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In ‘Darkness and Dawn’ I endeavoured to illustrate in the form of a story an epoch of surpassing historical and moral interest—the struggle in the first century between a nascent Christianity armed only with ‘the irresistible might of weakness,’ and a decadent Paganism supported by the wit, the genius, the religion, the philosophy, the imperial power, and all the armies of the world. I showed that the victory of Christianity was won by virtue of the purity and integrity which it inspired; and that nothing was able to resist a faith which placed the attainment of the ideal of holiness within the reach of the humblest of mankind. I tried to show some glimpse—so far as it was possible—of the frightful spiritual debasement for which a heathendom which had become more than half atheistical was responsible; and of the noble characters which Christianity developed into a beauty till then not only unattained, but unimagined, alike in the high and in the low. So far as the historic outline was concerned the picture was not an imaginative landscape, but an absolute photograph. Every circumstance, every particular, even of costume and custom, was derived directly from the history, poetry, satires, and romances of viii classic writers, or from the literature and remains of the early days of Christianity. If I had not followed this method I should not have been faithful to the main object which I set before me.
I acknowledge with gratitude the kind reception which was accorded to ‘Darkness and Dawn’ by a large number of readers; and, from many communications which have reached me, I trust that I did not wholly fail in making my aim understood and appreciated. I did not appeal to the ordinary novel-reader. I wished to create an interest far deeper and higher than that of passing amusement.
I dwell on this because my plan in the following pages is closely analogous to that which I endeavoured to follow in ‘Darkness and Dawn,’ though the truths which I desire to illustrate and the characteristics of the age with which I have to deal are altogether different.
I there showed the influences which enabled the Church to triumph over the world: it is now my far sadder task to show how the world reinvaded, and partly even triumphed over, the nominal Church. I there showed how the Darkness had been scattered by the Dawn: I have here to picture how the Sun of Righteousness, which had risen with healing in his wings, was overshadowed by many ominous and lurid clouds. ‘Of the Byzantine Empire,’ says Mr. Lecky, ‘the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed…. The Byzantine Empire was pre-eminently the age of treachery…. ix The Asiatic Churches had already perished. The Christian faith, planted in the dissolute cities of Asia Minor, had produced many fanatical ascetics, and a few illustrious theologians, but it had no renovating effect upon the people at large. It introduced among them a principle of interminable and implacable dissensions, but it scarcely tempered in any appreciable degree their luxury or their sensuality.’
The apparent triumph of Christianity was in some sense, and for a time, its real defeat, the corruption of its simplicity, the defacement of its purest and loftiest beauty.
Yet, however much the Divine ideal might be obscured, it was never wholly lost. The sun was often clouded; but behind that veil of earthly mists, on the days which seemed most dark, it was there always, flaming in the zenith, and it could make the darkest clouds palpitate with light. No age since Christ died was so utterly corrupt as not to produce some prophets and saints of God. These saints, these prophets, in age after age, were persecuted, were sawn asunder, were slain with the sword by kings and priests; but the next generation, which built their sepulchres, had, in part at least, profited by their lessons.
‘The Church,’ said St. Chrysostom, ‘cannot be shaken. The more the world takes counsel against it, the more it increases; the waves are dissipated, the rock remains immovable.’
In reading this story, then, the reader will be presented with an historic picture in which fiction has been x allowed free play as regards matters which do not affect the important facts, but of which every circumstance bearing on my main design is rigidly accurate, or, at any rate, is derived from the authentic testimony of contemporary Pagans, and of the Saints and Fathers of the Church of God.
F. W. Farrar.
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