VI. THE HILDEBRANDINE CHURCH
Modern life has travelled so far beyond medieval Christianity that it is only with an effort we retrace our steps to the intellectual position of a St. Bernard, a St. Francis, or the Imitatio Christi . Apart from the difficulties of an unfamiliar terminology, we have become estranged from ideas which then were commonplaces; beliefs once held to be self-evident and cardinal now hover on the outer verge of speculative thought, as bare possibilities, as unproved and unprovable guesses at truth. Our own creeds, it may be, rest upon no sounder bottom of logical demonstration. But they have been framed to answer doubts, and to account for facts, which medieval theories ignored; and in framing them we have been constrained partly to revise, partly to destroy, the medieval conceptions of God and the Universe, of man and the moral law.
This is not the place for a critique of medieval religion. But, unless we bear in mind some essential features of the Catholic system of thought, we miss the key to that ecclesiastical statesmanship which dominates the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The programme of the great Popes, from Gregory VII to Boniface VIII, must appear a tissue of absurdities, of preposterous ambitions and indefensible actions, unless it is studied in relation to a theology as far remote from primitive Christianity as from the cults and philosophies of classical antiquity.
The first article in this theology is the existence of a personal God who, though all-pervading and all-powerful, does not reveal Himself immediately to the human beings whom He has created to be His worshippers, and does not so order the world that events shall always express His will and purpose. He has endowed man with a sinful nature, and has permitted His universe to be invaded by evil intelligences of superhuman power and malignancy, who tempt man to destruction and are bent upon subverting the Divine order of which they form a part. He is supremely benevolent, and yet He only manifests the full measure of this quality when His help is invoked by prayer; His goodwill often finds expression in miracles - that is, in the suspending or reversing of the general laws which He has Himself laid down for the regulation of the universe and human destinies. He is inscrutable and incomprehensible; yet to be deceived as to the nature of His being is the greatest of all sins against His majesty. The goal of the religious life is personal communion with Him, the intuitive apprehension and spontaneous acceptance of His will, the Beatific Vision of His excellencies. But this state of blessedness cannot be reached by mere self-discipline; the prayers, the meditations, the good works of the isolated and uninstructed individual, can only serve to condone a state of irremediable ignorance. The avenue to knowledge of Him lies through faith; and faith means the unquestioning acceptance of the twofold revelation of Himself which He has given in the Scriptures and in the tradition of the Church. The two revelations are in effect reduced to one by the statement that only the Church is competent to give an authoritative exposition of the sacred writings. Upon the Church hangs the welfare of the individual and the world. Without participation in her sacraments the individual would be eternally cut off from God; without her prayers the tide of evil forces would no longer be held in check by recurring acts of miraculous intervention, but would rise irresistibly and submerge the human race.
A society charged with these tremendous duties, the only organ of the Divine will and affording the only assurance of salvation, must obviously be superior to all mundane powers. It would be monstrous if her teaching were modified, if her powers of self-government were restricted, to suit the ambitions or the so-called common sense of a lay ruler. The Church stands to the State in the relation of the head to the members, of the soul to the body, of the sun to the moon. The State exists to provide the material foundations of the Christian society, to protect the Church, to extend her sphere and to constrain those who rebel against her law. In a sense the State is ordained by God, but only in the sense of being a necessary condition for the existence of a Christian Commonwealth. Logically the State should be the servant of the Church, acting with delegated powers under her direction.