Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I: Of the chief Regulations attending the Establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and in the modern Kingdoms of Europe. - An Historical View of the English Government
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SECTION I: Of the chief Regulations attending the Establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and in the modern Kingdoms of Europe. - John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government 
An Historical View of the English Government, From the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Revolution in 1688, in four volumes, edited by Mark Salber Philips and Dale R. Smith, introduction by Mark Salber Philips (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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Of the chief Regulations attending the Establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and in the modern Kingdoms of Europe.
After the Christian religion had been extended over a great part of the Roman dominions, it was at last, in the reign of Constantine, taken under the protection of government, and obtained the sanction of public authority. The uniformity of circumstances attending the introduction of this new religion, produced throughout the whole empire an uniform set of ecclesiastical regulations.
In every province, religious teachers had taken up their residence wherever they met with encouragement; and the country was, by degrees, divided into small districts, or pa-<141>rishes, in each of which a particular clergyman had gained an establishment.
As the inhabitants of a parish were accustomed to assemble at stated times for public worship, and were by that means united in a religious society, so the zeal with which they were animated in support of their religion disposed them to inspect the conduct and theological opinions of all their members. For the regulation of these, and of all their common affairs, the heads of families, belonging to every congregation, frequently held meetings, in which their pastor was naturally allowed to preside, and gradually obtained the chief direction of their measures. Even in secular matters, the people were disposed to be guided by his judgment; and when a controversy had arisen between individuals, he was esteemed the most proper person to compose the difference; which was therefore most commonly referred by the parties to his determination.
The advancement of Christianity opened a communication between the professors of this religion belonging to different parishes, who in like manner were accustomed to deliberate upon their common religious concerns. Some<142> particular clergyman became the ordinary president in those cases; and upon that account acquiring superior consideration and rank, was at length exalted to be superintendant, or bishop, of a large district or diocese. When these diocesan meetings were greatly multiplied, the attendance of the laity being found inconvenient, and appearing to them of less consequence, was gradually neglected, so that the business came to remain entirely in the hands of the clergy.
The minister of every parish was at first maintained by the occasional bounty of those who reaped the benefit of his instructions; and such was the attachment of the primitive Christians to their teachers, and to one another, that they cheerfully made contributions not only for that purpose, but also for the maintenance of their poor. In the declining state of Rome, when the decay of knowledge, by infusing a strong leaven of superstition, had corrupted the purity of the Christian religion, the clergy found means to obtain a more independent revenue, by persuading persons upon their death-bed to make donations to the church, in order to atone for their offences.<143> In the reign of the emperor Constantine, when Christianity became the established religion of the empire, testamentary bequests in favour of societies, which had formerly been prohibited by the Roman law, came to be permitted without controul; and from this time the fashion of leaving legacies to the church for pious uses became so universal, that the clergy were enabled to accumulate large estates, both in moveables and land.
The management of these estates, as of all other matters concerning religion, was naturally devolved upon the clergy of every diocese, who assumed a discretionary power of distributing the produce in such a manner as they thought most expedient, or most conformable to the purpose of the donors. As the bishop, however, acquired more influence in ecclesiastical meetings, he was in a capacity of appropriating to his own use a greater share of that revenue which fell under their disposal. His dignity became more conspicuous; and for supporting it a suitable estate was deemed necessary. His cathedral was enlarged and rendered more magnificent, a more pompous form of worship was introduced into it, and a<144> number of clergymen were appointed to assist in the religious services, or other branches of duty, that were supposed to belong to his department.
The rise of a bishop over the clergy of his diocese may be compared to that of a rude chief over the members of his tribe; as in both cases a superiority of station, derived from personal qualities, put it in the power of a single person to acquire superior wealth, and thence to become the permanent head or leader of a society: but the original pre-eminence of the chief arose from his military talents, that of the bishop, from the veneration paid to the sanctity of his character and profession. This makes the only difference in the nature of their advancement.
While those who had the direction of religious matters were thus advancing in opulence and power, there arose a new set of fanatics, who divided the esteem and admiration of the people, and were at length admitted into the clerical profession.
The erroneous notions entertained in the dark ages, concerning the Supreme Being; the supposition that he is actuated by anger<145> and resentment, in a literal sense, against those who transgress his laws, and that these passions are to be gratified by the mere suffering of his creatures; suggested to persons impressed with a strong feeling of their own guilt, and tortured upon that account with sorrow and remorse, the idea of submitting to voluntary penances, in order to appease an offended Deity, and to avert that future punishment which they were conscious of having deserved. From views of this kind, particular persons became disposed to retire from the world, and to deny themselves almost all the comforts and enjoyments of life: societies were afterwards formed, the members of which expressly bound themselves not only to submit to actual punishments, but to renounce all those pleasures and gratifications to which mankind have the greatest propensity, and for this purpose came under the vows of poverty, of chastity, and of obedience to the rules of their community. As Christianity took a firmer hold of the mind than any of the religions which had been formerly established, this perversion of its doctrines was attended with consequences proportionably more extensive.<146>
These misguided votaries to mortification6 being originally poor, were supported either by alms or by their manual labour; but their exemplary lives, and the austerities which they practised, having excited universal admiration, enabled them to follow the example of the secular clergy, by procuring donations from the people; and hence, notwithstanding the poverty still professed by individuals, their societies acquired the possession of great riches. The members of these communities were by degrees admitted into holy orders; and became no less instrumental in promoting the influence of the church, than in communicating religious instruction.
As the affairs of a diocese had fallen under the chief direction of a bishop, those of a monastery were conducted by an abbot, who presided in the meetings of the society, and who, by obtaining authority in consequence of that distinction, was at length permitted to assume the distribution and disposal of their property.
Although the authority and jurisdiction of the church in this early period of Christianity, and the subordination among different ranks of<147> churchmen, proceeded in good measure from the nature of the business committed to their care, and the influence derived from their profession, yet the general fabric of ecclesiastical government was likewise a good deal affected by the political circumstances of the Roman empire. The person exalted to the head of a diocese was very often the minister of the most considerable town of that district, who from the greater weight and importance of his flock enjoyed a proportionable consideration among his brethren of the clergy. As by the civil policy of the empire many of those districts were united in what, according to the later division of the country, was called a province, the clergy of this larger territory were led frequently to hold provincial synods, in which the bishop of the capital city, acquiring respect from his residence near the seat of government, became the regular president, and was thence exalted to the dignity and title of a metropolitan or archbishop. In the yet more extensive divisions of the empire, which were called jurisdictions, the clergy were induced, upon some occasions, to deliberate; and in those greater meetings the right of presiding<148> was claimed by the bishop, who resided in the same city with the governor of each respective jurisdiction. Hence there arose a still superior rank in the church, that of an exarch or patriarch, who obtained certain prerogatives over the clergy of that great division. Of all the patriarchs in Christendom those of Rome and Constantinople, the two great capitals of the empire, became soon the most distinguished, the former of which enjoyed a pre-eminence over all the clergy in the western, the latter over those in the eastern provinces.
Upon the conquest of the western empire by the barbarous nations, the ancient inhabitants, who had for a long time been declining in arts and knowledge, experienced at once a violent change of situation, and were suddenly plunged into the darkness and barbarism of their conquerors. As those conquerors, however, embraced the Christian religion, they submitted implicitly to the discipline of the church, and to all the forms of ecclesiastical government which they had found established. The Roman clergy, therefore, remained upon their former footing, and were far from losing any of their former privileges; they even en-<149>deavoured, amidst the general destruction of science, to preserve a degree of that literature which, in order to propagate and defend the tenets of their religion, they had been under the necessity of acquiring, and which was the great support of their influence and popularity. With this view, and for the instruction of the people, more especially of those that were to be admitted into holy orders, they erected schools in their cathedrals and monasteries, and thence laid the foundation of those communities, possessed of ecclesiastical powers and privileges, which have received the exclusive appellation of colleges.
From these two circumstances, from the gross ignorance and the consequent superstition of the people, and from the comparative knowledge and abilities of the clergy, the latter were enabled to reap the utmost advantage from their situation, and to acquire an almost unlimited ascendency over the former. Hence the doctrines of the church concerning her influence in the remission of sins, and concerning the distribution of rewards and punishments in a future state, came to be modelled in such a manner as was plainly calculated to<150> promote her temporal interest. From this period, therefore, the donations of land to the church were greatly increased, and the bishops, abbots, and other dignified clergymen,7 who reaped the chief advantage from these benefactions, became possessed of estates, which enabled them in some degree to rival the greater thanes of the country. From the same causes the contributions made by every congregation for the support of their minister, were gradually augmented. To augment these contributions, and to render them permanent, the church employed the utmost address and influence of all her members. What was at first a voluntary offering came afterwards, by the force of custom, to be regarded as a duty. Having gradually raised this taxation higher and higher, the clergy, after the example of the Jewish priests, demanded at length a tenth part of the annual produce of land, as due to them by divine appointment. Not contented with this, they in some places insisted upon the same proportion of the annual industry; and it came to be maintained, that they had even a right to the tenth part of the alms given to beggars, as well as of the<151> hire earned by common prostitutes in the exercise of their profession.* To inforce the obligation of submitting to these monstrous exactions, was for a long time, it is said, the great aim of those discourses which resounded from every pulpit, and of the pious exhortations delivered by each ghostly father in private. The right of levying tythes,8 which was first established in France, and which afterwards made its way through all the western parts of Christendom, created to the church a revenue of no less value than what she derived from her landed possessions.† The tythes of every parish were collected by its own minister, but a large proportion of those duties came to be demanded from the inferior clergy by the bishop of the diocese.
When the provinces of the western empire were broken into a number of independent kingdoms, it might have been expected that the church establishment in those countries would experience a similar revolution, and that the clergy of every separate kingdom, being<152> detached from those of every other, would form a separate ecclesiastical system. It is not difficult, however, to discover the circumstances which prevented such a separation; and which, notwithstanding the various oppositions of civil government, united the church of all the western countries of Europe in one great ecclesiastical monarchy.
The patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople, of whom the one, as has been already observed, became the head of the western, and the other of the eastern part of Christendom, were in a different situation with respect to the establishment of their power and dignity. The patriarch of Constantinople, from his connection with the principal seat of government, appears for some time to have been exalted above his western rival, and to have enjoyed superior authority. But after he had attained a certain pitch of exaltation, the very circumstance which had hitherto promoted his advancement, tended immediately to stop the progress of it; for no sooner did he become an object of jealousy to the civil power, than the vicinity of the imperial residence contributed the more effectually to thwart and controul every pro-<153>ject for the extension of his privileges. The Roman pontiff, on the other hand, when he had risen to such opulence and dignity as might have excited the envy and disgust of the civil magistrate, was, by the dissolution of the western empire, freed from the troublesome inspection of monarchs, who probably would have checked the growth of his power; and being placed in the situation of an independent prince, was at full liberty to put in practice every politic measure which might either enlarge his temporal dominions, or extend his authority over that numerous body of clergy who already owned his supremacy.
It may further explain the history of the western church to observe, that while the bishop of Rome was thus in a condition to avail himself of that superiority which he had acquired, the circumstances of the clergy were such as made it their interest to unite in one body, and to court his protection. The character of churchmen was, from the nature of their profession, a good deal different from that of the laity, and incited them to very opposite pursuits. The former, in a military and rude age, were generally drawn from the inferior<154> ranks of life; at the same time that, from the prevalence of superstition, they possessed great influence over the minds of the people, and were daily advancing their claims to power and emoluments. By the ancient nobility, therefore, or leading men of every country, and still more by the sovereign, the haughtiness, the insolence, and the rapacity of these upstarts, was often beheld with indignation and resentment, and produced continual jealousies and disputes between those different orders; the latter endeavouring to maintain and to extend a set of immunities and privileges, which the former were no less eager to restrain. In such a contest the ecclesiastics of any particular kingdom were as much inferior to their adversaries in direct force, as they were usually superior in skill and dexterity; and their situation naturally pointed out the expedient of soliciting assistance from their brethren in the neighbouring kingdoms. That assistance they very seldom failed to procure. The controversy of every individual was regarded as the common cause of the whole order. By adhering to one another, however disjoined in point of civil government, they became sufficiently power-<155>ful, not only to avoid oppression, but even to defend their usurpations; and by combining, like the soldiers of an army, under one leader, their forces were directed to the best advantage.
The opportunities which this great leader enjoyed, of augmenting his revenue, and of increasing his power, may easily be conceived. In the multitude of disputes which occurred between the clergy and laity in the different nations of Europe, the former, in order to obtain his protection, were obliged to submit to various taxes, and to the extension of his prerogatives. Hence the payment of the first fruits, and such other impositions upon the livings of churchmen, were established in favour of the holy see.
In like manner, during the wars that were carried on between the different potentates of Europe, the contending parties, finding that the countenance and approbation of the Roman pontiff would give great weight and popularity to their cause, were sometimes under the necessity of purchasing his favour, by ratifying his titles, and permitting the exercise of his claims over their subjects. From the same circumstances, the temporal dominions of the<156> pope in Italy were greatly enlarged, and his authority, as an independent sovereign, was recognized. Upon the conquest of Lombardy by the king of France, his holiness, who had thrown his whole influence into the scale of that monarch, was rewarded with a great proportion of the conquered territory; and, at the same time, was enabled to assume the privilege of conferring the imperial dignity upon the conqueror.9
The disputes among the clergy themselves, more especially between the secular and regular clergy, were another source of the papal aggrandizement. Every society of monks was subject originally to the bishop within whose diocese their monastery was situated; but as they advanced in riches and popularity, they were led to assert their independence; and in supporting their pretensions, having to struggle with the whole body of secular clergy, they were induced to court the head of the church, by such obedience and compliances as were likely to gain him over to their interest.
In the eastern church, where these causes did not operate in the same degree, neither the authority of the clergy, nor that of the<157> patriarch of Constantinople, rose to the same height. The payment of tythes, though it was there warmly asserted by churchmen, as well as in the west, was never inforced by public authority; nor was the head of the church in that part of the world in a condition to establish such an extensive revenue as had been acquired by the Roman pontiff.
It may be observed, on the other hand, that the same circumstances which produced an independent ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Christendom, have been productive of similar effects in other religions, and in different parts of the world. Among illiterate nations, the clergy, by explaining the will of the Deity, or by directing mysterious rites and ceremonies, are naturally raised to great importance; and if many such nations profess a common religion, and maintain an intercourse with one another, their spiritual guides, by extending their ideas of a common interest beyond the bounds of a single kingdom, are easily reduced under one great ecclesiastical leader. Hence an independent system of church government is likely to arise.
This was formerly the situation of the Celtic<158> nations, who inhabited a great part of Europe: they were under the influence of a common religion, the ministers of which are said to have possessed a jurisdiction superior to that of the civil magistrate. These druids were, at the same time, united in one society, independent of the different political states to which they belonged; and were under the direction of a chief druid, who resided in Britain, and whose authority extended over the laity as well as the clergy, in all the nations of Celtic original.10
The authority of the grand Lama or high-priest of the Tartars, which is acknowledged by many tribes or nations totally independent of one another, had, in all probability, the same foundation. This ecclesiastical monarch, who resides in the country called Little Thibet, is also a temporal prince. The numerous clergy, in the different parts of Tartary, who acknowledge his supremacy, are said to be distinguished into different ranks or orders, somewhat analogous to those which take place in Christendom; and the ordinary priests, or lamas, are subjected to the authority of bishops, whose jurisdiction is subordinate to that of the sovereign pontiff. Without pretending to ascer-<159>tain, with any degree of accuracy, the church-history either of the Celtic or Tartar nations, we cannot avoid remarking the general analogy that appears in the origin and constitution of all these different Hierarchies.
[6. ]The reference is to monks and the monastic orders.
[7. ]Dignified clergy refers to the higher ranks of the clergy, or those holding “dignities” of the church.
[* ]F. Paul’s History of Benefices.
[8. ]The tithe was an amount, comprising 10% of the annual produce of agriculture, considered proper payment for the support of the clergy or of religious establishments.
[† ]The council of Mascon, in 585, excommunicated all those who refused to pay tythes. Ibid.
[9. ]Charlemagne conquered Lombardy in 773 and was crowned by Pope Leo III in 800.
[10. ]Celts is a broad term encompassing early non-Germanic peoples across northern Europe who were driven westward by the Germanic tribes into Gaul and Britain. Druids were an order of Celts of Gaul and Britain who according to Caesar were priests and teachers, but who figure in Irish and Welsh legend as magicians or soothsayers.