THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries wrote various proses for the Christmas festival.
If we consider the Latin Christmas hymns from the fourth century to the thirteenth, we shall find that however much they differ in form, they have one common characteristic : they are essentially theological—dwelling on the Incarnation and the Nativity as part of the process of man's redemption—rather than realistic. There is little attempt to imagine the scene in the stable at Bethlehem, little interest in the Child as a child, little sense of the human pathos of the Nativity. The explanation is, I think, very simple, and it lights up the whole observance of Christmas as a Church festival in the centuries we are con- I sidering : this poetry is the poetry of monks, or of men imbued with j the monastic spirit.
The two centuries following the institution of Christmas saw the break-up of the Roman Empire in the west, and the incursions of barbarians threatening the very existence of the I Christian civilization that had conquered classic paganism. It j was by her army of monks that the Church tamed and Christianized the barbarians, and both religion and culture till the ; middle of the twelfth century were predominantly monastic. ' " In writing of any eminently religious man of this period " [the eleventh century], says Dean Church, " it must be taken almost as a matter of course that he was a monk."5 And a monastery was not the place for human feeling about Christmas ; the monk was—at any rate in ideal—cut off from the world ; not for him were the joys of parenthood or tender feelings for a new-born j1 child. To the monk the world was, at least in theory, the vale of misery ; birth and generation were, one may almost say, tolerated as necessary evils among lay folk unable to rise to the heights of abstinence and renunciation ; one can hardly imagine a true early Benedictine filled with "joy that a man is born into the world." The Nativity was an infinitely important event, to be celebrated with a chastened, unearthly joy, but not, as it became for the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a matter}; upon which human affection might lavish itself, which imagination might deck with vivid concrete detail. In the later Christmas