Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time
Home Up Autobiography Thoughts at Fourscore Old Fashioned Stories Self-help Prison Rhymes, etc. Baron's Yule Feast Purgatory of Suicides Paradise of Martyrs Poets of the Poor Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search
 


 


THE BRIDGE OF HISTORY
OVER THE GULF OF TIME, &c.
________________


THERE seems to be one question which every one has a right to ask the man who says that Christianity is not true.  And the question is this: If Christianity be not true, where did it come from?—how came it into the world?  You say, Christianity is not true.  Then, what is it, if it be not true?  What is its origin? how comes it to be here, in this land, and in other lands, at this present time?

    The question that we ask is not a light, frivolous one.  This Christianity is understood to be the professed religion of 335 millions of the human race, now dwelling on this globe.  They are not savages: they are not nations bearing a stereotyped resemblance of civilization.  They are the noblest peoples on the face of the earth: the nations that have the highest science, arts, power, and culture ever yet attained by man.  How comes it that these nations profess the Christian religion? and how came Christianity into the world?  Where did it come from? as we asked at first.

    There are but Two Theories that can make any pretension to be considered formidable which have been put forth as answers to this question.  The old theory, so well known as the "Sun Theory"; and the later one, which has been called the "Mythical Theory."  Let us look at the older theory first.

    The "Sun Theory" is understood to owe its fatherhood, as a complete hypothesis, to the notable Sir William Drummond, who presented it to the restricted circle of critical enquirers, in his "Œdipus Judaicus."  Godfrey Higgins, of Skellow Grange, near Doncaster, laboured more than twenty years, he assures us, in the compilation of a huge quarto book, entitled "The Anacalypsis."  In this book—which is one of the strangest collections of strange learning ever written—the Sun Theory is also maintained; but, like the work of Sir William Drummond, the "Anacalypsis'' is only known to the small circle of readers who make eager search for everything that is curious.  Perhaps the books of Dupuis and Volney, the French supporters of the Sun theory, are more widely known.  Indeed, the "Ruins of Empires," by Volney, is known to thousands by a common English translation.

    But the Sun theory owes its real popularity in our own country to the "Reverend" Robert Taylor, as he usually styled himself.  He was educated at one of the universities, and ordained for a clergyman; but, becoming sceptical, threw up his curacy, and ventured on London, as a free-thinking teacher.  In the years 1824-34 he taught publicly, in that capacity, in the Rotunda, a well-known room at that time, on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge, and in other public places in the metropolis.  He also published a book entitled "The Diegesis," in explication and defence of the Sun theory.

    "And what is this theory?" say you.  It is this: That no real human person called Jesus of Nazareth ever existed; that Christ only represents the Sun, like the Krishna of the Hindoos, the Osiris of the Egyptians, the Mithras of the Persians, the Phœbus Apollo of the Greeks, and the Sun god whom our Anglo-Saxon forefathers worshipped on Sunday.  Jesus Christ is simply a personification of the Sun, and never had any real human existence.  And what is called Christianity is only the old fable of the Sun in a new form: the story so often repeated in the mythologies of the ancient nations has, at length, taken this new guise of "Christianity"—which, in a word, is only Paganism slightly altered.

    "And what are the proofs," say you, "given of the truth of this theory, by Taylor and his predecessors?"  There are no proofs: they were never attempted.  "What! are there no alleged facts on which the theory rests?"  No, only fancies: not facts, but fancies—such as these: This Jesus of Nazareth is related to have had twelve Apostles, and it is said that He "went in and out among them."  That is only the sun going in and out among the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and bringing the twelve calendar months in their turn.  This Jesus of Nazareth is related to have died and risen again.  That is only the sun setting and rising again.  The Divine Child is said to have been born at Christmas-tide, when the sun has run his yearly course and days are shortest.  That is the sun, who may be said to be born again on the shortest day.

    Fancies, you know, have often taken as strong a hold of the human mind as facts; and so we are not entitled to despise these fancies.  We must proceed to rigid historical enquiry for ourselves.  We must ascertain whether it be an historical fact that there has been such a real human person living in this world as Jesus of Nazareth.  We must be able to confront that man with a positive and truthful denial who tells us that Jesus never walked the streets of Jerusalem, or climbed the Mount of Olives, or travelled over the land of Galilee, or sailed over the Lake of Gennesaret with his disciples; that he never was baptized by John in the Jordan; that he never chose his twelve disciples; that he never taught the great doctrines, never rehearsed the parables, attributed to him in the New Testament; that he never performed his mighty miracles; never was crucified, and never rose from the dead.

    We cannot begin this enquiry where Paley, in his masterly "Evidences," begins it.  We cannot set Christ himself, or his apostles undergoing sufferings in consequence of their belief in him, before the sceptic by way of commencement.  He would say, "Prove that such a person existed.  You are begging the enquiry at once."  We must take a very different course.

    Let me invite you to accompany me, in a march, or journey, over the BRIDGE OF HISTORY, which we will conceive as spanning the GULF OF TIME.  Not time to come, but time Past.  Time is the great oblivious gulf in which all man's past deeds, words, and thoughts, are alike entombed, save the slight thread of them that memory has recorded.  And this slight thread is, in reality, the slender "Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time," of which we are speaking, and over which we propose to travel.  Our journey will be a retrogressive and retrospective one.  And this Bridge of which I speak will have to be composed of Nineteen Arches, representing the Nineteen Centuries of Christianity.  And we will call each of these Arches by some distinguishing name, to render it rememberable, and to aid the process of fixing the names of the events and actors of the different centuries in our minds.  We shall not need to dwell for any great length of time on the Arches we shall first travel over.  The strictest and most laborious part of our enquiry will have to come when we are drawing near the other end of the Bridge, and towards the close of our journey.

 
I.  THE ARCH OF SCIENCE.


What shall we call this Nineteenth Century—the Arch of the Bridge of History on which we now stand?  Let us call it the ARCH OF SCIENCE.  Science is the boast of our age.  There is more science in the world than ever there was.  Man has more knowledge of nature, and mastery over its elements and forces, than ever he had before.  But all the science there is in the world has not put the Christian religion out of the world.  It is known and received by more millions of human beings than ever knew of it or received it before.  There are more thousands of buildings for Christian worship in the world than ever: more hundreds of thousands of teachers and preachers of the religion than ever; more millions than ever of the Bible—the book in which the Christian religion is taught.

    It is affirmed that there is not now a written language in the world but either the whole Bible, or part of the Bible, is translated into that language.  It is said that seventy translations of the Scriptures have been accomplished in our own century, chiefly by Christian missionaries; for I ought to remind you that Christian missionaries do not go abroad to play at being gentlemen.  They have often the roughest work to perform; often to initiate civilization.  It was the knowledge of that fact that led good old Rowland Hill to say, "a missionary ought to be able to preach a sermon, or make a wheelbarrow."  And Christian missionaries are civilizers still.  The great agencies of Christianity at home and abroad engage millions of mankind in one way or another; and unreckonable gold and silver, and immeasurable energies of men, are perpetually being spent in sustaining these agencies.

    Whence has all this arisen?  Among the three hundred and thirty-five millions of the human race who at present profess the Christian religion there are immense differences in doctrine; but these millions alike hold these to be facts: that Jesus of Nazareth was born into our world as the Redeemer of the world; that He was baptized by John in the Jordan; that He chose His twelve apostles as companions; that He taught the doctrines and performed the miracles attributed to Him in the New Testament; that He was crucified, and rose again from the dead.  Are these no facts?  Has Christianity sprung out of the old fable about the sun?  Let us pass from our own arch of the Bridge of History to the arch before ours, in the order of time, and see if we find Christianity—that is to say, such Christianity as we ourselves profess—upon that arch.

 
II. THE ARCH OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.


What shall we call the Eighteenth Century?  Let us Call it the ARCH OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.  That was the most important event of the eighteenth century.  Its effects are being still felt, and are likely to be felt for incalculable years to come.  "But, I think," says one, "you have made an unlucky choice of a name in calling your new arch of the Bridge of History the Arch of the French Revolution.  Do you not remember that they put Christianity out of existence in that very revolution?"  Nay, my friend; they tried to put it out of existence, but did not succeed.  What though they set up the worship of the goddess Reason in Notre Dame?  What though they abolished the Christian week and Sabbath, and established decades, with a holiday on the tenth day, instead?  These were but short-lived acts of insanity.

    And yet perhaps greater opposition was never made to Christianity since it came into the world than that which was directed against it in the eighteenth century.  In France it was attacked by the leading minds of Voltaire and Rousseau and Diderot and d'Alembert, and by a crowd of their associates.  And in our own country it was opposed by Tindal, and Toland, and Woolston, and Blount, and Morgan, and Chubb, and Anthony Collins, and Hume, and Lord Shaftesbury, and Lord Bolingbroke; but it was victoriously defended by the greatest Greek scholar of his age, Dr. Bentley; by the two greatest logicians of their time, Dr. Samuel Clarke and Bishop Butler, as well as by Warburton, and Sherlock, and Ray, and Derham, and others.  Christianity was also being preached very vigorously in our country in the last century by Whitfield and the two Wesleys, who frequently addressed thousands in the open air: Kingswood colliers, and Cornish miners, and crowds on Kennington Common.  And drunken men by hundreds became sober men from hearing them; and bad fathers and bad husbands became good men.

    Where did Christianity come from? I ask again.  Was it an old story about the sun coined into a new form that changed the human heart and reformed men's natures?  And was all this attack and defence really about the fable of the sun?  Did Jesus of Nazareth never exist?  Did He never teach the doctrines attributed to Him? never perform His miracles?  Was He never crucified, never rose again from the dead?  Let us journey backward to the century before the eighteenth Arch of the Bridge of History—before the Arch of the French Revolution—and see if we find what we deem to be Christianity in existence then and there.

 
III. THE ARCH OF OLIVER CROMWELL.


What shall we call the Seventeenth Century?  Let us call it the ARCH OF OLIVER CROMWELL.  He was the most distinguished person of the century in our own country, at any rate.  And, thank God, there is no one ashamed of the name of Oliver Cromwell now.  His name does not lie at the bottom of the ditch of defamation, covered with the mud of spite and malice.  You may thank my illustrious friend Thomas Carlyle for taking up Cromwell's great memory, and clearing it from the dirt so long cast upon it.  Oliver Cromwell is known now to have been a large-hearted Christian man, and to have wished to establish a Christian Government in this land.  And the "Founder of the Commonwealth," as he was often called, John Hampden, was a Christian man, and died praying for his greatest enemy, as well as for England—"Lord, open the King's eyes!  Lord, bless my country!" were his last words.

    The seventeenth century was a distinguished Christian century.  If you would read the most profound and eloquent books on Christianity ever written in the English language you must go to that age for them; you must read the exhaustive Isaac Barrow, the deep-thinking John Howe; and Jeremy Taylor, "the Shakespeare of divines," with a huge catalogue of other noble writers.  Be it ever remembered that the name which deserves so much reverence—the name of Milton—is also a Christian name; that he has left us his treatise on Christian doctrine; and that he devoted his highest powers as a poet to the celebration of the great themes of Christianity.  Nor let the name which deserves equal, if not higher, reverence—the great name of Newton—be forgotten; the philosopher who walked so humbly with his God, and studied the Christian Scriptures so devoutly.  And who can forget to name the inspired tinker and his immortal "Pilgrim's Progress?"  He would be an ungrateful Christian who could forget the name of John Bunyan, while making a catalogue of the worthies of Christian England.  Nor should I think much of that man's honour or courage who was ashamed of the name of George Fox.  Reckoning all the various periods of his incarceration, George passed twelve years of his brave and holy life in prison for conscientious opposition to the shams and tyrannies of his time; but even in prison, where he had often but a hard, mouldy crust to eat, and nought to drink save water from a bucket in which wormwood had been steeped, he could rejoice in Christ.

    Whence came all this devotedness to Christianity, and busy writing and thinking about it in the seventeenth century?  Was it all a silly dream and misemployment of time?  Did Jesus of Nazareth never tread this earth, never shed His blood upon the cross, nor ever rise again from the dead?  Has Christianity only sprung out of sun-worship?  Let us journey onward to another Arch of the Bridge of History, and see if we find Christianity thereon.

 
IV. THE ARCH OF MARTIN LUTHER.


What shall we call the Sixteenth Century?  Let us call it the ARCH OF MARTIN LUTHER.  And who was Luther?  One of God's sledge-hammer men, whom He sent into the world to do strong work.  When God has strong work to be done in the world, He does not appoint a namby-pamby kind of man to do it; a man wrapped up in satin and scented with lavender.  No: He appoints a buckhorn-fisted man, a sinewy man, a man of "muscular Christianity,"—as my good, true-hearted friend, Charles Kingsley, would say—to perform the work.  Martin Luther was a muscular Christian; and he was just the man that was wanted at his time of day.

    Luther lost his dear young friend, Alexis, by a stroke of lightning, and was stricken with the deep conviction that God had spared his life for some great and holy purpose.  He was resolved to devote himself to religion, and imagined he could not be so religious anywhere as in a monastery.  His strong-minded father had no good opinion of monks or monasteries, and did not wish him to go into a monastery,—but go he would.  Luther, however, soon found there was not so much religion in the monastery as he expected to find there; but, on the contrary, a great deal of irreligion.

    He, himself, nevertheless, was in earnest.  He went down into the depths of his own heart, and discovered his own depravity and sin, and cried to God for deliverance.  He got possession of a Bible at last—for it was a difficult thing to get possession of a Bible, even in a monastery, at that time of day; and in the precious book he began to find the remedy for the evils of his nature.  But he could find nothing in the Bible about Purgatory, and the power of priests to bring men's souls out of Purgatory, by mumbling so many masses for money; he could find nothing in the Bible about worshipping the Virgin Mary; nothing about praying to dead saints.  The Book said there was "One Mediator between God and man;" it did not name as mediators any of the thousand and one saints of the Roman Catholic calendar.  The Bible proclaimed no indulgences, recommended no holy wafers, set up no relics for veneration, authorized no forgiveness of sins by priests.  Such, gradually, became Luther's conviction; and his tongue burned to tell it.  But, like all really good and great men, he was not rash, he was not precipitate.  He humbled himself before God, and prayed God to keep him humble, and to save him from doing wrong.  Yet, the more he read the Bible and prayed for Divine light upon it, the stronger grew his conviction that the teachings of the Romish Church were false; and at length something occurred which unloosed his tongue, and compelled him to speak out.

    The proud Pope of that time—perhaps the proudest Pope that ever lived but one, Hildebrand, or Gregory VII., who ordered the Emperor of Germany to kiss his toe!—I say, this proud Pope of Luther's time, Leo X., had a great scheme in his mind.  He was one of the gorgeous De Medicis family, of Florence, and was a man of sumptuous tastes; and he wished to transform the Church of St. Peter, at Rome, into the grandest Christian temple in the world.  The genius of Bramante, and the genius of Michael Angelo, stood ready to aid him,—but how to raise the money?  That was the question.  Christian Europe had sent so much money to Rome that it grew weary, and said it would send no more, for it was only like pouring it into a sink: nothing came out of it but stench!  So Pope Leo had to set his wits to work; and soon believed he had discovered the sure means of "raising the wind," as we say: he could send out indulgences for sale.

    So forth into Switzerland went Sampson the monk, and forth into Germany went Tetzel, the Dominican friar, with indulgences to sell!  If any poor sinner could give a few copper pieces for one of their bits of` rotten parchment, it procured him pardon for all the sins he had committed since he was born!  The poor sinner did not get the pardon, you understand, by repentance and faith in Christ; but because the Pope had thrown all that virtue into the parchment!  The most remarkable thing was, that if the poor sinner could give silver instead of copper pieces for the parchment, the purchase procured him pardon not only for all the sins he had committed, but for all that he would ever commit so long as he lived!  The news of this infamous Papal imposture came to the ears of Martin Luther, unloosed his tongue, and impelled him to speak out.

    "What!" he cried, "call you that God's religion?  I say it is the Devil's religion.  Call that the religion from heaven?  I say it comes from hell!"

    "Oh, shocking!" cried the poor timid people: "the holy Pope has sent the man to sell the indulgences."

    "Holy Pope?" cried Luther; "I say—most unholy Pope!"

    "Unholy Pope!"  People thought the sky would fall, or the judgment-day would come!  They turned as white as sheets, and stared like stricken rats!  Such words had never been heard of; and people felt sure the world must soon come to an end.  But Martin Luther began to ply the sledge-hammer of attack in right earnest; and very soon an earnest band of men joined him; and, in the course of a few years they gave old Popery such a shaking, that she has never recovered herself up to the present time.  Nay,—I did not say they killed the old snake!  No: they only scotched her.  But she was terribly cramped and rheumatized, even long after Luther's time.

    God so favoured this grand labourer, that he died a natural death in his bed.  But that was not the lot of all who took up his principles.  In our our own land, you know, many had to go to the stake, and die in the flames, because they joined the spirit of Luther, and protested against Popery and Romish superstition.

    In the reign of our Mary alone, Lord Burleigh believed that two hundred and ninety were burnt alive—of which a considerable number were women.  In Scotland, where Knox so manfully headed the struggle against Popery, the martyrs were many; and Scottish men thrill with as deep feeling when they hear pronounced the names of George Wishart, and Patrick Hamilton, and Henry and Thomas Forrest, and Norman Gourlay, and their fellow-martyrs, as that which moves the heart of every Protestant Englishman, when he thinks of the cherished memories of Latimer, and Ridley, and Hooper, and Philpot, and Bradford, and Rowland Taylor, and Bainham, and Bilney, and Tyndale, and Anne Askew, and the rest of our noble army of martyrs.

    Whence came the religion concerning whose doctrines there was so much contest in this sixteenth century?  The contest was against corruption; but we cannot wonder that corruption should arise among the professors of Christianity.  Their corruptness does not prove the religion itself to be corrupt, or untrue.  It simply proves that they are fallen human beings.  Man corrupts everything that is good, or tries to do so.  It is a proof of his depravity.  No man, therefore, ought to wonder at the foul corruptions which Popery has endeavoured, so successfully, to mingle with Christianity.

    Where came the belief of the sixteenth century from, that Jesus of Nazareth had lived on earth, worked miracles, been crucified, and risen again from the dead?  Is it all but a reproduction of the fable of the sun?  Let us journey on again, and see if Christianity was in existence on the Arch of our Bridge of History before that of Martin Luther.

 
V. THE ARCH OF THE INVENTION OF PRINTING.


What shall we call the Fifteenth Century?  Let us call it the ARCH OF THE INVENTION OF PRINTING.  Just in the very middle of this Arch—in the year 1450—the first Bible is printed by metal types, at Mayence, in Germany.  Bibles, we learn, had been copied by writing before; but now they were soon to be multiplied by printing—in spite of all the opposition of Popery.  That infamous Pope—Innocent the Eighth—whom the inhabitants of Rome derisively styled "Father of the Romans," because he had seven or eight sons by different mothers—was doing bold work for Satan in this century.  On the slopes of the Dauphinese Alps his hell-hound instruments chased the crowds of lowly Christian men who held Waldensian opinions into caverns, woods, and clefts of the rocks, and slaughtered them.  In this century too we have to chronicle those great strugglers for truth—strugglers against Popish corruption—who have won bright historic names: Savanarola, a sort of half-Protestant, in Italy; and John Huss and Jerome of Prague, who preached a reformed Christianity, in Moravia and Bohemia.

    Thank God! he has always had a pure believing Church on the earth since the Saviour appeared!  I repeat, there has always been such a Church since Christianity first came into the world, although it has often been a cruelly-used and persecuted Church.  Not to dwell now on the Waldenses, for we shall have to meet them again, be it observed that the followers of Huss and Jerome of Prague maintained pure Christian truth, before Luther began his great and memorable struggle for reformation.  And what became of these great strugglers for truth among the Moravian and Bohemian nations, in the fifteenth century?  They were burnt to death.  Who burned them to death?  Men who said that Jesus had never lived; and that Christianity was founded on the old fable of the sun?  Oh no! the Roman Catholics, who burned them, believed then, as Roman Catholics believe now,—and as Protestants, and Protestant Dissenters, and Russian and Greek Christians, and Armenian and Maronite and Nestorian Christians, and all professing Christians, believe now—that Jesus Christ was born into our world as the Redeemer of the world, that he was baptized of John in the Jordan, chose his twelve Apostles, taught his great lessons of goodness and truth, performed his miracles, was crucified, and rose again from the dead.

    However widely they may differ respecting certain doctrines, the historical facts of Christ's life are held to be facts alike by all the sects of professing Christians now; and they were also held to be facts in the fifteenth century.  How came they to be so held to be facts?  Where did Christianity come from? we ask again.  Shall we find it in the world in the century preceding the fifteenth?  Let us advance again, in our rapid passage or march over the Bridge of History.

 
VI. THE ARCH OF JOHN WYCKLIFFE.


What shall we call the Fourteenth Century?  Let us call it the ARCH OF JOHN WYCKLIFFE.  "Our own Luther," as we may call him, "born out of due time."  More than one hundred years before Luther was teaching the Germans, and before Huss taught the Bohemians and Moravians, John Wyckliffe was teaching a reformed Christianity in our own land, and bravely protesting against Popery—for he openly styled the Pope 'Antichrist.'  Nay, in Wyckliffe's time there were two rival Popes—two 'Infallibles," denouncing and cursing one another—and Wyckliffe called both of them Antichrists.  Wyckliffe's followers, you know, were called 'Lollards,'—which is said to mean singers—from lollen, an old German verb, meaning to sing.  Many of the Lollards were weavers, it seems; and weaving was a poor trade then, as it often is now; and so the Lollards sang the songs of Zion at their looms, because they could not get time to retire to pray.  Christ's followers have found singing to be a sweet way of praying, many a time and oft, since these poor Lollards sang at their looms!

    Our noble Wyckliffe, you know, strove to perform for Englishmen what Luther afterwards performed for the Germans: he translated the Bible into the people's common tongue.  We have the fruit of what he did, and of what the martyred Tyndale did still better, in our authorised version at the present time.  It had been a custom for the old Romanist priests to have a Bible before them when they preached; a Latin Bible: some people said that many of them could not read it very well; but never mind that! they had a Bible before them; and they were often very eloquent, no doubt, in describing the Bible as the great map or chart of the way to heaven, and in declaring that no man could ever have found his way to heaven if God had not sent men this invaluable map or chart.  But now, imagine an earnest layman whose mind is awakened to the need of finding the way to heaven.

    "Thank you, thank you, good father!" says he; "but now, so please you, most reverend father, let me see the map in my own hand, that I may find the way."

    "See you at Jericho first!" replies the holy father, shutting up the book in a hurry, and putting it behind him: "Don't think you are to see the map, sir!"

    "How, then, so please you, holy father," asks the layman, "shall I find the way?"

    "Oh, I'll tell you the way," answers the priest.  "But, suppose you should make a mistake, holy father," suggests the layman.

    "Mistake, sir!" cries the priest, "I'm astonished at your impudence in daring to suppose that I can make a mistake!  Don't you know that priests are infallible, sir?"

    "Oh dear! holy father!" cries the layman, alarmed at the priest's anger, "forgive me! I was only thinking—"

    "Thinking, sir!" cries the priest, "get away with you, sir!  You have nothing to do with thinking.  I am to think for you; and you are to do what I bid you."

    Thank God! that ever there was a brave Wyckliffe in our land to denounce all that priestly tyranny; and let us be determined, fellow-countrymen, that it shall never triumph again, whether it wear the guise of Ritualism, or be possessed of the open mouth and devouring maw of Popery.  God Almighty so favoured our Wyckliffe that he died a natural death in his bed, as Luther did in after time.  But, forty-two years after his death, a popish bishop had Wyckliffe's bones dug up at Lutterworth: the living, in Leicestershire, that John of Gaunt, is said to have given him; for "Time-honoured Lancaster," it is affirmed, was always Wyckliffe's protector.  And Wyckliffe's bones were burned!  So silly and stupid is blind old superstition! when she cannot revenge herself by getting a live man's blood, she burns his dead bones,—as if that could be any punishment to him!

    There were other earnest men in the world in the Fourteenth Century.  Chaucer, also, was protesting against Popish shams, in his "Canterbury Pilgrimage"; and Dante was denouncing Popes, and leading a life of suffering-exile through resistance to their ambition and tyranny.

    But where came the New Testament from? the book that Wyckliffe translated?  Where came the belief from that there had been a real Christ in the world, as well as an antichrist?  Did Jesus never exist on earth?  Is Christianity only the old sun fable in a new form?  Let us journey on again, and see if we find the Christian religion professed and believed when we tread the Arch of the Bridge of History preceding the Arch of John Wyckcliffe.

 
VII. THE ARCH OF MAGNA CHARTA.


What shall we call the Thirteenth Century?  I propose that we name it the ARCH OF MAGNA CHARTA—for I am passionately in favour of all good old English associations of ideas.  But what has Christianity to do with the Great Charter of English Liberty obtained from King John, by the Barons on Runnymede?  My friends, there is a connection that I like very much to remember, and that you should not forget.  Who was the mental leader—the living Mind—that led and guided the Barons in their great victory over the tyrant King John?  I am not thinking of the knight who led their army—Robert Fitzwalter.  I mean their great counsellor and adviser—Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church!

    I am a Dissenter, and don't care how soon the banns are broken between Church and State; for I think it has been an unholy wedlock from the first.  But I sometimes think I hear my Dissenting brethren talk very strong talk about the Established Church.

    "The Established Church," say they, "has always been the foe of liberty."

    "Tell truth about the Devil himself," I always reply.  "Look over your History of England, please, and you will find that the Established Church has been again and again the staunch preserver of English liberty.  There have been periods in our history when there was no power but that of the Established Church that was able to withstand a tyrant king; and the Established Church did withstand him, and successfully, too."

    "Oh! ay! what you are pointing to is true enough," observes some Dissenting brother; "but there was no patriotism in it.  Several occurrences of the kind you mean are to be found in our history, no doubt.  But Churchmen did not withstand royal tyranny as patriots, it was only to save something for themselves: it was sheer selfishness, I tell you—no patriotism at all !"

    My good friend, I beg to observe that if no man is ever to be deemed a patriot but the man that has no selfishness, I fear you will never find a true patriot in the history of the whole world.  We'll grant all the selfishness existed that you speak of; but if men like Stephen Langton—who very likely wrote out Magna Charta himself, as well as struggled for it—have laboured to strengthen and widen and lengthen the great platform of English liberty for you and me, let us be grateful to their memories.

    And the memory of Langton ought to excite gratitude.  You remember how, when John had put his royal seal to Magna Charta, and had taken an oath, in the name of the Holy Trinity, to observe all its provisions faithfully, he sent to the Pope, and desired to be absolved from his oath.  But lately, you know, he had been a rebel against the Pope; but when all other friends were gone, he had been compelled to submit to the Pope, and was actually paying the Pope so many hundred crowns a year for his kingdom!  So he desired, as he had now become an obedient son of the Church, that the pope would kindly absolve him from the oath he had so solemnly taken to keep Magna Charta; for he declared it took away all his kingly power, and the Barons might as well have dethroned him as compelled him to take an oath to keep it.  And the Pope absolved King John from his oath!

    "What!" you cry, "absolve him? how can any mortal absolve a man from a solemn oath taken in the name of his Maker, and in the presence of assembled thousands of his fellow-men?"  My good friends, do not be shocked when I assure you of what you may learn from history—that many people, at that time, believed that the Pope, in spiritual things, could do almost as much as God Almighty could do!  It is declared by Cardinal Bellarmine—and Rome has no greater authority in the ample list of her cardinals—that if the Pope orders a man to commit sin, the act so committed becomes an act of holiness!  I should deem that to be the highest point of the Devil's Grammar; and that if he could get all professing Christians to become his scholars so far—that is, to become as great scholars as Cardinal Bellarmine—Old Nick would rub his paws with satisfaction, and say "Now I am content!"

    But what cared Englishmen either for the Pope or the forsworn King?  Be it ever remembered that our forefathers were rather a crooked lot for Popes to manage.  Popes could never get their own bad way, even in their most thrifty times, so easily in England as they wished.  The Barons seized the Tower of London, and hung out their flag of defiance against both Pope and King.  Whereat King John raged and swore, and foamed at the mouth, and vowed he would have revenge on the rebels.  So he now besought the Pope to take the most powerful and extreme means to aid him.  And forthwith the Pope sent his bull of excommunication into England.

    "What's that?" say you; "a thing with horns?"  No: it is a parchment with a curse written upon it in Latin, and having a leaden bullet attached to it as the Pope's seal—bulla is the Latin word for a bullet, and so it was called a "bull."  And the curse was one of the most horrible that could be conceived upon all persons who would not give up Magna Charta and let the King have his own way, as an oppressor and a tyrant.  It was a curse upon them "sitting and standing, and lying and walking, and asleep and awake, and in time and to all eternity—a curse that should hurl them into the bottomless pit, with Koran and Dathan, and Abiram, and Judas Iscariot," and all the vilest sinners that ever lived!

    And the Pope sent this cursing "bull" to Stephen Langton, the Cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury, and commanded him to read it, openly and in the most solemn manner, in his cathedral, with all his monks and priests around him, each hold lighted candle.  And when Langton had read the curse, every monk and priest was to dash out the light of his candle, by throwing it on the ground and trampling it under his feet, as significant of the darkness of the curse that should fall upon this land.  For if the Bull had been read by the Archbishop as the Pope commanded, the whole kingdom of England would have been placed under what Papists called an "interdict"; that is to say, no corpse could have been buried, no church bells rung, no religious service performed, no marriage celebrated, no sacrament received!  It would have seemed as if an immeasurable funeral pall hung over the whole land!  But the Pope mistook his man.  Stephen Langton was an Englishman to the backbone, and would not read the "bull of excommunication."  He loved English Liberty, and defied both Pope and King.  Poor fellow! he had to go into banishment for it; and could not return to England until the tyrant John's death.

    Remember that Langton's memory is a grand memory; and when you, young Englishmen, who are listening to me, go to look at grand old Canterbury Cathedral—for you ought to go and look at York and Lincoln and Winchester and Salisbury, and the other monuments of ancient grandeur in the realm—I say, when you go to Canterbury, and the verger busily points out the spot where Becket was murdered and where his shrine stood, and points to the scabbard and spurs, and helmet of Edward the Black Prince, ask him to guide you to the tomb of Stephen Langton, that you may place your hand upon it, and call up the memory of such an Englishman with heart-felt gratitude.

    With shame we call up the name of another Englishman, whom otherwise we could wish to praise, Simon de Montfort, who led the cruel persecution of the Albigenses, in the South of France, to gratify papal power, also in this century.  The Albigenses were another branch of Christ's suffering but pure Church, which God has always preserved, under one name or other, in the world, since the Saviour appeared.  You must read about them, and we must hasten on.

    Now, in this thirteenth century, there were grand cathedrals and stately monasteries and parish churches in this land; and the like in France and Spain and Portugal and Italy and Germany and other lands; and the belief was fixed in the minds of millions that Jesus of Nazareth had lived in the world, performed his miracles, been crucified, and risen from the dead.  Whence came the belief?  Did it really arise out of the wanderings of the human imagination?  Is Christianity, indeed, derived from the ancient fable of the sun?  Let us recommence our journey, and see if we find Christianity on the Arch of the Bridge of History preceding the thirteenth century, or Arch of Magna Charta.

 
VIII. THE ARCH OF THE CRUSADES.


What shall we call the Twelfth Century? Let us call it the ARCH OF THE CRUSADES.  "What were they?" does any one ask.  I answer, The expedition of at least two millions of men, according to the very lowest statement of history, to get possession of the Holy Land.  "What Holy Land?" does any one ask again.  I reply, the land, in the words of Shakespeare,


"Over whose acres walked those blessed feet,
 Which eighteen hundred years ago were nailed,
 For our advantage, on the bitter cross."


    The land in which Christ was born, in which he taught, worked his miracles, was crucified, and rose again from the dead.  Kings left their thrones, and among them our own Cœur de Lion, the bravest; princes and nobles sold or pawned their lands, to get men and horses and ships to go and win possession of the Holy Land.  Thousands died before they got out of Europe; thousands perished by sea, and thousands perished in Asia.  But they won possession of Jerusalem, and had possession of it for 88 years, as a petty, barren, Christian kingdom; for Crusader Kings took their titles from it.

    The great soul that kept up this enthusiasm for the Crusades was, doubtless, St. Bernard.  But men must have believed that Jesus Christ lived in Palestine, taught, and wrought his miracles there, was crucified, and rose again from the dead there, or they would not have spilt their own blood, and wasted their wealth on these Crusades.  It is not possible for us—the commercial, the utilitarian, or the scientific men, (or whatever we please to call ourselves,) of the nineteenth-century,—to share in the enthusiasm of the ruder, but, perhaps more earnest men of the twelfth century.  They were just awaking from the sleep of the dark ages, and they reasoned thus:


"We ought not to let these infidel dogs, the Saracens—these children of Mahound—these devotees of Satan—possess that holy land where our Saviour's blessed feet trod, where he taught and worked his miracles, where he was crucified, and rose from the dead.  We, Christian men, ought to possess it, and we will possess it."


    "Deus vult! (God wills it!") shouted Pope Urban.

    "It is good, and right, and holy!" affirmed St. Bernard: and his word was saintly law, even above the word of any Pope; and band after band went on the vain errand of subduing the Holy Land.

    It was not vain in another sense; for the energetic passing to and fro among the peoples of different countries of Europe, and the peoples of Asia and Africa as well, resulted in the laying of broad foundations for the future civilization of Europe.  Yet I say, we cannot, if we would, rekindle the Crusading enthusiasm.  Suppose some warm-natured brother of our number were to say here, to-night,


"I think the Crusaders were right, and I propose that we all sign a petition to the Queen to send an army, at once, to seize Jerusalem from the Turks!"


    "Oh, go to Jericho!" we should all cry out; "let the Turks keep Jerusalem, so long as they do us no harm by it.  What! after nine millions spent on that Abyssinian freak, and all the millions spent in the Crimean war, do you suppose we are in the humour for more folly?"

    There were many suffering for pure Christianity in this century.  Under the names of Paterines, or "Sufferers," Cathari, or "Puritans," "Weavers," "Poor Men," Beguines, Beghards, "Prayer-makers," and a variety of other names, the protesters against Romish superstition were scattered over the country of the Pyrenees, Languedoc in France, and parts of Germany and Italy; and their lives were taken without pity.  The fearful Inquisition was at last organised against heresy, and for many long years ran its hideous race of cruelty.  It is asserted that one inquisitor-general, the infamous Torquemada, put 9,000 persons to death; and the entire number slaughtered by the inquisitions is commonly stated at 32,000.

    But we remember the name of the Arch of the Bridge of History on which we stand, and fear to prolong our stay upon it beyond your patience.  I say again, men must have believed that Christ's well-known history was a history of facts, or they would not have risked their lives in the attempt to get possession of the land in which they believed that he had lived, died, and risen again from the dead.  How came men to be believing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?  Whence did this faith arise?  Where did Christianity come from? we ask again.  Did Jesus really never exist on this earth; and is Christianity but a reproduction of the old fable of the sun?  Let us continue our march along the Bridge of History, and see if we find Christianity on the arch before the Arch of the Crusades.

 
IX. ARCH OF WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.


What shall we name the Eleventh Century?  Let us call it the ARCH OF WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.  It was in this century, you remember, that William, the Duke of Normandy, crossed the English Channel to get possession of our land; and that he fought the battle of Hastings, where Harold was killed: Harold, the Saxon nobleman whom they had placed upon the throne on the death of King Edward the Confessor: Edward the Confessor, whose bones lie yonder in Westminster Abbey yet: you can go and put your hand on his tomb, as I have done.  On the 28th of December, 1865, Dean Stanley delivered a rich antiquarian discourse in the Abbey, to celebrate the opening of the Abbey Church 800 years before.  King Edward the Confessor had given much money towards the building, and wished to be present when the Abbey Church was opened for worship; but fell sick, and could not leave his bed.  He died six days after; and then William of Normandy claimed the crown, and the struggle began, which ended in the victory of William.

    When William had held the sceptre some years, he grew discontented with the taxes which he derived from the land.  The land-tax, you will observe, was the tax then.  There were no great manufacturing industries, of cotton, or woollen, or linen, to tax.  The land-tax, I say, was the tax then.  It is but a small tax, compared with other taxes, now.  When landlords got the power of making taxes, they were sure to make the land-tax as little as possible, you know; and so long as they keep the principal power you may be sure the land-tax will never be very large.  William the Conqueror told his ministers that the land-tax was not producing him the sum he needed for government; and they replied that they were sure the landholders could not afford to pay more tax.  William said, in return, he would know what the landholders could afford, for he would have a survey made of all the estates in the realm.  William was a man who had a will of his own, and he carried out the threat to the utmost of his power.

    He could not get the survey made in Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, or Westmoreland.  The inhabitants of those counties were so unwilling to submit to him that he wasted their possessions with fire and sword, and yet could not subdue them.  But the survey was made from the river Tees, the northern boundary of Yorkshire, to the English Channel; and from the German Ocean to the Welsh border.  And we have the survey still: the "Domesday Books," as they are called.  Not mere copies of the books, but the original books,—the leaves of which William the Conqueror turned over with his own fingers, a huge folio, and a thick quarto; written on parchment in a kind of hodgepodge language, half Latin, half English—are still in our possession.

    A few years ago these volumes were photographed at the Government photo-zincograph establishment, at Southampton, and the Domesday Book is now sold cheap, each county separately.  Get hold of a copy for your own county, and you will see in it the names of your old city, ancient boroughs, towns, and villages, with an account of the woods and pastures, and other possessions, and the names of the persons who held them.  But take care to mark as you go along, how the book tells you that such a bishop has so many carrucates or hides of land in such a parish, and that the priest's name in such a village is so-and-so.  The fact of the existence of Christianity as the professed and established religion of the land, is registered in the Domesday Books.

    The power of the Papal See was great in this century, for Hildebrand, or Gregory VII., was Pope.  Yet Gregory could not get his own way in England.  Gregory had "blessed" the banner which had been woven by Norman ladies; and which had been used by William at the battle of Hastings.  And Pope Gregory sent to tell the Conqueror that not his sword and valour, and the swords and valour of the Norman host, had won that battle; the victory was solely attributable to the Papal blessing be stowed on the banner.  The argument at the end was, that William must compel his people to pay Peter-pence; and must not dare to appoint any of the bishops, since the Pope meant to appoint them all himself.  But William snapped his fingers even at the potent Hildebrand, and did appoint the bishops.

    There were martyrs among the opposers of Popish doctrine and Popish practices in this age in several parts of Germany, and heretics were burned at Orleans in France, and God's lowly people were suffering for the pure faith in Christ in the valleys of Piedmont; but we must not delay to give the recital.  One book produced in this age should also be mentioned: the "Cur Deus Homo," or "Wherefore God became Man," of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the reign of William Rufus, a most remarkable book on the Atonement of Christ to have been produced at such a time.

    But we must keep close to our enquiry.  Where did the Christianity come from whose doctrines Anselm sought to expound, for which the Vaudois suffered, and which has found a register of its existence in the Domesday Books?  The bishops and priests mentioned in these books were teaching the English people, and the English people believed, that Jesus of Nazareth had lived on this earth taught his great doctrines, wrought his miracles, was crucified, and rose again from the dead.  How came the bishops and priests to be teaching, and the people to be believing, that these were facts?  Was there no foundation in fact either for the teaching or for the belief?  Did Jesus never exist on earth?  Is what we call the "Gospel History" all derived from the ancient fable of the sun?  Let us step on again, over our Bridge of History, from the eleventh century, or Arch of William the Conqueror, to the arch preceding it, and see if we find Christianity there.

 
X. THE ARCH OF DARKNESS.


What shall we call the Tenth Century?  We must call it by a very ominous name; we must call it the ARCH OF DARKNESS.  It is the middle arch of our bridge, and it may be deemed the darkest part of the "Dark Ages," as the Mediæval or Middle Ages are often called.  It was darkness indeed, a darkness like that in Egypt, "that could be felt."  Could working men read and write in the tenth century?  Most probably not a single working man in all Europe!  Then, could not all the gentry read and write?  No; only very few of them.  But you will think the nobles could all read and write.  I fear the real truth is that many of them could do neither.  As it was the age of ignorance so was it also the age of superstition; the time of grossest belief in all the "lying vanities" of Popery.  Learning, of such kind as it was, was almost confined to the monks and priests.  The monks were perhaps performing their best for us by copying manuscripts of the classics and of the Gospels and Epistles; but the great mass of the people were in profound ignorance, and eagerly believed in the virtue of pilgrimages and relics.

    Men went on long and laborious journeys to the distant shrines of saints—such as Our Lady of Loretto, and St. James of Compostella—to merit the pardon of sin, or to undergo penance for it; and others went to the Holy Land, or at least they said they had been there when they returned to Europe, wearing palmer's weeds, that is to say, a long garment and a leathern girdle, a slouched hat, on which an escalop shell was sewn, and a long staff to support their steps.  These pilgrims from the Holy Land had precious relics to show; bits of the true wood of the holy cross; and nails and pieces of the nails of the holy cross!  And men, as they gazed on these "holy relics," knelt in awe, and crossed themselves, and repeated their paternosters and aves.  And very soon men began to weigh out pounds' weight of gold to give for a bit of the true wood of the cross, even if it did not weigh a quarter of an ounce; and stones' weight of silver to give for a bit of a nail of the holy cross.

    And such was the passion for this traffic, that in the lapse of two centuries it was computed so much of the true wood of the holy cross was brought into Europe that a first-rate ship of war might have been made out of it, and as many nails and pieces of the true nails of the cross were brought into Europe as might have furnished all the iron-work for a first-rate ship of war!  A rare trade—a roaring trade—it seemed to have been, the trade in holy relics.  "Supply and Demand," you know!  The fussy Manchester men suppose they have invented a new science: Political Economy on the laws of "Supply and Demand!"  Pooh, pooh! the invention was before the Manchester men's time; the old monks and pilgrims were aware of a thing or two in that line.

    And as the demand increased, there was plenty of supply.  The pilgrims and their monkish agents soon began to have other holy relics to sell.  "Pigge's bones," and "shepe's bones," as Chaucer spells the relics, and oxen's bones.  But whether it were a "pigge's bone," or a "shepe's bone," that this relic-monger or the other had to sell, he would swear it was the forefinger of St. Peter, or the little finger of St. John, or the great toe of St. Paul, or a rib of St. Bartholomew.  One relic-monger had got a tin box full of the teeth of St. James; and he went about rattling them in the ears of crowds that fell down on their knees and crossed themselves in ecstacy, to think they had heard such a soul-saving sound!  Others had got locks of the hair of the Virgin Mary's head, and many had got bottles full of her milk, to sell at an immense price, and to swell the gratitude of the gazing crowd.  The toe of St. Paul was a precious possession to Glastonbury Abbey—for it brought great grist to the monks' mill; and in the crypt of old Exeter Cathedral there were more wondrous relics: a piece of the manger in which our Lord had lain; and, above all, a piece of the Burning Bush that Moses saw in the wilderness!

    When Harry the Eighth came to the throne, some 500 years and odd after this time, there was such a turning out of this relic-rubbish from the monasteries, churches, and cathedrals, as it would take hours to describe.  The greater part of these instruments of jugglery were burnt, publicly, in the market-places of the land, amidst the shouts and derision of the people, in King Harry's time.

    But had God and His Christ no witnesses, no real witnesses, in that dark tenth century?  Oh! yes; in the valleys of the Alps were the persecuted Waldenses, who would have nothing to do with the Popish priests, and their pieces of rusty iron and rotten wood, and old rotten bones and teeth and rags , nothing to do, either, with their doctrines of purgatory, or worship of the Virgin Mary, or prayers to dead saints, or confession and absolution of sins.  Neither would they accept the priest's holy wafer; but insisted on a more perfect obedience to the Saviour's command in partaking of the Lord's Supper; and it would also seem that immersion baptism was their practice, as being, in their belief, the primitive practice.  But the best part of the record of their history is that they clung to the New Testament as their true guide, and that they led holy and self-denying lives, and endeavoured thus to prove their real Christianity.  And what became of them, do you ask?  They were burned, or put to death in other ways; and sometimes the ways were very cruel.  The Waldenses have been a suffering people.  Recall Milton's noble sonnet to mind—


"Avenge, O Lord, Thy slaughter'd saints—"


And so on.  They were being persecuted in his time.  In some instances they


                                      "rolled
"Mother with infant down the rocks,—"


and cast huge stones after them.  The news of these Popish murders came to Oliver Cromwell's ears.  "Write to the Pope," said he to his secretary, John Milton, "and tell him if all that devil's work be not ended, he shall soon hear the English cannon at Rome!"  The Pope put an end to the murders at once!  Men knew whom they had to deal with when Oliver Cromwell intimated what he would do, and dare not trifle.  Don't you think we want somebody with his spirit, now and then, in our own day?

    But to our enquiry.  The murdered Waldenses rejoiced in Christ while they were dying, and in the midst of cruel tortures.  How came they to be willing to suffer death?  How came they to be reading the New Testament, and taking it as a guide?  Where did the book come from? where did the religion come from that it proclaims?  Did Jesus of Nazareth never exist on this earth? was He not the teacher of the doctrines contained in the Gospels? did He not perform the miracles related there? did they not crucify Him at Jerusalem, as the book relates? and did He not rise again from the dead?  These were believed to be facts in the tenth century: where did the belief and the religion come from?  Is it all a new edition of the ancient fable about the sun?  Let us march on, from the Arch of Darkness, the central arch of our Bridge of History, and enter on the arch beyond it.

 
XI. THE ARCH OF KING ALFRED.


What shall we call the Ninth Century?  Is this arch as dark as the central one?  No, thank God, there is a beam of blessed light on this arch.  Let us call it the ARCH OF KING ALFRED.  Alfred, the father of our Saxon liberty, as we call him.  The king who said, "I would that every English man should be as free as the air we breathe."  If he did not say it—for some say he did not—we like to believe that he said it.  We love this English freedom.  We love to think how Alfred smiled on young freedom in its cradle, when it was born here and tended by its rude but fond nurses, our old Saxon forefathers.  It had rough usage, many a time, after Alfred's death.  Sometimes one royal tyrant tried to stab it in the back, and sometimes another strove to plant the dagger in its loins; but none could give the fatal blow.  Yet it was often down on one knee, and sometimes down on both; and more than once it was prostrate.  It must have had a good constitution—for it always contrived to get up, and stand well on its legs again.  And, in its manly youth, Hampden took it by the right hand, and led it into the triumphant battle-field; and Milton sang inspiring and exultant songs in its ear; and now it has risen up to stalwart manhood—for there is no freedom like ours in the world.  What? not American freedom?  No; not American freedom.  Thank God, the poor Negroes are no longer slaves by law!  But do white men really treat them as equals?

    "Give them time!" some of you cry out.  Well, I am willing to give white men time to lose their dislike to blacks—for I'm sure they'll need it.  But give me English freedom above all the freedoms in the world.  I wish the poor French could get freedom and keep it.  But although their statesmen utter so many high-sounding words about men's equality, there never arises a William Gladstone among them, to say, when pleading for the franchise for working men, "Are they not our own flesh and blood?"

    I know the Tories sneered and jeered at those words; but they were words that caused my heart—the heart of the old Chartist prisoner—to cleave to that man.  They were such words as no prime minister had ever uttered in England before; but words that proclaimed the time had come when all should understand what noble equality there is in our British freedom.

    Let us cling to it, fellow-countrymen; let us be jealous over it, and proud of it; but, above all, let us be thankful for it—thankful that God strengthened the hearts of our forefathers who went to the stake, and the block, and to prison for it; and wrestled and struggled for it, and built it up so strongly that we do not fear its fall.

    But what about Alfred?  The happy reply is that he was a Christian king, and a pious sovereign.  After that hard struggle with the Danes, and he was hoping, at length, that peace would fill his realm, the news came that another flight of "the ravens," as they called the Danes, was expected to arrive soon.  "Then let us," said Alfred to his ministers, "have God's Book translated into the people's own tongue, so that if these pagans land in greater numbers, and burn all our books,"—as they had already burned so many—"the people may have the Book by heart.  And then, if the Danes burn all the books they cannot burn the truth."  And Alfred's own biographer assures us that the king translated half the Book of Psalms into Saxon with his own royal hand: that was Alfred's contribution towards a translation for his people to read.

    My friends, you cannot help feeling with myself, that as our enquiry proceeds the interest increases.  It is important for you and me to know for ourselves that our religion is true; but our religion is the religion of Alfred, it is the religion of Wyckliffe, and Latimer, and Lord Bacon, and John Milton, and Oliver Cromwell, and Sir Isaac Newton.  It is the religion of these and others, the most illustrious men of our English lineage. Where did it come from—we ask again,—this religion of Alfred?  He believed, and his Anglo-Saxon people believed, that Jesus of Nazareth had really existed on this earth, had been baptized of John in the Jordan, had chosen his twelve apostles, had preached his great doctrines, had wrought his mighty miracles, had been crucified, and had risen again from the dead.  How came Alfred and his people, and so many millions of the people of Europe to be believing all this in the ninth century?  Was not the human life of Jesus a fact, and is not our common history of him a series of facts?  Or is the whole story of him only the old fable of the sun refashioned?  Let us step on to the Arch of the Bridge of History before the arch of Alfred, and see if we find Christianity there.

 
XII. THE ARCH OF CHARLEMAGNE.


What shall we name the Eighth Century?  We can only give it one name—the great regal and imperial name of the middle ages; we must call it the ARCH OF CHARLEMAGNE.  He is often called the "founder of feudalism," whether he deserves the name or not, and was ruler of France and a large part of Germany and Italy.  His mode of "converting" some of the rude tribes of Germany to Christianity was anything but a Christian mode.  He compelled the Saxons on pain of death to receive baptism; and put thousands of them to death because they would not give up their beloved leader Witikind.  But he must have been a man of large mind, for he denounced the worship of images, which the Empress Irene cajoled Pope Adrian to encourage; and he, like Alfred, thought that the people ought to have the Scriptures to read.  And having determined on the gift of a translation to his Frankish subjects, he sent all over Europe for men who were skilled in Greek and Hebrew, in order to make his translation as perfect as possible.  From our own land went Alcuin, the learned Anglo-Saxon, to render assistance in this work, and he remained in France as one of the most valued advisers of Karl the Great—or Charlemagne.

    There is a little fact in chronology which all of you will be able to remember.  Just at our end of this arch of the bridge, that end of the arch which is nearest ourselves, that is to say, on Christmas-day in the year of our Lord, 800, this Charlemagne was crowned by the Pope, and in a way that looked like a sudden inspiration, Emperor of the West.  It was a signal act in history, for it was the cause of another act still more signal.  Charlemagne in return made the Pope a temporal prince, and the Popes have been temporal monarchs ever since.  The Pope's temporal monarchy is indeed a very little one now.  It is confined to that small part of the city of Rome which is divided from the larger part by the Tiber, and which contains the Cathedral of St. Peter, with the Vatican Palace, and the Castle St. Angelo; and which was proudly named after himself by one of the numerous Popes called Leo, "the Leonine city."

    Whether even this very small mockery of a monarchy will remain to the wearer of the triple crown is problematical.  My friends, they say we should not rashly interpret the Divine judgments, but I think that mind must be dull indeed that does not perceive Divine judgments to have fallen on two devoted and guilty heads in our day.  No sooner had "the man of sin, who exalted himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God;" no sooner had the poor old infatuated Pius the Ninth perfected the Papal blasphemous assumption by getting the Œcumenical Council to declare him "Infallible," than down comes, first, his rotten supporter, amidst the awful squelch at Sedan, and next, down comes the poor old helpless "Infallible" himself.

    God's true Church was a persecuted and suffering Church in the eighth century.  Under the name of Bulgarians their passage is traced from the East, fleeing from cruel persecutors, towards those valleys of the Alps and borders of the Pyrenees where their successors in faith and suffering were known as Waldenses, and Albigenses, and Paterines, and Cathari, and many other names.

    Pursuing our main enquiry, we ask how came Charlemagne and the people of France and Germany and Italy, and other parts of Europe—how came the Empress Irene, and the people of Constantinople and the adjoining regions—how came the lowly and persecuted people professing Christianity, to be believing, in the eighth century, that Jesus of Nazareth had lived on this earth, taught, and wrought His miracles upon it, and had been crucified at Jerusalem, and had risen again from the dead?  Are we to conclude that none of these events have any foundation in fact, but that they are only refashionings of the old fable of the sun?  Let us march again over our Bridge of History, and see if we find the Christian religion on the arch before the Arch of Charlemagne.  In this instance the larger demands of general history direct us to find something else there first.



[Next Page]
 

 



[Home] [Up] [Autobiography] [Thoughts at Fourscore] [Old Fashioned Stories] [Self-help] [Prison Rhymes, etc.] [Baron's Yule Feast] [Purgatory of Suicides] [Paradise of Martyrs] [Poets of the Poor] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk