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Theology

Two Articles by Philip Schaff

CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIETY.

by Philip Schaff

Christianity enters with its leaven-like virtue the whole civil and social life of a people, and leads it on the path of progress in all genuine civilization. It nowhere prescribes, indeed, a particular form of government, and carefully abstains from all improper interference with political and secular affairs. It accommodates itself to monarchical and republican institutions, and can flourish even under oppression and persecution from the State, as the history of the first three centuries sufficiently shows. But it teaches the true nature and aim of all government, and the duties of rulers and subjects; it promotes the abolition of bad laws and institutions, and the establishment of good; it is in principle opposed alike to despotism and anarchy; it tends, under every form of government, towards order, propriety, justice, humanity, and peace; it fills the ruler with a sense of responsibility to the supreme king and judge, and the ruled with the spirit of loyalty, virtue, and piety.

Finally, the Gospel reforms the international relations by breaking down the partition walls of prejudice and hatred among the different nations and races. It unites in brotherly fellowship and harmony around the same communion table even the Jews and the Gentiles, once so bitterly separate and hostile. The spirit of Christianity, truly catholic or universal, rises above all national distinctions. Like the congregation at Jerusalem, the whole apostolic church was of "one heart and of one soul." It had its occasional troubles, indeed, temporary collisions between a Peter and a Paul, between Jewish and Gentile Christians; but instead of wondering at these, we must admire the constant victory of the spirit of harmony and love over the remaining forces of the old nature and of a former state of things. The poor Gentile Christians of Paulís churches in Greece sent their charities to the poor Jewish Christians in Palestine, and thus proved their gratitude for the gospel and its fellowship, which they had received from that mother church. The Christians all felt themselves to be "brethren," were constantly impressed with their common origin and their common destiny, and considered it their sacred duty to "keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." While the Jews, in their spiritual pride and "odium generis humani" abhorred all Gentiles; while the Greeks despised all barbarians as only half men; and while the Romans, with all their might and policy, could bring their conquered nations only into a mechanical conglomeration, a giant body without a soul; Christianity, by purely moral means) founded a universal spiritual empire and a communion of saints, which stands unshaken to this day, and will spread till it embraces all the nations of the earth as its living members, and reconciles all to God.

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, Chp 8, paragraph 49, Ages Software.

 

SUMMARY OF MORAL REFORMS.

by Philip Schaff

Christianity represents the thoughts and purposes of God in history. They shine as so many stars in the darkness of sin and error. They are unceasingly opposed, but make steady progress and are sure of final victory. Heathen ideas and practices with their degrading influences controlled the ethics, politics, literature, and the house and home of emperor and peasant, when the little band of despised and persecuted followers of Jesus of Nazareth began the unequal struggle against overwhelming odds and stubborn habits. It was a struggle of faith against superstition, of love against selfishness, of purity against corruption, of spiritual forces against political and social power.

Under the inspiring influence of the spotless purity of Christís teaching and example, and aided here and there by the nobler instincts and tendencies of philosophy, the Christian church from the beginning asserted the individual rights of man, recognized the divine image in every rational being, taught the common creation and common redemption, the destination of all for immortality and glory, raised the humble and the lowly, comforted the prisoner and captive, the stranger and the exile, proclaimed chastity as a fundamental virtue, elevated woman to dignity and equality with man, upheld the sanctity and inviolability of the marriage tie, laid the foundation of a Christian family and happy home, moderated the evils and undermined the foundations of slavery, opposed polygamy and concubinage, emancipated the children from the tyrannical control of parents, denounced the exposure of children as murder, made relentless war upon the bloody games of the arena and the circus, and the shocking indecencies of the theatre, upon cruelty and oppression and every vice infused into a heartless and loveless world the spirit of love and brotherhood, transformed sinners into saints, frail women into heroines, and lit up the darkness of the tomb by the bright ray of unending bliss in heaven.

Christianity reformed society from the bottom, and built upwards until it reached the middle and higher classes, and at last the emperor himself. Then soon after the conversion of Constantine it began to influence legislation, abolished cruel institutions, and enacted laws which breathe the spirit of justice and humanity. We may deplore the evils which followed in the train of the union of church and state, but we must not overlook its

many wholesome effects upon the Justinian code which gave Christian ideas an institutional form and educational power for whole generations to this day. From that time on also began the series of charitable institutions for widows and orphans, for the poor and the sick, the blind and the deaf, the intemperate and criminal, and for the care of all unfortunate,ó institutions which we seek in vain in any other but Christian countries. Nor should the excesses of asceticism blind us against the moral heroism of renouncing rights and enjoyments innocent in themselves, but so generally abused and poisoned, that total abstinence seemed to most of the early fathers the only radical and effective cure. So in our days some of the best of men regard total abstinence rather than temperance, the remedy of the fearful evils of intemperance.

Christianity could not prevent the irruption of the Northern barbarians and the collapse of the Roman empire. The process of internal dissolution had gone too far; nations as well as individuals may physically and morally sink so low that they, are beyond the possibility of recovery. Tacitus, the heathen Stoic in the second century, and Salvianus, the Christian presbyter in the fifth, each a Jeremiah of his age, predicted the approaching doom and destruction of Roman society, looked towards the savage races of the North for fresh blood and new vigor. But the Keltic and Germanic conquerors would have turned Southern Europe into a vast solitude (as the Turks have laid waste the fairest portions of Asia), if they had not embraced the principles, laws, and institutions of the Christian church.

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 2, Chp 8, paragraph 103, Sages Software.

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