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The former continued to acknowledge the dominion of the bishop of Constantinople: but, from various causes, his dominion rather decreased; while that of Rome soon gained amazing strength and power. The bishops of Rome were, many of them, men of talents and vast ambition. Leo 1st, called the Great, who flourished in the fifth century, was a man of uncommon genius and eloquence, indefatigable in his efforts for spiritual dominion. Gregory the Great, also, in the next age, distinguished himself in a violent contest with the bishop of Constantinople, and in extending the bounds of the See of Rome.
At length, in the commencement of the seventh century, the emperor Phocas conferred upon Boniface III. bishop of Rome, the title of æcumenical or universal bishop. This title had been usurped by the bishop of Constantinople; but it was now in this public manner taken from him and conferred upon the bishop of Rome; and this too, by one of the most odious tyrants that ever lived. What they had thus otained, the Roman pontiffs used every effort to hold; and they did hold it—a power which no other earthly potentate ever possessed. It is from this grant of Phocas that many date the establishment of the Papal power, though the most decisive marks of Antichrist, idolatry and false doctrine, did not appear until a later age. But the period of her establishment was not the period of her full growth. · On the contrary, she was as many centuries gaining her astonishing dominion, as she had been rising to the point at which we can now view her. An account of some of the great causes which contributed to her enlargement, and of the various steps by which she marched on to the summit of power, will give a general view of the ecclesiastical world from the seventh to the fourteenth century.
The period before us was one of extreme ignorance, superstition and corruption.
The world was sunk in Egyptian darkness. The cultivation of the human intellect was abandoned. The incursions of the barbarous nations from the north, had driven every thing like literature into the cells of the monasteries. Books were unknown among the common people; and had they been known, they would have been useless, for few were acquainted with the art of reading. The great mass of the clergy were incapable of reading the Apostle's creed. Even the bishops in general were unable to compose any thing like a sermon, and delivered to the people insipid
homilies, which they had taken from the writings of Augustin and Gregory. Such an age was exceedingly favorable to artful and daring men, who continually made pretensions to authority which few had the ability to question.
It was also an age of deep superstition. Men had scarce any rational views of religion. They had almost wholly lost sight of the character of God, and the state of the heart, of the gospel of Christ, and of the duty which God requires of man. The doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ, was almost as unknown as at Athens, in the days of Paul. The minds of men were wholly turned to an attend. ance on a multitude of rites and ceremonies as the sure way of gaining heaven. These, issuing from the papal throne, gave the popes an immense control over the heart and conscience. The multitude easily learned to look up to them as standing in the place of God, and to be honored as God. And it was a circumstance extremely favorable to the ambitious designs of the popes, that those vast barbarous nations, which had overspread the fair fields of Europe, had been accustomed to regard their priests with an awful superstition; and to attribute to their arch-druid little less than god-like power. Easily were such men made to transfer all this reverence to those who officiate at Christian altars, and to give to the Roman pontiff the authority and power of the arch-druid.
Above all, it was an age of awful corruption. In the East, the Holy Spirit had, to human appearance, ceased to operate. In the West, there was indeed to be found some piety. God, in every age, it is believed, has had a people to serve him. The gates of hell have never been suffered entirely to prevail against the Church of Christ. What piety there was, however, was chiefly in nations remote from Rome, and newly converted; though here and there was one to be found in the seat of the beast who had not his mark in their forehead, and who made vigorous opposition to him, and excited much trouble. The spirit of prophecy had declared, that through the long night of popery, there should be two witnesses who should prophesy in sackcloth. But, in general, the civilized world, from the seventh to the fourteenth century, was sunk in the lowest depths of moral corruption. No law of God, requiring holiness and forbidding sin, was placed before men. Morality did not enter into the religion of the age. He who would practice some rite, or possess some relic, or pay a sum of money, was assured
of heaven, though he were a thief and a murderer. Mankind, therefore, were left to go fearless into eternity, amid the grossest vices; while no cultivation of mind or manners existed to keep them above the sensualities of brutes.
The priests and bishops were a most worthless, stupid and corrupt race. They often passed their lives in the splendor of courts, or at the head of soldiers, and aspired to the honors and authority of Dukes, Marquises, and Counts. Even the Roman pontiffs, with a few exceptions, were monsters of iniquity; who sought the chair as a place of dominion, and who were perpetually guilty of the most flagitious wickedness. In such an age of corruption, what could be expected, but that every law, human and divine, would be trampled upon, and the minds of men become enslaved, by the most tremendous tyranny. Not more certain is it that the river runs into the ocean, than that licentiousness generates tyranny, while holiness results in civil and religious
The Bible had, through a cunning device of Satan, been supplanted. The Popes, who were continually seeking control of the spiritual world, gave the preference to human compositions above the scriptures. The opinion of some renowned doctor, handed down by tradition, the decision of some council of former days, was regarded more than the word of God. Hence, the Bible grew into disuse. It was really a dead letter, while the opinions of doctors, and results of councils were submitted to, as the voice of God; a circumstance which was employed to the establishment of the most terrible dominion, for the popes were always able to forge such opinions and decrees, and impose them upon the people, as would subserve their purpose. Among such forged papers, were the famous decretal epistles; which were said to have been written by the early Roman pontiffs, and which were now brought forward with great triumph. By these, the people were made to believe, that the extravagant pretensions of the pope were no new things; but had been common, and had been submitted to in the first ages of Christianity.
The efforts made to convert the Heathen, were also subservient to the enlargement of the dominion of the Roman pontiffs. These efforts commonly originated with them, and the converts from Paganism, early learned to look to them as the source of power and goodness. Some of those who went to preach among the Heathen, were, indeed, ex
cellent men; of an entirely different character from the popes who sent them. Among these, may be mentioned, Willebrod, an Anglo-Saxon, who, with eleven associates, "an excellent group,” spread the Gospel in the seventh century through Bavaria, Friesland, Cimbria, and Denmark;Boniface, who, in the next century, “an age of missionaries,” erected the standard of truth in Germany;-Villehad, called the Apostle of Saxony;-Anscarius, who, in the ninth century, travelled among the Danes, Cimbrians, and Swedes, planting the Gospel with much success;—and Bernard, who, in the tenth, went to the Orkney islands. Some Greek missionaries, also, who, in the same century, carried the Gospel from Greece into Russia, and prevailed on the Emperor and Empress to receive Christianity, and proclaim their country Christian-a daughter of the Greek Churchwere of an excellent character. But many, who went out under the patronage of the Roman Pontiffs had no other motive but to extend the power of the Roman See; and, to effect their purpose, they not unfrequently resorted to force. Christian princes also, in league with Rome, compelled conquered tribes to acknowledge the dominion of the Pope.The Pomeranians, Finlanders, Sclavonians, and Livonians, received baptism at the point of the spear.
But that which contributed more than any thing else to increase and strengthen the papal power, was the reigning spirit of Monachism. The Christian world was deluged with Monks. Like the frogs of Egypt, they came up over all the land and entered into every dwelling. All these attached themselves to the Roman See. The Popes of Rome were careful to patronize them, that they might make them tools of their ambition. Every project of the Popes, whether right or wrong, was applauded by them, and whoever called the decisions of Rome in question, was denounced by them as enemies to God. Such a power there was no resisting.
These and other causes operated with a continually increasing force, through several successive centuries, to the enlargement of the dominion of the Man of Sin. • Early in the eighth century, the Roman church became idolatrous.
God, an infinitely pure Spirit, has justly required man to worship him in spirit and in truth, and has solemnly forbidden him to make any image or likeness of Him, or to worship and bow down before any picture or statue representing
Him or any other object. But as we have seen in the history of idotatry, men soon changed the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man; worshipped the host of heaven, and unenlightened by divine truth, have been, in this way, the deluded votaries of Satan to the present period. The Gospel waged an exterminating war against idolatry in every form; and we have seen it gaining the most astonishing victories throughout the vast Roman empire. It was the mightiest conquest that was ever achieved; and ought to be seriously contemplated by the Christian community, until they are roused by the view to go forth in their strength, and subdue the world to Christ. But the spirit of the Gospel had now nearly departed from the earth. Amid the gross ignorance and superstition of the age, men were fast loosing sight of the great object of spiritual worship. The world was preparing for a false fire of devotion. Satan knew his time. He cast in his seed. Men were not to be made to renounce Christianity and go back to the old idolatry. But the arts of sculpture and painting were to be introduced to aid in the worship of Christ, the Apostles and canonized saints; but really to drive the eternal Spirit and divine Savior from the minds and hearts of men.
From small beginnings proceed the mightiest results.In Constantinople was an image of Christ on the cross. The Emperor Leo, seeing that it was an object of idolatry, sent an officer, in the year 730, to pull it down. Some women there remonstrated against it, as horrid sacrilege. The officer, disregarding their pleas, mounted a ladder and cut the face to pieces by three blows of a hatchet; when the women threw down his ladder and murdered the officer. Leo put the murderers to death; but to this day they are honored as martyrs in the Greek Church.
In Rome, a passion for idolatry had already commenced; and no sooner was this act of Leo's known there, than the whole city was thrown into confusion. The Emperor's statues were thrown down and trodden under foot. Gregory II. was then in the Papal chair, who, for the zeal he showed in establishing image worship, and for exalting himself in the place of God, has, by many, been called the first Pope of Rome. He excommunicated Leo, and made an effort to have a new Emperor elected. The Italian provinces, which were subject to the Grecian empire, revolted, and massacred or banished the imperial officers. A civil war ensued. The