chapter  I
7 Pages


The apathy of the Church, however, is very simply explained. Something had happened to it which had happened, though in a greater degree, to the whole of society after the invasions: it had become barbarized. The Latin literature of Christendom, which was still so vigorous in the 4th century, the century of Saint Augustine, had nothing to show in the 5th century but epigoni of the type of Salvian. After this the life of the mind became dormant; the vein opened by the Fathers of the Church was exhausted. A few clerks continued to write biographical or historical narratives, but the world had to wait for Gregory the Great before the study of theology and religious and moral philosophy was revived, though in quite a new spirit. More striking still was the inertia of the Church in the face of the pagan or grossly heretical Barbarians who had lately made their way into the Empire, and were living within reach of it. When they did become converted they merely followed the example of their kings, who, for reasons of political interest, or in imitation of Roman manners, had adopted Christianity: as the Franks were converted after the baptism of Clovis. As for the Germans, who in the north of Gaul and beyond the Rhine had preserved their old national cult, the Church made no attempt to bring them into the fold. The apostles to the Salic Franks, St. Amand and St. Remaculus, were inspired by personal enthusiasm. The kings supported their efforts, but we do not find that they received any backing from the ecclesiastical authorities. The latter, indeed, were so far from taking any interest in the apostolate that they left the work which was incumbent upon themselves to foreigners. Introduced into Ireland in the 4th century, Christianity had rapidly spread through the country. In this remote isle, which had no communication with the Continent, it created for itself an original organization, in which the great monastic colonies were the centres of a most ardent religious life. In these centres there were large numbers of ascetics and proselytes, who, from the 6th century onwards, began to leave their native country, some to seek, in distant lands, inaccessible solitudes, and others, souls to be converted. When the Norsemen discovered Iceland in the 9th century they were astonished to find that the only inhabitants of its misty shores were monks who had come from Ireland. They

were Irishmen, too, who devoted themselves with such enthusiasm to the conversion of Northern Gaul and Germany. The hagiography of the Merovingian period is teeming with saints to whom are attributed the foundations of a host of monasteries in Northern France and Belgium. St. Columban and St. Gall are the most celebrated representatives of this tribe of missionaries, whose intellectual culture, disinterestedness and enthusiasm found a sad contrast in the boorishness of the Merovingian clergy. They could not, however, rouse the clerics from their apathy. The bishops, nominated by the clergy of the diocese, but really appointed by the kings, rarely owed their sees to anything but the favour of the sovereign. One must have read the portraits which Gregory of Tours has traced of some of his colleagues to form any idea of the state of their knowledge and their morals. Many of them could hardly read, and indulged without concealment in drunkenness and debauchery. The honest Gregory is indignant with such behaviour, yet it is evident, from what he says, that his indignation was but faintly echoed. And what an example he furnishes in his own person-greatly superior though he certainly was to the majority of his colleagues-of the decadence of the Church! The Latin which he writes-as he is well aware-is a barbarous idiom, taking strange liberties with grammar, syntax and the vocabulary; and his moralitybut this, unhappily, he does not realize-is capable of very irregular indulgences and very surprising judgements. And after his time things were even worse. At the close of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th not only the language but the very thought was like that of a paralytic. The so-called Chronicle of Fredegarius, and certain Lives of Saints of this period, are incomparable examples of the inability to express the simplest notions.