1902 Encyclopedia > History > The Role of Church in History

(Part 15)

The Role of Church in History

The history of the Middle Age shows even greater results, and greater innovation, to which allusion has been already made. The great difficulty was the papacy. Between the Catholics, who regarded it as of divine institution, and the Protestants, who regarded it as a manifestation of Antichrist, and the sceptics, who despised both and regarded it as mere superstition, this great centre around which the life of the Middle Ages revolved had been unknown or misknown to a degree of absurdity.

Gradually, as the 19th century arose wiser and sadder out of the chaos of the French Revolution, the immense part played by church was at first dimly suspected, and at last with increasing clearness perceived. This must on every account be regarded as the greatest achievement of the modern school; it implied the unlearning of so many old errors, the acquiring of so many new truths, above all, the repression of so many deeply-rooted prejudices. It restored the continuity of history, in which the Middle Ages had hitherto appeared as an unexplained gap, -- an unwelcome wedge of barbarism thrust between the ancient and modern civilizations.

After the Middle Ages, the period which has been most illumined by the new lamp of history is that of the early church and the whole subject of religious dogma and institutions. In spite of the fierce controversies which have raged over this region, a large residuum of undisputed fact has been rescued from ignorance and prejudice, and church history is no longer a legend, but one of the most interesting chapters in the annals of the human mind.

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