chapter  XIX
13 Pages

THE RENAISSANCE

When the Christian church became the religion of the Roman Empire she was not eager that her ministers should devote themselves to the Greek and Latin literature which was no small part of the imperial heritage. She apprehended two dangers from such contact, the one plain and evident, the other obscure. She hated the classical pantheon and mythology, and could not dissociate the beauties of Greek and Latin literature from the worship of idols and daemons. S.Augustine lamented that he found the fables of Dido and Aeneas more attractive in form than the Christian gospels. Gregory the Great wrote to Didier of Vienne, the most learned bishop in Gaul, that he was grieved to hear that Didier lectured on the pagan classics: such studies did not befit even a religious layman, much less a bishop. The church’s fear of classical paganism was to die, as paganism died: but her more obscure fear was to prove not ill-founded in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries-the fear of the Greek spirit. Christianity grew from a Hebrew stock, with a strong conception of morality: the Christian teaching about sin, redemption, a future life and an imminent judgment demanded restraint on the part of the individual, and some measure of asceticism. The “perfect” Christian life was in every century conceived of as demanding great renunciations. These conceptions clashed with the Greek watchword of moderation, of “nothing too much:” the Greek reverence for beauty: the Greek acceptance of the joys of the senses as good in themselves, coupled

often with sensual indulgence of a baser nature. Pagan and Christian philosophy made terms: pagan and Christian morals could not be made to square. Hence, when Europe began to pass out of the dark ages there was no general desire on the part of scholars to lift the veil that hung between them and the art and literature of ancient Greece.