those about him to seek King Athelstan, and at once went before the king, where he sat at the drinking. There was much noise of merriment. And when the king saw that Egil was come in, he bade the lower bench be cleared for them, and that Egil should sit in the high-seat facing the king. Egil sat down there, and cast his shield before his feet. He had his helm on his head, and laid his sword across his knees; and now and again he half drew it, and then clashed it back into the sheath. He sat upright, but with head bent forward. Egil was large-featured, broad of forehead, with large eye-brows, a nose not long but very thick, lips wide and long, chin exceeding broad, as was all about the jaws; thick-necked was he, and big-shouldered beyond other men, hard-featured, and grim when angry. He would not drink now, though the horn was borne to him, but alternately twitched his brows up and down. King Athelstan sat in the upper high-seat. He too laid his sword across his knees. When they had sat there for a time, then the king drew his sword from the sheath, and took from his arm a gold ring large and good, and placing it upon the sword-point he stood up, and went across the floor, and reached it over the fire to Egil. Egil stood up and drew his sword, and went across the floor. He stuck the sword-point within the round of the ring, and drew it to him; then he went back to his place. The king sate him again in his high-seat. But when Egil was set down, he drew the ring on his arm, and then his brows went back to their place. He now laid down sword and helm, took the horn that they bare to him, and drank it off. Then sang he:

‘Mailed monarch, god of battle,
Maketh the tinkling circlet
Hang, his own arm forsaking,
On hawk-trod wrist of mine.
I bear on arm brand-wielding
Bracelet of red gold gladly.
War-falcon’s feeder meetly
Findeth such meed of praise.’

“Thereafter Egil drank his share, and talked with others. Presently the king caused to be borne in two chests; two men bare each. Both were full of silver. The king said: ‘These chests, Egil, thou shalt have, and, if thou comest to Iceland, shalt carry this money to thy father; as payment for a son I send it to [Pg 164]him: but some of the money thou shalt divide among such kinsmen of thyself and Thorolf as thou thinkest most honourable. But thou shalt take here payment for a brother with me, land or chattels, which thou wilt. And if thou wilt abide with me long, then will I give thee honour and dignity such as thyself mayst name.’

“Egil took the money, and thanked the king for his gifts and friendly words. Thenceforward Egil began to be cheerful; and then he sang:

‘In sorrow sadly drooping
Sank my brows close-knitted;
Then found I one who furrows
Of forehead could smooth.
Fierce-frowning cliffs that shaded
My face a king hath lifted
With gleam of golden armlet:
Gloom leaveth my eyes.’”

Like many of his kind in Iceland and Norway, this fierce man was a poet. Once he saved his life by a poem, and poems he had made as gifts. It was when the old Viking’s life was drawing to its close at his home in Iceland that he composed his most moving lay. His beautiful beloved son was drowned. After the burial Egil rode home, went to his bed-closet, lay down and shut himself in, none daring to speak to him. There he lay, silent, for a day and night. At last his daughter knocks and speaks; he opens. She enters and beguiles him with her devotion. After a while the old man takes food. And at last she prevails on him to make a poem on his son’s death, and assuage his grief. So the song begins, and at length rises clear and strong—perhaps the most heart-breaking of all old Norse poems.[200]

In the portrayal of contrasted characters no other Saga can equal the great Njála, a Saga large and complex, and doubtless composite; for it seems put together out of three stories, in all of which figured the just Njal, although he is the chief personage in only one of them. The story, with its multitude of personages and threefold subject-matter, lacks unity perhaps. Yet the different parts of the Saga[Pg 165] successively hold the attention. In the first part, the incomparable Gunnar is the hero; in the second, Njal and his sons engage our interest in their varied characters and common fate. These are great narratives. The third part is perhaps epigonic, excellent and yet an aftermath. Only a reading of this Saga can bring any realization of its power of narrative and character delineation. Its chief personages are as clear as the day. One can almost see the sunlight of Gunnar’s open brow, and certainly can feel his manly heart. The foil against which he is set off is his friend Njal, equally good, utterly different: unwarlike, wise in counsel, a great lawyer, truthful, just, shrewd and foreseeing. Hallgerda, of the long silken hair, is Gunnar’s wife; she has caused the deaths of two husbands already, and will yet prove Gunnar’s bane. Little time passes before she is the enemy of Njal’s high-minded spouse, Bergthora. Then Hallgerda beginning, Bergthora following quick, the two push on their quarrel, instigating in counter-vengeance alternate manslayings, each one a little nearer to the heart and honour of Gunnar and Njal. Yet their friendship is unshaken. For every killing the one atones with the other; and the same blood-money passes to and fro between them.

Gunnar’s friendship with the pacific Njal and his warlike sons endured till Gunnar’s death. That came from enmities first stirred by the thieving of Hallgerda’s thieving thrall. She had ordered it, and in shame Gunnar gave her a slap in the face, the sole act of irritation recorded of this generous, forbearing, peerless Viking, who once remarked: “I would like to know whether I am by so much the less brisk and bold than other men, because I think more of killing men than they?” At a meeting of the Althing he was badgered by his ill-wishers into entering his stallion for a horse-fight, a kind of contest usually ending in a man-fight. Skarphedinn, the most masterful of Njal’s sons, offered to handle Gunnar’s horse for him:

“Wilt thou that I drive thy horse, kinsman Gunnar?”

“I will not have that,” says Gunnar.

“It wouldn’t be amiss, though,” says Skarphedinn; “we are hot-headed on both sides.”

“Ye would say or do little,” says Gunnar, “before a[Pg 166] quarrel would spring up; but with me it will take longer, though it will be all the same in the end.”

Naturally the contest ends in trouble. Gunnar’s beaten and enraged opponent seizes his weapons, but is stopped by bystanders. “This crowd wearies me,” said Skarphedinn; “it is far more manly that men should fight it out with weapons.” Gunnar remained quiet, the best swordsman and bowman of them all. But his enemies fatuously pushed on the quarrel; once they rode over him working in the field. So at last he fought, and killed many of them. Then came the suits for slaying, at the Althing. Njal is Gunnar’s counsellor, and atonements are made: Gunnar is to go abroad for three winters, and unless he go, he may be slain by the kinsmen of those he has killed. Gunnar said nothing. Njal adjured him solemnly to go on that journey: “Thou wilt come back with great glory, and live to be an old man, and no man here will then tread on thy heel; but if thou dost not fare away, and so breakest thy atonement, then thou wilt be slain here in the land, and that is ill knowing for those who are thy friends.”

Gunnar said he had no mind to break the atonement, and rode home. A ship is made ready, and Gunnar’s gear is brought down. He rides around and bids farewell to his friends, thanking them for the help they had given him, and returns to his house. The next day he embraces the members of his household, leaps into the saddle, and rides away. But as he is riding down to the sea, his horse trips and throws him. He springs from the ground, and says with his face to the Lithe, his home: “Fair is the Lithe; so fair that it has never seemed to me so fair; the cornfields are white to harvest, and the home mead is mown; and now I will ride back home, and not fare abroad at all.”

So he turns back—to his fate. The following summer at the Althing, his enemies give notice of his outlawry. Njal rides to Gunnar’s home, tells him of it, and offers his sons’ aid, to come and dwell with him: “they will lay down their lives for thy life.”

“I will not,” says Gunnar, “that thy sons should be slain for my sake, and thou hast a right to look for other things from me.”

[Pg 167]Njal rode to his home, while Gunnar’s enemies gathered and moved secretly to his house. His hound, struck down with an axe, gives a great howl and expires. Gunnar awoke in his hall, and said: “Thou hast been sorely treated, Sam, my fosterling, and this warning is so meant that our two deaths will not be far apart.” Single-handed, the beset chieftain maintains himself within, killing two of his enemies and wounding eight. At last, wounded, and with his bowstring cut, he turns to his wife Hallgerda: “Give me two locks of thy hair, and do thou and my mother twist them into a bowstring for me.”

“Does aught lie on it?” she says.

“My life lies on it,” he said; “for they will never come to close quarters with me if I can keep them off with my bow.”

“Well,” she says, “now I will call to thy mind that slap on the face which thou gavest me; and I care never a whit whether thou holdest out a long while or a short.”

Then Gunnar sang a stave, and said, “Every one has something to boast of, and I will ask thee no more for this.” He fought on till spent with wounds, and at last they killed him.

Here the Njála may be left with its good men and true and its evil plotters, all so differently shown. It has still to tell the story and fate of Njal’s unbending sons, of Njal himself and his high-tempered dame, who will abide with her spouse in their burning house, which enemies have surrounded and set on fire to destroy those sons. Njal himself was offered safety if he would come out, but he would not.

Perhaps we have been beguiled by their unique literary qualities into dwelling overlong upon the Sagas. These Norse compositions belong to the Middle Ages only in time; for they were uninfluenced either by Christianity or the antique culture, the formative elements of mediaeval development. They are interesting in their aloofness, and also important for our mediaeval theme, because they were the ultimate as well as the most admirable expression of the native Teutonic genius as yet integral, but destined to have mighty part in the composite course of mediaeval growth.[Pg 168] More specifically they are the voice of that falcon race which came from the Norseland to stock England with fresh strains of Danish blood, to conquer Normandy, and give new courage to the Celtic-German-Frenchmen, and thence went on to bring its hardihood, war cunning, and keen statecraft to southern Italy and Sicily. In all these countries the Norse nature, supple and pliant, accepted the gifts of new experience, and in return imparted strength of purpose to peoples with whom the Norsemen mingled in marriage as well as war.

This chapter has shown Teutonic faculties still integral and unmodified by Latin Christian influence. Their participation in the processes of mediaeval development will be seen as Anglo-Saxons and Germans become converted to Latin Christianity, and apply themselves to the study of the profane Latinity, to which it opened the way.



[Pg 169]



I. Irish Activities; Columbanus of Luxeuil.
II. Conversion of the English; the learning of Bede and Alfred.
III. Gaul and Germany; from Clovis to St. Winifried-Boniface.

The northern peoples, Celts and Teutons for the most part as they are called, came into contact with Roman civilization as the great Republic brought Gaul and Britain under its rule. Since Rome was still pagan when these lands were made provinces, an unchristianized Latinity was grafted upon their predominantly Celtic populations. The second stage, as it were, of this contact between Rome and the north, is represented by that influx of barbarians, mostly Teutonic, which, in both senses of the word, quickened the disruption of the Empire in the fourth and following centuries. The religion called after the name of Christ had then been accepted; and invading Goths, Franks, Burgundians, Lombards, and the rest, were introduced to a somewhat Christianized Latindom. Indeed, in the Latin-Christian combination, the latter was becoming dominant, and was soon to be the active influence in extending even the antique culture. For Christianity, with Latinity in its train, was to project itself outward to subjugate heathen Anglo-Saxons in England, Frisians in the Low Countries, and the unkempt Teutondom which roved east of the Rhine, and was ever pressing southward over the boundaries of former provinces, now reverting to unrest. In past times the assimilating energy of Roman civilization had united western Europe in a common social order. Henceforth Christianity was to be the prime[Pg 170] amalgamator, while the survivals of Roman institutions and the remnants of antique culture were to assist in secondary rôles. With Charles Martell, with Pippin, and with Charlemagne, Latin Christianity is the symbol of civilized order, while heathendom and savagery are identical.



The conversion of the northern peoples, and their incidental introduction to profane knowledge, wrought upon them deeply; while their own qualities and the conditions of their lives affected their understanding of what they received and their attitude toward the new religion. Obviously the dissemination of Christianity among rude peoples would be unlike that first spreading of the Gospel through the Empire, in the course of which it had been transformed to Greek and Latin Christianity. Italy, Spain, and Gaul made the western region of this primary diffusion of the Faith. Of a distinctly missionary character were the further labours which resulted in the conversion of the fresh masses of Teutons who were breaking into the Roman pale, or were still moving restlessly beyond it. Moreover, between the time of the first diffusion of Christianity within the Empire and that of its missionary extension beyond those now decayed and fallen boundaries, it had been formulated dogmatically, and given ecclesiastical embodiment in a Catholic church into which had passed the conquering and organizing genius of Rome. This finished system was presented to simple peoples, sanctioned by the authority and dowered with the surviving culture of the civilized world. It offered them mightier supernatural aid, nobler knowledge, and a better ordering of life than they had known. The manner and authority of its presentation hastened its acceptance, and also determined the attitude toward it of the new converts and their children for generations. Theirs was to be the attitude of ignorance before recognized wisdom, and that of a docility which revered the manner and form as well as the substance of its lesson. The development of mediaeval Europe was affected by the mode and circumstances of this secondary propagation of Christianity. For centuries the[Pg 171] northern peoples were to be held in tutelage to the form and constitution of that which they had received: they continued to revere the patristic sources of Christian doctrines, and to look with awe upon the profane culture accompanying them.

Thus, as under authority, Christianity came to the Teutonic peoples, even to those who, like the Goths, were converted to the Arian creed. Likewise the orthodox belief was brought to the Celtic Britons and Irish as a superior religion associated with superior culture. But the qualities or circumstances of these western Celts reacted more freely upon their form of faith, because Ireland and Britain were the fringe of the world, and Christianity was hardly fixed in dogma and ritual when the conversion at least of Britain began.

Certain phrases of Tertullian indicate that Christianity had made some progress among the Britons by the beginning of the third century. For the next hundred years nothing is known of the British Church, save that it did not suffer from the persecution under Diocletian in 304, and ten years afterwards was represented by three bishops at the Council of Arles. It was orthodox, accepting the creed of Nicaea (A.D. 325) and the date of Easter there fixed. The fourth century seems to have been the period of its prosperity. It was affiliated with the Church of Gaul; nor did these relations cease at once when the Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain in 410. But not many decades later the Saxon invasion began to cut off Britain from the Christian world. After a while certain divergences appear in rite and custom, though not in doctrine. They seem not to have been serious when Gildas wrote in 550. Yet when Augustine came, fifty years later, the Britons celebrated Easter at a different date from that observed by the Roman Catholic Church; for they followed the old computation which Rome had used before adopting the better method of Alexandria. Also the mode of baptism and the tonsure differed from the Roman.

At the close of the sixth century the British Church existed chiefly in Wales, whither the Britons had retreated before the Saxons. Formerly there had been no unwillingness[Pg 172] to follow the Church of Rome. But now a long period had elapsed, during which Britain had been left to its misfortunes. The Britons had been raided and harassed; their country invaded; and at last they had been driven from the greater portion of their land. How they hated those Saxon conquerors! And forsooth a Roman mission appears to convert those damned and hateful heathen, and a somewhat haughty summons issues to the expelled or downtrodden people to abandon their own Christian usages for those of the Roman communion, and then join this Roman mission in its saving work among those Saxons whom the Britons had met only at the spear’s point. Love of ancient and familiar customs soured to obstinacy in the face of such demands; a sweeping rejection was returned. Yet to conform to Roman usages and join with Augustine in his mission to the Saxons, was the only way in which the dwindling British Church could link itself to the Christian world, and save its people from exterminating wars. By refusing, it committed suicide.

A refusal to conform, although no refusal to undertake missions to the Saxons, came from the Irish-Scottish Church. As Ireland had never been drawn within the Roman world, its conversion was later than that of Britain. Yet there would seem to have been Christians in Ireland before 431; for in that year, according to an older record quoted by Bede, Palladius, the first bishop (primus episcopus), was sent by Celestine the Roman pontiff “ad Scottos in Christum credentes.”[201] The mission of Palladius does not appear to have been acceptable to the Irish. Some accounts have confused his story with that of Patrick, the “Apostle of Ireland,” whose apostolic glory has not been overthrown by criticism. The more authentic accounts, and above all his own Confession, go far to explain Patrick’s success. His early manhood, passed as a slave in Antrim, gave him understanding of the Irish; and doubtless his was a great missionary capacity and zeal. The natural approach to such a people was through their tribal kings, and Patrick[Pg 173] appears to have made his prime onslaught upon Druidical heathendom at Tara, the abode of the high king of Ireland. The earliest accounts do not refer to any authority from Rome. Patrick seems to have acted from spontaneous inspiration; and a like independence characterizes the monastic Christianity which sprang up in Ireland and overleapt the water to Iona, to Christianize Scotland as well as northern Anglo-Saxon heathendom.

Irish monasticism was an ascetically ordered continuance of Irish society. If, like other early western monasticism, it derived suggestions from Syria or Egypt, it was far more the product of Irish temperament, customs, and conditions. One may also find a potent source in the monastic communities alleged to have existed in Ireland in the days of the Druids. Doubtless many members of that caste became Christian monks.

The noblest passion of Irish monastic Christianity was to peregrinare for the sake of Christ, and spread the Faith among the heathen; the most interesting episodes of its history are the wanderings and missionary labours and foundations of its leaders. The careers of Columba and Columbanus afford grandiose examples. Something has been said of the former. The monastery which he founded on the Island of Iona was the Faith’s fountainhead for Scotland and the Saxon north of England in the sixth and seventh centuries. About the time of Columba’s birth, men from Dalriada on the north coast of Ireland crossed the water to found another Dalriada in the present Argyleshire, and transfer the name of Scotia (Ireland) to Scotland. When Columba landed at Iona, these settlers were hard pressed by the heathen Picts under King Brude or Bridius. Accompanied by two Pictish Christians, he penetrated to Brude’s dwelling, near the modern Inverness, converted that monarch in 565, and averted the overthrow of Dalriada. For the next thirty years Columba and his monks did not cease from their labours; numbers of monasteries were founded, daughters of Iona; and great parts of Scotland became Christian at least in name. The supreme authority was the Abbot of Iona with his council of monks; “bishops” performed their functions under him. Early in the seventh[Pg 174] century, St. Aidan was ordained bishop in Iona and sent to convert the Anglo-Saxons of Northumberland. The story of the Irish Church in the north is one of effective mission work, but unsuccessful organization, wherein it was inferior to the Roman Church. Its representatives suffered defeat at the Synod of Whitby in 664. Fifty years afterward Iona gave up its separate usages and accepted the Roman Easter.[202]

The missionary labours of the Irish were not confined to Great Britain, but extended far and wide through the west of Europe. In the sixth and seventh centuries, Irish monasteries were founded in Austrasia and Burgundy, Italy, Switzerland, Bavaria; they were established among Frisians, Saxons, Alemanni. And as centres of Latin education as well as Christianity, the names of Bobbio and St. Gall will occur to every one. Of these, the first directly and the second through a disciple were due to Columbanus. With him we enter the larger avenues of Irish missions to the heathen, the semi-heathen, and the lax, and upon the question of their efficacy in the preservation of Latin education throughout the rent and driven fragments of the western Roman Empire. The story of Columban’s life is illuminating and amusing.[203]

He was born in Leinster. While yet a boy he felt the[Pg 175] conflict between fleshly lusts and that counter-ascetic passion which throughout the Christian world was drawing thousands into monasteries. Asceticism, with desire for knowledge, won the victory, and the youth entered the monastery of Bangor, in the extreme north-east of Ireland. There he passed years of labour, study, and self-mortification. At length the pilgrim mission-passion came upon him (coepit peregrinationem desiderare) and his importunity overcame the abbot’s reluctance to let him depart. Twelve disciples are said to have followed him across the water to the shores of Britain. There they hesitated in anxious doubt, till it was decided to cross to Gaul.

This was about the year 590. Columban’s austere and commanding form, his fearlessness, his quick and fiery tongue, impressed the people among whom he came. Reports of his holiness spread; multitudes sought his blessing. He traversed the country, preaching and setting his own stern example, until he reached the land of the Burgundians, where Gontran, a grandson of Clovis, reigned. Well received by this ruler, Columban established himself in an old castle. His disciples grew in numbers, and after a while Gontran granted him an extensive Roman structure called Luxovium (Luxeuil) situated at the confines of the Burgundian and Austrasian kingdoms. Columban converted this into a monastery, and it soon included many noble Franks and Burgundians among its monks. For them he composed a monastic regula, stern and cruel in its penalties of many stripes imposed for trivial faults. “Whoever may wish to know his strenuousness (strenuitatem) will find it in his precepts,” writes the monk Jonas, who had lived under him.

The strenuousness of this masterful and overbearing man was displayed in his controversy with the Gallican clergy, upon whom he tried to impose the Easter day observed by the Celtic Church in the British Isles. In his letter to the Gallican synod, he points out their errors, and lectures them on their Christian duties, asking pardon at the end for his loquacity and presumption. Years afterwards, entering upon another controversy, he wrote an extraordinary letter to Pope Boniface IV. The superscription is[Pg 176] Hibernian: “To the most beautiful head of all the churches of entire Europe, the most sweet pope, the most high president, the most reverent investigator: O marvellous! mirum dictu! nova res! rara avis!—that the lowest to the loftiest, the clown to the polite, the stammerer to the prince of eloquence, the stranger to the son of the house, the last to the first, that the Wood-pigeon (Palumbus) should dare to write to Father Boniface!” Whereupon this Wood-pigeon writes a long letter in which belligerent expostulation alternates with self-debasement. He dubs himself “garrulus, presumptuosus, homunculus vilissimae qualitatis,” who caps his impudence by writing unrequested. He implores pardon for his harsh and too biting speech, while he deplores—to him who sat thereon—the infamia of Peter’s Seat, and shrills to the Pope to watch: “Vigila itaque, quaeso, papa, vigila; et iterum dico: vigila”; and he marvels at the Pope’s lethal sleep.

One who thus berated pope and clergy might be censorious of princes. Gontran died. After various dynastic troubles, the Burgundian land came under the rule nominally of young Theuderic, but actually of his imperious grandmother, the famous Brunhilde. In order that no queen-wife’s power should supplant her own, she encouraged her grandson to content himself with mistresses. The youth stood in awe of the stern old figure ruling at Luxeuil, who more than once reproved him for not wedding a lawful queen. It happened one day when Columban was at Brunhilde’s residence that she brought out Theuderic’s various sons for him to bless. “Never shall sceptre be held by this brothel-brood,” said he.

Henceforth it was war between these two: Theuderic was the pivot of the storm; the one worked upon his fears, the other played upon his lusts. Brunhilde prevailed. She incited the king to insist that Luxeuil be made open to all, and with his retinue to push his way into the monastery. The saint withstood him fiercely, and prophesied his ruin. The king drew back; the saint followed, heaping reproaches on him, till the young king said with some self-restraint: “You hope to win the crown of martyrdom through me. But I am not a lunatic, to commit such a crime. I have a[Pg 177] better plan: since you won’t fall in with the ways of men of the world, you shall go back by the road you came.”

So the king sent his retainers to seize the stubborn saint. They took him as a prisoner to Besançon. He escaped, and hurried back to Luxeuil. Again the king sent, this time a count with soldiers, to drive him from the land. They feared the sacrilege of laying hands on the old man. In the church, surrounded by his monks praying and singing psalms, he awaited them. “O man of God,” cried the count, “we beseech thee to obey the royal command, and take thy way to the place from which thou earnest.” “Nay, I will rather please my Creator, by abiding here,” returned the saint. The count retired, leaving a few rough soldiers to carry out the king’s will. These, still fearing to use violence, begged the saint to take pity on them, unjustly burdened with this evil task—to disobey their orders meant their death. The saint reiterates his determination to abide, till they fall on their knees, cling to his robe, and with groans implore his pardon for the crime they must execute.

From pity the saint yields at last, and a company of the king’s men make ready and escort him from the kingdom westward toward Brittany. Many miracles mark the journey. They reach the Loire, and embark on it. Proceeding down the river they come to Tours, where the saint asks to be allowed to land and worship at St. Martin’s shrine. The leader bids the rowers keep the middle of the stream and row on. But the boat resistlessly made its way to the landing-place. Columban passed the night at the shrine, and the next day was hospitably entertained by the bishop, who inquired why he was returning to his native land. “The dog Theuderic has driven me from my brethren,” answered the saint. At last Nantes was reached near the mouth of the Loire, where the vessel was waiting to carry the exile back to Ireland. Columban wrote a letter to his monks, in which he poured forth his love to them with much advice as to their future conduct. The letter is filled with grief—suppressed lest it unman his beloved children. “While I write, the messenger comes to say that the ship is ready to bear me, unwilling, to my[Pg 178] country. But there is no guard to prevent my escape, and these people even seem to wish it.”

The letter ends, but not the story. Columban did not sail for Ireland. Jonas says that the vessel was miraculously impeded, and that then Columban was permitted to go whither he would. So the dauntless old man travelled back from the sea, and went to the Neustrian Court, the people along the way bringing him their children to bless. He did not rest in Neustria, for the desire was upon him to preach to the heathen. Making his way to the Rhine, he embarked near Mainz, ascended the river, and at last established himself, with his disciples, upon the lake of Constance. There they preached to the heathen, and threw their idols into the lake. He had the thought to preach to the Wends, but this was not to be.

The time soon came when all Austrasia fell into the hands of Brunhilde and Theuderic, and Columbanus decided to cross over into northern Italy, breaking out in anger at his disciple Gall, who was too sick to go with him. With other disciples he made the arduous journey, and reached the land of the Lombards. King Agilulf made him a gift of Bobbio, lying in a gorge of the Apennines near Genoa, and there he founded the monastery which long was to be a stronghold of letters. For himself, his career was well-nigh run; he retired to a solitary spot on the banks of the river Trebbia, where he passed away, being, apparently, some seventy years of age.

It may seem surprising that this strenuous ascetic should occasionally have occupied a leisure hour writing Latin poems in imitation of the antique. There still exists such an effusion to a friend:

“Accipe, quaeso,
Nunc bipedali
Condita versu
Munera parva.”

The verses consist mainly of classic allusions and advice of an antique rather than a Christian flavour: the wise will cease to add coin to coin, and will despise wealth, but not the pastime of such verse as the

[Pg 179]“Inclyta Vates
Nomine Sappho”

was wont to make. “Now, dear Fedolius, quit learned numbers and accept our squibs—frivola nostra. I have dictated them oppressed with pain and old age: ‘Vive, vale, laetus, tristisque memento senectae.’” The last is a pagan reminiscence, which the saint’s Christian soul may not have deeply felt. But the poem shows the saint’s classic training, which probably was exceptional. For there is no evidence of like knowledge in any Irishman before him; and after his time, in the seventh century, or the eighth, Latin education in Ireland was confined to a few monastic centres. A small minority studied the profanities, sometimes because they liked them, but oftener as the means of proficiency in sacred learning.

The Irish had cleverness, facility, ardour, and energy. They did much for the dissemination of Christianity and letters. Their deficiency was lack of organization; and they had but little capacity for ordered discipline humbly and obediently accepted from others. Consequently, when the period of evangelization was past in western Europe, and organization was needed, with united and persistent effort for order, the Irish ceased to lead or even to keep pace with those to whom once they had brought the Gospel. In Anglo-Saxon England and on the Carolingian continent they became strains of influence handed on. This was the fortune which overtook them as illuminators of manuscripts and preservers of knowledge. Their emotional traits, moreover, entered the larger currents of mediaeval feeling and imagination. Strains of the Irish, or of a kindred Celtic temperament passed on into such “Breton” matters as the Tristan story, wherein love is passion unrestrained, and is more distinctly out of relationship with ethical considerations than, for example, the equally adulterous tale of Lancelot and Guinevere.[204]

 [Pg 180]


The Saxon invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries drove Christianity and letters from the land where the semi-Romanized Britons and their church had flourished. To reconvert and instruct anew a relapsed heathen country was the task which Gregory the Great laid on the willing Augustine. The story of that famous mission (A.D. 597) need not be told;[205] but we may note the manner of the presentation of Christianity to the heathen Saxons, and the temper of its reception. Most impressive was this bringing of the Faith. Augustine and his band of monks came as a stately embassy from Rome, the traditionary centre of imperial and spiritual power. Their coming was a solemn call to the English to associate themselves with all that was most august and authoritative in heaven and earth. According to Bede, Augustine sent a messenger to Ethelbert, the Kentish king, to announce that he had come from Rome bearing the best of messages, and would assure to such as hearkened, eternal joys in heaven and dominion without end with the living and true God. To Ethelbert, whose kingdom lay at the edge of the great world, the message came from this world’s sovereign pontiff, who in some awful way represented its almighty God, and had authority to admit to His kingdom. He was not ignorant of what lay within the hand of Rome to give. His wife was a Catholic Christian, daughter of a Frankish king, and had her own ministering bishop. Doubtless the queen had spoken with her lord. Still Ethelbert feared the spell-craft of this awe-inspiring embassy, and would meet Augustine only under the open sky. Augustine came to the meeting, a silver[Pg 181] cross borne before him as a banner, and the pictured image of Christ, his monks singing litanies and loudly supplicating their Lord for the king’s and their own salvation. Knowledge, authority, supernatural power, were represented here. And how could the king fail to be struck by the nobility of Augustine’s Gospel message, by its clear assurance, its love and terror,[206] so overwhelming and convincing, so far outsoaring Ethelbert’s heathen religion? To be sure, in Christian love and forgiveness lay some reversal of Saxon morality, for instance of the duty of revenge. But this was not prominent in the Christianity of the day; and experience was to show that only in isolated instances did this teaching impede the acceptance of the Gospel.[207]

Ethelbert spoke these missionaries fair; accorded them a habitation in Canterbury with the privilege of celebrating their Christian rites and preaching to his people. There they abode, zealous in vigils and fastings, and preaching the word of life. Certain heathen men were converted, then the king, and then his folk in multitudes—the usual way. Under the direction of Gregory, Augustine proceeded with that combination of insistence, dignity, and tolerance, so well understood in the Roman Church. There was insistence upon the main doctrines and requirements of the Faith—upon the Roman Easter day and baptism, as against the practices of the British Church. Tolerance was shown respecting heathen fanes and sacrificial feastings; the fanes should be reconsecrated as Christian churches; the feasts should be continued in honour of the true God.[208]

Besides zeal and knowledge and authority, miracles advanced Augustine’s enterprise. To eliminate by any sweeping negation the miraculous element from the causes[Pg 182] of success of such a mission is to close the eyes to the situation. All men expected miracles; Gregory who sent Augustine was infatuated with them. Augustine performed them, or believed he did, and others believed it too. Throughout these centuries, and indeed late into the mediaeval period, the power and habit of working miracles constituted sainthood in the hermit or the monk, thereby singled out as the special instrument of God’s will or the Virgin’s kindness. Of course miracles were ascribed to the great missionary apostles like Augustine or Boniface; and this conviction brought many conversions.

Among the heathen English about to be converted, there was diversity of view and mood as to the Faith. They stood in awe of these newcomers from Rome, fearing their spell-craft. From their old religion they had sought earthly victory and prosperity; and some had found it of uncertain aid. “See, king, how this matter stands,” says Coifi, at the Northumbrian Witenagemot held by Edwin to decide as to the new religion: “I have learned of a certainty that there is no virtue or utility whatever in that religion which we have been following. None of your thanes has slaved in the worship of our gods more zealously than I. Yet many have had greater rewards and dignities from you, and in every way have prospered more. Were the gods worth anything, they would wish rather to aid me, who have been so zealous in serving them. So if these new teachings are better and stronger, let us accept them at once.”[209] Coifi expressed the common motives of converts of all nations from the time of Constantine. No better thought of Christian expediency had inspired Gregory of Tours’s story of Clovis’s career; and Bede in no way condemns Coifi’s verba prudentiae, as he terms them. Naturally in times of adversity such converts were quick to abandon their new religion, proved ineffectual.[210]

Among these Angles of Northumberland, however, finer souls were looking for light and certitude. Such a one was that thane who followed Coifi with the wonderful illustration of man’s mortal need of enlightenment, the thane for whom life was as the swallow flying through the warmed and[Pg 183] lighted hall, from the dark cold into the dark cold: “So this life of men comes into sight for a little; we are ignorant of what shall follow or what may have preceded. If this new doctrine offers anything more certain, I think we should follow it.” The heathen poetry had given varied voice to this contemplative melancholy so wont to dwell on life’s untoward changes; and there was ghostly evidence of the other world before the coming of the Roman monks. Now, as those monks came with authority from the traditionary home of ghostly lore, why question their knowledge of the life beyond the grave? Many Anglo-Saxons were prepared to fix their gaze upon a life to come and to let their fancies fill with visions of the great last severance unto heaven and hell. When once impressed by the monastic Christianity[211] of the Roman, or the Irish, mission, they were quick to throw themselves into the ascetic life which most surely opened heaven’s doors. So many a noble thane became an anchorite or a monk, many a noble dame became a nun; and Saxon kings forsook their kingdoms for the cloister: “Cenred, who for some time had reigned most nobly in Mercia, still more nobly abandoned his sceptre. For he came to Rome, and there was tonsured and made a monk at the church of the Apostles, and continued in prayers and fastings and almsgiving until his last day.”[212]

As might be expected, the re-expression of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon writings was martial and emotional. A martial tone pervades the epic paraphrases of Scripture, the Anglo-Saxon Genesis for example. On the other hand, adaptations of devotional Latin compositions[213] evince a realization of Christian feeling and prevalent ascetic sentiments. The “elegiac” Anglo-Saxon feeling seems to reach its height in a more original composition, the Christ of Cynewulf, while the emotional fervour coming with Christianity is disclosed in Bede’s account of the inspiration which fell upon the cowherd Cædmon, in St. Hilda’s monastery[Pg 184] of Whitby, to sing the story of creation.[214] A pervasive monastic atmosphere also surrounds the visions of hell and purgatory, which were to continue so typically characteristic of monastic Christianity.[215]

What knowledge, sacred and profane, came to the Anglo-Saxons with Christianity? Quite properly learned were Augustine and the other organizers of the English Church. Two generations after him, the Greek monk Theodore was sent by the Pope to become Archbishop of Canterbury, complete Augustine’s work, and instruct the English monks and clergy. Theodore was accompanied by his friend Hadrian, as learned as himself. Their labours finally established Roman Christianity in England. The two drew about them a band of students, and formed at Canterbury a school of sacred learning, where liberal studies were conducted by these foreigners with a knowledge and intelligence novel in Great Britain. In the north, Benedict Biscop, a Northumbrian, promoted the ends of Roman Catholicism and learning by establishing the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow under the monastic regula of St. Benedict of Nursia, as modified by the practices of continental monasteries in the seventh century. He had been in Italy, and brought thence many books. It was among these books that Bede grew up at Jarrow.

Thus strong currents of Roman ecclesiasticism and liberal knowledge reached England. On the other hand, Irish monastic Christianity had already made its entry in the south-western part of Great Britain, and with greater strength established itself in the north, converting multitudes to the Faith and instructing such as would learn. The Irish teaching had been eagerly received by those groups of Anglo-Saxons who henceforth were to prosecute their studies with the aid of the further knowledge and discipline brought from the Continent by Theodore. Some of them had even journeyed to Ireland to study.

From this dual source was drawn the education of[Pg 185] Aldhelm. He was born in Wessex about the year 650, and was nephew of the powerful King Ini. He became abbot of Malmesbury in 675. An Irish monk was his first teacher; his second, the learned Hadrian. From the two he received a broader education than any Anglo-Saxon had possessed before him. Always holding in view the perfecting of his sacred knowledge, he studied grammar and kindred topics, produced treatises himself, and as a Catholic student and teacher was a true forerunner of the greatest scholar among his younger contemporaries, Bede.[216]

Bede the Venerable, and we may add the still beloved, was Aldhelm’s junior by some twenty-five years. He was born in 673 and died in 735. He passed his whole life reading, teaching, and writing in the Cloister of Jarrow near where he was born, and not far from where, beneath the “Galilee” of Durham Cathedral, his bones have long reposed. Back of him was the double tradition of learning, the Irish and the Graeco-Roman. Through a long life of pious study, Bede drew into his mind, and incorporated in his writings, practically the total sum of knowledge then accessible in western Europe. He stands between the great Latin transmitters (Boëthius, Cassiodorus, Gregory and Isidore) and the epoch known as the Carolingian. He was himself a transmitter of knowledge to that later time. If in spirit, race, epoch and circumstances, Aldhelm was Bede’s direct forerunner, Bede had also a notable predecessor in Isidore. The writings of the Spanish bishop contributed substance and suggestions of plan and method to the Anglo-Saxon monk, whose works embrace practically the same series of topics as Isidore’s, whose intellectual interests also, and attitude toward the Church Fathers, appear the same. But Bede was the more genial personality, and could not help imbuing his compositions with something from his own temperament. Even in his Commentaries upon the books of Scripture, which were made up principally of borrowed allegorical interpretations, there is common sense and some endeavour to present the actual meaning and[Pg 186] situation.[217] But he disclaimed originality, as he says in the preface to his Commentary on the Hexaemeron, addressed to Bishop Acca of Hexham:

“Concerning the beginning of Genesis where the creation of the world is described, many have said much, and have left to posterity monuments of their talents. Among these, as far as our feebleness can learn, we may distinguish Basil of Caesarea (whom Eustathius translated from Greek to Latin), Ambrose of Milan, and Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Of whom the first-named in nine books, the second following his footprints in six books, the third in twelve books and also in two others directed against the Manichaeans, shed floods of salutary doctrine for their readers; and in them the promise of the Truth was fulfilled: ‘Whoso believeth in me, as the Scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water....’ But since these works are so great that only the rich may own them, and so profound that they may be fathomed only by the learned, your holiness has seen fit to lay on us the task of plucking from them all, as from the sweetest wide-flowering fields of paradise, what might seem to meet the needs of weaklings.”[218]

Bede was also a lovely story-teller. His literary charm and power appear in his Life of St. Cuthbert, and still more in his ever-famous Ecclesiastical History of the English People, so warm with love of mankind, and presenting so wonderful a series of dramatic stories animate with vital motive and the colour of incident and circumstance. Midway between the spontaneous genius of this work and the copied Scripture Commentary, stand Bede’s grammatical, metrical, and scientific compositions, compiled with studious zeal. They evince a broad interest in scholarship and in nature. Still, neither material nor method was original. For instance, his De rerum natura took its plan and much of its substance from Isidore’s work of the same name. Bede has, however, put in further matter and made his work less of a mere shell of words than Isidore’s. For he[Pg 187] is interested in connecting natural occurrences with their causes, stating, for example, that the tides depend on the moon.[219] In this work as in his other opera didascalica, like the De temporum ratione and his learned De arte metrica,[220] he shows himself a more intelligent student than his Spanish predecessor. Yet he drew everything from some written source.

One need not wonder at the voluminousness of Bede’s literary productions.[221] Many of the writings emanating from monasteries are transcriptions rather than compositions. The circumstance that books, i.e. manuscripts, were rare and costly was an impelling motive. Isidore and Bede made systematic compilations for general use. They and their congeners would also make extracts from manuscripts, of which they might have but the loan, or from unique codices in order to preserve the contents. Such notes or excerpts might have the value of a treatise, and might be preserved and in turn transcribed as a distinct work. Yet whether made by a Bede or by a lesser man, they represent mainly the labour of a copyist.

Bede’s writings were all in Latin, and were intended for the instruction of monks. They played a most important rôle in the transmission of learning, sacred and profane, in Latin form. For its still more popular diffusion, translations into the vernacular might be demanded. Such at all events were made of Scripture; and perhaps a century and a half after Bede’s death, the translation of edifying Latin books was undertaken by the best of Saxon kings. King Alfred was born in 849 and closed his eyes in 901. In the midst of other royal labours he set himself the task of placing before his people, or at least his clergy, Anglo-Saxon versions of some of the then most highly regarded volumes of instruction. The wise Pastoral Care of Gregory the Great; his Dialogues, less wise according to our views;[Pg 188] the Histories of Orosius[222] and Bede; and that philosophic vade-mecum of the Middle Ages, the De consolatione philosophiae of Boëthius. Of these, Alfred translated the Pastoral Care and the De consolatione, also Orosius; the other works appear to have been translated at his direction.[223] Alfred’s translations contain his own reflections and other matter not in the originals. In rendering Orosius, he rewrote the geographical introduction, inserted a description of Germany and accounts of northern Europe given by two of his Norse liegemen, Ohthere and Wulfstan. The alertness of his mind is shown by this insertion of the latest geographical knowledge. Other and more personal passages will disclose his purpose, and illustrate the manner in which his Christianized intelligence worked upon trains of thought suggested perhaps by the Latin writing before him.

Alfred’s often-quoted preface to Gregory’s Pastoral Care tells his reasons for undertaking its translation, and sets forth the condition of England. He speaks of the “wise men there formerly were throughout England, both of sacred and secular orders,” and of their zeal in learning and teaching and serving God; and how foreigners came to the land in search of wisdom and instruction. But “when I came to the throne,” so general was the decay of learning in England “that there were very few on this side of the Humber who could understand their rituals in English, or translate a letter from Latin into English; and I believe there were not many beyond the Humber.... Thanks be to God Almighty that we have any teachers among us now.” Alfred therefore commands the bishop, to whom he is now sending the copy, to disengage himself as often as possible from worldly matters, and apply the Christian wisdom God has given him. “I remembered also how I saw, before it had been all ravaged and burnt, how the churches throughout the whole of England stood filled with[Pg 189] treasures and books, and there was also a great multitude of God’s servants, but they had very little knowledge of books, for they could not understand anything of them because they were not written in their own language.” It therefore seemed wise to me “to translate some books which are most needful for all men to know, into the language which we can all understand, and ... that all the youth now in England of free men, who are rich enough to be able to devote themselves to it, be set to learn so long as they are not fit for any other occupation, until that they are well able to read English writing: and let those be afterwards taught more in the Latin language who are to continue learning and be promoted to a higher rank.”

In the De consolatione of Boëthius, the antique pagan thought, softened with human sympathy, and in need of such comfort and assurance as was offered by the Faith, is found occupied with questions (like that of free-will) prominent in Christianity. The book presented meditations which were so consonant with Christian views that its Christian readers from Alfred to Dante mistook them for Christian sentiments, and added further meanings naturally occurring to the Christian soul. Alfred’s reflections in his version of the De consolatione are very personal to Saxon Alfred and show how he took his life and kingly office:

“O Philosophy, thou knowest that I never greatly delighted in covetousness and the possession of earthly power, nor longed for this authority”—so far Boëthius,[224] and now Alfred himself: “but I desired instruments and materials to carry out the work I was set to do, which was that I should virtuously and fittingly administer the authority committed unto me. Now no man, as thou knowest, can get full play for his natural gifts, nor conduct and administer government, unless he hath fit tools, and the raw material to work upon. By material I mean that which is necessary to the exercise of natural powers; thus a king’s raw material and instruments of rule are a well-peopled land, and he must have men of prayer, men of war, and men of work. As thou knowest, without these tools no king may display his special talent. Further, for his materials he must have means of support for the three classes above spoken of, [Pg 190]which are his instruments; and these means are land to dwell in, gifts, weapons, meat, ale, clothing, and what else soever the three classes need. Without these means he cannot keep his tools in order, and without these tools he cannot perform any of the tasks entrusted to him. [I have desired material for the exercise of government that my talents and my power might not be forgotten and hidden away[225]] for every good gift and every power soon groweth old and is no more heard of, if Wisdom be not in them. Without Wisdom no faculty can be fully brought out, for whatsoever is done unwisely can never be accounted as skill. To be brief, I may say that it has ever been my desire to live honourably while I was alive, and after my death to leave to them that should come after me my memory in good works.”

The last sentence needs no comment. But those preceding it will be illuminated by another passage inserted by Alfred:

“Therefore it is that a man never by his authority attains to virtue and excellence, but by reason of his virtue and excellence he attains to authority and power. No man is better for his power, but for his skill he is good, if he is good, and for his skill he is worthy of power, if he is worthy of it. Study Wisdom then, and, when ye have learned it, contemn it not, for I tell you that by its means ye may without fail attain to power, yea, even though not desiring it.”

Perhaps from the teaching of his own life Alfred knew, as well as Boëthius, the toil and sadness of power: “Though their false hope and imagination lead fools to believe that power and wealth are the highest good, yet it is quite otherwise.” And again, speaking of friendship, he says that Nature unites friends in love, “but by means of these worldly goods and the wealth of this life we oftener make foes than friends,” which doubtless Alfred had discovered, as well as Marcus Aurelius. Perhaps the Saxon king knew wherein lay peace, as he makes Wisdom say: “When I rise aloft with these my servants, we look down upon the storms of this world, even as the eagle does when he soars in stormy weather above the clouds, where no storm can harm him.” The king was thinking of man’s peace with God.[226]

 [Pg 191]


Christianity came to the cities of Provincia and the chief Roman colonies of Gaul (Lyons, Trèves, Cologne) in the course of the original dissemination of the Faith. There were Roman, Greek, or Syrian Christians in these towns before the end of the second century. Early Gallic Christianity spoke Greek and Latin, and its rather slow advance was due partly to the tenacity of Celtic speech even in the cities; while outside of them heathen speech and practices were scarcely touched. Through Gaul and along the Rhine, the country in the main continued heathen in religion and Celtic or Germanic in speech during the fifth century.[227] The complete Latinizing of Gaul and the conversion of its rural population proceeded from the urban churches, and from the labours and miracles of anchorites and monks. In contrast with the decay of the municipal governments, the urban churches continued living institutions. Their bishops usually were men of energy. The episcopal office was elective, yet likely to remain in the same influential family, and the bishop, the leading man in the town, might be its virtual ruler. He represented Christianity and Latin culture, and when Roman officials yielded to[Pg 192] Teutonic conquerors, the bishop was left as the spokesman of the Gallo-Roman population. Thus the Gallic churches, far from succumbing before the barbarian invasions, rescued and appropriated the derelict functions of government, and emerged aggrandized from the political and racial revolution. In the year 400 the city of Trèves was Latin in speech and Roman in government; in the year 500 the Roman government had been overthrown, and a German-speaking population predominated in what was left of the city, but the church went on unchanged in constitution and in language.

There was constant intercourse between Teutons and Romans along the northern boundaries of the Empire. In the Danube regions many of the former were converted. The Goths, through the labours of Ulfilas and others in the fourth century, became Arian Christians; their conversion was of moment to themselves and others, but destiny severed the continuity of its import for history. In the provinces of Rhaetia, Vindelicia, and Noricum there were Christians, some of them Teutons, as early as the time of Constantine. For the next century, when disruption of the Empire was in full progress, the Life of St. Severinus by Eugippius, his disciple, gives the picture.[228] Bits and fragments of Roman government endured; letters were not quite quenched; but Alemanni and Rugii moved as they would, marauding, besieging, and destroying. Everywhere there was uncertainty and confusion, and yet civilized Roman provincials still clung to a driven life. Through this mountain land, the monk Severinus went here and there, barefoot even in ice and snow, austere, commanding. He encouraged the townspeople to maintain decency and courage; he turned the barbarians from ruthlessness. Clear-seeing, capable, his energies shielded the land. He was an ascetic who took nothing for himself, and won men to the Faith by this guarantee of disinterestedness. So he shepherded his harrowed flocks, and more than once averted their destruction. But his arm was too feeble; after his death even his cell was plundered, while the confusion swept on.

Such were fifth-century conditions on the northern[Pg 193] boundary of what had been the Empire, conditions amid which the culture and doctrine germane to Christianity went down, although the Faith still glimmered here and there. Farther to the west, the Burgundians had gained a domicile in a land sparsely tenanted by Roman and Catholic provincials. Here on the left bank of the Rhine, in the neighbourhood of Worms, this people accepted the Christianity which they found. Afterwards, in the year 430, their heathen kin on the right bank were baptized as a people; for they hoped, through aid from fellow-Christians, to ward off the destruction threatening from the Huns. Yet five years later they were overthrown by those savage riders—an overthrow out of which was to rise the Nibelungenlied. The Burgundian remnants found a new home by the Rhone.

The Christianity of Burgundians and Goths was subject to the vicissitudes of their fortunes. The permanent conversion to Catholicism of the great masses of the Germans commenced somewhat later, when the turmoil of fifth-century migration was settling into contests for homes destined to prove more lasting. Its beginning may be dated from the baptism of Clovis as a Catholic on Christmas Day in the year 496. His retainers followed him into the consecrated water. By reason of the king’s genius for war and politics, this event was the beginning of the final triumph of Catholicism.[229]

The baptism of Clovis and his followers was typical of early Teutonic conversions. King and tribal following acted as a unit. Christ gave victory; He was the mightier God: such was the crude form of the motive. Its larger scope was grasped by the far-seeing king. Believing in supernatural aid, he desired it from the mightiest source, which, he was persuaded, was the Christian God. It was to be obtained by such homage to Christ as heretofore the king had paid to Wuotan. Any doubt as to the sincerity of his belief presupposes a point of view impossible for a fifth-century barbarian. But to this sincere expectation of Christ’s aid, to be gained through baptism, Clovis joined careful consideration of the political situation. Catholic Christianity was the religion of the Gallo-Roman population forming the[Pg 194] greater part of the Frankish king’s subjects. He knew of Arian peoples; probably attempts had been made to draw him to their side. They constituted the great Teutonic powers at the time; for Theodoric was the monarch of Italy, and Arian Teutons ruled in southern France, in Spain, and Africa. Nevertheless, it was of paramount importance for the establishment of his kingdom that there should be no schism between the Franks and the Gallo-Roman people who exceeded them in number and in wealth and culture. Catholic influences surrounded Clovis; Catholic interests represented the wealth and prosperity of his dominions, and when he decided to be baptized he did not waver between the Catholic and the Arian belief. Thus the king attached to himself the civilized population of his realm. A common Catholic faith quickly obliterated racial antagonism within its boundaries and gained him the support of Catholic church and people in the kingdoms of his Arian rivals.

So under Clovis and his successors the Gallic Church became the Frankish Church, and flourished exceedingly. Tithes were paid it, and gifts were made by princes and nobles. Its lands increased, carrying their dependent population, until the Church became the largest landholder in the Merovingian realm. It was governed by Roman law, but the clergy were subject to the penal jurisdiction of the king.[230] It was he that summoned councils, although he did not vote, and left ecclesiastical matters to the bishops, who were his liegemen and appointees.[231] They recognized the king’s virtually unlimited authority, which they patterned on the absolute power of the Roman Emperors and the prerogatives of David and Solomon. In fine, the Merovingian Church was a national church, subject to the king. Until the seventh century it was quite independent of the Bishop of Rome.[232]

It is common knowledge—especially vivid with readers[Pg 195] of the famous Historia Francorum of Gregory of Tours—that ethically viewed, the conduct of the Merovingian house was cruel, treacherous, and abominable; and likewise the conduct of their vassals. Frankish kings and nobles appear as men no longer bound by the ethics of the heathenism which they had foresworn, and as yet untouched by the moral precepts of the Christian code. Not Christianity, however, but contact with decadent civilization, and rapid increase of power and wealth, had loosened their heathen standards. Merovingian history leaves a unique impression of a line of rulers and dependents among whom mercy and truth and chastity were unknown. The elements of sixth-century Christianity which the Franks made their own were its rites, its magic, and its miracles, and its expectation of the aid of a God and His saints duly solicited. Here the customs of heathenism were a preparation, or themselves passed into Frankish Christianity. Nevertheless, the general character of Christian observances—baptism, the mass, prayer, the sign of the cross, the rites at marriage, sickness, and death—could not fail to impress a certain tone and demeanour upon the people, and impart some sense of human sinfulness. The general conviction that patent and outrageous crime would bring divine vengeance gained point and power from the terrific doctrine of the Day of Wrath, and the system of penances imposed by the clergy proved an excellent discipline with these rough Christians. Many bishops and priests were little better than the nobles, yet the Church preserved Christian belief and did something to improve morality. Everywhere the monk was the most striking object-lesson, with his austerities, his terror-stricken sense of sinfulness, and conviction of the peril of the world. No martial, grasping bishop, no dissolute and treacherous priest denied that the monk’s was the ideal Christian life; and the laity stood in awe, or expectation, of the wonder-working power of his asceticism. Indeed monasticism was becoming popular, and the Merovingian period witnessed the foundation of numberless cloisters.

In the fifth and through part of the sixth century the Gallic monastery of Lerins, on an island in the Mediterranean, near Fréjus, was a chief source of ascetic and Christian[Pg 196] influence for Gaul. Its monks took their precepts from Syria and Egypt, and some of the zeal of St. Martin of Tours had fallen on their shoulders. As the energy of this community declined, Columban’s monastery at Luxeuil succeeded to the work. The example of Columbanus, his precepts and severe monastic discipline, proved a source of ascetic and missionary zeal. With him or following in his steps came other Irishmen; and heathen German lands soon looked upon the walls of many an Irish monastery. But Columbanus failed, and all the Irish failed, in obedience, order, and effective organization. His own monastic regula, with all its rigour, contained no provisions for the government of the monasteries. Without due ordering, bands of monks dwelling in heathen communities would waver in their practices and even show a lack of doctrinal stability. Sooner or later they were certain to become confused in habit and contaminated with the manners of the surrounding people. These Irish monasteries omitted to educate a native priesthood to perpetuate their Christian teaching. The best of them, St. Gall (founded by Columbanus’s disciple Gallus), might be a citadel of culture, and convert the people about it, through the talents and character of its founder and his successors. But other monasteries, farther to the east, were tainted with heathen practices. In fine, it was not for the Irish to convert the great heathen German land, or effect a lasting reform of existing churches there or in Gaul.

The labours of Anglo-Saxons were fraught with more enduring results. Through their abilities and zeal, their faculty of organization and capacity of submitting to authority, through their consequent harmony with Rome and the support given them by the Frankish monarchy, these Anglo-Saxons converted many German tribes, established permanent churches among them, reorganized the heterogeneous Christianity which they found in certain German lands, and were a moving factor in the reform of the Frankish Church. The most striking features of their work on the Continent were diocesan organization, the training of a native clergy, the establishment of monasteries under the Benedictine constitution, union with Rome, obedience to her commands, strenuous conformity to her law, and insistence on like[Pg 197] conformity in others. Their presentation of Christianity was orthodox, regular, and authoritative.

Some of these features appear in the work of the Saxon Willibrord among the Frisians, but are more largely illustrated in the career of St. Boniface-Winfried. Willibrord moved under the authority of Rome; the varying fortunes of his labours were connected with the enterprises of Pippin of Heristal, the father of Charles Martel. They advanced with the power of that Frankish potentate. But after his death, during the strife between Neustria and Austrasia, the heathen Frisian king Radbod drove back Christianity as he enlarged his dominion at the expense of the divided Franks. Later, Charles Martel conquered him, and the Frankish power reached (718) to the Zuyder Zee. Under its protection Willibrord at last founded the bishopric of Utrecht (734). He succeeded in educating a native clergy; and his labours had lasting result among the Frisians who were subject to the Franks, but not among the free Frisians and the Danes.

Evidently there was no sharp geographical boundary between Christianity and heathendom. Throughout broad territories, Christian and heathen practices mingled. This was true of the Frisian land. It was true in greater range and complexity of the still wider fields of Boniface’s career. This able man surrendered his high station in his native Wessex in order to serve Christ more perfectly as a missionary monk among the heathen. He went first to Frisia and worked with Willibrord, yet refused to be his bishop-coadjutor and successor, because planning to carry Christianity into Germany.

Strikingly his life exemplifies Anglo-Saxon faculties working under the directing power of Rome among heathen and partly Christian peoples. On his first visit to Rome he became imbued with the principles, and learned the ritual, of the Roman Church. He returned to enter into relations with Charles Martell, and to labour in Hesse and Thuringia, and again with Willibrord in Frisia. Not long afterwards, at his own solicitation, Gregory II. called him back to Rome (722), where he fed his passion for punctilious conformity by binding himself formally to obey the Pope,[Pg 198] follow the practices of the Roman Church, and have no fellowship with bishops whose ways conflicted with them. Gregory made him bishop over Thuringia and Hesse, and sent him back there to reform Christian and heathen communities. Thus Gregory created a bishop within the bounds of the Frankish kingdom—an unprecedented act. Nevertheless, Charles, to whom Boniface came with a letter from Gregory, received him favourably and furnished him with a safe conduct, only exacting a recognition of his own authority.

Boniface set forth upon his mission. In Hesse he cut down the ancient heathen oak, and made a chapel of its timber; he preached and he organized—the land was not altogether heathen. Then he proceeded to Thuringia. That also was a partly Christian land; many Irish-Scottish preachers were labouring or dwelling there. Boniface set his face against their irregularities as firmly as against heathenism. Again he dominated and reorganized, yet continued unfailing in energetic preaching to the heathen. Gregory watched closely and zealously co-operated.

On the death of the second Gregory in 731, the third Gregory succeeded to the papacy and continued his predecessor’s support of the Anglo-Saxon apostle, making him archbishop with authority to ordain bishops. Many Anglo-Saxons, both men and holy women, came to aid their countryman, and brought their education and their nobler views of life to form centres of Christian culture in the German lands. Cloisters for nuns, cloisters for monks were founded. The year 744 witnessed the foundation of Fulda by Sturm under the direction of Boniface, and destined to be the very apple of his eye and the monastic model for Germany. It was placed under the authority of Rome, with the consent of Pippin, who then ruled. The reorganization rather than the conversion of Bavaria was Boniface’s next achievement. The land long before had been partially Romanized, and now was nominally Christian. Here again Boniface acted as representative of the Pope, and not of Charles, although Bavaria was part of the Frankish empire.

The year 738 brought Boniface to Rome for the third[Pg 199] time. He was now yearning to leave the fields already tilled, and go as missionary to the heathen Saxons. But Gregory sent him back to complete the reorganization of the Bavarian Church, and to this large field of action he added also Alemannia with its diocesan centre at Speyer. Here he came in conflict with Frankish bishops, firm in their secular irregularities. Yet again he prevailed, reorganized the churches, and placed them under the authority of Rome. Evidently the two Gregories had in large measure turned the energies of Boniface from the mission-field to the labours of reform.

On the death of Charles in 741 (and in the same year died Gregory, to be succeeded by the lukewarm Zacharias) his sons Carloman and Pippin succeeded to his power. The following year Carloman in German-speaking Austrasia called a council of his church (Concilium Germanicum primum) under the primacy of Boniface. Its decrees confirmed the reforms for which the latter had struggled:

“We Carloman, Duke and Prince of the Franks, in the year 742 of the Incarnation, on the 21st of April, upon the advice of the servants of God, the bishops and priests of our realm, have assembled them to take counsel how God’s law and the Church’s discipline (fallen to ruin under former princes) may be restored, and the Christian folk led to salvation, instead of perishing deceived by false priests. We have set up bishops in the cities, and have set over them as archbishop Bonifatius, the legate of St. Peter.”

The council decreed that yearly synods should be held, that the possessions taken from the Church should be restored, and the false priests deprived of their emoluments and forced to do penance. The clergy were forbidden to bear arms, go to war, or hunt. Every priest should give yearly account of his stewardship to his bishop. Bishops, supported by the count in the diocese, should suppress heathen practices. Punishments were set for the fleshly sins of monks and nuns and clergy, and for the priestly offences of wearing secular garb or harbouring women. The Benedictine rule was appointed for monasteries. It was easier to make these decrees than carry them out against the opposition of such martial bishops as those of Mainz and Trèves, whose[Pg 200] support was necessary to Carloman’s government; and military conditions rendered the restoration of Church lands impracticable. Yet the word was spoken, and something was done.

The next year in Neustria Pippin instituted like reforms. He was aided by Boniface, although the latter held no ecclesiastical office there. In 747 Carloman abdicated and retired to a monastery;[233] and Pippin became sole ruler, and at last formally king, anointed by Boniface under the direction of the Pope in 752. After this, Boniface, withdrawing from the direction of the Church, turned once more to satisfy his heart’s desire by going on a mission among the heathen Frisians, where he crowned a great life with a martyr’s death.

Thus authoritatively, supported by Rome and the Frankish monarchy, Christianity was presented to the Germans. It carried suggestions of a better order and some knowledge of Latin letters. The extension of Roman Catholic Christianity was the aim of Boniface first and last and always. But a Latin education was needed by the clergy to enable them to understand and set forth this some-what elaborated and learned scheme of salvation. Boniface and his coadjutors had no aversion to the literary means by which a serviceable Latin knowledge was to be obtained,[Pg 201] and their missionary and reorganizing labours necessarily worked some diffusion of Latinity.

The Frankish secular power which had supported Boniface, advanced to violent action when Charlemagne’s sword bloodily constrained the Saxons to accept his rule and Christianity, the two inseverable objects which he tirelessly pursued. Nor could this ruler stay his mighty hand from the government of the Church within his realm. With his power to appoint bishops, he might, if he chose, control its councils. But apparently he chose to rule the Church directly; and his, and his predecessors’ and successors’ Capitularies (rather than Conciliar decrees) contain the chief ecclesiastical legislation for the Frankish realm.

In its temporalities and secular action the Church was the greatest and richest of all subjects; it possessed the rights of lay vassals and was affected with like duties.[234] But in ritual, doctrine, language and affiliation, the Frankish Church made part of the Roman Catholic Church. It used the Roman liturgy and the Latin tongue. The ordering of the clergy was Roman, and the regulation of the monasteries was Romanized by the adoption of the Benedictine regula. Within the Church Rome had triumphed. Prelates were vassals of the king who had now become Emperor; and the great corporate Church was subject to him. Nevertheless, this great corporate institution was Roman rather than Gallic or Frankish or German. It was Teuton only in those elements which represented ecclesiastical abuses, for example, the remaining irregularities of various kinds, the lay and martial habits of prelates, and even their appointment by the monarch. These were the elements which the Church in its logical Roman evolution was to eliminate. Charlemagne himself, as well as his lesser successors, strove just as zealously to bring the people into obedience to the Church as into obedience to the lay rulers. While the Carolingian rule was[Pg 202] strong, its power was exerted on behalf of ecclesiastical authority and discipline; and when the royal administration weakened after Charlemagne’s death, the Church was not slow to revolt against its temporal subjection to the royal power.

But the Church, in spite of Latin and Roman affinities, strove also to come near the German peoples and speak to them in their own tongues. This is borne witness to by the many translations from Latin into Frankish, Saxon, or Alemannish dialects, made by the clergy. Christianity deeply affected the German language. Many of its words received German form, and the new thoughts forced old terms to take on novel and more spiritual meanings. To be sure these German dialects were there before Christianity came, and the capacities of the Germans acquired in heathen times are attested by the sufficiency of their language to express Christian thought. Likewise the German character was there, and proved its range and quality by the very transformation of which it showed itself capable under Christianity. And just as Christianity was given expression in the German language, which retained many of its former qualities, so many fundamental traits of German character remained in the converted people. Yet so earnestly did the Germans turn to Christianity, and such draughts of its spirit did they draw into their nature, that the early Germanic re-expression of it is sincere, heartfelt, and moving, and illumined with understanding of the Faith.

These qualities may be observed in the series of Christian documents in the German tongues commencing in the first years of Charlemagne’s reign. They consist of baptismal confessions of belief, the first of which (cir. 769) was composed for heathen Saxons just converted by the sword, and of catechisms presenting the elements of Christian precept and dogma. The earliest of the latter (cir. 789), coming from the monastery at Weissenburg in Alsace, contains the Lord’s Prayer, with explanations, an enumeration of the deadly sins according to the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian. Further, one finds among these documents a translation of the De fide Catholica of Isidore of Seville, and of the[Pg 203] Benedictine regula; also Charlemagne’s Exhortatio ad plebem Christianam, which was an admonition to the people to learn the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. There are likewise general confessions of sins. Less dependent on a Latin original is the so-called Muspilli, a spirited description in alliterative verse of the last times and the Day of Judgment.

German qualities, however, express themselves more fully in two Gospel versions, the first the famous Saxon Heliand (cir. 835), (which follows Tatian’s “Harmony”); the second the somewhat later Evangelienbuch of Otfrid the Frank. They were both composed in alliterative verse, though Otfrid also made use of rhyme.[235] The martial, Teutonic ring of the former is well known. Christ is the king, the disciples are His thanes whose duty is to stand by their lord to the death; He rewards them with the promised riches of heaven, excelling the earthly goods bestowed by other kings. In the “betrayal” they close around their Lord, saying: “Were it thy will, mighty Lord of ours, that we should set upon them with the spear, gladly would we strike and die for our Lord.” Out broke the wrath of the “ready swordsman” (snel suerdthegan)[236] Simon Peter; he could not speak for anguish to think that his lord should be bound. Angrily strode the bold knight before his lord, drew his weapon, the sword by his side, and smote the nearest foe with might of hands. Before his fury and the spurting blood the people fled fearing the sword’s bite.

The Heliand has also gentler qualities, as when it calls the infant Christ the fridubarn (peace-child), and pictures Mary watching over her “little man.” But German love of wife and child and home speak more clearly in Otfrid’s book. Although a learned monk, his pride of Frankish race rings in his oft-quoted reasons for writing theotisce, i.e. in German:[Pg 204] Why shall not the Franks sing God’s praise in Frankish tongue? Forcible and logical it is, although not bound by grammar’s rules. Yes, why should the Franks be incapable? they are brave as Romans or Greeks; they are as good in field and wood; wide power is theirs, and ready are they with the sword. They are rich, and possess a good land, with honour. They can guard their own; what people is their equal in battle? Diligent are they also in the Word of God. Otfrid is quite moving in his sympathetic sense of the sorrow of the Last Judgment, when the mother from child shall be parted, the father from son, the lord from his faithful thane, friend from friend—all human kind. Deep is the mystic love and yearning with which he realizes Heaven as one’s own land: there is life without death, light without darkness, the angels and eternal bliss. We have left it—that must we bewail always, banished to a strange land, poor misled orphans. The antithesis between the fremidemo lant (fremdes land) of earth, and the heimat, the eigan lant of Heaven, which is home, real home, is the keynote strongly felt and movingly expressed.



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With the conversion of Teuton peoples and their introduction to the Latin culture accompanying the new religion, the factors of mediaeval development came at last into conjunction. The mediaeval development was to issue from their combined action, rather than from the singular nature of any one of them.[237] Taking up the introductory theme concerning the meeting of these forces, we followed the Latinizing of the West resulting from the expansion of the Roman Republic, which represents the political and social preparation of the field. Then we considered the antique pagan gospel of philosophy and letters, which had quickened this Latin civilization and was to form the spiritual environment of patristic Christianity. Next in order we observed the intellectual interests of the Latin Fathers, and then turned to the great Latin transmitters of the somewhat amalgamated antique and patristic material—Boëthius, Cassiodorus, Gregory the Great, and Isidore of Seville—who gathered what they might, and did much to reduce the same to decadent forms, suited to the barbaric understanding. Then the course of the barbaric disruption of the Empire was reviewed; and this led to a consideration of the qualities and circumstances of the Celts and Teutons, both those who to all appearances had been Latinized, and those who took active part in the barbarization and disruption of the Roman order. And finally we closed these introductory, though essential, chapters by[Pg 208] tracing the ways in which Christianity, with the now humbled and degraded antique culture, was presented to this renewed and largely Teutonic barbarism.

Having now reached the epoch of conjunction of the various elements of the mediaeval evolution, it lies before us to consider the first stage in the action of true mediaeval conditions upon the two chief spiritual forces, the first stage, in other words, of the mediaeval appropriation of the patristic and antique material. The period is what is called Carlovingian or Carolingian, after the great ruler Charlemagne. Intellectually considered, it may be said to have begun when Charles palpably evinced his interest in sacred and liberal studies by calling Alcuin and other scholars to his Court about the year 781. Let us note the political and social situation.

The Merovingian kingdom created by Clovis and his house has been spoken of.[238] One may properly refer to it in the singular, although frequently, instead of one, there were several kingdoms, since upon the death of a Merovingian monarch his realm was divided among his sons. But no true son of the house could leave the others unconquered or unmurdered; and therefore if the Merovingian kingdom constantly was divided, it also tended to coalesce again, coerced to unity. Constituted both of Roman and Teutonic elements, it operated as a mediating power between Latin Christendom and barbaric heathendom. Its energies were great, and were not waning when its royal house was passing into insignificance before the power of the nobles and the chief personage among them who had become the major domus (“Mayor of the palace”) and virtual ruler. Moreover, experience, contact with Latin civilization, membership in the Roman Catholic Church, were informing the Merovingian energies. They were becoming just a little less barbarous and a little more instructed; in fine, were changing from Merovingian to Carolingian.

In the latter part of the seventh century, Pippin, called “of Heristal,” ruled as major domus (as one or more of his ancestors before him) in Austrasia, the eastern[Pg 209] Frankish kingdom. Many were his wars, especially with the Neustrian or western Frankish kingdom, under its major domus, Ebroin. This somewhat unconquerable man at last was murdered, and one of the two Merovingian kings being murdered likewise, Pippin about the year 688 became princeps regiminis ac major domus for the now united realm. From this date the Merovingians are but shadow kings, whose names are not worth recording. Pippin’s rule marks the advent of his house to virtual sovereignty, and also the passing of the preponderance of power from Neustria to Austrasia. These two facts became clear after Pippin’s death (714), when his redoubtable son Charles in a five years’ struggle against great odds made himself sole major domus, and with his Austrasians overwhelmed the Neustrian army. Thenceforth this Charles, called Martell the Hammer, mightily prevailed, smiting Saxons, Bavarians, and Alemanni, and, after much warfare in the south with Saracens, at last vindicated the Cross against the Crescent at Tours in 732. Nine years longer he was to reign, increasing his power to the end, and supporting the establishment of Catholicism in Frisia, by the Anglo-Saxon Willibrord, and in heathen German lands by St. Boniface.[239] He died in 741, dividing what virtually was his realm between his sons Carloman and Pippin: the former receiving Austrasia, Alemannia, Thuringia; the latter, Neustria, Burgundy, Provence.

These two sons valiantly took up their task, reforming the Church under the inspiration of Boniface, and ruling their domains without conflict with each other until 747, when Carloman retired and became a monk, leaving the entire realm to Pippin. The latter in 751 at Soissons, with universal approval and the consent of the Pope, was crowned king, and anointed by the hand of Boniface. This able and energetic sovereign pursued the course of his father and grandfather, but on still larger scale; aiding the popes and reducing the Lombard power in Italy, carrying on wars around the borders of his realm, bringing Aquitania to full submission, and expelling the Saracens from Narbonne and other fortress towns. In 768 he died, again dividing his vast realm between his two sons Carloman and Charles.

[Pg 210]These bore each other little love; but fortunately the former died (771) before an open breach occurred. So Charles was left to rule alone, and prove himself, all things considered, the greatest of mediaeval sovereigns. Having fought his many wars of conquest and subjugation against Saracens, Saxons, Avars, Bavarians, Slavs, Danes, Lombards; having conquered much of Italy and freed the Pope from neighbouring domination; having been crowned and anointed emperor in the year 800; having restored letters, uplifted the Church, issued much wise legislation, and Christianized with iron hand the stubborn heathen; and above all, having administered his vast realm with never-failing energy, he died in 814—just one hundred years after the time when his grandfather Charles was left to fight so doughtily for life and power.

Poetry and history have conspired to raise the fame of Charlemagne. In more than one chanson de geste, the old French épopée has put his name where that of Pippin, Charles Martell, or perhaps that of some Merovingian should have been.[240] Sober history has not thus falsified its matter, and yet has over-dramatized the incidents of its hero’s reign. For example, every schoolboy has been told of the embassy to Charlemagne from Harun al Raschid, Caliph of Bagdad. But not so many schoolboys know that Pippin had sent an embassy to a previous caliph, which was courteously entertained for three years in Bagdad;[241] and Pippin, like his son, received embassies from the Greek emperor. The careers of Charles Martell and Pippin have not been ignored; and yet historical convention has focused its attention and its phrases upon “the age of Charlemagne.” One should not forget that this exceedingly great man stood upon the shoulders of the great men to whose achievement he succeeded.

Neither politically, socially, intellectually, nor geographically[242] was there discontinuity or break or sudden change between the Merovingian and the Carolingian[Pg 211] periods.[243] The character of the monarchy was scarcely affected by the substitution of the house of Pippin of Heristal for the house of Clovis. The baleful custom of dividing the realm upon a monarch’s death survived; but Fortune rendered it innocuous through one strong century, during which (719-814) the realm was free from internecine war, while the tossing streams of humanity were driven onward by three great successive rulers.

The Carolingian, like the Merovingian, realm included many different peoples who were destined never to become one nation; and the whole Carolingian system of government virtually had existed in the Merovingian period. Before, as well as after, the dynastic change, the government throughout the realm was administered by Counts. Likewise the famous missi dominici, or royal legates, are found in Merovingian times; but they were employed more effectively by Charles Martell, Pippin, and, finally, by Charlemagne, who enlarged their sphere of action. He elaborately defined their functions in a famous Capitulary of the year 802. It was set forth that the emperor had chosen these legates from among his best and greatest (ex optimatibus suis), and had authorized them to receive the new oaths of allegiance, and supervise the observance of the laws, the execution of justice, the maintenance of the military and fiscal rights of the emperor. They were given power to see that the permanent functionaries (the counts and their subordinates) duly administered the law as written or recognized. The missi had jurisdiction over ecclesiastical as well as lay officials; and many of them were entrusted with special powers and duties in the particular instance.

Thus Charlemagne developed the functions of these ancient officers. Likewise his Court and royal council, the[Pg 212] synods and assemblies of his reign, the military service, modes of holding land, methods of collecting revenue, were not greatly changed from Merovingian prototypes. Yet the old institutions had been renewed and bettered. A vast misjoined and unrelated realm was galvanized into temporary unity. And, most impressive and portentous thing of all, an Empire—the Holy Roman Empire—was resurrected for a time in fact and verity: the same was destined to endure in endeavour and contemplation.

So there was no break politically or socially between the Carolingian Empire and its antecedents, which had made it possible. Likewise there was no discontinuity spiritually and intellectually between the earlier time and that epoch which begins with Charlemagne’s first endeavours to restore knowledge, and extends through the ninth and, if one will, even the tenth century.[244] Western Europe (except Scandinavia) had become nominally Christian, and had been made acquainted with Latin education to the extent indicated in the preceding chapter, the purpose of which was to tell how Christianity and the antique culture were brought to the northern peoples. The present chapter, on the other hand, seeks to describe how the eighth and ninth centuries proceeded to learn and consider and react upon this newly introduced Christianity and antique culture, out of which the spiritual destinies of the Middle Ages were to be forged. The task of Carolingian scholars was to learn what had been brought to them. They scarcely excelled even the later intermediaries through whom this knowledge had been transmitted. One need not look among them for better scholarship than was possessed by Bede, who died in 735, the birth year of Alcuin who drew so much from him, and was to be the chief luminary of the palace school of Charlemagne. Undoubtedly, Charlemagne’s exertions caused a[Pg 213] revival of sacred and profane studies through the region of the present France and Rhenish Germany. His primary motive was the purification and extension of Catholic Christianity. Here Charles Martell and Pippin (with his brother Carloman) had done much, as their support of Boniface bears witness to. But Charlemagne’s efforts went beyond those of his predecessors. More clearly than they he understood the need of education, and he was himself intensely interested in knowledge. Hence his endeavours, primarily to uplift the Faith, brought a revival of learning and a literary productivity, consisting mostly in reproduction or rearrangement of old material, doctrinal or profane.[245]

Another preliminary consideration may help us to appreciate the intellectual qualities of the period before us. Charlemagne was primarily a ruler in the largest sense, conqueror, statesman, law-giver, one who realized the needs of the time, and met or forestalled them. His monarchy, with its powers inherited, as well as radiating from his own personality, provided an imperial government for western Europe. The chief activities of this ruler and his epoch were practical, to wit, political and military. In laws, in institutions, and in deeds, he and his Empire represent creativeness and progress; although, to be sure, that conglomerate empire of his had itself to fall in pieces before there could take place a more lasting and national evolution of States. And, of course, Carolingian political creativeness included the conservation of existing social, political, and, above all, ecclesiastical, institutions. In fine, this period was creative and progressive in its practical energies. The factors were the pressing needs and palpable opportunities, which were met or availed of. And to the same effective treatment of problems ecclesiastical and doctrinal was due the modicum of originality in the Carolingian literature.[Pg 214] Aside from this, the period’s intellectual accomplishment, in religious as well as secular studies, shows merely a diligent learning and imitation of pagan letters, and a rehandling and arrangement of the work of the Church Fathers and their immediate successors. Its efforts were exhausted in rearranging the heritage of Christian teaching coming from the Church Fathers, or in endeavours to acquire the transmitted antique culture and imitate the antique in phrase and metre. The combined task, or occupation, absorbed the minds of men. The whole period was at school, where it needed to be: at school to the Church Fathers, at school to the transmitters of antique culture. Its task was one of adjustment of its materials to itself, and of itself to its materials.

The reinvigoration of studies marking the life-time of Charlemagne did not extend to Italy, where letters, although decayed, had never ceased, nor to Anglo-Saxon England, where Bede had taught and whence Alcuin had come. The revival radiated, one may say, from the palace school attached to the Court, which had its least intermittent domicile at Aix-la-Chapelle. It extended to the chief monastic centres of Gaul and Germany, and to cathedral schools where such existed. From many lands scholars were drawn by that great hand so generous in giving, so mighty to protect. Some came on invitation more or less compelling, and many of their own free will. The first and most famous of them all was the Anglo-Saxon, Alcuin of York. Charles first saw him at Parma in the year 781, and ever after kept him in his service as his most trusted teacher and director of studies. Love of home drew Alcuin back, once at least, to England. In 796 Charles permitted him to leave the Court, and entrusted him with the re-establishment of the Abbey of St. Martin at Tours and its schools. There he lived and laboured till his death in 804.

Another scholar was Peter of Pisa, a grammarian, who seems to have shared with Alcuin the honourable task of instructing the king. Of greater note was Paulus Diaconus, who, like Alcuin himself, was to sigh for the pious or scholarly quiet which the seething, half-barbarous, and loose-mannered Court did not afford. Paulus at last gained[Pg 215] Charles’s consent to retire to Monte Cassino. He was of the Lombard race, like another favourite of Charles, Paulinus of Aquileia. From Spain, apparently, came Theodulphus, by descent a Goth, and reputed the most elegant Latin versifier of his time. Charles made him Bishop of Orleans. A little later, Einhart the Frank appears, who was to be the emperor’s secretary and biographer. Likewise came certain sons of Erin, among them such a problematic poet as he who styled himself “Hibernicus Exul”—not the first or last of his line!

These belonged to the generation about the emperor. Belonging to the next generation, and for the most part pupils of the older men, were Abbot Smaragdus, grammarian and didactic writer; the German, Rabanus Maurus, Abbot of Fulda and, against his will, Archbishop of Mainz, an encyclopaedic excerpter and educator, primus praeceptor Germaniae; his pupil was Walafrid Strabo, the cleverest putter-together of the excerpt commentary, and a pleasing poet. In Lorraine at the same time flourished the Irishman, Sedulius Scotus, and in the West that ardent classical scholar, Servatus Lupus, Abbot of Ferrières, and Agobard, Bishop of Lyons, a man practical and hard-headed, with whom one may couple Claudius, Bishop of Turin, the opponent of relic-worship. One might also mention those theological controversialists, Radbertus Paschasius and Ratramnus, Hincmar, the great Archbishop of Rheims, and Gottschalk, the unhappy monk, ever recalcitrant; at the end John Scotus Eriugena should stand, the somewhat too intellectual Neo-Platonic Irishman, translator of Pseudo-Dionysius, and announcer of various rationalizing propositions for which men were to look on him askance.

There will be occasion to speak more particularly of a number of these men. They were all scholars, and interested in the maintenance of elementary Latin education as well as in theology. They wished to write good Latin, and sometimes tried for a classical standard, as Einhart did in his Vita Caroli. Few of them refrained from verse, for they were addicted to metrical compositions made of borrowed classic phrase and often of reflected classic sentiment, sometimes prettily composed, but usually insipid, and in the[Pg 216] mass, which was great, exceptionally uninspired. Such metrical effort, quite as much as Einhart’s consciously classicizing Latin prose, represents a survival of the antique excited to recrudescence in forms which, if they were not classical, at least had not become anything else. Stylistically, and perhaps temperamentally, it represented the ending of what had nearly passed away, rather than the beginning of the more organic development which was to come.[246]

Among these men, Alcuin and Rabanus broadly represent at once the intellectual interests of the period and the first stage in the process of the mediaeval appropriation of the patristic and antique material. The affectionate and sympathetic personality of the former[247] appears throughout his voluminous correspondence with Charles and others, which shows, among other matters, the interest of the time in elementary points of Latinity, and the alertness of the mind of the great king, who put so many questions to his genial instructor upon grammar, astronomy, and such like knowledge. An examination of the works of Alcuin will indicate the range and character of the educational and more usual intellectual interests of the epoch. In fact, they are outlined in a simple fashion suited to youthful minds in his treatise upon Grammar.[248] Its opening colloquy presents a sort of programme and justification of elementary secular studies.

“We have heard you saying,” begins Discipulus, “that philosophy is the teacher (magistra) of all virtues, and that she alone of secular riches has never left the possessor miserable. Lend a hand, good Master,”—and the pupil becomes self-deprecatory. “Flint has fire within, which comes out only when struck; so the light of knowledge exists by nature in human minds, but a teacher is needed to knock it out.”

[Pg 217]“It is easy,” responds the Master, “to show you wisdom’s path, if only you will pursue it for the sake of God, for the sake of the soul’s purity and to learn the truth, and also for its own sake, and not for human praise and honour.”

We confess, answers little Discipulus, that we love happiness, but know not whether it can exist in this world. And the dialogue rambles on in discursive comment upon the superiority of the lasting over the transitory, with some feeble echoing of notes from Boëthius’s De consolatione. There is talk to show that man, a rational animal, the image of his Creator, and immortal in his better part, should seek what is truly of himself, and not what is alien, the abiding and not the fugitive. In fine, one should adorn the soul, which is eternal, with wisdom, the soul’s true lasting dignity. There is some coy demurring over the steepness of the way; but the pupil is ardent, and the Master confident that with the aid of Divine Grace they will ascend the seven grades of philosophy, by which philosophers have gained honour brighter than that of kings, and the holy doctors and defenders of our Catholic Faith have triumphed over all heresiarchs. “Through these paths, dearest son, let your youth run its daily course, until its completed years and strengthened mind shall attain to the heights of the Holy Scriptures upon which you and your like shall become armed defenders of the Faith and invincible assertors of its truth.” This means, of course, that the Liberal Arts are the proper preparation for the study of Scripture, that is, theology. But Alcuin’s discourse seems to tarry with those studies as if detained by some love of them for their own sake.

The body of this treatise is in form a disputation between two youthful pupils, a Frank and a Saxon. A Magister makes a third interlocutor, and sets the subject of the argument. These personae discuss letters and syllables in definitions taken from Donatus, Priscian, or Isidore; and whenever Alcuin permits any one of them to stray from the words of those authorities, the language shows at once his own confused ideas regarding the parts of speech. He uses terms without adequately comprehending them, and[Pg 218] thus affords one of the myriad examples of how, under decadent or barbarized conditions, phrases may outlive an intelligent understanding of their meaning. “Grammar,” says the Magister, when solicited to define it, “is the science of letters, and the guardian of correct speech and writing. It rests on nature, reason, authority, and custom.” “In how many species is it divided?” “In twenty-six: words, letters, syllables, clauses, dictions, speeches, definitions, feet, accent, punctuation, signs, spelling, analogies, etymologies, glosses, differences, barbarism, solecism, faults, metaplasm, schemata, tropes, prose, metre, fables and histories.”[249] The actual treatise does not cover these twenty-six topics, but confines itself to the division of grammar commonly called Etymology.

Though the mental processes of an individual preserve a working harmony, some of them appear more rational than others. Such disparities may be glaring in men who enter upon the learning of a higher civilization without proper pilotage. How are they to discriminate between the valuable and the foolish? The common sense, which they apply to familiar matters, contrasts with their childlike lucubrations upon novel topics of education or philosophy. And if that higher culture to which such pupils are introduced be in part decadent, it will itself contain disparities between the stronger thinking held in the surviving writings of a prior time and the later degeneracies which are declining to the level, it may be, of these new learners.

There would naturally be disparities in the mental processes of an Anglo-Saxon like Alcuin introduced to the debris of Latin education and the writings of the Fathers; and his state would typify the character of the studies at the palace school of Charlemagne and at monastic schools through his northern realm. This newly stimulated scholarship held the same disparities that appear in the writings of Alcuin. He may seem to be adapting his teaching to barbaric needs, but it is evident that his matter accords with his own intellectual tastes, as, for example, when he introduces into his educational writings the habit of riddling in[Pg 219] metaphors, so dear to the Anglo-Saxon.[250] The sound but very elementary portions of his teaching were needed by the ignorance of his scholars. For instance, no information regarding Latin orthography could come amiss in the eighth century. And Alcuin in his treatise on that subject[251] took many words commonly misspelled and contrasted them with those which sounded like them, but were quite different in meaning and derivation. One should not, for example, confuse habeo with abeo; or bibo and vivo. Such warnings were valuable. The use of the vulgar Romance-forms of Latin spoken through a large part of Charles’s dominions implied no knowledge of correct Latinity. Even among the clergy, there was almost universal ignorance of Latin orthography and grammar.

As a companion to his Grammar and Orthography, Alcuin composed a De rhetorica et virtutibus,[252] in the form of a dialogue between Charles and himself. The king desired such instruction to equip him for the civil disputes (civiles quaestiones) which were brought before him from all parts of his realm. And Alcuin proceeded to furnish him with a compend of the scientia bene dicendi, which is Rhetoric. This crude epitome was based chiefly on Cicero’s De inventione, but indicates a use of other of his oratorical writings, and has bits here and there which apparently have filtered through from the Rhetoric of Aristotle. Some illustrations are taken from Scripture. The work is most successful in showing the difference between Cicero and Alcuin. The genius, the spirit, the art of the great orator’s treatises are lost; a naked skeleton of statement remains. We have words, terms, definitions, even rules; and Alcuin is not conscious that beyond them there is the living spirit of discourse.

A more complete descent from substance to a clatter of words and definitions is exhibited by Alcuin’s De dialectica.[253][Pg 220] In logical studies facilis descensus! Others had illustrated this before him. His treatise is again a dialogue, with Charlemagne for questioner. Opening with the stock definitions and divisions of philosophy, it arrives at logic, which is composed (as Isidore and Cassiodorus said) of dialectic and rhetoric, “the shut and open fist,” a simile which had come down from Varro. Says Charles: “What are the species of dialectic?” Answers Alcuin: “Five principal ones: Isagogae, categories, forms of syllogisms and definitions, topics, periermeniae.” What a classification! Introductions, categories, syllogisms, topics, De interpretatione-s! It is not a classification but in reality an enumeration of the treatises which had served as sources for those men from whom Alcuin drew! Evidently this excerpter is not really thinking in the terms and categories of his subject. His work shows no intelligence beyond Isidore’s, from whose Etymologies it is largely taken. And the genius of our author for metaphysics may be perceived from the definition which he offers Charles of substance—substantia or usia (i.e. οὐσία): it is that which is discerned by corporeal sense; while accidens is that which changes frequently and is apprehended by the mind. Substantia is the underlying, the subjacens, in which the accidentia are said to be.[254] One observes the crassness and inconsistency of these statements.

There are illustrations of the knowledge and methods shown in the educational writings of the man who, next to Charles himself, was the guiding spirit of the intellectual revival. No mention has been made of those of his works that were representative of the chief intellectual labour of the period—that of exploiting the Patristic material. Here Alcuin contributed a compend of Augustine’s doctrines on the Trinity,[255] and a book on the Vices and Virtues, drawn chiefly from Augustine’s sermons.[256] Like most of his learned contemporaries, he also compiled Commentaries upon Scripture, the method of which is prettily told in a prefatory epistle placed by him before his Commentary on the Gospel of John, and addressed to two pious women:

[Pg 221]“Devoutly searching the pantries of the holy Fathers, I let you taste whatever I have been able to find in them. Nor did I deem it fitting to cull the blossoms from any meadow of my own, but with humble heart and head bowed low, to search through the flowering fields of many Fathers, and thus safely satisfy your pious pleasure. First of all I seek the suffrage of Saint Augustine, who laboured with such zeal upon this Gospel; then I draw something from the tracts of the most holy doctor Saint Ambrose; nor have I neglected the homilies of Father Gregory the pope, or those of the blessed Bede, nor, in fact, the works of others of the holy Fathers. I have cited their interpretations, as I found them, preferring to use their meanings and their words, than trust to my own presumption.”[257]

In the next generation, a most industrious compiler of such Commentaries was Alcuin’s pupil, Rabanus Maurus.[258] More deeply learned than his master, his conception of the purposes of study has not changed essentially. Like Alcuin, he sets forth a proper intellectual programme for the instruction of the clergy: “The foundation, the state, and the perfection, of wisdom is knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.” The Seven Arts are the ancillary disciplinae; the first three constitute that grammatical, rhetorical, and logical training which is needed for an understanding of the holy texts and their interpretation. Likewise arithmetic[Pg 222] and the rest of the quadrivium have place in the cleric’s education. A knowledge of pagan philosophy need not be avoided: “The philosophers, especially the Platonists, if perchance they have spoken truths accordant with our faith, are not to be shunned, but their truths appropriated, as from unjust possessors.”[259] And Rabanus continues with the never-failing metaphor of Moses despoiling the Egyptians.

Raban, however, had somewhat larger thoughts of education than his master. For example, he takes a broader view of grammar, which he regards as the scientia of interpreting the poets and historians, and the ratio of correct speech and writing.[260] Likewise he treats Dialectica more seriously. With him it is the “disciplina of rational investigation, of defining and discussing, and distinguishing the true from the false. It is therefore the disciplina disciplinarum. It teaches how to teach and how to learn; in this same study, reason itself demonstrates what it is and what it wills. This art alone knows how to know, and is willing and able to make knowers. Reasoning in it, we learn what we are, and whence, and also to know Creator and creature; through it we trace truth and detect falsity, we argue and discover what is consequent and what inconsequent, what is contrary to the nature of things, what is true, what is probable, and what is intrinsically false in disputations. Wherefore the clergy ought to know this noble art, and have its laws in constant meditation, so that subtly they may discern the wiles of heretics, and confute their poisoned sayings with the conclusions of the syllogism.”[261]

This somewhat extravagant but not novel view of logic’s function was prophetic of the coming scholastic reliance upon it as the means and instrument of truth. Rabanus had no hesitancy in commending this edged tool to his pupils. But the operations of his mind were predominantly Carolingian, which is to say that ninety-nine per cent of the contents of his opera consist of material extracted from prior writers. His Commentaries upon Scripture outbulk all his other works taken together, and are compiled in this manner. So is his encyclopaedic compilation, De[Pg 223] universo libri XXII.,[262] two books more than those of Isidore’s Etymologies, from which he chiefly drew; but he changed the arrangement, and devoted a larger part of his parchment to religious topics; and he added further matter gleaned from the Church Fathers, from whom he had drawn his Commentaries. This further matter consisted of the mystical interpretations of things, which he subjoined to their “natural” explanations. He says, in his Praefatio, addressed to King Louis:

“Much is set forth in this work concerning the natures of things and the meanings of words, and also as to the mystical signification of things. Accordingly I have arranged my matter so that the reader may find the historical and mystical explanations of each thing set together—continuatim positam; and may be able to satisfy his desire to know both significations.”

These allegorical elaborations accorded with the habits of this compiler of allegorical comment upon Scripture.[263]

Rabanus was a full Teutonic personality, a massive scholar for his time, untiring in labour and intrinsically honest. Except when involved in the foolishness of the mystic qualities of numbers, or following the will-o’-wisps of allegory, he evinces much sound wisdom. He abhors the pretence of teaching what one has not first diligently learned; and his good sense is shown in his admonition to teachers to use words which their pupils or audience will understand. His views upon profane knowledge were liberal: one should use the treasured experience and accumulated wisdom of the ancients, for that is still the mainstay of human society; but one should shun their vain as well as pernicious idolatries and superstitions.[264] Let us by all means preserve their sound educational learning and the elements of their philosophy which accord with the verities of Christian doctrine. Raban also realized the sublimity of the study of Astronomy, which he deemed “a worthy argument for the religious and a torment for the curious. If pursued with chaste and sober mind, it floods[Pg 224] our thoughts with immense love. How admirable to mount the heavens in spirit, and with inquiring reason consider that whole celestial fabric, and from every side gather in the mind’s reflective heights what those vast recesses veil.”[265] He then rebukes the folly of those who vainly would draw auguries from the stars.[266]

Raban’s mental activities were commonly constrained by the need felt by him and his pious contemporaries to master the works of the Latin Fathers. Perhaps more than any other one man (though here his pupil Walafrid Strabo made a skilful second) he contributed to what necessarily was the first stage in this mediaeval achievement of appropriating patristic Christianity, to wit, the preliminary task of rearranging the doctrinal expositions of the Fathers conveniently, and for the most part in Commentaries following verse and chapter of the canonical books of Scripture. But, like many of his contemporaries, Raban, when compelled by controversial exigencies, would think for himself if the situation could not be met with matter taken from a Father. Accordingly, individual and personal views are vigorously put in some of his writings, as in his Liber de oblatione puerorum,[267] directed against the attempt of the interesting Saxon, Gottschalk, to free himself from the vows made by those who dedicated him in boyhood as an oblatus at the monastery of Fulda, of which Raban was abbot. Raban’s tract maintained that the monastic vows made upon such dedication of children could not be broken by the latter on reaching years of discretion.

This same Gottschalk was the centre of the storm, which he indeed blew up, over Predestination; and again Raban was his fierce opponent. This controversy, with that relating to the Eucharist, will serve to illustrate the doctrinal interests of the time, and also to exemplify the quasi-originality of its controversial productions.

Of course Predestination and the Eucharist had been exhaustively discussed by the Latin Fathers. No man of the ninth century could really add anything to the arguments[Pg 225] touching the former set forth in the works of Augustine and his Pelagian adversaries. And the substance of the discussion as to the eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ had permeated countless tomes, both Greek and Latin, from the time of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (d. 202); and yet neither as to the impossible topic of Predestination, nor as to the distinctly Christian mystery of the Eucharist, had the Latin Church authoritatively and finally fixed doctrine in dogma or put together the arguments. The ninth century with its lack of elastic thinking, and its greater need of tangible authority, was compelled by its mental limitations to attempt in each of these matters to drag a definite conclusion from out of its entourage of argument, and strip it of its decently veiling obscurities. Thereupon, and with its justifying and balanced foundation of reasons and considerations knocked from under, the conclusion had to sustain itself in mid air, just at the level of the common eye.

Such, obviously, was the result of the Eucharistic or Paschal controversy. The symbol, all indecision brushed away, hardened into the tangible miraculous reality. Radbertus, Abbot of Corbie, who was so rightly named Paschasius, was the chief agent in the process. His method of procedure, just as the result which he obtained, was what the time required. The method was almost a bit of creation in itself: he put the matter in a separate monograph, De corpore et sanguine Domini,[268] the first work exclusively devoted to the subject. This was needed as a matter of arrangement and presentation. Men could not endure to look here and thither among many books on many subjects, for arguments one way and the other. That was too distraught. There was call for a compendium, a manual of the matter; and in providing it Paschasius was a master mechanic for his time. Inevitably the discussion and the conclusion took on a new definiteness. It is impossible to glean and gather arguments and matter from all sides, and bring them together into a single composition, without making the thesis more organic, tangible, definite. Thus Paschasius presented the scattered, wavering discussion—the victorious side of it—as a clear dogma reached at last.[Pg 226] And whatever qualification of counter-doctrine there was in his grouped arguments, there was none in the conclusion; and the definite conclusion was what men wanted.

And practically for the whole western Church, clergy and laity, the conclusion was but one, and accorded with what was already the current acceptance of the matter. Radbert’s arguments embraced the spiritual realism of Augustine, according to which the ultra reality of the eucharistic elements consisted in the virtus sacramenti, that is in their miraculous and real, but invisible, transformation into the veritable substance of Christ’s veritable body. This took place through priestly consecration, and existed only for believers. For the brute to eat the elements was nothing more than to consume other similar natural substances. For the misbeliever it was not so simple. He indeed ate not Christ’s body, but his own judicium, his own deeper damnation. Here lay the terror, which made more anxious, more poignant, the believer’s hope, that he was faithful and humbled, and was eating the veritable Christ-body to his sure salvation. For the Eucharist could not fail, though the partaker might.

Out of all of this emerged the one clear thing, the point, the practical conclusion, which was transubstantiation, though the word was not yet made. Here it is in Paschasius; says he: “That body and blood veritably come into existence (fiat) by the consecration of the Mystery, no one doubts who believes the divine words; hence Truth says, ‘For my flesh verily is food, and my blood verily is drink’ (John vi. 55). And that it should be clearer to the disciples who did not rightly understand of what flesh He spoke, or of what blood, He added, to make this plain, ‘Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me and I in him’ (ibid. 56). Therefore, if it is veritably food, it is veritable flesh; and if it is veritably drink, it also is veritable blood. Otherwise how could He have said, ‘The bread which I will give is my flesh for the life of the world’ (ibid. 52)?”

Could anything be more positive and simplified? At first sight it is a marvel how Paschasius, even though treading in the steps of so many who had gone before,[Pg 227] could give a literal interpretation to words which Christ seems to have used as figuratively as when He said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” A marvel indeed, when we think that Paschasius and all of his generation, as well as those who went before, had abandoned themselves to the most wonderful and far-fetched allegorical interpretations of every historical and literal statement in the Scriptures. And this same Paschasius, and all the rest too, do not hesitate to interpret and explain by allegory the significance of every accompanying act and circumstance of the mass. This might seem the climax of the marvel, but it is a step toward explaining it. For the literal interpretation of the phrases which Paschasius quotes was followed for the sake of the more absolute miracle, the deeper mystery, the fuller florescence of encompassing allegorical meaning. Only thus could be brought about the transformation of the palpable symbol into the miraculous reality; and only then could that bread and wine be what Cyril of Alexandria and others, five hundred years before Paschasius, had called it: “the drug of immortality.” Only through the miraculous and real identity of the elements of the Eucharist with the body and blood of Christ could they save the souls of the partakers.

In partial disagreement with these hard and fast conclusions, Ratramnus, also of Corbie,[269] and others might still try to veil the matter, with utterances capable of more equivocal meaning; might try to make it all more dim, and therefore more possibly reasonable. That was not what the Carolingian time, or the centuries to come, wanted; but rather the definite tangible statement, which they could grasp as readily as they could see and touch the elements before their eyes. In disenveloping the question and conclusion from every wavering consideration and veiling ambiguity, the Carolingian period was creative in this Paschal controversy. New propositions were not devised; but the old, such of them as fitted, were put together and given the unity and force of a projectile.

It was the same and yet different with the Predestination strife. Gottschalk, who raised the storm, stated doctrines of[Pg 228] Augustine. But he set them out naked and alone, with nothing else as counterpoise, as Augustine had not done. Thus to draw a single doctrine out from the totality of a man’s work and the demonstrative suggestiveness of all the rest of his teachings, whether that man be Paul or Augustine, is to present it so as to make it something else. For thereby it is left naked and alone, and unadjusted with the connected and mitigating considerations yielded by the rest of the man’s opinions. Such a procedure is a garbling, at least in spirit. It is almost like quoting the first half of a sentence and leaving off everything following the author’s “but” in the middle of it.

At all events the hard and fast, complete and twin (gemina), divine predestination, unto hell as well as heaven, was too unmitigated for the Carolingian Church. This doctrine, and his own intractible temper, immured the unhappy announcer of it in a monastic dungeon till he died. It was monstrous, as monstrous as transubstantiation, for example! But transubstantiation saved; and while the Church could stand the doctrine of the election of the Elect to salvation, it revolted from the counter-inference, of the election of the damned to hell, which contradicted too drastically the sweet and lovely teaching that Christ died for all. The theologians of one and more generations were drawn into the strife, which was to have a less definitive result than the Paschal controversy. Even to-day the adjustment of human free-will with omnipotent foreknowledge has not been made quite clear.[270]

There was one man who was drawn into the Predestination strife, although for him it lacked cardinal import. For the Neo-Platonic principles of John Scotus Eriugena scarcely permitted him to see in evil more than non-existence, and led him to trace all phases of reality downward from the primal Source. His intellectual attitude, interests, and faculties were exceptional, and yet nevertheless partook of the characteristics of his time, out of which not even an Eriugena could lift himself. He was an Irishman, who came to the Court of Charles the Bald on invitation, and for[Pg 229] many years, until his orthodoxy became too suspect, was the head of the palace school. He may have died about the year 877.

Eriugena was in the first place a man of learning, widely read in the works of the Greek Fathers. From the Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius and other sources, he had absorbed huge draughts of Neo-Platonism. One must not think of him always as an original thinker. A large part of his literary labours correspond with those of contemporaries. He was a translator of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius, for he knew Greek. Then he composed or compiled Commentaries upon those writings. He cared supremely for the fruits of those faculties with which he was pre-eminently endowed. He, the man of acquisitive powers, loved learning; and he, the man with a faculty of constructive reason, loved rational truth and the labour of its systematic and syllogistic presentation. He ascribed primal validity to what was true by force of logic, and in his soul set reason above authority. Certain of his contemporaries, with a discernment springing from repugnance, perceived his self-reliant intellectual mood. The same ground underlay their detestation, which centuries after underlay St. Bernard’s, for Abaelard. That Abaelard should deem himself to be something! here was the root of the saint’s abhorrence. And, similarly, good Deacon Florus of Lyons wrote a vituperative polemic quite as much against the man Eriugena as against his detestable views of Predestination. Eriugena, forsooth, would be disputing with human argument, which he draws from philosophy, and for which he would be accountable to none. He proffers no authority from the Fathers, “as if daring to define with his own presumption what should be held and followed.”[271] Such was not the way that Carolingian Churchmen liked to argue, but rather with attested sentences from Augustine or Gregory. Manifestly Eriugena was not one of them.

Had his works been earlier understood, they would have[Pg 230] been earlier condemned. But people did not realize what sort of Neo-Platonic, pantheistic and emanational, principles this Irishman from over the sea was setting forth. St. Denis, the great saint who was becoming St. Denis of France, had been authoritatively (and most preposterously) identified with Dionysius the Areopagite who heard Paul preach, and, according to the growing legend, won a martyr’s crown not far from Paris. This was set forth in his Life by Abbot Hilduin;[272] this was confirmed by Hincmar, the great Archbishop of Rheims, who said, closing his discussion of the matter: “veritas saepius agitata magis splendescit in lucem!”[273] Eriugena seemed to be a translator of his holy writings, and might be regarded as a setter forth of his exceptionally resplendent truths. He could use the Fathers’ language too. So in his book on Predestination he quotes Augustine as saying, Philosophy, which is the study of wisdom, is not other than religion.[274] But he was not going to keep meaning what Augustine meant. He slowly extends his talons in the following sentences which do not stand at the beginning of his great work De divisione naturae.

Says the Magister, for the work is in dialogue form: “You are aware, I suppose, that what is prior by nature is of greater dignity than what is prior in time.”

Answers Discipulus: “This is known to almost all.”

Continues Magister: “We learn that reason is prior by nature, but authority prior in time. For although nature was created at the same moment with time, authority did not begin with the beginning of time and nature. But reason sprang with nature and time from the beginning of things.”

Discipulus clenches the matter: “Reason itself teaches this. Authority sometimes proceeds from reason; but reason never from authority. For all authority which is not approved by true reason seems weak. But true reason, since it is stablished in its own strength, needs to be strengthened by the assent of no authority.”[275]

No doubt of the talons here! Reason superior to authority—is it not also prior to faith? Eriugena does not[Pg 231] press that reversal of the Christian position. But his De divisione naturae was a reasoned construction, although of course the materials were not his own. It was no loosely compiled encyclopaedia, such as Isidore or Bede or Rabanus would have presented under such a title. It did not describe every object in nature known to the writer; but it discussed Nature metaphysically, and presented its lengthy exposition as a long argument in linked syllogistic form. Yet it respected its borrowed materials, and preserved their characteristics—with the exception of Scripture, which Eriugena recognized as supreme authority! That he interpreted figuratively of course; so had every one else done. But he differed from other commentators and from the Church Fathers, in degree if not in kind. For his interpretation was a systematic moulding of Scriptural phrase to suit his system. He transformed the meaning with as clear a purpose as once Philo of Alexandria had done. The pre-Christian Jew changed the Pentateuch—holding fast, of course, to its authority!—into a Platonic philosophy; and so, likewise by figurative interpretations, Eriugena turned Scripture into a semi-Christianized Neo-Platonic scheme.[276] The logical nature of the man was strong within him, so strong, indeed, that in its working it could not but present all topics as component parts of a syllogistic and systematized philosophy.[277] If he borrowed his materials, he also made them his own with power. He appears as the one man of his time that really could build with the material received from the past.

Even beyond the range of such acute theological polemics as we have been considering, the pressing exigencies of political or ecclesiastical controversy might cause a capable man to think for himself even in the ninth century. Such a man was Claudius, Bishop of Turin, the foe of image and relic-worship, and of other superstitions too crass for[Pg 232] one who was a follower of Augustine.[278] And another such a one even more palpably was Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons (d. 840), a brave and energetic man, clear-seeing and enlightened, and incessantly occupied with questions of living interest, to which his nature responded more quickly than to theologic lore. Absorbed in the affairs of his diocese, of the Church at large, and of the Empire, he expresses views which he has made his own. Practical issues, operating upon his mind, evoked a personal originality of treatment. His writings are clear illustrations of the originality which actual issues aroused in the Carolingian epoch. They were directed against common superstitions and degraded religious opinion, or against the Jews whose aggressive prosperity in the south of France disturbed him; or they were political. In fine, they were the fruit of the living issue. For example, his so often-cited pamphlet, “Against the silly opinion of the crowd as to hail and thunder,”[279] was doubtless called forth by the intolerable conditions stated in the first sentence:

“In these parts almost all men, noble and common, city folk and country folk, old and young, think that hail storms and thunder can be brought about at the pleasure of men. People say when they hear thunder and see lightning ‘Aura levatitia est.’ When asked what aura levatitia may be, some are ashamed or conscience-stricken, while others, with the boldness of ignorance, assert that the air is raised (levata) by the incantations of men called Tempestarii, and so is called ‘raised air.’”

Agobard does not marshal physical explanations against this folly, but texts of Scripture showing that God alone can raise and lay the storms. Perhaps he thought such texts the best arguments for those who needed any. The manner of the writing is reasonable, and the reader perceives that the clear-headed archbishop, apart from his Scriptural arguments, deemed these notions ridiculous, as well as harmful.[280]

In like spirit Agobard argued against trials by combat and ordeal. Undoubtedly, God might thus announce His righteous judgment, but one should not expect to elicit it in[Pg 233] modes so opposed to justice and Scripture; again, he cites many texts while also considering the matter rationally.[281] On the other hand, his book against image-worship is made up of extracts from Augustine and other Church authorities. There was no call for originality here, when the subject seemed to have been so exhaustively and authoritatively treated.[282]

One cannot follow Agobard so comfortably in his rancorous tracts against the Jews. Doubtless this subject also presented itself to him as an exigency requiring handling, and he was just in his contention that heathen slaves belonging to Jews might be converted and baptized, and then should not be given back to their former masters, but a money equivalent be made instead. The question was important from its frequency. Yet one would be loath to approve his arguments, unoriginal as they are. He gives currency to the common slanders against the Jews, and then at great length cites passages from the Church Fathers, to show in what detestation they held that people. Then he sets forth the abominable opinions of the hated race, and ransacks Scripture to prove that the Jews are therein authoritatively and incontestably condemned.[283]

The years of Agobard’s maturity belong to the troubled time which came with the accession of the incompetent Louis, in 814, to the throne of his father Charlemagne. In the contentions and wars that followed, Agobard proved himself an apt political partisan and writer. His political tracts, notwithstanding their constant citation of Scripture, are his own, and evince an originality evoked by the situation which they were written to influence.

[Pg 234]Something of the originality which the pressing political exigency imparted to these tracts of Agobard might be transmitted to such history as was occupied with contemporary events. As long as the historian was a mere excerpting chronicler extracting his dry summaries from the writings of former men, his work would not rouse him to independence of conception or presentation. That would have come with criticism upon the old authorities. But criticism had scarcely begun to murmur among the Carolingians, too absorbed with the task of grasping their inherited material to weigh it, and too overawed by the authority of the past to question the truth of its transmitted statements. Excerpts, however, could not be made to tell the stirring events of the period in which the Carolingian historian lived. He would have to set forth his own perception and understanding of them, and in manner and language which to a less or greater extent were his own: to a less extent with those feebly beginning Annals, or Year-books, which set down the occurrences of cloister life or the larger happenings of which the report penetrated from the outer world;[284] to a greater extent, however, with a more veritable history of some topic of living and coherent interest. In the latter case the writer must present his conception of events, and therewith something of himself.[285]

An example of this necessitated originality in the writing of contemporary history is the work of Count Nithard. He was the son of Charlemagne’s daughter Bertha and of Angilbert, the emperor’s counsellor and lifelong friend. His parents were not man and wife, because Charles would not let his daughters marry, from reasons of policy; but the relationship between them was open, and apparently[Pg 235] approved by the lady’s sire. Angilbert studied in the palace school with Charlemagne, and became himself a writer of Latin verse. He was often his sovereign’s ambassador, and continued active in affairs until his closing years, when he became the lay-abbot of a rich monastery in Picardy, and received his emperor and virtual father-in-law as his guest. He died the same year with Charles.

Like his father, Nithard was educated at the palace school, perhaps with his cousin who was to become Charles the Bald. His loyalty continued staunch to that king, whose tried confidant he became. He was a diplomatist and a military leader in the wars following the death of Louis the Pious; and he felt impelled to present from his side the story of the strife among the sons of Louis, in “four books of histories” as they grew to be.[286] Involved with his king in that same hurricane (eodem turbine) he describes those stormy times which they were fighting out together even while he was writing. This man of action could not but present himself, his views, his temperament, in narrating the events he moved in. Throughout, one perceives the pen of the participant, in this case an honest partisan of his king, and the enemy of those whose conduct had given the divided realm over to rapine. So the vigorous narrative of this noble Frank partakes of the originality which inheres in the writings of men of action when their literary faculty is sufficient to enable them to put themselves into their compositions.

Engaged, as we have been, with the intellectual or scholarly interests of the Carolingian period, we should not forget how slender in numbers were the men who promoted them, and how few were the places where they throve. There was the central group of open-minded laymen and Churchmen about the palace school, or following the Court in its journeyings, which were far and swift. Then there were monastic or episcopal centres of education as at Tours, or Rheims, or Fulda. The scholars carried from the schools their precious modicum of knowledge, and passed on[Pg 236] through life as educated men living in the world, or dwelt as learned compilers, reading in the cloister. But scant were the rays of their enlightening influence amidst that period’s vast encompassing ignorance.

To have classified the Carolingian intellectual interests according to topics would have been misleading, since that would have introduced a fictitious element of individual preference and aptitude, as if the Carolingian scholar of his spontaneous volition occupied himself with mathematical studies rather than grammar, or with astronomy rather than theology. In general, all was a matter of reading and learning from such books as Isidore’s Origines, which handled all topics indiscriminately, or from Bede, or from the works of Augustine or Gregory, in which every topic did but form part of the encyclopaedic presentation of the relationship between the soul and God, and the soul’s way to salvation.

What then did these men care for? Naturally, first of all, for the elements of their primary education, their studies in the Seven Arts. They did what they might with Grammar and Rhetoric, and with Dialectic, which sometimes was Rhetoric and formal Logic joined. Logic, for those who studied it seriously, was beginning to form an important mental discipline. The four branches of the quadrivium were pursued more casually. Knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (one may throw in medicine as a fifth) was as it might be in the individual instance—always rudimentary, and usually rather less than more.

All of this, however, and it was not very much, was but the preparation, if the man was to be earnest in his pursuit of wisdom. Wisdom lay chiefly in Theology, to wit, the whole saving contents of Scripture as understood and interpreted by Gregory and Augustine. There was little mortal knowledge which this range of Scriptural interpretation might not include. It compassed such knowledge of the physical world as would enable one to understand the work of Creation set forth in Genesis; it embraced all that could be known of man, of his physical nature, and assuredly of his spiritual part. Here Christian truth might call on[Pg 237] the better pagan philosophy for illustration and rational corroboration, so far as that did corroborate. When it did not, it was pernicious falsity.

So Christian piety viewed the matter. But the pious commonly have their temporal fancies, sweet as stolen fruit. These Carolingian scholars, the man in orders and the man without, studied the Latin poets, historians, and orators. And in their imaginative or poetic moods, as they followed classic metre, so they reproduced classic phrase and sentiment in their verses. The men who made such—it might be Alcuin, or Theodulphus, or Walafrid Strabo—chose what they would as the subject of their poems; but the presentation took form and phrase from Virgil and other old poets. The antique influence so strong in the Carolingian period, included much more than matters of elegant culture, like poetry and art, or even rhetoric and grammar. It held the accumulated experience in law and institution, which still made part of the basis of civic life. Rabanus Maurus recognized it thus broadly. And, thus largely taken, the antique survives in the Carolingian time as a co-ordinate dominant, with Latin Christianity. Neither, as yet, was affected by the solvent processes of transmutation into new human faculty and power. None the less, this same antique survival was destined to pass into modes and forms belonging quite as much to the Middle Ages as to antiquity; and, thus recast, it was to become a broadening and informing element in the mediaeval personality.

Likewise with the patristic Christianity which had been transmitted to the Carolingian time, to be then and there not only conned and studied, but also rearranged by these painful students, so that they and their successors might the better comprehend it. It was not for them to change the patristic forms organically, by converting them into the modes of mediaeval understanding of the same. These would be devised, or rather achieved, by later men, living in centuries when the patristic heritage of doctrine, long held and cherished, had permeated the whole spiritual natures of mediaeval men and women, and had been itself transmuted in what it had transformed.



[Pg 238]



I. From Charlemagne to Hildebrand.
II. The Human Situation.
III. The Italian Continuity of Antique Culture.
IV. Italy’s Intellectual Piety: Peter Damiani and St. Anselm.



The Empire of Charlemagne could not last. Two obvious causes, among others, were enough to prevent it. No single government (save when temporarily energized by some extraordinary ruler) could control such enormous and widely separated regions, which included much of the present Germany and Austria, the greater part of Italy, France, and the Low Countries. Large portions of this Empire were almost trackless, and nowhere were there good roads and means of transportation. Then, as the second cause, within these diverse and ununited lands dwelt or moved many peoples differing from each other in blood and language, in conditions of life and degrees of civilization or barbarism. No power existed that could either hold them in subjection or make them into proper constituents of an Empire.[287]

There were other, more particular, causes of dissolution: the Frankish custom of partitioning the realm brought war[Pg 239] between Louis the Pious and his sons, and then among the latter; no scion of the Carolingian house was equal to the situation; under the ensuing turbulence, the royal power weakened, and local protection, or oppression, took its place; constant war exhausted the strength of the Empire, and particularly of Austrasia, while from without Norsemen, Slavs, and Saracens were attacking, invading, plundering everywhere. These marauders still were heathen, or obstinate followers of the Prophet; while Christianity was the bond of unity and empire. Charlemagne and his strong predecessors had been able thus to view and use the Church; but the weaker successors, beginning with Louis the Pious, too eager for the Church’s aid and condonation, found their subservience as a reed that broke and pierced the hand.

These causes quickly brought about the Empire’s actual dissolution. On the other hand, a potent conception had been revived in western Europe. Louis the Pious, himself made emperor in Charlemagne’s lifetime, associated his eldest son with him as co-emperor, and made his two younger sons kings, hoping thus to preserve the Empire’s unity. If that unity forthwith became a name, it was a name to conjure with; and the corresponding imperial fact was to be again made actual by the first Saxon Otto, a man worthy to reach back across the years and clasp the hand of the great Charles.

That intervening century and a half preceding the year 962 when Otto was crowned emperor, carried political and social changes. To the West, in the old Neustrian kingdom which was to form the nucleus of mediaeval France, the Carolingian line ran out in degenerates surnamed the Pious, the Bald, the Stammerer, the Simple, and the Fat. The Counts of Paris, Odo, Robert, Hugh the Great, and, finally, Hugh Capet, playing something like the old rôle of the palace mayors, were becoming the actual rulers, although not till 987 was the last-named Hugh formally elected and anointed king.

Other great houses also had arisen through the land of France, which was very far from being under the power of the last Carolingians or the first Capetians. The year 911 saw the treaty between Norman Rollo and Charles the[Pg 240] Simple, and may be taken to symbolize the settling down of Norsemen from freebooters to denizens, with a change of faith. Rollo received the land between the Epte and the sea, to the borders of Brittany, along with temporary privileges, granted by the same Simple Charles, of sack and plunder over the latter. But a generation later the valiant Count Alan of the Twisted Beard drove out the plunderers, and established the feudal duchy long to bear the name of Brittany. Likewise, aided by the need of protection against invading plunderers, feudal principalities were formed in Flanders, Champagne, Burgundy, Aquitaine, Languedoc.

At the time when Hugh Capet drew near his royal destiny, his brother was Duke of Burgundy, the Dukes of Normandy and Aquitaine were his brothers-in-law, and Adalberon, Archbishop of Rheims, was his partisan. As a king elected by his peers, his royal rights were only such as sprang from the feudal homage and fidelity which they tendered him. Yet he, with the clergy, deemed that his consecration by the Church gave him the prerogatives of Frankish sovereigns, which were patterned on those of Roman emperors and Old Testament kings. It was to be the long endeavour of the Capetian line to make good these higher claims against the counter-assumptions of feudal vassals, who individually might be stronger than the king.[288]

Austrasia, the eastern Frankish kingdom, formed the centre of those portions of the Carolingian Empire which were to remain German. Throughout these lands, as in the West, feudal disintegration was progressing. The great territorial divisions were set by differences of race or stamm. Saxons, Franks, Bavarians, Suabians, had never been one people. In the tenth century each of these stamms, with the land it dwelt in, made a dukedom; and there were besides marks or frontier lordships, each under its markgrave, upon whom lay the duty of repelling outer foes. These divisions, fixed in differences of law, language, and[Pg 241] blood, were destined to prevent the formation of a strong kingdom like that of France.

Yet what was to prove a veritable German royalty sprang from the ducal Saxon house. Upon the failure of the German Carolingian branch in 911, Conrad, Duke of Franconia, was elected king, the Saxons and Suabians consenting. After struggling a few years, mainly against the power of the Saxon duke Henry, Conrad at his death in 918 pronounced in favour of his stronger rival. Thereupon Henry, called by later legend “The Fowler,” became king, and having maintained his royal authority against recalcitrants, and fought successfully with Hungarians and Bohemians, he died in 936, naming his son Otto as his successor.

The latter’s reign was to be a long and great one. He was consecrated at Aix-la-Chapelle in Charlemagne’s basilica, thus at the outset showing what and whom he had in mind. Then and thereafter all manner of internal opposition had to be suppressed. His own competing brothers were, first of all, to be put down; and with them the Dukes of Bavaria, Franconia, and Lorraine, whom Otto conquered and replaced with men connected with him by ties of blood or marriage. Far to the West he made his power felt, settling affairs between Louis and Hugh the Great. Hungarians and Slavs attacked his realm in vain. New marks were established to hold them in check, and new bishoprics were founded, fonts of missionary Christianity and fortresses of defence.

Thereupon Otto looked southward, over the Alps. To say that Italy was sick with turmoil and corruption, and exposed to the attack of every foe, is to give but the negative and least interesting side. She held more of civilized life and of education than any northern land; she differed from the north in her politics and institutions. Feudalism did not fix itself widely there, although the Roman barons, who made and unmade popes, represented it; and in many regions, as later among the Normans in the south, there was to be a feudal land-holding nobility. But in Italy, it was the city, whether under civic or episcopal government, or in a despot’s grip, that took the lead, and was to keep the life of the peninsula predominantly urban, as it had been in the Roman time.

[Pg 242]Tenth-century Italy contained enough claimants to the royal, even the imperial, title. Rome reeked with faction; and the papal power was nearly snuffed out. Pope followed pope, to reign or be dragged from his throne—eight of them between 896 and 904. Then began at Rome the domination of the notorious, but virile, Theodora and her daughter Marozia, makers and perhaps mistresses of popes, and leaders in feudal violence. Marozia married a certain valiant Alberic, “markgrave of Camerino” and forerunner of many a later Italian soldier and tyrant of fortune. When he fell, she married again, and overthrew Pope John X., who had got the better of her first husband. In 931 she made her son pope as John XI. For yet a third husband she took a certain King Hugo, a Burgundian; but another son of hers, a second Alberic, roused the city, drove him out, and proclaimed himself “Prince and Senator of all the Romans.”

It was in this Italy that Otto intervened, in 951, drawn perhaps by the wrongs of Queen Adelaide, widow of Hugo’s son, Lothaire, a landless king, since Markgrave Berengar had ousted him from his Italian holdings. This Berengar now persecuted and imprisoned the queen-widow. She escaped; Otto descended from the Alps, and married her; Lombardy submitted; Berengar fled. This time Otto did not advance to Rome, being impeded by many things—Alberic’s refusal to admit him, and behind his back in Germany the rebellion of his own son Liudolf aided by the Archbishop of Mainz, and later by those whom Otto left in Italy to represent him as he hurried north. These were straitened times for the king, and the Hungarians poured over the boundaries to take advantage of the confusion. But Otto’s star triumphed over both rebels and Hungarians—a bloody star for the latter, as the plains of Lech might testify, where they were so handled that they never ravaged German lands again.

Otto’s power now reached its zenith. He reordered the German dukedoms, filled the archbishoprics with faithful servants, bound the German clergy to himself with gifts and new foundations, and ruled them like another Charlemagne. It was his time to become emperor, an emperor like Charlemagne, and not like later weaklings.[Pg 243] In 961 he again entered Italy, to be greeted with universal acclaim as by men longing for a deliverer. He was crowned king in Pavia; the levies of the once more hostile Berengar dispersed before him. In February 962 he was anointed emperor at Rome by John XII., son of that second Alberic who had refused to open the gates, but whose debauched son had called for aid upon the mighty German. Once more the Holy Roman Empire of the Germans was refounded to endure a while with power, and continue a titular existence for eight centuries.

The power of the first Otto was so overwhelming that the papacy could not escape the temporary subjection which its vile state deserved. And the Empire was its honest patron, for the good of both. So on through the reigns of Otto II., who died in 983, aged twenty-eight, and his son Otto III., who died in 1002, at the age of twenty-two, a dreamer and would-be universal potentate. Then came the practical-minded rule of the second Henry (1002-1024), who still aided and humbly ruled the Church. Conrad II., of Franconia, followed, faithful to the imperial tradition.[289] He was succeeded in 1039 by his son Henry III., beneficent and prosperous, if not far-seeing, who again cared for both Church and State, and imperially constrained the papacy, itself impotent in the grip of the Roman barons and the Counts of Tusculum. Henry did not hesitate to clear away at once three rival popes (1046) and name a German, Clement II. It was this worthy man, but still more another German, his successor, Leo IX. (1049-1054), who lifted the papacy from its Italian mire, and launched it full on its course toward an absolute spiritual supremacy that was to carry the temporal control of kings and princes. But the man already at the helm was a certain deacon Hildebrand, who was destined to guide the papal policy through the reigns of successive popes until he himself was hailed as Gregory VII. (1073-1085).[290]

[Pg 244]With Hildebrand’s pontificate, which in truth began before he sat in Peter’s chair, the reforming spirits among the clergy, aroused to his keen policy, set themselves to the uplifting of their order. In all countries the Church, heavy with its possessions, seemed about to become feudal and secular. Bishops and abbots were appointed by kings and the great feudatories, and were by them invested with their lands as fiefs, for which the clerical appointee did homage, and undertook to perform feudal duties. Church fiefs failed to become hereditary only because bishops and abbots could not marry; yet in fact great numbers of the lower clergy lived in a state of marriage or “concubinage.” Evidently the celibacy of the clergy was a vital issue in Church reform; and so were investitures and the matter of simony. Under mediaeval conditions, the most open form of this “heresy” called after Simon Magus, was the large gift from the new incumbent to his feudal lord who had invested him with abbey or bishopric. Such simony was not wrong from the feudal point of view, and might properly represent the duty of bishop or abbot to his lord.

Obviously, for the reform and emancipation of the Church, and in order that it should become a world-power, and not remain a semi-secular local institution in each land, it was necessary that the three closely connected corruptions of simony, lay investitures, and clerical concubinage should be destroyed. To this enormous task the papacy addressed itself under the leadership of Hildebrand.[291] In his pontificate the struggle with the supreme representative of secular power, to wit, the Empire, came to a head touching investitures. Gregory’s secular opponent was Henry IV., of tragic and unseemly fame; for whom the conflict proved to be the road by which he reached Canossa, dragged by the Pope’s anathema, and also driven to this shame by a rebellious Germany (1076, 1077). Henry was conquered, although a revulsion of the long-swaying war drove Gregory from Rome, to die an exile for the cause which he deemed that of righteousness.

Between the papacy and the secular power represented[Pg 245] in this struggle by the Empire, a peaceful co-equality could not exist. The superiority of the spiritual and eternal over the carnal and temporal had to be vindicated; and in terms admitting neither limit nor condition, Hildebrand maintained the Church’s universal jurisdiction upon earth. The authority granted by Christ to Peter and his successors, the popes, was absolute for eternity. Should it not include the passing moment of mortal life, important only because determining man’s eternal lot? The divine grant was made without qualification or exception in saeculo as well as for the life to come. If spiritual men are under the Pope’s jurisdiction, shall he not also constrain secular folk from their wickedness?[292] Were kings excepted when the Lord said, Thou art Peter?[293] Nay; the salvation of souls demands that the Pope shall have full authority in terra to suppress the waves of pride with the arms of humility. The dictatus papae of the year 1075 make the Pope the head of the Christian world: the Roman Church was founded by God alone; the Roman pontiff alone by right is called universal; he alone may use the imperial insignia; his feet alone shall be kissed by all princes; he may depose emperors and release subjects from fealty; and he can be judged by no man.[294]

In the century and a half following Gregory’s reign the papacy well-nigh attained the realization of the claims made by this great upbuilder of its power.[295] Constantine’s forged donation was outdone, in fact; and the furthest hopes of Leo I. and the first, second, and third Gregories were more than realized.

 [Pg 246]


One might liken the Carolingian period to a vessel at her dock, taking on her cargo, casks of antique culture and huge crates of patristic theology. Then western Europe in the eleventh century would be the same vessel getting under way, well started on the mediaeval ocean.

This would be one way of putting the matter. A closer simile already used is the likening of the Carolingian period to the lusty schoolboy learning his lessons, thinking very little for himself. By the eleventh century he will have left school, though still impressionable, still with much to learn; but he has begun to turn his conned lessons over in his mind, and to think a little, in the terms, of what he has acquired—has even begun to select therefrom tentatively, and still under the mastery of the whole. He perceives the charm of the antique culture, of the humanly inspiring literature, so exhaustless in its profane fascinations; he is realizing the spiritual import of the patristic share of his instruction, and already feels the power of emotion which lay implicit in the Latin formulation of the Christian Faith. Withal he is beginning to evolve an individuality of his own.

Speaking more explicitly, it should be said that instead of one such hopeful youth there are several, or rather groups of them, differing widely from each other. The forefathers of certain of these groups were civilized and educated men, at home in the antique and patristic curriculum with which our youths are supposed to have been busy. The forefathers of other groups were rustics, or rude herdsmen and hunters, hard-hitting warriors, who once had served, but more latterly had rather lorded it over, the cultivated forbears of the others. Still, again, the forefathers of other numerous groups had been partly cultivated and partly rude. Evidently these groups of youths are diverse in blood and in ancestral traits; evidently also the antique and patristic curriculum is quite a new thing to some of them, while others had it at their fathers’ knees.

Our different youthful groups represent Italians,[Pg 247] Germans, and the inhabitants of France and the British Isles. One may safely speak of the ninth-century Germans as schoolboys just brought face to face with Christianity and the antique culture. So with the Saxon stock in England. The propriety is not so clear as to the Italians; for they are not newly introduced to these matters. Yet their household affairs have been disturbed, and they themselves have slackened in their study. So they too have much to learn anew, and may be regarded as truants, dirtied and muddied, and perhaps refreshed, by the scrambles of their time of truancy, and now returning to lessons which they have pretty well forgotten.

Obviously, in considering the intellectual condition of western Europe in the tenth and eleventh centuries, it will be convenient to regard each country in turn: and, besides, a geographical is more appropriate than a topical arrangement, because there was still little choice of one branch of discipline rather than another. The majority still were conning indiscriminately what had come from the past, studying heterogeneous matters in the same books, the same forlorn compendia. They read the Etymologies of Isidore or the corresponding works of Bede, and followed as of course the Trivium and Quadrivium. In sacred learning they might read the Scriptural Commentaries of Rabanus Maurus or Walafrid Strabo, or study the works of Augustine. This was still the supreme study, and all else, properly viewed, was ancillary to it. Nevertheless, as between sacred study and profane literature, an even violent divergence of choice existed. Everywhere there were men who loved the profanities in themselves, and some who felt that for their souls’ sake they must abjure them.

For further diverging lines of preference, one should wait for the twelfth century. Many men will then be found absorbed in religious study, while others cultivate logic and metaphysics, with the desire to know more active in them than the fear of hell. Still others will study “grammar” and the classics, or, again, with conscious specializing choice, devote their energies to the civil or the canon law. In later chapters, and mainly with reference to this culminating mediaeval time which includes the twelfth, the thirteenth,[Pg 248] and at least, for Dante’s sake, the first part of the fourteenth, century, we shall review these various branches of intellectual endeavour in topical order. But for the earlier time which still enshrouds us, we pass from land to land as on a tour of intellectual inspection.



We start with Italy. There was no break between her antique civilization and her mediaeval development, but only a period of depression and decay. Notwithstanding the change from paganism to Christianity and the influx of barbarians, both a race-continuity and a continuity of culture persisted. The Italian stock maintained its numerical preponderance, as well as the power of transforming newcomers to the likeness of itself. The natural qualities of the country, and the existence of cities and antique constructions, assisted in the Italianizing of Goth, Lombard, German, Norman. Latin civic reminiscence, tradition, custom, permeated society, and prevented the growth of feudalism. Italy remained urban, and continued to reflect the ancient time. “Consuls” and “tribunes” long survived the passing of their antique functions, and the fame endured of antique heroes, mythical and historical. Florence honoured Mars and Caesar; Padua had Antenor, Cremona Hercules. Such names remained veritably eponymous. Other cities claimed the birthplace of Pliny, of Ovid, of Virgil. An altar might no longer be dedicated to a pagan hero, yet the town would preserve his name upon monuments, would adorn his fancied tomb, stamp his effigy on coins or keep it in the communal seal. Of course the figments of the Trojan Saga were current through the land, which, however divided, was conscious of itself as Italy. Te Italia plorabit writes an eleventh-century Pisan poet of a young Pisan noble fallen in Africa.

In Italy, as in no other country, the currents of antique education, disturbed yet unbroken, carried clear across that long period of invasions, catastrophes, and reconstructions, which began with the time of Alaric. Under the later pagan emperors, and under Constantine and his successors,[Pg 249] the private schools of grammar and rhetoric had tended to decline. There were fewer pupils with inclination and ability to pay. So the emperors established municipal schools in the towns of Italy and the provinces. The towns tried to shirk the burden, and the teachers, whose pay came tardily, had to look to private pupils for support. In Italy there was always some demand for instruction in grammar and law. The supply rose and fell with the happier or the more devastated condition of the land. Theodoric, the Ostrogoth, re-established municipal schools through his dominion. After him further troubles came, for example from the Lombards, until they too became gentled by Italian conditions, and their kings and nobles sought to encourage and acquire the education and culture which their coming had disturbed. In the seventh and eighth centuries the grade of instruction was very low; but there is evidence of the unintermitted existence of lay schools, private or municipal, in all the important towns, from the eighth century to the tenth, the eleventh, and so on and on. These did not give religious instruction, but taught grammar and the classic literature, law and the art of drawing documents and writing letters. The former branches of study appear singularly profane in Italy. The literature exemplifying the principles of grammar was pagan and classical, and the fictitious themes on which the pupils exercised their eloquence continued such as might have been orated on in the time of Quintilian. Intellectually the instruction was poverty-stricken, but the point to note is, that in Italy there never ceased to be schools conducted by laymen for laymen, where instruction in matters profane and secular was imparted and received for the sake of its profane and secular value, without regard to its utility for the saving of souls. There was no barbaric contempt for letters, nor did the laity fear them as a spiritual peril. Gerbert before the year 1000 had found Italy the field for the purchase of books;[296] and about 1028 Wipo, a native of Burgundy and chaplain of the emperor Conrad II., contrasts the ignorance of Germany with Italy, where “the[Pg 250] entire youth (tota juventus) is sent to sweat in the schools”;[297] and about the middle of the twelfth century, Otto of Freising suggests a like contrast between the Italy and Germany of his time.[298]

In Italy the study of grammar, with all that it included, was established in tradition, and also was regarded as a necessary preparation for the study both of law and medicine. Even in the eleventh century these professions were followed by men who were “grammarians,” a term to be taken to mean for the early Middle Ages the profession of letters. In the eleventh century, a lawyer or notary in Italy (where there were always such, and some study of law and legal forms) needed education in a Latinity different from the vulgar Latin which was turning into Italian. A little later, Irnerius, the founder of the Bologna school, was a teacher of “grammar” before he became a teacher of law.[299] As for medicine, that appears always to have been cultivated at least in southern Italy; and a knowledge of grammar, even of logic, was required for its study.[300]

The survival of medical knowledge in Italy did not, in[Pg 251] means and manner, differ from the survival of the rest of the antique culture. Some acquaintance had continued with the works of Galen and other ancient physicians; but more use was made of compendia, the matter of which may have been taken from Galen, but was larded with current superstitions regarding disease. Such compendia began to appear in the fifth century, and through these and other channels a considerable medical knowledge found its way to a congenial home in Salerno. There are references to this town as a medical community as early as the ninth century. By the eleventh, it was famous for its medicine. About the year 1060 a certain Constantine seems to have brought there novel and stimulating medical knowledge which he had gained in Africa from Arabian (ultimately Greek) sources. Nevertheless, translations from the Arabic seem scarcely to have exerted much influence upon medicine for yet another hundred years.[301]

Thus in Italy the antique education never stopped, antique reminiscence and tradition never passed away, and the literary matter of the pagan past never faded from the consciousness of the more educated among the laity and clergy. Some understanding of the classic literature, as well as a daily absorption of the antique from its survival in habits, laws, and institutions, made part of the capacities and temperament of Italians. Grammarians, lawyers, doctors, monks even, might think and produce under the influence of that which never had quite fallen from the life of Italy. And just as the ancient ways of civic life and styles of building became rude and impoverished, and yet passed on without any abrupt break into the tenth and the eleventh centuries, so was it with the literature of Italy, or at least with those productions which were sheer literature, and not deflected from traditional modes of expression by any definite business or by the distorting sentiments of Christian asceticism. This literature proper was likely to take the form of verse in the eleventh century. A practical matter would be put in prose; but the effervescence of the[Pg 252] soul, or the intended literary effort, would fall into rhyme or resort to metre.

We have an example of the former in those often-cited tenth-century verses exhorting the watchers on the walls of Modena:

“O tu qui servas armis ista moenia,
Noli dormire, moneo, sed vigila.
Dum Hector vigil extitit in Troia,
Non eam cepit fraudulenta Graecia.

“Vigili voce avis anser candida
Fugavit Gallos ex arce Romulea.”

The antique reminiscence fills this jingle, as it does the sensuous

“O admirabile Veneris ydolum
Cuius materiae nichil est frivolum:
Archos te protegat, qui stellas et polum
Fecit et maria condidit et solum.”[302]

And so on from century to century. At the beginning of the twelfth, a Pisan poet celebrates Pisa’s conquest of the Balearic Isles:

“Inclytorum Pisanorum scripturus historiam,
Antiquorum Romanorum renovo memoriam,
Nam ostendit modo Pisa laudem admirabilem,
Quam olim recepit Roma vincendo Carthaginem.”

For an eleventh-century example of more literary verse, one may turn to the metres of Alphanus, a noble Salernian, lover of letters, pilgrim traveller, archbishop of his native town, and monk of Monte Cassino, the parent Benedictine monastery, which had been the cultured retreat of Paulus Diaconus in the time of Charlemagne. It was destroyed by the Saracens in 884. Learning languished in the calamitous decades which followed. But the convent was rebuilt, and some care for learning recommences there under the abbot Theobald (1022-1035). The monastery’s troubles were not over; but it re-entered upon prosperity under the energetic rule of the German Richer (1038-1055).[303] Shortly after his death two close friends were received among its[Pg 253] monks, Alphanus and Desiderius. The latter was of princely Lombard stock, from Beneventum. He met Alphanus at Salerno, and there they became friends. Afterwards both saw something of the world and experienced its perils. Desiderius was born to be monk, abbot, and at last pope (Victor III.) against his will. Alphanus, always a man of letters, was drawn by his friend to monastic life. Long after, when Archbishop of Salerno, he gave a refuge and a tomb to the outworn Hildebrand.

The rebuilding and adorning of Monte Cassino by Desiderius with the aid of Greek artists is a notable episode in the history of art.[304] Under the long rule of this great abbot (1058-1087) the monastery reached the summit of its repute and influence. It was the home of theology and ecclesiastical policy. There law and medicine were studied. Likewise “grammar” and classic literature, the latter not too broadly, as would appear from the list of manuscripts copied under Desiderius—Virgil, Ovid, Terence, Seneca, Cicero’s De natura deorum. But then there was the whole host of early Christian poets, historians, and theologians. Naturally, Christian studies were dominant within those walls.

Alphanus did not spend many of his years there. But his loyalty to the great monastery never failed, nor his intercourse with its abbot and monks. He has left an enthusiastic poem descriptive of the place and the splendour of its building.[305] A general and interesting feature of his poetry is the naturalness of its classical reminiscence and its feeling for the past, which is even translated into the poet’s sentiments toward his contemporaries and toward life. In his metrical verses ad Hildebrandum archidiaconum Romanum, his stirring praise of that statesman is imbued with pagan sentiment.

“How great the glory which so often comes to those defending the republic, has not escaped thy knowledge, Hildebrand. The [Pg 254]Via Sacra and the Via Latina recall the same, and the lofty crown of the Capitol, that mighty seat of empire.... The hidden poison of envy implants its infirmity in wretched affairs, and brings overthrow only to such. That thou shouldst be envied, and not envy, beseems thy skill.... How great the power of the anathema! Whatever Marius and Julius wrought with the slaughter of soldiers, thou dost with thy small voice.... What more does Rome owe to the Scipios and the other Quirites than to thee?”

Perhaps the glyconic metre of this poem was too much for Alphanus. His awkward constructions, however, constantly reflect classic phrases. And how naturally his mind reproduced the old pagan—or fundamental human—views of life, appears again in his admiring sapphics to Romuald, chief among Salerno’s lawyers:

“Dulcis orator, vehemens gravisque,
Inter omnes causidicos perennem
Gloriam juris tibi, Romoalde,
Prestitit usus.”

Further stanzas follow on Romuald’s wealth, station, and mundane felicity. Then comes the sudden turn, and Romuald is praised for having spurned them all:

“Cumque sic felix, ut in orbe sidus
Fulseris, mundum roseo jacentem
Flore sprevisti....”

Apparently Romuald had become a monk:

“Rite fecisti, potiore vita

This turn of sentiment curiously accorded with the poet’s own fortune and way of life; for Alphanus, with all his love of antique letters, was also a monk and an ascetic, of whom a contemporary chronicler tells that in Lent he ate but twice a week and never slept on a bed. Yet monk, and occasional ascetic, as he was, the ordinary antique-descended education and inherited strains of antique feeling made the substratum of his nature, and this although he could inveigh against the philosophic and grammatical studies flourishing[Pg 255] in a neighbouring monastery, and advise one of its studious youths to turn from such:

“Si, Transmunde, mihi credis, amice,
His uti studiis desine tandem;
Fac cures monachi scire professum,
Ut vere sapiens esse puteris.”[307]

Eleventh-century Italian “versificatores” were interested in a variety of things. Some of them gave the story of a saint’s or bishop’s life, or were occupied with an ecclesiastic theme. Others sang the fierce struggle between rival cities, or some victory over Saracens, or made an idyl of very human love with mythological appurtenances. The verse-forms either followed the antique metres or were accentual deflections from them with the new added element of rhyme; the ways of expression copied antique phrase and simile, except when the matter and sentiment of the poem compelled another choice. In that case the Latin becomes freer, more mediaeval, ruder, if one will; and still antique turns of expression and bits of sentences show how naturally it came to these men to construct their verses out of ancient phrases. Yet borrowed phrases and the constraint of metre impeded spontaneity, and these feeble versifiers could hardly create in modes of the antique. A fresher spirit breathes in certain anonymous poems, which have broken with metre, while they give voice to sentiments quite after the feeling of the old Italian paganism. In one of these, from Ivrea, the poet meets a nymph by the banks of the Po, and in leonine elegiacs bespeaks her love, with all the paraphernalia of antique reference, assuring her that his verse shall make her immortal, a perfectly pagan sentiment—or affectation:

“Sum sum sum vates, musarum servo penates,
Subpeditante Clio queque futura scio.
Me minus extollo, quamvis mihi cedit Apollo,
Invidet et cedit, scire Minerva dedit.
Laude mea vivit mihi se dare queque cupivit,
Immortalis erit, ni mea Musa perit.”[308]

[Pg 256]It is obvious that in the tenth and eleventh centuries there were Italians whose sentiments and intellectual interests were profane, humanistic in a word. These men might even be high ecclesiastics, like Liutprand, Bishop of Cremona (d. 972).[309] He was of Lombard stock, and yet a genuine Italian, bred in an atmosphere of classical reminiscence and contemporary gossip and misdeed. Politically, at least, the Italy of John XII. was not so much better than its pope; and the Antapodosis of Liutprand goes along in its easy, and often dramatic way, telling of crime and perfidy, and showing scant horror. It was a general history of the historian’s times, written while in exile in Germany; for Liutprand had been driven out of Italy by King Berengar, whom he had once served. He hated Berengar and his wife, and although well received at the Court of the great Otto, he did not love his place of exile.[310]

In exile Liutprand wrote his book to requite Berengar. The work had also a broader purpose, yet one just as consolatory to the writer. It should acknowledge and show the justice of the divine judgments exemplified in history. Herein lay a fuller, although less Italian, consolation for his exile than in Berengar’s requital. Liutprand keeps in mind Boëthius and his De consolatione, and regards his own work as a Consolation of History, as that of Boëthius was a Consolation of Philosophy. The paths of Liutprand’s Consolation are as broad as the justice and power of the Trinity, “which casts down these for their wicked deeds and raises up those for their merits’ sake.”[311]

Quite explicitly he explains the title and reason of his work at the opening of its third book:

“Since it will show the deeds of famous men, why call it Antapodosis? I reply: Its object is to set forth and cry aloud the acts of this Berengar who at this moment does not reign but tyrannize in Italy, and of his wife Willa, who for the boundlessness of her tyranny should be called a second Jezebel, and Lamia for her insatiate [Pg 257]rapines. Me and my house, my family and kin, have they harassed with so many javelins of lies, so many spoliations, so many essays of wickedness, that neither tongue nor pen can avail to set them forth. May then these pages be to them an antapodosis, that is retribution, to make their wickedness naked before men living and unborn. None the less may it prove an antapodosis for the benefits conferred on me by holy and happy men.”[312]

Liutprand’s narrative is breezy and interspersed with ribald tales. The writer meant to amuse his readers and himself. These literary qualities give picturesqueness to his well-known Embassy to Constantinople, where he was sent by Otto the Great, for purposes of peace and to ask the hand of the Byzantine princess for Otto II. The highly coloured ceremonial life of the Greek Court, the chicane and contemptuous treatment met with, the spirited words of Liutprand, and the rancour of this same thwarted envoy, all appear vividly in his report.[313]

There were also many laymen occupied with Latin studies. Such a one was Gunzo of Novara, a curiously vain grammarian of the second half of the tenth century. According to his own story, the fame of his learning incited Otto the Great to implore his presence in Germany. So he condescended to cross the Alps, with all his books, perhaps in the year 965. On his way he stopped with the monks of St. Gall, themselves proud of their learning, and perhaps jealous of the southern scholar. As the weary Gunzo was lifted, half frozen, from his horse at the convent door, and the brethren stood about, a young monk caught at a slip in grammar, and made a skit on him—because, forsooth, he had used an accusative when it should have been an ablative.

Gunzo neither forgave nor forgot. Passing on to the rival congregation of Reichenau, he composed a long and angry epistle of pedantic excuse and satirical invective, addressed to his former hosts.[314] In it he parades his wide knowledge of classic authors, justifies what the monks of St. Gall had presumed to mock as a ridiculous barbarism, and closes with a prayer for them in hexameters. His letter contains the interesting avowal, that, although the monk of[Pg 258] St. Gall had wrongly deemed him ignorant of grammar, his Latin sometimes was impeded by the “usu nostrae vulgaris linguae, quae latinitati vicina est.” So a slip would be due not to unfamiliarity with Latin, but to an excessive colloquial familiarity with the vulgar tongue which had scarcely ceased to be Latin—an excuse no German monk could have given. It is amusing to see an Italian grammarian of this early period enter the lists to defend his reputation and assuage his wounded vanity. Later, such learned battles became frequent.[315]

Gunzo died as the tenth century closed. Other Italians of his time and after him crossed the Alps to learn and teach and play the orator. From the early eleventh century comes a satirical sketch of one. The subject was a certain Benedict, Prior of the Abbey of St. Michael of Chiusa, and nephew of its abbot—therefore doubtless born to wealth and position. At all events as a youth he had moved about for nine years “per multa loca in Longobardia et Francia propter grammaticam,” spending the huge sum of two thousand gold soldi. His pride was unmeasured. “I have two houses full of books; there is no book on the earth that I do not possess. I study them every day. I can discourse on letters. There is no instruction to be had in Aquitaine, and but little in Francia. Lombardy, where I learned most, is the cradle of knowledge.” So the satire makes Benedict speak of himself. Then it makes a monk sketch Benedict’s sojourn at a convent in Angoulême: “He knows more than any man I ever saw. We have heard his chatter the whole day. O quam loquax est! He is never tired. Wherever he may be, standing, sitting, walking, lying, words pour from his mouth like water from the Tigris. He orders the whole convent about as if he were Abbot. Monks, laity, clergy, do nothing without his nod. A multitude of the people, knights too, were always hastening to hear him, as the goal of their desires. Untired, hurling words the entire day, he sends them off worn out. And they depart, saying: Never have we seen sic eloquentem grammaticum.”[316]

Another of these early wandering Italian humanists won[Pg 259] kinder notice, a certain Lombard Guido, who died where he was teaching in Auxerre, in 1095, and was lamented in leonine hexameters: “Alas, famous man, so abounding, so diligent, so praised, so venerated through many lands—

“Filius Italiae, sed alumnus Philosophiae.

Let Gaul grieve, and thou Philosophy who nourished him: Grieve Grammar, thou. With his death the words of Plato died, the work of Cicero is blotted out, Maro is silent and the muse of Naso stops her song.”[317]

A final instance to close our examples. In the middle of the eleventh century flourished Anselm the Peripatetic, a rhetorician and humanist of Besate (near Milan). In his Rhetorimachia he tells of a dream in which he finds himself in Heaven, surrounded and embraced by saintly souls. Their spiritual kisses were still on his lips when three virgins of another ilk appear, to reproach him with forsaking them. These are Dialectic and Rhetoric and Grammar—we have met them before! Now the embraces of the saints seem cold! and to the protests of the blessed throng that Anselm is theirs, the virgins make reply that he is altogether their own fosterling. Anselm gives up the saints and departs with the three.[318] This was his humanistic choice.

This rather pleasant dream discloses the conflict between Letters and the call of piety, which might harass the learned and the holy in Italy. Distrust of the enticements of pagan letters might transform itself to diabolic visions. Such a tale comes from the neighbourhood of Ravenna, in the late tenth century. It is of one Vilgard, a grammarian, who became infatuated with the great pagan poets, till their figures waved through his dreams and he heard their thanks and assurances that he should participate in their glory. He foolishly began to teach matters contrary to the Faith, and in the end was condemned as a heretic. Others were infected with his opinions, and perished by the sword and fire.[319]

[Pg 260]Evidently Vilgard’s profane studies made him a heretic. But, ordinarily, the Italians with their antique descended temperament were not troubled in the observance and the expression of their Faith by the paganism of their intellectual tastes. Such tastes did not produce open heretics in Italy in the eleventh century any more than in the fifteenth. A pagan disposition seldom prevented an Italian from being a good Catholic.

Yet the monastic spirit in Italy, as elsewhere, in the eleventh century defied and condemned the pagan literature, and in fact all Latin studies beyond the elements of grammar. The protest of the monk or hermit might represent his individual ignorance of classic literature; or, as in the case of Peter Damiani, the ascetic soul is horrified at the seductive nature of the pagan sweets which it knows too well. Peter indeed could say in his sonorous Latin: “Olim mihi Tullius dulcescebat, blandiebantur carmina poetarum, philosophi verbis aureis insplendebant, et Sirenes usque in exitium dulces meum incantaverunt intellectum.”[320] So a few decades after Peter’s death, Rangerius, Bishop of Lucca, writes the life of an episcopal predecessor in elegiacs which show considerable knowledge of grammar and prosody; and yet he protests against liberal studies—philosophy, astronomy, grammar—with pithy commonplace:

“Et nos ergo scholas non spectamus inanes
Scire Deum satis est, quo nulla scientia maior.”[321]

So with the Italians the antique never was an influence brought from without, but always an element of their temperament and faculties. We have not seen that they recast it into novel and interesting forms in the eleventh century; yet they used it familiarly as something of their own, being quite at home with it. As one may imagine some grand old Roman garden, planned and constructed by rich and talented ancestors, and still remaining as a home[Pg 261] and heritage to descendants whose wealth and capacities have shrunken. The garden is somewhat ruinous, and fallen to decay; yet these sons are still at home in it, their daily steps pursue its ancient avenues; they still recline upon the marble seats by the fountains where perhaps scant water runs. Fauns and satyrs—ears gone and noses broken—with even an occasional god, still haunt the courts and sylvan paths, while everywhere, above and about these lazy sons, the lights still chase the shadows, and anon the shadows darken the green and yellow flashes. Perhaps nothing in the garden has become so subtly in and of the race as this play of light and shade. And when the Italian genius shall revive again, and children’s children find themselves with power, still within this ancient garden the great vernacular poems will be composed; great paintings will be painted in its light and shade and under the influence of its formal beauties; and Italian buildings will never escape the power of the ruined structures found therein.



In the tenth and eleventh centuries, as remarked already, studiously inclined people made no particular selection of one study rather than another. But men discriminated sharply between religious devotion and all profane pursuits. Energies which were regarded as religious might have a political-ecclesiastical character, and be devoted to the purification and upbuilding of the Church; or they might be intellectual and aloof; or ascetic and emotional. All three modes might exist together in religious-minded men; but usually one form would dominate, and mark the man’s individuality. Hildebrand, for example, was a monk, fervent and ascetic; but his strength was devoted to the discipline of the clergy and the elevation of the papal power. In the great Hildebrandine Church which was his more than any other man’s achievement, the organizing and political genius of Rome re-emerges, and Rome becomes again the seat of Empire.[322]

[Pg 262]Eminent examples of Italians who illustrate the ascetic-emotional and the intellectual mode of religious devotion are the two very different saints, Peter Damiani and Anselm. The former, to whom we shall again refer when considering the ideals of the hermit life, was born in Ravenna not long after the year 1000. His parents, who were poor, seem to have thought him an unwelcome addition to their already burdensome family. His was a hard lot until he reached the age of ten, when his elder brother Damianus was made an archpresbyter in Ravenna and took Peter to live with him, to educate the gifted boy. From his brother’s house the youth proceeded in search of further instruction, first to Faenza, then to Parma. He became proficient in the secular knowledge comprised in the Seven Liberal Arts, and soon began to teach. A growing reputation brought many pupils, who paid such fees that Peter had amassed considerable property when he decided upon a change of life. For some years he had been fearful of the world, and he now turned from secular to religious studies. He put on haircloth underneath the gentler garb in which he was seen of men, and became earnest in vigils, fasts, and prayers. In the night-time he quelled the lusts of the flesh by immersing himself in flowing water; he overcame the temptations of avarice and pride by lavishly giving to the poor, and tending them at his own table. Still he felt unsafe, and yearned to escape the dangers of worldly living. A number of hermits dwelt in a community known as the Hermitage of the Holy Cross of Fonte Avellana, near Faenza; Peter became one of them shortly before his thirtieth year. They lived ascetically, two in a cell together, spending their time in watching, fasting, and prayer: thus they fought the Evil[Pg 263] One. Damiani was not satisfied merely with following the austerities practised at Fonte Avellana. Quickly he surpassed all his fellows, except a certain mail-clad Dominic, whose scourgings he could not equal. His chief asceticism lay in the temper of his soul.

From this congenial community (the hermits had made him their prior) Damiani was drawn forth to serve the Church more actively, sorely against his will, and was made Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia by Pope Stephen IX. in 1058. It was indeed the hand of Hildebrand, already directing the papal policy, that had fastened on this unwilling yet serviceable tool. Peter feared and also looked askance upon the relentless spirit, whom he called Sanctus Satanas, not deeming him to be altogether of the kingdom of heaven. He deprecates his censure upon one occasion: “I humbly beg that my Saint Satan may not rage so cruelly against me, and that his worshipful pride may not destroy me with long-reaching rods; rather, may it, appeased, quiet to a calm around his servant.” In this same letter, which is addressed to the two conspiring souls, Pope Alexander II. and Archdeacon Hildebrand, he sarcastically likens them to the Wind and the Sun of Aesop’s fable, who contended as to which could the sooner strip the Traveller of his cloak.[323] Peter’s tongue was sharp enough, and apt to indulge in epigram:

“Wilt thou live in Rome, cry aloud:
The Pope’s lord more than the Pope I obey.”

And another squib he writes on Hildebrand:

“Papam rite colo, sed te prostratus adoro;
Tu facis hunc dominum, te facit iste deum.”[324]

It was, however, for his own soul that Damiani feared, while in the service of the Curia. To Desiderius, Abbot of Monte Cassino, he exclaims: “He errs, Father, errs indeed, who imagines he can be a monk and at the same time serve the Curia. Ill he bargains, who presumes to desert[Pg 264] the cloister, that he may take up the warfare of the world.”[325]

Albeit against his will, Damiani became a soldier of the Church in the fields of her secular militancy against the world. He was sent on more than one important mission—to Milan, to crush the married priests and establish the Pope’s authority, or to Mainz, there to quell a rebellious archbishop and a youthful German king. Such missions and others he might accomplish with holy strenuousness; his more spontaneous zeal, however, was set upon the task of cleansing the immoralities of monks and clergy. In spite of his enforced relations with the powers of the world, he was a fiery reforming ascetic, a scourge of his time’s wickedness, rather than a statesman of the Church. His writings were a vent for the outcries of his horror-stricken soul. The corruption of the clergy filled his nostrils: they were rotten, like the loin-cloth of Jeremiah, hidden by the Euphrates; their bellies were full of drunkenness and lust.[326] As for the apostolic see:

“Heu! sedes apostolica,
Orbis olim gloria,
Nunc, proh dolor! efficeris
Officina Simonis.”[327]

These, with other verses written in tears, relate to schisms of pope and antipope which so often rent the papacy in Peter’s lifetime.[328] He never ceased to cry out against monks[Pg 265] and clergy, denouncing their simony and avarice, their luxury, intemperance and vile unchastity, their viciousness of every kind. Such denunciations fill his letters, while many of his other writings chiefly consist of them.[329] They culminate in his horrible Liber Gomorrhianus, which was issued with the approval of one pope, to be suppressed by another as too unspeakable.

Naturally over so foul a world, flame and lower the terrors of the Day of Judgment. For Damiani it was near at hand. He writes to a certain judge:

“Therefore, most dear brother now while the world smiles for thee, while thy body glows in health, while the prosperity of earth is sweet and fair, think upon those things which are to come. Deem whatever is transitory to be but as the illusion of a dream. And that terrible day of the last Judgment keep ever present to thy sight, and brood with quaking bowels over the sudden coming of such majesty—nor think it to be far off!”[330]

Beware of penitence postponed!

“O how full of grief and dole is that late unfruitful repentance, when the sinful soul, about to be loosed from its dungeon of flesh, looks behind it, and then directs its gaze into the future. It sees behind it that little stadium of mortal life, already traversed; it sees before it the range of endless aeons. That flown moment which it has lived it perceives to be an instant; it contemplates the infinite length of time to come.”[331]

From Damiani’s stricken thoughts upon the wickedness of the age, we may turn to the more personal disclosures of one who wrote himself Petrus peccator monachus. There is one tell-tale letter of confession to his brother Damianus, whom he loved and revered:

“To my lord Damianus, my best loved brother, Peter, sinner and monk, his servant and son.

“I would not have it hid from thee, my sweetest father and lord in Christ, that my mind is cast down with sadness while it contemplates its own exit which is so near. For I count now many [Pg 266]long years that I wait to be thrown to dogs; and I notice that in whatever monastery I come nearly all are younger than myself. When I consider this, I ponder upon death alone, I meditate upon my tomb; I do not withdraw the eyes of my mind from my tomb. Nor is my mind content to limit its fear and its consideration to the death of the body; for it is at once haled to judgment, and meditates with terror upon what might be its plea and defence. Wretched me! with what fountains of tears must I lament! I who have done every evil, and through my long life have fulfilled scarce one commandment of the divine law. For what evil have not I, miserable man, committed? Where are the vices, where are the crimes in which I am not implicated; I confess my life has fallen in a lake of misery; my soul is taken in its iniquities. Pride, lust, anger, impatience, malice, envy, gluttony, drunkenness, concupiscence, robbery, lying, perjury, idle talking, scurrility, ignorance, negligence, and other pests have overthrown me, and all the vices like ravening beasts have devoured my soul. My heart and my lips are defiled. I am contaminate in sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. And in every way, in cogitation, in speech or action, I am lost. All these evils have I done; and alas! alas! I have brought forth no fruit meet for repentance.

“One pernicious fault, among others, I acknowledge: scurrility has been my besetting sin; it has never really left me. For howsoever I have fought against this monster, and broken its wicked teeth with the hammer of austerity, and at times repelled it, I have never won the full victory. When, in the ways of spiritual gladness, I wish to show myself cheerful to the brethren, I drop into words of vanity; and when as it were discreetly for the sake of brotherly love, I think to throw off my severity, then indiscreetly my tongue unbridled utters foolishness. If the Lord said: ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,’ what judgment hangs over those who not only are slack at weeping, but act like buffoons with laughter and vain giggling. Consolation is due to those who weep, not to those who rejoice; what consolation may be expected from that future Judge by those who now are given to foolish mirth and vain jocularity? If the Truth says: ‘Woe unto ye who laugh, for ye shall weep,’ what fearful judgment shall be theirs who not only laugh themselves, but with scurrilities drag laughter from their listeners?”

The penitent saint then shows from Scripture how that our hearts ought to be vessels of tears, and concludes with casting himself at the feet of his beloved “father” in entreaty that he would interpose the shield of his holy prayers between his petitioner and that monster, and exorcise its serpentine poison, and also that he would ever pour forth[Pg 267] prayers to God, and beseech the divine mercy in behalf of all the other vices confessed in this letter.[332]

A strange confession this—or, indeed, is it strange? This cowled Peter Damiani who passes from community to community, seeing more keenly than others may, denouncing, execrating every vice existent or imagined, who wears haircloth, goes barefoot, lives on bread and water, scourges himself with daily flagellations, urging others to do likewise,—this Peter Damiani is yet unable quite to scourge out the human nature from him, and evidently cannot always refrain from that jocularity and inepta laetitia for which the Abbess Hildegard also saw sundry souls in hell.[333] Perhaps, with Peter, revulsions from the strain of austerity took the form of sudden laughter. His imagination was fine, his wit too quick for his soul’s safety. His confession was no matter of mock humility, nor did he deem laughter vulgar or in bad taste. He feared to imperil his soul through it. Of course, in accusing himself of other, and as we should think more serious crimes—drunkenness, robbery, perjury—Peter was merely carrying to an extreme the monkish conventions of self-vilification.

If it appears from this letter that Damiani had been unable quite to scourge his wit out of him, another letter, to a young countess, will show more touchingly that he had been unable quite to fast out of him his human heart.

“To Guilla, most illustrious countess, Peter, monk and sinner, [sends] the instancy of prayer.

“Since of a thing out of which will issue conflict it is better to have ignorance without cost, than with dear-bought forgetting wage hard war, we prudently accord to young women, whose aspect we fear, audience by letter. Certainly I, who now am an old man, may safely look upon the seared and wrinkled visage of a blear-eyed crone. Yet from sight of the more comely and adorned I guard my eyes as boys from fire. Alas my wretched heart which cannot hold Scriptural mysteries read through a hundred times, and will not lose the memory of a form seen but once! There where the divine law remains not, no oblivion blurs vanity’s image. But of this another time. Here I have not to write of what is hurtful to me but of what may be salutary for thee.”

[Pg 268]Peter then continues with excellent advice for the young noblewoman, exhorting her to deeds of mercy and kindness, and warning her against the enjoyment of revenues wrung from the poor.[334] Indeed Damiani’s writings contain much that still is wise. His advice to the great and noble of the world was admirable,[335] and though couched in austere phrase, it demanded what many men feel bound to fulfil in the twentieth century. His little work on Almsgiving[336] contains sentences which might be spoken to-day. He has been pointing out that no one can be exercising the ascetic virtues all the time: no one can be always praying and fasting, washing feet and subjecting the body to pain. Some people, moreover, shun such self-castigation. But one can always be benevolent; and, though fearing to afflict the body, can stretch forth his hand in charity: “Those then who are rich should seek to be dispensers rather than possessors. They ought not to regard what they have as their own: for they did not receive this transitory wealth in order to revel in luxury, but that they should administer it so long as they continue in their stewardship. Whoever gives to the poor does not distribute his own but restores another’s.”[337]

This sounds modern—it also sounds like Seneca.[338] Yet Damiani was no modern man, nor was he antique, but very fearful of the classics. Having been a rhetorician and grammarian, when he became a hermit-monk he made Christ his grammar (mea grammatica Christus est).[339][Pg 269] Horror-stricken at the world, and writhing under his own contamination, he cast body and soul into the ascetic life. That was the harbour of escape from the carnal temptations which threatened the soul’s hope of pardon from the Judge at the Last Day. Therefore Peter is fierce in execration of all lapses from the hermit-life, so rapturously praised with its contrition, its penitence, and tears. His ascetic rhapsodies, with which, as a poet might, he delighted or relieved his soul, are eloquent illustrations of the monastic ideal.[340]

Other men in Italy less intelligent than Damiani, but equally picturesque, were held by like ascetic and emotional obsession. Intellectual interest, however, in theology was less prominent, because the Italian concern with religion was either emotional or ecclesiastical, which is to say, political. The philosophic or dialectical treatment of the Faith was to run its course north of the Alps; and those men of Italian birth—Anselm, Peter Lombard, Bonaventura, and Aquinas—who contributed to Christian thought, early left their native land, and accomplished their careers under intellectual conditions which did not obtain in Italy. Nevertheless, Anselm and Bonaventura at least did not lose their Italian qualities; and it is as representative of what might come out of Italy in the eleventh century that the former may detain us here.

The story of Anselm is told well and lovingly by his companion Eadmer.[341] His life, although it was drawn within the currents of affairs, remained intellectual and aloof, a meditation upon God. It opens with a dream of climbing the mountain to God’s palace-seat. For Anselm’s boyhood was passed at Aosta, within the shadows of the Graian Alps.[342] Surely the heaven rested upon them. Might he not then go up to the hall where God, above in the heaven, as the boy’s mother taught, ruled and held all?

“So one night it seemed he must ascend to the summit of the mountains, and go to the hall of the great King. In the plain at [Pg 270]the first slopes, he saw women, the servants of the King, reaping grain carelessly and idly. He would accuse them to their Lord. He went up across the summit and came to the King’s hall. He found Him there alone with His seneschal, for it was autumn and He had sent His servants to gather the harvest. The Lord called the boy as he entered; and he went and sat at His feet. The Lord asked kindly (jucunda affabilitate) whence he came and what he wished. He replied just as he knew the thing to be (juxta quod rem esse sciebat). Then, at the Lord’s command, the Seneschal brought him bread of the whitest, and he was there refreshed in His presence. In the morning he verily believed that he had been in Heaven and had been refreshed with the bread of the Lord.”

A pious mother had been the boy’s first teacher. Others taught him Letters, till he became proficient, and beloved by those who knew him. He wished to be made a monk, but a neighbouring abbot refused his request, fearing the displeasure of Anselm’s father, of whom the biographer has nothing good to say. The youth fell sick, but with returning health the joy of living drew his mind from study and his pious purpose. Love for his mother held him from over-indulgence in pastimes. She died, and with this sheet-anchor lost, Anselm’s ship was near to drifting out on the world’s slippery flood. But here the impossible temper of the father wrought as God’s providence, and Anselm, unable to stay with him, left his home, and set out across Mount Senis attended by one clericus. For three years he moved through Burgundy and Francia, till Lanfranc’s repute drew him to Bec. Day and night he studied beneath that master, and also taught. The desire to be a monk returned; and he began to direct his purpose toward pleasing God and spurning the world.

But where? At either Cluny or Bec he feared to lose the fruit of his studies; for at Cluny there was the strictness of the rule,[343] and at Bec Lanfranc’s eminent learning would “make mine of little value.” Anselm says that he was not yet subdued, nor had the contempt of the world become strong in him. Then the thought came: “Is this to be a monk to wish to be set before others and magnified above them? Nay,—become a monk where, for the sake of God, you will[Pg 271] be put after all and be held viler than all. And where can this be? Surely at Bec. I shall be of no weight while he is here, whose wisdom and repute are enough for all. Here then is my rest, here God alone will be my purpose, here the single love of Him will be my thought, and here the constant remembrance of Him will be a happy consolation.”

Scripture bade him: Do all things with counsel. Whom but Lanfranc should he consult? So he laid three plans before him—to become a monk, a hermit, or (his father being dead) for the sake of God administer his patrimony for the poor. Lanfranc persuaded Anselm to refer the decision to the venerable Archbishop of Rouen. Together they went to him, and such, says the biographer, was Anselm’s reverence for Lanfranc, that on the way, passing through the wood near Bec, had Lanfranc bade him stay in that wood, he would not have left it all his days.

The archbishop decided for the monastic life. So Anslem took the vows of a monk at Bec, being twenty-seven years of age. Lanfranc was then Prior, but soon left to become Abbot of St. Stephen’s at Caen.[344] Made Prior in his place, Anselm devoted himself in gentleness and wisdom to the care of the monks and to meditation upon God and the divine truths. He was especially considerate of the younger monks, whose waywardness he guided and whose love he won. The envy of cavillers was stilled. Yet the business of office harassed one whose thoughts dwelled more gladly in the blue heaven with God. Again he sought the counsel of the archbishop; for Herluin, the first Abbot and founder of Bec, still lived on, old and unlettered, and apparently no great fount of wisdom. The archbishop commanded him per sanctam obedientiam not to renounce his office, nor refuse if called to a higher one. So, sad but resolute, he returned to the convent, and resumed his burdens in such wise as to be held by all as a loved father. It was at this period that he wrote several treatises upon the high doctrinal themes which filled his thoughts. Gradually his mind settled to the search after some single proof of that[Pg 272] which is believed concerning God—that He exists, and is eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, just, and pitying, and is truth and goodness. This thing caused him great difficulty. Not only it kept him from food and drink and sleep, but what weighed upon him more, it interfered with his devotion to God’s service. Reflecting thus, and unable to reach a valid conclusion, he decided that such speculation was a temptation of the devil, and tried to drive it from his thoughts. But the more he struggled, the more it beset him. And one night, at the time of the nocturnal vigils, the grace of God shed light in his heart, and the argument was clear to his mind, and filled his inmost being with an immense jubilation. All the more now was he confirmed in the love of God and the contempt of the world, of which one night he had a vision as of a torrent filled with obscene filth, and carrying in its flood the countless host of people of the world, while apart and aloof from its slime rose the sweet cloister, with its walls of silver, surrounded by silvery herbage, all delectable beyond conception.

In the year 1078 old Herluin died. Anselm long had guided the convent, and with one voice the brethren chose him Abbot. He reasoned and argued, but could not dissuade them, and in his anxiety he knew not what to do. Some days passed. He had recourse to entreaties; with tears he flung himself prostrate before them all, praying and protesting in the name of God, and beseeching them, if they had any bowels of compassion, to permit him to remain free from this great burden. But they only cast themselves upon the earth, and prayed that he would rather commiserate them, and not disregard the convent’s good. At length he yielded, for the command of the archbishop came to his mind. Such a scene occurs often in monastic history. None the less is it moving when the participants are in earnest, as Anselm was, and his monks.

So Anselm’s life opened; so it sought counsel, gathered strength, and centred to its purpose, pursuing as its goal the thought of God. Anselm had love and gentleness for his fellows; he drew their love and reverence. Yet, aloof, he lived within his spirit. Did he open its hidden places even to Lanfranc? Although one who in his humility always[Pg 273] desired counsel, perhaps neither Lanfranc nor Eadmer, the friend whom the Pope gave him for an adviser, knew the meditations of his heart. We at all events should discern little of them by following the outer story of his life. It might even be fruitless to sail with him across the channel to visit Lanfranc, now Primate of England. The biographer has nothing to tell of the converse between the two, although quite rightly impressed at the meeting between him who was pre-eminent in auctoritas and scientia and him who excelled in sanctitas and sapientia Dei. Nor would it enlighten us to follow Anselm’s archiepiscopal career, save so far as to realize that he who lives in the thought of God will fear no brutal earthly majesty, such as that of William Rufus, to admonish whom Anselm once more crossed the Channel after Lanfranc’s death. Whatever this despoiler of bishoprics then thought, he fell sick afterwards, and, being terrified, named Anselm archbishop, this being in the year 1093. One may imagine the unison between them! and how little the Red King’s ways would turn the enskied steadfastness of Anselm’s soul. But the king had the power, and could keep the archbishop in trouble and in peril. Anselm asked and asked again for leave to go to Rome, and the king refused. After more than one stormy scene—the storm being always on the Red King’s part—Anselm made it plain that he would obey God rather than man in the matter. At the very last he went in to the king and his Court, and seating himself quietly at the king’s right he said: “I, my lord, shall go, as I have determined. But first, if you do not decline it, I will give you my blessing.” So the king acquiesced.

The archbishop went first to Canterbury, to comfort and strengthen his monks, and spoke to them assembled together:

“Dearly beloved brothers and sons, I am, as you know, about to leave this kingdom. The contention with our lord the king as to Christian discipline, has reached this pass that I must either do what is contrary to God and my own honour, or leave the realm. Gladly I go, hoping through the mercy of God that my journey may advance the Church’s liberty hereafter. I am moved to pity you, upon whom greater tribulations will come in my absence. Even [Pg 274]with me here you have not been unoppressed, yet I think I have given you more peace than you have had since the death of our Father Lanfranc. I think those who molest you will rage the more with me away. You, however, are not undisciplined in the school of the Lord. Nevertheless I will say something, because, since you have come together within the close of this monastery to fight for God, you should always have before your eyes how you should fight.

“All retainers do not fight in the same way either for an earthly prince, or for God whose are all things that are. The angels established in eternal beatitude wait upon Him. He has also men who serve Him for earthly benefits, like hired knights. He has also some who, cleaving to His will, contend to reach the kingdom of heaven, which they have forfeited through Adam’s fault. Observe the knights who are in God’s pay. Many you see leading a secular life and cleaving to the household of God for the good things which they gain in His service. But when, by God’s judgment, trial comes to them, and disaster, they fly from His love and accuse Him of injustice. We monks—would that we were such as not to be like them! For those who cannot stand to their professed purpose unless they have all things comfortable, and do not wish to suffer destitution for God, how shall they not be held like to these? And shall such be heirs of the kingdom of heaven? Faithfully I say, No, never, unless they repent.

“He who truly contends toward recovering the kingdom of life, strives to cleave to God through all; no adversity draws him from God’s service, no pleasure lures him from the love of Him. Per dura et aspera he treads the way of His commands, and from hope of the reward to come, his heart is aflame with the ardour of love, and sings with the Psalmist, Great is the glory of the Lord. Which glory he tastes in this pilgrimage, and tasting, he desires, and desiring, salutes as from afar. Supported by the hope of attaining, he is consoled amid the perils of the world and gladly sings, Great is the glory of the Lord. Know that this one will in no way be defrauded of that glory of the Lord, since all that is in him serves the Lord, and is directed to winning this reward. But I see that there is no need to say to you another word. My brothers, since we are separated now in grief, I beseech you so to strive that hereafter we may be united joyfully before God. Be ye those who truly wish to be made heirs of God.”

The clarity and gentle love of this high argument is Anselm. Now the story follows of Anselm and Eadmer and another monk travelling on, sometimes unknown, sometimes acclaimed, through France to Italy and Rome. Anselm’s face inspired reverence in those who did not know him, and the peace of his countenance attracted even Saracens. Had[Pg 275] he been born and bred in England, he might have managed better with the Red King. He never got an English point of view, but remained a Churchman with Italian-Hildebrandine convictions. Of course, two policies were clashing then in England, where it happened that there was on one side an able and rapacious tyrant, while the other was represented by a man with the countenance and temperament of an angel. But we may leave Anselm now in Italy, where he is beyond the Red King’s molestation, and turn to his writings.

Their choice and treatment of subject was partly guided by the needs of his pupils and friends at Bec and elsewhere in Normandy or Francia or England. For he wrote much at their solicitation; and the theological problems of which solutions were requested, suggest the intellectual temper of those regions, rather than of Italy. In a way Anselm’s works, treating of separate and selected Christian questions, are a proper continuation of those composed by northern theologians in the ninth century on Predestination and the Eucharist.[345] Only Anselm’s were not evoked by the exigency of actual controversy as much as by the insistency of the eleventh-century mind, and the need it felt of some adjustment regarding certain problems. Anselm’s theological and philosophic consciousness is clear and confident. His faculties are formative and creative, quite different from the compiling instincts of Alcuin or Rabanus. The matter of his argument has become his own; it has been remade in his thinking, and is presented as from himself—and God. He no longer conceives himself as one searching through the “pantries” of the Fathers or culling the choice flowers of their “meadows.” He will set forth the matter as God has deigned to disclose it to him. In the Cur Deus homo he begins by saying that he has been urged by many, verbally and by letter, to consider the reasons why God became man and suffered, and then, assenting, says: “Although, from the holy Fathers on, what should suffice has been said, yet concerning this question I will endeavour to set forth for my inquirers what God shall deign to disclose to me.”[346]

Certain works of Anselm, the Monologion, for instance,[Pg 276] present the dry and the formal method of reasoning which was to make its chief home in France; others, like the Proslogion, seem to be Italian in a certain beautiful emotionalism. The feeling is very lofty, even lifted out of the human, very skyey, even. The Proslogion, the Meditationes, do not throb with the red blood of Augustine’s Confessions, the writing which influenced them most. The quality of their feeling suggests rather Dante’s Paradiso; and sometimes with Anselm a sense of formal beauty and perfection seems to disclose the mind of Italy. Moreover, Anselm’s Latin style appears Italian. It is elastic, even apparently idiomatic, and varies with the temper and character of his different works. Throughout, it shows in Latin the fluency and simple word-order natural to an author whose vulgaris eloquentia was even closer to Latin in the time of Anselm than when Dante wrote.

So Anselm’s writings were intimately part of their author, and very part of his life-long meditation upon God. Led by the solicitations of others, as well as impelled by the needs of his own faculties and nature, he takes up one Christian problem after another, and sets forth his understanding of it with his conclusion. He is devout, an absolute believer; and he is wonderfully metaphysical. He is a beautiful, a sublimated, and idealizing reasoner, convinced that a divine reality must exist in correspondence with his thought, which projects itself aloft to evoke from the blue an answering reality. The inspiration, the radiating point of Anselm’s intellectual interest, is clearly given—to understand that which he first believes. It is a spontaneous intellectual interest, not altogether springing from a desire to know how to be saved. It does not seek to understand in order to believe; but seeks the happiness of knowing and understanding that which it believes and loves. Listen to some sentences from the opening of the Proslogion:

“Come now, mannikin, flee thy occupations for a little, and hide from the confusion of thy cares. Be vacant a little while for God, and for a little rest in Him.... Now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek thee, where and how to find thee. Lord, Lord, illuminate us; show us thyself. Pity us labouring toward thee, impotent without thee.... Teach me to seek thee, [Pg 277]and show thyself to my search; for I cannot seek thee unless thou dost teach, nor find thee unless thou dost show thyself.... I make no attempt, Lord, to penetrate thy depths, for my intellect has no such reach; but I desire to understand some measure of thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. I do not seek to know in order that I may believe; but I believe, that I may know. For I believe this also, that unless I shall have believed, I shall not understand.”[347]

So Anselm is first a believer, then a theologian; and his reason devotes itself to the elucidation of his faith. Faith prescribes his intellectual interests, and sets their bounds. His thought does not occupy itself with matters beyond. But it takes a pure intellectual delight in reasoning upon the God which his faith presents and his heart cleaves to. The motive is the intellectual and loving delight which his mind takes in this pursuit. His faith was sure and undisturbed, and ample for his salvation. His intellect, affected by no motive beyond its own strength and joy, delights in reasoning upon the matter of his faith.[348]

We may still linger for a moment to observe how closely part of Anselm’s nature was his proof of the existence of God.[349] It sprang directly from his saintly soul and the compelling idealism of his reason. In the Monologion Anselm ranged his many arguments concerning the nature and attributes of the summum bonum which is God. Its chain of inductions failed to satisfy him and his pupils. So he set his mind to seek a sole and unconditioned proof (as Eadmer states in the Vita) of God’s existence and the[Pg 278] attributes which faith ascribes to Him. Anselm says the same in the Preface to the Proslogion:

“Considering that the prior work was woven out of a concatenation of many arguments, I set to seek within myself (mecum) whether I might not discover one argument which needed nothing else than itself alone for its proof; and which by itself might suffice to show that God truly exists, and that He is the summum bonum needing nothing else, but needed by all things in order that they may exist and have well-being (ut sint et bene sint); and whatever we believe concerning the divine substance.”

The famous proof which at length flashed upon him is substantially this: By very definition the word God means the greatest conceivable being. This conception exists even in the atheist’s mind, for he knows what is meant by the words, the absolutely greatest. But the greatest cannot be in the intellect alone, for then conceivably there would be a greater which would exist in reality as well. And since, by definition, God is the absolutely greatest, He must exist in reality as well as in the mind.[350] Carrying out the scholia to this argument, Anselm then proves that God possesses the various attributes ascribed to Him by the Christian Faith.

That from a definition one may not infer the existence of the thing defined, was pointed out by a certain monk Gaunilo almost as soon as the Proslogion appeared. Anselm answered him that the argument applied only to the greatest conceivable being. Since that time Anselm’s proof has been upheld and disproved many times. It was at all events a great dialectic leap; but likely one may not with such a bound cross the chasm from definition to existence—at least one will be less bold to try when he realizes that this chasm is there. Temperamentally, at least, this proof was the summit of Anselm’s idealism: he could not but conceive things to exist in correspondence to the demands of his conceptions. He never made another so palpable leap from conception to conviction as in this proof of God’s existence; yet his theology proceeded through like processes of thought. For example, he is sure of God’s omnipotence, and also sure that God can do nothing which would detract from the perfection of His nature: God cannot lie: “For it[Pg 279] does not follow, if God wills to lie that it is just to lie; but rather that He is not God. For only that will can will to lie in which truth is corrupted, or rather which is corrupted by forsaking truth. Therefore when one says ‘if God wills to lie,’ he says in substance, ‘if God is of such a nature as to will to lie.’”[351]

Anselm’s other famous work was the Cur Deus homo, upon the problem why God became man to redeem mankind. It was connected with his view of sin, and the fall of the angels, as set forth chiefly in his dialogue De casu Diaboli. One may note certain cardinal points in his exposition: Man could be redeemed only by God; for he would have been the bond-servant of whoever redeemed him, and to have been the servant of any one except God would not have restored him to the dignity which would have been his had he not sinned.[352] Or again: The devil had no rights over man, which he lost by unjustly slaying God. For man was not the devil’s, nor does the devil belong to himself but to God.[353] Evidently Anselm frees himself from the conception of any ransom paid to the devil, or any trickery put on him—thoughts which had lowered current views of the Atonement. Anselm’s arguments (which are too large, and too interwoven with his views upon connected subjects, to be done justice to by any casual statement) are free from degrading foolishness. His reasonings were deeply felt, as one may see in his Meditationes, where thought and feeling mutually support and enhance each other. So he recalls Augustine, the great model and predecessor whom he followed and revered. And still the feeling in Anselm’s Meditationes, as in the Proslogion, is somewhat sublimated and lifted above human heart-throbs. Perhaps it may seem rhetorical, and intentionally stimulated in order to edify. Even in the Meditationes upon the humanity and passion of Jesus, Anselm is not very close to the quivering tenderness of St. Bernard, and very far from the impulsive and passionate love of Francis of Assisi. One thinks that his feelings rarely distorted his countenance or wet it with tears.[354]



[Pg 280]



I. Gerbert.
II. Odilo of Cluny.
III. Fulbert and the School of Chartres; Trivium and Quadrivium.
IV. Berengar of Tours, Roscellin, and the coming time.



It appeared in the last chapter that Anselm’s choice of topic was not uninfluenced by his northern domicile at Bec in Normandy, from which, one may add, it was no far cry to the monastery (Marmoutier) of Anselm’s sharp critic Gaunilo. These places lay within the confines of central and northern France, the home of the most originative mediaeval development. For this region, the renewed studies of the Carolingian period were the proper antecedents of the efforts of the eleventh century. The topics of study still remained substantially the same; yet the later time represents a further stage in the appropriation of the antique and patristic material, and its productions show the genius of the authors more clearly than Carolingian writings, which were taken piecemeal from patristic sources or made of borrowed antique phrase.

The difference is seen in the personality and writings of Gerbert of Aurillac,[355] the man who with such intellectual[Pg 281] catholicity opens the story of this period. One will be struck with the apparently arid crudity of his intellectual processes. Crude they were, and of necessity; arid they were not, being an unavoidable stage in the progress of mediaeval thinking. Yet it is a touch of fate’s irony that such an interesting personality should have been afflicted with them. For Gerbert was the redeeming intellect of the last part of the tenth century. The cravings of his mind compassed the intellectual predilections of his contemporaries in their entirety. Secular and by no means priestly they appear in him; and it is clear that religious motives did not dominate this extraordinary individual who was reared among monks, became Abbot of Bobbio, Archbishop of Rheims, Archbishop of Ravenna, and pope at last.

He appears to have been born shortly before the year 950. From the ignorance in which we are left as to his parents and the exact place of his birth in Aquitaine, it may be inferred that his origin was humble. While still a boy he was received into the Benedictine monastery of St. Geraldus at Aurillac in Auvergne. There he studied grammar (in the extended mediaeval sense), under a monk named Raymund, and grew to love the classics. A loyal affectionateness was a life-long trait of Gerbert, and more than one letter in after life bears witness to the love which he never ceased to feel for the monks of Aurillac among whom his youthful years were passed, and especially for this brother Raymund from whom he received his first instruction.

Raymund afterwards became abbot of the convent. But it was his predecessor, Gerald, who had received the boy Gerbert, and was still to do something of moment in directing his career. A certain duke of the Spanish March came on a pilgrimage to Aurillac; and Gerald besought him to take Gerbert back with him to Spain for such further instruction as the convent did not afford. The duke departed, taking Gerbert, and placed him under the tuition of the Bishop of Vich, a town near Barcelona. Here he studied mathematics. The tradition that he travelled through Spain and learned from the Arabs lacks probability. But in the course of time the duke and bishop set[Pg 282] forth to pray for sundry material objects at the fountainhead of Catholicism, and took their protégé with them to Rome.

In Rome, Gerbert’s destiny advanced apace. His patrons, doubtless proud of their young scholar, introduced him to the Pope, John XIII., who also was impressed by Gerbert’s personality and learning. John told his own protector, the great Otto, and informed him of Gerbert’s ability to teach mathematics; and the two kept Gerbert in Rome, when the Spanish duke and bishop returned to their country. Gerbert began to teach, and either at this time or later had among his pupils the young Augustus, Otto II. But he was more anxious to study logic than to teach mathematics, even under imperial favour. He persuaded the old emperor to let him go to Rheims with a certain archdeacon from that place, who was skilled in the science which he lacked. The emperor dismissed him, with a liberal hand. In his new home Gerbert rapidly mastered logic, and impressed all with his genius. He won the love of the archbishop, Adalberon, who shortly set the now triply accomplished scholar at the head of the episcopal school. Gerbert’s education was complete, in letters, in mathematics including music, and in logic. Thenceforth for ten years (972-982), the happiest of his life, he studied and also taught the whole range of academic knowledge.

Fortune, not altogether kind, bestowed on Gerbert the favour of three emperors. The graciousness of the first Otto had enabled him to proceed to Rheims. The second Otto listened to his teaching, admired the teacher, and early in the year 983 made him Abbot and Count of Bobbio. Long afterwards the third Otto made him Archbishop of Ravenna, and then pope.

Bobbio, the chief foundation of Columbanus, situated not far from Genoa, was powerful and rich; but its vast possessions, scattered throughout Italy, had been squandered by worthless abbots or seized by lawless nobles. The new count-abbot, eager to fulfil the ecclesiastical and feudal functions of his position, strove to reclaim the monastery’s property and bring back its monks to decency and learning. In vain. Now, as more than once in Gerbert’s later life,[Pg 283] brute circumstances proved too strong. Otto died. Gerbert was unsupported. He struggled and wrote many letters which serve to set forth the situation for us, though they did not win the battle for their writer:

“According to the largeness of my mind, my lord (Otto II.) has enriched me with most ample honours. For what part of Italy does not hold the possessions of the blessed Columbanus? So should this be, from the generosity and benevolence of our Caesar. Fortune, indeed, ordains it otherwise. Forsooth according to the largeness of my mind she has loaded me with most ample stores of enemies. For what part of Italy has not my enemies? My strength is unequal to the strength of Italy! There is peace on this condition: if I, despoiled, submit, they cease to strike; intractable in my vested rights, they attack with the sword. When they do not strike with the sword, they thrust with javelins of words.”[356]

Within a year Gerbert gave up the struggle at Bobbio, and returned to Rheims to resume his duties as head of the school, and secretary and intimate adviser of Adalberon. Politically the time was one of uncertainty and turmoil. The Carolingian house was crumbling, and the house of Capet was scheming and struggling on to a royalty scarcely more considerable. In Germany intrigue and revolt threatened the rights of the child Otto III. Archbishop Adalberon, guided by Gerbert, was a powerful factor in the dynastic change in France; and the two were zealous for Otto. Throughout these troubles Gerbert constantly appears, directing projected measures and divining courses of events, yet somehow, in spite of his unmatched intelligence, failing to control them.

Time passed, and Adalberon died at the beginning of the year 989. His successor, Arnulf, a scion of the falling Carolingian house, was subsequently unseated for treason to the new-sprung house of Capet. In 991 Gerbert himself was made archbishop. But although seeming to reach his longed-for goal, troubles redoubled on his head. There was rage at the choice of one so lowly born for the princely dignity. The storm gathered around the new archbishop, and the See of Rome was moved to interfere, which it did gladly, since at Rome Gerbert was hated for the reproaches[Pg 284] cast upon its ignorance and corruption by bishops at the council which elected him and deposed his predecessor. In that deposition and election Rome had not acquiesced; and we read the words of the papal legate:

“The acts of your synod against Arnulf, or rather against the Roman Church, astound me with their insults and blasphemies. Truly is the word of the Gospel fulfilled in you, ‘There shall be many anti-Christs.’... Your anti-Christs say that Rome is as a temple of idols, an image of stone. Because the vicars of Peter and their disciples will not have as master Plato, Virgil, Terence or the rest of the herd of Philosophers, ye say they are not worthy to be door-keepers—because they have no part in such song.”[357]

The battle went against Gerbert. Interdicted from his archiepiscopal functions, he left France for the Court of Otto III., where his intellect at once dominated the aspirations of the young monarch. Otto and Gerbert went together to Italy, and the emperor made his friend Archbishop of Ravenna. The next year, 999, Gregory V. died, and the archbishop became Pope Sylvester II. For three short years the glorious young imperial dreamer and his peerless counsellor planned and wrought for a great united Empire and Papacy on earth. Then death took first the emperor and soon afterwards the pope-philosopher.

Gerbert was the first mind of his time, its greatest teacher, its most eager learner, and most universal scholar. His pregnant letters reflect a finished man who has mastered his acquired knowledge and transformed it into power. They also evince the authorship of one who had uniquely profited from the power and spirit of the great minds of the pagan past, had imbibed their sense of form and pertinency, and with them had become self-contained and self-controlled, master of himself and of all that had entered in and made him what he was. Notice how the personality of the writer, with his capacities, tastes, and temperament, is unfolded before us in a letter to a close friend, abbot of a monastery at Tours:

“Since you hold my memory in honour, and in virtue of relationship declare great friendship, I deem that I shall be happy for your opinion, if only I am one who in the judgment of so great [Pg 285]a man is found worthy to be loved. But since I am not one who, with Panetius, would sometimes separate the good from the useful, but rather with Tully would mingle it with everything useful, I wish these best and holiest friendships never to be void of reciprocal utility. And as morality and the art of speech are not to be severed from philosophy, I have always joined the study of speaking well with the study of living well. For although by itself living well may be nobler than speaking well, and may suffice without its fellow for one absolved from the direction of affairs; yet for us, busied with the State, both are needed. For it is of the greatest utility to speak appositely when persuading, and with mild discourse check the fury of angry men. In preparing for such business, I am eagerly collecting a library; and as formerly at Rome and elsewhere in Italy, so likewise in Germany and Belgium, I have obtained copyists and manuscripts with a mass of money, and the help of friends in those parts. Permit me likewise to beg of you also to promote this end. We will append at the end of this letter a list of those writers we wish copied. We have sent for your disposal parchment for the scribes and money to defray the cost, not unmindful of your goodness. Finally, lest by saying more we should abuse epistolary convenances, the cause of so much trouble is contempt of faithless fortune; a contempt which not nature alone has given to us—as to many men—but careful study. Consequently when at leisure and when busied in affairs, we teach what we know, and learn where we are ignorant.”[358]

Gerbert’s letters are concise, even elliptical to the verge of obscurity. He discloses himself in a few words to his old friend Raymund at the monastery of Aurillac: “With what love we are bound to you, the Latins know and also the barbarians,[359] who share the fruit of our studies. Their vows demand your presence. Amid public cares philosophy is the sole solace; and from her study we have often been the gainer, when in this stormy time we have thus broken the attack of fortune raging grievously against others or ourselves....”[360]

Save for the language, one might fancy Cicero speaking to some friend, and not the future pope of the year 1000 to a monk. The sentiment is quite antique. And Gerbert not only uses antique phrase but is touched, like many a mediaeval man, with the antique spirit. In another letter[Pg 286] he writes of friendship, and queries whether the divinity has given anything better to mortals. He refers to his prospects, and remarks: “sed involvit mundum caeca fortuna,” and he is not certain whither it will cast him.[361]

Doubtless such antique sentiments were a matter of mood with Gerbert; he can readily express others of a Christian colour, and turn again to still other topics very readily, as in the following letter—a curious one. It is to a monk:

“Think not, sweetest brother, that it is through my fault I lack my brethren’s society. After leaving thee, I had to undertake many journeys in the business of my father Columbanus.[362] The ambitions of the powers, the hard and wretched times, turn right to wrong. No one keeps faith. Yet since I know that all things hang on the decree of God, who changes both hearts and the kingdoms of the sons of men, I patiently await the end of things. I admonish and exhort thee, brother, to do the same. In the meanwhile one thing I beg, which may be accomplished without danger or loss to thee, and will make me thy friend forever. Thou knowest with what zeal I gather books everywhere, and thou knowest how many scribes there are in Italy, in town and country. Come then, quietly procure me copies of Manlius’s (Boëthius) De astrologia, Victorinus’s Rhetoric, Demosthenes’s Optalmicus.[363] I promise thee, brother, and will keep my word, to preserve a sacred silence as to thy praiseworthy compliance, and will remit twofold whatever thou dost demand. Let this much be known to the man, and the pay too, and cheer us more frequently with a letter; and have no fear that knowledge will come to any one of any matter thou mayest confide to our good faith.”[364]

When he wrote this letter, about the year 988, Gerbert was dangerously deep in politics, and great was the power of this low-born titular Abbot of Bobbio, head of the school at Rheims and secretary to the archbishop. The tortuous statecraft and startling many-sidedness of this “scholar in politics” must have disturbed his contemporaries, and may have roused the suspicions from which grew the stories, told by future men, that this scholar, statesman, and philosopher-pope was a magician who had learned from forbidden[Pg 287] sources much that should be veiled. Withal, however, one may deem that the most veritable inner bit of Gerbert was his love of knowledge and of antique literature, and that the letters disclosing this are the subtlest revelation of the man who was ever transmuting his well-guarded knowledge into himself and his most personal moods.

“For there is nothing more noble for us in human affairs than a knowledge of the most distinguished men; and may it be displayed in volumes upon volumes multiplied. Go on then, as you have begun, and bring the streams of Cicero to one who thirsts. Let M. Tullius thrust himself into the midst of the anxieties which have enveloped us since the betrayal of our city, so that in the happy eyes of men we are held unhappy through our sentence. What things are of the world we have sought, we have found, we have accomplished, and, as I will say, we have become chief among the wicked. Lend aid, father, in order that divinity, expelled by the multitude of sinners, bent by thy prayers, may return, may visit us, may dwell with us—and if possible, may we who mourn the absence of the blessed father Adalberon, be rejoiced by thy presence.”[365]

So Gerbert wrote from Rheims, himself a chief intriguer in a city full of treason.

Gerbert was a power making for letters. The best scholars sat at his feet; he was an inspiration at the Courts of the second and third Ottos, who loved learning and died so young; and the great school of Chartres, under the headship of his pupil Fulbert, was the direct heir to his instruction. At Rheims, where he taught so many years, he left to others the elementary instruction in Latin. A pupil, Richer, who wrote his history, speaks of courses in rhetoric and literature, to which he introduced his pupils after instructing them in logic:

“When he wished to lead them on from such studies to rhetoric, he put in practice his opinion that one cannot attain the art of oratory without a previous knowledge of the modes of diction which are to be learned from the poets. So he brought forward those with whom he thought his pupils should be conversant. He read and explained the poets Virgil, Statius, and Terence, the satirists Juvenal and Persius and Horace, also Lucan the historiographer. Familiarized with these, and practised in their locutions, he taught [Pg 288]his pupils rhetoric. After they were instructed in this art, he brought up a sophist, to practise them in disputation, so that practised in this art as well, they might seem to argue artlessly, which he deemed the height of oratory.”[366]

So Gerbert used the classic poets in teaching rhetoric, and doubtless the great prose writers too, with whom he was familiar. Following Cicero’s precept that the orator should be a proficient reasoner, he prepared his young rhetoricians by a course in logic, and completed their discipline with exercises in disputation.

Richer also speaks of Gerbert’s epoch-making mathematical knowledge.[367] In arithmetic he improved the current methods of computation; in geometry he taught the traditional methods of measurement descended from the Roman surveyors, and compiled a work from Boëthius and other sources. For astronomy he made spheres and other instruments, and in music his teaching was the best obtainable. In none of these provinces was he an original inventor; nor did he exhaust the knowledge had by men before him. He was, however, the embodiment of mediaeval progress, in that he drew intelligently upon the sources within his reach, and then taught with understanding and enthusiasm. Richer’s praise is unstinted:

“He began with arithmetic; then taught music, of which there had long been ignorance in Gaul.... With what pains he set forth the method of astronomy, it may be well to state, so that the reader may perceive the sagacity and skill of this great man. This difficult subject he explained by means of admirable instruments. First he illustrated the world’s sphere by one of solid wood, the greater by the less. He fixed it obliquely as to the horizon with two poles, and near the upper pole set the northern constellations, and by the lower one those of the south. He determined its position by means of the circle called by the Greeks orizon and by the Latins limitans, because it divides the constellations which are seen from those which are not. By his sphere thus fixed, he demonstrated the rising and setting of the stars, and taught his disciples to recognize them. And at night he followed their courses and marked the place of their rising and setting upon the different regions of his model.”

The historian passes on to tell how Gerbert with[Pg 289] ingenious devices showed on his sphere the imaginary circles called parallels, and on another the movements of the planets, and on still another marked the constellations of the heavens, so that even a beginner, upon having one constellation pointed out, could find the others.[368]

In the province of philosophy, Gerbert’s labours extended little beyond formal logic, philosophy’s instrument. He could do no more than understand and apply as much of Boëthius’s rendering of the Aristotelian Organon as he was acquainted with. Yet he appears to have used more of the Boëthian writings than any man before him, or for a hundred and fifty years after his death. Richer gives the list. Beyond this evidence, curious testimony is borne to the nature of Gerbert’s dialectic by Richer’s account of a notable debate. The year was 980, when the fame of the brilliant young scholasticus of Rheims had spread through Gaul and penetrated Germany. A certain master of repute at Magdeburg, named Otric, sent one of his pupils to report on Gerbert’s teaching, and especially as to his method of laying out the divisions of philosophy as “the science of things divine and human.” The pupil returned with notes of Gerbert’s classification, in which, by error or intention, it was made to appear that he subordinated physics to mathematics, as species to genus, whereas, in truth, he made them of equal rank. Otric thought to catch him tripping, and so managed that a disputation was held between them at a time when Adalberon and Gerbert were in Italy with the Emperor Otto II. It took place in Ravenna. The emperor, then nineteen years of age, presided, there being present many masters and dignitaries of the Church. Holding in his hand a tablet of Gerbert’s alleged division of the sciences, His Majesty opened the debate:

“Meditation and discussion, as I think, make for the betterment of human knowledge, and questions from the wise rouse our thoughtfulness. Thus knowledge of things is drawn forth by the learned, or discovered by them and committed to books, which remain to our great good. We also may be incited by certain objects which draw the mind to a surer understanding. Observe now, that I am turning over this tablet inscribed with the divisions [Pg 290]of philosophy. Let all consider it carefully, and each say what he thinks. If it be complete, let it be confirmed by your approbation. If imperfect, let it be rejected or corrected.

“Then Otric, taking it before them all, said that it was arranged by Gerbert, and had been taken down from his lectures. He handed it to the Lord Augustus, who read it through, and presented it to Gerbert. The latter, carefully examining it, approved in part, and in part condemned, asserting that the scheme had not been arranged thus by him. Asked by Augustus to correct it, he said: ‘Since, O great Caesar Augustus, I see thee more potent than all these, I will, as is fitting, obey thy behest. Nor shall I be concerned at the spite of the malevolent, by whose instigation the very correct division of philosophy recently set forth so lucidly by me, has been vitiated by the substitution of a species. I say then, that mathematics, physics, and theology are to be placed as equals under one genus. The genus likewise has equal share in them. Nor is it possible that one and the same species, in one and the same respect, should be co-ordinate with another species and also be put under it as species under a genus.’”

Then in answer to a demand from Otric for a more explicit statement of his classification, he said there could be no objection to dividing philosophy according to Vitruvius (Victorinus) and Boëthius; “for philosophy is the genus, of which the species are the practical and the theoretical: under the practical, as species again, come dispensativa, distributiva and civilis; under the theoretical fall phisica naturalis, mathematica intelligibilis, and theologia intellectibilis.”

Otric then wonders that Gerbert put mathematics immediately after physics, omitting physiology. To which Gerbert replies that physiology stands to physics as philology to philosophy, of which it is part. Otric changes his attack to a flank movement, and asks Gerbert what is the causa of philosophy. Gerbert asks whether he means the cause by which, or the cause for which, it is devised (inventa). Otric replies the latter. “Then,” says Gerbert, “since you make your question clear, I say that philosophy was devised that from it we might understand things divine and human.” “But why use so many words,” says Otric, “to designate the cause of one thing?” “Because one word may not suffice to designate a cause. Plato uses three to designate the cause of the creation of the world, to wit, the bona Dei[Pg 291] voluntas. He could not have said voluntas simply.” “But,” says Otric, “he could have said more concisely Dei voluntas, for God’s will is always good, which he would not deny.”

“Here I do not contradict you,” says Gerbert, “but consider: since God alone is good in himself, and every creature is good only by participation, the word bona is added to express the quality peculiar to His nature alone. However this may be, still one word will not always designate a cause. What is the cause of shadow? Can you put that in one word? I say, the cause of shadow is a body interposed to light. It is not ‘body’ nor even ‘body interposed.’ I don’t deny that the causes of many things can be stated in one word, as the genera of substance, quantity, or quality, which are the causes of species. Others cannot so simply be expressed, as rationale ad mortale.”

This enigmatic phrase electrifies Otric, who cries: “You put the mortal under the rational? Who does not know that the rational is confined to God, angels, and mankind, while the mortal embraces everything mortal, a limitless mass?”

“To which Gerbert: ‘If, following Porphyry and Boëthius, you make a careful division of substance, carrying it down to individuals, you will have the rational broader than the mortal as may readily be shown. Since substance, admittedly the most general genus, may be divided into subordinate genera and species down to individuals, it is to be seen whether all these subordinates may be expressed by a single word. Clearly, some are designated with one word, as corpus, others with several, as animatum sensibile. With like reason, the subordinate, which is animal rationale, may be predicated of the subject that is animal rationale mortale. Not that rationale may be predicated of what is mortal simply; but rationale, I say, joined to animal is predicated of mortale joined to animal rationale.’

“At this, Augustus with a nod ended the argument, since it had lasted nearly the whole day, and the audience were fatigued with the prolix and unbroken disputation. He splendidly rewarded Gerbert, who set out for Gaul with Adalberon.”[369]

Evidently Richer’s account gives merely the captions of this disputation. There was not the slightest originality in any of the propositions stated by the disputants; everything is taken from Porphyry and Boëthius and the current Latin translation of Plato’s Timaeus. Yet the whole affair, the[Pg 292] selection of the questions, the nature of the answers, the limitation of the matter to the bare poles of logical palestrics, is most illustrative of the mentality and intellectual interests of the late tenth century. The growth of the mediaeval intellect lay unavoidably through such courses of discipline. And just as early mediaeval Latin had to save itself from barbarism by cleaving to grammar, so the best intellect of this early period grasped at logic not only as the most obviously needed discipline and guide, but also with imperfect consciousness that this discipline and means did not contain the goal and plenitude of substantial knowledge. Grammar was then not simply a means but an end in the study of letters, and so was logic unconsciously. In the one case and the other, the palpable need of the disciplina and its difficulties kept the student from realizing that the instrument was but an instrument.

Moreover, upon Gerbert’s time pressed the specific need to consider just such questions as the disputation affords a sample of. An enormous mass of theology, philosophy, and science awaited mastering, the heritage from a greater past, antique and patristic. Perhaps a true instinct guided Gerbert and his contemporaries to problems of classification and method as a primary essential task. Had the Middle Ages been a period when knowledge, however crude, was perforce advancing through experience, investigation, and discovery, the problems of classification and method would not have presented themselves as preliminary. But mediaeval development lay through the study of what former men had won from nature or received from God. This was preserved in books which had to be studied and mastered. Hence classifications of knowledge were essential aids or sorely needed guides. With a true instinct the Middle Ages first of all looked within this mass of knowledge for guides to its mazes, seeking a plan or scheme by the aid of which universal knowledge might be unravelled, and then reconstructed in forms corresponding to even larger verities.[370]

 [Pg 293]


The decades on either side of the year 1000 were cramped and dull. In Burgundy, to be sure, the energies of Cluny,[371] under its great abbots, were rousing the monastic world to a sense of religious and disciplinary decency. This reform, however, took little interest in culture. The monks of Cluny were commonly instructed in the rudiments of the Seven Arts. They had a little mathematics; bits of crude physical knowledge had unavoidably come to them; and just as unavoidably had they made use of extracts from the pagan poets in studying Latinity.[372] But they did not follow letters for their own sake, nor knowledge because they loved it and felt that love a holy one. Monastic principles hardly justified such a love, and Cluny’s abbots had enough to do in bringing the monastic world to decency, without dallying with inapplicable knowledge or the charms of pagan poetry.

Religious reforms in the ninth century had helped letters in the cathedral and monastic schools of Gaul. The latter soon fell back to ignorance; but among the cathedral schools, Chartres and Rheims continued to flourish. A moral ordering of life increases thoughtfulness and may stimulate study. Hence, in the latter part of the tenth century, the Cluniac reforms, like the earlier reforming movements, affected letters favourably in the monasteries.[Pg 294] Here and there an exceptional man created an exceptional situation. Such a one was Abbo, Abbot of St. Benedict’s at Fleury on the Loire, who died the year after Gerbert. He was fortunate in his excellent pupil and biographer, Aimoin, who ascribes to him as liberal sentiments toward study as were consistent with a stern monasticism:

“He admonished his hearers that having cast out the thorns of sin, they should sow the little gardens of their hearts with the spices of the divine virtues. The battle lay against the vices of the flesh, and it was for them to consider what arms they should oppose to its delights. To complete their armament, after the vows of prayer, and the manly strife of fastings, he deemed that the study of letters would advantage them, and especially the exercise of composition. Indeed he himself, the studious man, scarcely let pass a moment when he was not reading, writing, or dictating.”[373]

It is curious to observe the unavoidable influence of a crude Latin education upon the most strenuous of these reforming monks. In 994 Odilo became Abbot of Cluny. After a most notable and effective rule of more than half a century, he died just as the year 1049 began. The closing scenes are typically illustrative of the passing of an early mediaeval saint. The dying abbot preaches and comforts his monks, gives his blessing, adores the Cross, repels the devil:

“I warn thee, enemy of the human race, turn from me thy plots and hidden wiles, for by me is the Cross of the Lord, which I always adore: the Cross my refuge, my way and virtue; the Cross, unconquerable banner, the invincible weapon. The Cross repels every evil, and puts darkness to flight. Through this divine Cross I approach my journey; the Cross is my life—death to thee, Enemy!”

The next day, “in the presence of all, the Creed is read for a shield of faith against the deceptions of malignant[Pg 295] spirits and the attacks of evil thoughts; Augustine is brought in to expound, intently listened to, and discussed.”[374]

For Odilo, the Cross is a divine, not to say magic, safeguard. His prayer and imprecation have something of the nature of an uttered spell. No antique zephyrs seem to blow in this atmosphere of faith and fear, in which he passed his life, and performed his miracles before and after death. Nevertheless the antique might mould his phrases, and perhaps unconsciously affect his ethical conceptions. He wrote a Life of a former abbot of Cluny, ascribing to him the four cardinales disciplinas, in which he strove to perfect himself “in order that through prudentia he might assure the welfare of himself and those in his charge; that through temperantia (which by another name is called modestia), by a proper measure of a just discretion, he might modestly discharge the spiritual business entrusted to him; that through fortitudo he might resist and conquer the devil and his vices; and that through justitia, which permeates all virtues and seasons them, he might live soberly and piously and justly, fight the good fight and finish his course.”[375]

Thus the antique virtues shape Odilo’s thoughts, as seven hundred years before him the point of view and reasoning of Ambrose’s De officiis ministrorum were set by Cicero’s De officiis.[376] The same classically touched phrases, if not conceptions, pass on to Odilo’s pupil and biographer, the monk Jotsaldus, to whom we owe our description of Odilo’s last moments. He ascribes the four cardinal virtues to his hero, and then defines them from the antique standpoint, but with Christian turns of thought:

“The philosophers define Prudence as the search for truth and the thirst for fuller knowledge. In which virtue Odilo was so distinguished that neither by day nor night did he cease from the search for truth. The Book of the divine contemplation was always in his hands, and ceaselessly he spoke of Scripture for the edification of all, and prayer ever followed reading.

“Justice, as the philosophers say, is that which renders each [Pg 296]his due, lays no claim to what is another’s, and neglects self-advantage, so as to maintain what is equitable for all.” [To illustrate this virtue in Odilo, the biographer gives instances of his charity, by which one observes the Christian turn taken by the conception.]

“Fortitude is to hold the mind above the dread of danger, to fear nothing save the base, and bravely bear adversity and prosperity. Supported by this virtue, it is difficult to say how brave he was in repelling the plots of enemies and how patient in enduring them. You might observe in him this very privilege of patience; to those who injured him, as another David he repaid the grace of benefit, and toward those who hated him, he preserved a stronger benevolence.” [Again the Christian turn of thought.]

“Temperance, last in the catalogue of the aforesaid virtues, according to its definition maintains moderation and order in whatever is to be said or done. Here he was so mighty as to hold to moderation and observe propriety (ordinem) in all his actions and commands, and show a wonderful discretion. Following the blessed Jerome, he tempered fasting to the golden mean, according to the weakness or strength of the body, thus avoiding fanaticism and preserving continency. Neither elegance nor squalor was noticeable in his dress. He tempered gravity of conduct with gaiety of countenance. He was severe in the correction of vice as the occasion demanded, gracious in pardoning, in both balancing an impartial scale.”[377]



A friend of Odilo was Gerbert’s pupil Fulbert, Bishop of Chartres from 1006 to 1028. His name is joined forever with that chief cathedral school of early mediaeval France, which he so firmly and so broadly re-established as to earn a founder’s fame. It will be interesting to notice its range of studies. Chartres was an ancient home of letters. Caesar[378] speaks of the land of the Carnuti as the centre of Druidism in Gaul; and under the Empire, liberal studies quickly sprang up in the Gallo-Roman city. They did not quite cease even in Merovingian times, and revived with the Carolingian revival. Thenceforth they were pursued continuously at the convent school of St. Peter, if not at the school attached to the cathedral. For some years before he was made bishop, the grave and kindly Fulbert had been[Pg 297] the head of this cathedral school, where he did not cease to teach until his death. As bishop, widely esteemed and influential, he rebuilt the cathedral, aided by the kings of France and Denmark, the dukes of Aquitaine and Normandy, the counts of Champagne and Blois. His vast crypt still endures, a shadowy goal for thousands of pilgrim knees, and an ample support for the great edifice above it. Admiring tradition has ascribed to him even this glory of a later time.

From near and far, pious students came to benefit by the instruction of the school, of which Fulbert was the head and inspiration. Close was their intercourse with their “Venerable Socrates” in the small school buildings near the cathedral. From the accounts, we can almost see him moving among them, stopping to correct one here, or looking over the shoulder of another engaged upon a geometric figure, and putting some new problem. Among the pupils there might be rivalry, quarrels, breaches of decorum; but there was the master, ever grave and steadfast, always ready to encourage with his sympathy, but prepared also to reprove, either silently by withdrawing his confidence, or in words, as when he forbade an instructor to joke when explaining Donatus: “spectaculum factus es omnibus; cave.”

Some of these scholars became men of sanctity and renown—Berengar of Tours gained an unhappy fame. A fellow-student wrote to him in later years addressing him as foster-brother:

“I have called thee foster-brother because of that sweetest common life led by us while youths in the Academy of Chartres under our venerable Socrates. Well we proved his saving doctrine and holy living, and now that he is with God we should hope to be aided by his prayers. Surely he is mindful of us, cherishing us even more than when he moved a pilgrim in the body of this death, and drew us to him by vows and tacit prayer, entreating us in those evening colloquies (vespertina colloquia) in the garden by the chapel, that we should tread the royal way, and cleave to the footprints of the holy fathers.”[379]

The cathedral school included youths receiving their first lessons, as well as older scholars and instructors. They[Pg 298] lived together under rules, and together celebrated the services of the cathedral, chanting the matins, the hours, and the mass. The Trivium and Quadrivium made the basis of their studies. Text-books and courses were already some centuries old.

The first branch of the Trivium was Grammar, which included literature by way of illustration; and he who held the chair had the title of grammaticus. For the beginners, Donatus was the text-book, and Priscianus for the more advanced.[380] Nor was Martianus Capella neglected. The student annotated these works with citations from the Etymologies of Isidore. Divers mnemotechnic processes assisted him to commit the contents to memory. The grammatical course included the writing of compositions in prose and verse, according to rule, and the reading of classic authors. For their school verses in metre the pupils used Bede’s De arte metrica, an encyclopaedia of metrical forms. They also wrote accentual and rhymed Latin verse. Of profane authors the Library appears to have contained Livy, Valerius Maximus, Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Statius, Servius the commentator on Virgil; and of writers who were Christian Classics in the Middle Ages, Orosius, Gregory of Tours, Fortunatus, Sedulius, Arator, Prudentius, and Boëthius, the last named being the most important single source of early mediaeval education. Rhetoric, the second branch of the Trivium, bore that vague relationship to grammar which it bears in modern parlance. The rules of the rhetoricians were learned; the works of profane or Christian orators were read and imitated. This study left its mark on mediaeval sermons and Vitae Sanctorum.

As for the third branch, Dialectic, Fulbert’s pupils studied the logical treatises in general use in the earlier Middle Ages: to wit, the Categories and the De interpretatione of Aristotle, and Porphyry’s Introduction, all in the Latin of Boëthius. For works which might be regarded as commentaries upon these, the school had at its disposal the Categories ascribed to Augustine and Apuleius’s De interpretatione, Cicero’s Topica, and Boëthius’s discussion of definition, division, and categorical and hypothetical[Pg 299] syllogisms—the logical writings expounded by Gerbert at Rheims. The school had likewise Gerbert’s own Libellus de ratione uti and Boëthius’s De consolatione, that chief ethical compend for the early Middle Ages; also the writings of Eriugena, and Dionysius the Areopagite in Eriugena’s translation. Whether or not it possessed the current Latin version of Plato’s Timaeus, Fulbert and Berengar at all events refer to Plato in terms of eulogy.

Passing to the Quadrivium, we find that Fulbert had studied its four branches under Gerbert. In Arithmetic the students used the treatise of Boëthius, and also the Abacus, a table of vertical columns, with Roman numerals at the top to indicate the order of units, tens, and hundreds according to the decimal system. In Geometry the students likewise fell back upon Boëthius. Astronomy, the third branch of the Quadrivium, had for its practical object the computation of the Church’s calendar. The pupils learned the signs of the Zodiac and were instructed in the method of finding the stars by the Astrolabius, a sphere (such as Gerbert had constructed) representing the constellations, and turning upon a tube as an axis, which served to fix the polar star. Music, the fourth branch of the Quadrivium, was zealously cultivated. For its theory, the treatise of Boëthius was studied; and Fulbert and his scholars did much to advance the music of the liturgy, composing texts and airs for organ chanting.

In addition to the Quadrivium, medicine was taught. The students learned receipts and processes handed down by tradition and commonly ascribed to Hippocrates. For more convenient memorizing, Fulbert cast them into verse. Such “medicine” was not founded on observation; and a mediaeval scholar-copyist would as naturally transcribe a medical receipt-book as any other work coming within the range of his stylus. One may remember that in the early Middle Ages the relic was the common means of cure.

The seven Artes of the Trivium and Quadrivium were the handmaids of Theology; and Fulbert gave elaborate instruction in this Christian queen of the sciences, expounding the Scriptures, explaining the Liturgy, and taking up the controversies of the time. As a part of this sacred[Pg 300] science, the students apparently were taught something of Canon and Roman law and of Charlemagne’s Capitularies.[381]



The Chartres Quadrivium represents the extreme compass of mathematical and physical studies in France in the eleventh century, when slight interest was taken in physical science—a phrase far too grand to designate the crass traditional views of nature which prevailed. Indifference to natural knowledge was the most palpable intellectual defect of Ambrose and Augustine, and the most portentous. The coming centuries, which were to look upon their writings as universal guides to living and knowing, found therein no incentive to observe or study the natural world. Of course the Carolingian period evolved out of itself no such desire; nor did the eleventh century. At the best, the general understanding of physical fact remained that which had been handed down. It was gleaned from the books commonly read, the Physiologus or the edifying stories of miracles in the myriad Vitae Sanctorum, quite as much as from the scant information given in Isidore’s Origines, Bede’s Liber de temporibus, or the De universo of Rabanus Maurus.

So much for natural science. In historical writing the quality of composition rarely rose above that of the tenth century.[382] No sign of critical acumen had appeared, and the writers of the period show but a narrow local interest. There was no France, but everywhere a parcelling of the land into small sections of misrule, between which travel was difficult and dangerous. The chroniclers confine their attention, as doubtless their knowledge also was confined, to the region where they lived. To lift history over these narrow barriers, there was needed the renewal of the royal[Pg 301] power, which came with the century’s close, and the stimulus to curiosity springing from the Crusades.[383]

In fine, the eleventh century was crude and inchoate, preparatory to the intellectual activity and the unleashed energies of life which mark the opening of the twelfth. Yet the mediaeval mind was assimilating and appropriating dynamically its lessons from the Fathers, as well as those portions of the antique heritage of thought which, so far, it had felt a need of. Difficult problems were stated, but in ways presenting, as it were, the apices of alternatives too narrow to hold truth, which lies less frequently in warring opposites than in an inclusive and discriminating conciliation. This century, especially when we fix our attention upon France, appears as the threshold of mediaeval thinking, the immediate antecedent to mediaeval formulations of philosophic and theological conviction. The controversies and the different mental tendencies which thereafter were to move through such large and often diverging courses, drew their origin from still prior times. With the coming of the eleventh century they had been sturdily cradled, and seemed safe from the danger of dying in infancy. Thence on through the twelfth century, through the thirteenth, the climacteric of mediaeval thought, opinions and convictions are set in multitudes of propositions, relating to many provinces of human meditation.

These masses of propositions, convictions, opinions, philosophic and religious, constitute the religious philosophy of the Middle Ages—scholasticism as it commonly is called. Hereafter[384] it will be necessary to consider that large matter in its continuity of development, with its roots or antecedents stretching back through the eleventh century to the Carolingian period, and beyond. Mediaeval thinkers will then be seen to fall into two classes, very roughly speaking, the one tending to set authority above reason, and the other tending to set reason above authority. Both classes appear in the ninth century, represented respectively by Rabanus Maurus and Eriugena. In the eleventh they are also evident. St. Anselm, who came from Italy, is the most[Pg 302] admirable representative of the first class, being in heart and mind a theologian whose philosophy revolved entire around his faith. Of him we have spoken; and here may mention in contrast with him two Frenchmen, Berengar of Tours and Roscellinus. In place and time they come within the scope of the present chapter; nor were their mental processes such as to attach them to a later period. By temperament, and in somewhat confused expression, they set reason above authority, save that of Scripture as they understood it.

Berengar was born, apparently at Tours, and of wealthy parents, just as the tenth century closed. After studying under his uncle, the Treasurer of St. Martin, he came to Chartres, where Fulbert was bishop. Judging from a general consensus of expression from men who became his opponents, but had been his fellow-pupils, he quickly aroused attention by his talents, and anxiety or enmity by his pride and the self-confident assertion of his opinions. He would neither accept with good grace the admonitions of those about him, nor follow the authority of the Fathers. He was said to have despised even the great grammarians and logicians, Priscian, Donatus, and Boëthius. Why err with everybody if everybody errs, he asked. He appears as a vain man eager for admiration. The report comes down that he imitated Fulbert’s manner in lecturing, first covering his visage with a hood so as to seem in deep meditation, and then speaking in a gentle, plaintive voice. From Chartres he passed to Angers, where he filled the office of archdeacon, and thence he returned to Tours, was placed over the Church schools of St. Martin’s, and in the course of time began to lecture on the Eucharist. This was between the years 1030 and 1040.

That a man’s fortunes and fame are linked to a certain doctrine or controversy may be an accident of environment. Berengar chose to adduce and partly follow the teachings of Eriugena, whose fame was great, but whose orthodoxy was tainted. The nature of the Eucharist leant itself to dispute, and from the time of Ratramnus, Radbertus, and Eriugena, it was common for theologians to try their hand on it, if only in order to demonstrate their adherence to the extreme[Pg 303] doctrines accepted by the Church. These were not the doctrines of Eriugena, nor were they held by Berengar, who would not bring himself to admit an absolute substantial change in the bread and wine. Possibly his convictions were less irrational than the dominant doctrine. Yet he appears to have asserted them, not because he had a clearer mind than others, but by reason of his more self-assertive and combative temperament. He was not an original thinker, but a controversial and turgid reasoner, who naturally enough was forced into all kinds of tergiversation in order to escape condemnation as a heretic. His self-assertiveness settled on the most obvious theological dispute of the time, and his self-esteem maintained the superiority of his own reason over the authorities adduced by his adversaries. Of course he never impugned the authority of Scripture, but relied on it to substantiate his views, merely asserting that a reasonable interpretation was better than a foolish one. Throughout the controversy, one may observe that Berengar’s understanding of fact kept somewhat closer than that of his opponents’ to the tangible realities of sense. But a difference of intellectual temperament lay at the bottom of his dissent; and had not the Eucharist presented itself as the readiest topic of dispute, he would doubtless have fallen upon some other question. As it was, his arguments gained adherents, the dominant view being repellent to independent minds. Still, it won the day, and Berengar was condemned by more than one council, and forced into all manner of equivocal retractions, by which at least he saved his life, and died in extreme old age.

It may be that a larger relative import attributed by Berengar and also Roscellin to the tangibilities of sense-perception, led the latter at the close of the century to put forth views on the nature of universals which have given him a shadowy repute as the father of nominalism. The Eucharistic controversy pertained primarily to Christian dogmatics. That regarding universals, or general ideas, pertains to philosophy, and, from the standpoint of formal logic, lies at the foundations of consistent thinking. So closely does it make part of the development of scholasticism,[Pg 304] that its discussion had best be postponed; merely assuming for the present that Roscellin’s thinking upon the topic to which his name is attached was not superior in method and analysis to Berengar’s upon the Eucharist.

One cannot escape the conclusion that intellectually the eleventh century in France was crude. The mediaeval intellect was still but imperfectly developed; its manifestations had not reached the zenith of their energy. Yet doubtless the mental development of mankind proceeds at a more uniform rate than would appear from the brilliant phenomena which crowd the eras of apparent culmination, in contrast with the previous dulness. The profounder constancy of growth may be discerned by scrutinizing those dumb courses of gestation, from which spring the marvels of the great epoch. The opening of the twelfth century was to inaugurate a brilliant intellectual era in France. The efficient preparation stretched back into the latter half of the eleventh, whose Catholic progress heralded a period of awakening. The Church already was striving to accomplish its own reordering and regeneration, free itself from things that drag and hinder, from lay investiture and simony, abominations through which feudal depotentiating principles had intruded into the ecclesiastic body; free itself likewise from clerical marriage and concubinage, which kept the clergy from being altogether clergy, and weighted the Church with the claims of half-spurious priests’ offspring. In France the reform of the monks comes first, impelled by Cluny; and when Cluny herself becomes less zealous, because too great and rich, the spirit of soldiery against sin reincarnates itself in the Grand-Chartreuse, in Citeaux and Clairvaux. The reform of the secular clergy follows, with Hildebrand the veritable master; for the Church was passing from prelacy to papacy, and the Pope was becoming a true monarch, instead of nominal head of an episcopal aristocracy.

The perfected organization and unceasing purification of the Church made one part of the general progress of the period. Another consisted in the disengaging of the greater powers from out the indiscriminate anarchy of feudalism, and the advance of the French monarchy, under Louis the[Pg 305] Sixth,[385] toward effective sovereignty, all making for a surer law and order throughout France. Then through the eleventh and twelfth centuries came the struggle of the people, out of serfdom into some control over their own persons and fortunes. The serfs were affranchised and became peasants; the huddled dwellers in the squalid towns tended to become burghers with actual strength and chartered power to protect themselves against signorial tyranny. Their rights limited and fixed the exactions of their lords. Everywhere the population increased; old cities grew apace, and a multitude of new ones came into existence. Economic evolution progressed, advancing with the affranchisement of industry, the organization of guilds, the growth of trade, the opening of new markets, fairs, and freer avenues of commerce: thus more wealth was diffused among the many. Architecture with new civic resources was pushing on through Romanesque toward Gothic, while the affiliated arts of sculpture and painting were becoming more expressive. Then the Crusades began, and did their work of spreading knowledge through the Occident, carrying foreign ideas and institutions across provincial barriers. The Crusades could not have taken place had it not been for the freeing of social forces during the half century preceding their inception in the year 1099. They were led up to and made possible by the advance of the papacy to domination, by the growth of chivalry, and the habit of making far pilgrimages to holy places, and by the wealth coming with more active trade and industry.

Thus humanity was universally bestirring itself throughout the land we know as France. Such a bestirring could not fail to crown itself with a mightier winging of the spirit through the higher provinces of thought. This was to show itself among saints and doctors of the Church in their philosophies and theologies of the mind and heart; with like power it was to show itself among those hardier rationalists who with difficulty and misgivings, or under hard compulsion, still kept themselves within the Church’s pale. It showed itself too with heretics who let themselves be burned rather than surrender their outlawed convictions.[Pg 306] It was also to show itself through things beautiful, in the strivings of art toward the perfect symbolical presentation of what the soul cherished or abhorred; and show itself too in the literature of the common tongues as well as the literature of the time-honoured Latin. In fine, it was to show itself, through every heightened faculty and appetition of the universally striving and desirous soul of man, in a larger, bolder understanding and appreciation of life.



[Pg 307]



I. German Appropriation of Christianity and Antique Culture.
II. Othloh’s Spiritual Conflict.
III. England; Closing Comparisons.



In the Germans of the eleventh century one notes a strong sense of German selfhood, supplemented by a consciousness that Latin culture is a foreign matter, introduced as a thing of great value which it were exceeding well for them to make their own. They are even conscious of having been converted to Latin Christianity, which on their part they are imbuing with German thoughts and feeling. They are not Romance people; they have never spoken Latin; it has never been and will never be their speech. They will master what they can of the antique education which has been brought to them. But even as it was no part of their forefathers’ lives, so it will never penetrate their own personalities, so as to make them the spiritual descendants of any antique Latin or Latinized people. They have never been and never will be Latinized; but will remain forever Germans.

Consequently the appropriation of the Latin culture in Germany is a labour of translation: first a palpable labour of translation from the Latin language into the German tongue, and secondly, and for always, a more subtle kind of translation of the antique influence into a German understanding of the same, and gradually into informing principles[Pg 308] made use of by a strong and advancing racial genius. The German genius will be enlarged and developed through these foreign elements, but it will never cease to use the Latin culture as a means of informing and developing itself.

No need to say that these strong statements apply to the Germans in their home north of the Alps and east of the Rhine; not to those who left the Fatherland, and in the course of generations became Italians, for example. Moreover, general phrases must always be taken subject to qualification and rounding of the corners. No people can absorb a foreign influence without in some degree being made over into the likeness of what they are receiving, and to that extent ceasing to be their unmitigated selves. In general, however, while Latin Christianity and the antique culture both were brought to Germany from abroad, the Germans were converted or transformed only by the former, and merely took and used the latter—a true statement this, so far as one may separate these two great mingled factors of mediaeval progress.

Evidently those Germans of the opening mediaeval centuries who did most to advance the civilization of their people were essentially introducers of foreign culture. This was manifestly true of the missionaries (chief among whom was the Anglo-Saxon Boniface) who brought Christianity to Germany. It was true both as to the Christian and the secular learning of Rabanus Maurus, who was born at Mainz, a very German.[386] With all his Latin learning he kept his interest in his mother tongue, and always realized that his people spoke German and not Latin. He encouraged preaching in German; and with the aid of his favourite pupil, Walafrid, he prepared German glosses and Latin-German glossaries for Scripture.

Before Rabanus’s death popular translations of the Gospels had appeared, imbued with the Germanic spirit. The Heliand and Otfrid’s Evangelienbuch are the best known of these.[387] Then, extending through the last part of the tenth and the first part of the eleventh century we note the labours of that most diligent of translators, Notker the German, a monk of St. Gall, and member of the Ekkehart family,[Pg 309] which gave so many excellent abbots to that cloister. He died in 1022. Like Bede, Rabanus, and many other Teutonic scholars, he was an encyclopaedia of the knowledge afforded by his time. He was the head of a school of German translators. His own translations covered part of Boëthius’s De consolatione, Virgil’s Bucolics, Terence’s Andria, Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis, Aristotle’s Categories and De interpretatione, an arithmetic, a rhetoric, Job, and the Psalms. He was a teacher all his life, and a German always, loving his mother tongue, and occupying himself with its grammar and word forms. His method of translation was to give the Latin sentence, with a close German rendering, accompanied by an occasional explanation of the matter, also in German.[388] All the while, this foreign learning was being mastered gallantly in the leading cloisters, Fulda, St. Gall, Reichenau, Hersfeld, and others. Within their walls this Latin culture was studied and mastered, as one with resolve and perseverance masters that to which he is not born.

Besides those who laboured as translators, other earnest fosterers of learning in Germany appear as introducers of the same. Bruno, youngest brother of Otto I., is distinguished in this rôle. He promoted letters in his archiepiscopal diocese of Cologne. From many lands learned men came to him, Liutprand and Ratherius among others. Otto himself loved learning, and drew foreign scholars to his Court, one of whom was that conceited Gunzo, already spoken of.[389][Pg 310] Schools moved with the emperor (scholae translatitiae) also with Bruno, who though archbishop, duke, and burdened with affairs, took the time to teach. A passage in his Life by Ruotger shows the education and accomplishments of this most worthy prince of the Church and land:

“Then as soon as he learned the first rudiments of the grammatic art, as we have heard from himself, often pondering upon this in the glory of the omnipotent God, he began to read the poet Prudentius, at the instance of his master. This one, as he is catholic in faith and argument, eminent for eloquence and truth, and most elegant in the variety of his works and metres, with so great sweetness quickly pleased the palate of his heart, that at once, with greater avidity than can be expressed, he drank up not only the knowledge of the foreign words, but even the marrow of the innermost meaning and most liquid nectar, if I may so say. Afterwards there was almost no branch of liberal study in all Greek or Latin eloquence, that escaped the quickness of his genius. Nor indeed, as often happens, did the multitude of riches, or the insistency of clamouring crowds, nor any disgust otherwise coming over him, ever turn his mind from this noble employment of leisure.... Often he seated himself as a learned arbiter in the midst of the most learned Greek and Latin doctors, when they argued on the sublimity of philosophy or upon some subtility of her glistening discipline, and gave satisfaction to the disputants, amid universal plaudits, than which he cared for nothing less.”[390]

One may read between these awkward lines that all this learning was something to which Bruno had been introduced at school. Another short passage shows how new and strange this Latin culture seemed, and how he approached it with a timorous seriousness natural to one who did not well understand what it all meant:

“The buffoonery and mimic talk in comedies and tragedies, which cause such laughter when recited by a number of people, he would always read seriously; he took small count of the matter, but chiefly of authority, in literary compositions.”[391]

Such an attitude would have been impossible for an[Pg 311] Italian cradled amid Latin or quasi-Latin speech and reminiscence.

The most curious if not original literary phenomenon of the time of Bruno and his great brother was the nun Hrotsvitha, of Gandersheim, a Saxon cloister supported by the royal Saxon house. A niece of Otto’s was the Abbess, and she it was who introduced Hrotsvitha to the Latin Classics, after the completion of her elementary studies under another magistra, likewise an inmate of the convent. The account bears witness to the taste for Latin reading among this group of noble Saxon dames. Hrotsvitha soon surpassed the rest, at least in productivity, and became a prolific authoress. She composed a number of sacred legendae, in leonine or rhymed hexameters.[392] One of them gave the legend of the Virgin, as drawn from the Apocryphal Gospel of Matthew. She also wrote several Passiones or accounts of the martyrdoms of saints, and the story of the Fall and Repentance of Theophilus, the oldest poetic version of a compact with the devil. Quite different in topic was the Deeds of Otto I. (De gestis Oddonis I. imperatoris) written between 962 and 967, likewise in leonine hexameters. It told the fortunes of the Saxon house as well as the career of its greatest member.

Possibly more interesting were six moral dramas written in formal imitation of the Comedies of Terence. As an antidote to the poison of the latter, they were to celebrate the virtue of holy virgins in this same kind of composition which had flaunted the adulteries of lascivious women—so the preface explains. Again, Hrotsvitha’s sources were legenda, in which Christian chastity, martyred though it be, triumphs with no uncertain note of victory.[393] These pious imitations of the impious Terence do not appear to have been imitated by other mediaeval writers: they exerted no influence upon the later development of the Mystery Play. They remain as evidence of the writer’s courage, and of the studies of certain denizens of the cloister at Gandersheim.

Besides this convent for high-born women, and such[Pg 312] monasteries as Fulda and St. Gall, an interesting centre of introduced learning was Hildesheim, fortunate in its bishops, who made it an oasis of culture in the north. Otwin, bishop in 954, supplied its school with books from Italy. Some years after him came that great hearty man, Bernward, of princely birth, who began his clerical career at an early age, and was made bishop in 992. For thirty years he ruled his see with admirable piety, energy, and judgment; qualities which he likewise showed in affairs of State. He was a diligent student of Latin letters, one “who conned not only the books in the monastery, but others in divers places, from which he formed a goodly library of codices of the divines and also the philosophers.”[394] His was a master’s faculty and a master-hand, itself skilfully fashioning; for not only did he build the beautiful cloister church of St. Michael at Hildesheim, and cause it to be sumptuously adorned, but he himself carved and painted, and set gems. Some of the excellent works of his hand remain to-day. His biographer tells of that munificence and untiring zeal which rendered Hildesheim beautiful, as one still may see. Yet, throughout, Bernward appears as consciously studying and gathering and bringing to his beloved church an art from afar and a learning which was not of his own people. The bronze work on the Bernward column in Hildesheim is thought to suggest an influence of Trajan’s column, while the doors of Bernward’s church unquestionably follow those of St. Sabina on the Aventine. This shows how Bernward noticed and learned and copied during his stay at Rome in the year 1001, when Otto III. was imperator and Gerbert was pope.

Bernward’s successor, Godehard, continued the good work. One of his letters closes with a quick appeal for books: “Mittite nobis librum Horatii et epistolas Tullii.”[395] Belonging to the same generation was Froumundus (fl. cir. 1040), a monk of Tegernsee, where Godehard had been abbot before becoming bishop of Hildesheim. He was a sturdy German lover of the classics—very German. At one[Pg 313] time he writes for a copy of Horace, apparently to complete his own, and at another for a copy of Statius; other letters refer to Juvenal and Persius.[396] His ardour for study is as apparent as the fact that he is learning a literature to which he was not born. His turgid hexameters sweat with effort to master the foreign language and metre. People would have made a priest of him; not he:

“Cogere me certant, fatear, quod sim sapiens vir,”

and a good grin seems to escape him:

“Discere decrevi libros, aliosque docere:

from such work no difficulty shall repel me; be it my reward to be co-operator (synergus) with what almighty God grants to flourish in this time of Christ, or in the time of yore.”[397]

The spirit is grand, the literary result awful. With diligence, the studious élite of Germany applied themselves to Latin letters. And in the course of time tremendous scholars were to rise among them. But the Latin culture remained a thing of study; its foreign tongue was never as their own; and in the eleventh century, at least, they used it with a painful effort that is apparent in their writings and the Germanisms abounding in them. There may come one like Lambert of Hersfeld, the famous annalist of the Hildebrandine epoch, who with exceptional gifts gains a good mastery of Latin, and writes with a conscious approach to quasi-classical correctness. The place of his birth and the sources of his education are unknown. He was thirty years old, and doubtless had obtained his excellent training in Latin, when he took the cowl in the cloister of Hersfeld in 1058. But the next year he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and afterwards other journeys. He wrote his Annals[398] in his later years, laying down his pen in 1077, when he had brought the Emperor to Canossa. His was a practised hand, and his style the evident result of much[Pg 314] study of the classics. His work remains the best piece of Latin from an eleventh-century German.

Among German scholars of the period, one can find no more charming creature than Hermann Contractus, the lame or paralytic. His father, a Suabian count, brought the little cripple to the convent of Reichenau. It was in the year 1020. Hermann was seven years old. There he studied and taught, and loved his fellows, till his death thirty-four years later. His mind was as strong as his body was weak. He could not rise from the movable seat on which his attendant placed him, and could scarcely sit up. He enunciated with difficulty; his words were scarcely intelligible. But his learning was encyclopaedic, his sympathies were broad: “Homo revera sine querela nihil humani a se alienum putavit,” says a loving pupil who sketched his life. Evil was foreign to his nature. Affectionate, cheerful, happy, his sweet and engaging personality drew all men’s love, while his learning attracted pupils from afar.

“At length, after he had been labouring for ten days in a grievous pleurisy, God’s mercy saw fit to free his holy soul from prison. I who was his familiar above the rest,” says the biographer, “came to his couch at dawn of day, and asked him whether he was not feeling a little better. ‘Do not ask me,’ he replied, ‘but rather listen to what I have to tell you. I shall die very soon and shall not recover: so to thee and all my friends I commend my sinful soul. This whole night I have been rapt in ecstasy. With such complete memory as we have for the Lord’s Prayer, I seemed to be reading over and over Cicero’s Hortensius, and likewise to be scanning the substance and very written pages of what I intended to write Concerning the Vices—just as if I had it already written. I am so stirred and lifted by this reading, that the earth and all pertaining to it and this mortal life are despicable and tedious; while the future everlasting world and the eternal life have become such an unspeakable desire and joy, that all these transitory circumstances are inane—nothing at all. It wearies me to live.’”[399]

Was not this a scholar’s vision? The German dwarf reads and cares for the Hortensius even as Augustine, from whose Confessions doubtless came the recommendation of this classic. The barbarous Latin of the Vita is so uncouth[Pg 315] and unformed as to convey no certain grammatical meaning. One can only sense it. The biographer cannot write Latin correctly, nor write it glibly and ungrammatically, like a man born to a Latinesque speech. Hermann’s own Latin is but little better. It approaches neither fluency nor style. But the scholar ardour was his, and his works remain—a long chronicle, a treatise on the Astrolabe, and one on Music; also, perhaps, a poem in leonine elegiacs, “The Dispute of the Sheep and the Flax,” which goes on for several hundred lines till one comes to a welcome caetera desunt.[400]

Thus, with a heavy-footed Teutonic diligence, the Germans studied the Trivium and Quadrivium. They sweated at Latin grammar, reading also the literature or the stock passages. Their ignorance of natural science was no denser than that of peoples west of the Rhine or south of the Alps. Many of them went to learn at Chartres or Paris. Within the mapped-out scheme of knowledge, there was too much for them to master to admit of their devising new provinces of study. They could not but continue for many decades translators of the foreign matter into their German tongue or German selves. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries they will be translators of the French and Provençal literatures.

Even before the eleventh century Germans were at work at Logic—one recalls Gerbert’s opponent Otric;[401] and some of them were engaged with dialectic and philosophy. William, Abbot of Hirschau, crudely anticipated Anselm in attempting a syllogistic proof of God’s existence.[402] He died in 1091, and once had been a monk in the convent of St. Emmeram at Ratisbon in Bavaria, where he may have known a certain monk named Othloh, who has left a unique disclosure of himself. One is sufficiently informed as to what the Germans and other people studied in the eleventh century; but this man has revealed the spiritual conflict out of which he hardly brought his soul’s peace.

 [Pg 316]


Nothing is so fascinating in the life of a holy man as the struggle and crisis through which his convictions are established and his peace attained. How diverse has been this strife—with Buddha, with Augustine, with Luther, or Ignatius Loyola. Its heroes fall into two companies: in one of them the man attains through his own thought and resolution; in the other he casts himself on God, and it may be that devils and angels carry on the fight, of which his soul is the battle-ground and prize. Nevertheless, the man himself holds the scales of victory; the choice is his, and it is he who at last goes over to the devil or accepts the grace of God. This conflict, in which God is felt to aid, is still for men; only its forms and setting change. Therefore the struggle and the tears, through which souls have won their wisdom and their peace, never cease to move us. Othloh, like many another mediaeval scholar, was disturbed over the sinful pleasure derived from Tully and Virgil, Maro and Lucan. But his soul’s chief turmoil came from the doubts that sprang from his human sympathies and from moral grounds—can the Bible be true and God omnipotent when sin and misery abound? The struggle through which he became assured was the supreme experience of his life: it fixed his thoughts; his writings were its fruit; they reflect the struggle and the struggler, and present a psychological tableau of a mediaeval German soul.

He was born in the bishopric of Freising in Bavaria not long after the year 1000, and spent his youth in the monastic schools of Tegernsee and Hersfeld. His scholarship was made evident to men about him through his skill in copying texts in a beautiful script, ornamented with illuminations. In the year 1032 he took the monk’s vows in the monastery of St. Emmeram at Ratisbon, which had been founded long before in honour of this sainted Frankish missionary bishop, who had met a martyr’s death in Bavaria in the late Merovingian period. The annals of the monastery are extant. When the Ottos were emperors, grammatical and theological studies flourished there, especially under a[Pg 317] certain capable Wolfgang, who died as Bishop of Ratisbon in 994, and whose life Othloh wrote. The latter, on becoming a monk, received charge of the monastery school, which he continued to direct for thirty years.[403] Then he left, because some of the young monks had turned the Abbot against him; but after some years spent mainly at the monastery of Fulda, he returned to St Emmeram’s in 1063, where he died an old man ten or fifteen years later. From his youth he had been subject to illness, even to fits of swooning, and, writing in the evening of his days, he speaks of his many bodily infirmities.

As Othloh looked back over his life, his soul’s crisis seemed to have been reached soon after he was made a monk. The wisdom brought through it came as the answer to those questionings which made up the diabolic side of that great experience. Othloh describes it in his Book concerning the Temptations of a certain Monk.

“There was a sinful clerk, who, having often been corrected by the Lord, at length turned to monastic life. In the monastery where he was made a monk he found many sorts of men, some of whom were given over to the reading of secular works, while some read Holy Scripture. He resolved to imitate the latter. The more earnest he was in this, the more was he molested by temptations of the devil; but committing himself to the grace of God, he persevered; and when, after a long while, he was delivered, and thought over what he had suffered, it seemed that others might be edified by his temptations, as well as by the passages of Holy Scripture which had come to him through divine inspiration. So he began to write as follows: I wish to tell the delusions of Satan which I endured sleeping and waking. His deceits first confounded me with doubt as to whether I was not rash in taking the vow perilous of the monastic life, without consulting parents or friends, when Scripture bids us ‘do all things with counsel.’ Diabolic illusion, as if sympathizing and counselling with me, brought these and like thoughts. When, the grace of God resisting him, the Tempter failed to have his way with me here, he tried to make me despair because of my many sins. ‘Do you think,’ said he, ‘that such a wretch can expect mercy from God the Judge, when it is written, Scarcely shall a righteous man be saved?’ So he overwhelmed me, till I could do nothing but weep, and tears were my [Pg 318]bread day and night. I protest, from my innermost heart, that save through the grace of God alone, no one can overcome such delusions.

“When the Weaver of wiles failed to cause me utterly to despair, he tried with other arguments of guile to lead me to blaspheme the divine justice, suggesting thoughts, as if condoling with my misery: ‘O most unhappy youth, whose grief no man deigns to consider—but men are not to blame, for they do not know your trouble. God alone knows, and since He can do all things, why does He not aid you in tribulation, when for love of Him you have surrendered the world and now endure this agony? Have done with impossible prayers and foolish grief. The injustice of that Potentate will not permit all to perish.’ These delusions were connected with what I now wish to mention: Often I was awakened by some imaginary signal, and would hasten to the oratory before the time of morning prayer; also, and for a number of years, though I slept at night as a man sound in body, when the hour came to rise, my limbs were numb, and only with uncertain trembling step could I reach the Church.

“One delusion and temptation must be spoken of, which I hardly know how to describe, as I never read or heard of anything like it. By the stress of my many temptations I was driven—though by God’s grace I was never utterly torn from faith and hope of heavenly aid—to doubt as to Holy Scripture and the essence of God himself. In the struggle with the other temptations there was some respite, and a refuge of hope remained. In this I knew no alleviation, and when formerly I had been strengthened by the sacred book and had fought against the darts of death with the arms of faith and hope, now, shut round with doubt and mental blindness, I doubted whether there was truth in Holy Scripture and whether God was omnipotent. This broke over me with such violence as to leave me neither strength of body nor strength of mind, and I could not see or hear. Then sometimes it was as if a voice was whispering close to my ear: ‘Why such vain labourings? Can you not, most foolish of mortals, prove by your own experience that the testimony of Scripture is without sense or reason? Do you not see that what the divine book says is the reverse of what the lives and habits of mankind approve? Those many thousands who neither know nor care to know its doctrine, do you think they err?’ Troubled, I would urge, as if against some one questioning and objecting: ‘How then is there such agreement among all the divinely inspired writings when they speak of God the Founder and of obedience to His commands?’ Then words of this kind would be suggested in reply: ‘Fool, the Scriptures on which you rely for knowledge of God and religion speak double words; for the men who wrote them lived as men live now. You know how all men [Pg 319]speak well and piously, and act otherwise, as advantage or frailty prompts. From which you may learn how the authors of the ancient writings wrote good and religious sayings, and did not live accordingly. Understand then, that all the books of the divine law were so written that they have an outer surface of piety and virtue, but quite another inner meaning. All of which is proved by Paul’s saying, The letter killeth; the spirit, that is the meaning, maketh to live. So you see how perilous it is to follow the precepts of these books. Likewise should one think concerning the essence of God. And besides, if there existed any person or power of an omnipotent God there would not be this apparent confusion in everything,—nor would you yourself have had all these doubts which trouble you.’”

The last diabolically insidious suggestion was just the one to bring despair to the unaided reason seeking faith. Othloh’s soul was passing through the depths; but the path now ascends, and rapidly:

“I was assaulted with an incredible number of these delusions, and so strange and unheard of were they that I feared to speak of them to any of the brothers. At last I threw myself upon the ground groaning in bitterness, and, collecting the forces of my mind, I cried with my lips and from my heart: ‘O if thou art some one, Almighty, and if thou art everywhere, as I have read so often in so many books, now, I pray, show me whom thou art and what thou canst do, delivering me quickly from these perils; I can bear this strife no more.’ I did not have to wait; the grace of God scattered the whole cloud of doubt, and such a light of knowledge poured into my heart that I have never since had to endure the darkness of deadly doubt. I began to understand what I had scarcely perceived before. Then the grace of knowledge was so increased that I could no longer hide it. I was urged by ineffable impulse to undertake some work of gratitude for the glory of God, and it seemed that this new ardour should be devoted to composition. So I wrote what I have written concerning those diabolic delusions which sprang from my sins, and then it seemed reasonable to tell of the divine inspiration by which my mind was enabled to repel them; so that he who reads these delusions may at the same time know the workings of the divine aid, and not ascribe to me a victory which was never mine, or, thinking that aid was lacking in my temptation, fear lest it fail in his. I remember how often, especially on rising in the mornings, it was as if there was some one rising with me and walking with me, who mutely warned, or gently persuaded me to amend faults which it may be only the day before I was ignorantly committing and deeming of no consequence.

[Pg 320]“When surrounded by such inspirations I would enter the Church and bow down in prayer—God knows that I do not lie—it seemed as if some one besought me with like earnestness of prayer, saying: ‘As that has been granted which you asked of me, it will be precious to me if you will obey my entreaties. Do you not continue in those vices which I have often begged you to abandon? are you not proud and carnal, neglectful of God’s service, hating whom you should not hate, although the Scripture says, Every one who hates his brother is a murderer? Where now is the patience and constancy and that perfection which you promised God, if He would deliver you from perils and make you a monk? God has done as you asked, why do you delay to pay your vow? You have asked Him to set you in a place where you would have a store of books. Lo, you have been heard; you have books—from which you may learn of life eternal. Why do you dissipate your mind in vanities and do not hasten to take the desired gift? You have also asked to be tried, and tried you have been in temptation, and delivered. Yet you are still a man unfit for peace or war, since when the battle is far off you are ready for it, and when it approaches you flee. Which of the holy fathers that you have read of in the Old or New Testament was so dear to me that I did not seek to try him in the furnace of tribulation? Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake. Steep and narrow is the way; no one is crowned who has not striven lawfully. When you have read these, and many more passages of Scripture, why if you desire a crown of life eternal, do you wish to suffer no tribulation for your sins?’”

Then the Spirit of God, with many admonishings, shows Othloh how easy had been his lot and how needful to him were his temptations, even the very carnal temptations of the flesh, which Othloh suffered in common with all monks. And he is bid to consider their reason and order:

“First you were tried with lighter trials, that gradually you might gain strength for the weightier; as you progressed you ascribed to your own strength what was wrought by my grace. Wherefore I subjected you to the final temptation, from which you will emerge the more certain of my grace the less you trust in your merits.”

The “warring opposites” of Othloh’s spiritual struggle were, on the one side, evil thoughts and delusions from the devil, and, on the other, the strength and enlightenment imparted by the grace of God. The nearer the crisis comes, the clearer are the devil’s whisperings and the warnings of the instructing voice. Othloh’s part in it was his choice and acceptance of the divine counsellor. This conflict never[Pg 321] faded from his mind. He has much to say of the visions[404] in which parts of his enlightenment had come. Once reading Lucan in the monastery, he swooned, and in his swoon was beaten with many stripes by a man of terrible and threatening countenance. By this he was led to abandon profane reading and other worldly vanities. These visionary floggings left him feeble and ill in body. They were the approaches to his great spiritual conflict. His “fourth vision” is in and of the crisis. This monk, immersed in spiritual struggles, had also his opinions regarding the government of the monastery, and for a time refused obedience to the abbot’s irregular rulings, and spoke harshly of him:

“For this I did penance before the abbot but not before God, against whom I had greatly sinned; and after a few days I fell sick. This sickness was from God, since I have always begged of His mercy, that for any sin committed I might suffer sickness or tribulation, and so it has come to me. On this occasion, when weakness had for some days kept me in the infirmary, one evening as it was growing dark I thought I should feel better if I rose and sat by my cot. Immediately the house appeared to be filled with flame and smoke. Horror-stricken, my wonted trust in God all scattered, I started, tottering, towards the cot of the lay brother in charge, but, ashamed, I turned back and went to the cot of a brother who was sick; he was asleep. Then I sank exhausted on my cot, thinking how to escape the horror of that vision of smoke. I had no doubt that the smoke was the work of evil spirits, who, from its midst, would try to torment me. As I gradually saw that it was not physical, but of the spirit, and that there was no one to help me, as all were asleep, I began to sing certain psalms, and, singing, went out and entered the nearest church, of St. Gallus, and fell down before the altar. At once, for my sins, strength of mind and body left me, and I perceived that my lips were held together by evil spirits, so that I could not move them, to sing a psalm. I tried till I was weary to open them with my hands.

“Leaving that church, crawling rather than walking I gained the great church of St. Emmeram, where I hoped for some alleviation of my agony. But it was as before; I could barely utter a few words of prayer. So I painfully made my way back to my bed, hoping, from sheer weariness, to get some sleep. But none came, and, turn as I would, still I saw the vision of smoke. Suddenly—was I asleep or awake?—I seemed to be in a field well known to [Pg 322]me, surrounded by a crowd of demons mocking me with shrieks of laughter. The louder they laughed, the sadder I was, seeing them gathered to destroy me. When they saw that I would not laugh, they became enraged, crying, ‘So! you won’t laugh and be merry with us! Since you choose melancholy you shall have enough.’ Then flying about me, with blows from all sides, they whirled me round and round with them over vast spaces of earth, till I thought to die. Suffering unspeakably, I was at length set down on the top of a peak which scarcely held me; no eye could fathom its abyss. Vainly I looked for a descent, and the demons kept flying about me, saying: ‘Where now is your hope in God! And where is that God of yours! Don’t you know that neither God is, as men say, nor is there any power in Him which can prevail against us? One proof of this is that you have no help, and there is no one who can deliver you from our hands. Choose now; for unless you join with us you shall be cast into the abyss.’ In this strait, scarcely consenting or resisting, I faintly remembered that I had once believed and read that God was everywhere, and so I looked around to see whether He would not send some aid. Now when the demons kept insisting that I should choose, and when I was well-nigh put to it to promise what they wished, a man suddenly appeared, and, standing by me, said: ‘Do not do it; all that these cheats say is false. Abide firm in that faith which you had in God. He knows all that you suffer, and permits it for your good.’ Then he vanished, and the demons returned, flying about me, and saying: ‘Miserable man, would you trust one who came to deceive you? Why, he dared not wait till we came! Come now, yield yourself to our power.’

“Uttering these words with fury, they snatched me up, and whirled me, sorely beaten, across plains and deserts, over heights and precipices, and set me on a yet more dreadful peak, hurling at me abuse and threats, to make me do their will. And, as before, I was near succumbing, and was looking around for some aid from God, when that same man again stood near, and heartened me. ‘Do not yield; let your heart be comforted against its besiegers.’ And I replied: ‘Lord, I can no longer bear these perils. Stay with me, and aid, lest when you go away they torment me still more grievously.’ To which he said: ‘Their threats cannot prevail so long as you persevere in faith and hope in the Lord. Be comforted; the sharper the strife, the quicker will it end. If with constancy you wage the Lord’s battles, you shall have eternal rewards in the future, and in this world you shall be famous.’

“Then he vanished the second time, and the demons, who dared do nothing in his presence, raged and mocked more savagely, and kept me in anguish, until, the divine grace effecting it, the convent bell rang for early prayer. I heard it as I lay in bed, and gradually [Pg 323]gaining my senses, I was conscious that I was living, and I no longer saw the vision of smoke. With gratitude I remembered what the man in my vision told me that my trial would soon be over. After this, though for many days I lay sick in body and soul, my spiritual temptations began to lessen; and I have learned that without the Grace of God I am, and always shall be, a thing of naught.”

The struggle through which faith and peace came to Othloh became the fountain-head of his wisdom; it fixed the point of view from which he judged life, and set the categories in which he ordered his knowledge; it directed his thoughts and imparted purpose and unity to his writings. His gratitude to God incited him to write in order that others might share in the light and wisdom which God’s grace had granted him; and his writings chiefly enlarge upon those questions which the victory in his spiritual conflict had solved. I will refrain from drawing further from them, although they seem to me the most interesting works of a pious and doctrinal nature emanating from any German of this still crude and inchoate intellectual period.[405]



From the point of view of the development of mediaeval intellectual interests in the eleventh century, England has little that is distinctive to offer. The firm rule of Canute (1016-1035) brought some reinstatement of order, after the times of struggle between Dane and Saxon. But his son, Hardicanute, was a savage. The reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) followed. It wears a halo because it was the end of the old order, which henceforth was to be a memory. Then came the revolution of the Norman Conquest. Letters did not thrive amid these storms. At the beginning of the period, Dunstan is the sole name of note, as one who fostered letters in the monasteries where his energies were bringing discipline. English piety and learning looked then, as it had looked before and was for centuries to look, to the Continent. And Dunstan promoted letters by calling[Pg 324] to his assistance Abbo of St. Fleury, of whom something has been said.[406]

In Dunstan’s time Saxon men were still translating Scripture into their tongue—paraphrasing it rather, with a change of spirit. Such translations were needed in Anglo-Saxon England, as in Germany. But after the Conquest the introduction of Norman-French tended to lessen at least the consciousness of such a need. That language, as compared with Anglo-Saxon, came so much nearer to Latin as to reduce the chasm between the learned tongue and the vernacular. The Normans had (at least in speech) been Gallicized, and yet had kept many Norse traits. England likewise took on a Gallic veneering as Norman-French became the language of the Court and the new nobility. But the people continued to speak English. The degree of foreign influence upon their thought and manners may be gauged by the proportion of foreign idiom penetrating the English language; and the fact that English remained essentially and structurally English proves the same for England racially. In spite of the introduction of foreign elements, people and language endured and became more and more progressively English.

In the island before the Conquest, the round of studies had been the same as on the Continent; and that event brought no change. The studies might improve, but would have no novel source to draw upon. And in this period of racial turmoil and revolution, it was unlikely that the Anglo-Saxon temperament would present itself as clearly as aforetime in the Saxon poem of Beowulf or the personality of the Saxon Alfred, or in the Saxon Genesis and the writings of Cynewulf.[407] In a word, the eleventh century in England was specifically the period when the old traits were becoming obscure, and no distinct modifications had been evolved in correspondence with the new conditions. Consequently, for presentations of the intellectual genius of the English people, one has to wait until the next century, the time of John of Salisbury and other English minds. Even such will be found receiving their training and their knowledge in France and Italy. England[Pg 325] was still intellectually as well as politically under foreign domination.

In every way it has been borne in upon us how radically the conditions and faculties of men differed in England, Germany, France, and Italy in the eleventh century. Very different were their intellectual qualities, and different also was the measure of their attainment to a palpable mediaeval character, which in Italy was not that of the ancient Latins, in France was not that of the Gallic provincials, and in England and Germany was not altogether that of the original Celtic and Teutonic stocks. Neither in the eleventh century nor afterwards was there an obliteration of race traits; yet the mediaeval modification tended constantly to evoke a general uniformity of intellectual interest and accepted view.

There exists a certain ancient Chronicon Venetum written by a Venetian diplomat and man of affairs called John the Deacon, who died apparently soon after 1008.[408] He was the chaplain of the Doge, Peter Urseolus, and the doge’s ambassador to the emperors Otto III. and Henry II. The earlier parts of his Chronicon were taken from Paulus Diaconus and others; the later are his own, and form a facile narrative, which makes no pretence to philosophic insight and has nothing to say either of miracles or God’s Christian providence. Its interests are quite secular. John writes his Latin, glib, clear, and unclassical, just as he might talk his Venetian speech, his vulgaris eloquentia. There is no effort, no struggle with the medium of expression, but a pervasive quality of familiarity with his story and with the language he tells it in. These characteristics, it is safe to say, are not to be found, to a like degree, in the work of any contemporary writer north of the Alps.

The man and his story, in fine, however mediocre they may be, have arrived: they are not struggling or apparently tending anywhither. The writing suggests no capacity in the writer as yet unreached, nor any imperfect blending of disparate elements in his education. One should not[Pg 326] generalize too broadly from the qualities exemplified in this work; yet they indicate that the people to which the writer belonged were possessed of a certain entirety of development, in which the component elements of culture and antecedent human growth and decadence were blended in accord. This old Chronicon affords an illustration of the fact that the transition and early mediaeval centuries had brought nothing to Italy that was new or foreign, nothing that was not in the blood, nothing to deeply disturb the continuity of Italian culture and character which moved along without break, whether in ascending or descending curves.

Yet evidently the eleventh-century Italian is no longer a Latin of the Empire. For one thing, he is more individualistic. Formerly the prodigious power of Roman government united citizens and subject peoples, and impressed a human uniformity upon them. The surplus energies of the Latin race were then absorbed in the functions of the Respublica, or were at least directed along common channels. That great unification had long been broken; and the smaller units had reasserted themselves—the civic units of town or district, and the individual units of human beings upon whom no longer pressed the conforming influence of one great government.

In imperial times cities formed the subordinate units of the Respublica; the Roman, like the Greek civilization, was essentially urban. This condition remained. The civilization of Italy in the eleventh century was still urban, but was now more distinctly the civilization of small closely compacted bodies, which were no longer united. For the most part, the life, the thought, of Italy was in the towns; it remained predominantly humanistic, taken up with men and their mortal affairs, their joys and hates, and all that is developed by much daily intercourse with fellows. Thus the intellect of Italy continued secular, interesting itself in mortal life, and not so much occupied with theology and the life beyond the grave. This is as true of the intellectual energies of the Roman papacy as it is of the mental activities of the towns which served or opposed it, according to their politics.

[Pg 327]On the other hand, the intense emotional nature of the Italians was apt to be religious, and given to despair and tears and ecstasy; its love welled up and flung itself around its object, without the mediating offices of reason. If reflection came, it was love’s ardent musing, rather than religious ratiocination. One does not forget that the Italians who became scholastic theologians or philosophers left Italy, and subjected themselves to northern spiritual influences at Paris or elsewhere. Their greatest were Anselm, Peter Lombard, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas. None of these remained through life altogether Italian.

Thus, with Italians, religion meant either the papal government and the daily conventions of observance and minor mental habits, all very secular; or it meant that which was a thing of ecstasy and not of thought—generally speaking, of course. The mediaeval Italian (in the eleventh century only to a slightly less degree than in the twelfth or thirteenth) is, typically speaking, a man of urban human interests and affairs, a politician, a trader, a doctor, a man of law or letters, an artist, or a poet. If really religious, his religion is an emotion, and is not occupied with dogma, nor interested in doctrinal correctness or reform. Such a religious character may, according to individual temper, result in a Romuald[409] or a Peter Damiani; its perfected ideal is Francis of Assisi.

Things were already different in the country now called France. No need to repeat what has been said as to the lesser strength and somewhat broken continuity of the antique there, as compared with Italy. Yet there was a sufficient power of antique influence and descent to keep the language Romanesque, and the forms of its literature partly set by antique tradition. But the spirit was not Latin. Perhaps it had but seemed such with the Gallic provincials. At all events, the incoming Franks and other Germans brought a Teutonic infusion and reinspiration that forever kept France from being or becoming a northern Italy.

Neither was the spirit urban. To be sure, much of the energy of French thought awoke and did its work in towns; and Paris was to become the intellectual centre. But the[Pg 328] stress of French life was not so surely in the towns, nor men’s minds so characteristically urban as in Italy, and by no means so predominantly humanistic. Even in the eleventh century the lofty range of French thought, of French intellectual interests, is apparent; for it embraces the problems of philosophy and theology, and does not find its boundary and limit in phenomenal or mortal life. Gerbert is almost too universal an intellect to offer as a fair example. Yet all that he cared for is more than represented by other men taken together; for Gerbert did not fully represent the interests of religious thought in France. His was the humanism and the thirst for all the round of knowledge included in the Seven Arts. But he scarcely reached out beyond logic to philosophy; and theology seems not to have troubled him. Both philosophy and theology, however, made part of the intellectual interests of France; for there was Berengar and Roscellinus, Gaunilo and St. Anselm, and the wrangling of many disputatious, although overwhelmingly orthodox, councils of French Churchmen. Paris also, with its great schools of theology and philosophy, looms on the horizon. The intellectual matter is but inchoate, yet universally germinating, in the eleventh century.

Thus intellectual qualities of mediaeval France appear inceptively. The French mediaeval temperament needs perhaps another century for its clear development. Both as to temperament and intellectual interests, a line will have to be drawn between the south and north; between the land of the langue d’oc, the Roman law, the troubadour, and the easy, irreligious, gay society which jumped the life to come; and the land of the various old French dialects (among which that of the Isle de France will win to dominance), the land of philosophy and theology, the land of Gothic architecture and religion, the hearth of the crusades against the Saracen or the Albigensian heretic; the land of the most distinctive mediaeval thought and strongest intellectual development.

In the Germany and the England of the eleventh century there is less of interest from this point of view. England had scarcely become her mediaeval self; the time was one of desperate struggle, or, at most, of tumultuous[Pg 329] settling down and shaking together. As for Germany, it was surely German then, and not a medley of Saxon, Dane, and Norman-French. The people were talking in their German tongues. German song and German epos were already heard in forms which were not to be cast aside, but retained and developed; of course the influence of the French poetry was not yet. The Germans were still living their own sturdy and half-barbarous life. Those who loved knowledge had turned with earnest purpose to the Latin culture; they were studying Latin and logic, and, as we have said, translating it into their German tongue or temperament. But the lessons were not fully mastered—not yet transformed into German mediaeval intellectual capacity. And in this respect, at least, the German will become more entirely his Germanic mediaeval self in another century, when he has more faculty of using the store of foreign knowledge in combination with his strongly felt and honestly considered Christianity.



[Pg 330]



I. The Patristic Chart of Passion.
II. Emotionalizing of Latin Christianity.

The characteristic passions of a period represent the emotionalized thoughts of multitudes of men and women. Mediaeval emotional development followed prevailing ideas, opinions, convictions, especially those of mediaeval Christianity. Its most impressive phases conformed to the tenets of the system which the Middle Ages had received from the Church Fathers, and represented the complement of passion arising from the long acceptance of the same. One may observe, first, the process of exclusion, inclusion, and enhancement, through which the Fathers formed a certain synthesis of emotion from the matter of their faith and the circumstances of their environment; and, secondly, the further growth of emotion in the Middle Ages.



In the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era there took place a remarkable growth of the pathetic or emotional element in Greek and Roman literature. Yet during the same period Stoicism, the most respected system of philosophy, kept its face as stone, and would not recognize the ethical value of emotion in human life.[410] But the emotional elements of paganism, which were stretching out their hands like the shades by Acheron, were[Pg 331] not to be restrained by philosophic admonition, or Virgilian Desine fata deum flecti sperare precando. And though the Stoic could not consent to Juvenal’s avowal that the sense of tears is the best part of us, Neo-Platonism soon was to uphold the sublimated emotion of a vision transcending reason as the highest good for man. Rational self-control was disintegrating in the Neo-Platonic dialectic which pointed beyond reason to ecstasy. That ecstasy, however, was to be super-sensual, and indeed came only to those who had long suppressed all cravings of the flesh. This ascetic emotionalism of the Neo-Platonic summum bonum was strikingly analogous to the ideal of Christian living pressing to domination in the patristic period.

No need to say that the Gospel of Jesus was addressed to the heart as well as to the mind; and for times to come the Saviour on the Cross and at its foot the weeping Mother were to rouse floods of tears over human sin, which caused the divine sacrifice. The words Jesus wept heralded a new dispensation under which the heart should quicken and the mind should guide through reaches of humanity unknown to paganism. This Christian expansion of the spirit did not, however, address itself to human relationships, but uplifted itself to God, its upward impulse spurning mortal loves. In its mortal bearings the Christian spirit was more ascetic than Neo-Platonism, and its élan of emotion might have been as sublimated in quality as the Neo-Platonic, but for the greater reality of love and terror in the God toward whom it yearned with tears of contrition, love, and fear.

Another strain very different from Neo-Platonism contributed to the sum of Christian emotion. This was Judaism, which recently had shown the fury of its energy in defence of Jerusalem against the legions of Titus. Christians imbibed its force of feeling from the books of the Old Testament. The passion of those writings was not as the humanly directed passions of the Greeks. Israel’s desire and aversion, her scorn and hatred, her devotion and her love, hung on Jehovah. “Do I not hate them, O Jehovah, that hate thee?” This cry of the Psalmist is echoed in Elijah’s “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” Jewish wrath was a righteous intolerance, which[Pg 332] would neither endure idolatrous Gentiles nor suffer idolaters in Israel. Moses is enraged by the sight of the people dancing before the golden calf; and Isaiah’s scorn hisses over those daughters of Israel who have turned from Jehovah’s ways of decorum: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks, and wanton eyes, mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet; therefore Jehovah will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Jehovah will lay bare their secret parts.”

Did a like scorn and anger find harbourage in Him who likened the Pharisees to whitened sepulchres, and with a scourge of small cords drove the money-changers from His Father’s house? At all events a kindred hate found an enduring home in the religion of Tertullian and Athanasius, and in the great Church that persecuted the Montanists at Augustine’s entreaty, and thereafter poured its fury upon Jew and Saracen and heretic for a thousand years.

Jehovah was also a great heart of love, loving His people along the ways of every sweet relationship understood by man. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt called my son hither.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, so as not to yearn upon the son of her womb? Yea, these may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Again, Jehovah is the husband, and Israel the sinning wife whom He will not put away.[411] Israel’s responding love answers: “My soul waits on God—My heart and flesh cry aloud to the living God—Like as the hart panteth for the water-brooks”! Such passages throb obedience to Deuteronomy’s great command, which Jesus said was the sum of the Law and the Prophets. No need to say that the Christian’s love of God had its emotional antecedent in Psalmist and Prophet. Jehovah’s purifying wrath of love also passed over to the Christian words, “As many as I love, I reprove and chasten.” And “the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom,” found its climax in the Christian terror of the Judgment Day.

The Old Testament has its instances of human love: Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel. There is Jacob’s[Pg 333] love of Joseph and Benjamin, and Joseph’s love, which yearned upon his brethren who had sold him to the Egyptians. The most loving man of all is David, with his love of Jonathan, “wonderful and passing the love of women,” unforgotten in the king’s old age, when he asks, “Is there yet any living of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” To a later time belongs the Song of Songs. Beautiful, orientally sensuous, too glowing perhaps for western taste, is this utterance of unchecked passion. And its fortune has been the most wonderful that ever fell to a love poem. It became the epithalamion of the Christian soul married to Christ, an epithalamion which was to be enlarged with passionate thought by doctor, monk, and saint, through the Christian centuries. The first to construe it as the bridal of the Soul was one who, by an act more irrevocable than a monastic vow, put from him mortal bridals—Origen, the greatest thinker of the Eastern Church. Thus the passion of the Hebrew woman for the lover that was to her as a bundle of myrrh lying between her breasts, was lifted, still full of desire, to the love of the God-man, by those of sterile flesh and fruitful souls.

Christianity was not eclecticism, which, for lack of principles of its own, borrows whatever may seem good. But it made a synthetic adoption of what could be included under the dominance of its own motives, that is, could be made to accord with its criterion of Salvation. What sort of synthesis could it make of the passions and emotions of the Graeco-Roman-Oriental-Jewish world? That which was achieved by the close of the patristic period, and was to be passionately approved by the Middle Ages, proceeded partly in the way of exclusion, and partly by adding a quality of boundlessness to the emotional elements admitted.

With the first conversions to the new religion, arose the problem: What human feelings, what loves and interests of this world, shall the believer recognize as according with his faith, and as offering no obstacle to the love of God and the attainment of eternal life? A practical answer was given by the growth of an indeterminate asceticism within the Christian communities, which in the fourth century went[Pg 334] forth with power, and peopled the desert with anchorites and monks.

Ascetic suggestions came from many sources to the early Christians. Stoicism was ascetic in tendency; Neo-Platonism ascetic in principle, holding that the soul should be purged from contamination with things of sense. Throughout Egypt asceticism was rife in circles interested in the conflict of Set and his evil host with Horus seeking vengeance for Osiris slain; and we know that some of the earliest Christian hermits had been recluses devoted to the cult of Serapis. In Syria dwelt communities of Jewish Essenes, living continently like monks. Nevertheless, whatever may have been the effects of such examples, monasticism developed from within Christianity, and was not the fruit of influences from without.

The Lord had said, “My kingdom is not of this world”; and soon enough there came antagonism between the early Churches and the Roman Empire. The Church was in a state of conflict. It behoved the Christian to keep his loins girded: why should he hamper himself with ephemeral domestic ties, when the coming of the Lord was at hand? Moreover, the Christian warfare to the death was not merely with political tyranny, but against fleshly lusts. Such convictions, in men and women desirous of purifying the soul from the cravings of sense, might bring the thought that even lawful marriage was not as holy as the virgin state. The Christian’s ascetic abnegation had as a further motive the love of Christ and the desire to help on His kingdom and attain to it, the motive of sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven; for which one man must be burned, another must give up his goods, and a third renounce his heart’s love. Ascetic acts are also a natural accompaniment of penitence: the sinner, with fear of hell before him, seeks to undergo temporal in order to avoid eternal pain; or, better, stung by love of the Crucified, his heart cries for flagellation. When St. Martin came to die he would lie only upon ashes: “I have sinned if I leave you a different example.”[412] A similar strain of religious conviction is rendered in Jerome’s “You are too pleasure-loving, brother,[Pg 335] if you wish to rejoice in this world and hereafter to reign with Christ.”[413]

So currents of ascetic living early began in Christian circles; and before long the difficulty of leading lives of self-mortification within the community was manifest. It was easier to withdraw: ascetics must become anchorites, “they who have withdrawn.” Here was reason why the movement should betake itself to the desert. But the solitary life is so difficult, that association for mutual aid will soon ensue; and then regulations will be needed for these newly-formed ascetic groups. So anchorites tended to become coenobites; monasticism has begun.

In both its hermit and coenobitic phases, monasticism began in the East, in Syria and the Thebaid. It was accepted by the Latin West, and there became impressed with Roman qualities of order, regularity, and obedience. The precepts of the eastern monks were collected and arranged by Cassian, a native of Gaul, in his Institutes and Conlocations between the years 419 and 428. And about a century afterwards, western monasticism received its typeform in the Regula of St. Benedict of Nursia (d. 543), which was approved by the authority of Gregory the Great (d. 604).[414]

By the close of the patristic period, monasticism had[Pg 336] become the most highly applauded practical interpretation of Christianity. Its precepts represented the requirements of the Christian criterion of Salvation applied to earthly life. Like all great systems which have widely prevailed and long endured, it was not negation, but substitution. If it condemned usual modes of pleasure, this was because of their incompatibility with the life it inculcated. The Regula of Benedict set forth a manner of life replete with positive demands. Its purpose was to prescribe for those who had taken monastic vows that way of living, that daily round of occupation, that constant mode of thought and temper, which should make a perfected Christian, that is, a perfect monk. And so broad and spiritually interwoven were its precepts that one of them could hardly be obeyed without fulfilling all. Read, for example, the beautiful seventh chapter upon the twelve grades of humility, and it will become evident that whoever achieves this virtue will gain all the rest: he will always have the fear of God before his eyes, the terror of hell and the hope of heaven; he will cut off the desires of the flesh; he will do, not his own will, but the Lord’s; since Christ obeyed His Father unto death, he will render absolute obedience to his superior, obeying readily and cheerfully even when unjustly blamed; in confession he will conceal no evil thought; he will deem himself vilest of all, and will do nothing save what the regula of the monastery or the example of the elders prescribes; he will keep from laughter and from speech, except when questioned, and then he will speak gently and humbly, and with gravity, in few words; he will stand and walk with inclined head and looks bent on the ground, feeling himself unworthy to lift up his eyes to heaven: through these stairs of humility he will reach that perfect love of God which banishes fear, and will no longer need the fear of hell, as he will do right from habit and through the love of Christ.

Having thus pointed out the way of righteousness, Benedict’s regula gives minute precepts for the monk’s conduct and occupation through each hour of the day and night. No time, no circumstance shall be left unguarded, or unoccupied with those acts which lead to God. Wise was this great prototypal regula in that its abundance of[Pg 337] positive precepts kept the monk busy with righteousness, so that he might have no leisure for sin. Its prohibitions are comparatively unemphatic, and the monk is guided along the paths of righteousness rather than forbidden to go astray.

Thus monk and nun were consecrated to a calling which should contain their whole desire, as it certainly demanded their whole strength. Was the monk a celibate because carnal marriage was denied him? Rather he was wedded to Christ. If this is allegory, it is also close to literal truth. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Is not love the better part of marriage? And how if the Lord thy God has been a gracious loving figure here on earth, who loved thee humanly as well as divinely, and died for thee at last? Will not the complete love required by the commandment become very ardent, very heart-filling? Shalt thou not always yearn to see Him, fall at His feet, confess thy unworthiness, and touch His garment? Is there any end to the compass of thy loving Him, and musing upon Him, and dwelling in His presence? Dost thou not live with Him in a closer communion than the sunderances of mortality permit among men, or between men and women? And if it be thou art a nun, art thou not as close to Him in tears and washing of those blessed feet, as ever was that other woman, who had been a sinner? Thou shalt keep thy virginity for Him as for a bridegroom.[415]

But the great commandment to love the Lord thy God has an adjunct—“and thy neighbour as thyself.” As thyself—how does the monk love himself? why, unto Christ and his own salvation. He does not love his sinful pleasures, nor those matters of earth which might not be sins, had he not realized how they conflicted with his scheme of life. His love for a fellow could not recognize those pleasures[Pg 338] which he himself had cast away. He must love his fellow, like himself, unto the saving, not the undoing, of him—be his true lover, not his enemy. This vital principle of Christian love had to recast pagan passion and direct the affections to an immortal goal. Under it these reached a new absoluteness. The Christian lover should always be ready to give his life for his friend’s salvation, as for his own. So love’s offices gained enlargement and an infinity of new relationship, because directed toward eternal life.[416]

Unquestionably in the monk’s eyes passionate love between the sexes was mainly lust. Within the bonds of marriage it was not mortal sin; but the virgin state was the best. Here, as we shall see, life was to claim its own and free its currents. Monasticism did not stop the human race, or keep men from loving women. Such love would assert itself; and ardent natures who felt its power were to find in themselves a love and passion somewhat novel, somewhat raised, somewhat enlarged. In the end the love between man and woman drew new inspiration and energy from the enhancement of all the rest of love, which came with Christianity.

Evidently the great office of Christian love in a heathen period was to convert idolaters to the Faith. So it had been from the days of Paul. Rapidly Christianity spread through all parts of the Roman Empire. Then the Faith pressed beyond those crumbling boundaries into the barbarian world. Hereupon, with Gregory the Great and his successors, it became clear that the great pope is always a missionary pope, sending out such Christian embassies as Gregory sent to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

If conversion was a chief office of Christian love, the[Pg 339] great object of Christian wrath was unbelief. That existed within and without Christendom: within in forms of heresy, without in the practices of heathenism. Christian wrath was moved by whatever opposed the true faith. The Christian should discriminate: hate the sin, and love the sinner unto his betterment. But it was so easy, so human, from hating the sin to hate the obdurate sinner who could not be saved and could but harm the Church. One need not recount how the disputes of the Athanasian time regarding the nature of Christ came to express themselves in curses; nor how the Christian sword began its slaughter of heretic and heathen. Persecution seemed justified in reason; it was very logical; broad reasons of Christian statecraft seemed to make for it; and often a righteous zeal wielded the weapon. It had moreover its apparent sanction in Jehovah’s destroying wrath against idolaters within and without the tribes of Israel.

So the two opposites of love and wrath laid aside somewhat of grossness, and gained new height and compass in the Christian soul. A like change came over other emotions. As life lifted itself to further heights of holiness, and hitherto unseen depths of evil yawned, there came a new power of pity and novel revulsions of aversion. The pagan pity for life’s mortality, which filled Virgil’s heart, could not but take on change. There was no more mortality, but eternal joy and pain. Souls which had so unavailingly stretched forth their hands to fate, had now been given wings of faith. Yet death gained blacker terror from the Christian Hell, the newly-assured alternative of the Christian Heaven. The great Christian pity did not touch the mortal ebbing of the breath; that should be a triumphant birth. But an enormous and terror-stricken pity was evoked by sin, and the thought of the immortal soul hanging over an eternal hell. And since all human actions were connected with the man’s eternal lot, they became invested with a new import. So the Christian’s compassion would deepen, his sympathy become more intense, although no longer stirred by everything that had moved his pagan self. With him fear was raised to a new intensity by other terrors than had driven the blood from[Pg 340] pagan cheeks. His sense of joy was deepened also; for a joy hitherto unrealized came from his new love of God and the God-man, from the assurance of his salvation, and the thought of loved human relationships never to end. So Christian joy might have an absoluteness which it never had under the pause-giving mortal limitations of paganism.

Within the compass of pagan joyfulness there had been no deeper passion than the love of beauty. That had its sensuous phases, and its far blue heights, where Plato saw the beauty of order, justice, and proportion. For the Christian, the beauty of the flesh became a veil through which he looked for the beauty of the soul. If a face testified to the beauty of holiness within, it was fair. Better the pale, drawn visages of monk and nun than the red lip too quickly smiling. Feeling as well as thought should be adjusted to these sentiments. Yet Plato’s realization of intellectual beauty found home within the Christian thoughts of God and holiness, indeed helped to construct them. This is clear with the Fathers. In the East, Gregory of Nyssa’s passion for divine beauty was Platonism set in Christian phrase; in the West, Augustine reached his thoughts of beauty through considerations which came to him from Greek philosophy.[417] “Love is of the beautiful,” said Plato; “Do we love ought else?” says Augustine. Both men shape their thoughts of beauty after their best ideals of perfection. Augustine’s burn upward to the beauty of a God as loving as He is omnipotent; Plato’s had been more abstract. Augustine’s Platonism shows the highest Greek thoughts of beauty and goodness changed into attributes of a personal God, who could be loved because He was loving.

In these ways the loftier Christian souls suppressed, or transformed and greatened, the emotions of their natures. It was thus with those possessed of a faith that brought the whole of life within its dominance. There were many such. Yet the multitude of Christians ranged downward from such great obsession, through all stages of human half-heartedness and frailty, to the state of those whose Christianity was but a name, or but a magic rite. Always[Pg 341] preponderant in numbers, and often in influence and power, these nominal and fetichistic Christians would keep alive the loves and hates, the interests and tastes, the approvals and disapprovals, of paganism or barbaric heathenism, as the case might be.



The patristic synthesis of emotion passed on entire and authoritative to the Middle Ages. It exercised enormous influence (usually in the way of compulsion, but sometimes in the way of repulsion) upon emotional phenomena both of a religious and a secular nature. Yet it was merely the foundation, or the first stage, of mediaeval emotional development. The subsequent stages were dependent on the conditions under which mediaeval attitudes of mind arose, very dependent upon the maturing and blending of the native traits of inchoate mediaeval peoples and upon their appropriation of Latin Christianity and the antique education.

The northern races had been introduced to a novel religion and to modes of thought considerably above them. Their old conceptions were discredited, their feelings somewhat distraught. Emotionally as well as intellectually they were confused. Turbid feelings, arising from ideas not fully mastered, had to clarify and adjust themselves. From the sixth to the eleventh century the crude mediaeval stocks, tangled but not blended, strange to the religion and culture which held their destinies, were not possessed of clear and dominant emotions that could create their own forms of expression. They could not think and feel as they would when their new acquirements had mellowed into faculty and temperament, and unities of character had once more emerged.

Christianity and Latin culture were operative everywhere, and everywhere tended to produce a uniform development. Yet the peoples affected by these common influences were kept unlike each other through varieties of environment and a diversity of racial traits which still showed clearly as the centuries passed. In consequence,[Pg 342] the emotional development of these different peoples remained marked by racial characteristics, while also becoming mediaeval under the action of common influences. It proceeded in two parallel and partially mingling streams: the one of the religious life, the other of earth’s desires. They may be observed in turn.

Augustine represents the sum of doctrine and emotion contained in the Latin Christianity of the fifth century. However imperfectly others might comprehend his thought or feel the power of his grandly reasoned love of God, he established this love for time to come as the centre and the bound of Christian righteousness: “Virtus non est nisi diligere quod diligendum est.”[418] He drew within this principle the array of dogma and precept constituting Latin Christianity. On the other hand, the practical embodiment of the patristic synthesis of human interests and emotions was monasticism, with its lines set by the Rule of Benedict.

Pope Gregory the Great[419] refashioned Augustine’s teachings, and placed the seal of his approval upon Benedictine monasticism as the perfect way of Christian living. His mind was darkened with the new ignorance and intellectual debasement which had come in the century and a half separating him from Augustine; and his soul was filled with the fantastic terrors which were to constitute so large a part of the religion of the Middle Ages. Devil lore, relic worship, miracles, permeate his consciousness of life. The soul’s ceaseless business is so to keep itself that it may at last escape the sentence of the awful Judge. Love and terror struggle fearfully in Gregory. Christ’s death had shown God’s love; and yet the Dies Irae impends. No delict is wiped out without penitence and punishment, in this life or afterwards—let it be in Purgatory and not in Hell!

The centuries following Gregory’s death rearranged the contents of Latin Christianity, including Gregory’s teachings, to suit their own intellectual capacities. This (Carolingian) period of rearrangement and painful learning, as it was unoriginative intellectually, was likewise unproductive of Christian emotion. Occasionally from far-off converts,[Pg 343] who are not troubled overmuch with learning, come utterances of simple feeling for the Faith (one thinks of Bede’s story of Cædmon); and the Teuton spirit, warlike as well as intimate and sentimental, enters the vernacular interpretation of Christianity.[420] The Christian message could not be understood at all without a stirring of the convert’s nature; some quickening of emotion would ensue. This did not imply a development of emotion corresponding to the credences of Latin Christianity, to which so many people had been newly introduced. That system had to be more vitally appropriated before it could arouse the emotional counterpart of its tenets, and run its course in modes of mediaeval religious passion.

Accordingly one will look in vain among the Carolingian scholars for that torrential feeling which becomes articulate in the eleventh century. They were excerpting and rearranging patristic Christianity to suit their own capacities. They could not use it as a basis for further thinking; nor, on the other hand, had it become for them the ground of religious feeling. Undoubtedly, Alcuin and Rabanus Maurus and Walafrid Strabo were pious Christians, taking their Faith devoutly. But such religious emotion as was theirs, was reflected rather than spontaneous. Alcuin, as well as Gregory the Great, realizes the opposition between heaven and the vana delectibilia[421] of this world. But Alcuin’s words have lost the horror-stricken quality of Gregory; neither do they carry the floods of tears which like thoughts bring to Peter Damiani in the eleventh century. Odo, Abbot of Cluny in the middle of the tenth century, has something of Gregory’s heavy horror; but even in him the gift of tears is not yet loosed.[422]

From the eleventh century onward, the gathering religious feeling pours itself out in passionate utterances; and in this new emotionalizing of Latin Christianity lay the chief religious office of the Middle Ages, wherein they went far beyond the patristic authors of their faith. The Fathers of the Latin Church from Tertullian to Gregory the Great had been occupied with doctrine and ecclesiastical organization.[Pg 344] This dual achievement was the work of the constructive mind of the Latin West, following, of course, what had been accomplished by the Greek Fathers. It stood forth mainly as the creation of those human faculties which are grouped under the name of intellect. Patristic Latin Christianity hardly presents itself as the product of the whole man. Its principles were not as yet fully humanized, made matter of the heart, and imbued with love and fear and pity: this creature of the intellect had yet to receive a soul.

It is true that Augustine had an enormous love of God. It was fervently felt; it was powerfully reasoned; it impassioned his thought. Yet it did not contain that tender love of the divinely human Christ which trembles in the words of Bernard and makes the life of Francis a lyric poem. St. Jerome also had even an hysterically emotional nature; Tertullian at the beginning of the patristic period was no placid soul, nor Gregory the Great at its close. But it does not follow that Latin Christianity was as yet emotionalized, or that it had become a matter of the heart because it was accepted by the mind. Its dogmas and constructive principles were still too new; the energies of men had been spent in devising and establishing them. Not yet had they been pondered over for generation after generation, and hallowed through time; they had not yet become part of human life, cherished in men’s hopes, fondled in their affections, frozen in their fears, trembled before and loved.

What was absent from the formation of Latin Christianity constituted the conditions of its gradual appropriation by the Middle Ages. It had come to them from a greater past, sanctioned by the saints who now reigned above. Through the centuries, men had come to understand it, and had made it their own with power. Through generations its commands and promises, its threats and rewards, had been feared and loved. Its persons, symbols, and sacraments had become animate with human quality and were endeared with intimate incident and association. Every one had been born to it, had been suckled upon it, had adored it in childhood, youth, and age: it filled all life; with hope or menace it overhung the closing hour.

[Pg 345]The Middle Ages have been given credit for dry theologies and sublimated metaphysics. Less frequently have they been credited with their great achievement, the imbuing of patristic Christianity with the human elements of love and fear and pity. Yet their religious phenomena display this emotionalizing of transmitted theological elements. Chapters which are to follow will illustrate it from the lives of many saints of different temperaments. As wide apart as life will be the phases of its manifestations. The tears of Peter Damiani are not like the love of the God-man in St. Bernard; St. Francis’s love of Christ and love of man is again different and new; and the mystic thought-shot visions of a Hildegard of Bingen are as blue to crimson when compared with the sense-passion for the Bridegroom of a Mechthild of Magdeburg. Even as illustrated in these so different natures, it will still appear that the emotional humanizing of Latin Christianity in the Middle Ages shaped itself to the tenets of the system formulated by the Church Fathers. It was an emotionalizing of that system, quite as much as a direct appropriation of the Gospel-heart of Christ. Christ and the heart of Christ were with the mediaeval saints; and yet the emotions as well as thoughts through which they turned to Him received their form from patristic Christianity.

Religious art plainly tells the story. Let one call to mind the character of its achievements in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. That was the period following the recognition of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire. Everywhere basilicas arose.[423] Some of them may be seen in Rome, in Ravenna, in Constantinople. They still contain many of the mural mosaics which were their glory. Numberless artists laboured in the composition of those stately church decorations. There was a need, unprecedented and never afterwards paralleled, of creative composition. Spacious surfaces were to be covered with prefigurative scenes from the Old Testament, with scenes from the life of Christ on earth, and representations of His[Pg 346] apocalyptic triumph in the Resurrection. They had all to be composed without aid from previous designs, for there were none. The artists had need to be as constructive as the Church Fathers, who through the same period were perfecting the formulation of the Faith. They succeeded grandly, setting forth the subjects they were told to execute, in noble, balanced, and decorative compositions, which presented the facts and tenets of the Faith strikingly and correctly. Stylistically, these great church mosaics belonged to antique art. What did they lack? Merely the human, veritably tragic, qualities of love and fear and pity, which had not yet come. Like the dogmatic system, this mosaic presentation was too recently composed. Its subjects were not yet humanized through centuries of contemplation, reverence, and love.[424]

Many of the early compositions, repeated from century to century, in time were humanized and transformed with feeling. But this was not in the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, when art was but a decadent and barbarized survival of the antique Christian manner, nor in the tenth and eleventh. One may note also that the mediaeval expression of Christian emotion was beginning in religious literature. This came with fulness in the twelfth century, and along with it the emotionalizing, the veritable humanizing, of religious art began. Yet the artists of western Europe still lacked the skill requisite for delicate execution. A marked advance came in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. That was the great period of Gothic architecture; and in the sculpture on the French cathedrals, stone seems to live and feel. The prophetic figures from the Old Testament, the scenes of man’s redemption and final judgment, are humanized with love and terror. Moreover, the sculptor surrounds them with the myriad subsidiary detail of mortal life and changing beauty, showing how closely they are knit to every human love and interest.

In Italy a like story is told in a different manner. There is sculpture, but there also is mosaic, and above all there is and will be fresco. Before the end of the thirteenth century, Giotto was busy with his new dramatic art; no need to tell[Pg 347] what power of human feeling filled the works of that chief of painters and his school. The hard materials of the mosaicist were also made to render emotion. If one will note the mosaics along the nave in Santa Maria Maggiore, belonging to the fifth century, and then turn to the mosaics of the Coronation of the Virgin in the apse, or cross the Tiber and look at those in the lower zone of the apse of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which tell the Virgin’s story, he will see the change which was bringing love and sweetness into the stiff mosaic medium. Torriti executed the former in 1295; and the latter with their gentler feeling were made by Giotto’s pupil, Cavallini, in 1351. The art is still as correct and true and orthodox as in the fifth century. It conforms to Latin Christianity in the choice of topics and the manner of presenting them, and drapes its human emotions around conceptions which the patristic period formed and delivered to the Middle Ages. Thus, in full measure, it has taken to itself the emotional qualities of the mediaeval transformation of Latin Christianity, and is filled with a love and tears and pity, which were not in the old Christian mosaics.

Quite analogous to the emotionalizing of Christian art is the example afforded by the evolution of the Latin hymn. The earliest extant Latin hymns are those of St. Ambrose, written in iambic dimeters. Antique in phrase as in metre, they are also trenchantly correct in doctrine, as behoved the compositions of the great Archbishop of Milan who commanded the forces of orthodoxy in the Arian conflict. They were sung in anxious seasons. Yet these dignified and noble hymns are no emotional outpour either of anxiety or adoration. Such feeling as they carry lies in their strength of trust in God and in the power of conviction of their stately orthodoxy.

Between the death of Ambrose and the tenth century, Latin hymns gradually substituted accent in the place of metrical quantity, as the dominant principle of their rhythm. With this partial change there seems to come increase of feeling. The

“Jesu nostra redemptio,
Amor et desiderium.”

[Pg 348]of the seventh century is different from the

“Te diligat castus amor,
Te mens adoret sobria”

of Ambrose.[425] And the famous pilgrim chant of the tenth century, “O Roma nobilis, orbis et domina,” has the strength of long-deepening emotion.[426]

These hymns have but dropped the constraint of metre. Religious passion had not yet proved its creative power, and the new verse-forms with their mighty rhyme, fit to voice the accumulated emotions of the Liturgy, were not in existence. The eleventh and twelfth centuries witnessed the strophic evolution of the Latin hymn, in which feeling, joined with art, at last perfected line and stanza and the passionate phrases filling them.[427] Yet nothing could be more orthodox than the Latin hymn throughout its course of development. Its function was liturgical. It was correct in doctrinal expressions, and followed in every way the authoritative teachings of the Church; its symbolism was derived from the works of learned doctors; and its feeling took form from the tenets of Latin Christianity. The Dies Irae and the Stabat Mater yield evidence of this.[428]

From the religious phases of mediaeval emotion, one may pass to modes of feeling which were secular and human. The antecedents were again the racial traits of the peoples who were to become mediaeval; the formative influences still are Christianity and the profane antique culture. The racial traits show clearest in vernacular compositions, some of which may carry fervent feeling, such as enkindles the Crusader’s song of Hartmann von Aue:

[Pg 349]

“Min froüde wart nie sorgelos
Unz an die tage
Daz ich mir Kristes bluomen kos
Die ich hie trage.
Die kundent eine sumerzìt,
Die alsô gar
In suezer augenweide lit;
Got helfe uns dar.

“Mich hât diu werlt also gewent (gewöhnt),
Daz mir der muot
Sich z’einer mâze nâch ir sent:
Dêst mir nu guot.
Got hat vil wol ze mir getân,
Als ez nu stât,
Daz ich der sorgen bin erlân
Diu manegen hât
Gebunden an den fuoz,
Daz er belîben muoz
Swenn’ ich in Kristes schar
Mit fröuden wünneclichen var.”[429]

The secular emotional development was connected with the religious. It was stimulated by the deepening of emotional capacity caused by Christianity, and was not unrelated to the Christian love of God, the place of which was taken, in secular mediaeval passion, by an idealizing, but carnal, love of woman; and instead of the terror-stricken piety which accompanied the Christian’s love for his Maker and his Judge, the heart was glad and the temper open to every joy, while also subject to the fears and hates which spring up among men of mortal passions.

In the romantic and utter abandonment required of its votaries, this earthly love may well have drawn suggestion[Pg 350] from that boundless love of God which had superseded the Greek precept of “nothing in excess,” teaching instead that no limit should be set on what was absolutely good. The principle of love unrestrained was thus inaugurated, and did not always turn to God. Ardent natures who felt love’s power, might hold it as the supreme arbiter and law of life, and the giver of strength and virtue. These thoughts will shape the tale of Lancelot and myriad poems besides. They also may be found incarnate in the living instance: the heart of Heloïse held a passion for her human master which she recognized as her highest law. It was such a passion as she would hardly have conceived but for the existence of like categories of devotion to the Christian God. Not in her nature alone, but through many Christian generations whereof she was the fruit, there had gone on a continual enhancement of capacities of feeling, for which she was a greater woman when she grew to womanhood and felt its passion. Through such heightening of her powers of loving, and through the suggestiveness of the Christian love of God, she could conceive and feel a like absolute devotion to a man.[430]

There were, moreover, partially humanized stages in which the love of God was affiliated with loves of mortal hue. Many a mediaeval woman felt a passionate love for the spiritual Bridegroom. Its expression, its suggestions, its training, might transmit power and passion to the love of very mortal men: while from the worship of the Blessed Virgin expressions of passionate devotion might pass over into poems telling man’s love of woman. And what reaches of passion might not the Song of Songs suggest, although that imagined bridal of the Soul was never deemed a song of human love?[431]



[Pg 351]


[Pg 352]


[Pg 353]



Mediaeval Extremes; Benedict of Aniane; Cluny; Citeaux’s Charta Charitatis; The Vita Contemplativa accepts the Vita Activa

The present Book and the following will set forth the higher manifestations of the religious energies of the Middle Ages, and then the counter ideals which knights and ladies delighted to contemplate, and sometimes strove to reach. In religious as well as mundane life, ideals admired and striven for constitute human facts, make part of the human story, quite as veritably as the spotted actuality everywhere in evidence. The tale of piety is to be gathered from those efforts of the religious purpose which almost attain their ideal; while as a comment on them, and a foil and contrast, the deflections of human frailty may be observed. Likewise the full reality of chivalry lies in its ideals, supplemented by the illuminating contrast of failure and oppression, making what we may call its actuality. The emotional element, reviewed in the last chapter, will for the time be dominant.

Practice always drops below the ethical standards of a period. The contrast appears in the history of Greece and Rome. Yet in neither Greece nor Rome could there exist the abysms of contradiction which disclose themselves after the conversion of western Europe to the religion of Christ.

And for the following reasons. Greek and Roman standards were finite; they regarded only the mortal happiness of the individual and the terrestrial welfare of the State. To Greek thought the indefinite or limitless was as the[Pg 354] monstrous and unformed; and therefore abhorrent to the classic ideals of perfection. Again, Greek and Roman standards demanded only what Greek and Roman humanity could fulfil in the mortal life of earth. But the Christian ideal of conduct assumes the universal imperfection and infinite perfectibility of man. It has constant regard to immortality, and eternity is needed for its fulfilment. Moreover, whether or not Christ’s Gospel set forth any inherent antagonism between the fulness of mortal life and the sure attainment of heaven, its historical interpretations have never effected a complete reconcilement. They have always presented a conflict between the finite and the eternal, unconceived and unsuspected by the pagan ethics of Greece and Rome.

This conflict dawned in the Apostolic age. During the patristic period it worked itself out to a formulated opposition between the world and the City of God. Of this, monasticism was the chief expression. Nevertheless, pagan principle and feeling lived on in the reasonings and characters of the Church Fathers. The Roman qualities in Ambrose, the general survival of antique greatness in Augustine, preserved them from the rhetorical hysteria of Jerome and the exaggeration of phrase which affects the writings of Gregory the Great.[432] With the decadence preceding, and the confusion following, the Carolingian period, antique qualities passed away; and when men began again to think and feel constructively, there remained no antique poise to restrain the strife of those mighty opposites—the joys of life and the terrors of the Judgment Day.

This conflict, inherent in mediaeval Christianity, was in part a struggle between temporal desires which many men approved, and their renunciation for eternal joy. From this point of view it was a conflict of ideals, though, to be sure, life’s common cravings were on one side, and often unideally turned the scale. We are not immediately concerned, however, with this conflict of ideals; but with the contrasts[Pg 355] presented between the actual and the ideal, between conduct and the principles which should have controlled it. The opposition between this life and eternity is mentioned in order to make clear the tremendous demands of the Christian ethical ideal, and the unlikelihood of its fulfilment by mediaeval humanity. So one may perceive a reason why the Middle Ages were to show such extremes of contrast between principles and practices. The standards recognized as holiest countered the natural lives of men; and for that reason could be lived up to only under transient spiritual enthusiasm or by exceptional people. Monasticism held the highest ideals of Christian living, and its story illustrates the continual falling away of conduct from the recognized ideal.

Without regard to the contrast between the ideal and the actual, the Middle Ages were a period of extremes—of extreme humility and love as well as cruelty and hate. Such extremes may be traceable to a certain unlimited quality in Christian principles, according to which no man could have too much humility or Christian love, or could too strenuously combat the enemies of Christ. To be sure, an all-proportioning principle of conduct lay in man’s love of God, answering to God’s love which encompassed all His creatures. But such proportionment is difficult for simple minds, and many of the extremes which meet us in the Middle Ages were directly due to the simplicity with which mediaeval men and women carried out such Christian precepts as they were taken with, in disregard of all else that commonly balances and conventionalizes human lives.

For this reason also the Middle Ages are picturesque and poetic. Nothing could be more picturesque and more like a poem than the simple absoluteness with which St. Francis interpreted and lived out his Lord’s principle of love, and made universal application of his Lord’s injunction to the rich young man, to go and sell his goods and give to the poor, and then come follow Him. This particular solution of the problem of God’s service was taken by Francis, and by many another, as of general application, and was literally carried out; just as Francis with exquisite[Pg 356] simplicity carried out other precepts of his Lord in a way that would be foolishness were it not so beautiful.

There was no contrast between conduct and principle in the life of Francis; and in other men conduct might agree with such principles as they understood. Many a rustic layman, many a good knight, fulfilled the standards of his calling. Many a parish priest did his whole duty, as he thought it. And many a monk and nun lived up to their monastic regula, if indeed never satisfying the inner yearning of the soul unquenchably striving for perfection. Indeed, for the monk ever to have been satisfied with himself would have meant a fall from humility to vainglory.

The precepts of the Gospel were for every man and woman. Nevertheless, the same rules of living did not apply to all. In this regard, mediaeval society falls into the two general divisions of clergy and laity, meaning by the former all persons making special profession of religion or engaged in the service of the Church.[433] This would include anchorites and monks (also the conversi[434] or lay-brethren) and the secular clergy from the rank of bishop downward. To such (excepting seculars below the grade of sub-deacon) the rule of celibacy applied, as well as other ascetic precepts dependent on the vows they had taken or the regulations under which they lived. Conversely, certain rules like those relating to the conduct of man and wife would touch the laity alone.

A general similarity of principle pervaded the rules of conduct applying to all orders of the clergy, secular and regular.[435] Yet there was a difference in the severity of the rules and the stringency of their application. The mediaeval code of religious ethics applied in its utter strenuousness only to monks and nuns. They alone had seriously undertaken to obey the Gospel precept, esto perfecti; and they alone could be regarded as living the life of complete Christian militancy against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The trials, that is to say the temptations, of this[Pg 357] warfare could be fully known only to the monk. “Tentatio,” says Caesar of Heisterbach, “est militia,” i.e. warfare; it is possible only for those who live humanly and rationally, after the spirit, which is to say, as monks; “the seculars (i.e. the clergy who were not monks) and the carnal (i.e. the laity) who walk according to the flesh, are improperly said to be tempted; for as soon as they feel the temptation they consent, or resist lukewarmly, like the horse and the mule who have no understanding.”[436]

We have spoken of the inception of monasticism, and of its early motives,[437] which included the fear of hell, the love of Christ, and the conviction of the antagonism between pleasure and that service which opens heaven’s gates. Such sentiments were likely to develop and expand. The fear of hell might be inflamed and made visible by the same imagination that festered over the carnality of pleasure; the heart could impassion and extend the love of Christ through humanity’s full capacity for loving what was holiest and most lovable; and the mind could attain to an overmastering conviction of the incompatibility of pleasure with absolute devotion. Through the Middle Ages these motives developed and grew together, until they made a mode of life, and fashioned human characters into accord with it. Century after century the lives of thousands fulfilled the monastic spirit, and often so perfectly as to belie humanity’s repute for frailty. Their virtues shunned encomium. Record was made of those whose mind and energy organized and wrought, or whose piety and love of God burned so hotly that others were enkindled. But legion upon legion of tacit lives are registered only in the Book with seven seals.

Monastic abuses have usually spoken more loudly than monastic regularity. In Christian monasticism there is an energy of renovation which constantly cries against corruption. Its invective reaches us from all the mediaeval centuries; while monastic regularity has more commonly been unreported. It is well to bear this in mind when[Pg 358] reading of monastic vice. It always existed, and judging from the fiery denunciations which it awakened, it was often widely prevalent. In fact, the monastic life required such love of God or fear of hell, such renunciation of this world, its ambitions, its lusts and its lures, that monks were likely to fall below the prescribed standards, and then quickly into all manner of sin, from lack of the restraints, or outlets, of secular life.

Consequently the most patent history of monasticism is the history of its attempts to reform and renew itself. Its heroes come before us as reformers or refounders, whose endeavour is to reinstitute the perfect way, impassion men anew to follow it, by added precepts discipline them for its long ascents, and so occupy them in the practice of its virtues that all distracting impulses shall perish. Their apparent endeavour (at least until the day of Francis of Assisi) is to renew a life from which their contemporaries have fallen away. And yet through all there was unconscious innovation and progress.

The greater part of the fervent piety of the Middle Ages dwelt in cloisters, when not drawn forth unwillingly to serve the Lord in the world. Mediaeval saints were, or yearned to be, monks or nuns. Consequently monastic reforms, as well as attempts to raise the condition of the secular clergy, emanated from within monasticism. Its own rules of living had been set from within by Benedict of Nursia, and others who were monks. There was much irregularity at first; but the seventh and eighth centuries witnessed the conflict between different types of monastic organization, and then the general victory of the Benedictine regula. This was also a victory for monastic reform; for moral looseness, accompanied by heathenish irregularities, easily penetrated cloisters when not protected by a common and authoritative rule. As it was, the energy of Benedictine uniformity seemed exhausted in the contest.

But a Benedictine refounder arose. This was the high-born Witiza of Aquitaine, the ascetic virtuosity of whose early life had won him repute. Assuming the name of Benedict, he established a monastery on the bank of the little Aniane, in Aquitaine, in the year 779. His foundation[Pg 359] flourished in righteousness and increased in numbers, till it drew the attention of Alcuin and Charlemagne to its abbot. Benedict was given the task of reforming the monasteries of Aquitaine. Afterwards Louis the Pious extended his authority; till in 817 a reforming synod, over which he presided, was held at Aix, and the king’s authority was attached to its decrees. All Frankish monasteries were therein commanded to observe the regula of Benedict of Nursia, with many further precepts set by him of Aniane, aggravating the severity of the older rule; for example, by enforcing a more rigid silence among the monks when at labour, and restricting their intercourse with the laity. Great stress was laid upon the labours of the field. There was little novelty in the work of this reorganizer, with his consistent ascetic contempt for profane literature. His labours were typical of those of many a monastic reformer after him, who likewise sought to re-establish the strictness of the old Benedictine rule, and in fact added to its austerities.

The next example of reform is Cluny, founded in the year 910. Its cloister discipline followed the regula of Benedict with the additions decreed by the synod of Aix. Under Odo (d. 942) Majolus (d. 994) and Odilo (d. 1048) it rose to unprecedented power and influence. Mainly because of the winning and commanding qualities of its abbots, it received the support of kings and popes; its authority and privileges were increased, until it became the head of more than three hundred cloisters distributed through France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. In ecclesiastical policy it stood for decency and reform, but without giving extreme support to either emperor or pope. Balance and temperance characterized its career. It was a monastic organization which by precept and example, and by the wide supervising powers it received from the papacy and from temporal authorities, promoted regularity and propriety of life among monks, and also among the secular clergy. The “reforms of Cluny” do not represent any specific intensifying of monastic principles, but rather the general endeavour of the better elements in Burgundian and French monasticism to overcome the crass secularization of the Church, within and without the cloister. Cluny’s influence told generally[Pg 360] against monastic degradation, rather than in favour of any special ascetic or ecclesiastic policy. The prevailing simony, the clerical concubinage, the rough and warlike ways of bishops and abbots were all corruptions standing in the way of any monastic or ecclesiastical improvement; and Cluny opposed them, in moderation however, and with considerable acquiescence in the apparently necessary conditions of the time.[438]

After the comparative strictness of its first abbots, Cluny’s discipline moderated almost to laxity; and the interests of the rich and magnificent monastery became elegant and somewhat secular. It still maintained monastic decencies while not going beyond their demands. Its face was no longer set against comfortable living, nor against art and letters. And the time came when fervent spirits demanded a more uncompromising attack upon the world and the flesh.

Such came from Citeaux (near Dijon), where a few monks founded a struggling monastery in 1098. Its fortunes were small and feeble until the time of its third abbot, the Englishman, Stephen Harding (1109-1134), whose genius set the lines of Citeaux’s larger destinies. Her great period began when, shortly after Harding’s entrance on his abbacy, there arrived a band of well-born youths, led by one Bernard. Then of a truth the cloister burned with ardour. Its numbers grew, and Bernard was sent with a Cistercian band to found a daughter monastery at Clairvaux (1115).

Like Stephen Harding, Bernard was an ascetic, and the Cistercian Order represents a stern tightening of the reins which Cluny left lying somewhat slackly upon the backs of her stall-fed monks.[439] Controversies arose between the Cluniac Benedictines and the Cistercian Benedictines insisting on a stricter rule. Bernard himself entered into heated controversy with that great temperate personality of the twelfth century, Peter the Venerable, Cluny’s revered lord.

[Pg 361]The original regula of Benedict provided an admirable constitution for the single monastery, but no plan for the supervision of one monastery by another. The mediaeval advance in monastic organization consisted in the authoritative supervision of subordinate or “daughter” foundations by the superior or primal monastery of the Order. The Abbot of Cluny exercised such authority over Cluniac foundations, as well as over monasteries which, at the instance of the secular lord of the land, had been reorganized by Cluny.

The Cistercian Order represents a less monarchical, or more decentralized subordination, on a plan similar to the feudal principle of sub-infeudation, whereby the holder of the fief owed his duties to his immediate lord, who in turn owed duties to his own lord, still above him. Thus in the Cistercian Order the visitatorial authority over each foundation was vested in the immediate mother abbey, rather than in the primal abbey of Citeaux, from which the intervening mother abbey had gone forth.

This plan was formulated by Stephen Harding’s Charta Charitatis,[440] the charter of the Cistercian Order and a monument of constructive genius. Apparently mindful of the various privileges recognized by the feudal system, it begins by renouncing on the part of the superior monastery all claim to temporal emolument from the daughter foundations: “Nullam terrenae commoditatis seu rerum temporalium exactionem imponimus.” “But for love’s sake (gratia-charitatis) we desire to retain the care of their souls; so that should they swerve from the holy way and the observance of the Holy Rule, they may through our solicitude return to rectitude of life.”

Then follows the command that all Cistercian foundations obey implicitly the regula of Benedict, as understood and practised at Citeaux, and that all follow the customs of Citeaux, and the same forms of chant and prayer and service (for we receive their monks in our cloister, and they ours), “so that without discordant actions we may live by one love, one rule, and like practices (una charitate, una regula, similibusque vivamus moribus).” A short sentence follows,[Pg 362] forbidding all monasteries and individual monks to accept from any source any privilege inconsistent with the customs of the Order.

So the Charta enjoined a uniformity of discipline. Wise and temperate provision was made for the enforcement of the same when necessary by the immediate parent monastery of the delinquent foundation. “Whenever the Abbot of Citeaux comes to a monastery to visit it, its abbot shall make way for him, and he shall there hold the office of abbot. Yet let him not presume to order or conduct affairs against the wishes of its abbot and the brethren. But if he sees that the precepts of the Regula or of our Order are transgressed, let him seek to correct the brethren with the advice and in the presence of the abbot. If the abbot be absent, he may still proceed.” Once a year the Abbot of Citeaux, in person or through one of his co-abbots, must visit all the monasteries (coenobia) which he has founded, and if more often, the brethren should the more rejoice. Likewise must the four primary abbots of La Ferté, Pontigny, Clairvaux, and Morimond, together visit Citeaux once a year, at such time as they may choose, except that set for the annual meeting of the general Chapter. At Citeaux also, let any visiting abbot be treated as if he were abbot there.

“Whenever any of our churches (monasteries) by God’s grace so increases that it is able to found another brotherhood, let the same relationship (definitio) obtain between them which obtains between us and our cofratres, except that they may not hold an annual Chapter; but rather let all abbots come without fail every year to the annual Chapter at Citeaux.

“At which Chapter let them take measures for the safety of their souls; if in the observance of the holy Regula or the Order, anything should be amended or supplemented, let them ordain it; let them re-establish the bond of peace and love among themselves.”

The annual Chapter is also given authority to correct any abbot and settle controversies between abbots; but when an abbot appears unworthy of his charge, and the Chapter has not acted, it is the duty of the abbot of his mother church to admonish him, and, upon his obduracy, summon other abbots and move for his deposition. Thus the Charta[Pg 363] Charitatis apportioned authority among the abbots of the Order, providing, as it were, a mutual power of enforcement in which every abbot had part. One notices also that the Charta is neither monarchical nor democratic, but aristocratic; for the abbots (not the Abbot of Citeaux alone) manage and control the Order, and without any representation of the monks at the annual Chapter.[441] The Charta Charitatis seems a spiritual mirror of the feudal system.

Mediaeval monasticism, whether cloistered or sent forth into the world, was predominantly coenobitic or communal. Yet through the Middle Ages the anchorite or hermit way of life was not unrepresented. Both monk and hermit existed from the beginning of Christian monasticism; they recognized the same purpose, but employed different means to achieve it. For their common aim was to merit the kingdom of heaven through the suppression of sense-desires and devotion to spiritual righteousness. But the communal system recognized the social nature of man, his essential weakness in isolation, and his inability to satisfy his bodily wants by himself. Thus admitting the human need of fellowship and correction, it deemed that man’s spiritual progress could be best advanced in a way of life which took account of these facts. On the other hand, anchoritism looked rather to man’s self-sufficiency alone with God—and the devil. It held that man could best conquer his carnal nature in solitude, and in solitude best meditate upon his soul and God. The society of one’s fellows, even though they be likeminded, is a distraction and a hindrance. Obviously, the devoted temper has its variants; and some souls will draw from solitude that strength which others gain from support and sympathy.

Both the coenobitic and the hermit life were, from the time of their inception, phases of the vita contemplativa. Yet more active duties had constantly been recognized, until at last monasticism, in an ardour of love for fellow-men, broke from the cloister and went abroad in the steps of Francis and Dominic. Even this active and uncloistered monasticism drew its strength from its hidden meditation,[Pg 364] and, strengthened from within itself, entered upon the vita activa, and practised among men the virtues which it had acquired through contemplation and the quiet discipline of the cloister. So if we people of the world would have understanding of the matter, we must never forget that at its source and in its essence the monastic life is a vita contemplativa, whether the monastic man, as a member of a fervent community, be sustained through the support of his brethren and the counsel or command of his superior, or whether, as an anchorite, he seclude himself in solitude. And the essence of this vita contemplativa is not to do or act, but to contemplate, meditate upon God and the human soul. By one line of ancestry it is a descendant of Aristotle’s βίος θεωρητικός. But its mightier parent was the Saviour’s manifestation of God’s love of man and man’s love of God. From this source came the emotional elements (and they were the predominant and overwhelming) of the Christian vita contemplativa, its terror and despair, its tears and hope, and its yearning love. Through these any Hellenic calm was transformed to storm-tossed Christian ecstasy.

Monastic quietism might at any time be drafted into Christian militancy. In the crises of the Church, or when there was call to go forth and convert the heathen or the carnal, both monk and hermit became zealots in the world. Yet important and frequent as these active functions were, they were not commanded by the Benedictine regula, either in its original form or in its many modifications, Cluniac, Cistercian, or Carthusian; hence they were not treated as part of the monastic life. There was to come a change. The vita contemplativa was to take to itself the vita activa as a regular and not an occasional function of perfect Christian piety. An evangelization of monasticism, according to the more active spirit of the Gospel, was at hand. The monastic ideal was to become humane and actively loving. In principle and theory, as well as practice, Christian piety was no longer to find its entire end and aim in contemplation, in asceticism, in purity: it was regularly henceforth to occupy itself with a loving beneficence among men.

Some of the ardent beginnings of this movement did not receive the sanction of the Church. The Poor of Lyons, the[Pg 365] Humbled Folk (Humiliati) of Lombardy, the Beghards of Liége, were pronounced to be heretics. Predominantly lay and ecclesiastically somewhat bizarre, they were scarcely monks. Yet these irregular evangelists of the latter part of the twelfth century were forerunners of that chief evangelizer of Monasticism, Francis of Assisi.[442]

The life of Francis, as all men know, fulfilled the current demands of monasticism. He lived and taught obedience, chastity, humility, and a more absolute poverty than had been before conceived. With respect to the first three virtues, it was only through his loving way of living them that Francis set anything new before his brethren. As for the last, it may be said that monks had always been forbidden to own property; only the monastery or the Order might. Francis’s absolute acceptance of poverty comes to us as inspired by the command of Christ to the rich young man: Go and sell all, and give to the poor, and then come follow me. But had no Christian soul read this before and accepted it absolutely? The Athanasian Life of St. Anthony,[Pg 366] at the very beginning of Christian monasticism, has the same account; he too gave up all he had on reading this passage. But then he fled to the desert, while Francis, when he had given up all, opened his arms to mankind. In accordance with his brotherly and social evangelization of monasticism, Francis modified certain of its practices. He removed restrictions upon intercourse among the brethren, and took away the barriers, save those of holiness, between the brethren and the world. Then he lifted the veil of silence from the brethren’s lips. They should thenceforth speak freely, in love of God and man. So monasticism stepped forth, at last uncloistered, upon its course of love and teaching in the world.

In spite of the temperamental differences between Francis and Dominic, and in spite of the different tasks which they set before their Orders, the analogy between Franciscans and Dominicans was fundamental; for the latter, as well as the former, regularly undertook to evoke the vita activa from the vita contemplativa. The Dominicans were to preach and teach true Christian doctrine, and as veritable Domini canes destroy the wolves of heresy menacing the Christian fold.

Dominic received from Pope Honorius III., in 1217, the confirmation of his Order, as an Order of Canons according to the Regula supposed to have been taught by Augustine. The Preaching Friars were never cloistered by their regula, any more than were the Minorites. Two or three years later, Dominic added, or emphasized anew, the principle of voluntary poverty, not only in the individuals but in the Order as a corporate whole. Whencesoever he derived this idea—whether from the Franciscans, or because it was rife among men—at all events it was not his originally; for Dominic had accepted at an earlier period the one-sixth of the revenues of the Bishop of Toulouse. This he now renounced, and instead accepted voluntary poverty.

It was not given to Dominic to love as Francis loved. Nor was he an incarnate poem. But it was in the spirit of Christian devotion that he undertook and laid upon his Order the performance of active duties in the world, especially of preaching true doctrines for the salvation of souls. Dominic took no personal part in the Albigensian[Pg 367] blood-shedding; and he was not the founder of the Inquisition, although his Order was so soon to be identified with it. He was a theologian, a teacher, and an ardent preacher; a devoted man, given to tears. Almost the only words we have from him are those of his Testament: “Caritatem habete, humilitatem servate, paupertatem voluntariam possedete.”[443]



[Pg 368]



Peter Damiani; Romuald; Dominicus Loricatus; Bruno and Guigo, Carthusians

To contemplate goodness in God, and strain toward it in yearning love, is the method of the Christian vita contemplativa. In this way the recluse cultivates humility, patience, purity, and love, and perfects his soul for heaven. And herein, in that it is more undistracted and more undisturbed, lies the superiority of the solitary life over the coenobitic.

Yet this conceived superiority is but the reason and the conscious motive for the solitary life. The call to it is felt as well as intellectually accepted. It is temperament that makes the recluse; his reasons are but his justification. In solitude he lives the reaches of his life; from solitude he draws his utmost bliss. To leave it involves the torture of separation, and then all the petty pains of unhappy labour and distasteful intercourse with men. “Whoever would reach the summit of perfection should keep within the cloister of his seclusion, cherish spiritual leisure, and shudder at traversing the world, as if he were about to plunge into a sea of blood. For the world is so filthy with vices, that any holy mind is befouled even by thinking about it.”[444]

Here speaks the hermit temper, by the mouth of a supreme exponent. If Hildebrand, who compelled all men to his purposes, kept Peter Damiani in the world, that ascetic soul did not cease to yearn for the hermit life. His skilful pen served it untiringly. Its temper, its merits, and its grounds, appear with unique clarity in the writings[Pg 369] of him who, sore against his will, was the Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia.[445]

“The solitary life is the school of celestial doctrine and the divine arts (artes divinae),” says Damiani, meaning every word. “For there God is the whole that is learned. He is also the way by which one advances, through which one attains knowledge of the sum of truth.”[446] To obtain its benefits, it must be led assiduously and without break or wandering abroad among men: “Habit makes his cell sweet to the monk, but roving makes it seem horrible.... The unbroken hermit life is a cooling refreshment (refrigerium); but, if interrupted, it seems a torment. Through continued seclusion the soul is illuminated, vices are uncovered, and whatever of himself had been hidden from the man, is disclosed.”[447]

Peter argues that the hermit life is free from temptations (!) and offers every aid to victory.

“The wise man, bent on safeguarding his salvation, watches always to destroy his vices; he girds his loins—and his belly—with the girdle of perfect mortification. Truly that takes place when the itching palate is suppressed, when the pert tongue is held in silence, the ear is shut off from distractions and the eye from unpermitted sights; when the hand is held from cruel striking, and the foot from vainly roving; when the heart is withstood, that it may not envy another’s felicity, nor through avarice covet what is not its own, nor through anger sever itself from fraternal love, nor vaunt itself arrogantly above its fellows, nor yield to the ticklings of lust, nor immoderately sink itself in grief or abandon itself wantonly to joy. Since, then, the human mind has not the power to remain entirely empty, and unoccupied with the love of something, it is girt around with a wall of the virtues.

“In this way, then, our mind begins to be at rest in its Author and to taste the sweetness of that intimacy. At once it rejects whatever it deems contrary to the divine law, shrinks from what does not agree with the rule of supernal righteousness. Hence true mortification is born; hence it comes that man kissing the Cross of his Redeemer seems dead to the world. No longer he delights in silly fables, nor is content to waste his time with idle talk. But he is free for psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; [Pg 370]he seeks seclusion, he longs for a hiding-place; he avoids the monastery’s conversation-rooms and rejoices in nooks and corners; and that he may the more freely attend to the contemplation of his Creator, so far as he may he declines colloquy with men.”[448]

“In fine,” says Damiani, in another treatise, “our entire conversion, and renunciation of the world, aims at nothing else than rest. This rest is won through the man’s prior discipline in the toils of strife, in order that when the tumult of disturbance ceases, his mind, through the grace of contemplation, may be translated to gaze upon the face of truth. But since one attains to this rest only through labour and conflict, how can one reach it who has not gone down into the strife? By what right can one enter the halls of the King who has not traversed the arena before the doors?”[449]

“It further behoves each brother who with his whole heart has abandoned the world, to unlearn and forget forever whatever is injurious. He should not be disputatious as to cookery, nor clever in the petty matters of the town; nor an adept in rhetoric’s jinglings, or in jokes or wordplay. He should love fasts and cherish penury; he should flee the sight of man, restrain himself under the censorship of silence, withdraw from affairs, keep his mouth from idle talk, and seek the hiding-place of his soul, and in such hiding be on fire to see the face of his Creator. Let him pant for tears, and implore God for them by daily prayer.”

With this last sentence Damiani makes his transition to the emotional side of the Christian vita contemplativa. He will now pour himself out in a rhapsody of praise of tears, which purify and refresh the soul, and open it to the love of God.

“From the fire of divine love rises the grace of contrition (gratia compunctionis), and again from the contrition of tears (ex compunctione lacrymarum) the ardour of celestial yearning is increased. The one hangs from the other, and each promotes the other; while the contrition of tears flows from the love of God, through tears again our soul burns more fervidly toward the love of God. In this reciprocal and alternating action, the soul is purged of the filth of its offence.”[450]

Elsewhere Damiani suggests how the hermit may acquire the “grace of tears”:

[Pg 371]“Seclude thyself from the turmoil of secular affairs and often even from talk with thy brethren. Cut off the cares and anxieties of mundane action; clear them away as a heap of rubbish which stops the fountain’s flow. As water in a cavern of the earth wells up from the abyss, so sadness (tristitia) wells in a human heart from contemplation of the profundity of God’s Judgment, and yet will not flow forth in tears if checked by the clods of earthly hindrance. Sadness is the material of tears. But in order that the veins of this fount may flow more abundantly, do thou clear away all obstacles of secular business—and other matters also, as I know from experience. Even spiritual zeal in the punishment of delinquents, and the labour of preaching, and like matters, holy as they are and commanded by divine authority, nevertheless are certainly obstacles to tears.

“So if you would attain the grace of tears, you must even curb the exercise of spiritual duties, eliminate malice, anger, and hatred, and the other pests from your heart. And do not let your own accusing conscience dry up the dew of tears with the aridity of fear. Indeed the confidence of holiness (sanctitatis fiducia) and a conscience bearing witness to its own innocence, waters the pure soul with the celestial rivulets of grace, softens the hardness of the impure heart, and opens the floodgates of weeping.”[451]

[Pg 372]“Many are the ways,” says Damiani in words sounding like a final reflection upon the solitary life—“many are the ways by which one comes to God; diverse are the orders in the society of the faithful; but among them all there is no way so straight, so sure, so unimpeded, so free from obstacles which trip one’s feet, as this holy life. It eliminates occasions for sin; it cultivates the greatest number of virtues by which God may be pleased; and thus, as it removes the opportunities of delinquency, it lays upon good conduct the added strength of necessity’s insistence.”[452]

Peter Damiani, exiled from solitude, found no task more grateful than that of writing the Life of his older contemporary, St. Romualdus, the founder of Camaldoli and other hermit communities in Italy. That man had completely lived the life from which the Church’s exigencies dragged his biographer. Peter put himself, as well as his best literary powers, into this Vita Romualdi, and made it one of the most vivid of mediaeval Vitae sanctorum. If Romuald was a hermit in the flesh, Damiani had the imagination to make the hermit spirit speak.[453]

“Against thee, unclean world, we cry, that thou hast an intolerable crowd of the foolish wise, eloquent as regards thee, mute as to God. Wise are they to do evil; they know not how to do good. For behold almost three lustra[454] have passed since the blessed Romualdus, laying aside the burden of flesh, migrated to the heavenly realm, and no one has arisen from these wise people to place upon the page of history even a few of the lessons of that wonderful life.”

The tone of this prologue suggests the kind of lessons[Pg 373] found by the biographer in the Life of Romuald. He was born of an illustrious Ravenna family about the year 950. In youth his devout mind became conscious of the sinfulness of the flesh. Whenever he went hunting, as was his wont, and would come to a retired nook in the woods, the hermit yearning came over him—and in love, says Damiani, he was prescient of what he was later to fulfil in deed.

His father chanced to kill a neighbour in knightly brawl; and for this homicide the son entered the monastery of St. Apollinaris in Classe, to do forty days’ penance for his parent. This introduction to the cloister had its natural effect on such a temper. Goaded by a vision of the saint, Romuald became a monk. He soon showed himself no easy man. His harsh censure of the brethren’s laxities caused a plot to murder him, the first of many attempts upon his life.

Three years he dwelt there. Then the yearning for perfection drove him forth, and, for a master, he sought out a hermit named Marinus, who lived in the Venetian territory, a man well meaning, but untaught as to the method of the hermit life. He and his disciple would issue from their cell and wander, singing together twenty psalms under one tree, and then thirty or forty under another. The disciple was unlettered, and the master rude. Romuald experienced intolerable tedium from straining his fixed eyes upon a psalter, which he could not read. He may have betrayed his ennui. At all events Marinus, grasping his rod in his right hand, and sitting on his disciple’s left, continually beat him, and always on the left side of his head. At length Romuald said humbly: “Master, if you please, would you henceforth beat me on the right side, as I have lost the hearing of my left ear.”

In the neighbourhood there dwelt a duke whose rapacity had brought him into peril. It happened that the abbot of a monastery situated not far from Chalons-sur-Marne in France came pilgrimaging that way, and the duke took counsel of him. The two hermits were also called; and the advice to the duke was to flee the world. So the whole party set forth, crossed the Alps, and travelled to the abbot’s monastery. There the duke became a monk, while Romuald and Marinus dwelt as solitaries a little way off.

[Pg 374]From this time Romuald increased in virtue, far outstripping all the brethren. He supplied his wants by tilling the soil, and fasted exceedingly. He sustained continual conflicts with the devil, who was always bringing into his mind the loves and hates of his former life in the world.

“The devil would come striking on his cell, just as Romuald was falling asleep, and then no sleep for him. Every night for nearly five years the devil pressed crosses upon his feet, and weighted them with the likeness of a phantom weight, so that Romuald could scarcely turn on his couch. How often did the devil let loose the raging beasts of the vices! and how often did Romuald put them to flight by his dire threats! Hence if any of the brethren came in the silence, knocking at his door, the soldier of Christ, always ready for battle, taking him for the devil, would threaten and cry out: ‘What now, wretch! what is there for thee in the hermitage, outcast of heaven! Back, unclean dog! Vanish, old snake!’ He declared that with such words as these he gave battle to malignant spirits; and with the arms of faith would go out and meet the challenge of the foe in a neighbouring field.”

Marvellously Romuald increased his fasts and austerities, after the manner of the old anchorites of Egypt.[455] Miraculous powers became his. But news came of his father which drew him back to Italy. That noble but sinful parent had entered a monastery where, under the persuasion of the devil, he was soon sorry for his conversion, and sought to return to the world. Romuald decided to go to his perishing father’s aid. But the people of the region hearing of it, were distressed to lose a man of such spiritual might. They[Pg 375] took counsel how to prevent his departure, and with impious piety (impia pietate) decided to send men to kill him, thinking that since they could not retain him alive, they would have his corpse as a protection for the land (pro patrocinio terrae). Knowing of this, Romuald shaved his head, and as the murderers approached his cell in the dusk of morning, he began to eat ravenously. Thinking him demented, they did him no injury. He then set forth, staff in hand, and walked from the centre of Gaul, even to Ravenna. There finding his father still seeking to return to the world, he tied the old sinner’s feet to a beam, fettered him with chains, flogged him, and at length by pious severity so subjugated his flesh that with God’s aid he brought his mind back to a state of salvation.[456]

Thus far Romuald’s life affords striking illustration of the fact that prodigious austerities and the consequent repute for miracles were the chief elements in mediaeval sainthood; also of the fact that the saint’s dead body might be as good as he. But while he lived, Romuald was much more than a miracle-working relic. He was a strong, domineering personality. It was soon after he brought his father back to the way of holiness that the old man saw a vision, and happily yielded up the ghost. The son continued to advance in his chosen way of life and in the elements of character which it fostered. He became a prodigious solitary; one to whom men and their ways were intolerable, and who himself was sometimes found intolerable by men. Even his appearance might be exceptional:

“The venerable man dwelt for a while in a swamp (near Ferrara). At length the poisonous air and the stench of the marsh drove him out; and he emerged hairless, with his flesh puffed and swollen (tumefactus et depilatus), not looking as if belonging to the genus homo; for he was as green as a newt.”[457]

Such a story displays the very extravagance of fleshly mortification. It has also its local colour. But one should seek its explanation in the grounds of the hermit life as set forth by Peter Damiani. Then the incidents of Romuald’s life will appear to spring from these hermit motives and from the hermit temperament, which became of terrible[Pg 376] intensity with him. Also the egotism, so frequently an element of that temperament, rose with him to spiritual megalomania:

“One day (apparently in the latter part of his life) some disciples asked him, ‘Master, of what age does the soul appear, and in what form is it presented for Judgment?’ He replied, ‘I know a man in Christ, whose soul is brought before God shining like snow, and indeed in human form, with the stature of the perfect time of life.’ Asked again who that man might be, he would not speak for indignation. And then the disciples talked it over, and recognized that he was certainly the man.”[458]

In another part of the Vita, Damiani, having told of his hero’s sojourn with a company of hermits who preferred their will to his, thus continues: “Romuald, therefore, impatient of sterility, began to search with anxious eagerness where he might find a soil fit to bear a fruitage of souls.” It was his passion to change men to anchorites: he yearned to convert the whole world to the solitary life. Many were the hermit communities which he established. But he could not endure his hermit sons for long, nor they him. His intolerant soul revolted from the give and take of intercourse. Such intolerance and his passion to make more converts drove him from place to place. He seemed inspired with a superhuman power of drawing men from the world. Now

“therefore he sent messengers to the Counts of Camerino. When these heard the name of Romuald they were beside themselves with joy, and placed their possessions, mountains, woods, and fields at his disposal, to select from. He chose a spot suited to the hermit way of living, intrenched amid forests and mountains, and affording an ample space of level fruitful ground, watered with crystal streams. The place was called of old the Valley of the Camp (Vallis de Castro), and a little church was there with a convent of women who had turned from the world. Here having built their cells, the venerable man and his disciples took up their abode.

“And what fruitage of souls the Lord there won through him, pen cannot describe nor tongue relate. From all directions men began to pour in, for penance and to bequeath in pity their goods to the poor, while others utterly forsook the world and with fervent [Pg 377]spirit hastened to the holy way of life. For this most blessed man was as one of the Seraphim, himself burning with the flame of divine love, and kindling others, wherever he went, with the fires of his holy preaching. Often, while speaking, a vast contrition brought him to such floods of tears that, breaking off his sermon, he would flee anywhere for refuge, like one demented. And also when travelling on horseback with the brethren, he followed far behind them, always singing psalms, as if he were in his cell, and never ceasing to shed tears.”[459]

In that age, the hopes and fears and wonderment of men looked to the recluse as the perfected saint. No wonder that those Italian lands, so blithely sinful and so grievously penitent, were moved by this volcanic tempest of a man, fierce, merciless to the flesh, convulsed with scorching tears, famed for austerities and miracles. He lashed men from their sins; men feared before one whose presence was a threat of hell. Said the Marquis of Tuscany: “Not the emperor nor any mortal man, can put such fear in me as Romuald’s look. Before his face I know not what to say, nor how to defend myself or find excuses.” And the biographer adds that “of a truth the holy man had this grace from the divine favour, that sinners, and especially the great of this world, quaked in their bowels before him as if before the majesty of God.”[460]

But some men hated, and especially those of his own persuasion who could not endure his harshness. From such came attempts at murder, from such also came milder outbreaks of detestation and revolt. No other founder of ascetic communities seems to have been so rebelled against. He went from the Valley of the Camp to Classe, where a simoniac abbot attempted to strangle him; then he returned, but not for long, for the abbot established in his place rejected his reproofs, and maligned him with the lords of the land. “And in that way,” says Damiani, “the tall cedar of Paradise was cast forth from the forest of earthly men.”[461]

His next sojourn was Vallombrosa, where after his decease one of his disciples was to found a famous cloister. From that nest in the Tuscan Apennines, he went to dwell[Pg 378] permanently on the Umbrian mount of Sytrio. At this point his biographer proceeds:

“Whoever hears that the holy man so often changed his habitation, must not ascribe this to the vice of levity. For the cause of these changes was that wherever he stayed, an almost countless crowd assembled, and when he saw one place filled with converts he very properly would appoint a prior and at once hasten to fill another.

“In Sytrio what insults and what indignities he endured from his disciples! We will set down one instance, and omit the rest for brevity. There was a disciple named Romanus, noble by birth, but ignoble by deed. Him the holy man for his carnal impurity not only chided by word but corrected with heavy beatings. That diabolic man dared to retort with the fabrication of the same charge, and to bark with sacrilegious mouth against this temple of the Holy Spirit, saying forsooth that the holy man was spotted with this same infection. The rage of the disciples broke out immediately against Romuald. All were his enemies: some declared that the wicked old man ought to be hanged from a gallows, others that he should be burned in his cell.

“One cannot understand how spiritual men could have believed such wickedness of a decrepit old man, whose frigid blood and aridity of attenuated frame would have forbade him, had he had the will. But doubtless it is to be deemed that this scourge of adversity came upon the holy man by the will of Heaven, to augment his merit. For he said himself that he had foreknown it with certainty in the solitude which he had left just before, and had come with alacrity to undergo this shame. But that false monkish reprobate who brought the charge against the holy man, afterwards became Bishop of Noceria through simony, and in the first year of his occupancy, saw, as he deserved, his house with his books and bells and the rest of his sacred paraphernalia burned; and in the second year, the divine sentence struck him and he wretchedly lost both his dignity and his life.

“In the meanwhile the disciples put a penance on the holy man as if he had been guilty, and deprived him of the right to celebrate the holy mysteries. He willingly accepted this false judgment, and took his penance like a culprit, not presuming to approach the altar for well-nigh six months. At length, as he afterwards told his disciples, he was divinely commanded to celebrate mass. On the next day, when proceeding with the sacrifice, he became rapt in ecstasy, and continued speechless for so long a time that all present marvelled. When afterwards asked the reason of his delay, he replied: ‘Carried into heaven, I was borne before God; and the divine voice commanded me, that with [Pg 379]such intelligence as God had set in me, I should write and commend for use a Commentary on the Psalms. Overcome with terror, I could only respond: so let it be, so let it be.’ For this reason the holy man made a Commentary on the whole Psalter; and although its grammar was bad, its sense was sound and clear.”[462]

Various attempts were made in the Middle Ages to render the hermit life practicable, through permitting a limited intercourse among a cluster of like-minded ascetics, as well as to regulate it under the direction of a superior. In Italy, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the picturesque energy of the individual hermit is prodigious, while in the north, as in the establishment of the Carthusian Order, the organization is better, the result more permanent, but the imaginative and consistent extravagance of personality is not there. In the hermit communities founded by Romuald there was a prior or abbot, invested with some authority. Yet the organization was less complete than in coenobitic monasteries; for Romuald’s hermit methods sought to minimize the intercourse among the brethren, to an extent which was scarcely compatible with effective organization. An idea of these communities may be had from Damiani’s description of one of them:

“Such was the mode of life in Sytrio, that not only in name but in fact it was as another Nytria.[463] The brethren went barefoot; unkempt and haggard; they were content with the barest necessaries. Some were shut in with doomed doors (damnatis januis), seemingly as dead to the world as if in a tomb. Wine was unknown, even in extreme illness. The attendants of the monks (famuli monachorum) and those who kept the cattle, fasted and preserved silence. They made regulations among themselves, and laid penances for speaking.”[464]

For seven years Romuald lived at Sytrio as an inclusus, shut up in his cell, and preserving unbroken silence. Yet though his tongue was dumb his life was eloquent. He lived on, setting a shining example of squalor and austerity, eating only vile food, and handing back untouched any savoury morsel. His conflicts with the devil continued; nor[Pg 380] was he ever vanquished. Advancing years intensified his aversion to human society and his passion for solitude. In proportion as he made his ways displeasing to men, his self-approval was enhanced.[465] A solitary death kept tally with the temper of a recluse life.

“When he saw his end draw near he returned to the Valley of the Camp, and had a cell with an oratory prepared, in which to immure himself and keep silence until death. Twenty years before, he had foretold to his disciples that there he should attain his peace; and had declared his wish to breathe forth his spirit with no one standing by or bestowing the last rites. When this cell of immurement (reclusorium) was ready, the mind in Romuald was so that it scarcely could be imprisoned. But his body grew heavy with the increasing ills of extreme age, and the hard breathing of tussis. Yet not for this would the holy man lie on a bed or relax his fasts. One day his strength gradually forsook him, and he found himself sinking with fatigue. So as the sun was setting he directed two brothers who stood by to go out and shut the door of his cell after them. He told them that when the time came for them to celebrate the matin hymns at dawn, they might return. Unwillingly they went out, but did not go at once to rest; and waited anxiously, concealing themselves by the master’s cell. After a while, as they listened intent and could hear no movement of his body nor any sound of his voice, correctly conjecturing what had happened, they broke open the door, rushed in and lighted the light; and there, the blessed soul having been transported to heaven, they found the holy corpse supine. It lay as a celestial pearl neglected, but hereafter to be placed with honour in the treasury of the King.”[466]

The spiritual unity which lies beneath the actions of Romuald should be sought in the reasons and temper of the hermit life. To perfect the soul for its passage to eternity is the fundamental motive. Monastic logic convinces the man that this can best be accomplished through withdrawal from the temptations of the world; and the hermit temper draws irresistibly to solitude. The only consistent social function left to such a man is that of turning the steps of his fellows to his own recluse path of perfection. Romuald’s life manifests such motives and such temper, and also this one function passionately performed.[Pg 381] We see in him no love of kind, but only a fiery passion for their salvation. Also we see the absorption of self in self with God, the harsh intolerance of other men, the fierce aversions and the passionate cravings which are germane to the hermit life.

Physical self-mortification is the element of the hermit life most difficult for modern people to understand. Yet nothing in Romuald extorted more entire admiration from his biographer than his austerities. And if there was one man on earth whom Peter admired as much as he did Romuald, it was a certain mail-coated Dominicus, a virtuoso in self-mortification. He exhibits its purging and penitential motives. Scourging purifies the body from carnality; that is one motive. It also atones for sins, and lessens the purgatorial period after death; this is another. There is a third which is rooted rather in temperament than in reason. This is contrition; the contrite heart may love to flagellate itself in love of Him who suffered sinless.

Dominicus was surnamed Loricatus because he wore a coat of mail against the attacks of the devil through the frailties of the too-comfortable flesh. In his youth, family influence had installed him in a snug ecclesiastic berth. As he reached maturity and bethought himself, the sense of this involuntary simoniacal contamination filled him with remorse. He abjured the world and became a member of the hermit community of Fonte Avellana, where Damiani exercised the authority of prior. Yet the latter looked on Dominic as his master, whom he admired to the pitch of marvel, while regretting that he lacked himself the strength and leisure to equal his flagellations. So Peter was enraptured with this wonder of a Dominic, and wrote his biography, which deserved telling if, as Peter says, his entire life, his tota quippe vita, was a preaching and an edification, instruction and discipline (praedicatio, aedificatio, doctrina, disciplina).

One descriptive passage from it will suffice:

“I am speaking of Dominic, my teacher and my master, whose tongue indeed is rustic, but whose life is polished and accomplished (artificiosa satis et lepida). His life indeed preaches more effectively by its living actions (vivis operibus) than a barren [Pg 382]tongue which inanely weighs out the balanced phrases of a bespangled urbanity (phaleratae urbanitatis). Through a long course of gliding years, girt with iron mail, he has waged truceless war against the wicked spirits; with cuirassed body and heart always ready for battle, he marches eager warrior against the hostile array.

“Likewise it is his regular and unremitting habit, with a rod in each hand every day to beat time upon his naked body, and thus scourge out two psalters. And this even in the slacker season. For in Lent or when he has a penance to perform (and he often undertakes a penance of a hundred years), each day, while he plies himself with his rods, he pays off at least three psalters repeating them mentally (meditando).

“The penance of a hundred years is performed thus: With us three thousand blows satisfies a year of penance; and the chanting (modulatio) of ten psalms, as has often been tested, admits one thousand blows. Now, clearly, as the Psalter consists of one hundred and fifty psalms, any one computing correctly will see that five years of penance lie in chanting one psalter, with this discipline. Now, whether you take five times twenty or twenty times five you have a hundred. Consequently whoever chants twenty psalters, with this accompanying discipline, may be confident of having performed a hundred years of penance. Herein our Dominic outdid those who struck with only one hand; for he, a true son of Benjamin, warred indefatigably with both hands against the lawless rebels of the flesh. He has told me himself that he easily accomplished a penance of a hundred years in six days.”[467]

This loricated Dominic was conscious of his virtuosity. We find him at the beginning of a certain Lent, requesting the imposition of a penance of a thousand years! Again, he comes after vespers to Damiani’s cell to tell him that between morning and evening he has broken his record by “doing” eight psalters! And once more we read of his coming troubled to his master, saying: “You have written, as I have just heard, that in one day I chanted nine psalters with corporeal discipline. When I heard it, I turned pale and groaned. ‘Woe is me,’ I said; ‘without my knowledge, this has been written of me, and yet I do not know whether I could do it.’ So I am going to try again, and I shall certainly find out.”[468]

[Pg 383]Dominic probably derived more pleasure than pain from his scourgings. For besides the vanity of achievement, and some ecstasy of contrition, the flesh itself turns morbid and rejoices in its laceration. Yet such austerity is pre-eminently penal, and is initially impelled by fear. With Dominic, with Romuald, with Damiani, the fear of hell entered the motives of the secluded life. To observe this fear writ large in panic terror, we turn to the old legend regarding the conversion of Bruno of Cologne, the founder of the Carthusian Order. The scene is laid in Paris, where (with much improbability) Bruno is supposed to be studying in the year 1082. One of the most learned and pious of the doctors of theology died. His funeral had been celebrated, and his body was about to be carried to the grave, when the corpse raised its head and cried aloud with a dreadful voice: “Justo Dei judicio accusatus sum.” Then the head fell back. The people, terror-stricken, postponed the interment to the following day, when again, as before, with a grievous and terrible voice the corpse raised its head and cried: “Justo Dei judicio judicatus sum.” Amid general terror the interment was again postponed to the next day, when, as before, with a horrible cry the corpse shrieked: “Justo Dei judicio condemnatus sum.”

At this, Bruno, impressed and terrified, said to his friends: “Beloved, what shall we do? Unless we fly we shall all perish utterly. Let us renounce the world, and, like Anthony and John the Baptist, seek the caves of the desert, that we may escape the wrath of the Judge, and reach the port of salvation.” So they flee, and the Carthusian Order, with its terrific asceticism, begins.[469]

This story, aside from its marvellous character, does not[Pg 384] harmonize with the more authentic facts of Bruno’s life. It is, however, a striking expression of the ascetic fear; it also reflects psychologic truth. Who but the man himself knows the naughtiness of his own heart? its never-to-be disclosed vile and morbid thoughts? The modern may realize this. Hamlet did. And it was just such a phase of self-consciousness as the mediaeval imagination would transform into a tale of horror. Bruno himself had been a learned doctor, a teacher, and the head of the cathedral school at Rheims; he had been a zealous soldier of the Church. In all this he had not found peace. The profession of a doctor of theology, even when coupled with more active belligerency for the Church, afforded no certain salvation. The story of the Paris doctor may have symbolized the anxieties which dwelt in Bruno’s breast, until under their stimulus the yearnings of a solitary temper gathered head and at last brought him with six followers to Carthusia (la grande Chartreuse), which lies to the north of Grenoble. 1084 is the year of its beginning.

It was a hermit community, the brethren living two by two in isolated cells, but meeting for divine service in a little chapel. Camaldoli may have been the model. Bruno wrote no regula for his followers, and the practices of the Order were first formulated by Guigo, the fifth prior, in his Consuetudines Cartusiae, about the year 1130.[470] These permit a limited intercourse among the brethren, for the service of God and the regulation of their own lives. Yet the broader object was seclusion. Not only severance from the world, but the seclusion of the brethren from each other, in solitary labour and contemplation, was their ideal. The asceticism of these Consuetudines is of the strictest. And somehow it would seem as if in the Carthusian Order the frailties of the spirit and the lusts of the flesh were to be permanently vanquished by this set life of labour, meditation, and rigid asceticism. Carthusia nunquam reformata, quia nunquam deformata, remained true century after century. This long freedom from corruption was partly due to the[Pg 385] lofty and somewhat exclusive character of the brotherhood. Carthusia was no broad way for the monastic multitude. Its monks were relatively few and holy, the select of God. Men of devout piety, they must be. It was also needful that they should be possessed of such intellectual endowment and meditative capacity as would with God’s grace yield provision for a life of solitary thought.

The intellectual piety of Carthusia finds its loftiest expression in the Meditationes of this same prior Guigo,[471] the form of which calls to mind the Reflections of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus. In substance they reflect Augustine’s intellectual devoutness and many of his thoughts. But they seem Guigo’s very own, fruit of his own reflection; and thus incidentally they afford an illustration of the general principle that by the twelfth century the Middle Ages had made over into themselves what they had drawn from the Fathers or from the pagan antique. Guigo’s Meditations possess spiritual calm; their logic is unhesitating; it is remorselessly correct, however incomplete may be its premises or its comprehension of life’s data. Whoever wishes to know the high contemplative mind of monastic seclusion in the twelfth century may learn it from this work. A number of its precepts are given here for the sake of their illustrative pertinency and intrinsic merit, and because our author is not very widely known. He begins with general reflections upon Veritas and Pax:

“Truth should be set in the middle, as something beautiful. Nor, if any one abhors it, do thou condemn, but pity. Thou indeed, who desirest to come to it, why dost thou spurn it when it chides thy faults?

“Without form and comeliness and fastened to the cross, truth is to be worshipped.

“If thou speakest truth not from love of truth but from wish to injure another, thou wilt not gain the reward of a truthspeaker but the punishment of a defamer.

“Truth is life and eternal salvation. Therefore you ought to pity any one whom it displeases. For to that extent he is dead and lost. But you, perverse one, would not tell him the truth unless you thought it bitter and intolerable to him. You do still worse when in order to please men you speak a truth which [Pg 386]delights them as much as if it were lies and flattery. Not because it displeases or pleases should truth be spoken, but as it profits. Yet be silent when it would do harm, as light to weak eyes.

“Blessed is he whose mind is moved or affected only by the perception and love of truth, and whose body is moved only by his mind. Thus the body, like the mind, is moved by truth alone. For if there is no stirring in the mind save that of truth, and none in the body save that from the mind, then also there is no stirring in the body save from truth, that is from God.

“Thou dost all things for the sake of peace, toward which the way lies through truth alone, which is thine adversary in this life. Therefore either subject thee to it or it to thee. For nothing else is left thee.

“The lake does not boast because it abounds in water; for that is from the source. So as to thy peace. Its cause is always something else. Therefore thy peace is shifting and inconstant in proportion to the instability of its cause. How worthless is it when it arises from the pleasingness of a human face!

“Let not temporal things be the cause of thy peace; for then wilt thou be as worthless and fragile as they. You would have such a peace in common with the brutes; let thine be that of the angels, which proceeds from truth.

“The beginning of the return to truth is to be displeased with falsity. Blame precedes correction.

“In the cares which engage thee for thy salvation, no service or medicine is more useful than to blame and despise thyself. Whoever does this for thee is thy helper.

“Easy is the way to God, since it advances by laying down burdens. Thou dost unburden thyself so far as thou deniest thyself.

“When anything good is said of thee, it is but as a rumour regarding which thou knowest better.

“Consider the two experiences of filling and emptying (ingestionis et egestionis); which blesses thee more? That burdens thee with useless matters; this disburdens thee. To have had that is to have devoured it altogether. Nothing remains for hope. So in all things of sense. They perish all. And what of thee after these? Set thy love and hope on what will not pass.

“Bestial pleasure comes from the senses of the flesh; it is diabolic, a thing of arrogance, envy, and deceit; philosophic pleasure is to know the creature; the angelic pleasure is to know and love God.

“When we take our pleasure from that from which brutes draw pleasure—from lust like dogs, or from gluttony like swine—our souls become like theirs. Yet we do not shudder. I had rather have a dog’s body than his soul. It would be more tolerable if [Pg 387]our body changed to bestial shape, while our soul remained in its dignity, that is, in the likeness of God.

“Readily man entangles himself in love of bodies and of vanity; but, willy, nilly, he is torn with fear and grief at their dissolution. For the love of perishable things is as a fountain of useless fears and sorrows. The Lord frees the poor man from the mighty, by loosing him from the fetter of earthly love.

“The human soul is tortured in itself as long as it can be tortured, that is, as long as it loves anything besides God.

“Thou hast been clinging to one syllable of a great song, and art troubled when that wisest Singer proceeds in His singing. For the syllable which alone thou wast loving is withdrawn from thee, and others succeed in order. He does not sing to thee alone, nor to thy will, but His. The syllables which succeed are distasteful to thee because they drive on that one which thou wast loving evilly.

“All matters which are called adverse are adverse only to the wicked, that is, those who love the creature instead of the Creator.

“If in any way thou art tormented by fear, or anger or hate or grief of any kind, lay it to thyself, that is, to thy concupiscence, ignorance, or sloth. And if any one wishes to injure thee, lay that to his concupiscence. Thy distress is evidence of thy sin in loving anything destructible, having dismissed God. Thou dost grieve over the ruined show; lay it to thee and thine error because thou hast been cleaving to things that may be broken.

“He seeks a long temptation who seeks a long life.

“What God has not loved in His friends—power, rank, riches, dignities—do not thou love in thine.

“Snares thou eatest, drinkest, wearest, sleepest in; all things are snares.

“We are exiles through love and wantonness and inclination, not through locality; exiles in the country of defilement, of dark passions, of ignorance, of wicked loves and hates.

“In so far as thou lovest thyself—that is, this temporal life—so far dost thou love what is transitory.

“Adverse matters do not make thee wretched, but rather show thee to have been so; prosperity blinds the soul, by covering and increasing misery, not by removing it.

“Every one ought to love all men. Whoever wishes another to show special love toward him is a robber, and an offender against all.

“Mixed through this body, thou wast wretched enough; for thou wast subject to all its corruptions, even to the bite of the flea or the sorunculus. This did not suffice thee. Thou hast mixed thyself up with other quasi bodies, the opinion of men, admiration, love, honour, fear and the like. When these are harmed, pain comes to thee, as from bodily hurt. Thy honour is [Pg 388]hurt when contempt is shown thee; and so with the rest. Think also thus regarding bodily forms.

“Unless thou hast despised whatever men can do to thwart or aid thee, thou wilt not be able to contemn their disposition toward thee, their hate and love, their opinions, good or bad.

“Why dost thou wish to be loved by men?

“Who rejoices in praise, loses praise.

“Who is pained or angered by the loss of any temporal thing, shows himself worth what he has lost.

“No thing ought to wish to be loved as good, unless it blesses its lover in the very matter for which it is loved. But no thing does this if it needs its lover, or is helped by loving or being loved by another. Most cruel, then, is the thing which wishes another to place affection and hope on it when it cannot benefit that other. The devils do this, who wish men to be engrossed in their service instead of God’s. So cry to thy lovers, Cease, ye wretched, to admire or respect or honour me; for I, miserable wretch, can neither aid myself nor you, but rather need your aid.

“So far as in thee is, thou hast destroyed all men, for thou hast put thyself between them and God, so that gazing on thee and ignoring God, they might admire and praise thee alone. This is utterly profitless to thee and them, not to say destructive.

“Whatever form thou dost enjoy is as the male to thy mind. For thy mind yields and lies down to it. Thou dost not assimilate it, but it thee. Its image endures, like an idol in its temple, to which thou dost sacrifice neither ox nor goat, but thy rational soul and thy body, to wit, thy whole self, when thou enjoyest it.

“See how, as in a wine-shop, thou dost prostitute thine as a venal love, and to the measure of pay weighest thyself out to men. In this wine-shop he receives nothing who gives nothing. And yet thou wouldst not have that which thou dost sell, unless freely from above it had been given to thee who gave nothing. Therefore thou hast received thy pay.

“To be empty and removed from God is to make ready for lust.

“Who wishes to enjoy thee in thyself, deserves from thee the thanks of flies and fleas who suck thy blood.

“This is the very sum of human depravity to forsake the better, which is God, and to regard the lesser and cleave to them by delighting in them—these temporalities!

“The beetle as it flies sees everything, and then selects nothing that is beautiful or wholesome or durable, but settles down upon dung. So thy soul in mental flight (intuitu pervolans) surveying heaven and earth and whatever is great and precious therein, cleaves to none of these, but embraces the cheap and dirty things occurring to its thought. Blush for this.

[Pg 389]“When thou pleadest with God not to take from thee something to which thou cleavest by desire, it is as if an adulteress caught by her husband in the act, should not ask pardon for her crime, but beg him not to interrupt her pleasure. It is not enough for thee to go wantoning from God, but thou must incline Him to save and approve the things in which thou takest delight to thy undoing—the forms of bodies, their savours and their colours.

“The poverty of thine inner vision of God, purblind as thou art, although He is there, makes thee willing to go out of doors from thine own hearth, refusing to linger within thyself, as in the dark. So thou hast nothing to do but go gaping after the external forms of bodies and the opinions of men. Thou dost carry thyself in this world as if thou hadst come hither to gaze and wonder at the forms of bodies.

“May God be gracious to thee, that the feet of thy mind may find no resting-place, so that somehow, O soul, thou mayest return to the Ark, like Noah’s dove.

“Prosperity is a snare, adversity the knife that cuts it; prosperity imprisons us from the love of God; adversity breaks the dungeon in pieces.

“Since you are taken only by pleasure, you should shun whatever gives it. The Christian soul is safe only in adversity. From what thou cherishest God makes thee rods.

“The only medicine for every pain and torment is contempt for whatever in thee is hurt by them, and the turning of the mind to God.

“As many carnal pleasures as thou spurnest, just so many snares of the devil dost thou escape. As many tribulations—especially those for truth’s sake—as thou dost flee, so many salutary remedies thou spurnest.

“In hope thou mayest cherish the unripened grain; thus love those who are not yet good, Be such toward all as the Truth has shown itself toward thee. Just as it has sustained and loved thee for thy betterment, so do thou sustain and love men in order to better them.

“You are set as a standard to blunt the darts of the enemy, that is, to destroy evil by opposing good to it. You should never return evil for evil, except very medicinally; which is not to return evil but good.

“If to cleave to God is thine whole and only good, thine whole and only evil is separation from Him.

“Who loves all will be saved without doubt; but who is loved by men will not for that reason be saved.”

The unity of these Meditations lies in the absolute manner in which the meditating soul attaches itself to God[Pg 390] as its whole and only good. Herein Guigo’s thoughts are Augustinian. One notes their clear intellectual tone. Nothing lures the thinker from his aim and goal of God. He abhors whatever might distract him; and as to all except God and God’s commands, he is indifferent. Guigo detests impermanence as keenly as did the Brahmin and Buddhist meditators of India. He has as high regard as any Indian or Greek philosopher for a life of thought. But there are differences between the Carthusian prior and the Greek or Indian sage. Guigo’s renunciation does not (from his standpoint) penetrate life as deeply as Gotama’s; for Guigo renounces only things comparatively insignificant, so utterly transient are they, so completely they pale before the light of his goal of God. Therein shall lie clearer attainment than lay at the end of any Indian chain of reasoning. So note well, that Guigo, like other Christians, is not essentially a renouncer, but one who attains and receives.

The difference between him and the Greek is also patent. The source of his blue lake of thought is not himself, but God. Although calm and sustained by reason, he is rationally the opposite of self-reliant, and so the opposite of the ideal Stoic or Aristotelian. God is his Creator, the source of his thoughts, the loadstar of his meditations, the all-comprehending object of his desire.

We find in Guigo further specific elements of Christian asceticism, which sharpen his repugnances for the world of transient phenomena. Those phenomena mostly contain elements of sin: all pleasure is temptation and a snare; adversity keeps the soul’s wings trimmed true. So the main content of passing mortal life, while not evil in itself, is so charged with temptation and allure, that it is worthy only of avoidance. The transient, the physical, the brutal, the diabolic—one shades into the next, and leads on to the last. Have none of them, O soul! They are snares all.

Of course, Guigo has the specific monkish horror of sexual lust, that chief of fleshly snares. But he goes further. With him all particular, disproportionate love is wrong; love no one, and desire not to be loved, out of the proportionment of the common love which God has for all His[Pg 391] creatures: so love you, and not otherwise. Others, even women, attained this standard. In the legend, St. Elizabeth of Hungary gives thanks that she loves her own children no more than others’. She is no mother, but a saint. So Guigo will love all—love indeed? one queries. Thus also will he have others hold themselves toward him, lest he be a stumbling-block in their or his salvation.

Yea, salvation! If indeed this monk shall not have attained that, of a truth he would be of all men most miserable—save for the quiet, thought-filled calm which is his inner and his veritable life. It is a calm not riven by the storms which drove the soul of Peter Damiani. God was not less to Guigo; but the temperaments of the two men differed. Not beyond or out of one’s nature can one love or yearn, or even know the stress of storm.



[Pg 392]



Through the prodigious power of his personality, St. Bernard gave new life to monasticism, promoted the reform of the secular clergy and the suppression of heresy, ended a papal schism, set on foot the Second Crusade, and for a quarter of a century swayed Christendom as never holy man before or after him. An adequate account of his career would embrace the entire history of the first half of the twelfth century.[472]

The man who was to move men with his love, and quell the proud with fear, had, as a youth, a graceful figure, a sweet countenance, and manners the most winning. Later in life he is spoken of as cheerfully bearing reproaches, but shamefaced at praise, and his gentle manners are again mentioned.

“As a helpmeet for his holy spirit, God made his body to conform. In his flesh there was visible a certain grace, but spiritual rather than of the flesh. A brightness not of earth shone in his look; there was an angelic purity in his eyes, and a dove-like simplicity. The beauty of the inner man was so great that it would burst forth in visible tokens, and the outer man would seem bathed from the store of inward purity and copious grace. His frame was of the slightest (tenuissimum), and most spare of flesh; a blush often tinged the delicate skin of his cheeks. And a certain natural heat (quidquid caloris naturalis) was in him, arising from assiduous meditation and penitent zeal. His hair was bright [Pg 393]yellow, his beard reddish with some white hairs toward the end of his life. Actually of medium stature, he looked taller.”[473]

This same biography says:

“He who had set him apart, from his mother’s womb, for the work of a preacher, had given him, with a weak body, a voice sufficiently strong and clear. His speech, whatever persons he spoke to for the edifying of souls, was adapted to his audience; for he knew the intelligence, the habits and occupations of each and all. To country folk he spoke as if born and bred in the country; and so to other classes, as it he had been always occupied with their business. He was learned with the erudite, and simple with the simple, and with spiritual men rich in illustrations of perfection and wisdom. He adapted himself to all, desiring to gain all for Christ.”[474]

Bernard was born of noble parents at the Chateau of Fontaines, near Dijon, in the year 1090, and was educated in a church school at Chatillon on the Seine. It is an ofttold story, how, when little more than twenty years of age, he drew together a band formed of his own brothers, his uncle, and his friends, and led them to Citeaux,[475] his ardent soul unsatisfied so long as one held back. Three years later, in 1115, the Abbot, Stephen Harding, entrusted him with the headship of the new monastery, to be founded in the domains of the Count of Troyes. Bernard set forth with twelve companions, came to Clara Vallis on the river Aube, and placed his convent in that austere solitude.

Great were the attractions of Clairvaux (Clara Vallis) under Bernard’s vigorous and loving rule. Its monks increased so rapidly and so constantly that during its founder’s life sixty-five bands were sent forth to rear new convents. Meanwhile, Bernard’s activities and influence widened, till they seemed to compass western Christendom.[Pg 394] He had become a power in the politics of Church and State. In 1130 he was summoned by Louis le Gros practically to determine the claims of the rival Popes Innocent II. and Anacletus II. He decided for the former, and was the chief instrument of his eventual reinstatement at Rome. Before this Bernard’s health had been broken by his extreme austerities. Yet even the lamentable failure of the Second Crusade, zealously promoted by him, did not break his power over Europe, which continued unimpaired until his death in 1153.

This active and masterful man was impelled by those elements of the vita contemplativa which formed his inner self. First and last and always he was a monk. Had he not been the very monk he was, he would not have been the dominator of men and situations that he proved himself to be. Temperament fashions the objects of contemplation, and shapes the yearning and aversions, of great monks. The temperamental element of love—the love of God and man, with its appurtenant detestations—made the heart of Bernard’s vita contemplativa, and impassioned and empowered his active faculties. It was the keynote of his life: in his letters it speaks in words of fire, while other writings of the saint analyze this great human quality with profundity and truth. In these he renders explicit the modes of affection which man may have for man and above all for God; he sets them forth as the path as well as goal of life on earth, and then as the rapt summit of attainment in the life to come. Through all its stages, as it flows from self to fellow, as it rises from man to God, love still is love, and forms the unifying principle among men and between them and God.

Let us trace in his letters the nature and the power of Bernard’s love, and see with what yearning he loved his fellows, seeking to withdraw them from the world; and how his love strove to be as sword and armour against the flesh and the devil. By easy transition we shall pass to Bernard’s warning wrath, flung against those who would turn the struggling soul aside, or threaten the Church’s peace; then by more arduous, but still unbroken stages, we may rise to the love of Jesus, and through love of the God-man to love of God. We shall realize at the close why that last mediaeval[Pg 395] assessor of destinies, whose name was Dante Alighieri, selected St. Bernard as the exponent of the blessed vision which is salvation’s crown in the paradise of God.[476]

The way of life at Clara Vallis might discourage monks of feeble zeal. Among the brethren of these early days was one named Robert, a cousin of the Abbot, seemingly of weak and petulant disposition. Soon he fled, to seek a softer cell in Cluny, the great and rich monastery to which his parents appear to have dedicated him in childhood. For a while Bernard suppressed his grief; but the day came when he could endure no longer Robert’s abandonment of his soul’s safety and of the friend who yearned for him. He stole out of the monastery, accompanied by a monk named William. There, in the open (sub dio), Bernard dictated a long letter to be sent to the deserter. While the two were busy, the one dictating, the other writing, a rainstorm broke upon them. William wished to stop. “It is God’s work; write and fear not,” said Bernard. So William wrote on, in the midst of the rain; but no drop fell on him or the parchment; for the power of love which dictated the letter preserved the parchment on which it was being written.[477]

Whoever has read this letter in its own fervent Latin will not care to dispute this miracle, for which it stands first in the collection of Bernard’s correspondence. Bernard does not recriminate or argue in it; his love shall bring the young monk back to him. Yes, yes, he says to all that the other has urged regarding fancied slights and persecution:

“Quite right; I admit it. I am not writing in order to contend, but to end contention. To flee persecution is no fault in him who flees, but in him who pursues; I do not deny it. I pass over what has happened; I do not ask why or how it happened. I do not discuss faults, I do not dispute as to the circumstances, I have no memory for injuries. I speak only what is in my heart. Wretched me, that I lack thee, that I do not see thee, that I am living without thee, for whom to die would be to live; without whom to live, is to die. I ask not why thou hast gone away; I complain only that thou dost not return. Come, and there shall be peace; return, and all shall be made good.

[Pg 396]“It was certainly my fault that thou didst go away. I was too austere with thy young years, and treated thee inhumanly. So thou saidst when here, and so I hear thou dost still reproach me. But that shall not be imputed to thee. I never meant it harshly, I was only indiscreet. Now thou wilt find me different, and I thee. Where before thou didst fear the master, thou shalt now embrace the companion. Do not think that I will not excuse any fault of thine. Dost thou wish to be quite free from fault? then return. If thou wilt forget thy fault I will pardon it; also pardon thou me, and I too will forget my fault.”

Bernard then argues long and passionately against those who had led the young man away and received him with such blandishments at Cluny; and passionately he argues against the insidious softening of monastic principles.

“Arise, soldier of Christ, arise, shake off the dust, return to the battle whence thou hast fled, and more bravely shalt thou fight and more gloriously triumph. Christ has many soldiers who bravely began, stood fast and conquered; He has few who have turned from flight and renewed the combat. Everything rare is precious; and thou among that rare company shalt the more radiantly shine.

“Thou art fearful? so be it; but why dost thou fear where there is no fear, and why dost thou not fear where everything is to be feared? Because thou hast fled from the battle-line, dost thou think to have escaped the foe? It is easier for the Adversary to pursue a fugitive than to bear himself against manful defence. Secure, arms cast aside, thou takest thy morning slumbers, the hour when Christ will have arisen! The multitude of enemies beset the house, and thou sleepest. Is it safer to be caught alone and sleeping, than armed with others in the field? Arouse thee, seize thy arms, and escape to thy fellow-soldiers. Dost thou recoil at the weight of thy arms, O delicate soldier! Before the enemy’s darts the shield is no burden, nor the helmet heavy. The bravest soldiers tremble when the trumpet is heard before the battle is joined; but then hope of victory and fear of defeat make them brave. How canst thou tremble, walled round with the zeal of thy armed brethren, angels bearing aid at thy right hand, and thy leader Christ? There shalt thou safely fight, secure of victory. O battle, safe with Christ and for Christ! In which there is no wound or defeat or circumvention so long as thou fleest not. Only flight loses the victory, which death does not lose. Blessed art thou, and quickly to be crowned, dying in battle. Woe for thee, if recoiling, thou losest at once the victory and the crown—which may He avert, my beloved son, who in the Judgment will award thee deeper damnation because of this letter of mine if He finds thee to have taken no amendment from it.”

[Pg 397]“It is God’s work,” said Bernard to the hesitating scribe. These words suggest the character of the love which inspired this letter. He loved Robert as man yearns for man; but his motive was to do God’s will, and win the young man back to salvation. In after years this young man returned to Clara Vallis.

It was Bernard’s lot to write many letters urging procrastinators to fulfil their vows,[478] or appealing to those who had laid aside the arms of austerity, perhaps betaking themselves to the more worldly life of the secular clergy. This seems to have been the case with a young canon Fulco, whom an ambitious uncle sought to draw back to the world, or at least to a career of sacerdotal emolument. In fact, Fulco at last became an archdeacon; from which it may be inferred that in his case Bernard’s appeal was not successful. He had poured forth his arguments in an ardent letter.[479] Love compels him to use words to make the recipient grieve; for love would have him feel grief, that he might no longer have true cause for grief—good mother love, who can cherish the weak, exercise those who have entered upon their course, or quell the restless, and so show herself differently toward her sons, all of whom she loves. This letter, like the one to Robert, concludes with a burning peroration:

“What dost thou in the city, dainty soldier? Thy fellows whom thou hast deserted, fight and conquer; they storm heaven (coelum rapiunt) and reign, and thou, sitting on thy palfrey (ambulatorem), clothed in purple and fine linen, goest ambling about the highways!”

Bernard also wrote letters of consolation to parents whose sons had become monks, or letters of warning to those who sought to withdraw a monk from his good fight. In one instance, his influence had made a monk of a youth of gentle birth named Godfrey, to his parents’ grief. So Bernard writes to them:

“If God makes your son His also, what have you lost, or he? He, from rich, becomes richer, from being noble, still more illustrious, and what is more than all, from a sinner he becomes a saint. It behoved him to be made ready for the Kingdom prepared for him [Pg 398]from the foundation of the world, and for this reason it is well for him to spend with us his short span of days, so that clean from the filth of living in the world, earth’s dust shaken off, he may become fit for the heavenly mansion. If you love him you will rejoice that he goes to his Father, and such a Father! He goes to God, but you do not lose him; rather through him you gain many sons. For all of us who belong to Clara Vallis have taken him to be our brother and you for our parents.

“Perhaps you fear this hard life for his tender body—that were to fear where there is nothing to fear. Have faith and be comforted. I will be a father to him and he shall be my son until from my hands the Father of Mercies and God of all consolation shall receive him. Do not grieve; do not weep; your Godfrey is hastening to joy, not to sorrow. A father to him will I be, a mother too, a brother and a sister. I will make the crooked ways straight, and the steep places plain. I will so temper and provide for him that as his spirit profits, his body shall not want. So shall he serve the Lord in joy and gladness, and shall sing before Him, How great is the glory of the Lord.”[480]

Young Godfrey was a daintily nurtured plant. For all the Abbot’s eloquence he did not stay in Clara Vallis. The world drew him back. It was now for the saint to weep:

“I grieve over thee, my son Godfrey; I grieve over thee. And with reason. For who would not lament that the flower of thy youth which, to the joy of angels, thou didst offer unsullied to God in the odour of sweetness, is now trampled on by demons, defiled with sins, and contaminated by the world. How could you, who were called by God, follow the devil recalling thee? How could you, whom He had begun to draw to Himself, withdraw your foot from the very entry upon glory? In thee I see the truth of those words: ‘A man’s foes are they of his own household.’ Thy friends and neighbours drew near and stood up against thee. They called thee back into the jaws of the lion and the gates of death. They have set thee in darkness, like the dead; and thou art nigh to go down into the belly of hell, which now is ravening to devour thee.

“Turn back, I say, turn back, before the abyss swallows you and the pit closes its mouth, before you are engulfed whence you shall not escape, before, bound hand and foot, you are cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, before you are hurled into darkness, shut in with the darkness of death.

“Perhaps you blush to return, where you have only now fallen [Pg 399]away. Blush for flight, and not for turning to renew the combat. The conflict is not ended; the hostile arrays have not withdrawn from each other. We would not conquer without you, nor do we envy you your share of the glory. Joyful we will run to thee, and receive thee in our arms, crying: ‘It is meet to make merry and be glad; for this our son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.’”[481]

Who knows whether this letter brought back the little monk? Bernard wrote so lovingly to him, so gently to his parents. He could write otherwise, and show himself insensible to this world’s pestering tears. To the importunate parents of a monk named Elias, who would drag him away from Clara Vallis, Bernard writes in their son’s name thus:

“To his dear parents, Ingorranus and Iveta, Elias, monk but sinner, sends daily prayers.

“The only cause for which it is permitted not to obey parents is God; for He said: ‘Whoso loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.’ If you truly love me as good and faithful parents, why do you molest my endeavour to please the Father of all, and attempt to withdraw me from the service of Him, to serve whom is to reign? For this I ought not to obey you as parents, but regard you as enemies. If you loved me, you would rejoice, because I go to my Father and yours. But what is there between you and me? What have I from you save sin and misery? And indeed the corruptible body which I carry I admit I have from you. Is it not enough that you brought miserable me into the misery of this hateful world? that you, sinners, in your sin produced a sinner? and that him born in sin, in sin you nourished? Envying the mercy which I have obtained from Him who desireth not the death of a sinner, would you make me a child of hell?

“O harsh father! savage mother! parents cruel and impious—parents! rather destroyers, whose grief is the safety of the child, whose consolation is the death of their son! who would drag me back to the shipwreck which I, naked, escaped; who would give me again to the robbers when through the good Samaritan I am a little recovering from my wounds.

“Cease then, my parents,” concludes the letter after many other reproofs, “cease to afflict yourselves with vain weeping and to disquiet me. No messengers you send will force me to leave. Clara Vallis will I never forsake. This is my rest, and here shall be my [Pg 400]habitation. Here will I pray without ceasing for my sins and yours; here with constant prayer will I implore that He whose love has separated us for a little while, will join us in another life happy and inseparable,—in whose love we may live forever and ever. Amen.”[482]

If Bernard was severe toward those who threatened some loved person’s weal, his anger burned more fiercely against those whom he deemed enemies of God. Heavy was his hand upon the evils of the Church: “The insolence of the clergy—to which the bishop’s neglect is mother—troubles the earth and molests the Church. The bishops give what is holy to the dogs, and pearls to swine.”[483]

Likewise, fearlessly but with restraint arising from his respect for all power ordained of God, Bernard opposes kings. Thus he writes to Louis the Fat, in regard to the election of a bishop, with many protests, however, that he would not oppose the royal power—for which we note his reason: “If the whole world conspired to force me to do aught against kingly majesty, yet would I fear God, and would not dare to offend the king ordained by Him. For neither do I forget where I read that whosoever resisteth power, resisteth the ordinance of God.” But—but—but—continues the letter, through many qualifyings which are also admonitions. At last come the words: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, even for thee, O king.” Thereupon the saint does not fail to speak his mind.[484]

Bernard’s fiercest denunciations were reserved for heretics and schismatics, for Abaelard, for Arnold of Brescia, for the Antipope Anacletus—were they not enemies of God? Clearly the saint saw and understood these men from his point of view. Thus in a letter to Innocent II.[485] he sums up his attitude towards Abaelard: “Peter Abaelard is trying to make void the merit of Christian faith, when he deems himself able by human reason to comprehend God altogether. He ascends to the heavens and descends even to the abyss! Nothing may hide from him in the depths of hell or in the heights above! The man is great in his own eyes—this[Pg 401] scrutinizer of Majesty and fabricator of heresies.” Here was the gist of the matter. That a man should be great in his own eyes, apart from God, and teach others so, stirred Bernard’s bowels.[486]

Of Arnold, the impetuous clerical revolutionist and pupil of Abaelard, Bernard writes with fury: “Arnold of Brescia, whose speech is honey and whose teaching poison, whom Brescia vomited forth, Rome abhorred, France repelled, Germany abominates, Italy will not receive, is said to be with you.”[487] Again, Bernard rejoices with great joy when he hears that the anti-pope who divided Christendom was dead.[488]

It is pleasant to turn back to Bernard’s lovingness and mercy. His God would not condemn those who repented; and the saint can be gentle toward sinners possibly repentant. He urges certain monks to receive back an erring brother: “Take him back then, you who are spiritual, in the spirit of gentleness; let love be confirmed in him, and let good intention excuse the evil done. Receive back with joy him whom you wept as lost.”[489] In another letter he urges a countess to be more lenient with her children;[490] and there is a story of his begging a robber from the hands of the executioners, and leading him to Clara Vallis, where he became at length a holy man.[491]

So one sees Bernard’s severity, his gentle mercy, and the love burning within him for his fellows’ good. Such were the emotions of Bernard the saint. The man’s human heart could also yearn, and feel bereavement in spite of faith. As his zeal draws him from land to land, he is home-sick for Clara Vallis. From Italy, in 1137, fighting to crush the anti-pope, a letter carries his yearning love to his dear ones there:

[Pg 402]“Sad is my soul, and not to be consoled, until I may return. For what consolation save you in the Lord have I in an evil time and in the place of my pilgrimage? Wherever I go, your sweet recollection does not leave me; but the sweeter the memory the more vexing is the absence. Alas! my wandering not only is prolonged but aggravated. Hard enough is exile from the Lord, which is common to us all while we are pilgrims in the body. But I endure a special exile also, compelled to live away from you.

“For a third time my bowels are torn from me.[492] Those little children are weaned before the time; the very ones whom I begot through the Gospel I may not educate. I am forced to abandon my own, and care for the affairs of others; and it is not easy to say whether to be dragged from the former, or to be involved in the latter is harder to bear. Thus, O good Jesus, my whole life is spent in grief and my years in groaning! It is good for me, O Lord, to die, rather than to live and not among my brothers, my own household, my own dearest ones.”[493]

Bernard had a younger brother, Gerard, whom he deeply loved. In 1138 he died while still young, and having recently returned with Bernard from Italy. Bernard, dry-eyed, read the burial-service over his body; so says his biographer wondering, for the saint was not wont to bury even strangers without tears.[494] No other eyes were dry at that funeral. Afterwards he preached a sermon;[495] it began with restraint, then became a long cry of grief.

The saint took the text from Canticles where he had left off in his previous sermon—“I am black, but comely, as the tents of Kedar.” He proceeded to expound its meaning: the tents are our bodies, in which we pilgrims dwell and carry on our war. Then he spoke of other portions of the text—and suddenly deferred the whole subject till his next sermon: Grief ordains an end, “and the calamity which I suffer.”

“For why dissemble, or conceal the fire which is scorching my sad breast? What have I to do with this Song, I who am in bitterness? The power of grief turns my intent, and the anger of the Lord has parched my spirit. I did violence to my soul and dissembled till now, lest sorrow should seem to conquer faith. [Pg 403]Others wept, but with dry eyes I followed the hateful funeral, and dry-eyed stood at the tomb, until all the solemnities were performed. In my priestly robes I finished the prayers, and sprinkled the earth over the body of my loved one about to become earth. Those who looked on, weeping, wondered that I did not. With such strength as I could command, I resisted and struggled not to be moved at nature’s due, at the fiat of the Powerful, at the decree of the Just, at the scourge of the Terrible, at the will of the Lord. But though tears were pressed back, I could not command my sadness; and grief, suppressed, roots deeper. I confess I am beaten. My sorrow will out before the eyes of my children who understand and will console.

“You know, my sons, how just is my grief. You know what a comrade has left me in the path wherein I was walking. He was my brother in blood and still closer by religion. I was weak in body, and he carried me; faint-hearted, and he comforted me; lazy, and he spurred me; thoughtless, and he admonished me. Whither art thou snatched away, snatched from my hands! O bitter separation, which only death could bring; for living, thou wouldst never leave me. Why did we so love, and now have lost each other! Hard state, but my fortune, not his, is to be pitied. For thou, dear brother, if thou hast lost dear ones, hast gained those who are dearer. Me only this separation wounds. Sweet was our presence to each other, sweet our consorting, sweet our colloquy; I have lost these joys; thou hast but changed them. Now, instead of such a worm as me, thou hast the presence of Christ. But what have I in place of thee? And perhaps though thou knewest us in the flesh, now that thou hast entered into the power of the Lord, thou art mindful only of His righteousness, forgetting us.

“I seem to hear my brother saying: ‘Can a woman forget her sucking child; even so, yet will I not forget thee.’ That does not help, where no hand is stretched out.”

Bernard speaks of Gerard’s unfailing helpfulness to him and every one, and of his piety and religious life. He feels the cares of his life and station closing around him, and his brother gone. Then he justifies his grief, and pours it forth unrestrained. Would any one bid him not to weep? as well tell him not to feel when his bowels were torn from him; he feels, for his flesh is not brass; he grieves, and his grief is ever before him:

“I confess my sorrow. Will some one call me carnal? Certainly I am human, since I am a man. Nor do I deny being carnal, for I am, and sold under sin, adjudged to death and [Pg 404]punishment. I am not insensible to punishments; I shudder at death, my own or others’. Mine was Gerard, mine! He is gone, and I feel, and am wounded, grievously!

“Pardon me, my sons; or rather lament your father’s state. Pity me, and think how grievously I have been requited for my sins by the hand of God. Though I feel the punishment, I do not impugn the sentence. This is human; that would be impious. Man must needs be affected towards those dear to him, with gladness at their presence, with sorrow at their absence. I grieve over thee, Gerard, my beloved, not because thou art to be pitied, but because thou art taken away. May it be that I have not lost thee, but sent thee on before! Be it granted me some time to follow whither thou art gone; for thou hast joined the company of those heavenly ones on whom in thy last hours thou didst call exultingly to praise the Lord. For thee death had no sting, nor any fear. Through his jaws Gerard passed to his Fatherland safe and glad and exulting. When I reached his side, and he had finished the psalm, looking up to heaven, he said in a clear voice: ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ Then saying over again and again the word, ‘Father, Father,’ he turned his joyful face to me, and said: ‘What great condescension that God should be father to men! What glory for men to be sons of God and heirs of God!’ So he rejoiced, till my grief was almost turned to a song of gladness.

“But the pang of sorrow calls me back from that lovely vision, as care wakens one from light slumber. I grieve, but only over myself; I lament his loss to this household, to the poor, to all our Order; whom did he not comfort with deed and word and example? Grievously am I afflicted, because I love vehemently. And let no one blame my tears; for Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb. His tears bore witness to His nature, not to His lack of faith. So these tears of mine; they show my sorrow, not my faithlessness. I grieve, but do not murmur. Lord, I will sing of thy mercy and righteousness. Thou gavest Gerard; thou hast taken him. Though we grieve that he is gone, we thank thee for the gift.

“I bear in mind, O Lord, my pact and thy commiseration, that thou mightest the more be justified in thy word. For when last year we were in Viterbo, and he fell sick, and I was afflicted at the thought of losing him in a strange land and not bringing him back to those who loved him, I prayed to thee with groans and tears: ‘Wait, O Lord, until our return. When he is restored to his friends, take him, if thou wilt, and I will not complain.’ Thou heardest me, God; he recovered; we finished the work thou hadst laid on us, and returned in gladness bringing our sheaves of peace. Then I was near to forget my pact, but not so thou. I shame me of these sobs, which convict me of prevarication. Thou hast recalled thy loan, thou hast taken again what was thine. [Pg 405]Tears set an end to words; thou, O Lord, wilt set to them limit and measure.”[496]

We may now turn to Bernard’s love of God, and rise with him from the fleshly to the spiritual, from the conditioned to the absolute. There is no break; love is always love. More especially the love of Christ, the God-man is the mediating term: He presents the Godhead in human form; to love Him is to know a love attaching to both God and man.

Guigo, Prior of the “Grande Chartreuse,” whose Meditations have been given,[497] was Bernard’s friend, and wrote to him upon love. Bernard replies: “While I was reading it, I felt sparks in my breast, from which my heart glowed within me as from that fire which the Lord sent upon the earth!” He hesitates to suggest anything to Guigo’s fervent spirit, as he would hesitate to rouse a bride quiet in the bridegroom’s arms. Yet “what I do not dare, love dares; it boldly knocks at a friend’s door, fearing no repulse, and quite careless of disturbing your delightful ease with its affairs.” Bernard is here speaking of love’s importunate devotion; his words characterize the soul’s importuning of God:

“I should call love undefiled because it keeps nothing of its own. Indeed it has nothing of its own, for everything which it has is God’s. The undefiled law of the Lord is love, which seeks not what profits itself but what profits many. It is called the law of the Lord, either because He lives by it, or because no one possesses it save by His gift. It is not irrational to speak of God as living by law, that law being love. Indeed in the blessed highest Trinity what preserves that highest ineffable unity, except love?”

So far, Bernard has been using the word charitas. Now, in order to indicate love’s desire, he begins to use the words cupiditas and amor.[498] When these yearning qualities are rightly guided by God’s grace, what is good will be cherished for the sake of what is better, the body will be loved for the soul’s sake, the soul for God’s sake, and God for His own sake.

[Pg 406]“Yet because we are of the flesh (carnales) and are begotten through the flesh’s concupiscence, our yearning love (cupiditas vel amor noster) must begin from the flesh; yet if rightly directed, advancing under the leadership of grace, it will be consummated in spirit. For that which is first is not spiritual, but that which is natural (animale); then that which is spiritual. First man loves (diligit) himself for his own sake. For he is flesh, and is able to understand nothing beyond himself. When he sees that he cannot live (subsistere) by himself alone, he begins, as it were from necessity, to seek and love God. Thus, in this second stage, he loves God, but only for his own sake. Yet as his necessities lead him to cultivate and dwell with God in thinking, reading, praying, and obeying, God little by little becomes known and becomes sweet. Having thus tasted how sweet is the Lord, he passes to the third stage, where he loves God for God’s sake. Whether any man in this life has perfectly attained the fourth stage, where he loves himself for God’s sake, I do not know. Let those say who have knowledge; for myself, I confess it seems impossible. Doubtless it will be so when the good and faithful servant shall have entered into the joy of his Lord, and shall be drunk with the flowing richness of God’s house. Then oblivious to himself, he will pass to God and become one spirit with Him.”[499]

So one sees the stages through which love of self and lust of fellow become love of God. A responsive emotion attends each ascending step in the saint’s intellectual apprehension of love—as one should bear in mind while following the larger exposition of the theme in Bernard’s De deligendo Deo.[500]

The cause and reason for loving God is God; the mode is to love without measure: “Causa diligendi Deum, Deus est; modus, sine modo diligere.” Should we love God because of His desert, or our advantage? For both reasons. On the score of His desert, because He first loved us. What stint shall there be to my love of Him who is my life’s free giver, its bounteous administrator, its kind consoler, its solicitous ruler, its redeemer, eternal preserver and glorifier? On the other hand, “God is not loved without reward;[Pg 407] but He should be loved without regard to the reward. Charitas seeks not its own. It is affection and not a contract; it is not bought, nor does it buy. Amor is satisfied with itself. It has the reward, which is what is loved. True love demands no reward, but merits one. The reward, although not sought by the lover, is due him, and will be rendered if he perseveres.”

Bernard proceeds to expound the four stages or grades (gradus) of love:

“Love is a natural affection, one of the four.[501] As it exists by nature, it should diligently serve the Author of nature first of all. But as nature is frail and weak, love is compelled by necessity first to serve itself. This is carnal love, whereby, above everything, man loves himself for his own sake. It is not set forth by precept, but is rooted in nature; for who hates his own flesh? As love becomes more ready and profuse, it is not content with the channel of necessity, but will pour forth and overspread the broad fields of pleasure. At once the overflow is bridled by the command, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ This is just and needful, lest what is part of nature should have no part in grace. A man may concede to himself what he will, so long as he is mindful to provide the same for his neighbour. The bridle of temperance is imposed on thee, O man, out of the law of life and discipline, in order that thou shouldst not follow thy desires, nor with the good things of nature serve the enemy of the soul, which is lust. If thou wilt turn away from thy pleasures, and be content with food and raiment, little by little it will not so burden thee to keep thy love from carnal desires, which war against the soul. Thy love will be temperate and righteous when what is withdrawn from its own pleasures is not denied to its brother’s needs. Thus carnal love becomes social when extended to one’s kind.

“Yet in order that perfect justice should exist in the love of neighbour, God must be regarded (Deum in causa haberi necesse est). How can one love his neighbour purely who does not love in God? God makes Himself loved, He who makes all things good. He who founded nature so made it that it should always need to be sustained by Him. In order that no creature might be ignorant of this, and arrogate for himself the good deeds of the Creator, the Founder wisely decreed that man should be tried in tribulations. By this means, when he shall have failed and God have aided, God shall be honoured by him whom He has delivered. The result is that man, animal and carnal, who knew not how to love any one beside [Pg 408]himself, begins for his own sake to love God; because he has found out that in God he can accomplish everything profitable, and without Him can do nothing.

“So now for his own interest, he loves God—love’s second grade; but does not yet love God for God’s sake. If, however, tribulation keeps assailing him, and he continually turns to God for aid, and God delivers him, will not the man so oft delivered, though he have a breast of iron and a heart of stone, be drawn to cherish his deliverer, and love Him not only for His aid but for Himself? Frequent necessities compel man to come to God incessantly; repeatedly he tastes and, by tasting, proves how sweet is the Lord. At length God’s sweetness, rather than human need, draws the man to love Him. Thereafter it will not be hard for the man to fulfil the command to love his neighbour. Truly loving God, he loves for this reason those who are God’s. He loves chastely, and is not oppressed through obeying the chaste command; he loves justly, and willingly embraces the just command. That is the third grade of love, when God is loved for Himself.

“Happy is he who attains to the fourth grade, where man loves himself only on account of God. Thy righteousness, O God, is as the mountain of God; love is that mountain, that high mountain of God. Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord? Who will give me the wings of a dove and I will fly away and be at rest. Alas! for my long-drawn sojourning! When shall I gain that habitation in Zion, and my soul become one spirit with God? Blessed and holy will I call him to whom in this mortal life such has been given though but once. For to be lost to self and not to feel thyself, and to be emptied of thyself and almost to be made nothing, that pertains to heavenly intercourse, not to human affection. And if any one among mortals here gain admission for an instant, at once the wicked world is envious, the day’s evil disturbs, the body of death drags down, fleshly necessity solicits, corruption’s debility does not sustain, and, fiercest of all, brotherly love calls back! Alas! he is dragged back to himself, and forced to cry: ‘O Lord, I suffer violence, answer thou for me’ (Isa. xxxviii. 14); ‘Who will deliver me from the body of this death?’ (Rom. vii. 24).

“Yet Scripture says that God made all things for His own sake; that will come to pass when the creation is in full accord with its Author. Therefore we must sometime pass into that state wherein we do not wish to be ourselves or anything else, except for His sake and by reason of His will, not ours. Then not our need or happiness, but His will, will be fulfilled in us. O holy love and chaste! O sweet affection! O pure and purged intention of the will, in which nothing of its own is mingled! This is it to be made God (deificari). As the drop of water is diffused in a jar of wine, taking its taste and colour, and as molten iron becomes like to fire [Pg 409]and casts off its form, and as the air transfused with sunlight is transformed into that same brightness of light, so that it seems not illumined, but itself to be the light, thus in the saints every human affection must in some ineffable mode be liquefied of itself and transfused into the will of God. How could God be all in all if in man anything of man remained? A certain substance will remain, but in another form, another glory, another power.”

Hereupon St. Bernard considers how this fourth grade of love will be attained in the resurrection, and “perpetually possessed, when God only is loved and we love ourselves only for His sake, that He may be the recompense and aim (praemium) of those who love themselves, the eternal recompense of those who love eternally.”

Christ is the universal Mediator between God and man, not only because reconciling them, but as forming the intervening term, the concrete instance of the One suited to the comprehension of the other. Such thoughts and sentiments as commonly apply to man, when they are applied to Christ become fit to apply to God. Herein especially may be perceived the continuing identity of love, whether relating to human beings or to God. The soul’s love of Christ is mediatorial, and symbolic of its love of God. All of which Bernard has demonstrated with conjoined power of argument and feeling in his famous Sermons on Canticles.[502]

The human personality of Christ draws men to love Him, till their love is purged of carnality and exalted to a perfect love of God:

“Observe that the heart’s love is partly carnal; it is affected through the flesh of Christ and what He said and did while in the flesh. Filled with this love, the heart is readily touched by discourse upon His words and acts. It hears of nothing more willingly, reads nothing more carefully, recalls nothing more frequently, and meditates upon nothing more sweetly. When man prays, the sacred image of the God-man is with him, as He was born or suckled, as He taught or died, rose from the dead or ascended to heaven. This image never fails to nerve man’s mind with the love of virtue, cast out the vices of the flesh and quell its lusts. I deem the principal reason why the invisible God wished to be seen in the flesh, and, as man, hold intercourse with men, was that He might [Pg 410]draw the affections of carnal men, who could only love carnally, to a salutary love of His flesh, and then on to a spiritual love.”

Conversely, the Saviour’s example teaches men how they should love Him:

“He loved sweetly, wisely, and bravely: sweetly, in that He put on flesh; wisely, in that He avoided fault; bravely, in that He bore death. Those, however, with whom He sojourned in the flesh, He did not love carnally, but in prudence of spirit. Learn then, Christian, from Christ how to love Christ.”

Bernard shows how even the Apostles failed sometimes to love Him according to His perfect teaching and example:

“Good, indeed, is this carnal love,” he concludes, “through which a carnal life is shut out; and the world is despised and conquered. This love progresses as it becomes rational, and perfected as it becomes spiritual.”[503]

From his own experiences Bernard could have spoken much of the winning power of Jesus, and could have told how sweetly it drew him to love his Saviour’s steps from Bethlehem to Calvary. The fifteenth sermon upon Canticles is on the healing power of Jesus’ name.

“Dry is all food for the soul unless anointed with that oil. Whatever you write is not to my taste unless I read Jesus there. Your talk and disputation is nothing unless that name is rung. Jesus is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear, joy in the heart. He is medicine as well. Is any one troubled, let Jesus come into the heart and thence leap to the lips, and behold! at the rising of that bright name the clouds scatter and the air is again serene. If any one slips in crime, and then desponds amid the snares of death, will he not, invoking that name of life, regain the breath of life? In whom can hardness of heart, sloth, rancour, languishment stand before that name? In whom at its invocation will not the dried fount of tears burst forth more abundantly and sweetly? To what fearful trembler did the power of that name ever fail to bring back confidence? To what man struggling amid doubts did not the clear assurance of that name, invoked, shine forth? Who despairing in adversity lacked fortitude if that name sounded? These are the languors and sickness of the soul, and that the medicine. Nothing is as potent to restrain the attack of wrath, or quell the tumour of pride, or heal envy’s wound, or put out the fire of lust, or temper avarice. When I name Jesus, I see before me a man meek and humble of heart, benignant, sober, chaste, pitying, holy, who heals [Pg 411]me with His example and strengthens me with aid. I take example from the Man, and draw aid from the Mighty One. Here hast thou, O my soul, an herb of price, hidden in the vessel of that name, bringing thee health surely and in thy sickness failing thee never.”

This is a little illustration of Bernard’s love of the Christ-man, a love which is ever taking on spiritual hues and changing to a love of the Christ-God. Christians, from the time of Origen, had recognized the many offices of Christ, the many saving potencies in which He ministered unto each soul according to its need. And so Bernard preaches that the sick soul needs Christ as the physician, but that the saintly soul has other yearnings for a more perfect communion.

This perfect communion, this most complete relationship which in this mortal life a soul can have with Christ, with God, had been symbolized, likewise ever since the time of Origen, by the words Bride and Bridegroom, and the Song of Songs had furnished the burning phrases. With surpassing spirituality Bernard uses the texts of Canticles to set forth the relationship of the soul to Christ, of man to God. The texts are what they are, burning, sensuous, fleshly, intense, and beautiful—every one knows them; but in Bernard’s sermons flesh fades before the spirit’s whiter glow.

“O love (amor), headlong, vehement, burning, impetuous, that canst think of nothing beyond thyself, detesting all else, despising all else, satisfied with thyself! Thou dost confound ranks, carest for no usage, knowest no measure. In thyself dost thou triumph over apparent opportuneness, reason, shame, council and judgment, and leadest them into captivity. Everything which the soul-bride utters resounds of thee and nothing else; so hast thou possessed her heart and tongue.”[504]

What Bernard here ejaculates as to the overwhelming sufficiency of love, he sets forth finally in a sustained and reasoned passage, in which man’s ways of loving God are cast together in a sequence of ardent thought and image. He has been explaining the soul’s likeness to the Word. Although it be afflicted and defiled by sin, it may yet venture to come to Him whose likeness it retains, however[Pg 412] obscured. The soul does not leave God by change of place, but, in the manner of spiritual substance, by becoming depraved. The return of the soul is its conversion, in which it is made conformable to God.

“Such conformity marries the soul to the Word, whom it is like by nature, and may show itself like in will, loving as it is loved. If it loves perfectly it weds. What more delightful than this conformity, what more desirable than this love, through which thou, O soul, faithfully drawest near to the Word, with constancy cleavest to the Word, consulting Him in everything, as capable in intellect as audacious in desire. Spiritual is the contracting of these holy nuptials, wherein always to will the same makes one spirit out of two. No fear lest the disparity of persons make but a lame concurrence of wills: for love does not know respect. The name love comes from loving and not from honouring. He may honour who dreads, who is struck dumb with fear and wonder. Not so the lover. Love aboundeth in itself, and derides and imprisons the other emotions. Wherefore she who loves, loves, and knows nothing else. And He who is to be honoured and marvelled at, still loves rather to be loved. Bridegroom and Bride they are. And what necessity or bond is there between spouses except to be loved and love?

“Think also, that the Bridegroom is not only loving but very love. Is He also honour? I have not so read. I have read that God is love; not that He is honour, or dignity. God indeed demands to be feared as Lord, to be honoured as Father, and as Bridegroom to be loved. Which excels the rest? Love, surely. Without it, fear is penal, and honour graceless. Fear is slavish till manumitted by love; and the honour which does not rise from love is adulation. To God alone belong honour and glory; but He will accept neither unless it is flavoured with love’s honey.

“Love asks neither cause nor fruit beyond itself. I love because I love; I love that I may love. A great thing is love. Among all the movements, sensations, and affections of the soul, it is the only one wherein the creature can make a return to its Author. If God be angry with me, shall I likewise be angry with Him? Nay, I will fear and tremble and beseech. If He accuse me, I will make no counter-charge, but plead before Him. If He judge me, I will not judge but worship. And when He saves me, He asks not to be saved by me; nor does He who frees all ask to be freed of any one. Likewise if He commands, I obey, and do not order Him. Now see how different it is with love. For when God loves, He wishes only to be loved; He loves with no other end than to be loved, knowing that those who love are blessed with love itself.

[Pg 413]“A great thing is love; but there are grades in it. The Bride stands at the summit. Sons love, but they are thinking of their inheritance. Fearing to lose that, they honour, rather than love, him from whom they expect it. Love is suspect when its suffrage appears to be won by hope of gain. Weak is it, if it cease or lessen with that hope withdrawn. It is impure if it desires anything else. Pure love is not mercenary: it gains no strength from hope, nor weakens with lack of trust. This love is the Bride’s, because she is what she is by love. Love is the Bride’s sole hope and interest. In it the Bride abounds and the Bridegroom is content. He seeks nothing else, nor has she ought beside. Hence he is Bridegroom and she Bride. This belongs to spouses which none else, not even a son, can attain. Man is commanded to honour his father and mother; but there is silence as to love. Which is not because parents are not to be loved by their sons; but because sons are rather moved to honour them. The honour of the King loves judgment; but the Bridegroom’s love—for He is love—asks only love’s return and faith.

“Rightly renouncing all other affections, the Bride reposes on love alone, and returns a love reciprocal. And when she has poured her whole self out in love, what is that compared with the perennial flood of that fountain? Not equals in abundance are this loving one and Love, the soul and the Word, the Bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator—no more than thirst equals the fount. What then? shall she therefore despair, and the vow of the would-be Bride be rendered empty? Shall the desire of this panting one, the ardour of this loving one, the trust of this confiding one be baffled because she cannot keep pace with the giant’s course, in sweetness contend with honey, in mildness with the Lamb, in whiteness with the Lily, in brightness with the Sun, in love with Him who is love? No. For although the creature loves less, because she is less, yet if she loves with her whole self, nothing lacks where there is all. Wherefore, as I have said, so to love is to have wedded; for no one can so love and yet be loved but little, and in mutual consent stands the entire and perfect marriage.”[505]

Who has not marvelled that the relationship of marriage should make so large a part of the symbolism through which monks and nuns expressed the soul’s love of God? Historically it might be traced to Paul’s precept, “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the Church”; still more potently it was derived from the Song of Songs. But[Pg 414] beyond these almost adventitious influences, did not the holy priest, the monk, the nun, feel and know that marriage was the great human relationship? So they drew from it the most adequate allegory of the soul’s communion with its Maker: differently according to their sex, with much emotion, and even with unseemly imaginings, they thought and felt the love of God along the ways of wedded union or even bridal passion.[506]



[Pg 415]



Twenty-nine years after the death of St. Bernard, Francis was born in the Umbrian hill town of Assisi. The year was 1182. On the fourth of October 1226, in the forty-fifth year of his age, this most loving and best beloved of mediaeval saints breathed his last, in the little church of the Portiuncula, within the shadows of that same hill town.

Of all mediaeval saints, Bernard and Francis impressed themselves most strongly upon their times. Neither of them was pre-eminently an intellectual force—Francis especially would not have been what he was but for certain childlike qualities of mind which never fell away from him.[Pg 416] The power of these men sprang from their personalities and the vivida vis (their contemporaries would have said, the grace of God) realizing itself in every word and act. Bernard’s power was more directly dependent upon the conditions of his epoch, and his influence was more limited in duration.

The reason is not far to seek. Both men were of the Middle Ages, even of those decades in which they lived. But Bernard’s strength was part of the medium wherein he worked and the evil against which he fought—the clerical corruptions, the heresies, the schisms and political controversies, the warfare of Christ with Mahomet,—all matters of vital import for his time, but which were to change and pass.

Francis, on the other hand, was occupied with none of these. He was no scourge of clerical corruptions, no scourge of anything; he knew nought of heresy or schism, nothing of politics or war; into the story of his life there comes not even a far-off echo of the Albigensian Crusade or the conflict between pope and emperor. His life appears detached from the special conditions of his time; it is neither held within them nor compelled by them, but only by its inner impulse. For it was not occupied with the exigencies of Italy and Germany, or Southern France, during that first quarter of the thirteenth century, when De Montfort was hurling the orthodox and brutal north upon the fair but heretical provinces of Languedoc, and when[Pg 417] Innocent III. was excommunicating Otho IV., and Frederick II. was disclosing himself as the most dangerous foe the papacy had yet known. The passing turmoil and danger of the time did not touch this life; the man knew naught of all these things. He was not considering thirteenth-century Italians, Frenchmen, and Germans; he was fascinated with men as men, with the dumb brutes as fellow-creatures, and even with plants and stones as vessels of God’s loveliness or symbols of His Word; above all he was absorbed in Christ, who had taken on humanity for him, had suffered for him, died for him, and who now around, above, within him, inspired and directed his life.

So Francis’s life was not compassed by its circumstances; nor was its effect limited to the thirteenth century. His life partook of the eternal and the universal, and might move men in times to come as simply and directly as it turned men’s hearts to love in the years when Francis was treading the rough stones of Assisi.

On the other hand, Francis was mediaeval and in a way to give concrete form and colour to the elements of universal manhood that were his. He was mediaeval in complete and finished mode; among mediaeval men he offers perhaps the most distinct and most perfectly consistent individuality. He is Francis of Assisi, born in 1182 and dying in 1226, and no one else who ever lived either there and then or elsewhere at some other time. He is Francis of Assisi perfectly and always, a man presenting a complete artistic unity, never exhibiting act or word or motive out of character with himself.

From a slightly different point of view we may perceive how he was a perfect individual and at the same time a perfect mediaeval type. There was no element in his character which was not assimilated and made into Francis of Assisi. Anterior and external influences contributed to make this Francis. But in entering him they ceased to be what they had been; they changed and became Francis. For example, nothing of the antique, no distinct bit of classical inheritance, appears in him; if, in any way, he was touched by it—as in his joyous love of life and the world about him—the influence had ceased to be anything distinct[Pg 418] in him; it had become himself. Likewise, whatever he may have known of the Fathers and of all the dogmatic possession and ecclesiastical tradition of the Church, this also was remade in Francis. Evidently such an all-assimilating and transforming individuality could not have existed in those earlier centuries when the immature mediaeval world was taking over its great inheritance from the pagan and Christian antique—those centuries when men could but turn their heritage of thought and knowledge this way and that, disturb and distort and rearrange it. Such an individuality as Francis could exist only at the climax of the Middle Age, at the period of its fullest strength and greatest distinction, when it had masterfully changed after its own heart whatever it had received from the past, and had made its transformed acquisitions into itself.

Francis is of this grand mediaeval climacteric. The Middle Ages were no longer in a stage of transition from the antique; they had attained; they were themselves. Sides of this distinctive mediaeval development and temper express themselves in Francis—are Francis verily. The spirit of romance is incarnate in him. Roland, Oliver, Charlemagne (he of the Chansons de geste), and the knights of the Round Table, are part of Francis;—his first disciples are his paladins. Again, instead of emperor or paladin, he is himself the jongleour, the joculator Dei (God’s minstrel).

And of all that had become Francis the greatest was Christ. He had not taken the theology of Augustine; he had not taken the Christ handed over by the transition centuries to the early Middle Ages; he had not adopted the Christ of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. He took Jesus from the Gospel, or at least such elements of Jesus’ life and teaching as he felt and understood. Francis modelled his life on his understanding of Christ and His teaching. So many another saint had done; in fact, so must all Christians try to do. Francis accomplished it with completeness and power; he created a new Christ life; a Christ life partial and reduced from the breadth and balance of the original, yet veritable and living. Francis himself felt that his whole life was Christ-directed and inspired, and that even because of his own special insignificance Christ[Pg 419] had chosen him to show forth the true Gospel life again—but chosen him indeed.[508]

Although the life of Francis appears as if detached from the larger political and ecclesiastical movements of the time, it yields glimpses of the ways and doings of the people of Assisi. We see their jealousies and quarrels, their war with Perugia, also their rustic readiness to jeer at the unusual and incomprehensible; or we are struck with instances of the stupid obstinacy and intolerance often characterizing a small community. Again, we see in some of those citizens an open and quick impulsiveness, which, at the sight of love, may turn to love. It would seem as if the harshest, most impossible man of all the town was Peter Bernardone, a well-to-do merchant whose affairs took him often from Assisi, and not infrequently to France.

Bernardone had a predilection for things French, and the child born to his wife while he was absent in France, he called Francis upon his return, although the mother had given it the name of John. The mother, whose name was Pica, may have been of Provençal or French blood. Apparently such education as Francis received in his boyhood was as much French as Italian. Through all his life he never lost the habit of singing French songs which he composed himself.[509]

[Pg 420]The biographers assert that Francis was nourished in worldly vanity and insolence. His temperament drew him to the former, but kept him from the latter. For while he delighted in making merry with his friends, he was always distinguished by a winning courtesy of manner toward poor and rich. An innate generosity was also his, and he loved to spend money as he roamed with his companions about Assisi singing jovial choruses and himself the leader of the frolic. Bernardone did not object to his son’s squandering some money in a way which led others to admire him and think his parents rich; while Pica would keep saying that some day he would be God’s son through grace. A vein of sprightly fantasy runs through these gaieties of Francis’s, which we may be sure were unstained by any gross dissipation. Francis’s life as a saint is peculiarly free from monkish impudicity, free, that is, from morbid dwelling upon things sensual; which shows that in him there was no reaction or need of reaction against any youthful dissoluteness, and bears testimony to the purity of his unconverted years.[510]

In those days Francis loved to be admired and praised. He was possessed with a romantic and imaginative vanity. Costly clothes delighted him as he dreamed of still more royal entertainment, and fancied great things to come. His mind was filled with the figures of Romance; a knight would he be at least; why not a paladin, whom all the world should wonder at? So he dreamed, and so he acted out his whim as best he might on the little stage of Assisi; for Francis was a poet, and a poet even more in deed than in words. He was endowed with exquisite fancy, and he did its dictates never doubting. His life was to prove an almost unexampled inspiration to art, because it was itself a poem by reason of its unfailing realization of the conceptions of a fervent and beautiful imagination.

There came war with Perugia, a very hard-hitting town; and the Assisi cavaliers, Francis among them, found themselves in their neighbours’ dungeons. There some desponded; but not Francis. For in these careless days he was always gleeful and jocular, even as afterwards his entire saintly life[Pg 421] was glad with an invincible gaiety of spirit. So Francis laughed and joked in prison till his fellow-prisoners thought him crazy, which no whit worried him, as he answered with the glad boast that some day he would be adored by all the world. He showed another side of his inborn nature when he was kind to a certain one of the captives whom the rest detested, and tried to reconcile his fellows with him.

It was soon after his release from this twelvemonth captivity that the sails of Francis’s spirit began to fill with still more topping hopes, and then to waver strangely. He naturally fell sick after the privations of a Perugia prison. As he recovered and went about with the aid of a staff, the loveliness of field and vineyard failed to please him. He wondered at himself, and suspected that his former pleasures were follies. But it was not so easy to leave off his previous life, and Francis’s thoughts were lured back again to this world’s glory; for a certain nobleman of Assisi was about to set out on an expedition to Apulia to win gain and fame, and Francis was inflamed to go with him. In the night he dreamed that his father’s house with its heaps of cloth and other wares was filled instead with swords and lances, with glittering shields, helmets and breastplates. He awoke in an ecstasy of joy at the great glory portended by this dream. Then he fitted himself out sumptuously, with splendid garb, bright weapons, new armour, and accoutrements, and in due time set forth with his fellow-adventurers.

Once more he wavered. Before reaching Spoleto he stopped, left the company, turned back on his steps, this time impelled more strongly to seek those things which he was to love through life. He was about twenty-three years old. It was his nature to love everything, fame and applause, power perhaps, and joy; but he had not yet loved worthily. Now his Lord was calling him, the voice at first not very certain, and yet becoming stronger. Francis seems to have seen a vision, in which the vanity of his attachments was made clear, and he learned that he was following a servant instead of the Lord. So his heart replied, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?” and then the vision showed him that he should return, for he had[Pg 422] misunderstood his former dream of arms. When Francis awoke he thought diligently on these matters.

Such spiritual experiences are incommunicable, even though the man should try to tell them. But we know that as Francis had set out joyfully expecting worldly glory, he now returned with exultation, to await the will of the Lord, as it might be shown him. The facts and also their sequence are somewhat confused in the biographies.

On his return to Assisi, his comrades seem to have chosen him as lord of their revels; again he ordained a merry feast; but as they set forth singing gleefully, Francis walked behind them, holding his marshal’s staff, in silence. Thoughts of the Lord had come again, and withdrawn his attention: he was thinking sweetly of the Lord, and vilely of himself. Soon after he is found providing destitute chapels with the requisites for a decent service; already—in his father’s absence—he is filling his table with beggars; and already he has overcome his fastidious temper, has forced himself to exchange the kiss of peace with lepers, and has kissed the livid hands in which he presses alms.[511] He appears to have made a trip to St. Peter’s at Rome, where, standing before the altar, it struck him that the Prince of the Apostles was being honoured with mean offerings. So in his own princely way he flung down the contents of his purse, to the wonder of all. Then going without the church, he put on the clothes of a beggar and asked alms.

In such conduct Francis showed himself a poet and a saint. Imagination was required to conceive these extreme, these perfect acts, acts perfect in their carrying out of a lovely thought to its fulfilment, and suffering nothing to impede its perfect realization. So Francis flings down all he has, and not a measure of his goods; he puts on beggars’ clothes, and begs; he kisses lepers’ hands, eats from the same bowl with them—acts which were perfect in the singleness of their fulfilment of a saintly motive, acts which were likewise beautiful. They are instances of obsession with a saintly idea of great spiritual beauty, obsession so complete that the ridiculous or hideous concomitants of the realization[Pg 423] serve only to enhance the beauty of the holy thought perfectly fulfilled.

One day at Assisi, passing by the church of St. Damian, Francis was moved to enter for prayer. As he prayed before the Crucifix, the image seemed to say, “Francis, dost thou not see my house in ruins? Rebuild it for me.” And he answered, “Gladly, Lord,” thinking that the little chapel of St. Damian was intended. Filled with joy, having felt the Crucified in his soul, he sought the priest and gave him money to buy oil for the lamp before the Crucifix. This day was ever memorable in Francis’s walk with God. His way had lost its turnings; he saw his life before him clear, glad, and full of tears of love. “From that hour his heart was so wounded and melted at the memory of his Lord’s passion that henceforth while he lived he carried in his heart the marks of the Lord Jesus. Again he was seen walking near the Portiuncula, wailing aloud. And in response to the inquiries of a priest, he answered: ‘I bewail the passion of my Lord Jesus Christ, which it should not shame me to go weeping through the world!’ Often as he rose from prayer his eyes were full of blood, because he had wept so bitterly.”[512]

It appears to have been after this vision in St. Damian’s Church that Francis went on horseback to Foligno, carrying pieces of cloth, which he sold there, and his horse as well. He travelled back on foot, and seeking out St. Damian’s astonished little priest, he kissed his hands devoutly and offered him the money. When, for fear of Bernardone, the priest would not receive it, Francis threw it into a box. He prevailed on the priest, however, to let him stay there.

What Bernardone thought of this son of his is better only guessing. The St. Damian episode brought matters to a crisis between the two. He came looking for his son, and Francis escaped to a cave, where he spent a month in tears and prayer to the Lord, that he might be freed from his father’s pursuit, so that he might fulfil his vows. Gradually courage and joy returned, and he issued from his cave and took his way to the town. Former acquaintances of his pursued him with jeers and stones, as one demented, so[Pg 424] wretched was he to look upon after his sojourn in the cave. He made no reply, save to give thanks to God. The hubbub reached the father, who rushed out and seized his son, beat him, and locked him up in the house. From this captivity he was released by his mother, in her husband’s absence, and again betook himself to St. Damian’s.

Shortly afterward Bernardone returned, and would have haled Francis before the magistrates of the town for squandering his patrimony; but his son repudiated their jurisdiction, as being the servant of God. They were glad enough to turn the matter over to the bishop, who counselled Francis to give back the money which was his father’s. The scene which followed has been made famous by the brush of Giotto. The Three Companions narrate it thus:

“Then arose the man of God glad and comforted by the bishop’s words, and fetching the money said, ‘My lord, not only the money which is his I wish to return to him, but my clothes as well, and gladly.’ Then entering the bishop’s chamber, he took off his clothes, and placing the money upon them, went out again naked before them, and said: ‘Hear ye all and know. Until now I have called Pietro Bernardone my father; but because I have determined to serve God, I return him the money about which he was disturbed, and these clothes which I had from him, wishing only to say, “Our Father who art in heaven” and not “Father Pietro Bernardone.”’ The man of God was found even then to have worn haircloth beneath his gay garments. His father rising, incensed, took the money and the clothes. As he carried them away to his house, those who had seen the sight were indignant that he had left not a single garment for his son, and they shed tears of pity over Francis. The bishop was moved to admiration at the constancy of the man of God, and embraced him and covered him with his cloak.”[513]

Thus Francis was indeed made naked of the world. With joy he hastened back to St. Damian’s; and there prepared himself a hermit garb, in which he again set forth through the streets of the city, praising God and soliciting stones to rebuild the Church. As he went he cried that whoever gave one stone should have one reward, and he who gave two, two rewards, and he who gave more as many rewards as he gave stones. Many laughed at him, thinking[Pg 425] him crazy; but others were moved to tears at the sight of one who from such frivolity and vanity had so quickly become drunken with divine love.

Francis became a beggar for the love of Christ, seeking to imitate Him who, born poor, lived poor, and had no place to lay His head. Not only did he beg stones to rebuild St. Damian’s, but he began to go from house to house with a bowl to beg his food. Naked before them all, he had chosen “holy poverty,” “lady poverty”[514] for his bride. He was filled with the desire to copy Christ and obey His words to the letter. According to the Three Companions, when the blessed Francis completed the church of St. Damian, his wont was to wear a hermit garb and carry a staff; he wore shoes on his feet and a girdle about him. But listening one day to Jesus’ words to His disciples, as He sent them out to preach, not to take with them gold, or silver, or a wallet, or bread, or a staff, or shoes, nor have two cloaks, Francis said with joy: “This is what I desire to fulfil with my whole strength.”[515]

The literal imitation of certain particular Gospel instances, and the unconditional carrying out of certain of Christ’s specially intended precepts, mark Francis’s understanding of his Lord. It is exemplified in the account of the conversion of Francis’s first disciple, as told by the Three Companions:

“As the truth of the blessed Francis’s simple life and doctrine became manifest to many, two years after his own conversion, certain men were moved to penitence by his example, and were drawn to give up everything and join with him in life and garb. Of these the first was Bernard of saintly memory, who reflecting upon the constancy and fervour of the blessed Francis in serving God, and with what labour he was repairing ruined churches and leading a hard life, although delicately nurtured, he determined to distribute his property among the poor and cling to Francis. Accordingly one day in secret he approached the man of God and disclosed his purpose, at the same time requesting that on such an evening he would come to him. Having no companion hitherto, the blessed Francis gave thanks to God, and rejoiced greatly, especially as Messer (dominus) Bernard was a man of exemplary life.

[Pg 426]“So with exulting heart the blessed Francis went to his house on the appointed evening and stayed all night with him. Messer Bernard said among other things: ‘If a person should have much or a little from his lord, and have held it many years, how could he do with the same what would be the best?’ The blessed Francis replied that he should return it to his lord from whom he had received it.

“And Messer Bernard said: ‘Therefore, brother, I wish to distribute, in the way that may seem best to thee, all my worldly goods for love of my Lord, who conferred them on me.’

“To whom the saint said: ‘In the morning we will go to the Church, and will learn from the copy (codex) of the Gospels there how the Lord taught His disciples.’

“So rising in the morning, with a certain other named Peter, who also desired to become a brother, they went to the church of St. Nicholas close to the piazza of the city Assisi. And commencing to pray (because they were simple men and did not know where to find the Gospel text relating to the renouncing of the world) they asked the Lord devoutly, that He would deign to show them His will at the first opening of the Book.

“When they had prayed, the blessed Francis taking in his hands the closed book, kneeling before the altar opened it, and his eye fell first upon this precept of the Lord: ‘If thou wouldst be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.’ At which the blessed Francis was very glad and gave thanks to God. But because this true observer of the Trinity wished to be assured with threefold witness, he opened the Book for the second and third time. The second time he read, ‘Carry nothing for the journey,’ and the third time, ‘Who wishes to come after me, let him deny himself.’

“At each opening of the Book, the blessed Francis gave thanks to God for the divine confirmation of his purpose and long-conceived desire, and then said to Bernard and Peter: ‘Brothers, this is our life and this is our rule, and the life and rule of all who shall wish to join our society. Go, then, and as you have heard, so do.’

“Messer Bernard went away (he was very rich) and, having sold his possessions and got together much money, he distributed it to the poor of the town. Peter also complied with the divine admonition as best he could. They both assumed the habit which Francis had adopted, and from that hour lived with him after the model (formam) of the holy Gospel shown them by the Lord. Therefore the blessed Francis has said in his Testament: ‘The Lord himself revealed to me that I should live according to the model (formam) of the holy Gospel.’”[516]

[Pg 427]The words which met the eyes of Francis on first opening this Gospel-book, had nearly a thousand years before his time driven the holy Anthony to the desert of the Thebaid. Still one need not think the later tale a fruit of imitative legend. The accounts of Francis afford other instances of his literal acceptance of the Gospels.[517]

After the step taken by Bernard and Peter, others quickly joined themselves to Francis, and in short time the small company took up its abode in an abandoned cabin at Rivo-torto, near Assisi. In a twelvemonth or more they removed to the little church of Santa Maria de Portiuncula (Saint Mary of the little portion).[518] In the meanwhile Francis had been to Rome and gained papal authorization from the great Innocent III. for his lowly way of life. It would be hard to describe the joyfulness of these first Gospel days of the brethren: they come and go, and pray and labour; all are filled with joy; gaudium, jucunditas, laetabantur, such words crowd each other in accounts of the early days. Their love was complete; they would gladly give their bodies to pain or death not only for the love of Christ, but for the love of each other; they were founded and rooted in humility and love; Francis’s own life was a song of joy, as he went singing (always gallice) and abounding in love and its joyful prayers and tears. What joy indeed could be[Pg 428] greater than his; he had given himself to his Lord, and had been accepted. One day he had retired for contemplation, and as he prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” an ineffable joy and sweetness was shed in his heart. He began to fall away from himself; the anxieties and fears which a sense of sin had set in his heart were dispelled, and a certitude of the remission of his sins took possession of him. His mind dilated and a joyful vision made him seem another man when he returned and said in gladness to the brethren: “Be comforted, my best beloved, and rejoice in the Lord. Do not feel sad because you are so few. Let neither my simplicity nor yours abash you, for it has been shown me of the Lord that God will make of you a great multitude, and multiply you to the confines of the earth. I saw a great multitude of men coming to us, desiring to assume the habit and rule of our blessed religion; and the sound of them is in my ears as they come and go according to the command of holy obedience; and I saw the ways filled with them from every nation. Frenchmen come, and Spaniards hurry, Germans and English run, and a multitude speaking other tongues.”[519]

Thus far the life of Francis was a poem, even as it was to be unto the end; for, although the saint’s plans might be thwarted by the wisdom and frailty of men, his words and actions did not cease to realize the exquisite conceptions of his soul. But the volume of his life, from this time on, becomes too large for us to follow, embracing as it does the far from simple history of the first decades of his Order. Our object is still to observe his personality, and his love of God and man and creature-kind.

Francis’s mind was as simple as his heart was single. He had no distinctly intellectual interests, as nothing appealed to his mentality alone.[520] In his consciousness, everything related itself to his way of life, its yearnings and aversions. Whatever was unsuited to enter into this catholic relationship repelled rather than interested him. Hence he was averse to studies which had nothing to do with the man’s closer walk with God, and love of fellow. “My brothers who are led by the curiosity of knowledge will find[Pg 429] their hands empty in the day of tribulation. I would wish them rather to be strengthened by virtues, that when the time of tribulation comes they may have the Lord with them in their straits—for such a time will come when they will throw their good-for-nothing books into holes and corners.”[521]

The moral temper of Francis was childlike in its simple truth. He could not endure in the smallest matter to seem other than as he was before God: “As much as a man is before God so much is he, and no more.”[522] Once in Lent he ate of cakes cooked in lard, because everything cooked in oil violently disagreed with him. When Lent was over, he thus began his first sermon to a concourse of people: “You have come to me with great devotion, believing me to be a holy man, but I confess to God and to you that in this Lent I have eaten cakes cooked in lard.”[523] At another time, when in severe sickness he had somewhat exceeded the pittance of food which he allowed himself, he rose, still shaking with fever, and went and preached to the people. When the sermon was over, he retired a moment, and having first exacted a promise of obedience from the monks accompanying him, he threw off his cloak, tied a rope around his waist, and commanded them to drag him naked before the people, and there cast ashes in his face; all which was done by the weeping monks. And then he confessed his fault to all.[524]

Francis took joy in obedience and humility. One of his motives in resigning the headship of the Order was that he might have a superior to obey.[525] However pained by the shortcomings and corruptions of the Church, he was always obedient and reverent. He had no thought of revolution, but the hope of purifying all. One day certain brothers said to him: “Father, do you not see that the bishops do not let us preach, and keep us for days standing idle, before we are able to declare the word of God? Would it not be better to obtain the privilege from the Pope, that there might be a salvation of souls?”

[Pg 430]“You, brothers Minorites,” answered Francis, “know not the will of God, and do not permit me to convert the whole world, which is God’s will; for I wish first through holy obedience and reverence to convert the prelates, who when they see our holy life and humble reverence for them, will beg you to preach and convert the people, and will call the people to hear you far better than your privileges, which draw you to pride. For me, I desire this privilege from the Lord that I may never have any privilege from man except to do reverence to all, and through obedience to our holy rule of life convert mankind more by example than by word.”[526]

And again he said to the brothers: “We are sent to aid the clergy in the salvation of souls, and what is found lacking in them should be supplied by us. Know, brothers, that the gain of souls is most pleasing to God, and this we may win better by peace with the clergy, than by discord. If they hinder the salvation of the people, vengeance is God’s and He will repay in time. So be ye subject to the prelates and take heed on your part that no jealousy arise. If ye are sons of peace ye shall gain both clergy and people, and this will be more acceptable to God than to gain the people alone by scandalizing the clergy. Cover their slips, and supply their deficiencies; and when ye shall have done this be ye the more humble.”[527]

So Francis loved sancta obedientia as he called it. As a wise builder he set himself upon a rock, to wit, the perfect humility and poverty of the Son of God; and because of his own humility he called his company the Minorites (the “lesser” brethren).[528] For himself, he deemed that he should most rejoice when men should revile him and cast him forth in shame, and not when they revered and honoured him.[529]

Above all he loved his “lady poverty” and could not say enough to impress his followers with her high worth and beauty, and with the dignity and nobility of begging alms for the love of the Lord.[530] As a high-born lady, poor and beautiful, he had seen her in a vision, in the midst of[Pg 431] a desert, and worthy to be wooed by the King.[531] In the early days when the brothers were a little band, Francis had gone about and begged for all. He loved them so that he dreaded to require what might shame them. But when the labour was too great for one man, so delicate and weak, he said to them: “Best beloved brothers and my children, do not be ashamed to go for alms, because the Lord made Himself poor for us in this world after whose example we have chosen the truest poverty. For this is our heritage, which our Lord Jesus Christ achieved and left to us and to all who, after His example, wish to live in holy poverty. I tell you of a truth that many wise and noble of this world shall join that congregation and hold it for an honour and a grace to go out for alms. Therefore boldly and with glad heart seek alms with God’s blessing; and more freely and gladly should you seek alms than he who offers a hundred pieces of money for one coin, since to those from whom you ask alms you offer the love of God, saying, ‘Do us an alms for the love of the Lord God,’ in comparison with which heaven and earth are nothing.”[532]

With Francis all virtues were holy (sancta obedientia, sancta paupertas). Righteousness, goodness, piety, lay in imitating and obeying his Lord. What joy was there in loving Christ, and being loved by Him! and what an eternity of bliss awaited the Christian soul! To do right, to imitate Christ and obey and love Him, is a privilege. Can it be other than a joy? Indeed, this following of Christ is so blessed, that not to rejoice continually in it, betokens some failure in obedience and love. Many have approved this Christian logic; but to realize it in one’s heart and manifest it in one’s life, was the more singular grace of Francis of Assisi. His heart sang always unto the Lord; his love flowed out in gladness to his fellows; his enchanted spirit rejoiced in every creature. The gospel of this new evangelist awoke the hearts of men to love and joy. Nothing rejoiced him more than to see his sons rejoice in the Lord; and nothing was more certain to draw forth his tender reproof than a sad countenance.

[Pg 432]“Once while the blessed Francis was at the Portiuncula, a certain good beggar came along the way, returning from alms-begging in Assisi, and he went along praising God with a high voice and great jocundity. As he approached, Francis heard him, and ran out and met him in the way, and joyfully kissed his shoulder where he bore the wallet containing the gifts. Then he lifted the wallet, and set it on his own shoulder, and so carried it within, and said to the brothers: ‘Thus I wish to have my brothers go and return with alms, joyful and glad and praising God.’”[533]

“Aside from prayer and the divine service, the blessed Francis was most zealous in preserving continually an inward and outward spiritual gladness. And this he especially cherished in the brothers, and would reprove them for sadness and depression. For he said that if the servant of God would study to preserve, inwardly and outwardly, the spiritual joy which rises from purity of heart, and is acquired through the devotion of prayer, the devils could not harm him, for they say: So long as the servant of God is joyful in tribulation and prosperity, we cannot enter into him or harm him.... To our enemy and his members it pertains to be sad, but to us always to rejoice and be glad in the Lord.”[534]

Thus the glad temper of his young unconverted days passed into his saintly life, of which Christ was the primal source of rapture.

“Drunken with the love and pity of Christ, the blessed Francis would sometimes do such acts, when the sweetest melody of spirit within him boiling outward gave sound in French, and the strain of the divine whisper which his ear had taken secretly, broke forth in a glad French song. He would pick up a stick and, holding it over his left arm, would with another stick in his right hand make as if drawing a bow across a violin (viellam), and with fitting gestures would sing in French of the Lord Jesus Christ. At last this dancing would end in tears, and the jubilee turn to pity for the Passion of Christ. And in that he would continue, drawing sighs and groans, as, oblivious to what he held in his hands, he was suspended from heaven.”[535]

Francis had been a lover from his youth; naturally and always he had loved his kind. But from the time when Christ held his heart and mind, his love of fellow-man was moulded by his thought and love of Christ. Henceforth the loving acts of Francis moving among his fellows become[Pg 433] a loving following of Christ. He sees in every man the character and person of his Lord, soliciting his love, commanding what he should do. He never refused, or permitted his followers to refuse, what was asked in Christ’s name; but it displeased him when he heard the brothers ask lightly for the love of God, and he would reprove them, saying: “So high and precious is God’s love that it never should be invoked save with great reverence and under pressing need.”[536]

Such a man felt strong personal affection. Pure and wise was his love for Santa Clara;[537] and a deep affection for one of his earliest and closest followers touches us in his letter to brother Leo. Not all of the writings ascribed to Francis breathe his spirit; but we hear his voice in this letter as it closes: “And if it is needful for thy soul or for thy consolation, and thou dost wish, my Leo, to come to me, come. Farewell in Christ.”

Francis’s love was unfailing in compassionate word and deed. Although cold and sick, he would give his cloak away at the first demand, till his own appointed minister-general commanded him on his obedience not to do so without permission; and he saw that the brothers did not injure themselves with fasting, though he took slight care of himself. On one occasion he had them all partake of a meal, in order that one delicate brother, who needed food, might not be put to shame eating while the rest fasted. And once, early in the morning, he led an old and feeble brother secretly to a certain vineyard, and there ate grapes before him, that he might not be ashamed to do likewise, for his health.[538]

The effect of his sweet example melted the hearts of angry men, reconciling such as had been wronged to those who had wronged them, and leading ruffians back to ways of gentleness. His conduct on learning of certain dissensions in Assisi illustrates his method of restoring peace and amity.

“After the blessed Francis had composed the Lauds of the creatures, which he called the Canticle of Brother Sun, it happened [Pg 434]that great dissension arose between the bishop and the podestà of the City of Assisi, so that the bishop excommunicated the podestà, and the podestà made proclamation that no person should sell anything to the bishop or buy from him or make any contract with him.

“When the blessed Francis (who was now so very sick) heard this, he was greatly moved with pity, since no one interposed between them to make peace. And he said to his companions: ‘It is a great shame for us servants of God that the bishop and the podestà hate each other so, and none interposes to make peace.’

“And so for this occasion he at once made a verse in the Lauds above mentioned and said:

‘Praised be thou, O my Lord, for those who forgive from love of thee,
And endure sickness and tribulation.
Blessed are those who shall endure in peace,
For by thee, Most High, shall they be crowned.’

“Then he called one of his companions and said to him: ‘Go to the podestà, and on my behalf tell him to come to the bishop’s palace with the magnates of the city and others that he may bring with him.’

“And as that brother went, he said to two other of his companions: ‘Go before the bishop and podestà and the others who may be with them, and sing the Canticle of Brother Sun, and I trust in the Lord that He will straightway humble their hearts, and they will return to their former affection and friendship.’

“When all were assembled in the piazza of the episcopate, the two brothers arose, and one of them said: ‘The blessed Francis in his sickness made a Lauds of the Lord from His creatures in praise of the Lord and for the edification of our neighbour. Wherefore he begs that you would listen to it with great devoutness.’ And then they began to say and sing them.

“At once the podestà rose, and with folded hands listened intently, as if it were the Lord’s gospel; this he did with the greatest devoutness and with many tears, for he had great trust and devotion toward the blessed Francis.

“When the Lauds of the Lord were finished, the podestà said before them all: ‘Truly I say to you that not only my lord-bishop, whom I wish and ought to hold as my lord, but if any one had slain my brother or son I would forgive him.’ And so saying, he threw himself at the bishop’s feet, and said to him: ‘Look, I am ready in all things to make satisfaction to you as shall please you, for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and His servant the blessed Francis.’

“The bishop accepting him, raised him with his hands and said: ‘Because of my office it became me to be humble, and since I am [Pg 435]naturally quick-tempered you ought to pardon me.’ And so with great kindness and love they embraced and kissed each other.

“The brothers were astounded and made glad when they saw fulfilled to the letter the concord predicted by the blessed Francis. And all others present ascribed it as a great miracle to the merits of the blessed Francis, that the Lord suddenly had visited them, and out of such dissension and scandal had brought such concord.”[539]

It would be mistaken to refer to any single pious sentiment, the saint’s blithe love of animals and birds and flowers, and his regard even for senseless things. It is right, however, for Thomas of Celano, as a proper monkish biographer, to say:

“While hastening through this world of pilgrimage and exile that traveller (Francis) rejoiced in those things which are in the world, and not a little. As toward the princes of darkness he used the world as a field for battle, but as toward the Lord he treated it as the brightest mirror of goodness; in the fabric he commended the Artificer, and what he found in created things, he referred to the Maker; he exulted over all the works of the hands of the Lord, and in the pleasing spectacle beheld the life-giving reason and the cause. In beautiful things he perceived that which was most beautiful, as all good things acclaim, He who made us is best. Through vestiges impressed on things he followed his chosen, and made of all a ladder by which to reach the throne. He embraced all things in a feeling of unheard of devotion, speaking to them concerning the Lord and exhorting them in His praise.”[540]

This was true, even if it was not all the truth. Living creatures spoke to Francis of their Maker, while things insensible aroused his reverence through their suggestiveness, their scriptural associations, or their symbolism. But beyond these motives there was in this poet Francis a happy love of nature. If nature always spoke to him of God, its loveliness needed no stimulation of devotion in order to be loved by him. His feeling for it found everywhere sensibility and responsiveness. He was as if possessed by an imaginative animism, wherein every object had a soul. His acts and words may appear fantastic; they never lack loveliness and beauty.[541]

[Pg 436]“Wrapped in the love of God, the blessed Francis perfectly discerned the goodness of God not only in his own soul but in every creature. Wherefore he was affected with a singular and yearning (viscerosa) love toward creatures, and especially toward those in which was figured something of God or something pertaining to religion.

“Whence above all birds he loved a little bird called the lark (the lodola capellata of the vulgar tongue) and would say of her: ‘Sister lark has a hood like a Religious and is a humble bird, because she goes willingly along the road to find for herself some grains of corn. Even if she find them in dung she picks them out and eats them. In flying she praises the Lord very sweetly, as the good Religious look down upon earthly things, whose conversation is always in the heavens and whose intent is always upon the praise of God. Her garments are like earth, that is, her feathers, and set an example to the Religious that they should not have delicate and gaudy garments, but such as are vile in price and colour, as earth is viler than other elements.’”[542]

The unquestionably true story of Francis preaching to the birds is known to all, especially to readers of the Fioretti. Thus Thomas of Celano tells it: As the blessed Father Francis was journeying through the Spoleto Valley, he reached a place near Mevanium, where there was a multitude of birds—doves, crows, and other kinds. When he saw them, for the love and sweet affection which he bore toward the lower creatures, he quickly ran to them, leaving his companions. As he came near and saw that they were waiting for him, he saluted them in his accustomed way. Then wondering that they did not take flight, he was very glad, and humbly begged them to listen to the word of God; among other things he said to them: “My brothers who fly, verily you should praise the Lord your Maker and love Him always, who gave you feathers to clothe you and wings to fly with and whatever was necessary to you. God made you noble among creatures, prepared your mansion in the purity of air; and though you neither sow nor reap, nevertheless without any solicitude on your part, He protects and guides you.”

[Pg 437]At this, those little birds as he was speaking, marvellously exulting, began to stretch out their necks and spread their wings and open their beaks, looking at him. He passed through their midst, sweeping their heads and bodies with his mantle. At length he blessed them, and with the sign of the cross gave them leave to fly away. Then returning gladdened to his companions, he yet blamed himself for his neglect to preach to the birds before, since they so reverently heard the word of God. And from that day he ceased not to exhort all flying and creeping things, and even things insensible, to the praise and love of their Creator.[543]

Thomas also says that above all animals Francis loved the lambs, because so frequently in Scripture the humility of our Lord is likened unto a lamb. One day, as Francis was making his way through the March of Ancona he met a goat-herd pasturing his flock of goats. Among them, humbly and quietly, a little lamb was feeding. Francis stopped as he saw it, and, deeply touched, said to the brother accompanying him: “Dost thou see this sheep walking so gently among the goats? I tell you, thus our Lord Jesus Christ used to walk mild and humble among Pharisees and chief priests. For love of Him, then, I beg thee, my son, to buy this little sheep with me and lead it out from among these goats.”

The brother was also moved with pity. They had nothing with them save their wretched cloaks, but a merchant chancing to come along the way, the money was obtained from him. Giving thanks to God and leading the sheep they had bought, they reached the town of Osimo whither they were going; and entering the house of the bishop, were honourably received by him. Yet my lord bishop wondered at the sheep which Francis was leading with such tender love. But when Francis had set forth the parable of his sermon, the bishop too was touched and gave thanks to God.

The following day they considered what to do with the sheep, and it was given over to the nuns of the cloister of St. Severinus, who received it as a great boon given them[Pg 438] from God. Long while they cared for it, and in the course of time wove a cloak from its wool, which they sent to the blessed Francis at the Portiuncula at the time of a Chapter meeting. The saint accepted it with joy, and kissed it, and begged all the brothers to be glad with him.[544]

Celano also tells how Francis loved the grass and vines and stones and woods, and all comely things in the fields, also the streams, and earth and fire and air, and called every creature “brother”;[545] also how he would not put out the flame of a lamp or candle, how he walked reverently upon stones, and was careful to injure no living thing.[546]

[Pg 439]There are two documents which are both (the one with much reason and the other with certainty) ascribed to Francis. Utterly different as they are, each still remains a clear expression of his spirit. The one is the Lauds, commonly called the Canticle of the Brother Sun, and the other is the saint’s last Testament. One may think of the Canticle as the closing stanza of a life which was an enacted poem:

Most High, omnipotent, good Lord, thine is the praise, the glory, the honour and every benediction;

To thee alone, Most High, these do belong, and no man is worthy to name thee.

Praised be thou, my Lord, with all thy creatures, especially milord Brother Sun that dawns and lightens us;

And he, beautiful and radiant with great splendour, signifies thee, Most High.

Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars that thou hast made bright and precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind, and for the air and cloud and the clear sky and for all weathers through which thou givest sustenance to thy creatures.

Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water, that is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire, through whom thou dost illumine the night, and comely is he and glad and bold and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, for Sister, Our Mother Earth, that doth [Pg 440]cherish and keep us, and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and the grass.

Be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for love of thee, and endure sickness and tribulation; blessed are they who endure in peace; for by thee, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, for our bodily death, from which no living man can escape; woe unto those who die in mortal sin.

Blessed are they that have found thy most holy will, for the second death shall do them no hurt.

Praise and bless my Lord, and render thanks, and serve Him with great humility.[547]

The self-expression of the more personal parts of the Testament supplement these utterances:

“Thus the Lord gave to me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penance: because while I was in sins, it seemed too bitter to me to see lepers; and the Lord himself led me among them, and I did mercy with them. And departing from them, that which seemed to me bitter, was turned for me into sweetness of soul and body. And a little afterwards I went out of the world.

“And the Lord gave me such faith in churches, that thus simply I should pray and say: ‘We adore thee, Lord Jesus Christ, and in all thy churches which are in the whole world, and we bless thee, because through thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.’

“Afterwards the Lord gave and gives me so great faith in priests who live after the model of the holy Roman Church according to their order, that if they should persecute me I will still turn to them. And if I should have as great wisdom as Solomon had, and should have found the lowliest secular priests in the parishes where they dwell, I do not wish to preach contrary to their wish. And them and all others I wish to fear and honour as my lords; and I do not wish to consider sin in them, because I see the Son of God in them and they are my lords.

“And the reason I do this is because corporeally I see nothing in this world of that most high Son of God except His most holy body and most holy blood, which they receive and which they alone administer. And I wish these most holy mysteries to be honoured above all and revered, and to be placed together in precious places. Wherever I shall find His most holy names and His written words in unfit places, I wish to collect them, and I ask that they be collected and placed in a proper place; and all theologians and those who administer the most holy divine words, we ought to honour and venerate, as those who administer to us spirit and life.

[Pg 441]“And after the Lord gave me brothers, no one showed me what I ought to do, but the Most High himself revealed to me that I ought to live according to the model of the holy Gospel. And I in a few words and simply had this written, and the lord Pope confirmed it to me. And they who were coming to receive life, all that they were able to have they gave to the poor; and they were content with one patched cloak, with the cord and breeches; and we did not wish to have more. We who were of the clergy said our office as other clergy; the lay members said ‘Our Father.’ And willingly we remained in churches; and we were simple (idiotae) and subject to all. And I laboured with my hands, and I wish to labour; and I wish all other brothers to labour. Who do not know how, let them learn, not from the cupidity of receiving the price of labour, but on account of the example, and to repel slothfulness. And when the price of labour is not given to us, we resort to the table of the Lord by seeking alms from door to door.

“The Lord revealed to me a salutation that we should say: The Lord give thee peace.”

Francis’s precepts for the brothers follow here. The last paragraph of the Will is: “And whoever shall have observed these principles, in heaven may he be filled with the benediction of the most high Father, and on earth may he be filled with the benediction of His beloved Son, with the most holy spirit Paraclete, and with all the virtues of the heavens and with everything holy. And I, Brother Francis, your very little servant, so far as I am able, confirm to you within and without that most holy benediction.”



[Pg 442]



Elizabeth of Schönau; Hildegard of Bingen; Mary of Ognies; Liutgard of Tongern; Mechthild of Magdeburg

We pass to matters of a different complexion from anything presented in the last few chapters. Thus far, besides Bernard and Francis, matchless examples of monastic ideals, there have been instances of contemplation and piety, with much emotion, and a sufficiency of experience having small part in reason; also hallucinations and fantastic conduct, as in the case of Romuald. The last class of phenomena, however, have not been prominent. Now for a while we shall be wrapt in visions, rational, imitative, fashioned with intent and plan; or, again, directly experienced, passionate, hallucinative. They will range from those climaxes of the constructive or intuitive imagination,[548] which are of the whole man, to passionate or morbid delusions representing but a partial and passing phase of the subject’s personality. Moreover, we have been occupied with hermits and monks, that is to say, with men. The present chapter has to do with nuns; who are more prone to visions, and are occasionally subject to those passionate hallucinations which are prompted by the circumstance that the Christian God was incarnate in the likeness of a man.

Besides the conclusions which the mind draws from the data of sense, or reaches through reflection, there are other modes of conviction whose distinguishing mark is their apparent immediacy and spontaneity. They are not elicited[Pg 443] from antecedent processes of thought, as inferences or deductions; rather they loom upon the consciousness, and are experienced. Yet they are far from simple, and may contain a multiplicity of submerged reasonings, and bear relation to countless previous inferences. They are usually connected with emotion or neural excitement, and may even take the guise of sense-manifestations. Through such convictions, religious minds are assured of God and the soul’s communion with Him.[549] While not issuing from argument, this assurance may be informed with reason and involve the total sum of conclusions which the reasoner has drawn from life.

In devout mediaeval circles, the consciousness of communion with God, with the Virgin, with angels and saints, and with the devil, often took on the semblance of sense-perception. The senses seemed to be experiencing: stenches of hell, odours of heaven, might be smelled, or a taste infect the mouth; the divine or angelic touch was felt, or the pain of blows; most frequently voices were heard, and forms were seen in a vision. In these apparent testimonies of sight and hearing, the entire spiritual nature of the man or woman might set the vision, dramatize it with his or her desires and aversions, and complete it from the store of knowledge at command.

The visions of an eleventh-century monk named Othloh have been observed at some length.[550] Intimate and trying, they were also, so to speak, in and of the whole man: his tastes, his solicitudes, his acquired knowledge and ways of reasoning, joined in these vivid experiences of God’s truth and the devil’s onslaughts. One may be mindful of Othloh in turning to the more impersonal visions of certain German nuns, which likewise issued[Pg 444] from the entire nature and intellectual equipment of these women.[551]

On the Rhine, fifteen miles north-east of Bingen, lies the village of Schönau, where in the twelfth century flourished a Benedictine monastery, and near it a cloister for nuns. At the latter a girl of twelve named Elizabeth was received in the year 1141. She lived there as nun, and finally as abbess, till her death in 1165. Like many other lofty souls dwelling in the ideal, she was a stern censor of the evils in the world and in the Church. The bodily infirmities from which she was never free, were aggravated by austerities, and usually became most painful just before the trances that brought her visions. Masses and penances, prayer and meditation, made her manner of approach to these direct disclosures of eternity, wherein the whole contents of her faith and her reflection were unrolled. Frequently she beheld the Saints in the nights following their festivals; her larger visions were moulded by the Apocalypse. These experiences were usually beatific, though sometimes she suffered insult from malignant shapes. What humility bade her conceal, the importunities of admirers compelled her to disclose: and so her visions have been preserved, and may be read in the Vita written by her brother Eckbert, Abbot of Schönau.[552] Here is an example of how the saint and seeress spoke:

“On the Sunday night following the festival of St. James (in the year 1153), drawn from the body, I was borne into an ecstasy (avocata a corpore rapta sum in exstasim). And a great flaming wheel flared in the heaven. Then it disappeared, and I saw a light more splendid than I was accustomed to see; and thousands of saints stood in it, forming an immense circle; in front were some glorious men, having palms and shining crowns and the titles of their martyrdoms inscribed upon their foreheads. From these titles, as well as from their pre-eminent splendour, I knew them to be the Apostles. At their right was a great company having the same shining titles; and behind these were others, who lacked the signs of martyrdom. At the left of the Apostles shone the holy order of virgins, also adorned with the signs of martyrdom, and behind them[Pg 445] another splendid band of maidens, some crowned, but without these signs. Still back of these, a company of venerable women in white completed the circle. Below it was another circle of great brilliancy, which I knew to be of the holy angels.”

“In the midst of all was a Glory of Supreme Majesty, and its throne was encircled by a rainbow. At the right of that Majesty I saw one like unto the Son of Man, seated in glory; at the left was a radiant sign of the Cross.... At the right of the Son of Man sat the Queen of Kings and Angels on a starry throne circumfused with immense light. At the left of the Cross four-and-twenty honourable men sat facing it. And not far from them I saw two rams sustaining on their shoulders a great shining wheel. The morning after this, at terse, one of the brothers came to the window of my cell, and I asked that the mass for the Holy Trinity might be celebrated.

“The next Sunday I saw the same vision, and more: for I saw the Lamb of God standing before the throne, very lovable, and with a gold cross, as if implanted in its back. And I saw the four Evangelists in those forms which Holy Scripture ascribes to them. They were at the right of the Blessed Virgin, and their faces were turned toward her.”

And Elizabeth saw the Virgin arise and advance from out the great light into the lower ether, followed by a multitude of women saints, and then return amid great praise.

In another vision she saw the events of the Saviour’s last days on earth: saw Him riding into Jerusalem, and the multitude throwing down branches; saw Him washing the disciples’ feet, then the agony in the garden, the betrayal, the crowning with thorns, the spitting, the Lord upon the Cross, and the Mother of God full of grief; she saw the piercing of His side, the dreadful darkness,—all as in Scripture, and then the Scriptural incidents following the Resurrection. Upon this, her vision took another turn, and words were put in her mouth to chastise the people for their sins.

Apparently more original was Elizabeth’s vision of the Paths of God (the Viae Dei). In it three paths went straight up a mountain from opposite sides, the first having the hyacinthine hue of the deep heaven; the second green, the third purple. At the top of the mountain was a man, clad with a hyacinthine tunic, his reins bound with a white girdle; his face was splendid as the sun, his eyes shone as stars, and his hair was white; from his mouth issued a two-edged[Pg 446] sword; in his right hand he held a key and in his left a sceptre. Elizabeth interprets: the man is Christ; and the mountain represents the loftiness of celestial beatitude; the light at the top is the brightness of eternal life; the three paths are the diverse ways in which the elect ascend. The hyacinthine path is that of the vita contemplativa; the green path is that of the religious vita activa; and the purple path is the way of the blessed martyrs.

There were also other paths up the mountain, one beset with brambles until half way up, where they gave place to flowers. This is the way of married folk, who pass from brambles to flowers when they abandon the pleasures of the flesh; for the flowers are the virtues which adorn a life of continence. Still other ways there were, for prelates, for widows, and for solitaries. And Elizabeth turns her visions into texts, and preaches vigorous sermons, denouncing the vices of the clergy as well as laity. In other visions she had seen prelates and monks and nuns in hell.

The visions of this nun appear to have been the fruit of the constructive imagination working upon data of the mind. Yet she is said to have seen them in trances, a statement explicitly made in the account of those last days when life had almost left her body. Praying devoutly in the middle of the night before she died, she seemed much troubled; then she passed into a trance (exstasim). Returning to herself, she murmured to the sister who held her in her arms: “I know not how it is with me; that light which I have been wont to see in the heavens is dividing.” Again she passed into a trance, and afterwards, when the sisters begged her to disclose what she had seen, she said her end was at hand, for she had seen holy visions which, many years before, God’s angel had told her she should not see again until she came to die. On being asked whether the Lord had comforted her, she answered, “Oh! what excellent comfort have I received!”

A more imposing personality than Elizabeth was Hildegard of Bingen,[553] whose career extends through nearly[Pg 447] the whole of the twelfth century; for she was born in 1099 and died in 1179. Her parents were of the lesser nobility, holding lands in the diocese of Mainz. A certain holy woman, one Jutta, daughter of the Count of Spanheim, had secluded herself in a solitary cell at Disenberg—the mount of St. Disibodus—near a monastery of Benedictine monks. Drawn by her reputation, Hildegard’s parents brought their daughter to Jutta, who received her to a life like her own. The ceremony, which took place in the presence of a number of persons, was that of the last rites of the dead, performed with funeral torches. Hildegard was buried to the world. She was eight years old. At the same time a niece of Jutta also became a recluse, and afterwards others joined them.

On the death of Jutta in 1136, Hildegard was compelled to take the office of Prioress. But when the fame of the dead Jutta began to draw many people to her shrine, and cause a concourse of pilgrims, Hildegard decided to seek greater quiet, and possibly more complete independence;[Pg 448] for the authority of the new abbot at the monastery may not have been to her liking. She was ever a masterful woman, better fitted to command than to obey. So in 1147 she and her nuns moved to Bingen, and established themselves permanently near the tomb of St. Rupert. From this centre the energies and influence of Hildegard, and rumours of her visions, soon began to radiate. Her advice was widely sought, and often given unasked. She corresponded with the great and influential, admonishing dukes and kings and emperors, monks, abbots, and popes. Her epistolary manner sometimes reminds one of Bernard, who was himself among her correspondents. The following letter to Frederick Barbarossa would match some of his:

“O King, it is very needful that thou be foreseeing in thy affairs. For, in mystic vision, I see thee living, small and insensate, beneath the Living Eyes (of God). Thou hast still some time to reign over earthly matters. Therefore beware lest the Supreme King cast thee down for the blindness of thine eyes, which do not rightly see how thou holdest the rod of right government in thy hand. See also to it that thou art such that the grace of God may not be lacking in thee.”[554]

This is the whole letter. Hildegard’s communications were not wont to stammer. They were frequently announced as from God, and began with the words “Lux vivens dicit.”

Hildegard was a woman of intellectual power. She was also learned in theology, and versed in the medicine and scanty natural science of an epoch which preceded the reopening of the great volume of Aristotelian knowledge in the thirteenth century. Yet she asserts her illiteracy, and seems always to have employed learned monks to help her express, in awkward Latin, the thoughts and flashing words which, as she says, were given her in visions. Her many gifts of grace, if not her learning, impressed contemporaries, who wrote to her for enlightenment upon points of doctrine and biblical interpretation; they would wait patiently until she should be enabled to answer, since her answers were not in the power of her own reflection, but had to be seen or heard. For instance, a monk[Pg 449] named Guibert, who afterwards became the saint’s amanuensis and biographer, propounded thirty-eight questions of biblical interpretation on behalf of the monks of the monastery of Villars. In the course of time Hildegard replies: “In visione animae meae, haec verba vidi et audivi,” and thereupon she gives a text from Canticles with an exposition of it, which neither she nor the monks regarded quite as hers, but as divinely revealed. At the end of the letter she says that she, insignificant and untaught creature, has looked to the “true light,” and through the grace of God has laboured upon their questions and has completed the solutions of fourteen of them.[555]

In some of Hildegard’s voluminous writings, visions were apparently a form of composition; again, more veritable visions, deemed by her and by her friends to have been divinely given, made the nucleus of the work at length produced by the labour of her mind. Guibert recognized both elements, the God-given visions of the seeress and her contributory labour. In letters which had elicited the answers above mentioned, he calls her speculativa anima, and urges her to direct her talents (ingenium) to the solution of the questions. But he also addresses her in words just varied from Gabriel’s and Elizabeth’s to the Virgin:

“Hail—after Mary—full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the word of thy mouth.... In the character of thy visions, the logic of thy expositions, the orthodoxy of thy opinions, the Holy Spirit has marvellously illuminated thee, and revealed to babes divers secrets of His wisdom.”[556]

In answer to more personal inquiries from the deeply-interested Guibert, Hildegard (who at the time was venerable in years and in repute for sanctity) explains how she saw her visions, and how her knowledge of Scripture came to her:

“From infancy, even to the present time when I am more than seventy years old, my soul has always beheld this visio,[557] and [Pg 450]in it my soul, as God may will, soars to the summit of the firmament and into a different air, and diffuses itself among divers peoples, however remote they may be. Therefore I perceive these matters in my soul, as if I saw them through dissolving views of clouds and other objects. I do not hear them with my outer ears, nor do I perceive them by the cogitations of my heart, or by any collaboration of my five senses; but only in my soul, my eyes open, and not sightless as in a trance; wide awake, whether by day or night, I see these things. And I am perpetually bound by my infirmities and with pains so severe as to threaten death, but hitherto God has raised me up.

“The brightness which I see is not limited in space, and is more brilliant than the luminous air around the sun, nor can I estimate its height or length or breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is Shade of the living light (umbra viventis luminis). Just as sun, moon, or stars appear reflected in the water, I see Scripture, discourses, virtues and human actions shining in it.

“Whatever I see or learn in this vision, I retain in my memory; and as I may have seen or heard it, I recall it to mind, and at once see, hear, know; in an instant I learn whatever I know. On the other hand, what I do not see, that I do not know, because I am unlearned; but I have had some simple instruction in letters. I write whatever I see and hear in the vision, nor do I set down any other words, but tell my message in the rude Latin words which I read in the vision. For I am not instructed in the vision to write as the learned write; and the words in the vision are not as words sounding from a human mouth, but as flashing flame and as a cloud moving in clear air.

“Nor have I been able to perceive the form of this brightness, just as I cannot perfectly see the disk of the Sun. In that brightness I sometimes see another light, for which the name Lux vivens has been given me. When and how I see it I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it, all sadness and pain is lifted from me, and then I have the ways of a simple girl and not those of an old woman.”[558]

The obscure Latin of this letter gives the impression of one trying to put in words what was unintelligible to the writer. And the same sense of struggle with the inadequacies of speech comes from the prologue of a work written many years before:

“Lo, in the forty-third year of my temporal course, while I, in fear and trembling, was intent upon the celestial vision, I saw a [Pg 451]great splendour in which was a voice speaking to me from heaven: Frail creature, dust of the dust, speak and write what thou seest and hearest. But because that thou art timid of speech and unskilled in writing, speak and write these things not according to human utterance nor human understanding of composition; but as thou seest and hearest in the heavens above, in the marvels of God, so declare, as a hearer sets forth the words of his preceptor, preserving the fashion of his speech, under his will, his guidance and his command. Thus thou, O man (homo), tell those things which thou seest and hearest, and write, not according to thyself or other human being, but according to the will of Him who knows and sees and disposes all things in the secrets of His mysteries.

“And again, I heard a voice saying to me from heaven: Tell these marvels and write them, taught in this way, and say: It happened in the year one thousand one hundred and forty-one of the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God, when I was forty-two years old, that a flashing fire of light from the clear sky transfused my brain, my heart, and my whole breast as with flame; yet it did not burn but only warmed me, as the sun warms an object upon which it sheds its rays. And suddenly I had intelligence of the full meaning of the Psalter, the Gospels, and the other books of the Old and New Testaments, although I did not have the exact interpretation of the words of their text, nor the division of syllables nor knowledge of cases and moods.”

The writer continues with the statement:

“The visions which I saw, I did not perceive in dreams or sleeping, nor in delirium, nor with the corporeal ears and eyes of the outer man; but watchful and intent in mind I received them according to the will of God.”[559]

Hildegard spoke as truthfully as she could about her visions and the source of her knowledge, matters hard for her to put in words, and by no means easy for others to classify in categories of seeming explanation. Guibert may have read the work in question. At all events, his interesting correspondence with her, and her great repute, led him to come to see for himself and investigate her visions; for he realized that deceptions were common, and wished to follow the advice of Scripture to prove all things. So he[Pg 452] made the journey to Bingen, and stayed four days with Hildegard. This was in 1178, about a year before her death. “So far as was possible in this short space of time, I observed her attentively; and I could not perceive in her any invention or untruth or hypocrisy, or indeed anything that could offend either us or other men who follow reason.”[560]

Springing from her rapt faith, the visions of this seeress and anima speculativa disclose the range of her knowledge and the power of her mind. The visions all were allegories; but while some appear as sheer spontaneous visions, in others the mind of Hildegard, aware of the intended allegorical significance, constructs the vision, and fashions its details to suit the spiritual meaning. This woman, fit sister to her contemporaries Hugo of St. Victor and Bernard of Clairvaux, was ancestress of him who saw his Commedia both as fact and allegory, and with intended mind laboured upon that inspiration which kept him lean for twenty years.

Let us now follow these visions for ourselves, and begin with the Book of the Rewards of Life revealed by the Living Light through a simple person.[561]

“When I was sixty years old, I saw the strong and wonderful vision wherein I toiled for five years. And I saw a Man of such size that he reached from the summit of the clouds of heaven even to the Abyss. From his shoulders upward he was above the clouds in the serenest ether. From his shoulders down to his hips he was in a white cloud; from his hips to his knees he was in the air of earth; from the knees to the calves he was in the earth; and from his calves to the soles of his feet he was in the waters of the Abyss, so that he stood upon the Abyss. And he turned to the East. The brightness of his countenance dazzled me. At his mouth was a white cloud like a trumpet, which was full of all sounds sounding quickly. When he blew in it, it sent forth three winds, of which one sustained above itself a fiery cloud, and one a storm-cloud, and one a cloud of light. But the wind with the fiery cloud above it hovered before the Man’s face, while the two others descended to his breast and blew there.

“And in the fiery cloud there was a living fiery multitude all one in will and life. Before them was spread a tablet covered [Pg 453]with quills (pennae) which flew in the precepts of God. And when the precepts of God lifted up that tablet where God’s knowledge had written certain of its secrets, this multitude with one impulse gazed on it. And as they saw the writing, God’s virtue was so bestowed upon them that as a mighty trumpet they gave forth in one note a music manifold.

“The wind having the storm-cloud over it, spread, with that cloud, from the south to the west. In it was a multitude of the blessed, who possessed the spirit of life; and their voice was as the noise of many waters as they cried: We have our habitations from Him who made this wind, and when shall we receive them? But the multitude that was in the fiery cloud chanted responding: When God shall grasp His trumpet, lightning and thunder and burning fire shall He send upon the earth, and then in that trumpet shall ye have your habitation.

“And the wind which had over it the cloud of light spread with that cloud from the east to the north. But masses of darkness and thick horror coming from the west, extended themselves to the light cloud, yet could not pass beyond it. In that darkness was a countless crowd of lost souls; and these swerved in their course whenever they heard the song of those singing in the storm-cloud, as if they shunned their company.

“Then I saw coming from the north, a cloud barren of delight, untouched by the Sun’s rays. It reached towards the darkness aforesaid, and was full of malignant spirits, who go about devising snares for men. And I heard the old serpent saying, ‘I will prepare my men of might and will make war upon mine enemies.’ And he spat forth among men a spume of things impure, and inflated them with derision. Then he blew up a foul mist which filled the whole earth as with black smoke, out of which was heard a groaning; and in that mist I saw the images of every sin.”[562]

These images now speak in their own defence, and are answered by the virtues, speaking from the storm-cloud, Heavenly Love replying to Love of this World, Discipline answering Petulance, Shame answering Ribaldry (the vice of the jongleours) after the fashion of such mediaeval allegorical debates. The virtues are simply voices; but the monstrous or bestial image of each sin is described:

“Ignavia (cowardly sloth) had a human head, but its left ear was like the ear of a hare, and so large as to cover the head. Its body and limbs were worm-like, apparently without bones; and it spoke trembling.”[563]

[Pg 454]Hildegard explains the general features of her vision: God with secret inquisition, reviewing the profound disposal of His will, made three ways of righteousness, which should advance in the three orders of the blessed. These are the three winds with the three clouds above them. The first wind bears over it the fiery cloud, which is the glory of angels burning with love of God, willing only what He wills; the wind bearing over it the storm-cloud represents the works of men, stormy and various, done in straits and tribulations; the third way of righteousness, through the Incarnation of our Lord, bears above it a white and untouched virginity, as a cloud of light.[564]

Then Hildegard sees the punishments of those who die in their sins impenitent. They were in a pit having a bottom of burning pitch, out of which crawled fiery worms; and sharp nails were driven about in that pit as by a wind.

“I saw a well deep and broad, full of boiling pitch and sulphur, and around it were wasps and scorpions, who scared but did not injure the souls of those therein; which were the souls of those who had slain in order not to be slain.

“Near a pond of clear water I saw a great fire. In this some souls were burned and others were girdled with snakes, and others drew in and again exhaled the fire like a breath, while malignant spirits cast lighted stones at them. And all of them beheld their punishments reflected in the water, and thereat were the more afflicted. These were the souls of those who had extinguished the substance of the human form within them, or had slain their infants.

“And I saw a great swamp, over which hung a black cloud of smoke, which was issuing from it. And in the swamp there swarmed a mass of little worms. Here were the souls of those who in the world had delighted in foolish merriment (inepta laetitia).[565]

“And I saw a great fire, black, red, and white, and in it horrible fiery vipers spitting flame; and there the vipers tortured the souls of those who had been slaves of the sin of uncharitableness (acerbitas).

“And I saw a fire burning in a blackness, in which were dragons, who blew up the fire with their breath. And near was an icy river; and the dragons passed into it from time to time and disturbed it. And a fiery air was over both river and fire. Here were punished the souls of liars; and for relief from the heat, they [Pg 455]pass into the river, and again, for the cold, they return to the fire, and the dragons torment them. But the fiery air afflicts only those who have sworn falsely.[566]

“I saw a hollow mountain full of fire and vipers, with a little opening; and near it a horrible cold place crawling with scorpions. The souls of those guilty of envy and malice suffer here, passing for relief from one place of torment to the other.

“And I saw a thickest darkness, in which the souls of the disobedient lay on a fiery pavement and were bitten by sharp-toothed worms. For blind were they in life, and the fiery pavement is for their wilful disobedience, and the worms because they disobeyed their prelates.

“And I beheld at great height in the air a hail of ice and fire descending. And from that height, the souls of those who had broken their vows of chastity were falling, and then as by a wind were whirled aloft again wrapped in a ligature of darkness, so that they could not move; and the hail of cold and fire fell upon them.

“And I saw demons with fiery scourges beating hither and thither, through fires shaped like thorns and sharpened flails, the souls of those who on earth had been guilty bestially.”[567]

After the vision of the punishment, Hildegard states the penance which would have averted it, and usually follows with pious discourse and quotations from Scripture. Apparently she would have the punishments seen by her to be taken not as allegories, but literally as those actually in store for the wicked.

It is different with her visions of Paradise. In Hildegard, as in Dante, descriptions of heaven’s blessedness are pale in comparison with the highly-coloured happenings in hell. And naturally, since Paradise is won by those in whom spirit has triumphed over carnality. But flesh triumphed in the wicked on earth, and hell is of the flesh, though the spirit also be agonized. Hildegard sees many blessed folk in Paradise, but all is much the same with them: they are clad in splendid clothes, they breathe an air fragrant with sweetest flowers, they are adorned with jewels, and many of them wear crowns. For example, she sees the blessed virgins standing in purest light and limpid splendour,[Pg 456] surpassing that of the sun. They are clad “quasi candidissima veste velut auro intexta, et quasi pretiosissimis lapidibus a pectore usque ad pedes, in modum dependentis zonae, ornata induebantur, quae etiam maximum odorem velut aromatum de se emittebat. Sed et cingulis, quasi auro et gemmis ac margaritis supra humanum intellectum ornatis, circumcingebantur.”

This seems a description of heavenly millinery. Are these virgins rewarded in the life to come with what they spurned in this? What would the saint have thought of virgins had she seen them in the flesh clad in the whitest vestment ornamented with interwoven gold and gems, falling in alluring folds from their breasts to their feet, giving out aromatic odours, and belted with girdles of pearls beyond human conception? Could it be possible that the woman surviving in the nun took delight in contemplating the blissful things forbidden here below? However this may be, the quasi-s and velut-s suggest the symbolical character of these marvels. This indication becomes stronger as Hildegard, in language wavering between the literal and the symbolical, explains the appropriateness of ornaments and perfumes as rewards for the virtues shown by saints on earth. At last all is made clear: the Lux vivens declares that these ornaments are spiritual and eternal; gold and gems, which are of the dust, are not for the eternal life of celestial beings; but the elect are spiritually adorned by their righteous works as people are bodily adorned with costly ornaments. So one gains the lesson that the bliss of heaven can only be shown in allegories, since it surpasses the understanding of men while held in mortal flesh.[568]

[Pg 457]These visions from Hildegard’s Book of the Rewards of Life may be supplemented by one or two selected from the curious and lengthy work which she named Scivias, signifying Scito vias domini (know the ways of the Lord). In this work, on which she laboured for nine years, the seeress shows forth the Church, in images seen in visions, and the whole dogmatic scheme of Christian polity. The allegories form the texts of expository sermons. For example, the first vision in the first Book is of an iron-coloured mountain, which is at once explained as an image of the stability of God’s eternal kingdom. The third vision is of a fiery, egg-shaped object, very complicated in construction, and devised to illustrate the truth that things visible and temporal shadow forth the invisible and eternal, in the polity of God.[569] In the fourth vision, globes of fire are seen to enter the human form at birth, and are then attacked by many whirlwinds rushing in upon them. This is an allegory of human souls and their temptations, and forms the text for a long discourse on the nature of the soul.

The fifth vision is of the Synagogue, the Mater incarnationis Filii Dei:

“Then I saw as it were the image of a woman, pale from the top to the navel, and black from the navel to the feet, and its feet were blood-colour, and had about them a very white cloud. This image lacked eyes, and kept its hands under its arm-pits. It stood by the Altar that is before the eyes of God, but did not touch it.”

The pale upper part of this image represents the prescience of the patriarchs and prophets, who had not the strong light of the Gospel; the black lower portion represents Israel’s later backslidings; and the bloody feet surrounded by a white cloud, the slaying of Christ, and the Church arising from that consummation. The image is sightless—blind to Christ—and stands before His altar, but will have none of it; and its slothful hands keep from the work of righteousness.[570]

[Pg 458]The sixth vision is of the orders of celestial spirits, and harks back to the Celestial Hierarchy of Dionysius the Areopagite. In the height of the celestial secrets Hildegard sees a shining company of supernal spirits having as it were wings (pennas) across their breasts, and bearing before them a face like the human countenance, in which the look of man was mirrored. These are angels spreading as wings the desires of their profound intelligence; not that they have wings, like birds; but they quickly do the will of God in their desires, as a man flees quickly in his thoughts.[571] They manifest the beauty of rationality through their faces, wherein God scrutinizes the works of men. For these angels see to the accomplishment of the will of God in men; and then in themselves they show the actions of men.

Another celestial company was seen, also having as it were wings over their breasts, and bearing before them a face like the human countenance in which the image of the Son of Man shone as in a mirror. These are archangels contemplating the will of God in the desires of their own intelligences, and displaying the grace of rationality; they glorify the incarnate Word by figuring in their attributes the mysteries of the Incarnation. This vision, symbolizing the angelic intelligence, is consciously and rationally constructed.

Perhaps the same may be said of the second vision of the second Book:[572]

“Then I saw a most glorious light and in it a human form of sapphire hue, all aflame with a most gentle glowing fire; and that glorious light was infused in the glowing fire, and the fire was infused in the glorious light; and both light and fire transfused that human form—all inter-existent as one light, one virtue, and one power.”

This vision of the Trinity, in which the glorious light is the Father, the human form is the Son, and the fire is the Holy Spirit, may remind the reader of the closing “vision” of the thirty-third canto of Dante’s Paradiso.

The third Book contains manifold visions of a four-sided edifice set upon a mountain, and built with a double (biformis</