IN the fifth century we see destruction fall on the empire of the city which called itself eternal; and even the great ecclesiastical institutions, the fruit of the blood of martyrs and the prolonged labours of enlightened and pious doctors, swept away by the tide of this mighty devastation. But whilst the heathen mourned hopelessly over the grave of these earthly splendours, and saw, despairingly, the old forms of civilization perish before the inroads of barbarism, good Christians held fast to the anchor of hope, on which they could raise themselves above all mutable things, and by which they could find a firm footing in the very midst of this torrent of destruction. They knew, that "heaven and earth should pass away, but that the words of their Lord should not pass away;" and these words gave them, in the midst of death, an inexhaustible spring of life. The existing ecclesiastical forms, as far as they were connected with the constitution of the Roman empire, might indeed perish in the universal desolation; but the essence of the Church, as of Christianity, could be touched by no destroyer; and this manifested itself the more triumphantly in these times of decrepitude and decay for the world, as the living principle of a new creation.

In that age of impending ruin, a Christian Doctor writes thus (probably Leo the Great, before he became bishop): --

"The very weapons by which the world is devastated, minister to the operations of Christian grace. How many, who, during the calm of peace, deferred their baptism, are now driven by the momentary fear of peril to be baptized! How many slothful and lukewarm spirits are there, on whom imminent terror has effected what quiet exhortations could never accomplish! Many sons of the Church, who have fallen into captivity among their enemies, have made known the Gospel to their masters, and have become the teachers of those into whose bondage they had fallen by the lot of war. Others of the barbarians who served among the Roman mercenaries, have by this means learned amongst us, what they could not have learned in their fatherland, and have returned to their homes instructed in Christianity. Thus nothing can hinder the divine grace from accomplishing what i designs; so that strife conduces to unity, wounds are converted into the means of cure, and that which threatens danger to the Church is constrained to further its growth."

Individuals in whom the Gospel had enkindled a holy fire of love, -- men who, with the strong power of faith united the spirit of wisdom, appeared like ambassadors from heaven, like beings of a nobler, god-like race; and such, indeed they were amongst the corrupt and enervated nations which fell beneath the power of the rude barbarians, and amongst the conquerors themselves. It was thus shown how much the individual can do through the power of religion. We shall first turn our eyes to the North African Churches, in which the period of desolation followed close on the period of the highest prosperity.

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