Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

tianity had begun to mould for the highest civilization, was like a land-slide burying an unfinished cathedral. After the first shock is over, we may trace the outline of the foundations; here and there we find a buttress, a window, a pinnacle ; and had the building fallen of itself, we might hope to reconstruct it from its own materials : but the mass of rubbish thrown upon it from without, the earth, trees, stones, mixed with the ruins of the structure, make it impossible ever again to fashion it as it was. Beside the universal perturbation of society caused by the barbarian invasion, and the overthrow of that regulating power which had begun to give consistency and beauty to the social structure, there was strown over the wide fall of the Roman empire, “such a confused mass of languages, customs, manners, and laws,” that it was impossible to rear again the house as Constantine had left it. “Before the conclusion of the fifth century, the mighty fabric of empire, which valor and policy had founded upon the seven hills of Rome, was finally overthrown, in all the west of Europe, by the barbarous nations from the north.” + .* The invaders, ignorant, fierce, cruel, brought with them their own type of slavery, which Tacitus has described in his Germania ; and many a Christian captive was compelled to become the praedial serf of a barbarian lord. These centuries of danger, disaster, and degradation, were, as Milman says, “the time for great Christian virtues;” and yet while modifying the Teutonic races to its own spirit, Christianity itself suffered a serious deterioration, and “began rapidly to barbarize.” In the end, no doubt, the breaking up of the Roman empire and the substitution of feudal serfdom for Roman chattelism furthered the abolition of slavery. But at the first, the era of violence threatened to roll back the whole tide of progress marked by the era of Constantine. In judging of that progress in a given direction, we must keep in mind how slowly the world, as a whole, was Christianized. The rancor of theological controversies in the Church, resulting at last in the great schism between the eastern and the western branches, tended also to arrest the influence of Christianity in the general amelioration of Society. As the church lost unity of sentiment it declined also in moral force. Still more disastrous in its bearing upon human freedom, was the gradual secularization of the church by its alliance with the State. . In the growth of that central and secularized church-power at Rome which culminated in the papal Supremacy, the church acquired by grants, by legacies, and even by conquest, domains upon which were serfs bound to the soil. The increase of worldly wealth and power in the church tended of course to repress its Christian activity, and especially to stifle those humane Sentiments of equality and fraternity which the gospel inculcates. The apostacy of the middle ages reSembled that of the Jews in the time of Isaiah ; religious ceremonies, fasts and penances were used to cover the enormous wickedness of fraud and oppression ; churchmen and prelates became owners of slaves. Throughout this period, therefore, we must keep in mind the distinction between the Church and Christianity. As Finlay well puts it, in his history of the Byzantine empire,” “though ecclesiastical influence has exercised immense authority over the internal policy of European society, religious influence has always been comparatively small; and though Christianity has labored to abolish slavery, it was often for the interest of the church to perpetuate the institution.” But notwithstanding these adverse influences, the long period of which we speak, even in its darkest portions, was illumined with the testimony of leaders in the Christian church, and, also, of its corporate legislation, against the oppression of the poor. If we interrogate Augustine, this great father of Christian theology, while he interprets the Apostle Paul as having “set the master over the slave, and put the slave under the master,” in their temporal relations, nevertheless reminds masters that “Christ gave the same price for both.”f Wherefore he says, “it is not meet that a Christian should possess a slave in the same way that he possesses a horse or money.”: Again, in preaching on the Lord's prayer, he says, “Under our Father in heaven the Lord and the slave are brethren ; under this Father the general and the common soldier are brethren ; under this Father the rich and the poor are brethren.” Said Gregory of Nyssa (died 394), “God said, Let us make man in our image. Him who is made in the likeness of God, who rules over the whole earth, who is clothed by God with power over all things upon the earth; tell me, who is it that sells or buys such an one?... How shall that be sold which is above the whole world and all that it contains? For it is necessary also to sell his faculties; and at what price will you estimate the mind of man, that rules the world? Though you should name the whole world, you will not have told its price: for he who knows' man hath said, that the whole world is not enough to give in exchange for the soul. When, therefore, a man is exposed for sale, nothing less is brought into the market than the lord of the earth.” How would Richmond or Charleston endure the gospel at the mouth of Augustine or Gregory 7 Is anti-slavery preaching a modern political device? Gregory goes on to argue the equality of masters and servants: “They have the same affections of mind and of body; the same joy and sorrow, the same pleasure and pain, the same anger and fear, and are subject to the same sickness and death. They breathe the same air, behold the same sun, have the same vital organs, are nourished by the same food. After death, master and slave become alike dust; they stand before the same judge; their heaven and their hell are the same.” How long would such a preacher of the gospel be tolerated in New Orleans? St. Isidore, of Pelusium (440), urges that servants should be treated even as ourselves, because they are men like ourselves. Against the plea that they are subjected to others by the fortune of war, or by superior force, he insists that “in reality we are but one with them, whether by agreement of nature, or by the principles of our faith, or in view of the last judgment.”f Again he says, “I know not how a man who loves Christ—who has known and eagerienced that grace which has secured freedom for us all—can hold a slave.”: Is opposition to slavery a fanaticism of modern times? There is a touching legend of St. Bavon, that long after he had renounced the world for a monastic life, he met a man whom he had once sold as a slave, when, falling at his feet he begged his forgiveness for the great crime he had committed, and offered to submit to any degradation or penance his injured victim would impose. The legend shows the tone of popular feeling in regard to slavery. To repent of slaveholding as a crime, and to offer reparation to the victim, were deemed meritorious

* Balmes' Protestantism and Catholicity. Hallam, Middle Ages, Chap. I.

* Vol. I., p. 261. + Sermon XLIV.

# De Serm, in Mont. Matt. v. 40. “Non enim Christianum oportet sic possidere servum, quomodo equum aut argentum.

* Sermon IX., on the Lord's Prayer.

* See the whole of this masterly sermon in the works of Gregory, p. 406.

# Servis, tanquam nobis ipsis, utendum est. Homines enim illi nostri instar sunt. Anticipata quippe opinio, aut belli fortuna, aut armorum vis, eos in aliorum possessionem redigit. At re vira omnes unum utgue idem sumus, sive naturam, sive fidem, sive futurum judicium spectemus.”

# In his epistle to Ironis: “Neque enim Christiamantem Ironem, quicognitam et exploratam eam gratiam habeat, qui omnes in libertatem vindicavit, famulum ullum habere arbitror."

« AnteriorContinuar »