Newman recounts the achievements and fate of Rome. Over the centuries Roman civilization grew in power and institutions. Its commerce extended far and its numerous constructions covered the area around the city of Rome. Under the Roman Emperors schools were established in the cities of its empire. The study of the useful replaced the fine arts. Laws were codified and the civil administration of the conquered was made possible. But when Barbarian populations overran the empire it was the “hated Christian sect from Galilee” who continued the work of education.
Christians went “forth valiantly to meet the savage destroyer, tamed him without arms, and became the founders of a new and higher civilization. Not a man in Europe now, who talks bravely against the Church, but owes it to the Church, that he can talk at all.”
Newman describes the collapse of the powerful Roman Empire: “First came the Goth, then the Hun, and then the Lombard. The Goth took possession, but he was of noble nature, and soon lost his barbarism. The Hun came next; he was irreclaimable, but did not stay. The Lombard kept both his savageness and his ground; he appropriated to himself the territory, not the civilization of Italy, fierce as the Hun, and powerful as the Goth, the most tremendous scourge of Heaven.” Pope Gregory lamented the destruction that befell the empire by the sword, a plague lasting many years and a succession of earthquakes. Public libraries were destroyed and monasteries sacked. Architecture, engineering and agriculture fell into ruin and were swallowed up by wilderness.
In Rome the Church was only able to provide the clergy with some basic education. Pope Agatho noted that such education was insufficient for scientific exposition or polemical defense. The Pontiffs asked: “What is coming? “What is to be the end?” They looked for a place where learning could be cultivated, and they turned their attention to the North, just beyond the limits of the Roman world, to Ireland.