Probably no religious institution in the world has had so remarkable a history, and assuredly none has attracted so large and varied a literature, as the Papacy. The successive dynasties of the priests of ancient Egypt were, by comparison, parochial in their power and ephemeral in their duration. The priests of Buddha, rising to an autocracy in the isolation of Thibet or mingling with the crowd in the more genial atmosphere of China or cherishing severe mysticisms in Japan, offer no analogy to the Papacy's consistent growth and homogeneous dominion. The religious leaders of the Jews, scattered through the world, yet hardened in their type by centuries of persecution, may surpass it in conservative antiquity, but they do not remotely approach it in power and in historical importance. It influences the history of Europe more conspicuously than emperors have ever done, stretches a more than imperial power over lands beyond the most fevered dreams of Alexander or Cæsar, and may well seem to have made "Eternal Rome" something more than the idle boast of a patriot.
Yet this conservative endurance has not been favoured by such a stability of environment as has sheltered the lamas of Thibet or the secular priests of the old Chinese religion.