CHAPTER XIV. THE LEGACY OF THE EARLY CHURCH TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.
Thus the church gradually claimed the great prerogative of eloquence. Eloquence was not born in the church, but it was sanctified, and set apart, and appropriated to a thousand new purposes, and especially identified with the public teaching of the people. The great mysteries, the profound doctrines, the suggestive truths, the touching histories, the practical duties of Christianity were seized and enforced by the public teacher; and eloquence appeared in the sermon. In pagan ages, eloquence was confined to the forum or the senate chamber, and was directed entirely into secular channels. It was always highly esteemed as the birthright of genius - an inspiration, like poetry, rather than an art to be acquired. But it was not always the handmaid of poetry and music; it was brought down to earth for practical purposes, and employed chiefly in defending criminals, or procuring the passage of laws, or stimulating the leaders of society to important acts. The gift of tongue was reserved for rhetoricians, lawyers, politicians, philosophers; not for priests, who were intercessors with the Divine. Now Christianity adopted all the arts of eloquence, and enriched them, and applied them to a variety of new subjects. She carried away in triumph the brightest ornament of the pagan schools, and placed it in the hands of her chosen ministers. The pulpit soon began to rival the forum in the displays of a heaven-born art, which was now consecrated to far loftier purposes than those to which it had been applied. As public instruction became more and more learned, it also became more and more eloquent, for the preacher had opportunity, subject, audience, motive, all of which are required for great perfection in public speaking. He assembled a living congregation at stated intervals; he had the range of all those lofty inquiries which entrance the soul; and he had souls to save - the greatest conceivable motive to a good man who realizes the truths of the Gospel. All human enterprises and schemes become ultimately insipid to a man who has no lofty view of benefiting mankind, or his family, or his friend. We were made to do good. Take away this stimulus, and energy itself languishes and droops. There is no object in life to a seeker of pleasure or gain, when once the passion is gratified. What object of pity so melancholy as a man worn out with egotistical excitements, and incapable of being amused. But he who labors for the good of others is never ennuied. The benevolent physician, the patriotic statesman, the conscientious lawyer, the enthusiastic teacher, the dreaming author, all work and toil in weary labors, with the hope of being useful to the bodies, or the intellects, or the minds of the people. This is the great condition of happiness. There is an excitement in gambling as in pleasure, in money-making as in money-spending; but it wears out, or exhausts the noble faculties, and ends in ennui or self-reproach and bitter disappointment. It is not the condition of our nature, which was made to be useful, to seek the good of others. They are the happiest and most esteemed who have this good constantly at heart. There can be no unhappiness to a man absorbed in doing good. He may be poor and persecuted like Socrates; he may walk barefooted, and have domestic griefs, and be deprived of his comforts - but he is serene, for the soul triumphs over the body. Now, what motive so grand as to save the immortal part of man. This desire filled the ancient Christian orator with a preternatural enthusiasm, as well as gave to him an unlimited power, and an imposing dignity. He was the most happy of mortals when led to the blazing fire of his persecutors, and he was the most august. The feeling that he was kindling a fire which should never be quenched, even that which was to burn up all the wicked idols of an idolatrous generation, unloosed his tongue and animated his features. The most striking examples of seraphic joy, of a sort of divine beauty playing upon the features, are among orators. In animated conversation, a person ordinarily homely, like Madame de Stael, becomes beautiful and impressive. But in the pulpit, when the sacred orator is moving a congregation with the fears and hopes of another world, there is a majesty in his beauty which is nowhere else so fully seen. There is no eloquence like that of the pulpit, when the preacher is gifted and in earnest. Greece had her Pericles and Demosthenes, and Rome her Hortensius and Cicero. Many other great orators we could mention. But when Greece and Rome had an intellectual existence such as that to which our modern times furnish no parallel, in our absorbing pursuit of pleasure and gain, and amid the wealth of mechanical inventions, there were, even in those classic lands, but few orators whose names have descended to our times; while, in the church, in a degenerated period, when literature and science were nearly extinct, there were a greater number of Christian orators than what classic antiquity furnished. Yea, in those dark and miserable ages which succeeded the fall of the Roman empire, there were in every land remarkable pulpit orators, like those who fanned the Crusades. There was no eloquence in the Middle Ages outside the church. Bernard exercised a far greater moral power than Cicero in the fullness of his fame. And in our modern times, what orators have arisen like those whom the Reformation produced, both in the Roman Catholic church, and among the numerous sects which protested against her? What orator has Germany given birth to equal in fame to Luther? What orator in France has reached the celebrity of Bossuet, or Bourdaloue, or Massillon? Even amid all the excitements attending the change of government, who have had power on the people like a Lacordaire or Monod?