Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

a

In the midst of their miserable labour, these poor people saw standing among them a majestic stranger, wrapped in a robe. Gower thought he recognized Swedenborg at once. "Stay,” cried the seer, “God hath madé the soil already for you. Build no other. Your own stony hearts have made the hill seem to you as iron.” They heard : each seemed to take a stone out of his bosom, and hurl it down the steep; when straightway every foot sank deep into a rich and kindly earth, and a shout of joy broke forth, echoed far among the cloudy gorges."

Once more Gower thought he stood upon the shoulder of a volcano, among the clinking scoria. It was growing dark. A strange shape of fire was suddenly at his side, helmed with a flaring cresset, under the light of which the rocky projections around glowed like the burnished beaks of galleys. Over his shoulder hung a mantle of azure flame, fringed with sparks, and tasselled with brushes of fire. On his breast was what seemed a hauberk of some emerald incandescence, that brightened or paled with every sinuous motion of the lithe frame, as when the wind comes and goes about an ignited tree trunk in a burning forest. The form said—“I am the Flame-King: behold a vision of my works,”—and passed his hand before the eyes of the dreamer. Gower saw columns of steam shot up from an Indian sea, with stones and mire, under a great canopy of smoke. Then all was calm : a new island had been born; and the waves licked the black fire-cub. Next he saw a burning mountain, lighting, at the dead of night, glaciers and snowy precipices—as the fire-cross of a great festival lights the shafts and arches of some dark cathedral. Avalanches fell, looking, under the glare, like sliding continents of ruby, and were shut down in their chasm-caskets with a noise of thunder. He beheld the burning of brave palaces, of captured cities, of prairies where the fire hunts alone, and the earth shakes with the tramp of a myriad hoofs flying from the destroyer.

Then he stood on the mountain side as before; but it was broad day, and beneath him lay in the sun a sky-like bay, white houses, and the particoloured fields under the haze, like a gay escutcheon, half hidden by a gauzy housing. Beside him, in place of the Flame-King, stood a shining one, fantastically clad in whatsoever the sunlight loves best to inform and to turn into glory. The mantle slanting from his shoulders shone like a waterfall which runs gold with sunlight; his breast mirrored a sunset; and translucent forest leaves were woven for his tunic. His cheek glowed, delicate as the finely cut camelia, held against the sun. “I am King Sun light,” he said. “Mine is the ever kindliness of the summer time. I make ready harvest-home and vintage. I triumph in the green meshed tropic forests, with their fern-floors, and garland-galleriedtreetops, where stand the great trunks which, interlaced with their thick twining underwood, are set like fisher's stakes with their nets, in those aerial tides of heavy fragrance. There, I make all things green threaten to shoot faster than the encumbered river can run through the wilds of verdure I drive winter away, as though I were his shepherd, and he leaves fragments of his fleeces in the snow-patches among the hills when I pursue him. I love no flaming ascents, no tossing meteoric splendours. I overgrow the stiff scars and fire-rents, which my Titan brother makes, with peace-breathing green. I Ι urge thee to no glittering leap against the rapids of thy natural mortal element. With my shining in thy heart, thou shalt have peace, whether thine outward life raise or sink thee, ,-as he whu rows in the glory-wake under a sunrise, is bright and golden, whether on the crest of the wave or in the hollow. I put courage into the heart of the Lady in Comus, when alone in the haunted wood.—A quite true story, by the way,” continued the phantom, with a sudden familiarity, " for those of you mortals who can receive it. Wilt thou come with me, and work humbly at what lies next thy hand, or wait to surpass humanity, or go travelling to find Michael's sword to clear thy land withal ? With my shining in thy heart, every flinty obstacle shall furnish thee with new fire ; and in thine affliction I will bring thee from every blasted pine an Ariel swift to do thee service : so shall thy troubles be thy ministers. Shall it be the splendour, or the inward sunshine ?”

As Gower turned from the approaching Flame-King, he clasped the hand of Sunlight with such vehemence that he awoke.

It was one o'clock. He hastened to bed, and there slept soundly. I am sure he had dreamed more than enough for one night.–Vaughan's Hours with the Mystics."

LUTHER.

LUTHER was, every way—physically, intellectually, and morally, a man of mark. The rudest wood-cut presents his manly form, as faithfully as the most finished picture. The square burly figure, with its Atlantean shoulders, the determined but open countenance, the massive brow—that sure indication of mental strength, the firmly set mouth are preserved in all the portraits which have come down to us. Nor is he the less to be recognised in those "word pictures” by which his mental and moral

“ peculiarities are depicted. Bossuet's delineation, though drawn by no friendly hand, presents the same Luther as Merle D'Aubigne's mezzo-tint. He was emphatically a type and emblem of the great Teutonic race, formed, as the old wild legend goes, of the grey rock of the Hartz Mountains,— race indomitable, and born to empire. But the loveliest vallies often lie embosomed amid the most rugged mountains, and seem all the lovelier from their stern environment. So in Luther's character they were phases of the most loving tenderness. Never was a man more hated by his enemies, or more loved and prized by his friends. There have been many revolutionists who were nothing but slime, thrown up from the bottom by the fierce current of human affairs, who must therefore be either carried away by that current, or sink into it again. Such was not Luther. He continued through life to direct the revolution which, through his instrumentality had been brought about.

Before I attempt a description of the history, character and labours of this distinguished man, it will be necessary, briefly, to advert to some of the more prominent features of the times which preceded the age in which he took so important a part.

The rise and establishment of the Papacy constitute one of the most curious and interesting chapters in the world's history. The christian church, as depicted in the New Testament, is a community of brethren, dwelling together in peace and love. They are great, indeed but not with the world's greatness, they have sublime honours, but not of the earth, they are spiritual, and therefore unseen by the carnal and worldly, they consist in virtues, and are not appreciated by the aspirant for temporal honours,

[ocr errors]

they are graces of the spirit, and do not come into the category of the attainments so eagerly sought by the votaries of ambition, of wealth, and of power. The church of Christ is expressly called by its founder, “ a kingdom not of this world.” It is eminently a spiritual fraternity, incapable of amalgamation with temporal powers ; having with them no congeniality of character or objects, taking its abode in the soul of man, and effecting its purpose without the aid of temporal powers; and having primary reference to an unseen, an eternal world. In perfect accordance with this view of the subject was the kind of intercourse held by the Apostles with their brethren, the primitive believers, expressly maintaining the equality of all the faithful, and distinctly disavowing both the authority and desire, to " lord” it over their brethren. We have then upon record, in their writings and examples, the best proof, and the aptest illustration of the simplicity, the spirituality and the eminent unworldliness of the early church. Whence, and how, from such a soarce as this, did the widely extended and imperious power of the papacy arise? We shall endeavour to present a brief outline of its origin, progress, and consummation.

A christiau church was formed at an early period in the city of Rome. The apostle Paul, having appealed to Cæsar, arrived in that city, and preached in his own hired house, for two whole years.

It is natural to suppose, and indeed the fact is obviously inferred from scripture, that the labours of the apostle were extensively blessed for the conversion of men to the faith. The pastor, or pastors of the church in Rome would naturally seek to extend their principles to the suburban districts, and their churches were gradually collected. In these, deference would be naturally paid to the parent church and its officers:

When associated efforts would be deliberated upon and prosecuted, the metropolitan pastors were consulted ; this became a fixed custom ; the pastor at Rome became chief among the pastors of his district. For sometime this was necessarily confined to that district, and, of course, to spiritual things. Usurped power always corrupts. It did so in this instance. That which was at first courtesy became custom, custom was construed into right, the right was firmly and pertinaciously maintained, and at length, with the decline of evangelical godliness, unresistingly yielded to, until the first pastor of Rome became chief pastor of the pastors of all christian churches in the countries round about him. To this, leading men, men of ardent minds and forcible characters in distant districts became auxiliary, because it suited their purposes ; in turn they became chief pastors in their respective localities, and thus arose gradually a body of men in the christian church, characterized by dispositions and objects entirely opposed to the spirit of Christ, pastors of pastors, “ lords over God's heritage.'

The charm that still surrounded the very name of the eternal city, powerfully aided this ursurpation. Rome had been for ages the mistress of the world. All men, by a kind of instinctive impulse, looked up to her with wonder and reverence, and now, in the decline of her political greatness, and the rapid decadence of her power, there arose in her midst from amongst her drooping columns and expiring gods, another form of power, to which men willingly looked with astonishment, and gradually submitted themselves with a blind and implicit obedience. There was another cause which worked together with these, the previous acquaintance of the people, both Jews and Gentiles, with gorgeous and imposing religious ceremonies. This taste was consulted by the pastors in proportion to their departure

a

from the simplicity of the gospel, and they departed from that simplicity in proportion to their attempts to ursurp power over their brethren. Thus there was prepared for departure from the truth a large and powerful body of men, ready to avail themselves of every occurence to enhance their own greatness, and to extend their own power. Event after event transpired to further their designs, and subserve the attainment of their objects. The christians became too powerful a body in the empire to be any longer persecuted. Constantine the Great became the patron of the church. He employed all his influence and exerted all his power to extend and aggrandize her. The motives by which he was actuated are to this day far from being of easy solution. The impartial reader of his history will, I apprehend, hesitate much before he accord to him any great christian excellence, and will, perhaps, upon deliberate consideration, incline to the opinion that he was actuated by reasons of state policy, rather than by any deep and fixed convictions of duty. The fact, however, is the same ; he made christianity the religion of the empire. The christian bishops of the day were, for the most part, ready and willing to receive the bribe of state patronage and support, and in return to exercise their influence in support and furtherance of the emperor's designs. The removal of the seat of empire to Constantinople seemed for a while to threaten the curtailment of the bishop of Rome's power. Long and furious were the contests between the Roman bishops and the eastern churches, but the genius of Rome ultimately prevailed. By a series of stratagems, its bishop virtually maintained, and at length obtained the universal recognition of his supremacy.

An edict of Theodosius II, and of Valentinian III., proclaimed him “rector of the whole church.” Up to this point their power was, in profession, wholly spiritual. The pope himself, though he indirectly exercised great temporal power, was not nominally and avowedly a prince of this world. That character he assumed under the following circumstances. Early in the 8th century, wben Gregory II. was pope, the Lombards severely pressed the holy see, and the pope appealed for aid to Charles Martel, then mayor of the palace in Paris, by name, but actually the governor of France.

He died before he had rendered any actual assistance to the pope, but upon a subsequent application to his great son Pepin, a powerful army crossed the Alps, and the Lombards were glad to submit. Their bad faith brought Pepin a second time into Italy, and this time they were utterly vanquished. More intimate relations followed between Pepin and the Roman court, which both parties turned to their own account. The then king of France was Childeric, the last of the race of Clovis. His royalty was merely nominal, all sovereign power being exercised by Pepin, and nothing was wanted but the royal title to gratify his ambition. He had, or pretended to have, scruples as to his rank in the empire, and appealed to the pope for his decision. This was pope Zachary, who occupied the pontificial chair from the year 741 to 752. “He decided in conformity to the obvious and notorious desire of his friend and protector,--pronouncing that the nation might lawfully unite in the same person the title and authority of king, and that the unfortunate Childeric, a victim of the public safety, should be degraded, and confined in a monastery the rest of his days. An answer so agreeable was accepted by Pepin, as the opinion of a casuist, the sentence of a judge, or the oracle of a prophet. Pepin was duly crowned king of France." Charlemagne, the son of Pepin, as the result of his intercourse with the pope, and as a reward to the see of Rome for making his father

a

а

king, and rendering him all its powerful influence, gave the pope the three estates of Ravenna, Bologna and Ferrara, and thenceforth his holiness took his place among the princes of the earth. This distinction he received from the most powerful monarch of the time, for the sanction given that monarch's father in his usurpation of the throne of France.

We must briefly glance at the state of the church at the close of the fifteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century, the period to which our subject refers. The long and extensive power of the Roman church can be easily accounted for, from the facts of its history, and the known characteristics of human pature. It early abandoned the integrity of christian doctrine, by renouncing justification by faith. It overawed the timid and superstitious, by vehemently maintaining that there was no salvation out of the church. It dazzled the imaginative and the high souled by connecting with itself and rendering subservient to its end the arts of music, painting and sculpture, while it made the great artists of the middle ages, zealous Catholics, by pur. chasing and amply rewarding the products of their genius. It secured for ages the support of the great governments of Europe, by wisely distributing its favours, now, upon one prince, now upon another, and by inducing potentates to believe in the high value of its sanction arising from the infallibility of its guidance. From what we have known in our own day, we can form no conception of its mighty potency, and we should almost hesitate to believe that it ever was so awful a power, were we not constrained to do so by the most unambiguous and indubitable attestations of history. The kings of Europe regarded their very crowns as held at the will of the bishop of Rome. Charlemagne kissed each step of St. Peter's as he ascended into the church. A recusant monarch had to stand three days, barefooted and bareheaded in the open air at the gates of the fortress of Canusian, before he was admitted into the presence of Gregory VII. What then must have been the power of this church on the minds and spirits of the common people? We have nothing like it now in the world, even in Catholic countries. We cannot fully conceive, how generally extended, and how thoroughly influential it was. Men held, not only their property and their families at his will and pleasure, but their very lives; aye, they fervently believed it had power over their welfare in the world to come; of course they wondered, they adored, they served ! All they had they would give, and all they could do and suffer, they would do and suffer, to deprecate its displeasure, and to conciliate its favour.

This was true for ages with regard to the nations of Europe generally, exceptions would now and then arise, and they had been gradually accumulating before the appearance of Luther. Alexander VI., who succeeded, to the pontificate in 1492, endangered the papacy by the atrocities of his own life, and the monstrous crimes of his son Cæsar Borgia, a man of unbounded ambition and untiring cruelty, who most unscrupulously prosecuted his schemes of aggrandizement at all hazards, and at all costs. The power of this man was ultimately terminated by the energy of the succeeding pope, Julius II., but by means and instruments that only reflected still further disgrace on the office he held. Julius, if not an exemplary bishop. was an able statesman and general. “He seized,” says Ranke, “the most daring combinations, he risked all to obtain all, he took the field himself, and made his entry into Mirandola as a conqueror over the frozen ditches, and through the breach. The most decisive reverses could not move him to

« PoprzedniaDalej »