Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

an appellation more truly honourable than was ever conferred upon a conqueror.

In societies of the profligate and wicked, there are always some whose miserable ambition it is to distinguish themselves by being pre-eminently bad. There were among these atrocious people a set of men calling themselves Berserkir, whose practice it was, before they went into battle, to madden themselves with rage, and then act like wild beasts in their fury. This state of mind they produced, not by intoxicating drugs, (like the Malays, when they are preparing to run a muck,) but by the effort of a strong will, directed to a desperate purpose, over the willing body. Odin is said to have been the first who practised it. The men who affected it were at one time held in honour; but either they were found dangerous to their companions, or the voluntary paroxysm induced such effects of real insanity, and permanent injury to the over-wrought frame, that it was at length prohibited.

It may well be supposed that the rites of such a people partook the character of their ferocious faith. Some of their ceremonies were obscene, others were bloody. They sacrificed human victims, whose bodies were suspended in the sacred groves. In that at Upsal seventy-two victims were counted at one time. When we consider the real nature of every Pagan idolatry, the loathsome obscenities and revolting cruelties which are found in all, and the direct tendency of all to corrupt and harden the heart, we shall not wonder that the early Christians ascribed to them a diabolical origin, and believed the Gods of the Heathen to be not mere creatures of perverted fancy, but actual Devils, who delighted in thus deluding mankind, and disinheriting them of that eternal happiness whereof they were created capable.

The Danes who settled in England became Christians by position and contact. Alfred, with that wisdom which appeared in all his actions, compelled those whom he subdued to receive baptism. They who established themselves afterwards by conquest in the island, found it politic to receive the religion of the country. The change was no doubt accelerated by propagandists from the Anglo-Saxon Church ; but if there had been great zeal or great success in their endeavours, some record of it would have been preserved. The missionaries of that church were

1

more usefully employed in medicating the bitter waters at their spring. They sowed the seed of Christianity throughout the Scandinavian kingdoms, and many of them watered it with their blood. Their holy efforts were assisted by political events. Charlemagne and Otho the Great provided for the introduction of their religion wherever they extended their conquests. They built abbeys, and established bishoprics, well knowing that by no other means could the improvement of the country, the civilization of the people, and the security of their states, be so materially promoted. By this policy, by the steady system of the Popes, the admirable zeal of the Benedictines, and by the blessing of God which crowned all, the whole of the Scandinavian nations were converted about the time of the Norman conquest; and thus an end was put to those religions which made war their principle, and, sanctifying the most atrocious and accursed actions, had the misery of mankind for their end. It was from a clear and certain knowledge of this tendency that, by the laws of! Wihtræd, a sacrifice to the idols was to be punished with confiscation of property, and the pillory; and by the laws of our great ? Alfred, with death.

'Leges Saxonum, &c., apud Canciani. t. iv. p. 233.

2 Ibid. t. iv. p. 245.

46

CHAPTER VI.

THE ANGLO-SAXON CHURCH-ST. DUNSTAN.

The church government established in this island by Augustine and his fellow-labourers was that episcopal form which had prevailed among the Britons, and which was derived from the Apostles in uninterrupted descent. The dioceses were originally of the same extent as the respective kingdoms of the Heptarchy ;' and in the frequent changes to which those states were subject, the title of King seems to have been assumed by any chief who had a cathedral? in his dominions. The clergy resided with the Bishop, and itinerated through the diocese, preaching at a cross 3 in the open air. There was no public provision for erecting churches and endowing them; these things might in those ages safely be left to individual munificence and piety. Cathedrals and monasteries were built, and lands settled upon them, by royal founders and benefactors : and their estates were augmented by private grants, often given as an atonement for crimes, but unquestionably far more often from the pure impulse of devotion. Beside these endowments, tithes, the institution of which was regarded not as merely political and temporary, but as of moral and perpetual obligation, were paid by those who became Christians, the converts taking upon themselves, with the other obligations of their new religion, this payment, which was universal throughout Christendom. The full predial tithe was intended; the smaller ones were at first voluntary oblations, and the whole was received into a common fund, for the fourfold purpose of supporting the clergy, repairing the Church, relieving the poor, and entertaining the pilgrim and the stranger. The distribution was left to the Bishop and his assistants. Such was the practice of the Anglo-Saxon, as it seems to have been of the British, Church.

3

1 Wharton's Defence of Pluralities, 76. ? Dugdale's Monasticon, t. i. p. 97.

Hodæporicon S. Willibaldi, apud Canisium, t. ii. p. 107. * Kennett's Case of Impropriation, 14.

Long before the kingdoms of the Heptarchy were united, a perfect union of their churches had been effected, and perfect uniformity established, under the primacy of Canterbury, by the exertions of its seventh Archbishop, Theodore, a native, like St. Paul, of Tarsus, in Cilicia. This extraordinary man, whose name ought to be held among us in grateful and respectful remembrance, was appointed to his high station by Pope Vitalian, when, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, he was residing as a lay-brother in a monastery at Rome. He was chosen because he was well acquainted with France, having twice been employed there, and given proof of his singular abilities; and his advanced age was not considered to be an objection, because his undecayed vigour, and the youthfulness of his spirit, seemed to promise many years of activity and usefulness; an expectation which was well fulfilled, for Theodore lived to be fourscore and eight. He brought with him what was then a large and truly an invaluable library of Greek and Latin books; the works of Homer were among them. He founded a school at Canterbury, the students of which are said by Bede to have been in his time as well versed in Latin and Greek as in their mother tongue; arithmetic, astronomy, and the art of Latin versification were taught there. The fine chanting, which before had been peculiar to Canterbury,' was by him introduced into all our churches. He restricted the bishops and secular clergy to their own dioceses, the monks to their own monasteries; thus establishing due subordination and order, and forbidding that practice of roving which led to the neglect of discipline and the relaxation of morals. He prohibited divorce for any other cause than the one which is allowed by the Gospel ; and he procured the first legislative provision for the clergy in these kingdoms, in the form of a kirk-scot, or tax of one Saxon penny upon every house which was worth thirty pence of yearly rent. The payment of tithes had at first been voluntary, though it was considered as a religious obligation. King Ethelwolph, the father of Alfred, subjected the whole kingdom to it by a legislative act. No institution was ever more admirably adapted to its end. It relieved the clergy from the distraction of temporal concerns. It exempted the tenth

Capgrave, Acta Ss. Jan. t. i. 597.

1

part of all property from the ordinary course of descent, set it apart, and sanctified it for the support of a body of men, who were not a distinct tribe, like the Levites, but were chosen from all ranks of the community for their moral and intellectual qualifications.

The cathedral was at first the only, and long continued to be the Mother Church, so called because there it was that believers received their second birth in baptism, the right of baptism and burial appertaining to the Cathedral, alone. The first subordinate houses of worship were Chapels, or Oratories, as humble as the means of the founder, erected by the itinerant clergy, in situations where the numbers and piety of the people, and their distance from the Cathedral, made it desirable that they should be provided with a place for assembling, in a climate where fieldworship could not be performed during the greater part of the year. Parochial churches were subsequently founded by those who desired the benefit of a resident Priest for their vassals and themselves; and thus the limits? of the estate became those of the parish. These churches were at first regarded as chapels of ease to the Cathedral, and the officiating minister, as being the Bishop's Curate, was appointed by him, and removable at his pleasure : this dependence was gradually loosened, till at length the Priest was held to possess a legal right in his benefice ; and Theodore, to encourage the building of churches, vested the patronage of them in the founder and his heirs. The tithes of the parish were then naturally appropriated to its own church. A certain portion of glebe was added, enough to supply the incumbent with those necessaries of life which were not to be purchased in those times, and could not conveniently be received from his parishioners in kind, but not enough to engage him in the business of agriculture ; his pursuits, it was justly deemed, ought to be of a higher nature, and his time more worthily employed for himself and others. Without the allotment of a house and glebe, no church could be legally consecrated. The endowment of a full tenth was liberal, but not too large; the greater part of the country was then in forest and waste land, and the quantity of produce nowhere more than was consumed in the immediate

i Staveley's Hist, of Churches, 63. Wharton's Defence of Pluralities, 55.

2 Kennett's Case of Impropriations, p. 6.

« AnteriorContinuar »