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Clovis, the King of the Franks who had fixed their residence in Gaul, had embraced the Christian faith, A.D. 496. Hence a more willing ear was lent in the beginning of the next century by his subjects to the preaching of Remigius; and numerous converts professed the Gospel. Converts multiplied also among the Heruli, the Alani, and other barbarous nations of the West; and in the East among the Abasgi, who bordered on Mount Caucasus. It is, however, to be feared that many of the new Christians were imperfectly acquainted with the doctrines, and still more imperfectly with the spirit, of the religion which they adopted. And the conversion of vast numbers of Jews in France, Spain, and Libya, appears to have been effected rather by menaces and violence than by the influence of fair argument on the understanding. Columbus, an Irish monk, passing as a missionary into the northern parts of Scotland, laboured among the natives with success.
In England, also, the foundations of the true faith were laid afresh. Ethelbert, monarch of Kent, the most powerful of the contemporary Saxon princes, was gradually disposed towards Christianity by his queen Bertha, the daughter of Cherebert, King of Paris. At this period, A.D. 596, the Roman pontiff Gregory, surnamed the Great, sent Augustine, at the head of forty Benedictine monks, an order instituted about seventy years before, to preach the Gospel. The King and the greater part of his subjects were baptized; and Augustine became the first archbishop of Canterbury. In other parts of the island the idolatrous Saxons continued to exercise unrelenting cruelties against the ancient inhabitants, who retained the Christian faith. In Italy the kingdom of the Ostrogoths was destroyed, A.D. 566, by Narses, the general of the Eastern Emperor Justinian; and Rome, transformed into a dukedom, and degraded from the rank of a capital, was subjected to that monarch, and governed by his lieutenant, who resided, with the title of Exarch, at Ravenna. Two years afterwards a new revolution, terrible to the Christians, supervened. A Pagan army of Lombards, rushing from Pannonia, overwhelmed Italy; and, with the exception of Rome and Ravenna, having mastered the whole country, and established their kingdom at Ticinum, grievously afflicted the followers of the Gospel. Within a short period, however, they embraced the religion which they had oppressed. Autharius, their third monarch, adopted, A.D. 587, the tenets of Arianism ; and his successor acknowledged the Nicene faith. During the course of these transactions Persia upheld its established character for cruelty to the Christian name. Chosroes, its monarch, denouncing vengeance not only against the person, but against the God of Justinian, slaughtered the Christians with every aggravation of torture which inhumanity and impiety could furnish.
Not many new controversies of moment broke forth in this century. Of the old sects, Arianism, after a short triumph, received a blow from which it was never
able to recover, by the expulsion of the Italian Goths and the African Vandals before the arms of Justinian ; and by the defection of Reccared, a Spanish sovereign, and of other princes. The Donatists, also, having lost the protection of the Vandals, finally dwindled, after a concluding effort, into oblivion. But the advantage which the church gained in these respects was balanced by the still increasing prevalence of ignorance and superstition. In the West, the little learning which remained was confined within the walls of the monasteries. It was by the protection of those walls that the manuscripts of the classical authors, though neglected, were preserved, and have descended with the sacred records of antiquity to a happier age. The tranquillity and the taste of the Eastern empire were rather more favourable to science and literature; yet were unequal to the prevention of their decline. Additional rites, no less trivial than cumbrous, and usages fitted only to lead men from looking for salvation through a life of Christian faith and holiness, disfigured and tended to explode true religion both in Europe and in Asia. The honour due unto God was transferred more and more to saints. An opinion was industriously circulated by a corrupted and avaricious priesthood, that the forgiveness of sins was to be purchased by liberality to monasteries and convents, which multiplied daily ; and that the irresistible intercession of departed saints would be exerted for the man who had enriched the temples dedicated to their memory. After stating this fact, it is almost needless to add that vice rapidly increased among the clergy as well as among the laity. The bishops of Rome and of Constantinople were still antagonists. The tidings that John, prelate of the latter city, had assumed the title of Ecumenical, or Universal Bishop, struck Pelagius the Roman pontiff with horror. Rousing himself at length to repel the fatal blow, he declaimed by his representative Gregory, who afterwards became pope and a most vehement assertor of papal supremacy, against the blasphemy of the title; and thundered against his daring rival the portentous appellation of Antichrist. Perhaps he forgot that his own predecessors, whose rights he was thus eager to maintain, had long claimed the jurisdiction implied in the name of universal bishop; and had assumed the kindred denomination of head of the uni. versal church. At this period, however, the Gothic kings of Italy, no less than the Eastern emperors, denied the unlimited authority of the pontiff; and exacted from him various tokens of submission.
The seventh century witnessed the extension of the Christian faith in the East to China and the remotest parts of Asia, chiefly by the labours of the Nestorians. In the West the faith of the Gospel became universal throughout our own island; whence it was carried to Batavia, and other parts of the continent. Compul. sory conversions of the persecuted Jews were urged forward by the Emperor Heraclius ; and by the monarchs of Gaul and Spain in the face of the avowed disapprobation of the Roman pontiff. Darkness and ignorance overspread the Christian world, under the auspicious aid of the subtleties of Aristotelian logic. The vices of the monastic clergy augmented with their riches. The superstitions of the preceding age multiplied. Penitential discipline was formed into a system; and became generally recognised as a full expiation for sin. By a law of Pope Boniface V., the churches were rendered places of refuge to all persons who should fly to them for protection ; and thus became public asylums for the most abandoned criminals. To the turbulent remains of ancient divisions, the new sect of Monothelites was added; and tormented and perplexed the East and the West with metaphysical disputes concerning the unity of will in the two natures of Christ. In the course of this controversy Pope Honorius and his Monothelite doctrine were formally condemned in the presence of the papal legates by the general council of Constantinople: a circumstance which has produced no small embarrassment to various Roman Catholic writers, who conceived themselves bound by their faith to uphold the perfect infallibility both of general councils and of popes. The claims, , however, of papal supremacy were urged with such unceasing ardour, that Boniface III. sought, A.D. 606, from the Emperor Phocas, one of the most detestable of tyrants, a confirmation of the title of head of all the churches already assigned to the Roman Pontiff by Justinian, and latterly invaded by the Bishop of Constantinople: a title of precisely the same import with that of ecumenical or universal bishop; the desire of which, Gregory, his predecessor in the see of Rome, had stigmatised in John of Byzantium as a characteristic of antichrist. Yet much opposition continued to be made to them by temporal sovereigns. Pope Martin, having treated the imperial edicts with extreme contempt, in consequence of their being favourable to Monothelitism, of which tenet, unlike to the former Pope Honorius, he was a bitter enemy; and having solemnly anathematised and consigned to the devil and his angels the Monothelites and their patrons; was seized, at the command of the enraged Emperor Constans, by the exarch of Italy, and detained prisoner for a year with much cruel usage