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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : LESSON XXXI. THE MIDDLE AGES.

The Chosen People by Charlotte Mary Yonge

LESSON XXXI. THE MIDDLE AGES.

|Surely the isles shall wait for Me.| -- Isaiah, ix.9.

It is not easy to make out exactly the ten kingdoms to which the Roman dominion was said in Daniel to give place, because sometimes one flourished, sometimes another; sometimes one was swallowed up, sometimes a fresh one sprang forth; but there can be no doubt that the ten horns mean the powers of Europe, which have always been somewhere about that number ever since the conquest by the Teuton nations.

By the time the first thousand years had past, the |little leaven| had thoroughly |leavened the whole lump;| and the ways of thinking, the habits, laws, and fashions, of the western people, were all moulded by Christian notions. The notions were not always really Christian, nor did the people always act up to them; but they meant so to do; and though there was some error, yet there was also the sincere saving Truth, which made those who followed it holy, and led them to salvation. Perhaps the greatest mistake was the craving to see, instead of only to believe; and this led to peoples' putting their trust in many things besides the Merits of our blessed Lord -- in relics, in images of saints, in the intercessions of the blessed Virgin, and above all, in the Pope's promises.

The Popes were Patriarchs of Rome, and had thus some right over the Churches founded from thence. They used to send the Primate, or chief Archbishop, of each country, a pall or scarf, woven of the wool of lambs which they had blessed on St. Agnes's Day. Many questions were sent to them to be decided. At first the right way of choosing a bishop was, that the clergy and people of the place should elect him, and the king give his consent; but when the Pope's power increased, ambitious men used to bribe the people to elect them; and affairs grew so bad, that at last the Emperor Otho, of Germany, came to Rome, put down the wicked Popes, and took the choice quite into his own hands. This was wrong the other way; and after two or three reigns, the great Pope, Gregory VII., after a fierce struggle with the emperor, Henry IV., set matters in order again, and obtained that, as the Roman people were not to be trusted with the choice, it should be put into the hands of the clergy of the parish churches at Rome, who were called Cardinals, and have ever since had the election of the Pope in their hands. They wear purple and crimson robes and hats, in memory of the old Roman purple of the emperors.

It had been thought by almost the whole of the Western Church, ever since they had lost their communion with the eastern branch, which might have kept them right, that the Pope stood visibly in our Lord's place as Head of the Church, and that he was infallible, namely, so inspired by the Holy Spirit, that he could no more fall into error than a General Council could. So he stood at the head of all the Archbishops and Bishops, Abbots and clergy, of the west; and whenever a difficulty arose, it was sent to him to be settled. He ruled likewise over the consciences of all men and women. If they sinned, the being cut off from the Church, excommunicated, as it was called, was the most terrible punishment that could befall them; and if a king or country were very wicked indeed, the Pope could lay them under an interdict, namely, deprive them of every office of religion, shut up the church doors, and forbid all service.

Sometimes these threats were of great benefit. It was good for the kings to be forced to think of what was right, to be stopped from making cruel wars, from misusing their people, or living in sinful pleasure; but the Popes did not always use their power rightly; they would become angry, and excommunicate people for opposing them, and not for doing what was wrong, and they did not bethink them of our Lord's saying, that His Kingdom is not of this world. Still the Church was working great good. Holy people were bred up, some in convents, some in the world: St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, who taught her people to say grace at their meals; St. Richard, the good humble Bishop of Chichester; and that glorious French monk, St. Bernard, whose holy life and beautiful preaching made him everywhere honoured.

Great alms were given to the poor, and almost all our most beautiful churches and cathedrals were built by devout kings, nobles, or bishops, who gave their wealth for God's glory. These were built so as to be almost as symbolical as the Temple had been. They were usually in the shape of a cross, in honour of the token of our Salvation; the body was called the nave, or ship, because of the Ark of Christ's Church; the doors stood for repentance, as the entrance; the Font, just within, showed that none could enter save by the Laver of Regeneration; the holiest part was to the east, as looking for the Sun of Righteousness. This portion is called the chancel, and belongs to the clergy, as the Sanctuary did to the priests of old; but the people are not as of old cut off, but draw near in faith, to taste of the great Sacrifice commemorated upon the Altar. The eagle desk for the Holy Scripture, shows forth one Gospel emblem; the Litany desk is for times of repentance, when the Priest may mourn between porch and altar. The dead rested within and around, in the shadow of their church, and constant services were celebrated, that so the gates might ever be open.

Even warriors sought to have their alms blessed by the Church; they bound themselves not to fight on holy-days, such as Fridays and Sundays; and before they could be made knights, they were obliged to vow before God that they would always help the weak, never fight in a bad cause, and always speak the truth. So that all would have been like perfect fulfilment of Isaiah's promises of the glory of the Church, save that man will still follow the devices of his own heart; and there were shrines and altars where undue honour was paid to the Saints, and too many superstitious observances were carried on before their images. Prayers and alms were offered for departed souls, in the notion that they were gone to Purgatory, a place where it was said their sins would be purged away by suffering before the Day of Judgment, and whence their friends might, as they imagined, assist them by their offerings.

People used to go on pilgrimage, and especially such as had fallen into any great sin, would go through everything to pray at the Holy Sepulchre for forgiveness. The Saracens, who had not been unkind to the pilgrims, were subdued by a much fiercer set of Mahometans, the Turcomans, who did everything to profane the holy places, and robbed and misused the Christians who came to worship there. The news of this profanation stirred up all Europe to deliver the Sanctuary from the unbeliever. Monks went about preaching the holy war, and multitudes took the cross, that is, fastened on their shoulder one cut out in cloth, and vowed to win back Jerusalem. The Pope took upon himself to say that whoever was killed in such a cause, would have all his sins forgiven, and be in no danger of purgatory; and this be called an indulgence. These wars were called Crusades. In the first, in 1098, Jerusalem was conquered, and a very good and pious man, named Godfrey, set up to be king, though he would not be crowned, saying he would never wear a crown of gold where his Master had worn a crown of thorns. But as the Greek Christians who already lived there, would not own the Pope, but held to their own Patriarch, a Latin Patriarch was thrust in and was in subjection to the Pope; and thus the unhappy schism grew wider. After Godfrey's death, the Christians in Palestine did not behave well, nor show themselves worthy to have the keeping of Jerusalem; and though St. Bernard preached a second Crusade, and the Emperor of Germany and King of France came to help them, their affairs only grew worse and worse.

In 1186, after they had possessed the Holy City only eighty-eight years, they were deprived of it; it was taken again by the Saracens, and they retained only a few towns on the coast. All devout people mourned that the unbeliever should again be defiling the sanctuary; but the Pope had a great quarrel with the Emperor of Germany, and told the poor credulous people that fighting his battles was as good as a Crusade; and they began to forsake the Holy Land, and leave it to its fate. Our own Richard the Lion Heart did his best, and so did the excellent French king, St. Louis, who died in Africa on his way to the Crusade, but all in vain; and finally the Christians were driven out of Acre, their last town, and Palestine became Mahometan again with only a few oppressed Christians here and there. Then came a much more rude, dull, and violent race of Mahometans, the Turks, who burst out of the East, conquered the Saracens, gained all Asia Minor, and at last, in the year 1453, they took the city of Constantinople, killed the last emperor, Constantine, in the assault, and won all the country we now call Turkey, where they sadly oppressed the Greeks, though they could not make them turn from their true Catholic faith. It was then that the light of truth faded entirely away from Ephesus and the Churches of Asia; a blight fell wherever the Turks went, and cities, once prosperous, were deserted and ruined. Tyre was one of these; and she has now become a mere rock, where fishermen spread their nets to dry upon the sea-shore, as Ezekiel had foretold. However, it was only forty years afterwards, that the last remains of the Mahometan conquerors were chased out of Spain, so that it became again an entirely Christian country.

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