Page images

in the Holy Ghost,” little or nothing was effected; it was scarcely more than a change of names. The proselytes transferred a superstitious and idolatrous worship from their old Scandinavian gods to the Triune Jehovah and the saints of the Romish church, ascribing to the latter the acts and attributes they had been wont to adore in the former. The names of their deities were changed, but the character and nature of their worship remained the same. It is indeed extraordinary to observe how completely they adapted the forms of the Christian theology to the spirit of their pagan mythology. They were accustomed to invoke Thor as the leader of their armies, as the god of battles ; they now called upon the archangel Michael. Instead of deprecating the hostility of Loki, as the embodiment of evil, they began to cherish the same feelings and to use the same language to Satan. The Romish church, meanwhile, so far from opposing this tendency, actually encouraged it, and incorporated the superstitions and ceremonies of heathenism with the pure creed of Christianity. Just as, to adopt the sentiment of Milton, a man may be guilty of heresy and schism, even in the maintenance of orthodox truth, from the heretical and schis. matic spirit in which he holds it; so did these tribes continue in the darkness of heathenism, even after their nominal conversion to Christianity. Alas! even in the present day it is still too easy to be orthodox in doctrine, and Scriptural in creed, and yet to remain dead in

trespasses and sins, having only “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." But the mischief of engrafting heathenism on Christianity did not cease with the age and race which was thus professedly brought within the fold of the Saviour, although in reality far removed from it. It is to the pagan additions and perversions thus introduced that very much of the subsequent idolatry and superstition of the Romish church is traceable. The papacy, more anxious to swell the number of her converts than to maintain the purity of her doctrine, not only permitted to them, but even adopted into her own practice many of their ancient rites, utterly alien though they were to the spirit and precepts of the gospel. Hence it is that she presents the monstrous and incongruous spectacle of ceremonies and beliefs drawn from heathen mythologies, incorporated with, or grafted upon, “the truth as it is in Jesus."

But whilst the spiritual results of these alleged national conversions were thus unsatisfactory, the indirect and secondary effects flowing from them were to some considerable extent beneficial. It was no slight advantage, though a negative one, that the proselytized nations escaped the barbarizing influence of their old creed and worship. It was morally impossible for them, whilst they retained these, to advance in civilization. The retention of the ferocious rites and doctrines which they had held and practised in their native forests,


would have interposed an insurmountable obstacle to any progress in the arts of peace. The mere destruction of these barriers, by the abrogation of their ancient worship, was immense benefit, since it left the path of progress unobstructed.

At the same time, it afforded opportunities for those missionaries who were disposed to visit them to do so with safety. Previously they could only venture at the peril of their lives, and with the distinct expectation of being cut off in the midst of their labours. Now they could go without danger, carrying with them the influences and habits of civilization, and in some instances, doubtless, the “glad tidings of great joy." Though many of these missionaries were superstitious and fanatical enthusiasts, yet there were others who were “men of God, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Such men, with the love of Christ glowing in their hearts, trembling upon their lips, glistening in their tearful eyes, swayed with a sacred eloquence the passions of their rude audiences. Savage inen, rugged as the rocks, and fierce as the beasts of prey whom they hunted in the chase, were moved to tears, melted to contrition, and, like the demoniac in the Gospels, “ found sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in their right mind.” God's word, preached by faithful men, did not, could not, return to him void. The nations were not converted, but individuals were. And even upon those who did not receive the full saving efficacy of Divine truth, there was

yet exercised a refining influence. If the direct beams from the Sun of righteousness did not reach their hearts, yet a reflected light shone around them, and illuminated their utter darkness ; for in this sense, as well as in a higher and more important one, godliness was found “profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is," as well as “that which is to come.”

Thus, then, though Christianity was taught in a grossly perverted form, it was still an immense advance upon the fierce and bloody rites of the idolatry it displaced. Its brightness was dimmed, its beauty obscured, and its purity sullied, by superstitious additions and perversions of men, yet it was inconceivably better than the utter hideousness of the systems which had preceded it. It was the morning twilight, bright when compared with the previous darkness, dark in comparison with the perfect day.

Such we believe to be a fair and impartial estimate of the mingled good and evil of those hasty and superficial national conversions of which the history of the middle ages is full, and of which the life of Clovis affords a characteristic instance. To return to our narrative, however. The successors of Clovis by no means inherited his energy and talents. They degenerated with each succeeding generation, till at length they became utterly imbecile, and the entire management of affairs fell into the hands of an officer, styled the mayor of the

palace, or, as we should now call him, the lord high chamberlain. By degrees this office became hereditary in the family of its possessors, and was successively filled by men of distinguished ability-Pepin le Vieux, Pepin d'Heristal, Charles Martel, and Pepin le Bref. Each of these in turn augmented the power of the inayoralty, till ultimately its holder, though nominally only the first subject, was really king, the titular monarch retaining nothing of royalty but the name, and the empty honours of wearing long flowing hair,* and being drawn by oxen in a state wagon to the annual muster of the Franks.

Under the feeble reign of Thierry iv., and the vigorous mayoralty of Charles, an event occurred which greatly increased the power of the real, and proportionately diminished that of the nominal, ruler. The Mohammedan hosts having burst from their native deserts with the resistless force of an avalanche, had spread themselves over the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Having reached the western ocean, Acbar, their commander, spurring his horse into the waves, brandished his scimitar, and cried, like a second Alexander, 60 Allah! give me another world to conquer for thee." Energy like this, inspired alike by

* Among the various Frankish tribes, this privilege was confined to the royal family. All besides shaved their heads, leaving only a single tuft, like the scalp lock of North American Indians of the present day. A similar custom prevailed among the Vormaris up to the time of their invasion of England,

« PreviousContinue »