As we have pursued our rapid way through this condensed account of the conversion of much of Europe, inevitably the question has again and again arisen to perplex us, as it has in earlier sections on the spread of the faith: to what extent, if at all, did these converts understand the Gospel, really commit themselves to it, and know its power? How far, from the standpoint of the true spirit of the faith, were mass conversions desirable? Was it true, as some one was later to put it, that Europe was inoculated with a mild form of Christianity in such fashion that it was immune to the real thing?
Probably full definitive answers are impossible. Yet certain facts are clear. At the outset the vast majority of the nominal Christians were quite unaware of the nature of the Gospel or of the kind of life entailed through the new birth wrought by it. Most of them were baptized either in response to a command from some ruler, their own or a foreign conqueror, or because those about them were receiving the rite. Traditionally religion had been a community affair. As peoples professed to exchange their former faiths for Christianity, it continued to be so. If they thought about it at all, the majority probably expected the new religion to do for them what they had asked of the old, but to do it better.
However, from the outset there were some who caught at least a faint glimmer of what was meant by the Gospel. We must remember that the active missionaries were usually monks and that monks were those who, in theory, had committed themselves fully to the commands of Christ as they understood them. As time passed, moreover, ethical standards that were believed to be Christian were accepted by almost all as ideal, even when they were far from being fully obeyed. Progressively in most lands of "Christendom" instruction was given which involved as a minimum familiarity with the creed, the Lord's Prayer, and something of the meaning of the sacraments.
Probably in the professedly Christian countries of Europe there was quite as much understanding of what was recorded in the New Testament and as much whole-hearted acceptance of it as in the minorities of Asia, whether these were recent converts who had come one by one or were ancient churches, encysted within the dominant Moslem or Hindu communities. Indeed, from Europe there issued, to a much greater degree than from these minorities, movements which we are to meet intermittently through the remainder of our narrative, some of them monastic and some of them from the Catholic standpoint heretical, which sprang from a deep desire to be fully Christian. It would seem that where either the overwhelming majority or a substantial minority profess to be Christian, fresh efforts for the perfect realization of the wonder of the Gospel have been more frequent than where Christians have been minorities which have been primarily on the defensive, seeking to hand down their faith from generation to generation to their children and grandchildren, set consciously in a hostile world, but despairing of winning that world to the faith.
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