|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
RISE OF THE CHURCH
HOW ROME BECAME THE CENTRE OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD
 THE average intelligent Roman who lived under the Empire
had taken very little interest in the gods of his fathers.
A few times a year he went to the temple, but merely as a
matter of custom. He looked on patiently when the people
celebrated a religious festival with a solemn procession. But he
regarded the worship of Jupiter and Minerva and Neptune as
something rather childish, a survival from the crude days of
the early republic and not a fit subject of study for a man
who had mastered the works of the Stoics and the Epicureans
and the other great philosophers of Athens.
This attitude made the Roman a very tolerant man. The
government insisted that all people, Romans, foreigners,
Greeks, Babylonians, Jews, should pay a certain outward respect
to the image of the Emperor which was supposed to stand
in every temple, just as a picture of the President of the
United States is apt to hang in an American Post Office. But
this was a formality without any deeper meaning. Generally
speaking everybody could honour, revere and adore whatever
gods he pleased, and as a result, Rome was filled with all
sorts of queer little temples and synagogues, dedicated to the
worship of Egyptian and African and Asiatic divinities.
When the first disciples of Jesus reached Rome and began
to preach their new doctrine of a universal brotherhood of man,
 nobody objected. The man in the street stopped and listened.
Rome, the capital of the world, had always been full of wandering
preachers, each proclaiming his own "mystery." Most of
the self-appointed priests appealed to the senses—promised
golden rewards and endless pleasure to the followers of their
own particular god. Soon the crowd in the street noticed
that the so-called Christians (the followers of the Christ or
"anointed") spoke a very different language. They did not
appear to be impressed by great riches or a noble position.
They extolled the beauties of poverty and humility and meekness.
These were not exactly the virtues which had made
Rome the mistress of the world. It was rather interesting to
listen to a "mystery" which told people in the hey-day of their
glory that their worldly success could not possibly bring them
Besides, the preachers of the Christian mystery told dreadful
stories of the fate that awaited those who refused to listen to
the words of the true God. It was never wise to take chances.
Of course the old Roman gods still existed, but were they
strong enough to protect their friends against the powers of
this new deity who had been brought to Europe from distant
Asia? People began to have doubts. They returned to listen
to further explanations of the new creed. After a while they
began to meet the men and women who preached the words of
Jesus. They found them very different from the average
Roman priests. They were all dreadfully poor. They were
kind to slaves and to animals. They did not try to gain riches,
but gave away whatever they had. The example of their unselfish
lives forced many Romans to forsake the old religion.
They joined the small communities of Christians who met in
the back rooms of private houses or somewhere in an open field,
and the temples were deserted.
This went on year after year and the number of Christians
continued to increase. Presbyters or priests (the original
Greek meant "elder") were elected to guard the interests of
the small churches. A bishop was made the head of all the
communities within a single province. Peter, who had
fol-  lowed Paul to Rome, was the first Bishop of Rome. In due
time his successors (who were addressed as Father or Papa)
came to be known as Popes.
The church became a powerful institution within the Empire.
The Christian doctrines appealed to those who despaired
of this world. They also attracted many strong men who
found it impossible to make a career under the Imperial gov-
ernment, but who could exercise their gifts of leadership among
the humble followers of the Nazarene teacher. At last the
state was obliged to take notice. The Roman Empire (I have
said this before) was tolerant through indifference. It allowed
everybody to seek salvation after his or her own fashion. But
it insisted that the different sects keep the peace among themselves
and obey the wise rule of "live and let live."
The Christian communities however, refused to practice any
 sort of tolerance. They publicly declared that their God, and
their God alone, was the true ruler of Heaven and Earth,
and that all other gods were imposters. This seemed unfair
to the other sects and the police discouraged such utterances.
The Christians persisted.
Soon there were further difficulties. The Christians refused
to go through the formalities of paying homage to the emperor.
They refused to appear when they were called upon
to join the army. The Roman magistrates threatened to
punish them. The Christians answered that this miserable
world was only the ante-room to a very pleasant Heaven and
that they were more than willing to suffer death for their
principles. The Romans, puzzled by such conduct, sometimes
killed the offenders, but more often they did not. There was
a certain amount of lynching during the earliest years of the
church, but this was the work of that part of the mob which
accused their meek Christian neighbours of every conceivable
crime, (such as slaughtering and eating babies, bringing about
sickness and pestilence, betraying the country in times of danger)
because it was a harmless sport and devoid of danger, as
the Christians refused to fight back.
THE GOTHS ARE COMING
 Meanwhile, Rome continued to be invaded by the Barbarians
and when her armies failed, Christian missionaries went
forth to preach their gospel of peace to the wild Teutons.
They were strong men without fear of death. They spoke a
language which left no doubt as to the future of unrepentant
sinners. The Teutons were deeply impressed. They still
had a deep respect for the wisdom of the ancient city of Rome.
Those men were Romans. They probably spoke the truth.
Soon the Christian missionary became a power in the savage
regions of the Teutons and the Franks. Half a dozen missionaries
were as valuable as a whole regiment of soldiers.
The Emperors began to understand that the Christian might
be of great use to them. In some of the provinces they were
given equal rights with those who remained faithful to the old
gods. The great change however came during the last half
of the fourth century.
Constantine, sometimes (Heaven knows why) called Constantine
the Great, was emperor. He was a terrible ruffian,
but people of tender qualities could hardly hope to survive
in that hard-fighting age. During a long and checkered career,
Constantine had experienced many ups and downs. Once,
when almost defeated by his enemies, he thought that he would
try the power of this new Asiatic deity of whom everybody was
talking. He promised that he too would become a Christian
if he were successful in the coming battle. He won the victory
and thereafter he was convinced of the power of the Christian
God and allowed himself to be baptised.
From that moment on, the Christian church was officially
recognised and this greatly strengthened the position of the
But the Christians still formed a very small minority of
all the people, (not more than five or six percent,) and in order
to win, they were forced to refuse all compromise. The old
gods must be destroyed. For a short spell the emperor Julian,
a lover of Greek wisdom, managed to save the pagan Gods
from further destruction. But Julian died of his wounds during
a campaign in Persia and his successor Jovian re-established
 the church in all its glory. One after the other the doors of the
ancient temples were then closed. Then came the emperor
Justinian (who built the church of Saint Sophia in Constantinople),
who discontinued the school of philosophy at Athens
which had been founded by Plato.
That was the end of the old Greek world, in which man
had been allowed to think his own thoughts and dream his own
dreams according to his desires. The somewhat vague rules
of conduct of the philosophers had proved a poor compass
by which to steer the ship of life after a deluge of savagery
and ignorance had swept away the established order of things.
There was need of something more positive and more definite.
This the Church provided.
During an age when nothing was certain, the church stood
like a rock and never receded from those principles which it
held to be true and sacred. This steadfast courage gained the
admiration of the multitudes and carried the church of Rome
safely through the difficulties which destroyed the Roman state.
There was however, a certain element of luck in the final
success of the Christian faith. After the disappearance of
Theodoric's Roman-Gothic kingdom, in the fifth century,
Italy was comparatively free from foreign invasion. The
Lombards and Saxons and Slavs who succeeded the Goths were
weak and backward tribes. Under those circumstances it was
possible for the bishops of Rome to maintain the independence
of their city. Soon the remnants of the empire, scattered
throughout the peninsula, recognised the Dukes of Rome (or
bishops) as their political and spiritual rulers.
The stage was set for the appearance of a strong man.
He came in the year 590 and his name was Gregory. He belonged
to the ruling classes of ancient Rome, and he had
been "prefect" or mayor of the city. Then he had become
a monk and a bishop and finally, and much against his will,
(for he wanted to be a missionary and preach Christianity to
the heathen of England,) he had been dragged to the Church
of Saint Peter to be made Pope. He ruled only fourteen
years but when he died the Christian world of western Europe
 had officially recognised the bishops of Rome, the Popes, as
the head of the entire church.
This power, however, did not extend to the east. In
Constantinople the Emperors continued the old custom which had
recognised the successors of Augustus and Tiberius both as
head of the government and as High Priest of the Established
Religion. In the year 1453 the eastern Roman Empire was
conquered by the Turks. Constantinople was taken, and Constantine
Paleologue, the last Roman Emperor, was killed on
the steps of the Church of the Holy Sophia.
A few years before, Zoe, the daughter of his brother
Thomas, had married Ivan III of Russia. In this way did the
grand-dukes of Moscow fall heir to the traditions of Constantinople.
The double-eagle of old Byzantium (reminiscent of
the days when Rome had been divided into an eastern and a
western part) became the coat of arms of modern Russia.
The Tsar who had been merely the first of the Russian nobles,
assumed the aloofness and the dignity of a Roman emperor
before whom all subjects, both high and low, were inconsiderable
The court was refashioned after the oriental pattern which
the eastern Emperors had imported from Asia and from Egypt
and which (so they flattered themselves) resembled the court
of Alexander the Great. This strange inheritance which the
dying Byzantine Empire bequeathed to an unsuspecting world
continued to live with great vigour for six more centuries,
amidst the vast plains of Russia. The last man to wear the
crown with the double eagle of Constantinople, Tsar Nicholas,
was murdered only the other day, so to speak. His body was
thrown into a well. His son and his daughters were all killed.
All his ancient rights and prerogatives were abolished, and the
church was reduced to the position which it had held in Rome
before the days of Constantine.
The western church however fared very differently, as we
shall see in the next chapter when the whole Christian world is
going to be threatened with destruction by the rival creed of
an Arab camel-driver.
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