Larger font
Smaller font

Ecclesiastical Empire

 - Contents
  • Results
  • Related
  • Featured
No results found for: "".
  • Weighted Relevancy
  • Content Sequence
  • Relevancy
  • Earliest First
  • Latest First
    Larger font
    Smaller font


    THE dominion claimed by the papacy is the heart and life, the soul, of man. As essential to the proper administration of this dominion, she claimed that the temporal power of the world must be absolutely subject to her will. This power she had now gained. By it her dominion over man had become complete. Particular acts of individual popes were often contested; but the legitimacy and power of her empire there was none to dispute.ECE 423.1

    2. Therefore the proper inquiry next to be made is, How did the papacy use her power? The answer to this question is as full, direct, and explicit as any one can reasonably ask. This answer is given more fully, and yet more briefly, in Lea’s “History of the Inquisition” than in any other single work. This history of the Inquisition is the latest that has been written: published in 1888; its evidences are unquestionable; while its opinions are so favorable to the papacy as to almost, if not altogether, an apology for her. For these reasons, it will here be largely quoted. 1[Page 423] All quotations in this chapter not otherwise credited, are from Lea’s “History of the Inquisition.” We have seen how the papacy treated the Mohammedans and the Jews. We have seen how she treated the people of the Greek Church. We have seen how she treated those of her own who were emperors, kings, and nobles. How did she treat the common people and the poor of her own acknowledged people—those who were heart, soul, and body her own?ECE 423.2

    3. As the twelfth century drew to a close, the Church was approaching a crisis in its career. The vicissitudes of a hundred and fifty years, skillfully improved, had rendered it the mistress of Christendom.... Over soul and conscience” the “empire” of “priests was complete. No Christian could hope for salvation who was not in all things an obedient son of the Church, and who was not ready to take up arms in its defense...The ancient independence of the episcopate was no more. Step Ly step the supremacy of the Roman see had been asserted and enforced, until it enjoyed the universal jurisdiction which enabled it to bend to its wishes every prelate, under the naked alternative of submission or expulsion. The papal mandate, just or unjust, reasonable or unreasonable, was to be received and implicitly obeyed, of there was no appeal from the representative of St. Peter. In a narrower sphere, and subject to the pope, the bishop held an authority which, at least in theory, was equally absolute; while the humbler minister of the alter was the instrument by which the decrees of pope and bishop were enforced among the people; for the destiny of a all men lay in the hands which could administer or withhold the sacraments essential to salvation.ECE 423.3

    4. “Beside supervision over matters of faith and discipline, of marriage, of inheritance, and of usury, which belonged to them by general consent, there were comparatively few questions between man and man which could not be made to include some case of conscience involving the interpolation of spiritual interference, especially when agreements were customarily confirmed with the sanction of the oath; and the cure of souls implied a perpetual inquest over the aberrations, positive or possible, of every member of the flock. It would be difficult to set bounds to the intrusion upon the concerns of every man which was thus rendered possible, or to the influence thence derivable. Not only did the humblest priest wield a supernatural power which marked him as one elevated above the common level of humanity, but his person and possessions were alike inviolable. No matter what crimes he might commit, secular justice could not take cognizance of them, and secular officials could not arrest him. He was amenable only to the tribunals of his own order, which were debarred from inflicting punishments involving the effusion of blood, and from whose decisions an appeal to the supreme jurisdiction of distant Rome conferred too often virtual immunity.”ECE 424.1

    5. In England conditions were not any worse than on the Continent, if they were so bad, and there “crimes of the deepest dye murders, robberies, adulteries rapes, were daily committed with impunity by the ecclesiastics. It had been found, for instance on inquiry, that no less than a hundred murders had since the king’s [Henry II] accession [1154-1163], been perpetrated by men of the profession, who had never been called to account for these offenses; and holy orders were become a full protection for all enormities.”ECE 424.2

    6. It was held by the Church that “spiritual penalties alone could be inflicted” in cases of offenses of the clergy. When a cleric had ruined a gentleman’s daughter, and to protect himself had murdered her father, and King Henry II required that “the clerk should be delivered up and receive condign punishment from the magistrate, Becket insisted on the Privileges of the Church; confined the criminal in the bishop’s prison, lest he should be seized by the kings’s officers; maintained that no greater punishment could be inflicted on him than degradation; and when the King demanded that immediately after he was degraded he should be tried by the civil power, the primate asserted that it was iniquitous to try a man twice upon the same offense.”—Hume. 2[Page 425] “History of England,” chap 8, par. 2. “The same privilege protected ecclesiastical property, conferred on the Church by the piety of successive generations, and covering no small portion of the most fertile lands of Europe. Moreover, the seignoral rights attaching to those lands often carried extensive temporal jurisdiction, which gave to their ghostly possessors the power over life and limb enjoyed by feudal lords.ECE 425.1

    7. “The Church militant was thus an army encamped on the soil of Christendom, with its outposts everywhere, subject to the most efficient discipline, animated with a common purpose, every soldier panoplied with inviolability and armed with the tremendous weapons which slew the soul. There was little that could not be dared or done by the commander of such a force, whose orders were listened to as oracles of God, from Portugal to Palestine and from Sicily to Iceland. ‘Princes,’ says John of Salisbury, ‘derive their power from the Church, and are servants of the priesthood.’ ‘The least of the priestly order is worthier than any king,’ exclaims Honorius of Autun; ‘prince and people are subjected to the clergy, which shines superior as the sun to the moon.’ Innocent III used a more spiritual metaphor when he declared that the priestly power was as superior to the secular as the soul of man was to his body; and he summed up his estimate of his own position by pronouncing himself to be the vicar of Christ, the Christ of the Lord, the God of Pharaoh, placed midway between God and man, this side of God but beyond man, less than God but greater than man, who judges all, and is judged by none. That he was supreme over all the earth—over pagans and infidels as well as over Christians—was legally proved and universally taught by the mediaeval doctors.ECE 425.2

    8. “Yet, in achieving this supremacy, much had been of necessity sacrificed. The Christian virtues of humility and charity and self-abnegation had virtually disappeared in the contest which left the spiritual power dominant over the temporal. The affection of the populations was no longer attracted by the graces and loveliness, of Christianity; submission was purchased by the promise of salvation, to be acquired by faith and obedience, or was extorted by the threat of perdition, or by the sharper terrors of earthly persecution. If the Church, by sundering itself completely from the laity, had acquired the services of a militia devoted wholly to itself, it had thereby created an antagonism between itself and the people.ECE 426.1

    9. “Practically, the whole body of Christians no longer constituted the Church; that body was divided into two essentially distinct classes, the shepherds and the sheep; and the lambs were often apt to think, not unreasonably, that they were tended only to be shorn. The worldly prizes offered to ambition by an ecclesiastical career drew into the ranks of the Church able men, it is true, but men whose object was worldly ambition rather than spiritual development. The immunities and privileges of the Church, and the enlargement of its temporal acquisitions were objects held more at heart than the salvation of souls, and its high places were filled, for the most part, with men whom worldliness was more conspicuous than the humbler virtues.ECE 426.2

    10. “While angels would have been required to exercise becomingly the tremendous powers claimed and acquired by the Church, the methods by which clerical preferment and promotion were secured were such as to favor the unscrupulous rather than the deserving. To understand fully the causes which drove so many thousands into schism and heresy, leading to wars and persecutions, and the establishment of the Inquisition, it is necessary to cast a glance at the character of the men who represented the Church before the people, and at the use which they made, for good or for evil, of the absolute spiritual despotism which had become established. In wise and devout hands it might elevate incalculably the moral and material standards of European civilization; in the hands of the selfish and depraved it could become the instrument of minute and all-pervading oppression, driving whole nations to despair.ECE 426.3

    11. “As regards the methods of election to the episcopate there can not be said at this period to have been any settled and invariable rule. The ancient form of election by the clergy, with the acquiescence of the people of the diocese, was still preserved in theory, but in practice the electoral body consisted of the cathedral canons; while the confirmation required of the king, or semi-independent feudal noble, and of the pope, in a time of unsettled institutions, frequently rendered the election an empty form, in which the royal or papal power might prevail, according to the tendencies of time and place. The constantly increasing appeals to Rome, as to the tribunal of last resort, by disappointed aspirants, under every imaginable pretext, gave to the holy see a rapidly growing influence, which, in many cases, amounted almost to the power of appointment; and Innocent II, at the Lateran Council of 1139, applied the feudal system to the Church by declaring that all ecclesiastical dignities were received and held of the popes like fiefs.ECE 427.1

    12. “Whatever rules, however, might be laid down, they could not operate in rendering the elect better than the electors. The stream will not rise above its source, and a corrupt electing or appointing power is not apt to be restrained from the selection of fitting representatives of itself by methods, however ingeniously devised, which have not the inherent ability of self-enforcement. The oath which cardinals were obliged to take on entering a conclave—’I call God to witness that I choose him whom I judge according to God ought to be chosen’—was notoriously inefficacious in securing the election of pontiffs fitted to serve as the vicegerents of God; and so, from the humblest parish priest to the loftiest prelate, all grades of the hierarchy were likely to be filled by worldly, ambitious, self-seeking, and licentious men. The material to be selected from, moreover, was of such a character that even the most exacting friends of the Church had to content themselves when the least worthless was successful. St. Peter Damiani, in asking Gregory VI the confirmation of a bishop-elect of Fossombrone, admits that he is unfit, and that he ought to undergo penance before undertaking the episcopate, but yet there is nothing better to be done, for in the whole diocese there was not a single ecclesiastic worthy of the office; all were selfishly ambitious, too eager for preferment to think of rendering themselves worthy of it, inflamed with desire for power, but utterly careless as to its duties.ECE 427.2

    13. “Under these circumstances simony, with all its attendant evils, was almost universal, and those evils made themselves everywhere felt on the character both of electors and elected. In the fruitless war waged by Gregory VII and his successors against this all-pervading vice, the number of bishops assailed is the surest index of the means which had been found successful, and of the men who thus were enabled to represent the apostles. As Innocent III declared, it was a disease of the Church immedicable by either soothing remedies or fire; and Peter Cantor, who died in the odor of sanctity, relates with approval the story of a Cardinal Martin, who, on officiating in the Christmas solemnities at the Roman court, rejected a gift of twenty pounds sent him by the papal chancellor, for the reason that it was notoriously the product of rapine and simony.ECE 428.1

    14. “It was related as a supreme instance of the virtue of Peter, cardinal of St. Chrysogono, formerly bishop of Meaux, that he had, in a single election, refused the dazzling bribe of five hundred marks of silver. Temporal princes were more ready to turn the power of confirmation to profitable account, and few imitated the example of Philip Augustus, who, when the abbacy of St. Denis became vacant, and the Provost, the treasurer, and the cellarer of the abbey each sought him secretly, and gave him five hundred livres for the succession, quietly, went to the abbey, picked out a simple monk standing in a corner, conferred the dignity on him, and handed him the fifteen hundred livres. The Council of Rouen, in 1050, complains bitterly of the pernicious custom by which ambitious men accumulated, by every possible means, presents wherewith to gain the favor of the prince and his courtiers in order to obtain bishoprics, but it could suggest no remedy....ECE 428.2

    15. “Under such influences it was in vain that the better class of men who occasionally appeared in the ranks of the hierarchy ...struggled to enforce respect for religion and morality. The current against them was too strong, and they could do little but protest and offer an example which few were found to follow. In those days of violence the meek and humble had little chance, and the prizes were for those who could intrigue and chaffer, or whose martial tendencies offered promise that they would make the rights of their churches and vassals respected. In fact, the military character of the mediaeval prelates is a subject which it would be interesting to consider in more detail than space will here admit. The wealthy abbeys and powerful bishoprics came to be largely regarded as appropriate means to provide for younger sons of noble houses, or to increase the influence of leading families. By such methods as we have seen they passed into the hands of those whose training had been military rather than religious. The miter and cross had no more scruple than the knightly pennon to be seen in the forefront of battle. When excommunication failed to bring to reason restless vassals or encroaching neighbors, there was prompt recourse to the fleshly arm, and the plundered peasant could not distinguish between the ravages of the robber baron and of the representative of Christ....ECE 428.3

    16. “The people, on whom fell the crushing weight of these conflicts, could only look upon the baron and priest as enemies both; and whatever might be lacking in the military ability of the spiritual warriors, was compensated for by their seeking to kill the souls as well as the bodies of their foes. This was especially the case in Germany, where the prelates were princes as well as priests, and where a great religious house like the abbey of St. Gall was the temporal ruler of the cantons of St. Gall and Appenzell, until the latter threw off the yoke after a long and devastating war. The historian of the abbey chronicles with pride the martial virtues of successive abbots, and in speaking of Ulric III, who died in 1117, he remarks that, worn out with many battles, he at last passed away in peace. All this was in some sort a necessity of the incongruous union of feudal noble and Christian prelate, and though more marked in Germany than elsewhere, it was to be seen everywhere.”ECE 429.1

    17. “The impression which these worldly and turbulent men made upon their quieter contemporaries was, that pious souls believed that no bishop could reach the Kingdom of heaven. There was a story widely circulated of Geoffroi de Peronne, prior of Clairvaux, who was elected bishop of Tournay, and who was urged by St. Bernard and Eugenius III to accept, but who cast himself on the ground, saying, ‘If you turn me out, I may become a vagrant monk, but a bishop never!’ On his deathbed he promised a friend to return and report as to his condition in the other world, and did so as the latter was praying at the altar. He announced that he was among the blessed, but it had been revealed to him by the Trinity that if he had accepted the bishopric, he would have been numbered with the damned. Peter of Blois, who relates this story, and Peter Cantor, who repeats it, both manifested their belief in it by persistently refusing bishoprics; and not long after an ecclesiastic in Paris declared that he could believe all things except that any German bishop could be saved, because they bore the two swords, of the spirit and of the flesh.ECE 429.2

    18. “All this Caesarius of Heisterbach explains by the rarity of the worthy prelates, and the superabounding multitude of wicked ones; and he further points out that the tribulations to which they were exposed arose from the fact that the hand of God was not visible in their promotion. Language can scarce be stronger than that employed by Louis VII, in describing the worldliness and pomp of the bishops, when he vainly appealed to Alexander III to utilize his triumph over Frederick Barbarossa by reforming the Church. In fact, the records of the time bear ample testimony of the rapine and violence, the flagrant crimes and defiant immorality of these princes of the Church. The only tribunal to which they were amenable was that of Rome. It required the courage of desperation to cause complaints to be made there against them, and when such complaints were made, the difficulty of proving charges, the length to which proceedings were drawn out, and the notorious venality of the Roman curia, afforded virtual immunity.... We can readily believe the assertion of a writer of the thirteenth century, that the process of deposing a prelate was so cumbrous that even the most wicked had no dread of punishment.ECE 430.1

    19. “Even where the enormity of offenses did not call for papal intervention, the episcopal office was prostituted in a thousand ways of oppression and exaction which were sufficiently within the law to afford the sufferers no opportunity of redress. How thoroughly its profitable nature was recognized, is shown by the case of a bishop who, when fallen in years, summoned together his nephews and relatives that they might agree among themselves as to his succession. They united upon one of their number, and conjointly borrowed the large sums requisite to purchase the election. Unluckily the bishop-elect died before obtaining possession, and on his deathbed was heartily objurated by his ruined kinsmen, who saw no means of repaying the borrowed capital which they had invested in the abortive episcopal partnership. As St. Bernard says, boys were inducted into the episcopate at an age when they rejoiced rather at escaping from the ferule of their teachers than at acquiring rule; but, soon growing insolent, they learn to sell the altar and empty the pouches of their subjects!ECE 430.2

    20. “In thus exploiting their office the bishops only followed the example set them by the papacy, which, directly or through its agents, by its exactions, made itself the terror of the Christian churches. Arnold. who was archbishop of Treves from 1169 to 1183, won great credit for his astuteness in saving his people from spoliation by papal nuncios; for whenever he heard of their expected arrival, he used to go to meet them, and by heavy bribes induce them to bend their steps elsewhere, to the infinite relief of his own flock. In 1160 the Templars complained to Alexander III that their labors for the Holy Land were seriously impaired by the extortions of papal legates and nuncios, who were not content with the free quarters and supply of necessaries to which they were entitled, and Alexander graciously granted the Order special exemption from the abuse, except when the legate was a cardinal.ECE 431.1

    21. “It was worse when the pope came himself. Clement V, after his consecration at Lyons, made a progress to Bordeaux, in which he and his retinue so effectually plundered the churches on the road that, after his departure from Bourges, Archbishop Gilles, in order to support life, was obliged to present himself daily among his canons for a share in the distribution of provisions; and the papal residence at the wealthy priory of Grammont so impoverished the house that the prior resigned in despair of being able to re-establish its affairs, and his successor was obliged to levy a heavy tax on all the houses of the Order.ECE 431.2

    22. “England, after the ignominious surrender of King John, was peculiarly subjected to papal extortion. Rich benefices were bestowed on foreigners, who made no pretext of residence, until the annual revenue thus withdrawn from the island was computed to amount to seventy thousand marks, or three times the income of the crown, and all resistance was suppressed by excommunications which disturbed the whole kingdom. At the general Council of Lyons, held in 1245, an address was presented in the name of the Anglican Church, complaining of these oppressions in terms more energetic than respectful, but it accomplished nothing. Ten years later the papal legate, Rustand, made a demand in the name of Alexander IV for an immense subsidy—the share of the abbey of St. Albans was no less than six hundred marks—when Fulk, bishop of London, declared that he would be decapitated, and Walter of Worcester that he would be hanged, sooner than submit; but this resistance was broken down by the device of trumping up fictitious claims of debts due Italian bankers for moneys alleged to have been advanced to defray expenses before the Roman curia, and these claims were enforced by excommunication. When Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln found that his efforts to reform his clergy were rendered nugatory by appeals to Rome, where the offenders could always purchase immunity, he visited Innocent IV in hopes of obtaining some change for the better, and on utterly failing, he bluntly exclaimed to the pope, ‘Oh, money, money, how much thou canst effect, especially in the Roman court!’”ECE 431.3

    23. “This was by no means the only mode in which the supreme jurisdiction of Rome worked inestimable evil throughout Christendom. While the feudal courts were strictly territorial and local, and the judicial functions of the bishops were limited to their own dioceses so that every man knew to whom he was responsible in a tolerably well-settled system of justice, the universal jurisdiction of Rome gave ample opportunity for abuses of the worst kind. The pope, as supreme judge, could delegate to any one any portion of his authority, which was supreme everywhere; and the papal chancery was not too nice in its discrimination as to the character of the persons to whom it issued letters empowering them to exercise judicial functions and enforce them with the last dread sentence of excommunication—letters, indeed, which, if the papal chancery is not wronged, were freely sold to all able to pay for them. Europe was thus traversed by multitudes of men armed with these weapons, which they used without remorse for extortion and oppression. Bishops, too, were not backward in thus farming out their more limited jurisdictions, and, in the confusion thus arising, it was not difficult for reckless adventurers to pretend to the possession of these delegated powers and use them likewise for the basest purposes, no one daring to risk the possible consequences of resistance.ECE 432.1

    24. “These letters thus afforded a carte blanche through which injustice could be perpetrated and malignity gratified to the fullest extent. An additional complication which not unnaturally followed was the fabrication and falsification of these letters. It was not easy to refer to distant Rome to ascertain the genuineness of a papal brief confidently produced by its bearer, and the impunity with which powers so tremendous could be assumed was irresistibly attractive. When Innocent III ascended the throne, he found a factory of forged letters in full operation in Rome, and although this was suppressed, the business was too profitable to be broken up by even his vigilance. To the end of his pontificate the detection of fraudulent briefs was a constant preoccupation. Nor was this industry confined to Rome. About the same period Stephen, bishop of Tournay, discovered in his episcopal city a similar nest of counterfeiters, who had invented an ingenious instrument for the fabrication of the papal seals. To the people, however, it mattered little whether they were genuine or fictitious; the suffering was the same whether the papal chancery had received its fee or not.ECE 433.1

    25. “Thus the Roman curia was a terror to all who were brought in contact with it. Hildebert of le Mans pictures its officials as selling justice, delaying decisions on every pretext, and, finally, oblivious when bribes were exhausted. They were stone as to understanding, wood as to rendering judgment, fire as to wrath, iron as to forgiveness, foxes in deceit, bulls in pride, and Minotaurs in consuming everything. In the next century Robert Grosseteste boldly told Innocent IV and his cardinals that the curia was the source of all the vileness which rendered the priesthood a hissing and a reproach to Christianity, and, after another century and a half, those who knew it best described it as unaltered.ECE 433.2

    26. “When such was the example set by the head of the Church, it would have been a marvel had not too many bishops used all their abundant opportunities for the fleecing of their flocks. Peter Cantor, an unexceptional witness, describes them as fishers for money and not for souls, with a thousand frauds to empty the pockets of the poor. They have, he says, three hooks with which to catch their prey in the depths—the confessor, to whom is committed the hearing of confessions and the cure of souls; the dean, archdeacon, and other officials, who advance the interest of the prelate by fair means or foul; and the rural provost, who is chosen solely with regard to his skill in squeezing the pockets of the poor and carrying the spoil to his master. These places were frequently farmed out, and the right to torture and despoil the people was sold to the highest bidder. The general detestation in which these gentry were held is illustrated by the story of an ecclesiastic who, having by an unlucky run of the dice lost all his money but five sols, exclaimed in blasphemous madness that he would give them to any one who would teach him how most greatly to offend God, and a bystander was adjudged to have won the money when he said, ‘If you wish to offend God beyond all other sinners, become an episcopal official or collector.’ Formerly, continues Peter Cantor, there was some decent concealment in absorbing the property of rich and poor, but now it is publicly and boldly seized through infinite devices and frauds and novelties of extortion. The officials of the prelates are not only their leeches, who suck and are squeezed, but are strainers of the milk of their rapine, retaining for themselves the dregs of sin.ECE 433.3

    27. “From this honest burst of indignation we see that the main instrument of exaction and oppression was the judicial functions of the episcopate. Considerable revenues, it is true, were derived from the sale of benefices and the exaction of fees for all official acts, and many prelates did not blush to derive a filthy gain from the licentiousness universal among a celibate clergy by exacting a tribute known as ‘cullagium,’ on payment of which the priest was allowed to keep his concubine in peace; but the spiritual jurisdiction was the source of the greatest profit to the prelate and of the greatest misery to the people. Even in the temporal courts, the fines arising from litigation formed no mean portion of the income of the seigneurs; and in the Courts Christian, embracing the whole of spiritual jurisprudence and much of temporal, there was an ample harvest to be gathered. Thus, as Peter Cantor says, the most holy sacrament of matrimony, owing to the remote consanguinity coming within the prohibited degrees, was made a subject of derision to the laity by the venality with which marriages were made and unmade to fill the pouches of the episcopal officials.ECE 434.1

    28. “Excommunication was another fruitful source of extortion. If an unjust demand was resisted, the recalcitrant was excommunicated, and then had to pay for reconciliation in addition to the original sum. Any delay in obeying a summons to the Court of Officiality entailed excommunication with the same result of extortion. When litigation was so profitable, it was encouraged to the utmost, to the infinite wretchedness of the people. When a priest was inducted into a benefice, it was customary to exact of him an oath that he would not overlook any offenses committed by his parishioners, but would report them to the Ordinary, that the offenders might be prosecuted and fined, and that he would not allow any quarrels to be settled amicably; and though Alexander III issued a decretal pronouncing all such oaths void, yet they continued to be required. As an illustration of the system a case is recorded where a boy in play accidentally killed a comrade with an arrow. The father of the slayer chanced to be wealthy, and the two parents were not permitted to be reconciled gratuitously. Peter of Blois, archdeacon of Bath, was probably not far wrong when he described the episcopal Ordinaries as vipers of iniquity transcending the malice all serpents and basilisks, as shepherds, not of lambs, but of wolves, and as devoting themselves wholly to malice and rapine.ECE 434.2

    29. “Even more efficient as a cause of misery to the people and hostility toward the Church was the venality of many of the episcopal courts. The character of the transactions and of the clerical lawyers who pleaded before them is visible in an attempted reformation by the Council of Rouen, in 1231, requiring the counsel who practiced in these courts to swear that they would not steal the papers of the other side or produce forgeries or perjured testimony in support of their cases. The judges were well fitted to preside over such a bar. They are described as extortioners who sought by every device to filch the money of suitors to the last farthing, and when any fraud was too glaring for their own performance they had subordinate officials ever ready to play into their hands, rendering their occupation more base than that of a pimp with his bawds.ECE 435.1

    30. “That money was supreme in all judicial matters was clearly assumed when the abbey of Andres quarreled with the mother-house of Charroux, and the latter assured the former that it could spend in court one hundred marks of silver against every ten livres that the other could afford; and in effect, when the ten-years’ litigation was over, including three appeals to Rome, Andres found itself oppressed with the enormous debt of fourteen hundred livres varisis, while the details of the transaction show the most unblushing bribery. The Roman court set the example to the rest, and its current reputation is visible in the praise bestowed on Eugenius III for rebuking a prior who commenced a suit before him by offering a mark of gold to win his favor.ECE 435.2

    31. “There was another source of oppression which had a loftier motive and better results, but which was none the less grinding upon the mass of the people. It was about this time that the fashion set in of building magnificent churches and abbeys; and the invention of stained glass and its rapid introduction show the luxury of ornamentation which was sought. While these structures were in some degree the expression of ardent faith, yet more were they the manifestation of the pride of the prelates who erected them, and in our admiration of these sublime relics of the past, in whatever reverential spirit we may view the towering spire, the long-arched nave, and the glorious window, we must not lose sight of the supreme effort which they cost—an effort which inevitably fell upon suffering serf and peasant. Peter Cantor assures us that they were built out of exactions on the poor, out of the unhallowed gains of usury, and out of the lies and deceits of the quaestuarii or pardoners; and the vast sums lavished upon them, he assures us, would be much better spent in redeeming captives and relieving the necessities of the helpless.ECE 436.1

    32. “It was hardly to be expected that prelates such as filled most of the sees of Christendom should devote themselves to the real duties of their position. Foremost among these duties was that of preaching the Word of God and instructing their flocks in faith and morals. The office of preacher, indeed, was especially an episcopal function; he was the only man in the diocese authorized to exercise it; it formed no part of the duty or training of the parish priest, who could not presume to deliver a sermon without a special license from his superior. It need not surprise us, therefore, to see this portion of Christian teaching and devotion utterly neglected, for the turbulent and martial prelates of the day were too wholly engrossed in worldly cares to bestow a thought upon a matter for which their unfitness was complete.ECE 436.2

    33. “The character of the lower orders of ecclesiastics could not be reasonably expected to be better than that of their prelates. Benefices were mostly in the gift of the bishops, though, of course, advowsons were frequently held by the laity; special rights of patronage were held by religious bodies, and many of these latter filled vacancies in their own ranks by co-optation. Whatever was the nominating power, however, the result was apt to be the same. It is the universal complaint of the age that benefices were openly sold, or were bestowed through favor, without examination into the qualifications of the appointee, or the slightest regard as to his fitness.... It is true that the canon law was full of admirable precepts respecting the virtues and qualifications requisite for incumbents, but in practice they were a dead letter.ECE 437.1

    34. “Alexander III was moved to indignation when he learned that the bishop of Coventry was in the habit of giving churches to boys under ten years of age, but he could only order that the cures should be intrusted to competent vicars until the nominees reached a proper age, and this age he himself fixed at fourteen; while other popes charitably reduced to seven the minimum age for holding simple benefices or prebends. No effectual check for abuses of patronage, of course, could be expected of Rome, when the curia itself was the most eager recipient of benefit from the wrong. Its army of pimps and parasites was ever on the watch to obtain fat preferments in all the lands of Europe, and the popes were constantly writing to bishops and chapters demanding places for their friends.”ECE 437.2

    35. “A clergy recruited in such a manner and subjected to such influences could only, for the most part, be a curse to the people under their spiritual direction. A purchased benefice was naturally regarded as a business investment, to be exploited to the utmost profit, and there was little scruple in turning to account every device for extorting money from parishioners, while the duties of the Christian pastorate received little attention.”ECE 437.3

    36. “If the faithful Christian was thus mulcted throughout life at every turn, the pursuit of gain was continued to his deathbed, and even his body had a speculative value which was turned to account by the ghouls who quarreled over it. The necessity of the final sacraments for salvation gave rise to an occasional abuse by which they were refused unless an illegal fee or perquisite was paid, such as the sheet on which the dying sinner lay, but this we may well believe was not usual. More profitable was the custom by which the fears of approaching judgment were exploited and legacies for pious uses were suggested as an appropriate atonement for a life of wickedness or cruelty. It is well known how large a portion of the temporal possessions of the Church was procured in this manner, and already in the ninth century it had become a subject of complaint. In 811 Charlemagne, in summoning provincial councils throughout his empire, asks them whether that man can be truly said to have renounced the world who unceasingly seeks to augment his possessions, and by promises of heaven and threats of hell persuades the simple and unlearned to disinherit their heirs, who are thus compelled by poverty to robbery and crime.ECE 437.4

    37. “To this pregnant question the Council of Chalons, in 813, responded by a canon forbidding such practices, and reminding the clergy that the Church should succor the needy rather than despoil them; that of Tours replied that it had made inquiry and could find no one complaining of exheredation; that of Rheims prudently passed the matter over in silence; and that of Mainz promised restoration in such cases. This check was but temporary; the Church continued to urge its claims on the fears of the dying, and finally Alexander III, about 1170, decreed that no one could make a valid will except in the presence of his parish priest. In some places the notary drawing a will in the absence of the priest was excommunicated and the body of the testator was refused Christian burial. The reasons sometimes alleged for this was the preventing of a heretic from leaving his property to heretics, but the flimsiness of this is shown by the repeated promulgation of the rule in regions where heresy was unknown, and the loud remonstrances against local customs which sought to defeat this development of ecclesiastical greed. Complaints were also sometimes made that the parish priest converted to his personal use legacies which were left for the benefit of pious foundations.ECE 438.1

    38. “Even after death the control which the Church exercised over the living, and the profit to be derived from him, were not abandoned. So general was the custom of leaving considerable sums for the pious ministrations by which the Church lightened the torments of purgatory, and so usual was the bestowal of oblations at the funeral, that the custody of the corpse became a source of gain not to be despised, and the parish in which the sinner had lived and died claimed to have a reversionary right in the ashes which were thus so profitable. Occasionally intruders would trespass upon their preserves, and some monastery would prevail upon the dying to bequeath his fertilizing remains to his care, giving rise to unseemly squabbles over the corpse and the privilege of burying it, and saying mortuary masses for its soul.”ECE 438.2

    39. “On no point were the relations between the clergy and the people more delicate than on that of sexual purity.... At the period under consideration the enforced celibacy of the priesthood had become generally recognized in most of the countries owing obedience to the Latin Church. It had not been accompanied, however, by the gift of chastity so confidently promised by its promoters. Deprived as was the priesthood of the gratification afforded by marriage to the natural instincts of man, the wife at best was succeeded by the concubine; at worst by a succession of paramours, for which the functions of priest and confessor gave peculiar opportunity. So thoroughly was this recognized that a man confessing an illicit amour was forbidden to name the partner of his guilt for fear it might lead the confessor into the temptation of abusing his knowledge of her frailty. No sooner had the Church, indeed, succeeded in suppressing the wedlock of its ministers, than we find it everywhere and incessantly busied in the apparently impossible task of compelling their chastity—an effort the futility of which is sufficiently demonstrated by its continuance to modern times....ECE 439.1

    40. “The spectacle of a priesthood professing ascetic purity as an essential prerequisite to its functions, and practicing a dissoluteness more cynical than that of the average layman, was not adapted to raise it in popular esteem; while the individual cases in which the peace and honor of families were sacrificed to the lusts of the pastor necessarily tended to rouse the deepest antagonism. As for darker and more deplorable crimes, they were sufficiently frequent, not alone in monasteries from which women were rigorously excluded; and, moreover, they were committed with virtual immunity.ECE 439.2

    41. “Not the least of the evils involved in the artificial asceticism ostensibly imposed on the priesthood was the erection of a false standard of morality which did infinite harm to the laity as well as to the Church. So long as the priest did not defy the canons by marrying, everything could be forgiven. Alexander II, who labored so strenuously to restore the rule of celibacy, in 1064 decided that a priest of Orange, who had committed adultery with the wife of his father, was not to be deprived of communion for fear of driving him to desperation; and, in view of the fragility of the flesh, he was to be allowed to remain in holy orders, though in the lower grades. Two years later the same pope charitably diminished the penance imposed on a priest of Padua who had committed incest with his mother, and left it to his bishop whether he should be retained in the priesthood. It would be difficult to exaggerate the disastrous influence on the people, of such examples.”ECE 439.3

    42. “If the irregular though permanent connections which everywhere prevailed had been the only result of the prohibition of marriage, there might perhaps have been little practical evil flowing from it, except to the Church itself and to its guilty members. When the desires of man, however, are once tempted to seek through unlawful means the relief denied to them by artificial rules, it is not easy to set bounds to the unbridled passions which, irritated by the fruitless effort at repression, are no longer restrained by a law which has been broken or a conscience which has lost its power. The records of the Middle Ages are accordingly full of the evidence that indiscriminate license of the worst kind prevailed throughout every rank of the hierarchy.ECE 440.1

    43. “Even supposing that this fearful immorality were not attributable to the innumerable laws of nature revenging themselves for their attempted violation, it could readily be explained by the example set by the central head. Scarcely had the efforts of Nicholas and Gregory put an end to sacerdotal marriage in Rome when the morals of the Roman clergy became a disgrace to Christendom. How little the results of the reform corresponded with the hopes of the zealous puritans who had brought it about, may be gathered from the martyrdom of a certain Arnolfo, who, under the pontificate of Honorius II, preached vehemently against the scandals and immorality of the ecclesiastics of the apostolic city. They succeeded in making way with him, notwithstanding the protection of Honorius, and the veneration of the nobles and people who regarded him as a prophet.ECE 440.2

    44. “When such was the condition of clerical virtue, we can scarcely wonder that sufficient suffrages were given in 1130 by the sacred college to Cardinal Pier-Leone to afford him a plausible claim to the papacy, although he was notoriously stained with the foulest crimes. Apparently his children by his sister Tropea, and his carrying about with him a concubine when traveling in the capacity of papal legate, had not proved a bar to his elevation in the Church, nor to his employment in the most conspicuous and important affairs. A severer satire on the standard of ecclesiastical morality could scarcely be imagined than the inculcation by such a man, in his capacity as pope, of the canons requiring the separation of priests from their wives, on the plea of the spotless purity required for the service of the altar.”ECE 441.1

    45. “While thus attaching so fanciful a holiness to virginity, the Church came practically to erect a most singular standard of morality, the influence of which could but be most deplorable on the mass of the laity. In the earlier days of celibacy, the rule was regarded by the severer ecclesiastics as simply an expression of the necessity of purity in the minister of God. Theophilus of Alexandria, in the fifth century, decided that a man, who as lector had been punished for unchasity and had subsequently risen to the priesthood, must be expelled on account of his previous sin. We have seen, however, how, when celibacy was revived under Damiani and Hildebrand, the question of immorality virtually disappeared, and the essential point became, not that a priest should be chaste, but that he should be unmarried, and this was finally adopted as the recognized law of the Church.ECE 441.2

    46. “In 1213 the archbishop of Lunden inquired of Innocent III whether a man who had had two concubines was ineligible to orders as a digamus, and the pontiff could only reply that no matter how many concubines a man might have, either at one time or in succession, he did not incur the disability of digamy. When such was the result of seven centuries of assiduous sacerdotalism in a Church which was daily growing in authority; when the people thus saw that sexual excesses were no bar to ecclesiastical preferment in that Church which made extravagant pretensions to purity; when the strict rules which forbade ordination to a layman who had married a widow, were relaxed in favor of those who were stained with notorious impurity, it is no wonder that the popular perceptions of morality became blunted, and that the laity did not deny themselves the indulgences which they saw tacitly allowed to their spiritual guides.ECE 441.3

    47. “Nor was it only in stimulating this general laxity of principle that the influence of the Church was disastrous. The personal evil wrought by a dissolute priesthood was a widespreading contagion. The abuse of the lawful authority given by the altar and the confessional, was a subject of sorrowful and indignant denunciation in too many synods for a reasonable doubt to be entertained of its frequency or of the corruption which it spread through innumerable parishes and nunneries. The almost entire practical immunity with which these and similar scandals were perpetrated led to an undisguised and cynical profligacy which the severer churchmen acknowledged to exercise a most deleterious influence on the morals of the laity, who thus saw the exemplars of evil in those who should have been their patterns of virtue.ECE 442.1

    48. “In his bull of 1259, Alexander IV does not hesitate to declare that the people, instead of being reformed, are absolutely corrupted by their pastors. Thomas of Cantinpre, one of the early lights of the Dominican Order, indeed, is authority for the legend which represents the devil as thanking the prelates of the Church for conducting all Christendom to hell; and the conviction which thus expressed itself is justified by the reproach of Gregory X, who, in dismissing the second Council of Lyons, in 1274, told his assembled dignitaries that they were the ruin of the world. Unfortunately, his threat to reform them if they did not reform themselves, remained unexecuted, and the complaint was repeated again and again.” 3[Page 442] The matter from par. 42 to this point is from Lea’s “History of Sacerdotal Celibacy,” pp. 341-352, 349-351.ECE 442.2

    49. “In thus reviewing the influence which a nominally celibate clergy exercised over those intrusted to their care, it is perhaps scarcely too much to conclude that they were mainly responsible for the laxity of morals which is a characteristic of mediaeval society. No one who has attentively examined the records left to us of that society, can call in question the extreme prevalence of the licentiousness which everywhere infected it. Christianity had arisen as the great reformer of a world utterly corrupt. How earnestly its reform was directed to correcting sexual immorality is visible in the persistence with which the apostles condemned and forbade a sin that the Gentiles scarcely regarded as a sin. The early Church was consequently pure, and its very asceticism is a measure of the energy of its protest against the all-pervading license which surrounded it. Its teachings, as we have seen, remained unchanged. Fornication continued to be a mortal sin, yet the period of its unquestioned domination over the conscience of Europe was the very period in which license among the Teutonic races was most unchecked. A Church which, though founded on the gospel, and wielding the illimitable power of the Roman hierarchy, could yet allow the feudal principle to extend to the ’jus primae noctis’ or ’droit de marquette,’ and whose ministers in their character of temporal seigneurs could even occasionally claim the disgusting right themselves, was evidently exercising its influence not for good but for evil.ECE 442.3

    50. “There is no injustice in holding the Church responsible for the lax morality of the laity. It had assumed the right to regulate the consciences of men, and to make them account for every action and even for every thought. When it promptly caused the burning of those who ventured on any dissidence in doctrinal opinion or in matters of pure speculation, it could not plead lack of authority to control them in practical virtue. Its machinery was all-pervading, and its power autocratic. It had taught that the priest was to be venerated as the representative of God, and that his commands were to be implicitly obeyed. It had armed him with the fearful weapon of the confessional, and by authorizing him to grant absolution and to pronounce excommunication, it had delegated to him the keys of heaven and hell. By removing him from the jurisdiction of the secular courts it had proclaimed him as superior to all temporal authority. Through ages of faith the populations had humbly received these teachings and bowed to these assumptions, until they entered into the texture of the daily life of every man. While thus grasping supremacy and using it to the utmost possibility of worldly advantage, the Church therefore could not absolve itself from the responsibilities inseparably connected with power; and chief among these responsibilities is to be numbered the moral training of the nations thus subjected to its will. While the corruption of the teachers thus had necessarily entailed the corruption of the taught, it is not too much to say that the tireless energy devoted to the acquisition and maintenance of power, privileges, and wealth, if properly directed, under all the advantages of the situation, would have sufficed to render mediaeval society the purest that the world has ever seen.ECE 443.1

    51. “That the contrary was notoriously the case resulted naturally from the fact that the Church, after the long struggle which finally left it supreme over Europe, contented itself with the worldly advantages derivable from the wealth and authority which surpassed its wildest dreams. If, then, it could secure a verbal submission to its doctrines of purity, it was willing to issue countless commands of chastity and to tacitly connive at their perpetual infraction. The taint of corruption infected equally its own ministers and the peoples committed to their charge, and the sacerdotal theory gradually came to regard with more and more indifference obedience to the gospel in comparison with obedience to man and subservience to the temporal interests of the hierarchy. As absolution and indulgence grew to be a marketable commodity, it even became the interest of the traders in salvation to have a brisk demand for their wares. When infraction of the divine precepts could be redeemed with a few pence or with the performance of ceremonies that had lost their significance, it is not surprising if priest and people at length were led to look upon the violation of the Decalogue with the eye of the merchant and customer rather than with the spirit of the great Lawgiver.” 4[Page 444] Pars. 50 and 51 are from the “History of Sacerdotal Celibacy,” pp. 355, 356.ECE 444.1

    52. “Yet perhaps the most efficient cause of demoralization in the clergy, and of hostility between them and the laity, was the personal inviolability and the immunity from secular jurisdiction which they succeeded in establishing as a recognized principle of public law.... When requested to decide whether laymen could arrest and bring before the episcopal court a clerk caught red-handed in the commission of gross wickedness, Innocent III replied that they could only do so under the special command of a prelate—which was tantamount to granting virtual impunity in such cases. A sacerdotal body, whose class-privileges of wrongdoing were so tenderly guarded, was not likely to prove itself a desirable element of society; and when the orderly enforcement of law gradually established itself throughout Christendom, the courts of justice found in the immunity of the ecclesiastic a more formidable enemy to order than in the pretensions of the feudal seigniory. Indeed, when malefactors were arrested, their first effort habitually was to prove their clergy, that they wore the tonsure, and that they were not subject to the jurisdiction of the secular courts, while zeal for ecclesiastical rights, and possibly for fees, always prompted the episcopal officials to support their claims and demand their release. The Church thus became responsible for crowds of unprincipled men, clerks only in name, who used the immunity of their position as a stalking-horse in preying upon the community.ECE 444.2

    53. “The similar immunity attaching to ecclesiastical property gave rise to abuses equally flagrant. The cleric, whether plaintiff or defendant, was entitled in civil cases to be heard before the spiritual courts, which were naturally partial in his favor, even when not venal, so that justice was scarce to be obtained by the laity. That such, in fact, was the experience is shown by the practice which grew up of clerks purchasing doubtful claims from laymen and then enforcing them before the Courts Christian—a speculative proceeding, forbidden, indeed, by the councils, but too profitable to be suppressed. Another abuse which excited loud complaint consisted in harassing unfortunate laymen by citing them to answer in the same case in several spiritual courts simultaneously, each of which enforced its process remorselessly by the expedient of excommunication, with consequent fines for reconciliation, on all who by neglect placed themselves in an apparent attitude of contumacy, frequently without even pausing to ascertain whether the parties thus amerced had actually been cited. To estimate properly the amount of wrong and suffering thus inflicted on the community, we must bear in mind that culture and training were almost exclusively confined to the ecclesiastical class, whose sharpened intelligence thus enabled them to take the utmost advantage of the ignorant and defenseless.”ECE 445.1

    54. We have seen the principles and practices of monkery in the first ages of the papacy. With the growth of the papacy through the Middle Ages the evils of monkery increased in equal ratio, if not indeed greater, since monkery was always the leading element in the power of the papacy. “It abased the episcopate; it increased the authority of the holy see, both directly and indirectly, through the important allies thus acquired in its struggles with the bishops; and it was, moreover, a source of revenue, if we may believe the abbot of Malmesbury, who boasted that for an ounce of gold per year paid to Rome he could obtain exemption from the jurisdiction of the bishop of Salisbury.ECE 445.2

    55. “In too many cases the abbeys thus became centers of corruption and disturbance, the nunneries scarce better than houses of prostitution, and the monasteries feudal castles where the monks lived riotously and waged war upon their neighbors as ferociously as the turbulent barons, with the added disadvantage that, as there was no hereditary succession, the death of an abbot was apt to be followed by a disputed election producing internal broils and outside interference. Thus in a quarrel of this kind occurring in 1182 the rich abbey of St. Tron was attacked by the bishops of Metz and Liege, the town and abbey were burned, and the inhabitants put to the sword. The trouble lasted until the end of the century, and when it was temporarily patched up by a pecuniary transaction, the wretched vassals and serfs were reduced to starvation to raise the funds which bought the elevation of an ambitious monk.ECE 446.1

    56. “It is true that all establishments were not lost to the duties for which they had received so abundantly of the benefactions of the faithful.... But for the most part the abbeys were sources of evil rather than of good. This is scarce to be wondered at if we consider the material from which their inmates were drawn. It is the severest reproach upon their discipline to find so enthusiastic an admirer of the strict Cistercian rule as Caesarius of Heisterbach asserting as an admitted fact that boys bred in monasteries made bad monks and frequently became apostates. As for those who took the vows in advanced life, he enumerates their motive as sickness, poverty, captivity, infamy, mortal danger, dread of hell or desire of heaven, among which the predominance of selfish impulses was not likely to secure a desirable class of devotees. In fact, he assures us that criminals frequently escaped punishment by agreeing to enter monasteries, which thus in some sort became penal settlements, or prisons, and he illustrates this with the case of a robber baron in 1209, condemned to death for his crimes by the count Palatine Henry, who was rescued by Daniel, abbot of Schonau, on condition of his entering the Cistercian Order. Scarcely less desirable inmates were those who, moved by a sudden revulsion of conscience, would turn from a life stained with crime and violence to bury themselves in the cloister while yet in the full vigor of strength and with passions unexhausted, finding, perhaps, at last, their fierce and untamed natures unfitted to bear the unaccustomed restraint.... If, as sometimes happened, these untamable souls chafed under the irrevocable vow, after the fit of repentance had passed, they offered ample material for internal sedition and external violence.”ECE 446.2

    57. “The name of monk was rendered still more despicable by the crowds of ‘gyrovagi’ and ‘sarabaitae’ and ‘stertzer’—wanderers and vagrants, bearded and tonsured, and wearing the religious habit, who traversed every corner of Christendom, living by begging and imposture, peddling false relics and false miracles. This was a pest which had afflicted the Church ever since the rise of monachism in the fourth century, and it continued unabated. Though there were holy and saintly men among these ghostly tramps, yet they were all subjected to common abhorrence. They were often detected in crime and slain without mercy; and in a vain attempt to suppress the evil, the Synod of Cologne, early in the thirteenth century, absolutely forbade that any of them should be received to hospitality throughout that extensive province.ECE 447.1

    58. “It was not that earnest efforts were lacking to restore the neglected monastic discipline. Individual monasteries were constantly being reformed, to sink back after a time into relaxation and indulgence. Ingenuity was taxed to frame new and severer rules, such as the Premonstratensian, the Carthusian, the Cistercian, which should repel all but the most ardent souls in search of ascetic self-mortification, but as each order grew in repute for holiness, the liberality of the faithful showered wealth upon it, and with wealth came corruption. Or the humble hermitage founded by a few self-denying anchorites, whose only thought was to secure salvation by macerating the flesh and eluding temptation would become possessed of the relics of some saint, whose wonder-working powers drew flocks of pious pilgrims and sufferers in search of relief. Offerings in abundance would flow in, and the fame and riches thus showered on the modest retreat of the hermits speedily changed it to a splendid structure where the severe virtues of the founders disappeared amid a crowd of self-indulgent monks, indolent in all good works, and active only in evil.ECE 447.2

    59. “Few communities had the cautious wisdom of the early denizens in the celebrated priory of Grammont, before it became the head of a powerful Order. When its founder and first prior, St. Stephen of Thiern, after his death in 1124, commenced to show his sanctity by curing a paralytic knight and restoring sight to a blind man, his single-minded followers took alarm at the prospect of wealth and notoriety thus about to be forced upon them. His successor, Prior Peter, of Limoges, accordingly repaired to his tomb, and reproachfully addressed him: ‘O servant of God, thou hast shown us the path of poverty and hast earnestly striven to teach us to walk therein. Now thou wishest to lead us from the straight and narrow way of salvation to the broad road of eternal death. Thou hast preached the solitude, and now thou seekest to convert the solitude into a market-place and a fair. We already believe sufficiently in thy saintliness. Then work no more miracles to prove it, and at the same time to destroy our humility. Be not so solicitous for thy own fame as to neglect our salvation; this we enjoin on thee, this we ask of thy charity. If thou dost otherwise, we declare, by the obedience which we have vowed to thee, that we will dig up thy bones, and cast them into the river.’ECE 448.1

    60. “This mingled supplication and threat proved sufficient, and until St. Stephen was formally canonized he ceased to perform the miracles so dangerous to the souls of his followers. The canonization, which occurred in 1189, was the result of the first official act of Prior Girard, in applying for it to Clement III, and as Girard had been elected in place of two contestants set aside by papal authority, after dissensions which had almost ruined the monastery, it shows that worldly passions and ambition had invaded the holy seclusion of Grammont, to work out their inevitable result. In the failure of all these partial efforts at reform to rescue the monastic orders from their degradation, we hardly need the emphatic testimony of the venerable Gilbert, abbot of Gemblours, about 1190, when he confesses with shame that monachism had become an oppression and a scandal, a hissing and a reproach to all men.ECE 448.2

    61. “The religion which was thus exploited by priest and monk had necessarily become a very different creed from that taught by Christ and Paul.... The theory of justification by works, to which the Church owed so much of its power and wealth, had, in its development, to a great extent deprived religion of all spiritual vitality, replacing its essentials with a dry and meaningless formalism. It was not that men were becoming indifferent to the destiny of their souls, for never, perhaps, have the terrors of perdition, the bliss of salvation, and the never-ending efforts of the archfiend possessed a more burning reality for man; but religion had become in many respects a fetichism. Teachers might still inculcate that pious and charitable works to be efficient, must be accompanied with a change of heart, with repentance, with amendment, with an earnest seeking after Christ and a higher life; but in a gross and hardened generation it was far easier for the sinner to fall into the practices habitual around him, which taught that absolution could be had by the repetition of a certain number of Pater Nosters or Ave Marias, accompanied by the magical sacrament of penitence; nay, even that if the penitent himself were unable to perform the penance enjoined, it could be undertaken by his friends, whose merits were transferred to him by some kind of sacred jugglery. When a congregation, in preparation for Easter, was confessed and absolved as a whole, or in squads and batches, as was customary with some careless priests, the lesson taught was that the sacrament of penitence was a magic ceremony or incantation, in which the internal condition of the soul was a matter of virtual indifference.ECE 449.1

    62. “More serviceable to the Church, and quite as disastrous in its influence on faith and morals, was the current belief that the posthumous liberality of the deathbed, which founded a monastery or enriched a cathedral out of the spoils for which the sinner had no further use, would atone for a lifelong course of cruelty and rapine; and that a few weeks’ service against the enemies of a pope, would wipe out all the sins of him who assumed the cross to exterminate his fellow Christians.”ECE 449.2

    63. “The Church was the depository of the treasure of salvation, accumulated through the merits of the crucifixion and of the saints; and the pope, as the vicar of God, had the unlimited dispensation of that treasure. It was for him to prescribe the methods by which the faithful could partake of it, and no theologian before Wicklif was hardy enough to question his decisions. According to the modern theory of indulgences they shorten, by specified times, the duration of torment in purgatory, after the soul has escaped condemnation to hell by confession and absolution. In the Middle Ages the distinction was not so nice, and the rewards promised were more direct. At first they consisted in a remission for specified times of the penance imposed for absolution, in return for pious works, pilgrimages to shrines, contributions toward the building of churches, bridges, etc.,—for a spiritual punishment could be commuted to a corporal or to a pecuniary one, and the power to grant such indulgence was a valuable franchise to the Church which obtained it, for it served as a constant attraction to pilgrims.ECE 449.3

    64. “Abuses, of course, crept in, denounced by Abelard, who vents his indignation at the covetousness which habitually made a traffic of salvation. Alexander III, about 1175, expressed his disapproval of these corruptions, and the great Council of Lateran, in 1215, sought to check the destruction of discipline and the contempt felt for the Church, by limiting to one year the amount of penance released by any one indulgence. Great opposition was excited when St. Francis of Assisi procured, in 1223, from Honorius III the celebrated ‘Portiuncula’ indulgence, whereby all who visited the church of Santa Maria de Portiuncula, at Assisi, from the vespers of August 1 to the vespers of August 2 obtained complete and entire remission of all sins committed since baptism; and even the fact that St. Francis had been directed by God to apply to Honorius for it, and the admission of Satan that this indulgence was depopulating hell, did not serve to reconcile the Dominicans to so great an advantage given to the Franciscans. Boniface VIII, when he conceived the fruitful idea of the jubilee, carried this out still farther by promising to all who should perform certain devotions in the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul during the year 1300, not only plena venia, but plenissima, of all their sins.ECE 450.1

    65. “By this time the idea that an indulgence might confer entire forgiveness of all sins, had become familiar to the Christian mind. When the Church sought to arouse Europe to supreme exertion for the redemption of the holy sepulcher, some infinite reward was requisite to excite the enthusiastic fanaticism requisite for the Crusades. If Mohammed could stimulate his followers to court death by the promise of immediate and eternal bliss to him who fell fighting for the Crescent, the vicegerent of the true God must not be behindhand in his promises to the martyrs of the cross. It was to be a death-struggle between the two faiths, and Christianity must not be less liberal than Islam in its bounty to its recruits. Accordingly, when Urban II held the great Council of Clermont, which resolved on the first crusade, and where thirteen archbishops, two hundred and fifteen bishops, and ninety mitered abbots represented the universal Church militant, the device of plenary indulgence was introduced, and the military pilgrims were exhorted to have full faith that those who fell repentant would gain the completest fruit of eternal mercy.ECE 450.2

    66. “The device was so successful that it became an established rule in all the holy wars in which the Church engaged; all the more attractive, perhaps, because of the demoralizing character of the service, for it was a commonplace of the jongleurs [street minstrels, jugglers] of the period, that the crusader, if he escaped the perils of sea and land, was tolerably sure to return home a lawless bandit, even as the pilgrim who went to Rome to secure pardon, came back much worse than he started. As the novelty of crusading wore off, still greater promises were necessary. Thus, in 1291, Nicholas IV promised full remission of sins to every one who would send a crusader, or go at another’s expense; while he who went his own expense was vaguely told that, in addition, he would have an increase of salvation—a term which the Decretalists perhaps could not find it easy to explain. Finally, forgotten sins were included in the pardon, as well as those confessed and repented.”ECE 451.1

    67. A more demoralizing system of indulgences was that of sending out quaestuarii, or pardoners, sometimes furnished with relics, by a church or hospital in need of money, and sometimes merely carrying papal or episcopal letters, by which they were authorized to issue pardons for sins, in return for contributions. Though these letters were cautiously framed, yet they were ambiguous enough to enable thepardoners to promise, not only the salvation of the living, but the liberation of the damned from hell, for a few small coins. Already, in 1215, the Council of Lateran inveighs bitterly against these practices, and prohibits the removal of relics from the churches; but the abuse was too profitable to be suppressed.ECE 451.2

    68. “Needy bishops and popes were constantly issuing such letters, and the business of the pardoner became a regular profession, in which the most impudent and shameless were the most successful; so that we can readily believe the pseudo Peter of Pilichdorf, when he sorrowfully admits that the ‘indiscreet’ but profitable granting of indulgences to all sorts of men, weakened the faith of many Catholics in the whole system. As early as 1261 the Council of Mainz can hardly find words strong enough to denounce the pestilent sellers of indulgences, whose knavish tricks excite the hatred of all men, who spend their filthy gains in vile debauchery, and who so mislead the faithful that confession is neglected on the ground that sinners have purchased forgiveness of their sins. Complaint was useless, however, and the lucrative abuse continued unchecked until it aroused the indignation which found a mouthpiece in Luther.”ECE 452.1

    69. “The sale of indulgences illustrates effectively the sacerdotalism which formed the distinguishing feature of mediaeval religion. The believer did not deal directly with his Creator—scarce even with the Virgin, or hosts of intercessory saints. The supernatural powers claimed for the priest, interposed him as the mediator between God and man; his bestowal or withholding of the sacraments decided the fate of immortal souls; his performance of the mass diminished or shortened the pains of purgatory; his decision in the confessional determined the very nature of sin itself. The implements which he wielded—the eucharist, the relics, the holy water, the chrism, the exorcism, the prayer—became in some sort fetiches, which had a power of their own, entirely irrespective of the moral or spiritual condition of him who employed them, or of him for whom they were employed; and in the popular view the rites of religion could hardly be more than magic formulas which, in some mysterious way, worked to the advantage, temporal and spiritual, of those for whom they were performed.ECE 452.2

    70. “How sedulously this fetichism was inculcated by those who profited from the control of the fetiches, is shown by a thousand stories and incidents of the time. Thus a twelfth-century chronicler piously narrates that when, in 887, the relics of St. Martin of Tours were brought home from Auxerre, whither they had been carried to escape the Danish incursions, two cripples of Touraine, who earned an easy livelihood by beggary, on hearing of the approach of the saintly bones, counseled together to escape from the territory as quickly as possible, lest the returning saint should cure them, and thus deprive them of claims on the alms of the charitable. Their fears were well founded, but their means of locomotion were insufficient, for the relics arrived in Touraine before they could get beyond the bounds of the province, and they were cured in spite of themselves. The eagerness with which rival princes and republics disputed with each other the possession of these wonder-working fetiches, and the manner in which the holy objects were obtained by force or fraud, and defended by the same methods, form a curious chapter in the history of human credulity, and show how completely the miraculous virtue was held to reside in the relic itself, wholly irrespective of the crimes through which it was acquired, or the frame of mind of the possessor.ECE 452.3

    71. “Thus in the above case, Ingelger of Anjou was obliged to reclaim from the Auxerrois the bones of St. Martin, at the head of an armed force, more peaceful means of recovering the venerated relics having failed; and in 1177 we see a certain Martin, canon of the Breton Church of Bomigny stealing the body of St. Petroc from his own Church, for the benefit of the abbey of St. Mevennes, which would not surrender it until the intervention of King Henry II was brought to bear. Two years after the capture of Constantinople, the Venetian leaders, in 1206, forcibly broke into the church of St. Sophia, and carried off a picture of the Virgin, said to have been painted by St. Luke, in which popular superstition imagined her to reside, and kept it in spite of excommunication and interdict launched against them by the patriarch, and confirmed by the papal legate.” “Examples such as these could be multiplied almost indefinitely, but they would only serve to weary the reader. What I have given will probably suffice to illustrate the degeneracy of the Christianity superimposed upon paganism, and wielded by a sacerdotal body so worldly in its aspirations as that of the Middle Ages.ECE 453.1

    72. “The picture which I have drawn of the Church in its relations with the people, is perhaps too unrelieved in its blackness. All popes were not like Innocent IV and John XXII; all bishops were not cruel and licentious; all priests were not intent solely on impoverishing men and dishonoring women. In many sees and abbeys, and in thousands of parishes, doubtless, there were prelates and pastors earnestly seeking to do God’s work, and illuminate the darkened souls of their flocks with such gospel light as the superstition of the time would permit. Yet the evil was more apparent than the good; the humble workers passed away unobtrusively, while pride and cruelty and lust and avarice were demonstrative and far-reaching in their influence. Such as I have depicted the Church, it appeared to all the men of the time who had the clearest insight and the loftiest aspirations; and its repulsiveness must be understood by those who would understand the movements that agitated Christendom.ECE 454.1

    73. “No more unexceptionable witness as to the Church of the twelfth century can be had, than St. Bernard, and he is never weary of denouncing the pride, the wickedness, the ambition, and the lust that reigned everywhere. When fornication, adultery, incest, palled upon the exhausted senses, a zest was sought in deeper depths of degradation. In vain the cities of the plain were destroyed by the avenging fire of heaven; the enemy has scattered their remains everywhere, and the Church is infected with their accursed ashes. The Church is left poor and bare and miserable, neglected and bloodless. Her children seek not to bedeck, but to spoil her; not to guard her, but to destroy her; not to defend, but to expose; not to institute, but to prostitute; not to feed the flock, but to slay and devour it. They exact the price of sins and give no thought to sinners. ‘Whom can you show me among the prelates who does not seek rather to empty the pockets of his flock than to subdue their vices?’ St. Bernard’s contemporary, Potho of Pruhm, in 1152, voices the same complaints. The Church is rushing to ruin, and not a hand is raised to stay its downward progress; there is not a single priest fitted to rise up as a mediator between God and man, and approach the divine throne with an appeal for mercy.”ECE 454.2

    74. “One of the main objects in convoking the great Council of Lateran in 1215, was the correction of the prevailing vices of the clergy; and it adopted numerous canons looking to the suppression of the chief abuses, but in vain. Those abuses were too deeply rooted, and four years later Honorius III, in an encyclical addressed to all the prelates of Christendom, says that he has waited to see the result. He finds the evils of the Church increasing rather than diminishing. The ministers of the altar, worse than beasts wallowing in their dung, glory in their sins, as in Sodom. They are a snare and a destruction to the people. Many prelates consume the property committed to their trust, and scatter the stores of the sanctuary throughout the public places; they promote the unworthy, waste the revenues of the Church on the wicked, and convert the churches into conventicles of their kindred.”ECE 454.3

    75. “What was accomplished by this earnest exhortation, may be estimated from the description which Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, gave of the Church, in the presence of Innocent IV and his cardinals, in 1250. The details can well be spared, but they are summed up in his assertion that the clergy were a source of pollution to the whole earth; they were antichrists and devils, masquerading as angels of light, who made the house of prayer a den of robbers. When the earnest inquisitor of Passau, about 1260, undertook to explain the stubbornness of the heresy which he was vainly endeavoring to suppress, he did so by drawing up a list of the crimes prevalent among the clergy, which is awful in the completeness of its details. A Church such as he describes, was an UNMITIGATED CURSE, POLITICALLY, SOCIALLY, AND MORALLY.”ECE 455.1

    Larger font
    Smaller font