|The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened.| -- Matt
The miry clay which Nebuchadnezzar saw mixed with the iron of Rome, had by the end of the fourth century nearly overcome the strong metal, and the time had come when the great horn of the devouring beast was to be broken off, and give place to ten others. The Romans for the last two hundred years had been growing more and more selfish and easy in their habits; and instead of fighting their own battles, had called in strangers to fight for them, till these strangers became too strong for them. The nations to whom these hired soldiers belonged, were the forefathers of most of the present people of Europe. They were called Teutons altogether, and lived in the northern parts of Europe. They were tall, fair, large people, very brave and spirited, with much honour and truth, though apt to be savage and violent; and they showed more respect to their women than any of the heathens did. They had many gods, of whom Odin, who left his name to the fourth day of the week, was the chief and father. Freya, the Earth, was his wife, and Thor was Thunder. There was a story of Baldur, a good and perfect one, who died by the craft of Lok the Destroyer, and yet still lived. This seemed like a copy of the truth; and so did the story of Lok himself, the power of evil, with a serpent on his brow, who lay chained, and yet could walk forth over the earth, and whose pale daughter, Hela, was the gaoler of the unworthy dead. They thought the brave who died in battle had the happiest lot their rude fancies could devise; they lived in the Hall of Odin, hunting all day, feasting all night, and drinking mead from the skulls of their conquered enemies.
The tribe called Goths, who lived near the Romans, and who took their pay and entered their armies, learnt the Christian faith readily; but unfortunately, it was through Arians that they received it, and those farther off continued to worship Odin. The great Theodosius left his empire parted between his two sons, Arcadius in the east, Honorius in the west. Both were young, weak, and foolish. They quarrelled with the great Gothic chief, Alaric, who began to overrun their dominions, and at last threatened Rome so much, that Honorius was forced to call home all his soldiers to protect himself.
The first province thus left bare of troops, was Britain, which remained a prey to the savage Scots, and then was conquered by the Saxons and Angles, two of the heathen tribes of Teutons, who seemed for a time quite to have put out the light of Christianity in their part of the island. The Britons in the Welsh hills, however, still continued a free and Christian people; and Patrick, a noble young Roman, who had once been made captive by the wild Irish, and set to feed their sheep, no sooner grew up than he went back to preach the Gospel to them, and deliver them from a worse bondage than they had made him suffer. So many did he convert, and such zealous Christians were they, that Ireland used to be called the Isle of Saints; and it has never forgotten the trefoil, or shamrock leaf, by which St. Patrick taught his converts to enter into the great mystery, how Three could yet be One.
In the meantime Alaric marched against Rome. Once he was beaten back, and Honorius celebrated the victory by the last Roman triumph ever held, and after it, by the last of the shows of righting slaves. A monk sprung into the amphitheatre while it was going on, and, in the name of Christ, forbade the death of a gladiator who had been wounded, and was to have been killed. The people, in a rage, stoned the good man; but they were so much ashamed, that these shocking entertainments were given up for ever. Rome never won another victory. Alaric came on again; and though he honoured the noble city so much, that he could not bear to let loose his wild troops on it, the false dealing of Honorius at last made him so angry, that he led his Goths into the city; but he was very merciful, he ordered that no one should be killed, and no church injured nor plundered; and he led his army out again at the end of six days. Honorius had fled to Ravenna, and though a few more weak and foolish men called themselves Emperors of the West, the very title soon passed away, and the chief part of Italy was held by the Goths and other Teuton tribes; but they seldom came to Rome, where the chief power gradually fell into the hands of the Pope.
Gaul was conquered by another Teuton race called Franks, who were very fierce heathen at first, but were afterwards converted. Their great leader, Clovis, married a Teuton lady named Clotilda, a Catholic Christian. She was very anxious to lead him to the truth; and at last, in a great battle, he called out in prayer to Clotilda's God; and when the victory was given to him, he took it as a sign from Heaven, and on coming home was baptized, and built the Church of Notre Dame at Paris, which is said to be just as long as the distance to which King Clovis could pitch an axe.
Spain was conquered by a set of Arian Goths; but a Frank princess, great grandchild to Clotilda, brought her husband, the young prince, to a better way of thinking; and though they were persecuted, even to the death, their influence told upon the rest of the family; and the younger brother, who came to the throne afterwards, brought all Spain to be Catholic.
It was something like this with England, where Bertha, another Frank princess, worked upon her husband, Ethelbert, King of Kent, to listen to Augustin, whom Pope Gregory the Great had sent to preach the Word to the Saxons, recollecting how he had once been struck by the angel faces of the little Angle children, whom he had found waiting to be sold for slaves in the marketplace. From Kent, the sound of the Gospel spread out throughout England; and before one hundred years had passed, all the Saxons and Angles were hearty Christians, and sent out the missionary, St. Boniface, who first converted the Teutons in Germany. So, though it would have seemed that the great rush of heathen savages must have stifled the Christian faith, it came working up through them, till at last it moulded their whole state and guided their laws; but this was long in coming to pass, and for many centuries they were very savage and fierce.
St. Gregory the Great was one of the very best of the Popes, very self-denying, and earnestly pious, and doing his utmost to train the Romans in self-discipline, and to soften the Teutons. He put together a book of seven services, to be used by devout people in the course of each day; and he arranged the chants which are still called by his name, though both they and the services are much older. A little before his time, St. Benedict had made rules for the persons who wished to serve God, and to live apart from the world. They lived in buildings named monasteries, or convents; the men, who were called monks, under the rule of an abbot, the women, nuns, under an abbess. They took a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience; lived and worked as hard as possible, and spent much time in prayer and doing good, teaching the young, giving medicine to the sick, and feeding the poor. They would fix their home in a waste land, and bring it into good order, and they went out preaching and convening the heathen near. Everyone honoured them; and in the worst times, they were left unhurt; their lands were not robbed, and in those savage days, little that was gentle or good would have been safe but for the honour paid to the Church.