CHAPTER XIV. THE LEGACY OF THE EARLY CHURCH TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.
We might mention other ideas which have entered into our modern institutions, such as pertain to education, philanthropy, and missionary zeal. The idea of the church itself, of an esoteric band of Christians amid the temptations of the world, bound together by rules of discipline as well as communion of soul, is full of grandeur and beauty. And the unity of this church is a sublime conception, on which the whole spiritual power of the popes rested when they attempted to rule in peace and on the principles of eternal love. However perverted the idea of the unity of the church became in the Middle Ages, still who can deny that it was the mission of the church to create a spiritual power based on the hopes and fears of a future life? The idea of a theocracy forms a prominent part of the polity of Calvin, as of Hildebrand himself. It is the basis of his legislation. He maintained it was long concealed in the bosom of the primitive church, and was gradually unfolded, though in a corrupt form, by the popes, the worthiest of whom kept the idea of a divine government continually in view, and pursued it with a clear knowledge of its consequences. And those familiar with the lofty schemes of Leo and Gregory, will appreciate their efforts in raising up a power which should be supreme in barbarous ages, and preserve what was most to be valued of the old civilization. The autocrat of Geneva clung to the necessity of a spiritual religion, and aimed to realize that which the Middle Ages sought, and sought in vain, that the church must always remain the mother of spiritual principles, while the state should be the arm by which those principles should be enforced. Like Hildebrand, he would, if possible, have hurled the terrible weapon of excommunication. In cutting men off from the fold, he would also have cut them off from the higher privileges of society. He may have carried his views too far, but they were founded on the idea of a church against which the gates of hell could not prevail. Who can estimate the immeasurable influence of such an idea, which, however perverted, will ever be recognized as one of the great agencies of the world? A church without a spiritual power, is inconceivable; nor can it pass away, even before the material tendencies of a proud and rationalistic civilization. It will assert its dignity when thrones and principalities shall crumble in the dust.
Such are among the chief ideas which the fathers taught, and which have entered even into the modern institutions of society, and form the peculiar glory of our civilization. When we remember this, we feel that the church has performed no mean mission, even if it did not save the Roman empire. The glory of warriors, of statesmen, of artists, of philosophers, of legislators, and of men of science and literature in the ancient world, still shines, and no one would dim it, or hide it from the admiration of mankind. But the purer effulgence of the great lights of the church eclipses it all, and will shine brighter and brighter, until the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head. This is the true sun which shall dissipate the shadows of superstition and ignorance that cover so great a portion of the earth, and this shall bring society into a healthful glow of unity and love.
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In another volume I shall present, more in detail, the labors of the Christian Fathers in founding the new civilization which still reigns among the nations. And in the creation which succeeded destruction we shall be additionally impressed with the wisdom and beneficence of the Great First Cause, through whose providences our fallen race is led to the new Eden, where truth and justice and love reign in perpetual beauty and glory.