Qoted from the author's "Preface."
"PERHAPS in treating the subject of the present work I may be accused of threshing old straw. For nearly four centuries it has served as material for endless controversy, and its every aspect may be thought to have been exhausted. Yet I have sought to view it from a different standpoint and to write a history, not a polemical treatise. With this object I have abstained from consulting Protestant writers and have confined myself exclusively to the original sources and to Catholic authorities, confident that what might thus be lost in completeness would be compensated by accuracy and impartiality. In this I have not confined myself to standard theological treatises, but have largely referred to popular works of
devotion in which is to be found the practical application of the theories enunciated by the masters of theology. I have purposely been sparing of comment, preferring to present facts and to leave the reader to draw his own conclusions. I may perhaps be pardoned for the hope that, in spite of the arid details of which such an investigation as this must in part consist,
the reader may share in the human interest which has vitalized the labor for me in tracing the gradual growth and development of a system that has, in a degree unparalleled elsewhere, subjected the intellect and conscience of successive generations to the domination of fellow mortals. The history of mankind may be vainly searched for another institution which has established a spiritual autocracy such as that of the Latin Church, or which has exercised so vast an influence on human destinies, and it has seemed to me a service to historical truth to examine somewhat minutely into the origin and development of the sources of its power. This can only be done intelligently by the collocation of a vast aggregate of details, many of them apparently trivial, but all serving to show how, amid the clash of contending opinions, the structure gradually arose which subjugated Christendom beneath its vast and majestic omnipotence, profoundly affecting the course of European history and moulding in no small degree the conception of the duties which man owes to his fellows and to his God. Incidentally, moreover, the investigation affords a singularly instructive example of the method of growth of dogma, in which every detail once settled becomes the point of departure in new and perhaps wholly unexpected directions. The importance of the questions thus passed in review is by no means limited to the past, for in the Latin Church spiritual interests cannot be dissociated from temporal. The publicist must be singularly blind who fails to recognize the growth of influence that has followed the release of the Holy See from the entanglements consequent upon its former position as a petty Italian sovereign, and the enormous opportunities opened to it by the substitution of the rule of the ballot-box for absolutism Through the instrumentality of the confessional, the sodality and the indulgence, its matchless organization is thus enabled to concentrate in the Vatican a power greater
than has ever before been wielded by human hands."