Short Catechism of Church History - J. Oechtering




The Barbarian Nations of Europe


And the Church


59. Q. What great event threatened to destroy Christianity and ancient civilization in Western Europe?

R. The migration of nations, which occurred from the fourth to the seventh centuries, threatened to destroy Christianity and ancient civilization in Western Europe. The Roman empire of the West fell before its force in the year 475, and the barbarian Goths, Franks, Vandals, Sueves, Lombards, Saxons, and other German tribes. founded new states over its ruins.

60. Q. Which was the most barbarous nation of this epoch?

R. The Huns, a nation of Mongolian descent, that had come from Asia and overrun Western Europe in the fifth century. Their king, Attila, called himself the "scourge of God" and ravaged Germany and France with fire and sword. When he fell upon Italy, Pope Leo, the Great, went to meet him. Struck by the Pope's venerable appearance, and threatened by a heavenly apparition, Attila agreed to leave Italy and returned to Hungary.

61. Q. What course did the Church pursue in dealing with these savage nations?

R. The Church, conscious of her divine mission, undertook at once to become the teacher and spiritual mother of these barbarians.

63. Q. In what manner did she set about this task?

R. The Church sent missionaries, who preached the Gospel to them and established churches and schools in their midst,

63. Q. How did Divine Providence aid the Church in this great work?

R. About the year 500, St. Benedict founded the great Benedictine Order, which became the providential instrument for christianizing and civilizing these barbarian nations.

64. Q. How was this accomplished?

R. The holy monks established convents in the wild forests, cleared and cultivated the land, taught the people religion and morality, established schools for their education and instructed them in agriculture, the trades and the arts.

65. Q. Name some of the great missionaries of this epoch.

R. St. Patrick converted Ireland about the year 432. At Tara, he addressed the assembled chieftains of Ireland and explained the mystery of the Blessed Trinity by using the shamrock as its symbol. Like his friend, St. Martin of Tours, he founded monasteries all over the island. The convent for nuns, founded by St. Bridget (490) at Kildare, became important for the education of the daughters of the nation.

After a life of sublime holiness, great apostolic labors and many miracles, St. Patrick died about the year 493, having brought the whole country into the fold of Christ.

Scotland was converted by St. Ninian and St. Columba.

St. Ninian, friend of St. Martin of Tours and son of a British king, studied at Rome, where Pope Siricius consecrated him bishop of Scotland. He brought the gospel to the southern parts of that country and founded the monastery of Withern, as a center of his labors. ( 430.)

St. Columba, an Irish monk of great learning, evangelized northern Scotland. On the island of Hy (Hebrides) he founded the famous monastery of Iona, which was during many centuries the nursery of apostolic men for the northern countries ( 597).

66. Q. When was England converted?

R. England, in ancient times called Britain, received the tidings of faith as early as the beginning of the second century, but the invasion of the pagan Anglo-Saxons ( A.D. 448) almost destroyed Christianity.

Lucius, a British King, was baptized in the time of Pope Eleutherius, and St. Alban, first martyr of England, suffered in the persecution of Diocletian.

67. Q. What pope sent missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons?

R. Pope Gregory, the Great, sent St. Austin with forty Benedictine monks to England. Assisted by the influence of pious Queen Bertha, they converted King Ethelbert and his people. ( A.D. 596. )

On one occasion, St. Gregory, passing through the streets of Rome, saw English captives in the market place, and, struck by their beauty, inquired who they were. When informed, that they were Angles, he exclaimed: "Not Angles, but angels !" and resolved to Christianize their country.

68. Q. Who brought the gospel to the Netherlands?

R. St. Piatus and St. Servatius preached in the Netherlands during the third and fourth centuries; after the migration of nations St. Eligius, St. Amand, St. Willibrord, and St. Lambert completed the work.

69. Q. How was France converted?

R. France, in ancient times called Gaul, was evangelized during and shortly after the apostolic times, by Lazarus, Martha, Magdalen, Dionysius, and other disciples of the apostles, but was torn from the Church by the immigration of the pagan Franks.

70. Q. How was France brought back to the Church?

R. Clovis, the king, was led to the faith by his holy wife Clotilda. In a battle with the Allemanni, being nearly defeated, he called upon Christ, the God of Clotilda, and gained a complete victory. He was baptized by St. Remigius in 496, and brought his people with him into the Church.

When the great warrior king approached the baptismal font, St. Remigius said: "Bow thy head, proud Sigambrian, and adore what thou hast burnt, and burn what thou hast adored!"

71. Q. How was Spain Christianized?

R. Spain had received the faith from St. Paul, St. James, and the disciples of the Apostles; but, during the migration of nations, the Arian Visigoths tore Spain from the Church. Through the martyrdom of Prince Hermenegild, and the teaching of St. Leander and St. Isidore, King Recared was converted and brought the country back to the Church under Pope Gregory about 595.

72. Q. How was Germany Christianized?

R. The countries along the Rhine and Danube were converted by disciples of the Apostles. St. Helena, mother of Constantine, lived at Treves in 325, and bishops resided there, and at Cologne, Mayence and in many cities of southern Germany. But, after the savage nations had overrun Germany, holy missionaries, mainly from England and Ireland, brought the Gospel to them. St. Severn preached in Austria, St. Fridolin in Baden, St. Columba and St. Gall in Switzerland, St. Kilian and St. Rupert in Bavaria during the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries.

73. Q. Who was the greatest apostle of Germany?

R. St. Winfrid, an English Benedictine monk, to whom Pope Gregory II. gave the name of Boniface, converted middle and northern Germany. (8th century.)

74. Q. How did he overcome the stubbornness of the savage Germans?

R. With an ax he cut down the famous sacred oak of their god Donar, and built out of its wood the first Christian Church. He founded many bishoprics, built convents and schools for the education of young men, and brought into the land holy women like St. Thecla, St. Lioba and St. Walburgis, who established convents for the education of the daughters of the nation.

75. Q. How were Sweden, Norway, and Denmark converted?

R. The great Apostle St. Ansgar sowed the seed of the gospel in Sweden about 850. King Canute, at the instance of his holy queen Emma, completed the conversion of Denmark. King Olaf completed that of Sweden, and King Olaf, the Holy, that of Norway, about the tenth century. Iceland and Greenland had bishops about the year 1000.

76. Q. What about the Lombards in Northern Italy?

R. The Lombards had destroyed the Christian religion in northern Italy, but were converted through the influence of Pope Gregory, the Great, and Queen Theodolinda a daughter of the Duke of Bavaria.

77. Q. Who converted the Slavonic nations?

R. St. Cyril and St. Methodius, sent by the Pope in the year 870, converted a large number of Slavonians. King Borzivoi and his Queen St. Ludmilla, with the help of missionaries from Germany, established Christianity in Bohemia. St. Adalbert of Prague became the Apostle of Prussia about the year 1000. Poland was evangelized about the same time through the influence of its Prince Miesko I. St. Stephen, King of Hungary, completed the conversion of his country with the help of apostolic missionaries from Germany about the year 1000. Russia was received into the Church under Czar Wladimir ( A.D. 1000).

Blessed. Olga, his mother, who had been baptized at Constantinople, obtained missionaries from Otto I., emperor of Germany. While the idols were cast into the river and his people approached for baptism, Wladimir knelt on the bank, invoking God's blessing.

78. Q. What emperor exercised the greatest influence in forming a Christian commonwealth in western and middle Europe?

R. Charlemagne, ruler of the Frankish empire, which comprised the larger portion of western and middle Europe. He was crowned by Pope Leo III. on Christmas day ( A.D. 800) as Roman emperor of the West and protector of the Church. He pacified Europe, built cities, colleges, schools and churches, erected bishoprics, protected popes and bishops, and was the great ideal of a Christian statesman, whose equal the world has never seen since.

Charlemagne (Charles the Great) sought the spiritual and temporal welfare of his people in union with the Church. He gathered around himself holy and learned men and placed the famous scholar Alcuin over the imperial school at Tours, whence trained teachers were sent out to establish higher and elementary schools throughout the empire. He spoke Latin, understood Greek and even Hebrew. He died at the age of 72 years, fortified by the holy sacraments and making the sign of the Cross. His last words were: "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." His body was placed in the imperial tomb under the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle, sitting on a throne and vested in imperial costume; but under the purple was the penitential hairshirt which he had worn all his life.

NOTE.—Before the Church converted and civilized these barbarian nations, they were steeped in gross idolatry, ferocious in war, enslaved to great vices, and roamed the forest in a savage state. The civilized and cultured Christian nations, who to-day rule the world, are their descendants. They owe their greatness chiefly to the Catholic Church. But the process of their education required patient toil and firmness, tempered by charity, and these the Church bestowed upon them with motherly care during the Middle Ages.

The spirit of our modern times is different. In spite of professing "humanity", its advancing step brought to the Indian population of the North American continent, not civilization, but extirpation. Such is the difference of results between the Church which works for the sake of God, and modern thought which works for the sake of man.