Page images
PDF
EPUB

A brief review of the relative influence of Paganism and Christianity on slavery will bring out in bold relief two important facts of history which shed glory on the Christian religion.

ist. No Pagan government of ancient times ever framed any law aiming at the immediate or gradual extinction of slavery. The same remark is true of modern nations outside the pale of Christendom. Slavery in its most odious form is still upheld in Persia, Arabia, and Turkey, among the idolatrous worshippers of Africa, and wherever Mohammedanism holds sway. It exists, also, in China and Japan, and continued in India until it was abolished by British influence in the present century.

2d. Christianity, from its birth to the present time, has labored in mitigating and extirpating this social evil. Slavery practically ceased to exist in Christian Europe from the thirteenth century, and it has since been abolished in all European colonies. It was extinguished in the British possessions in 1833, chiefly through the influence of Wilberforce and Clarkson; and ten years later, more than twelve millions of slaves were set free in the East Indies by the government of Great Britain. France abolished slavery in her West India colonies in 1793. Spain emancipated her slaves in Porto Rico in 1873, and in 1886 the institution ceased to exist in Cuba. It has passed away from all the Spanish-American Republics. A decree of emancipation has this very year, 1888, been promulgated in Brazil, by virtue of which slavery is absolutely extinguished in the Empire.

Slavery was totally abolished in the United States by President Lincoln in 1863. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was designed as a war measure in the interests of the Union, slavery would have eventually disappeared independently of the war; for it was confined to the South in whose border States it was gradually dying out, and it was opposed by the public sentiment of the Christian world.

In a word, the consoling fact can be recorded to-day that, at the present moment, a single slave is not to be found on a solitary foot of Christendom.

To what cause are we to ascribe this happy result? Not to intellectual culture, for Pagan Greece and Rome were as cultured as France and England; nor to an enlightened self-interest, for the immediate interests of the slave-owner demanded its retention; nor to the free intercourse of nations and the march of commerce, for the slave-trade was one of the most lucrative branches of busi

The result is due to the humanizing influence of the Gospel alone. Among the forces enlisted in the cause of freedom, the most potent came from the Papacy. In every age the voice of the Popes resounded clearly throughout the world in the interests of human freedom. Gregory the Great in the sixth century, Pius II. in the fifteenth, Paul III. in the sixteenth, Urban VIII. in the seventeenth, Benedict XIV. in the eighteenth, and Pius VII. in the nineteenthall raised their voice either in commending the slaves to the humanity of their masters, or in advocating their manumission, or in righteous condemnation of the slave-trade. Gregory XVI., in 1839, published a memorable Encyclical in which the following energetic language occurs: “ By virtue of our Apostolic office, we warn and admonish in the Lord all Christians of whatever condition they may be, and enjoin upon them that for the future no one shall venture unjustly to oppress the Indians, negroes, or other men whoever they may be, to strip them of their property, or reduce them into servitude, or give aid or support to those who commit such excesses, or carry on that infamous traffic by which the blacks, as if they were not men, but mere impure animals reduced like them into servitude, contrary to the laws of justice and humanity, are bought, sold, and devoted to endure the hardest labor. Wherefore, by virtue of our Apostolic authority, we condemn all these things as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name."

1 Huc, “ Travels in Tartary,” etc., I. ch. viii.

ness.

And, lastly, Leo XIII.' denounces in emphatic terms the infamous slave-trade now systematically carried on in Africa by Mohammedan invaders.

He declares such a traffic to be in violation of the natural and the divine law. He proclaims this commerce in man the most infamous and inhuman that can be conceived. He exhorts Christian rulers and all true friends of humanity to rise in their might and, by concerted action and every righteous means,“ to repress, forbid, and put an end once for all” to this violent and unholy abduction of human beings. He calls upon all Apostolic men in Africa to bring the weight of their moral influence toward securing the safety and liberty of the slaves; and he heartily commends the Emperor of Brazil for his recent decree by which all the slaves of the Empire are emancipated.

How different is the record of the following lines condensed from Cardinal Lavigerie's Discourse! Slave-hunting is carried on in every independent Mussulman State in Africa; and yet no Mufti Ulema, or any other expounder of the Koran, has ever protested against so atrocious a practice.

The redemption of captives was another work which engaged the pious solicitude of the Church. From the fourth to the fourteenth century, Europe was periodically a prey to northern

1 Letter of Leo XIII. to the Bishops of Brazil, May 5, 1888.

barbarians and Mohammedan invaders. The usual fate of the vanquished was death or slavery. They who escaped the sword were carried into bondage. A more wretched fate awaited the female sex, for they were reserved to gratify the caprices of their conquerors.

“In no form of charity,” says Mr. Lecky, “was the beneficial character of the Church more continually and more splendidly exercised than in redeeming captives from servitude."!

When the Goths invaded Italy in the fourth century, St. Ambrose sat on the chair of Milan. After disposing of his private means for the redemption of captives, he melted down the golden vessels of the Church, that he might ransom his brethren in bondage. The Arians affected to be scandalized at his course. They charged him with atrocious sacrilege for thus disposing of the sacred vessels. Ambrose replied to them in language worthy an Apostle, that the liberty of man was of more value than gold or silver, that the salvation of souls was more precious than chalices, and that no sacrifice should be spared to rescue woman from a life of dishonor and degradation.

Instances of similar deeds of charity are recorded of St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory the Great.

But the Church exerted herself not only in rescuing Christians from captivity in Pagan lands, she also labored to ransom Pagan captives in Christian realms, and restored them to their native country. When seven thousand Persians were held in durance by a Roman general, Acacius, Bishop of Amida, sold all the rich plate of his church and sent these captives redeemed to their country, saying that God had no need of plates and dishes.”

Few men have rendered more signal service in behalf of captives than St. John of Matha in the twelfth century. On the morning that he celebrated his first Mass, he made a vow at the altar to consecrate his life to the redemption of the slaves who were held captive in Morocco and other parts of Africa. To render his labors more effectual and permanent he formed a congregation of men animated by his own spirit, who made a solemn vow to consecrate their life and liberty to the redemption of slaves. They made frequent incursions into Africa, and purchased the liberty of hundreds of their brethren. If it is a virtue to give to others out of the abundance of our own means, if it is a greater virtue to give away all that we possess, what shall we say of him who devotes his life and liberty to the redemption of his fellow-beings? “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friend."'3

[ocr errors]

3 Ibid.

History of European Morals,” ii. 72.

3 John xv, 13.

THE MYTHS OF THE “DARK” AGES.

IN

N the Brief addressed by the Holy Father to Cardinals Pitra and

Hergenrother, he dwells with his accustomed earnestness on the importance of history. “It is not only the guide of life,” he tells us, “and the light of truth;" it is also “one of those arms most fit to defend the Church.” Of course, Leo XIII., whose merits as a scholar are admitted by all, when uttering these words spoke from the fulness of his knowledge. He had carefully watched the progress of historical research for the last fifty years, and simply formulated the verdict of science. He repeated what had been said by more than one non Catholic scholar, like Boehmer and Pertz. But unfortunately the writers of popular literature are not Bæhmers. It sometimes takes years and decades before the results of scholarship reach the ears of the militant parson and the magazine writer. So it happens that even to-day the general reader is led to think that Catholicity has everything to fear from science and scholarship, especially from historical science and scholarship. The best and only way to meet this prejudice is an appeal to the facts. Have the results of modern historical science been favorable to the Church, or the reverse ? Have they set her in a brighter or a darker light? To exhaust this question in a review article is impossible. But we may lay before our readers the decisions of the foremost historical scholars-mostly non-Catholic-on some one important question. Straws show the way the tide flows. A fair presentation of the conclusions of scientific historical inquiry on a number of points affecting the Church may justly be taken to indicate its general drift. We shall place before our readers some of the findings of history on the so-called Dark Ages. On no other subject has recent inquiry shed more light; from no other period had the enemies of the Church derived so much material for use in their assaults. It is a broad, extensive subject, involving many points formerly warmly controverted. It seems to be eminently fitted to be a test question.

This view is strongly reinforced by Prof. Creighton in a late number of the English Historical Review. He is discussing the dissolution of the English monasteries by Henry VIII. “The monasteries,” he says, “were neither better nor worse (in Henry's time) than they had been any time for the two previous centuries. ... No one for two centuries had looked upon the monks as saints; no one at the time of the dissolution looked upon them as monsters of vice. They were, on the whole, excellent members of society, kindly landlords resident on their estates, leading very respectable lives. But they were exposed to all the odium which always attaches to social superiors, capitalists and landlords alike. The feudal lord, who was generally non-resident, was only grumbled at in the abstract; the monks were grumbled at in the concrete. Every one who wished to raise his voice in protest, as a reformer in things ecclesiastical, political, or social, always denounced the monks because he was sure of an approving audience. Doubtless the monks were the butts of many a mediæval joke. They were not all of them unworldly, or temperate, or chaste."

Such are some of the conclusions of the most reliable and learned historical scholars on the Middle Ages. They differ widely from the views traditional in popular English literature. We shall not comment on them. We leave our readers to judge whether or not history is “one of the arms most fit to defend the Church."

Before reviewing the results of modern research on the Middle Ages it is well to premise a few remarks. The Middle Ages, it is often assumed by writers both Catholic and non-Catholic, are typically Catholic Ages. True and false. At no other time, perhaps, have churchmen, besides the authority belonging to them as churchmen, wielded so much power, especially political power; but again at no other time have kings and nobles so systematically taken possession of the dignities of the Church. On the surface the world appeared submissive to Christ and his vicar; under the surface ambitious princes intrigued against the Church, and the remnants of heathenism still waged stubborn war against her, nay, often tainted the lives, the practices and morals of her children with superstition. Popes and bishops and emperors struggled to put down these remnants of heathenism, as, for instance, the ordeals or judgments of God; even to-day the duel survives, and is upheld by a revived paganism. Often in the woods, but a few miles away from the church and the monastery, secret pagans performed the rites of Wodan and Thor. In fact, paganism or no paganism, the Church never lacked enemies; Ormuzd will ever be opposed by Ahriman. This must be borne in mind in apportioning the responsibility of the Church during the Middle Ages as well as at other times. Moreover, we must not make the Church answer for each crime that was committed, or each virtue left unpractised during that period. History throws light on the

M. Creighton, in “ Engl. Hist. Review,” April, 1888, p. 377.

« PreviousContinue »