Introduction

{1} THIS is a world of conflict, and of vicissitude amid the conflict. The Church is ever militant; sometimes she gains, sometimes she loses; and more often she is at once gaining and losing in different parts of her territory. What is ecclesiastical history but a record of the ever-doubtful fortune of the battle, though its issue is not doubtful? Scarcely are we singing Te Deum, when we have to turn to our Misereres: scarcely are we in peace, when we are in persecution: scarcely have we gained a triumph, when we are visited by a scandal. Nay, we make progress by means of reverses; our griefs are our consolations; we lose Stephen, to gain Paul, and Matthias replaces the traitor Judas.

It is so in every age; it is so in the nineteenth century; it was so in the fourth; and about the fourth I am proposing to write. An eventful century, a drama in three acts, each marvellous in itself, each different from the other two! The first is the history of the Roman Empire becoming Christian; the second, that of the indefectible Church of God seeming to succumb to Arianism; the third, that of countless barbarians pouring in upon both Empire and Christendom together. And, as the great convulsions of the earth involve innumerable commotions {2} in detail and local revolutions, and each district and neighbourhood has its own story of distress and confusion, so, in the events of the social world, what is done in the camp or synod vibrates in every town and in every bishopric. From one end of the century to the other, the most momentous changes and the most startling vicissitudes took place; and the threshold of the Apostles was now darkened by messengers of ill, and now lit up with hope and thanksgiving.

So was it in the fourth century; so will it be to the end:

Thus bad and good their several warnings give
Of His approach, whom none may see and live.
    Faith's ear, with awful still delight,
    Counts them like minute bells by night,
Keeping the heart awake till dawn of morn,
While to her funeral pile this aged world is borne.

However, I am attempting here, neither the grand outlines, nor the living details of the century, but some scenes or passages which chronologically or morally belong to it. And I preface them with this allusion to the century itself, because they are thereby duly located, and receive their proper colour. And now, without more words, I shall begin my course, travelling after the sun from East to West: beginning with Greece and Asia Minor, and then visiting, in succession, Egypt, Africa, Spain, and Gaul, where I shall come to an end.

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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