EXTENSION OF CHRISTIAN TERRITORY BY MISSIONARIES.
IN the latter part of the sixth century, a great missionary era was inaugurated. Men taking their lives in their hands began to penetrate the encompassing circle of heathenism. One field after another was gained; but it was several centuries before Europe as a whole had passed under the dominion of Christianity. The way of victory was at the same time a way of hardship and martyrdom.
A conspicuous part in this aggressive movement was taken by the Roman bishop and the monks, the one serving as the patron and the others as the agents of the work. A genuine Christian zeal cannot be denied to either party. At the same time, it must have been perfectly evident to the Roman bishop that his patronage of missions mould be a very effectual means of extending his power.
Among the monks the most noted evangelists came from the cloisters of Great Britain and Ireland. The latter country won early the praise of exemplary zeal, both for the cause of learning and of missions. As the night of ignorance was deepening in other quarters, the light of a liberal scholarship shone in the Irish cloisters. "At a time when Pope Gregory the Great was obliged to acknowledge that he was ignorant of Greek, there were ministers in Ireland quite competent to read the New Testament in the original language. In the larger monasteries, the disciples were instructed in mathematics and astronomy, as well as in the ancient classics." 1 W. D. Killen, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland. A striking memorial of the eminent place which Ireland then occupied in the religious world is given in the name, insula sanctorum, with which the land was honored. All this, however, is not to be taken as evidence of any ideal state of society. Alongside of marked exhibitions of learning and piety, there was much of turbulence. Bloody feuds were of frequent occurrence.
The first of the pioneers from this field whose labors me recorded was Columba, or Columbkille. He was of royal birth, commanding presence, and effective address. Possessing the generous impulses native to his countrymen, he possessed also, as it would seem, their hot temper. By some it is supposed that he precipitated a war, and at the instance of the defeated sovereign was excommunicated by an assembly of clergy. The fact of excommunication is quite certain, since it is mentioned by so admiring a biographer as Adamnan. 2 Life of St. Columba, edited by William Reeves. In 568 Columba set out for Scotland. As yet Christianity had gained but a part of this country. Ninian, son of a British prince, had made converts, in the early part of the fifth century, among the southern Picts, who dwelt between the Frith of Forth and the Grampians. There was also a settlement of Soots, who had received Christian teaching, on the west coast. But the northern Picts were still heathen. With the approval of Conall, the King of the Scots, a small island lying off the coast was given to Columba, and made the seat of a cloister destined to stand for centuries as a missionary fortress and training school. This rocky island scarce exceeded three miles in length by one and a half in breadth. In the language of the country it was called Hy. The name Iona, by which it is commonly known, is regarded by Reeves as a corruption of Ioua used as an adjective before insula. By the labors of Columba the Pits were converted, and their king seems to have confirmed the grant which was made by Conall. Though but an abbot in rank, the founder of Iona was really the ecclesiastical sovereign of the adjacent territory. His successors also stood, in point of jurisdiction, above the bishops of the country, --a peculiar feature in church polity, which will again command our attention. As is apparent from this item, the community of Iona, like the early Celtic churches generally, had little notion of any supremacy in the Roman bishop. They did not regard themselves as bound to follow the Roman model.
Columba died while on his knees at the altar, in the year 597. Authentic history records little concerning him; still, we shall not be at fault in concluding from the work that he accomplished, and the impression that he made, that he was a man of unusual force of character. Like Patrick, and Martin of Tours, he was a strong personality, and as such received the inevitable tribute of medieval admiration, a great throng of legends having the one object of glorifying their hero. The life written by Adamnan, the ninth abbot of Iona, a century after the death of Columba, makes him the agent in a constant succession of miracles. Even down to the present century, the virtue of the name of Columba has continued to be celebrated in the Highlands of Scotland. The Roman Catholic Highlander about to set out upon ajourney utters the invocation, "May the servant of Columba of the cell protect, and bring me safe home." A small pebble from Iona, called the stone of Icolmkill, is worn as an amulet. At least, such customs were in vogue in the early part of the century. 1 John Jamieson, An Historical Account of the Ancient Culdees of Iona.
In the ninth century the primacy passed from Iona to Dunkeld. In the next century St. Andrews became the ecclesiastical metropolis of Scotland. For an interval before, as well as after, this transfer, we meet with an order bearing the name of Culdees. They seem to have been quite a conspicuous factor in the Scottish Church till the reign of Malcolm Canmore in the eleventh century, when the marriage of this king with the English princess Margaret prepared the way for the predominance of the English régime. Their name probably signifies "servants of God," the Scottish term Keledei being the equivalent of the Continental Deicolœ. Various theories have been entertained as to their origin and characteristics. "It may reasonably be inferred, that the Culdees were generally the successors of the family of Iona and other monastic communities, under a new name, and with a relaxed discipline." 2 George Grub, Ecclesiastical History of Scotland. In certain points they contradicted the very notion of monasticism. As is remarked by a learned authority, "The particular Keledean laxity appears to have been, that, precisely like their Irish and Welsh congeners, they gradually lapsed into something like impropriators, married, and transmitting their church endowments as if they had been their own to their children, but retaining, at any rate in most cases, their clerical office; although the abbots, as,e. g., at Dunkeld and Abernethy, became in some cases mere lay lords of the church lands thus misappropriated, leaving a prior to be the spiritual superior." 1 Haddan and Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vol. ii, pt, i. pp. 175-182. Compare W. F. Skene, Celtic Scotland. In some quarters the Culdees have been credited with quite a close approximation to primitive Christianity; but it may be doubted whether in the sum total of their beliefs and practices they were much superior to the average Romanism of their time.
While thus the surrounding populations were being instructed in Christianity, the Anglo-Saxons were still in the bonds of their heathenism. The intense national hatred which the Britons cherished toward them stood in the way of missionary effort from that quarter. Indeed, some of the Britons may have thought of getting even with their conquerors, as has been charged against them, by leaving them to the hopeless doom of the unbaptized and the unbelieving. But in another quarter the agency for bringing them the gospel message was being prepared. While yet an abbot, the Roman Gregory was led to cherish a strong interest in the Angle-Saxons. The occasion which first directed his attention to them is thus described by Beda: "It is reported that some merchants, having just arrived at Rome, on a certain day exposed many things for sale in the market-place, and abundance of people resorted thither to buy. Gregory himself went with the rest; and, among other things, some boys were set to sale, their bodies white, their countenances beautiful, and their hair very fine. Having viewed them, he asked, as is said, from what country or nation they were brought; and was told, from the island of Britain, whose inhabitants were of such personal appearance. He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism; and was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart,'Alas! what pity,' said he, 'that the author of darkness is possessed of men of such fair countenances; and that, being remarkable for such graceful aspects, their minds should be void of inward grace.' He therefore again asked what was the name of that nation, and was answered that they were called Angles. 'Right,' said he; 'for they have an angelic face, and it becomes such to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.' " 1 Book i. chap. 1.
Once seated upon the papal throne, Gregory improved his opportunity to give the Christian religion to the people who had so effectually enlisted his sympathies. In 596 he sent out the Roman Abbot Augustine, with several companions. Finding that their hearts began to sink within them over the unknown perils of the journey, and of the strange land for which they had started, he revived their courage by his paternal exhortations, and sided them so far as possible by letters of commendation to the princes and nobles of Gaul.
A welcome had been prepared for the missionary party by the marriage of Ethelbert, king of Kent, to the Frankish princess Bertha, who came to the English court as a Christian, and was allowed to take with her, as a religious guardian, the Bishop Luidhard. The king received Augustine and his companions with suitable kindness, though taking the precaution to have the first meeting in the open air, where he would be less exposed to any instrument of magic which the strangers might have brought with them. In response to their representations he said, "Your words and promises are very fair; but as they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I cannot approve of them so far as to forsake that which I have so long followed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true, and most beneficial, we will not molest you, but give you favorable entertainment, and take care to supply you with your necessary sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach, and gain as many as you can to your religion." 1 Beda, i 25. Erelong the king added to his courteous reception of the ambassadors of the new faith his personal adhesion to that faith. Great numbers followed his example, insomuch that Augustine is said to have baptized ten thousand on a single occasion. The work of organization kept pace with that of conversion. According to the plan of Gregory, two metropolitan sees were to be constituted, one having its seat at London, and the other at York. But neither the Pope nor the missionary saw this scheme fulfilled. Canterbury took the place of London, and York failed as yet to obtain the metropolitan dignity. Before the death of Augustine, in 605, Christianity had secured a good footing in Kent. There was indeed a reaction to heathenism under the next king, and evidence was given that the number of baptisms was no accurate measure of the genuine conversions. But the lapse was only temporary. The current had set in the direction of the Christian faith.
In Northumberland, as in Kent, a Christian princess served as a forerunner of missionary work. This was Ethelberga, daughter of Ethelbert. On her marriage with King Edwin, she was guaranteed the free use of her religion, and was allowed to retain the Bishop Paulinus. For a time Edwin was proof against all persuasions; but at length he so far yielded as to call a council of his chief men to consider the question of accepting Christianity. The deliberations of the council showed that there mere minds which had become dissatisfied with the old religion. Even Coifi, the chief of the heathen priests, testified against his former faith, alleging that the gods had made manifest their impotence in their failure to aid their most zealous votaries, and advising to try the benefits of the new religion. "Another of the king's chief men, approving of his words and exhortations, presently added, 'The prevent life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with commanders and ministers, enjoying the warmth of the fire in the hearth, whilst the storms of rain or snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst be is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space; but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.' The other elders and king's counselors, by Divine inspiration, spoke to the same effect." I Beda, ii. 13. Coming to minds thus prepared, the message of Paulinus could not longer fail of acceptance. "King Edwin," as Beda adds, "with all the nobility of the nation, and a large number of the common sort, received the faith and the washing of regeneration, in the eleventh year of his reign, which is the year of the incarnation of our Lord 627." Triumph, however, was soon mixed with defeat. Penda, the heathen king of Mercia, and the Briton Ceadwalla, combining against Edwin, compassed his downfall. For an interval Northumberland fell a prey to anarchy and pillage. The Roman clergy were driven out, and heathenism began to revive. But the valor and wisdom of the good prince Oswald came to the rescue. Anxious to restore the ascendency of Christianity, Oswald appealed to Iona for missionary laborers. Corman, the first who was sent, was lacking in the art of gentle and persuasive address. The Northumbrians answered his austerity with so much indifference, that he concluded that nothing could reclaim them from their obduracy, and left the field in disgust. As he made his report to the fraternity, a voice was heard remarking, "It seems to me, brother, that you have been too severe with your unlearned hearers, in that you did not, conformably to the apostolic discipline, give them the milk of more gentle doctrine, till, having been gradually nourished by the word of God, they should be able to receive more advanced teachings, and to practise God's sublime precepts." 1 Beda, iii. 5. All eyes were turned upon the speaker. With unanimous consent he was fixed upon as the proper agent to gain access to the closed hearts of the Anglo-Saxons. The result justified the wisdom of their choice; for Aidan, as Bishop of Lindisfarne, proved himself a man who was wise to win souls and a faithful shepherd of the sheep. Beda, while he could not forget that Aidan was out of accord with Rome on the time of celebrating Easter, could not at the same time restrain his admiration for the saintly life and character of the man, "his love of peace and charity; his continence and humility; his mind superior to anger and avarice, and despising pride and vain glory; his industry in keeping and teaching the heavenly commandments his diligence in reading and watching; his authority becoming a priest in reproving the haughty and powerful, and at the same time his tenderness in comforting the afflicted and relieving the poor." 2 Book iii, chap. 17. Among the successors of Aidan, Cuthbert, a native of Northumberland, won an enthusiastic esteem. Beda recounts how an angelic brightness was wont to come into his face as he was enforcing the truth of the gospel, and how he delighted in particular to teach the ignorant and barbarous people in remote and inaccessible places seated high up amid craggy and uncouth mountains. 1 Book iv. Chap. 27, 28. Compare his Vita S. Guthberti, cap. ix xvi
From Kent and Northumberland, Christianity spread into the adjacent regions. Before the close of the seventh century it had become well established in all the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons. The people of Sussex, owing perhaps to the face that their land was cut off from communication with other sections by downs and marshes, were the last to become evangelized. A principal instrument in their conversion was Wilfrid, the most accomplished of the native English clergy in his time, but who from some cause earned much iii-will from those in power, and led a life in which preferment and persecution were strangely mixed.
The missionaries from Rome brought with them, very naturally, a preference for Roman customs On the other hand, the Scots and Britons-- who in their loose connection with Rome had developed some divergent customs, especially on the time of celebrating Easter, the form of the tonsure, and certain points in the baptismal ceremonial -- cherished quite a stubborn preference for their peculiarities. The differences in themselves were of no vital moment: still, they had quite a decided practical bearing, inasmuch as they involved the question of obligation to conform to the Roman model. As early as the time of Augustine, the Easter question became an occasion of dispute and heart-burnings. The drift was naturally in favor of the Roman custom, since Rome had taken the initiative in planting the mission. In the synod of Whitby in 664, the claims of Rome were effectually championed by Wilfrid. The decision, in fact, was so far adverse to the Scotch practice, that its chief advocate in the synod, Colman, Bishop of Lindisfarne, felt obliged to lay down his office, as he was not willing to surrender the ancestral custom. The vantage-ground thus obtained was well improved by Theodore, who was sent out from Rome as arch-bishop of Canterbury in 668. Administering his office in the Roman interest, he secured the ascendency of the papal régime in the English Church. By 716 the monks of Ions surrendered so far as the special customs in question were concerned. The churches in Ireland had generally yielded at an earlier date. Theodore, who was of Greek antecedents, was an influential patron of learning. From him came the initial impulse to the culture which in the next century could boast such distinguished representatives as Beda and Alcuin.
The christianizing of Great Britain and Ireland gave to their peoples a catholic outlook. Their thoughts began to transcend their insular position. In return for the tide of heathen barbarism which had swept across the Channel to their shores, they now began to feel it their behoof to send back a tide of gospel light and life to the still unconverted tribes on the Continent.
The first of the missionaries to cross over to the Continental side of the Channel was Columbanus, an Irish monk, who had been educated in the cloister of Banger. About the year 590 he started forth with twelve young men as his companions. His first settlement was in territory nominally Christian, but still sorely in need of example and instruction in pious living. On the borders of Austrasis and Burgundy, in the woody mountains of the Vosges, he gathered the numerous disciples who came to place themselves under his monastic rule. The fame of his sanctity endeared him to the people; but at the same time the austere piety which: he inculcated, his persistent attachment to Irish as opposed to Roman customs, and his fearless rebuke of sill in high places, made him obnoxious to many of the clergy and to the royal family. At length matters were brought to a crisis by his uncompromising opposition to the iniquities of the Burgundian king, Thierry. "The intrepid abbot, like another John the Baptist, denounced the vices of the monarch, and sternly condemned the shameless manner in which he lived in the midst of his mistresses. He refused to bless the king's children, the fruits of his amours; declined to partake of the viands of a royal banquet set before him; and threatened Thierry with excommunication. The prince, under other circumstances, would at once have consigned the man who acted thus to the hands of the executioner; but he was awed by the sanctity of Columbanus, and, irritated as he was, he exclaimed that he was not mad enough to give him the crown of martyrdom. He merely commanded him to be dragged from his convent, and sent back to Ireland. The officers intrusted with the execution of these orders approached the abbot on their knees; and so greatly did the mass of the people venerate him for his piety, that he was conducted in a species of triumph to the borders of Thierry's dominions." 1 Killen, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland.
Columbanus was brought to the coast; but the attempt to ship him to Ireland miscarried, and he was allowed to go the way of his choice. We find him next laboring among the heathen population in the region of Zurich, and a little later at Bregenz. Anticipating an outbreak of violence in the latter place, he crossed over into the Lombard territory in Italy, and founded the celebrated monastery of Bobbie, near Pavia.
Among the writings of Columbanus, his letters to the Roman Bishop are not the least interesting. Notwithstanding the superabundance of complimentary phrases which they contain, their undertone bespeaks a man who would exercise his own discretion in taking commands from Rome.
1 The freedom with which he addressed Boniface IV. may be seen from the following extracts:--
"Vigila itaque, quæso, papa, vigila; et iternm dico: vigila; quia forte non bene vigilavit Vigilius, quem caput acandali isti clamant, qui vobis culpam injiciunt."
"Dolendum enim ac deflendum est, si in sede apostolica fides catholica non tenetur."
"Roma orbis terrarum caput est ecclesiarum, salva loci dominicæ, resurrectionis singulari prærogativa, et ideo sicut magnus honor vester est pro dignitate cathedræ, its magna cura vobis necessaria est, ut non perdatis vestram dignitatem propter aliquam perversitatem. Tandiu enim potestas apud vos erit, quandiu recta ratio permanserit: ille enim certus regni cœlorum clavicularius est, qui dignis per veram scientiam aperit, et indignis claudit. Alioquin, si contraria fecerit, nec aperire, nec claudere poterit."
"Rogo vos, quia multi dubitant de fidei vestræ puritate, ut cito tollatis hunc nævum de sanctæ cathedræ claritate." (Epist. v.)
As Columbanus proceeded to Italy, his most distinguished companion, Gallus (St. Gall), was detained by sickness. Continuing in that region, he founded the monastery which bore his name, and labored for the conversion of the Swiss and the Swabians till his death (640-650). A weird story symbolizes the impression made by his attack upon heathenism. As he was fishing one silent night -- so the legend runs -- on a Swiss lake near his monastery, he heard a voice descending from a neighboring peak. It was the Spirit of the Mountains calling upon the Spirit of the Waters to join in expelling the intruder. The Spirit of the Waters rose from the depths, and responded to the summons; but in a tone of failing confidence, as of one confessing himself baffled by the prevailing Name which the intruder was perpetually invoking.
Others followed the example of these pioneers. The Irish Kilian labored in Franconia soon after the middle of the seventh century. Toward the end of the same century, two natives of England, by the name of Hewald, found the martyr-death while attempting to preach the gospel to the Saxons. Some converts were made among the Frisians in the Netherlands by Wilfrid, who was unexpectedly cast upon their coast by a storm at sea, as, expelled from his bishopric, he was journeying to Rome. He was followed in the field by Willibrord, who was of Anglo-Saxon birth, but had been educated in the cloisters of Ireland. Under the patronage of Pepin, Mayor of the Palace, he was able to achieve a measure of success. 1 From the time of Wilfrid's labors (677-678) to 719 the opposition of the heathen King Radbod was a serious obstacle to tire progress of Christianity in this region. One ground of Radbod's obstinate adherence to heathenism has been given as follows. He had thoughts of baptism, and had already approached the font at the instance of Bishop Wulfram of Sens, when it occurred to him to inquire where his ancestors might be supposed to have gone, whether to the Christian's heaven or to hell. The Bishop answered, that, inasmuch as they had died unbaptized, they had undoubtedly been doomed to hell. At this, Radbod withdrew his foot from the font, saying that he could not dispense with the society of his forefathers for the sake of the Christian's heaven with its beggarly contingent,--"cum parvo numero pauperum." (Rettberg, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, Band ii. § 77.) The story has an air of credibility, but is none too well authenticated. The difficulty involved in the eschatology of Wulfram is said to have been ameliorated by Clemens - an Irish missionary in Germany whom Boniface brought to task--by the supposition that the preaching of Christ in Hades applied to its inhabitants generally. Willibrord even penetrated into Denmark; but he found it an unpromising held, and could make no other gain than the opportunity to educate some youths whom he purchased from slavery. The names of other missionaries, Irish, English, or Continental, might be mentioned. Not a few of them wrought to good effect. But still the field was much broader than the harvest. No extended, well organized church had been founded upon German soil. The apostle of Germany had not yet appeared, but he was already in training in the country which had supplied heroic laborers to this field.
That apostle was Winfrid, or Boniface as he is usually called. He was born in 680, near Crediton, in Devonshire, England. Zeal for the monastic life early drove him to the cloister, notwithstanding the opposition which at first he encountered from his father. Having passed his thirtieth year, received ordination to the priesthood, and been honored with some special marks of confidence by his brethren, he began to turn his thoughts towards the missionary held. His first attempt was in Frisia, in 716. It fell at an unfortunate juncture, the war between Charles Martel and the stubborn heathen King Radbod leaving little opportunity to insinuate Christian teaching. Forsaking this field for the time being, he returned to England.
Boniface now determined upon a new point of departure in his enterprise. Considering that the sanction of the Roman pontiff would add weight to his mission, he proceeded to Rome (719), and presented himself before Gregory II. The Pope gave a hearty welcome to his scheme, and sent him forward with his commendations. Boniface selected Thuringia as the first scene of his labors; not neglecting meanwhile to confer with Charles Martel, and to solicit whatever advantage might be derived from his patronage. Learning that Frisia, on account of the death of Radbod, had become a hopeful held, he proceeded thither, and for three years labored in connection with Willibrord. The latter, anticipating that his labors must soon come to a close, expressed the earnest desire that Boniface should become his successor in the bishopric. The honor, however, was modestly declined. Boniface retraced his course, and labored in Thuringia and Hessia. A report of his successes, which he sent to Rome in 723, was answered by a summons thither to be consecrated to the office of bishop. Returning again to Germany, he continued for a series of years in the successful prosecution of the work of converting the heathen. Among the Hessians, a bold stroke against an object of superstition gained him many converts. Finding that it was difficult to win the people of that region from their idolatrous veneration of an enormous oak-tree which was esteemed sacred to Thor, the god of thunder, Boniface decided to lay the axe to the tree. The awe-struck heathen stood around, expecting that their deity would take vengeance upon the authors of the sacrilege. They only saw the tree come crashing down, and riven into four pieces. Of these Boniface constructed an oratorium and dedicated it in honor of St. Peter. Impressed by such a palpable indication of the impotence of their gods, many of the heathen turned to the Christian faith. 1 Willibaldus, Vita S. Bonifacii, cap. viii. We may judge somewhat respecting the measure of success which attended the missionary, from the report that before the year 739 he had baptized about a hundred thousand converts. Naturally new honors came from Rome to such an efficient propagandist. He received the pallium of an archbishop (some years before 745, when he fixed his metropolitan seat at Metz), and in the latter part of his career exercised extensive powers as the papal vicar.
Converting the Germans to Christianity was only one part of the work of Boniface. He was the organizer of the German Church. In this office he acted as the agent of Rome, suppressing dissenters, and administering with continual reference to the Roman model. Indeed, it must be allowed that his conduct was conformable to the strong terms of the oath which the Pope exacted from him as he was promoted to the episcopal rank. These terms were as follows : "I, Boniface, bishop by the grace of God, promise to thee, O blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and to thy vicar the blessed Pope Gregory, and his successors, through the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the inseparable Trinity, and this most sacred body of thine, to show the Catholic faith in its purity, and by the help of God to persist in the unity of that faith, and in no may to give consent to anything from any source contrary to the unity of the common and universal Church, but to show in all things my pure faith and my accord with thee and the needs of thy Church, and with thine aforesaid vicar and his successors. And if I shall find prelates who act contrary to the ancient institutes of the holy fathers, I will have no communion or connection with them, but rather, if able, I will prohibit the same; otherwise, I will report faithfully and at once to my apostolical lord." 1 Migne. Patrologia, tom. lxxxix. But while Boniface administered the Church of Germany in the spirit of fidelity to this oath, his allegiance to the Pope did not descend into abjectness. On occasion, he could complain, in very explicit terms, of affairs in Rome that were not to his mind.
In his closing years, Boniface found a useful ally in Pepin, the son of Charles Martel. It has commonly been assumed that it was by his hand that Pepin was anointed king at Soissons in 752; but some of the most careful of recent investigators have declared that this conclusion is without good foundation. " Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, § 373. Compare article on Boniface in Herzog; Rettberg;, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, Band i. § 67.
The last enterprise of Boniface was in the field to which his earliest efforts had been directed. As if in testimony that his ambition was for souls rather than for power, he resigned his place as the primate of Germany, and started upon a fresh attempt to evangelize the Frisians. Great success attended his labors. Thousands, as it is said, gave effectual heed to his message. On an appointed day, the 5th of June, 755, Boniface was to meet a large company of them for administering the rite of confirmation. But instead of his converts, there came a raging crowd of heathen. Boniface, as he saw their approach, surmised their intent, and, stimulating the hearts of his companions with the hope of the heavenly rewards, calmly awaited the stroke which should bring him the crown of martyrdom. The body of the great missionary found repose at the monastery of Fulda, one of the notable institutions which his zeal and tireless activity had given to Germany.
Of all the tribes bordering on Christian territory, the Saxons presented the most unyielding front to Christianity. Their hostile attitude, however, admits of explanation. The fact that their rivals, the Franks, were in their eyes the most conspicuous representatives of Christianity, was not helpful to their prejudices. As a warlike and independent race, they scorned everything that seemed to imply an unworthy subjection. They feared that the Christian yoke would be a yoke of bondage. And, in truth, after the policy of Charlemagne became manifest, they could not help associating the acceptance of Christianity with the double humiliation of bowing to the rule of the Franks, and being compelled to pay tithes to the Church. In the view of Charlemagne, the refractory Saxons, who yielded to his arms only to gain the needed respite in which to prepare for a fresh outbreak, could not be effectually subdued save as they were Christianized. He therefore brought forward the sword as the ally of the preacher. "If Boniface," says Milman, "was the Christian, Charlemagne, was the Mohammedan, apostle of the gospel." Indeed, he gave the Saxons less discretion than oft times was conceded by the devotees of the Koran. They were given to understand that heathenism was abolished, and that in practising its rites they were making themselves liable to the death penalty. Happily, in connection with this rude means of propagandism, there was a manifestation of a better spirit, and the use of better ways of commending the gospel. Alcuin, notwithstanding his intimate relations with Charlemagne, did not hesitate to criticise his methods, and to give strong emphasis to the truth that only by the use of spiritual weapons could heathenism in the hearts of its votaries be effectually vanquished. Moreover, there were noble missionaries, such as the Frisian Liudger and the Northumbrian Willehad, who went among the Saxons, and labored in the spirit of patience and love. The first years of the ninth century may be regarded as the era of the firm establishment of Christianity among the Saxons.
The Scandinavian peoples first made themselves conspicuous in European history as pirates and plunderers. The stormy sea was their favorite element. Wherever the wind and the waves prepared them a way, from the Baltic and the British Isles round to the coasts of Italy, they penetrated. They drove their barks far up the rivers and streams, so that many inland cities fell a prey to their unsparing hands. Towns as far inland as Orleans, Tours, Chartres, and Bourges found no security. Churches and monasteries in particular, as being lease protected and offering most booty, were pillaged and destroyed by these ruthless invaders.
Charlemagne, who foresaw with anguish of spirit these desolating inroads from the North, had it in mind to anticipate them, and to break their force so far as possible by Christianizing the Scandinavians. But he was not able to carry out his purpose. First under his son Louis a beginning was made in that direction. It was only a beginning. Neither in Denmark, Norway, nor Sweden were the people converted in a day. Heathenism was parted with reluctantly. Many who became at length willing to receive Christ as an object of worship were disposed still to retain their old gods alongside of the Christian's Saviour. Only by slow advances, and at the expense of many reactions to paganism, did Christianity at length acquire an undisputed title to these lands.
The most eminent missionary to the Scandinavians, the Apostle of the North as he has been called, was Anschar (also written Ansgar or Anskar). He was preceded, it is true, by Ebbo, Archbishop of Rheims, as respects the work in Denmark; but this prelate, on the whole, appears rather as a patron of the enterprise than as an active and constant participant in the same. Anschar began his labors in Denmark in 826. The seeming preparation for his comings in the conversion of the King Herald, who was baptized at Mentz in the same year, proved delusive. The Christianity of Herald was the reverse of a commendation in the eyes of the people, and he was driven from his kingdom. The missionary, too, was obliged to retire, though not without the satisfaction of having gathered some fruit, as a number of the people had been converted, and youths purchased from slavery had been initiated into the elements of a Christian education. 1 Rembertus, Vita Anscharii, § 14.
Soon after retiring from Denmark, Anschar found an opportunity to plant the cross in Sweden. On his return (about 832) he was raised to the rank of arch-bishop, with Hamburg for his head-quarters. At the same time he visited Rome, and was forwarded in his enterprise by the Pope, who intrusted to him and to Ebbo the missions of the North. Many clouds swept over his chosen field. In both Sweden and Denmark, what had already been accomplished seemed destined at times to be completely undone. But Anschar was a man who could persevere through defeat after defeat. He had an elastic temper, and a faith which triumphed over the most dismal surroundings. As the Northern pirates plundered Hamburg, burning church, cloister, and library, and sending him forth with a destitute and, his comment was, "The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord." 1 Ibid, § 22. His confidence was nurtured by a peculiarly intimate communion with God. It is recorded that on the eve of great crises in his work, when everything seemed to hang in the balance, he was able to come from the place of wrestling with a serene and joyful countenance, as one who felt that God had given him the inward pledge of a favorable issue. Combining with his steadfastness a certain emotioned warmth and liveliness of imagination, he was well qualified to win and to impress men. At his death, in 865, Christianity in Sweden and Denmark had not, it is true, been placed beyond the reach of serious reverses; nevertheless, it had acquired a hold never thereafter to be relinquished.
In Norway a beginning was made for the Christian Church near the middle of the tenth century, by the King Bacon, who had received a Christian education in England. Apprehending that he could not easily surmount the force of heathen prejudice, he waited for a season before publicly recommending the acceptance of Christianity. Even then he found the current too strong for him. In order to retain his crown, he was obliged to participate in some of the heathen rites. But at heart he was never alienated from the Christian faith, and at his death he bitterly deplored his compliance with the idolatrous demands of his subjects. Among his successors, Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf Haroldson were energetic, not to say violent and tyrannical, supporters of Christianity. In the
eleventh century the Christian Church became firmly founded in Norway.
Christianity was introduced into Iceland in the last quarter of the tenth century. The first evangelists were the Saxon prelate Friedrich, and the native Thorwald, who had interested Friedrich in the spiritual welfare of the Icelanders. A number were converted, but the ears of the majority seemed closed to the message of the missionaries. After their departure, new laborers entered the field under the patronage of Olaf Tryggvason. By the year 1000, public opinion had been so far changed that Christianity could be adopted as the public religion, though the practice of heathen rites in private was still condoned.
About the time that Iceland adopted Christianity, it was carried also to Greenland, which had recently been colonized by Eric the Red. Leif, a son of this Eric, brought the first Christian priest to Greenland. References are made in the account of Leif, and several of those who followed him, to a land which has been supposed by some to be identical with Massachusetts and Rhode Island. That the American coast was reached by these voyagers is entirely credible, but the point of visitation is still a subject for inquiry.See Narrative and Critical History of America, edited by Justin Winsor, vol. i.
Among the Slavonian races, the missionary era was the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries. Moravia received the gospel in the latter half of the ninth century, through the Greek missionaries Cyril and Methodius, the latter of whom was awarded the metropolitan dignity from Rome. The movement in Moravia reinforced the beginning which had been made shortly before in Bohemia. From Bohemia, Christianity was carried, after the middle of the tenth century, into Poland.
The Bulgarians, Slavonian in language but not in race, first learned of Christianity from captives taken in the early part of the ninth century, among whom was the Bishop of Adrianople. They generally clung, however, to their old religion till after the middle of the same century. As the agency by which they were finally persuaded to a change of faith came from Constantinople, it was but natural that their allegiance should gravitate thither. However, for a brief interval there was a serious consideration of the question of union with Rome. An embassy was sent thither about 865. The Pope in response despatched his legates into Bulgaria, and returned answers to a long list of questions which had been propounded respecting worship and life. The answers, on the whole, were very creditable, and such as might have been expected from the sagacious pontiff, Nicolas I., who then occupied the chair of Peter. The Bulgarians, however, were not sufficiently grateful for the paternal offices of the Pope to attach themselves to Rome.
If a statement sent forth in 866 by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, could be taken in its full breadth, it must be concluded that the Russians had already in large numbers embraced the gospel. But Photius wished to magnify the missionary activity of the East, and so in all probability gave too high a color to his picture. The positive establishment of Christianity in Russia was more than a century later. In 955, as we read, Olga, widow of the Russian King Igor, was baptized in Constantinople under the Christian name Helena. Her grandson Vladimir was baptized in 988. Like a genuine Russian autocrat, he ordered his subjects to follow his example. His son and successor was also a zealous patron of Christianity; and churches, schools, and monasteries were multiplied throughout the country.
The Hungarians, or Magyars, the last and fiercest of the great swarms of invaders which poured through Central Europe, after spreading the terror of their name into Southern Gaul and Italy, were finally confined by the victories of Henry the Fowler and Otho the Great (933, 955) to their present bounds upon the Danube. Very soon thereafter the feeble beginning of Christianity, which had been received through connection with Constantinople, was supplemented by missionaries from the German Empire. At the end of the tenth century, King Stephen, who came to be honored by the Hungarians as a saint, was a zealous patron of the Christian Church among his subjects. His efforts, however, did not secure to it such a place in the affections of the people as to prevent a subsequent reaction to heathenism.
Thus, from the time that the conversion of Constantine inaugurated the open triumph and ascendency of Christianity in the Roman Empire, seven centuries elapsed before all of the prominent tribes of Europe bad consented to take the Christian name. In obscure quarters, at a still later date, there were professed heathen within European bounds.