The Economic and Social Foundations of European Civilization

By Alfons Dopsch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII THE CHURCH

FOR a long time past and for good reason Christianity, and its representative, the Church, have been credited with an important part in the reconstruction of European culture. The Church appears in the first place as intermediary between ancient civilization and the new Germanic states. Recent scholarship has, however, revealed a picture somewhat different in its essentials from the one presented formerly. At one time the foreground was overshadowed by the great work of conversion accomplished in the new Germanic states, the basis of the political power of Catholicism and the Roman Church. With the growing conviction of the existence of a great cultural chasm between "Antiquity" and the "Middle Ages", and the conception of the latter as a fundamentally new creation, the Church acquired a vital importance as mediator between the old and destroyed past and the new, primitive present. Such hypotheses naturally caused social historians to pay little attention to the earliest period of the diffusion of Christianity, occurring as it did during the decay of antiquity and before the foundation of the Germanic states.

Recent detailed research into the beginnings of Christianity in the various West and Mid-European lands has made it possible to form a more accurate judgment on this question. With the increasing realization that the transition from late Roman to early medieval development was accomplished without the catastrophe formerly imagined, the meaning and the essence of that primitive Christianity has been better understood.

We know to-day that as early as the end of the second century there were Christian communities not only in Southern Gaul (Lyons) but also in the Rhine and Moselle districts.1 As Christianity had come to Southern Gaul from the East, so it spread quickly from thence along the Rhine to Northern Gaul, thanks to the active movement of trade within the Roman Empire. Its propagation was clue not so much to the army as to the traders, craftsmen, and labourers, who came to Gaul from Italy. Even in Roman times Christians were to be found not only in the towns, the centres of trade, but also in the country, though on the whole heathendom lasted longer among the pagani than in the towns. This has been definitely proved by discoveries of early Christian remains in various places--in the Saalburg, in the Taunus, in Wiesbaden, Kreuznach, Bingen, Neuss, Bonn, and Badenweiler.2

The manner in which the Germans became permanently settled in these districts long before the collapse of the West Roman Empire ( 476),3 brought them at once into close contact with these Christians, and makes it clear that the

____________________
1
See a summary of the results of recent research by A. Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, 14, 6 ff., and R. H. Schäfer, Annal. d. Hist. Ver. f. d. Nied.-Rhein, xcviii, 47 f. ( 1916).
2
Cf. Hauck, op. cit., and esp. Jos. Sauer, "Die Anfänge des Christentums land der Kirche in Baden," Neujahrsbll. d. bad. Histor. Kommission, new series, xiv, 10 ( 1911).
3
See above, 52 ff.

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