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>The History of Kelts, Slavs, Tuetonic Normans, and Their Encounter With Christianity

S: 2. The Middle Age. Limits and General Character.

The Middle Age, as the term implies, is the period which intervenes
between ancient and modern times, and connects them, by continuing the
one, and preparing for the other. It forms the transition from the
Graeco-Roman civilization to the Romano-Germanic, civilization, which
gradually arose out of the intervening chaos of barbarism. The
connecting link is Christianity, which saved the best elements of the
old, and directed and moulded the new order of things.

Politically, the middle age dates from the great migration of nations
and the downfall of the western Roman Empire in the fifth century.

The First Pope, Gregory The Great
Ecclesiastical history begins with Gregory the Great, the last
of the fathers and the first of the popes, at the close of the sixth
century. Its termination, both for secular and ecclesiastical history,
is the Reformation of the sixteenth century (1517), which introduces
the modern age of the Christian era. Some date modern history from the
invention of the art of printing, or from the discovery of America,
which preceded the Reformation; but these events were only preparatory
to a great reform movement and extension of the Christian world.

The theatre of mediaeval Christianity is mainly Europe. In Western Asia
and North Africa, the Cross was supplanted by the Crescent; and
America, which opened a new field for the ever-expanding energies of
history, was not discovered until the close of the fifteenth century.

Europe was peopled by a warlike emigration of heathen barbarians from
Asia as America is peopled by a peaceful emigration from civilized and
Christian Europe.

The great migration of nations marks a turning point in the history of
religion and civilization. It was destructive in its first effects, and
appeared like the doom of the judgment-day; but it proved the harbinger
of a new creation, the chaos preceding the cosmos. The change was
brought about gradually. The forces of the old Greek and Roman world
continued to work for centuries alongside of the new elements. The
barbarian irruption came not like a single torrent which passes by, but
as the tide which advances and retires, returns and at last becomes
master of the flooded soil. The savages of the north swept down the
valley of the Danube to the borders of the Greek Empire, and southward
over the Rhine and the Vosges into Gaul, across the Alps into Italy,
and across the Pyrenees into Spain. They were not a single people, but
many independent tribes; not an organized army of a conqueror, but
irregular hordes of wild warriors ruled by intrepid kings; not directed
by the ambition of one controlling genius, like Alexander or Caesar,
but prompted by the irresistible impulse of an historical instinct, and
unconsciously bearing in their rear the future destinies of Europe and

They brought with them fire and sword, destruction and
desolation, but also life and vigor, respect for woman, sense of honor,
love of liberty–noble instincts, which, being purified and developed
by Christianity, became the governing principles of a higher
civilization than that of Greece and Rome. The Christian monk Salvian,
who lived in the midst of the barbarian flood, in the middle of the
fifth century, draws a most gloomy and appalling picture of the vices
of the orthodox Romans of his time, and does not hesitate to give
preference to the heretical (Arian) and heathen barbarians, “whose
chastity purifies the deep stained with the Roman debauches.” St.
Augustin (d. 430), who took a more sober and comprehensive view,
intimates, in his great work on the City of God, the possibility of the
rise of a new and better civilization from the ruins of the old Roman
empire; and his pupil, Orosius, clearly expresses this hopeful view.
“Men assert,” he says, “that the barbarians are enemies of the State. I
reply that all the East thought the same of the great Alexander; the
Romans also seemed no better than the enemies of all society to the
nations afar off, whose repose they troubled. But the Greeks, you say,
established empires; the Germans overthrow them. Well, the Macedonians
began by subduing the nations which afterwards they civilized. The
Germans are now upsetting all this world; but if, which Heaven avert,
they, finish by continuing to be its masters, peradventure some day
posterity will salute with the title of great princes those in whom we
at this day can see nothing but enemies.”

S: 3. The Nations of Mediaeval Christianity. The Kelt, the Teuton, and
the Slav.

The new national forces which now enter upon the arena of
church-history may be divided into four groups:

French Flag

Spanish Flag

Portugal Flag

Italian Flag

1. The Romanic or Latin nations of Southern Europe, including the
Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese and French. They are the natural
descendants and heirs of the old Roman nationality and Latin
Christianity, yet mixed with the new Keltic and Germanic forces. Their
languages are all derived from the Latin; they inherited Roman laws and
customs, and adhered to the Roman See as the centre of their
ecclesiastical organization; they carried Christianity to the advancing
barbarians, and by their superior civilization gave laws to the
conquerors. They still adhere, with their descendants in Central and
South America, to the Roman Catholic Church.

2. The Keltic race, embracing the Gauls, old Britons, the Picts and
Scots, the Welsh and Irish with their numerous emigrants in all the
large cities of Great Britain and the United States, appear in history
several hundred years before Christ, as the first light wave of the
vast Aryan migration from the mysterious bowels of Asia, which swept to
the borders of the extreme West. The Gauls were conquered by
Caesar, but afterwards commingled with the Teutonic Francs, who founded
the French monarchy. The Britons were likewise subdued by the Romans,
and afterwards driven to Wales and Cornwall by the Anglo-Saxons. The
Scotch in the highlands (Gaels) remained Keltic, while in the lowlands
they mixed with Saxons and Normans.

The mental characteristics of the Kelts remain unchanged for two
thousand years: quick wit, fluent speech, vivacity, sprightliness,
impressibility, personal bravery and daring, loyalty to the chief or
the clan, but also levity, fickleness, quarrelsomeness and incapacity
for self-government. “They shook all empires, but founded none.” The
elder Cato says of them: “To two things are the Kelts most attent: to
fighting (ars militaris), and to adroitness of speech (argute loqui).”
Caesar censures their love of levity and change. The apostle Paul
complains of the same weakness. Thierry, their historian, well
describes them thus: “Their prominent attributes are personal valor, in
which they excel all nations; a frank, impetuous spirit open to every
impression; great intelligence, but joined with extreme mobility,
deficient perseverance, restlessness under discipline and order,
boastfulness and eternal discord, resulting from boundless vanity.”
Mommsen quotes this passage, and adds that the Kelts make good
soldiers, but bad citizens; that the only order to which they submit is
the military, because the severe general discipline relieves them of
the heavy burden of individual self-control. [3]

Keltic Christianity was at first independent of Rome, and even
antagonistic to it in certain subordinate rites; but after the Saxon
and Norman conquests, it was brought into conformity, and since the
Reformation, the Irish have been more attached to the Roman Church than
even the Latin races. The French formerly inclined likewise to a
liberal Catholicism (called Gallicanism); but they sacrificed the
Gallican liberties to the Ultramontanism of the Vatican Council. The
Welsh and Scotch, on the contrary, with the exception of a portion of
the Highlanders in the North of Scotland, embraced the Protestant
Reformation in its Calvinistic rigor, and are among its sternest and
most vigorous advocates. The course of the Keltic nations had been
anticipated by the Galatians, who first embraced with great readiness
and heartiness the independent gospel of St. Paul, but were soon turned
away to a Judaizing legalism by false teachers, and then brought back
again by Paul to the right path.

3. The Germanic [4] or Teutonic [5] nations followed the Keltic
migration in successive westward and southward waves, before and after
Christ, and spread over Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Scandinavia, the
Baltic provinces of Russia, and, since the Anglo-Saxon invasion, also
over England and Scotland and the northern (non-Keltic) part of
Ireland. In modern times their descendants peacefully settled the
British Provinces and the greater part of North America. The Germanic
nations are the fresh, vigorous, promising and advancing races of the
middle age and modern times. Their Christianization began in the fourth
century, and went on in wholesale style till it was completed in the
tenth. The Germans, under their leader Odoacer in 476, deposed Romulus
Augustulus–the shadow of old Romulus and Augustus–and overthrew the
West Roman Empire, thus fulfilling the old augury of the twelve birds
of fate, that Rome was to grow six centuries and to decline six
centuries. Wherever they went, they brought destruction to decaying
institutions. But with few exceptions, they readily embraced the
religion of the conquered Latin provinces, and with childlike docility
submitted to its educational power. They were predestinated for
Christianity, and Christianity for them. It curbed their warlike
passions, regulated their wild force, and developed their nobler
instincts, their devotion and fidelity, their respect for woman, their
reverence for all family-relations, their love of personal liberty and
independence. The Latin church was to them only a school of discipline
to prepare them for an age of Christian manhood and independence, which
dawned in the sixteenth century. The Protestant Reformation was the
emancipation of the Germanic races from the pupilage of mediaeval and
legalistic Catholicism.

Tacitus, the great heathen historian, no doubt idealized the barbarous
Germans in contrast with the degenerate Romans of his day (as Montaigne
and Rousseau painted the savages “in a fit of ill humor against their
country”); but he unconsciously prophesied their future greatness, and
his prophecy has been more than fulfilled.

4. The Slavonic or Slavic or Slavs [6] in the East and North of Europe,
including the Bulgarians, Bohemians (Czechs), Moravians, Slovaks,
Servians, Croatians, Wends, Poles, and Russians, were mainly converted
through Eastern missionaries since the ninth and tenth century. The
Eastern Slavs, who are the vast majority, were incorporated with the
Greek Church, which became the national religion of Russia, and through
this empire acquired a territory almost equal to that of the Roman
Church. The western Slavs, the Bohemians and Poles, became subject to
the Papacy.

The Slavs, who number in all nearly 80,000,000, occupy a very
subordinate position in the history of the middle ages, and are
isolated from the main current; but recently, they have begun to
develop their resources, and seem to have a great future before them
through the commanding political power of Russia in Europe and in Asia.
Russia is the bearer of the destinies of Panslavism and of the, Eastern

5. The Greek nationality, which figured so conspicuously in ancient
Christianity, maintained its independence down to the fall of the
Byzantine Empire in 1453; but it was mixed with Slavonic elements. The
Greek Church was much weakened by the inroads of Mohammedanism) and
lost the possession of the territories of primitive Christianity, but
secured a new and vast missionary field in Russia.

[2] keltoior Keltai, Celtae, Galatai, Galatae or Galati, Galli, Gael.
Some derive it from celt, a cover, shelter; others from celu (Lat.
celo) to conceal. Herodotus first mentions them, as dwelling in the
extreme northwest of Europe. On these terms see Diefenbach, Celtica,
Brandes, Kelten und Germanen, Thierry, Histoire des Gaulois, the art.
Galli in Pauly’s Realencyclopaedie, and the introductions to the
critical Commentaries on the Galatians by Wieseler and Lightfoot (and
Lightfoot’s Excursus I). The Galatians in Asia Minor, to whom Paul
addressed his epistle, were a branch of the Keltic race, which either
separated from the main current of the westward migration, or, being
obstructed by the ocean, retraced their steps, and turned eastward.
Wieseler (in his Com. and in several articles in the “Studien und
Kritiken, ” and in the “Zeitschrift fuer Kirchengeschichte,” 1877 No.
1) tries to make them Germans, a view first hinted at by Luther. But
the fickleness of the Galatian Christians is characterristic of the
ancient Gauls and modern French.

[3] Roemische Geschichte, Vol. I., p. 329, 5th ed., Berlin, 1868.

[4] The word is of uncertain origin. Some derive it from a Keltic root,
garm or gairm, i.e. noise; some from the old German gere(guerre), a
pointed weapon, spear or javelin (so that German would mean an armed
man, or war-man, Wehrmann); others, from the Persian irman, erman, i.e.

[5] From the Gothic thiudisco, gentiles, popularis; hence the Latin
teutonicus, and the German deutschor teutsch(which may also be
connected with diutan, deutsch deutlich). In the English usage, the
term German is confined to the Germans proper, and Dutch to the
Hollanders; but Germanic and Teutonic apply to all cognate races.

[6] The term Slav or Slavonian is derived by some from slovo, word, by
others, from slava, glory. From it are derived the words slave and
slavery (Sclave, esclave), because many Slavs were reduced to a state
of slavery or serfdom by their German masters. Webster spells slave
instead of slav, and Edward A. Freeman, in his Historical Essays (third
series, 1879), defends this spelling on three grounds: 1) No English
word ends in v. But many Russian words do, as Kiev, Yaroslav, and some
Hebrew grammars use Tav and Vav for Tau and Vau. 2) Analogy. We write
Dane, Swede, Pole, not Dan, etc. But the a in Slav has the continental
sound, and the tendency is to get rid of mute vowels. 3) The form Slave
perpetuates the etymology. But the etymology (slave = doulos) is
uncertain, and it is well to distinguish the national name from the
ordinary slaves, and thus avoid offence. The Germans also distinguish
between Slaven, Sclaven.

S: 4. Genius of Mediaeval Christianity.

Mediaeval Christianity is, on the one hand, a legitimate continuation
and further development of ancient Catholicism; on the other hand, a
preparation for Protestantism.