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Some ancient and profound reasons would have it, notwithstanding the contrary appearances, that the empire should become Christian. The Christian doctrine on the origin of power seemed to be made expressly to become the doctrine of the Roman state. Authority loves authority. Some men as Conservative as the bishops came to have a terrible temptation to reconcile themselves with the public force, whose action they realised had been often exercised for good. Jesus had laid down the rule. The effigies on the coin was for him the supreme criterion of the legitimism, beyond which there was nothing to seek for. In the midst of Nero’s reign, St. Paul wrote—“Let every one be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power which does not come from God. The powers which be are ordained of God; so that he who resisteth the powers that be resists the order established by God.” Some years after Peter, or he who wrote in his name the epistle known under the name of Prima Petri; expresses himself in a nearly identical way. Clement is likewise a subject who cannot be more devoted to the Roman empire. Lastly, one of the features of St. Luke, as we have seen, is his respect for the imperial authority, and the precautions he takes not to wound it.

There had, no doubt, been certain fanatical Christians who had thoroughly shared the Jewish rage, and waited for the destruction of the idolatrous town identified by them with Babylon. Such were the authors of the Apocalypse and the authors of 353the Sibylline writings. For them Christ and Cæsar are two irreconcilable terms. But the believers in the Great Churches had quite different ideas. In 70, the Church of Jerusalem, with the most Christian and patriotic feeling, abandoned the rebellious town and went to seek quietness beyond the Jordan. In the revolt of Bar-Coziba, the separation was still more marked. Not a single Christian would take part in that attempt of blind desperation. St. Justin, in his Apologies, never combats the principle of the empire; he would have the empire examine the Christian doctrine, prove it, countersign it in some sort, and condemn those who calumniate it. We have seen the first doctor of the time of Marcus-Aurelius, Melito, bishop of Sardis, making offers of service still more distinct, and representing Christianity as the foundation of an empire of heredity and divine right. In his treatise on the Word, preserved in Syriac, Melito expresses himself in the style of a bishop of the fourth century, explaining to Theodosius that his first duty is to procure the triumph of the truth (without telling us, alas! by what mark the truth is to be recognised). All the apologists flatter the favourite idea of the emperors, that of heirship in a direct line, and assure them that the effect of the Christian prayers will be that their sons shall reign after them. Only let the empire become Christian, and those persecuted to-day will consider that the interference of the State is perfectly legitimate.

Hatred against Christianity and the empire was the hatred of people who should one day be beloved. Under the Severi, the language of the Church remains what it was under the Antonines, plaintive and tender. The apologists declare for a kind of legitimism, the pretension with which the Church always saluted the emperor at first. The principle of St. Paul bore its fruits. “Every power comes 354from God; let him who holds the sword hold it from God for good.”

This correct attitude as to power held quite as much to external necessities as to the very principles which the Church had received from its founders. The Church was already a grand association; it was essentially conservative; it needed order and legal guarantees. That is admirably seen in the act of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch under Aurelian. The bishop of Antioch would already pass, at that period, for a high personage. The property of the Church was in his hand; a large number of people lived on his favours. Paul was a brilliant man, mystical, worldly, a great secular lord, seeking to render Christianity acceptable to people of the world and to the authorities. The pietists, as would have been expected of them, considered him heretical and dismissed him. Paul resisted and refused to leave the episcopal mansion. It is by an act like this that the haughtiest sects are caught, for who could regulate a question of property or enjoyment if not the civil authority? The question was laid before the emperor, who was at Antioch at the time, and we see there this original spectacle of an unbelieving sovereign and persecutor charged with deciding who was the true bishop. Aurelian showed in these circumstances a layman’s remarkably good sense. He made them bring to him the correspondence of the two bishops, marked him who was in relation with Rome and Italy, and concluded that he was the bishop of Antioch.

The theological argument which took place in this affair Aurelian would attribute to certain objections, but one fact became plain, and that was that Christianity could not live without the empire, and that, on the other hand, the empire could do nothing better than adopt Christianity as its 355religion. The world wished a religion of congregations, of churches or synagogues, of chapels; a religion where the essence of the worship was reunion, association, brotherhood. Christianity fulfilled all these conditions. Its admirable worship, its pure morality, its clergy skilfully organised, assured its future.

Frequently, in the third century, this historical necessity made itself realised. It was seen, especially in the time of the Syrian emperors, that their character as strangers and the baseness of their origin brought under their shelter certain prejudices; and, in spite of their vices, they inaugurated a breadth of ideas and a tolerance unknown till then. The same thing appears again under Philip the Arabian, in the East under Zenobia, and generally under the emperors whose origin was outside of Roman patriotism.

The struggle redoubled in fury when the great reformers, Diocletian and Maximian, believed they could give the empire a new life. The Church triumphed by its martyrs; Roman pride bent; Constantine saw the internal strength of the Church, the populations of Asia Minor, of Syria, Thrace, Macedonia, and, in a word, of the oriental part of the empire, already more than half Christian. His mother, who had been a servant in a tavern at Nicomedia, dazzled his eyes with an empire of the East, having its centre at Nicea, and whose sinews should be the favour of the bishops and those multitudes of poor enrolled in the Church, who, in the large towns, created opinion. Constantine inaugurated what he called “the peace of the Church,” and this was really the domination of the Church. From the Western point of view this astonishes us; for the Christians were still, in the West, only a weak minority; in the East, Constantine’s policy was not only natural, but imperative, 356Julian’s reaction was a caprice without result. After the struggle came close union and love. Theodosius inaugurated the Christian empire—that is to say, the thing which the Church, in its long life, has most longed for—theocratic empire, of which the Church is the essential framework, and which, after having been destroyed by the barbarians, remained the eternal dream of the Christian conscience, at least in Roman countries. Many, in fact, believed that with Theodosius the goal of Christianity was reached. The empire and Christianity were identified to such a point, the one with the other, that many doctors looked on the end of the empire as the end of the world, and applied to this event the apocalyptic images of the last catastrophe. The Oriental Church, which was not troubled in its development by the barbarians, never withdrew from that ideal; Constantine and Theodosius remained its two poles; they hold the same yet, at least in Russia. The great social enfeeblement, which was the necessary consequence of such a regime, soon showed itself. Devoured by monachism and theocracy, the Eastern Empire was like a prey offered to Islam; the Christian in the East became a creature of a lower order. We arrive accordingly at this singular result, that the countries which have created Christianity have been the victims of their work. Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Macedonia, are to-day countries lost to civilisation, subjected to the very hard yoke of an unchristian race.

Fortunately things came about in the East in a different manner. The Christian empire of the West soon perished. The city of Rome received from Constantine the heaviest blow which had ever struck it. What succeeded with Constantine, no doubt, was Christianity; but this was, before all the East. The East—that is to say, the half 357of the empire speaking Greek—had, after the death of Marcus-Aurelius, taken more and more the upper hand over the West, speaking Latin. The East was more free, more lively, more civilised, more political. Already Diocletian had removed the centre of affairs to Nicomedia. By building a New Rome on the Bosphorus, Constantine reduced ancient Rome to be nothing more than the capital of the West. The two halves of the empire became thus nearly strangers to each other. Constantine was the real author of the schism between the Latin and the Greek churches. We may say, also, that he was the distant cause of Islamism. Christians speaking Syriac and Arabic, persecuted or looked upon askance by the emperors of Constantinople, became an essential element in the future clientèle of Mahomet.

The cataclysms which followed the division of the two empires, the invasions of the barbarians, who spared Constantinople and fell upon Rome with their whole force, reduced the ancient capital of the world to a limited, often humble, rôle. That ecclesiastical primacy of Rome, which shone so clearly in the second and third centuries, survived no longer since the East had a separate existence and capital. The Christian empire was the empire of the East, with its œcumenical councils, its orthodox emperors, its courtly clergy. That lasted till the eighth century. Rome, during this time, took its revenge by the earnestness and profoundness of its spirit of organisation. What men were St. Damasius, St. Leo, and Gregory the Great! With admirable courage, the Papacy wrought for the conversion of the barbarians; it drew them to her, made them her clients, her subjects.

The chef-d’œuvre of its policy was its alliance with the Carlovingian House, and the bold stroke by 358which it re-established in that family the empire of the West—dead since 324. The empire of the West, in fact, was only destroyed in appearance. Its secrets lived in the higher Roman clergy. The Church of Rome kept in some sort the seal of the old empire, and it used it to authenticate surreptitiously the unheard-of act of Christmas Day of the year 800. The dream of the Christian empire recommenced. With the spiritual power was needed a secular arm, a temporal vicar. Christianity, not having in its nature that military spirit which is inherent in Islamism, for example, could not draw an army from its bosom; it was necessary, therefore, to demand it from outside, in the empire, among the barbarians, in a royalty constituted by the bishops. From that to the Mussulman caliphate there is an infinite distance. Even in the Middle Ages, when the Papacy admitted and proclaimed the idea of a Christian army, neither the pope nor his legates had ever been military chiefs. A holy empire, with a barbarian Theodosius, holding the sword to protect the Church of Christ—that was the ideal of the Latin Papacy. The West only escaped, thanks to Germanic indocility and the paradoxical genius of Gregory VII. The pope and the emperor quarrelled to the death: the nationalities whom the Christian empire of Constantinople had stifled were able to develop themselves in the West, and a door was opened for liberty.

That liberty was in almost nothing the work of Christianity. The Christian royalty came from God: the king made by the priests is the Lord’s Anointed. Now the king of divine right can scarcely well be a constitutional king. The throne and the altar become thus two inseparable terms. The theocracy is a virus from which they are not purged. Protestantism and the Revolution were necessary that we should arrive at the possibility of conceiving 359of a liberal Christianity, and that liberal Christianity, without pope or king, has not yet had trial enough for one to have the right to speak of it as of an accomplished and durable fact in the history of humanity.

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