HOW THE TEUTONS LEARNED FROM ROME
59. The Germans Become Christians. It took centuries for Europe to become once more as enlightened as it had been under the Romans. Only very gradually did the Teutonic conquerors lay aside their rough character and accept civilized life. That they ever did so was due mainly to the influence of Christianity.
When the Roman Empire fell in ruin the Christian church did not fall with it. On the contrary, as the government became weak the wretched people looked more and more to their bishops and priests for help and guidance, and the influence of the clergy increased. The Bishop of Rome, whom we call the pope, became more important than ever before.
The simple-minded German warriors, though often violent and brutal, were nevertheless filled with respect for the knowledge of the Romans and were especially struck with awe by the ceremonies of the Christian worship and the venerable appearance of its ministers.
Some of the Teutonic tribes had been converted to Christianity even before the invasions began. All of them were won to the religion of Christ not long afterward. So easily did they give up their old pagan ideas about Woden and Thor that it does not seem that their belief in their gods could ever have been very deep. How strange a fact indeed was this, that at the very moment when Rome was losing her rule she should give her religion to her conquerors!
Among those who accepted the new faith was Clovis, the famous king of the Franks, a leader known for his warlike ability. His wife, already a Christian, had often pleaded with him to accept Christ, but the fierce barbarian had always refused. At last, it is said, he engaged in a great battle with a strong tribe called the Alemanni. Before their onrush the warriors of Clovis gave way. It seemed that all was lost. Then at last Clovis called upon the name of Christ, promising that if the God of the Christians would give him victory he would become a Christian. Soon the Franks rallied, and the Alemanni were conquered. Thus, in fulfillment of his vow, Clovis was baptized a Christian and with him his whole army.
6o. How Missionaries Taught the Teutons. Wonderful indeed is the story of the brave Christian missionaries, who, counting their lives as nothing in the service of God, preached the gospel to the Germans. The labors of many of these were directed by the head of thp church, Gregory the Great, one of the most remarkable men of this whole period. Though burdened with innumerable duties and cares, he threw his whole soul into the work of converting the heathen.
Having been struck by the beauty of some English slaves whom he saw exposed for sale in Rome, Gregory became especially eager to have Christianity preached to the Anglo-Saxons. Unable to go himself, he entrusted the mission to a brave man named Augustine, and forty companions. It was a perilous task. Yet as it turned out, the Anglo-Saxon king, Ethelbert, in whose territory they landed, received them kindly, for his good wife Bertha, a Frankish princess, was a follower of the new faith. Bearing before them a silver cross and a picture of Christ, and chanting their beautiful service, Augustine and his companions came before the king and explained to him their religion. So impressed was be that he allowed them to remain and permitted them to worship in an old church which the Romans had built when they ruled Britain. Finally Ethelbert and most of his people were baptized.
Then Augustine and his followers preached the word of Christ in other parts of England, and in the end the whole island was won.
Among all the missionaries one of the greatest was St. Boniface, himself an Englishmen. Spurred on by zeal for Christ, this fearless and devoted man penetrated into the dark, forbidding forests of Germany and preached before the assemblies of fierce warriors. On one occasion he even hewed down a great oak which the people held sacrd to Woden, and from its timbers constructed a Christian chapel. Awed by his majestic and venerable appearance, they dared not lift hand against him. Through his efforts much of Germany became Christianized. The peaceful missionary had conquered where even the legions of Caesar Augustus had met defeat.
It must not be supposed, however, that when the fierce barbarians were baptized they at once gave up their cruel ways and became gentle and peace loving. Too often they merely called themselves Christians without understanding what the new religion really meant. For centuries many of the people of Europe remained almost as cruel and bloodthirsty as when they were pagans. Yet a beginning had been made, and amid all the strife the Christian church remained a power working for peace and righteousness.
61. Who the Monks Were. Among the Christian missionaries many belonged to the class of people called monks.
We all know how hard it is to be good when there is so much in the world about us to make us think of evil. In the days when Christianity first came into the Roman Empire, life was much worse than it is now. It seemed that everybody was cruel and faithless, and the whole world given over to wickedness.
Many of the early Christians felt that the only way to be saved was to flee from all other men. Some took refuge in wild and lonely places, where they engaged in constant prayer. They lived on scanty food and wore the coarsest clothing that they might escape the sin of pride and vainglory. These men were hermits.
But not many people could be herrnits. Othersbanded themselves together and thus went in little companies to dwell apart. Withdrawing to some waste place, perhaps to a lonely island or to some wild mountain region, they constructed with their own hands a building called a monastery. Here, clad in coarse robes and bound by their rules to constant fasting and prayer, they lived secure, as they hoped, from many of the world’s temptations. Men who thus withdrew from the, world were called monks, but women were known as nuns.
All their lives were governed by the rule of their society or "order." The most famous rule was that made by St. Benedict. According to this all the monks must live in absolute poverty. Whatever they had, even their coarse robes, belonged not to each monk but to the whole order. Monks must obey absolutely the "abbot," that is, the brother whom they chose to be head of the monastery. And they must never marry.
Each brother must spend much time in his own little cell. At certain hours, however, all engaged together in worship in the chapel. Other kinds of service were also required. Some time must be spent each day in study or in copying useful books. At other hours the brothers must labor tilling and improving the land.
Thus when other men were thinking of little but war and bloodshed, the faithful monks and nuns prayed and studied and labored. These humble people, clad in sackcloth, thinking not of themselves but only of their Heavenly Father, were doing more good than most of the kings with their crowns and swords.
And so the monks prospered. Often their first rude structures grew into great and beautiful stone buildings. In the center of such a large monastery were the "cloisters," open yards or courts with fine covered walks where the brothers could stroll up and down without being disturbed. Each monastery had its church, its library stored with precious books, and its lofty "chapter hall" where the monks held their meetings. Then there were the rows of "cells," or little rooms where the monks slept or retired for meditation in private. Besides these there were mills, workshops, and other necessary buildings for labor of various kinds. Indeed, many of the monasteries became more like villages than single buildings.
Round about stretched the fertile fields which in the beginning the labor of the monks had won back from swamp or forest. By the end of the Middle Ages there was hardly a district in all Europe which could not point with pride to some monastery famous for learning and piety. Among the most celebrated of all are the mighty house of Cluny in France, where the famous Gregory VII was once a monk, and the very ancient monastery of St. Albans in England.
The monks cared for the sick; they sheltered the poor; they entertained weary travelers. But this was not all. When hardly anybody else could even read, the monks studied the writings of the east and recopied them
that they might be the better kept. They were almost the only teachers of that dark and far-away time, and in the monasteries there were often famous schools. The monks kept records and wrote books, too, which tell us almost all we know about the Middle Ages.
There were of course many bad monks who went to the monasteries because they were lazy or too cowardly to fight. But in the main the monks were the best and most intelligent men of that time.