CHAPTER XIV. THE LEGACY OF THE EARLY CHURCH TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.
What a grand theatre for the development of mind, for healthy instruction and commanding influence, was opened by the Christian pulpit. There was no sphere equal to it in moral dignity and force. It threw into the shade the theatre and the forum. And in times when printing was unknown, it was almost the only way by which the people could be taught. It vastly added to the power of the clergy, and gave them an influence that the old priests of paganism could never exercise. It created an entirely new power in the world, a moral power, indeed, but one to which history presents no equal. The philosophers taught in their schools, they taught a few admiring pupils; but the sphere of their teachings was limited, and also the number whom they could address. The pulpit became an institution. All the Christians were required to assemble regularly for public instruction as well as worship. On every seventh day the people laid aside their secular duties and devoted themselves to religious improvement. The pulpit gave power to the Sabbath; and what an institution is the Christian Sabbath. To the Sabbath and to public preaching Christendom owes more than to all other sources of moral elevation combined. It is true that the Jewish synagogue furnished a model to the church; but the Levitical race claimed no peculiar sanctity, and discharged no friendly office beyond the precincts of the temple. In the synagogue the people assembled to pray, or to hear the Scriptures read and expounded, not to receive religious instruction. The Jewish religion was as full of ceremonials as the pagan, and the intellectual part of it was confined to the lawyers, to the rabbinical hierarchy. But the preaching of the great doctrines of Christianity was made a peculiarly sacred office, and given to a class of men who avoided all secular pursuits. The Christian priest was the recognized head of the society which he taught and controlled. In process of time, he became a great dignitary, controlling various interests; but his first mission was to preach, and his first theme was a crucified Saviour. He ascended the pulpit every week as an authorized as well as a sacred teacher, and, in the illustration of his subjects, he was allowed great latitude in which to roam. It is not easy to appreciate what a difference there was between pagan and Christian communities from the rise of this new power, and we might also say institution, since the pulpit and the Sabbath are interlinked and associated together. Whatever the world has gained by the Sabbath, that gain is intensified and increased vastly by public teaching. It placed the Christian as far beyond the Jew, as the Jew was before beyond the pagan. It also created a sacerdotal caste. The people may have had the privilege of pouring out their hearts before the brethren, and of speaking for their edification, but all the members were not fitted for the secular office of teachers. Christianity claims the faculties of knowledge, as well as those of feeling. Teaching was early felt to be a great gift, implying not only superior knowledge, but superior wisdom and grace. Only a few possessed the precious charisma to address profitably the assembled people, [Greek: charisma didaskalias], and those few became the appointed guides of the Christian flocks, [Greek: didaskaloi]. Other officers of the new communities shared with them the administration, but the teacher was the highest officer, and he became gradually the presbyter, whose peculiar function it was to discourse to the people on the great themes which it was their duty to learn. And even after the presbyter became a bishop, it was his chief office to teach publicly, even as late as the fourth and fifth centuries. Leo and Gregory, the great bishops of Rome, were eloquent preachers.