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Probable exaggeration of the Superstition of the
Middle Ages. The history of the English church, during this period, may be divided into three eras ;---the first, from the introduction of christianity, till the invasion of the Danes ;--the second, from that invasion, till the Norman conquest ;---the third, from the Norman conquest, till the reformation.
1. Except in the accounts, which have been given of the lives, and manners, of the first christians, the religion of the gospel has never appeared more amiable, than in the account of the early Saxon era of Christianity. “ St. Augustine, and “ his companions,” says Mr. Fletcher, in his sermon on the holiness of the catholic church * “ preached, and acted, as once did the first envoys “ of Jesus Christ.--They gained proselytes by the
eloquence of truth, assisted by the eloquence of “.meekness, humility, and piety; verifying, in the « whole series of conduct, that pleasing sentence “ of the prophet, ' How beautiful on the hills, are “ the footsteps of those, who bring glad tidings.' “ Neither were the exertions of their charity, unat“ tended by the approbation of heaven. Not only “ contemporary historians attest, but several pro“ testant writers allow, that God rewarded them “ with the gift of miracles."
“ Their kings," * Sermons on various religious and moral subjects, for all the Sundays after Pentecost, and illustrations, vol. ii. p. 1.
says the martyrologist Fox, “ considered the ho“ nest conversation of their lives, and was moved
by the miracles wrought, through God's hand,
bythem *.” After noticing the difficulties, which St. Augustine, and his companions encountered, Fox observes, that;-“Notwithstanding their seem
ing impossibilities, they were followed with sur
prising success. The sanctity of their lives, and “ the force of their miracles, broke through the “ difficulties of the enterprise."-" The fruits, “ and effects, of their mission were striking. A
people, hitherto savage, barbarous, and immoral, was changed into a nation, mild, benevolent,
humane, and holy.”- “Every thing," says Collier, “ brightened as if nature had been melted “ down, and re-coined.” That the preacher, and the flock, deserved this character, most readers will allow, who have perused, “ The Antiquities of the
Anglo-Saxon church, by the reverend John Lingard,” in one volume 8vo.
2. Such was the happy state of religion, and of manners, at the invasion of the Danes. Those ferocious invaders spread devastation over England, and laid waste almost its whole territory. A necessary consequence of this calamity, was, that the pastor, and the flock, were often separated ; and that, if they did meet again, it generally was not until after a considerable lapse of time. Meanwhile, every form of instruction, either civil, or religious,
• Acts and Monuments, Coll. 2. Collier's Preface to his Ecclesiastical History.
was interrupted; and the interruption, naturally, gave rise to error, and superstition.
3. The same scenes must have been renewed, during the convulsions, which followed the Norman conquest; particularly during the period between the death of the conqueror, and the accession of the first Henry; and in the long years of havock, consumed in the contests between the houses of York and Lancaster. That, in these times, some superstition should prevail, is not surprising. But, it bore no proportion, to the true spirit of religion, with which the nation still continued to abound. What gospel truth did not the ministers of the church then inculcate ?- What disorder did they not then condemn ?-What crime did they not then reprobate ?-What excess did they not then censure ?— What passion did they not then endeavour to restrain ? They taught every virtue ; they encouraged every perfection. In no age, has love of God; or charity for man, been more warmly recommended. But, did no superstition, then, exist ? Unhappily it did.-But surely, where there was so much instruction, superstition could not predominate.
Probable revival of Learning, at an earlier period than is
The reflections, which have been suggested, may, perhaps, incline the reader to think, that, in the times, of which we are speaking, there was less
ignorance, and superstition, than is generally represented. It may be added, that there are grounds to suspect, that the dispersion of these was earlier ; and that sound learning, and science, began to revive in Europe, sooner than is generally imagined.
We shall shortly state some facts, which may be thought to prove this assertion, as applied to the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, particularly in respect to the state of literature in England, during these periods.
1. So early as the eleventh century, the arts and sciences flourished, under the protection of the Mahometan princes of Persia, Baghdad, Africa, and Spain. In all these countries, the studies of medicine, astronomy, and dialectics, were cultivated with success, and the works of Aristotle, and of some other authors, were translated from the Grecian language, into the Arabic. Something, too, of learning, and science, remained at Constantinople, and in the adjacent provinces. By degrees, they attracted the attention, first of the Italians, and afterwards of the northern states of Europe ; and many inquisitive spirits, in quest of learning, travelled from them to the Greeks of the eastern empire; or to the Arabians in Baghdad, Spain, or Africa, and returned, with considerable literary spoil.' Of these, Gerbert, who afterwards became Pope, under the name of Silvester the second, deserves particular mention. A thirst of knowledge had led him to Cordova. In that celebrated seat of Moorish literature, he acquired an extensive knowledge of mathematics, and astronomy. On
his return to France, he attracted the notice of Adalberon, archbishop of Rheims ; and, under his auspices, opened a school in that city. Hugh Capet, and several of the principal nobility of France, sent their children to it, for education. “ France, says M. de St. Mare *, owes to him her taste “ for true literature. He was not satisfied with “advancing it by his public lectures, and occa“sional publications. By an extensive epistolary “ correspondence, he communicated his discove“ ries; to many, both in France, and in other “ states; and strove to kindle in them his own “ literary ardour. At a great expense, he col“ lected a large library of antient, and modern, “ books; caused numerous copies of them to be “ made, and distributed them wherever he thought “they might be useful.” It is probable, "that he first introduced into Europe the Arabic system of notation, perhaps the most useful of modern discoveries, in science. It is observable, that in the preceding century, Campanus, a mathematician of Lombardy, had translated into Latin the elements and data of Euclid: the former was printed at Venice in 1482, the latter at Basle in 1546.
2. The twelfth century, presents a visible increase of literary ardour. Mr. Berington, in his learned, and interesting History of Abeillard and Heloisa, speaking of these times, observest, that
*Abrégé Chronologique de l'Histoire d'Italie, vol. ii. p. 933.
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