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granting the correctness of this conjecture, I beg leave, with all becoming deference to my critical supervisor, to offer a few remarks by way of apology.
I feel not the smallest disposition to dispute the truth of this very respectable writer's remark, that I have“ not sufficiently studied that humiliating part of the philosophy of man, his strange inconsistencies." And I am ready to admit that I may not have made the proper allowances for the infelicity of times, &c. Yea, further; that in the darkest periods of the church, there were individuals dragged in the train of those who wandered after the beast, who, nevertheless, in their hearts loved the Redeemer, and in their lives served him, according to the light they had, is a sentiment to which I cheerfully subscribe, but am not aware that I have said any thing that militates against it in this work. The only disputable point between us, is, how far the character of Gregory entitles him to this favourable judgment.
The reader has already seen the fulsome and adulatory strains in which this pontiff addressed the emperor Maurice, in consequence of the Patriarch of Constantinople arrogating to himself the title of “ Universal Bishop." He stiles the emperor his “most religious Lord "--his “most gracious Sovereign"-his “most Christian Majesty "-his "most religious Sovereign," against whom it would be the height of impiety to lift a finger, &c. Let us now mark what followed. Gregory with all his flattery was unable to prevail on the emperor Maurice to second his views; and the former, as might be expected, became not a little dissatisfied with his “most religious Lord.” Soon after this the emperor was dethroned by one of his centurions, who first murdered him, and then usurped his crown. This wretch, whose name was Phocas, was one of the vilest of the human race-a monster, stained with those vices that serve most to blacken human nature. Other tyrants have been cruel from policy; the cruelties of Phocas are not to be accounted for, but on the hypothesis of the most diabolical and disinterested malice. He caused five of the children of the emperor Maurice to be massacred before the eyes of their unhappy father, whom he reserved to the last, that he might be a spectator of the destruction of his children before bis own death. There still remained, however, a brother and son of the emperor's, both of whom he caused to be put to death, together with all the patrici. ans who adhered to the interest of the unhappy monarch. The empress Constantine and her three daughters bad taken refuge in one of the churches of the city, under sanction of the patriarch of Constantinople, who defended them for a time with great spirit and resolution, not permitting them to be dragged by force from their asylum. The tyrant, one of the most vindictive and inexorable of mankind, not wishing to alarm the church at the outset of his reign, now had recourse to dissimulation; and by means of the most solemn oaths and promises of safety, at length prevailed on the females to quit their asylum. The consequence was, that they instantly became the helpless victims of his fury, and suffered on the same spot on which the late emperor and five of his sons had been recently murdered. So much for the character of Phocas: now what should we expect would be the reception which the accounts of all this series of horrid cruelty would meet with at Rome, from a man so renowned for piety, equity, and mildness of disposition as Pope Gregory was? If we look into bis letters of congratulation, we find them stuffed with the vilest and most venal flattery; insomuch that were we to learn the character of Phocas only from this pontiff's letters, we should certainly conclude him to have been rather an angel than a man. He recites the murder of " his most religious Lord" with as much coolness as though religion and morality could be nowise affected by such enormities. Mark how the sanctity of a Gregory congratulates the blood-thirsty rebellious regicide and usurper. Thus he begins—"Glory to God in the highest; who, according as it is written, changes times and transfers kingdoms. And because he
. would have that made known to all men, which he hath vouchsafed to speak by his own prophets, saying, that the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men, and to whom he will he gives it." He then goes on to observe, that God in his incomprehensible providence, sometimes sends kings to afflict his people and punish them for their sins. This, says he, we have known of late to our woful experience. Sometimes, on the other hand, God, in bis mercy, raises good men to the throne, for the relief and exultation of his servants. Then applying this remark to existing circumstances, he adds: “In the abundance of our exultation, on which account, we think ourselves the more speedily confirmed, rejoicing to find the gentleness of your piety equal to your imperial dignity.” Then breaking out into a rapture, no longer to be restrained, he exclaims, “Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad; and, for your illustrious deeds, let the people of every realm, hitherto so vehemently afflicted, now be filled with gladness. May the necks of your enemies be subjected to the yoke of your supreme rule ; and the hearts of your subjects, hitherto broken and depressed, be relieved by your clemency." Proceeding to paint their former miseries, he concludes, with wishing that the commonwealth may long enjoy its present bappiness. Thus, in language evidently borrowed from the inspired writers, and in which they anticipate the joy and gladness that should pervade universal nature at the birth of the Messiah, does this pope celebrate the march of the tyrant and usurper through seas of blood to the imperial VOL. I.
throne. “As a subject and a Christian,” says Gibbon, “ it was the duty of Gregory to acquiesce in the established government; but the joyful applause with which he salutes the fortune of the assassin, has sullied, with indelible disgrace, the character of the saint. The successor of the apostles might have inculcated with decent firmness the guilt of blood, and the necessity of repentance: he is content to celebrate the deliverance of the people, and the fall of the oppressor; to rejoice that the piety and benignity of Phocas have been raised by Providence to the imperial throne; to pray that his hands may be strengthened against all his enemies; and to express a wish, that, after a long triumphant reign, he may be transferred from a temporal to an everlasting kingdom.”-“I have traced,” says the same writer, " the steps of a revolution, so pleasing in Gregory's opinion both to heaven and earth, and Phocas does not appear less hateful in the exercise than in the acquisition of power. The pencil of an impartial historian has delineated the portrait of a monster; his diminutive and deformed person, &c. Ignorant of letters, of laws, and even of arms, he indulged, even in the supreme rank, a more ample privilege of lust and drunkenness; and his brutal pleasures were either injurious to his subjects, or disgraceful to himself. Without assuming the office of a prince, he renounced the profession of a soldier; and the reign of Phocas afflicted Europe with ignominious peace, and Asia with desolating war. His savage temper was inflamed by passion, hardened by fear, and exasperated by resistance or reproach. The flight of Theodosius, the only surviving son of the emperor Maurice, to the Persian court, had been intercepted by a rapid pursuit, or a deceitful message: he was beheaded at Nice; and the last hours of the young prince were soothed by the comforts of religion and the consciousness of inno
cence." Now, if there be any thing of either truth or justice in these remarks on the character of Phocas, what are we to think of that of Gregory, who could stoop to the vile practice of panegyrising such a monster; and, with all due deference, I humbly submit it to the consideration of my discreet monitor, “What valuable end can possibly be answered, by shutting our eyes against such flagrant enormities, and eulogising the men who have perpetrated them ?” “ To me,” says a late candid writer, “ Gregory appears to have been a man, whose understanding, though rather above the middle rate, was much warped by the errors and prejudices of the times in which he lived. His piety was deeply tinctured with superstition, and his morals with monkery. His zeal
, was not pure, in regard to either its nature or its object. In the former respect, it was often intolerant; and in regard to the latter, he evinced an attachment more to the form than to the power of religion, to the name than to the thing. His zeal was exactly that of the Pharisees, who compassed sea and land to make a proselyte, which, when they had accomplished, they rendered him two fold more a child of hell than before. He was ever holding forth the prerogatives of St. Peter, nor did he make any ceremony of signifying, that this prime minister of Jesus Christ, like all other prime ministers, would be most libe ral of his favours to those who were most assiduous in making court to him, especially to them who were most liberal to his foundation at Rome, and that most advanced its dignity and power. So much for St. Gregory, and for the nature and extent of Roman Papal virtue.” to
Decline and Fall, ch. xlvi.