« PrécédentContinuer »
altar) are symbols, and not the truth or reality.” So Hesychius,* speaking of the same mystery: “It is both bread and flesh too.” And so Procopius, † of Gaza: “He gave to his disciples the image of his own body.”
To these authors, thus incidentally conveying the opinions of the church, we must add the council of Agde, which issued a decree, specifying certain times at which it was necessary to communicate. “ The laity who do not communicate on the day of our Lord's nativity, Easter and Whitsuntide, cannot be called Catholics, nor can be reckoned among Catholics.” This was indeed a great deviation from the original custom of weekly communion, and it displays a great declension of religious feeling on the part of the people, that such an edict was necessary; but we must be thankful that even thus much was retained—we must be thankful that in spite of the forms and ceremonies and superstitious rites which Gregory introduced, still the sacrament of the Eucharist in any way continued its hold upon the church; and when we have examined the authors above quoted, and at the same time take into consideration the lamentable state of ignorance and superstition into which the world was plunged, that it was “the blind leading the blind," that the public ministers and teachers of religion were for the most part as ignorant as the people whom they were appointed to teach; that the worship of images and of saints, the fire of purgatory, the power of relics to heal the diseases of the body and of the mind,—that these and similar absurdities generally prevailed—the only wonder is that the Eucharist continued as it did; that no further inroads than that of calling it “the mass,” and adorning it with worldly ceremonies had been made on its apostolical simplicity.
* HESYCHIUS, bishop of Jerusalem, supposed to have died about the year A.D. 600.
+ PROCOPIUS, born at Gaza, a Sophist, A.D. 529.
But in names and in externals, the seeds are very often sown of internal error; and so in this case we shall not have long to wait, before the fruits of these superstitions will display themselves to the dishonour of God, and to the subversion, at least temporary subversion, of this holy sacrament.
FROM THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE SEVENTH TO THE CLOSE OF THE
1 Cor. xi. 26.
For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do
shew the Lord's death TILL HE COME.
THE SEVENTH CENTURY.
GREGORY the Great still governed Rome at the commencement of the seventh century, and his power and influence were still increasing: a rival, however, in a distant region, was now about to spring up; a rival whose extraordinary genius, and more extraordinary religion, was soon to expel Christianity from her birth-place, and to dispute her dominion not only in the east, but in every nation of the civilized world. To understand the origin of this new religion, we must remember that the church of Christ, during the progress of six centuries, had contracted many corruptions, and among the worst of those corruptions was the worship of images. How this practice gradually arose it is difficult to ascertain, but it seems to have received its origin, strange as it may appear, at the precise moment when paganism was subverted, and Christianity became the dominant religion of the state. The natural passions of mankind, the infirm reason of the uneducated, and the prejudices of custom, seemed to demand in the converted heathen, something more tangible, something more visible to the senses, than the spiritual and immaterial God of the Christians; and consequently, when idols were prohibited, and the worship of polytheism was discarded by law, mankind would still delight in the possession of some token or memorial of the religion which they were taught to believe. Hence their delight in relics, in the bones of martyrs, in the representation, either by painting or statue, of the apostles and primitive teachers of Christianity: and as God had himself descended upon earth in human form, and had been born of a human mother, nothing would delight the pious and devout Christian so much, as the possession of some memento of the Saviour and his Virgin Mother. The transition from love of the relic, to adoration, would be easy in an ignorant mind; and thus it might happen, that every saint would have his image, and every martyr his picture, before which, either as mediators or as gods, the catholic would bow the body, or address his prayers. While, then, this depraved and sensual notion of Christianity was daily making ground, Mahomet, or more properly Mohammed, began to preach in Arabia the unity of God, and himself God's prophet. First, by an insidious policy, and then by the force of arms, he compelled his countrymen to believe his divine mission. The idolatry of Arabia disgusted and displeased him, he turned to the Christians, and there beheld an equal idolatry, the worship of images, and the apparent return to polytheism, in the notion of a Trinity in the Godhead. He might have been at first an enthusiast, but at any rate he made his enthusiasm subservient to his policy; or he might have been a deep and subtle politician, while he disguised his policy in the dress of religious enthusiasm ; but be that as it may, the errors of the Christians in their image worship, and their absurd dissensions on the subject of the Trinity, first opened the road to his advances, and made intelligible his watchword, “There is one God, and Mahomet is his prophet.” And thus, while he taught the world to disbelieve one error, he made haste to propagate a greater ; and following it up with vigour, with subtilty, and with the force of arms, his religion, du