CHAPTER XIV. THE LEGACY OF THE EARLY CHURCH TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.
The elevation of woman, too, has been caused by the doctrine of the equality of the sexes which Christianity revealed; not "woman's rights" as interpreted by infidels; not the ignoring of woman's destiny of subservience to man, as declared in the Garden of Eden and by St. Paul, but her glorious nature which fits her for the companionship of man. Heathendom reduces her to slavery, dependence, and vanity. Christianity elevates her by developing her social and moral excellences, her more delicate nature, her elevation of soul, her sympathy with sorrow, her tender and gracious aid. The elevation of woman did not come from the natural traits of Germanic barbarians, but from Christianity. Chivalry owes its bewitching graces to the influence of Christian ideas. Clemency and magnanimity, gentleness and sympathy, did not spring from German forests, but the teachings of the clergy. Veneration for woman was the work of the church, not of pagan civilization or Teutonic simplicity. The equality of the sexes was acknowledged by Jerome when he devoted himself to the education of Roman matrons, and received from the hand of Paula the means of support while he, labored in his cell at Bethlehem. How much more influential was Fabiola or Marcella than Aspasia or Phryne! It was woman who converted barbaric kings, and reigned, not by personal charms, like Eastern beauties, but by the solid virtues of the heart. Woman never occupied so proud a position in an ancient palace as in a feudal castle. When Paula visited the East, she was welcomed by Christian bishops, and the proconsul of Palestine surrendered his own palace for her reception, not because she was high in rank, but because her virtues had gone forth to all the world; and when she died, a great number of the most noted people followed her body to the grave with sighs and sobs. The sufferings of the female martyrs are the most pathetic exhibitions of moral greatness in the history of the early church. And in the Middle Ages, whatever is most truly glorious or beautiful can be traced to the agency of woman. Is a town to be spared for a revolt, or a grievous tax remitted, it is a Godiva who intercedes and prevails. Is an imperious priest to be opposed, it is an Ethelgiva who alone dares to confront him even in the king's palace. It is Ethelburga, not Ina, who reigns among the Saxons - not because the king is weak, but his wife is wiser than he. A mere peasant-girl, inspired with the sentiment of patriotism, delivers a whole nation, dejected and disheartened, for such was Joan of Arc. Bertha, the slighted wife of Henry, crosses the Alps in the dead of winter, with her excommunicated lord, to remove the curse which deprived him of the allegiance of his subjects. Anne, Countess of Warwick, dresses herself like a cook-maid to elude the visits of a royal duke, and Ebba, abbess of Coldingham, cuts off her nose, to render herself unattractive to the soldiers who ravage her lands. Philippa, the wife of the great Edward, intercedes for the inhabitants of Calais, and the town is spared.
The feudal woman gained respect and veneration because she had the moral qualities which Christianity developed. If she entered with eagerness into the pleasures of the chase or the honor of the banquet, if she listened with enthusiasm to the minstrel's lay and the crusader's tale, her real glory was her purity of character and unsullied fame. In ancient Rome men were driven to the circus and the theatre for amusement and for solace, but among the Teutonic races, when converted to Christianity, rough warriors associated with woman without seductive pleasures to disarm her. It was not riches, nor elegance of manners, nor luxurious habits, nor exemption from stern and laborious duties which gave fascination to the Christian woman of the Middle Ages. It was her sympathy, her fidelity, her courage, her simplicity, her virtues, her noble self-respect, which made her a helpmeet and a guide. She was always found to intercede for the unfortunate, and willing to endure suffering. She bound up the wounds of prisoners, and never turned the hungry from her door. And then how lofty and beautiful her religious life. History points with pride to the religious transports and spiritual elevation of Catharine of Sienna, of Margaret of Anjou, of Gertrude of Saxony, of Theresa of Spain, of Elizabeth of Hungary, of Isabel of France, of Edith of England. How consecrated were the labors of woman amid feudal strife and violence. Whence could have arisen such a general worship of the Virgin Mary had not her beatific loveliness been reflected in the lives of the women whom Christianity had elevated? In the French language she was worshiped under the feudal title of Notre Dame, and chivalrous devotion to the female sex culminated in the reverence which belongs to the Queen of Heaven. And hence the qualities ascribed to her, of Virgo Fidelis, Mater Castissima, Consolatrix Afflictorum, were those to which all lofty women were exhorted to aspire. The elevation of woman kept pace with the extension of Christianity. Veneration for her did not arise until she showed the virtues of a Monica and a Nonna, but these virtues were the fruit of Christian ideas alone.