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LECTURE VI.: THE CHURCH. - François Guizot, General History of Civilization in Europe 
General History of Civilization in Europe by François Pierre Guillaume Guizot, edited, with critical and supplementary notes, by George Wells Knight (New York: D Appleton and Co., 1896).
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In the present lecture we shall conclude our inquiries respecting the state of the Church. In the last, I stated that I should place it before you in three principal points of view: first, in itself—in its interior constitution and nature, as a distinct and independent society; secondly, in its relations with sovereigns, with temporal power; thirdly, in its relations with the people. Having then been able to accomplish no more than the first two parts of my task, it remains for me to-day to place before you the Church in its relations with the people. I shall endeavor, after I have done this, to sum up this threefold examination, and to give a general judgment respecting the influence of the Church from the fifth to the twelfth century; finally, I shall close this part of my subject by verifying my statements by an appeal to facts, by an examination of the history of the Church during this period.
You will easily understand that, in speaking of the relations of the Church with the people, I shall be obliged to confine myself to very general views. It is impossible that I should enter into a detail of the practices of the Church, or recount the daily intercourse of the clergy with their charge. It is the prevailing principles, and the great effects of the system and conduct of the Church towards the body of Christians, that I shall endeavor to bring before you.
A striking feature, and, I am bound to say, a radical vice in the relations of the Church with the people, was the separation of the governors and the governed which left the governed without any influence upon their government, which established the independence of the clergy with respect to the general body of Christians.
It would seem as if this evil was called forth by the state of man and society, for it was introduced into the Christian Church at a very early period. The separation of the clergy and the people was not altogether perfected at the time of which we are speaking; there were certain occasions—the election of bishops, for example—upon which the people, at least sometimes, took part in church government. This interference, however, became weaker and weaker, as well as more rare; even in the second century it had begun rapidly and visibly to decline. Indeed, the tendency of the Church to detach itself from the rest of society, the establishment of the independence of the clergy, forms, to a great extent, the history of the Church from its very cradle.
It is impossible to disguise the fact, that from this circumstance sprang the greater number of abuses, which, from this period, cost the Church so dear; as well as many others which entered into her system in after-times. We must not, however, impute all its faults to this principle, nor must we regard this tendency to isolation as peculiar to the Christian clergy. There is in the very nature of religious society a powerful inclination to elevate the governors above the governed; to regard them as something distinct, something divine. This is the effect of the mission with which they are charged; of the character in which they appear before the people. This effect, however, is more hurtful in a religious society than in any other. For with what do they pretend to interfere? With the reason and conscience and future destiny of man: that is to say, with that which is the closest locked up; with that which is most strictly individual, with that which is most free. We can imagine how, up to a certain point, a man, whatever ill may result from it, may give up the direction of his temporal affairs to an outward authority. We can conceive a notion of that philosopher who, when one told him that his house was on fire, said, “Go and tell my wife; I never meddle with household affairs.” But when our conscience, our thoughts, our intellectual existence are at stake—to give up the government of one’s self, to deliver over one’s very soul to the authority of a stranger, is, indeed, a moral suicide: is, indeed, a thousand times worse than bodily servitude—than to become a mere appurtenance of the soil.
Such, nevertheless, was the evil, which without ever, as I shall presently show, completely prevailing, invaded more and more the Christian church in its relations with the people. We have already seen, that even in the bosom of the Church itself, the lower orders of the clergy had no guarantee for their liberty; it was much worse, out of the Church, for the laity. Among churchmen there was at least discussion, deliberation, the display of individual faculties; the struggle, itself, supplied in some measure the place of liberty. There was nothing, however, like this between the clergy and the people. The laity had no further share in the government of the Church than as simple lookers-on. Thus we see quickly shoot up and thrive, the idea that theology, that religious questions and affairs, were the privileged territory of the clergy; that the clergy alone had the right, not only to decide upon all matters respecting it, but likewise that they alone had the right to study it, and that the laity ought not to intermeddle with it. At the period of which we are now speaking, this theory had fully established its authority, and it has required ages, and revolutions full of terror, to overcome it; to restore to the public the right of debating religious questions, and inquiring into their truths.
In principle, then, as well as in fact, the legal separation of the clergy and the laity was nearly completed before the twelfth century.
It must not, however, be understood, that the Christian world had no influence upon its government during this period. Of legal interference it was destitute, but not of influence. It is, indeed, almost impossible that such should be the case under any kind of government, and more particularly so of one founded upon the common opinions and belief of the governing and governed. For, wherever this community of ideas springs up and expands, wherever the same intellectual movement prevails with government and the people, there necessarily becomes formed between them a tie, which no vice in their organization can ever altogether break. To make you clearly understand what I mean, I will give you an example, familiar to us all, taken from the political world. At no period in the history of France had the French nation less power of a legal nature, I mean by way of institutions, of interfering in the government, than in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, during the reigns of Louis XIV and XV. All the direct and official means by which the people could exercise any authority had been cut off and suppressed. Yet there cannot be a doubt but that the public, the country, exercised, at this time, more influence upon the government than at any other, more, for example, than when the states-general had been frequently convoked; than when the parliaments* intermeddled to a considerable extent in politics, than when the people had a much greater legal participation in the government.
It must have been observed by all that there exists a power which no law can comprise or suppress, and which, in times of need, goes even further than institutions. Call it the spirit of the age, public intelligence, opinion, or what you will, you cannot doubt its existence. In France, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this public opinion was more powerful than at any other epoch; and, though it was deprived of the legal means of acting upon the government, yet it acted indirectly, by the force of ideas common to the governing and the governed, by the absolute necessity under which the governing found themselves of attending to the opinions of the governed. What took place in the Church from the fifth to the twelfth century was very similar to this. The body of the Christian world, it is true, had no legal means of expressing its desires; but there was a great advancement of mind in religious matters: this movement bore along clergy and laity together, and in this way the people acted upon the Church.
It is of the greatest importance that these indirect influences should be kept in view in the study of history. They are much more efficacious, and often more salutary, than we take them to be. It is very natural that men should wish their influence to be prompt and apparent; that they should covet the credit of promoting success, of establishing power, of procuring triumph. But this is not always either possible or useful. There are times and situations when the indirect, unperceived influence is more beneficial, more practicable. Let me borrow another illustration from politics. We know that the English parliament more than once, and particularly in 1641, demanded, as many other popular assemblies have done in such cases, the power to nominate the ministers and great officers of the crown. The immense direct force which by this means it would exercise upon the government was regarded as a precious guarantee. But how has it turned out? Why, in the few cases in which it has been permitted to possess this power, the result has been always unfavorable. The choice has been badly concerted; affairs badly conducted. But what is the case in the present day? Is it not the influence of the two houses of parliament which determines the choice of ministers, and the nomination to all the great offices of state? And, though this influence be indirect and general, it is found to work better than the direct interference of parliament, which has always terminated badly.
There is one reason why this should be so, which I must beg leave to lay before you, at the expense of a few minutes of your time. The direct action upon government supposes those to whom it is confided possessed of superior talents—of superior information, understanding, and prudence. As they go to the object at once, and per saltem as it were, they must be sure not to miss their mark. Indirect influences, on the contrary, pursuing a tortuous course—only arriving at their object through numerous difficulties—become rectified and adapted to their end by the very obstacles they have to encounter. Before they can succeed, they must undergo discussion, be combated and controlled; their triumph is slow, conditional, and partial. It is on this account that where society is not sufficiently advanced to make it prudent to place immediate power in the hands of the people, these indirect influences, though often insufficient, are nevertheless to be preferred. It was by such that the Christian world acted upon its government;—acted, I must allow, very inadequately—by far too little; but still it is something that it acted at all.
There was another thing which strengthened the tie between the clergy and laity. This was the dispersion of the clergy into every part of the social system. In almost all other cases, where a church has been formed independent of the people whom it governed, the body of priests has been composed of men in nearly the same condition of life. I do not mean that the inequalities of rank were not sufficiently great among them, but that the power was lodged in the hands of colleges of priests living in common, and governing the people submitted to their laws from the innermost recess of some sacred temple. The organization of the Christian church was widely different. From the thatched cottage of the husbandman—from the miserable hut of the serf at the foot of the feudal chateau to the palace of the monarch—there was everywhere a clergyman. This diversity in the situation of the Christian priesthood, their participation in all the varied fortunes of humanity—of common life—was a great bond of union between the laity and clergy; a bond which has been wanting in most other hierarchies invested with power. Besides this, the bishops, the heads of the Christian clergy, were, as we have seen, mixed up with the feudal system: they were, at the same time, members of the civil and of the ecclesiastical governments. This naturally led to similarity of feeling, of interests, of habits, and of manners, in the clergy and laity. There has been a good deal said, and with reason, of military bishops, of priests who led secular lives; but we may be assured that this evil, however great, was not so hurtful as the system which kept priests for ever locked up in a temple, altogether separated from common life. Bishops who took a share in the cares, and, up to a certain point, in the disorders of civil life, were of more use in society than those who were altogether strangers to the people, to their wants, their affairs, and their manners. In our system there has been, in this respect, a similarity of fortune, of condition, which, if it have not altogether corrected, has, at least, softened the evil which the separation of the governing and governed must in all cases prove.
Now, having pointed out this separation, having endeavored to determine its extent, let us see how the Christian church governed—let us see in what way it acted upon the people under its authority.
What did it do, on one hand, for the development of man, for the intellectual progress of the individual?
What did it do, on the other, for the melioration of the social system?
With regard to individual development, I fear the Church, at this epoch, gave herself but little trouble about it. She endeavored to soften the rugged manners of the great, and to render them more kind and just in their conduct towards the weak. She endeavored to inculcate a life of morality among the poor, and to inspire them with higher sentiments and hopes than the lot in which they were cast would give rise to. I do not believe, however, that for individual man—for the drawing forth or advancement of his capacities—the Church did much, especially for the laity, during this period. What she did in this way was confined to the bosom of her own society. For the development of the clergy, for the instruction of the priesthood, she was anxiously alive: to promote this she had her schools, her colleges, and all other institutions which the deplorable state of society would permit. These schools and colleges, it is true, were all theological, and destined for the education of the clergy alone;* and though, from the intimacy between the civil and religious orders, they could not but have some influence upon the rest of the world, it was very slow and indirect. It cannot, indeed, be denied but the Church, too, necessarily excited and kept alive a general activity of mind, by the career which she opened to all those whom she judged worthy to enlist into her ranks, but beyond this she did little for the intellectual improvement of the laity.
For the melioration of the social state her labors were greater and more efficacious.
She combated with much perseverance and pertinacity the great vices of the social condition, particularly slavery. It has been frequently asserted that the abolition of slavery in the modern world must be altogether carried to the credit of Christianity. I believe this is going too far: slavery subsisted for a long time in the bosom of Christian society without much notice being taken of it—without any great outcry against it. To effect its abolition required the co-operation of several causes—a great development of new ideas, of new principles of civilization. It cannot, however, be denied that the Church employed its influence to restrain it; the clergy in general, and especially several popes, enforced the manumission of their slaves as a duty incumbent upon laymen, and loudly inveighed against the scandal of keeping Christians in bondage. Again, the greater part of the forms by which slaves were set free, at various epochs, are founded upon religious motives. It is under the impression of some religious feeling—the hopes of the future, the equality of all Christian men, and so on—that the freedom of the slave is granted.* These, it must be confessed, are rather convincing proofs of the influence of the Church, and of her desire for the abolition of this evil of evils, this iniquity of iniquities!
The Church labored no less worthily for the improvement of civil and criminal legislation. We know how absurd and wretched this was, notwithstanding some few principles of liberty in it; we have read of the irrational and superstitious proofs to which the barbarians occasionally had recourse—their trial by battle, their ordeals, their oaths of compurgation—as the only means by which they could discover the truth. To replace these by more rational and legitimate proceedings, the Church earnestly labored, and labored not in vain.* I have already spoken of the striking difference between the laws of the Visigoths, mostly promulgated by the councils of Toledo, and the codes of the barbarians. It is impossible to compare them without at once admitting the immense superiority of the notions of the Church in matters of jurisprudence, justice, and legislation—in all relating to the discovery of truth, and a knowledge of human nature. It must certainly be admitted that the greater part of these notions were borrowed from Roman legislation; but it is not less certain that they would have perished if the Church had not preserved and defended them—if she had not labored to spread them abroad.† If the question, for example, is respecting the employment of oaths, open the laws of the Visigoths, and see with what prudence it controls their use:—
“Let the judge, in order to come at the truth, first interrogate the witnesses, then examine the papers, and not allow of oaths too easily. The investigation of truth and justice demands, that the documents on both sides should be carefully examined, and that the necessity of the oath, suspended over the head of both parties, should only come unexpectedly. Let the oath only be adopted in causes in which the judge shall be able to discover no written documents, no proof, nor guide to the truth.”
In criminal matters, the punishment is proportioned to the offence, according to tolerably correct notions of philosophy, morals, and justice; the efforts of an enlightened legislator struggling against the violence and caprice of barbarian manners. The chapter De cæde et morte hominum gives us a very favorable example of this, when compared with the corresponding laws of the other nations. Among the latter, it is the damage alone which seems to constitute the crime; and the punishment is sought for in the pecuniary reparation which is made in compounding for it; but in the code of the Visigoths the crime is traced to its true and moral principle—the intention of the perpetrator. Various shades of guilt—involuntary homicide, accidental homicide, justifiable homicide, unpremeditated homicide, and wilful murder—are distinguished and defined nearly as accurately as in our modern codes; the punishments likewise varying, so as to make a fair approximation to justice. The legislator, indeed, carried the principle of justice still further. He endeavored, if not to abolish, at least to lessen, that difference of legal value, which the other barbarian laws put upon the life of man. The only distinction here made was between the freeman and the slave. With regard to the freeman, the punishment did not vary either according to the perpetrator, or according to the rank of the slain, but only according to the moral guilt of the murderer. With regard to slaves, not daring entirely to deprive masters of the right of life and death, he at least endeavored to restrain it and destroy its brutal character by subjecting it to an open and regular procedure.
The law itself is worthy of citation:
“If no one who is culpable, or the accomplice in a crime, ought to go unpunished, how much more reasonable is it that those should be restrained who commit homicide maliciously, or from a slight cause! Thus, as masters in their pride often put their slaves to death without any cause, it is proper to extirpate altogether this license, and to decree that the present law shall be for ever binding upon all. No master or mistress shall have power to put to death any of their slaves, male or female, or any of their dependants, without public judgment. If any slave, or other servant, commits a crime which renders him subject to capital punishment, his master or his accuser shall immediately give information to the judge, or count, or duke, of the place in which the crime has been perpetrated. After the matter has been tried, if the crime is proved, let the criminal receive, either by the judge or by his own master, the sentence of death which he has merited; in such manner, however, that if the judge desires not to put the accused to death, he must draw up against him in writing, a capital sentence, and then it will remain with his master to kill him or grant him his life. But when, indeed, a slave, by a fatal audacity, in resisting his master, shall strike, or attempt to strike him with his arm, with a stone, or by any other means; and the master, in defending himself, kills the slave in his anger, the master shall in nowise be liable to the punishment of homicide. But it will be necessary to prove the fact; and that by the testimony or oath of the slaves, male or female, who witnessed it, and also by the oath of the person himself who committed the deed. Whosoever from pure malice shall himself kill a slave, or employ another to do so, without his having been publicly tried, shall be considered infamous, shall be declared incapable of giving evidence, shall be banished for life, and his property be given to his nearest heirs.—(For. Jud., lib. vi, tit. v, 1, 12.)
There is another circumstance connected with the institutions of the Church, which has not, in general, been so much noticed as it deserves. I allude to its penitential system, which is the more interesting in the present day, because, so far as the principles and applications of moral law are concerned, it is almost completely in unison with the notions of modern philosophy. If we look closely into the nature of the punishments inflicted by the Church at public penance, which was its principal mode of punishing, we shall find that their object was, above all other things, to excite repentance in the soul of the guilty; in that of the lookers on, the moral terror of example. But there is another idea which mixes itself up with this—the idea of expiation. I know not, generally speaking, whether it be possible to separate the idea of punishment from that of expiation; and whether there be not in all punishment, independently of the desire to awaken the guilty to repentance, and to deter those from vice who might be under temptation, a secret and imperious desire to expiate the wrong committed. Putting this question, however, aside, it is sufficiently evident that repentance and example were the objects proposed by the Church in every part of its system of penance.* And is not the attainment of these very objects the end of every truly philosophical legislation? Is it not for the sake of these very principles that the most enlightened lawyers have clamored for a reform in the penal legislation of Europe? Open their books—those of Jeremy Bentham for example* —and you will be astonished at the numerous resemblances which you will everywhere find between their plans of punishment and those adopted by the Church. We may be quite sure that they have not borrowed them from her; and the Church could scarcely foresee that her example would one day be quoted in support of the system of philosophers not very remarkable for their devotion.
Finally, she endeavored by every means in her power to suppress the frequent recourse which at this period was had to violence and the continual wars to which society was so prone. It is well known what the truce of God was, as well as a number of other similar measures by which the Church hoped to prevent the employment of physical force, and to introduce into the social system more order and gentleness. The facts under this head are so well known, that I shall not go into any detail concerning them.†
Having now run over the principal points to which I wished to draw attention respecting the relations of the Church to the people; having now considered it under the three aspects, which I proposed to do, we know it within and without; in its interior constitution, and in its twofold relations with society. It remains for us to deduce from what we have learned by way of inference, by way of conjecture, its general influence upon European civilization. This is already partly done. The simple recital of the predominant facts and principles of the Church, both reveals and explains its influence: the results have in a manner been brought before us with the causes. If, however, we endeavor to sum them up, we shall be led, I think, to two general conclusions.
The first is, that the Church has exercised a vast and important influence upon the moral and intellectual order of Europe; upon the notions, sentiments, and manners of society. This fact is evident; the intellectual and moral progress of Europe has been essentially theological. Look at its history from the fifth to the sixteenth century, and you will find throughout that theology has possessed and directed the human mind; every idea is impressed with theology; every question that has been started, whether philosophical, political, or historical, has been considered from a religious point of view. So powerful, indeed, has been the authority of the Church in matters of intellect, that even the mathematical and physical sciences have been obliged to submit to its doctrines. The spirit of theology has been as it were the blood which has circulated in the veins of the European world down to the time of Bacon and Descartes. Bacon in England, and Descartes in France, were the first who carried the human mind out of the pale of theology. We shall find the same fact hold if we travel through the regions of literature: the habits, the sentiments, the language of theology there show themselves at every step.
This influence, taken altogether, has been salutary. It not only kept up and ministered to the intellectual movement in Europe, but the system of doctrines and precepts, by whose authority it stamped its impress upon that movement, was incalculably superior to any which the ancient world had known.*
The influence of the Church, moreover, has given to the development of the human mind, in our modern world, an extent and variety which it never possessed elsewhere. In the East, intelligence was altogether religious: among the Greeks, it was almost exclusively human: in the former human culture—humanity, properly so called, its nature and destiny—actually disappeared; with the latter it was man alone, his passions, his feelings, his present interests, which occupied the field. In our world the spirit of religion mixes itself with all but excludes nothing. Human feelings, human interests, occupy a considerable space in every branch of our literature; yet the religious character of man, that portion of his being which connects him with another world, appears at every turn in them all. Could modern intelligence assume a visible shape, we should recognize at once, in its mixed character, the finger of man and the finger of God. Thus the two great sources of human development, humanity and religion, have been open at the same time and have flowed in plenteous streams. Notwithstanding all the evil, all the abuses, which may have crept into the Church—notwithstanding all the acts of tyranny of which she has been guilty, we must still acknowledge her influence upon the progress and culture of the human intellect to have been beneficial; that she has assisted in its development rather than its compression, in its extension rather than its confinement.†
The case is widely different when we look at the Church in a political point of view. By softening the rugged manners and sentiments of the people; by raising her voice against a great number of practical barbarisms, and doing what she could to expel them, there is no doubt but the Church largely contributed to the melioration of the social condition; but with regard to politics, properly so called, with regard to all that concerns the relations between the governing and the governed—between power and liberty—I cannot conceal my opinion, that its influence has been baneful. In this respect the Church has always shown herself as the interpreter and defender of two systems, equally vicious, that is, of theocracy, and of the imperial tyranny of the Roman empire—that is to say, of despotism, both religious and civil. Examine all its institutions, all its laws; peruse its canons, look at its procedure, and you will everywhere find the maxims either of theocracy or of the empire. In her weakness, the Church sheltered herself under the absolute power of the Roman emperors; in her strength she laid claim to it herself, under the name of spiritual power. We must not here confine ourselves to a few particular facts. The Church has often, no doubt, set up and defended the rights of the people against the bad government of their rulers; often, indeed, has she approved and excited insurrection; often too has she maintained the rights and interests of the people in the face of their sovereigns. But when the question of political securities arose between power and liberty; when any step was taken to establish a system of permanent institutions, which might effectually protect liberty from the invasions of power in general; the Church always ranged herself on the side of despotism.
This should not astonish us, neither should we be too ready to attribute it to any particular failing in the clergy, or to any particular vice in the Church. There is a more profound and powerful cause. What is the object of religion? of any religion, true or false? It is to govern the human passions, the human will. All religion is a restraint, an authority, a government. It comes in the name of a divine law, to subdue, to mortify human nature. It is then to human liberty that it directly opposes itself. It is human liberty that resists it, and that it wishes to overcome. This is the grand object of religion, its mission, its hope.
But while it is with human liberty that all religions have to contend, while they aspire to reform the will of man, they have no means by which they can act upon him—they have no moral power over him, but through his own will, his liberty. When they make use of external means, when they resort to force, to seduction, in short, to any means opposed to the free consent of man, when they treat him as we treat water, wind, or any power entirely physical, they fail in their object; they do not attain their end, they do not reach, they cannot govern the will. Before religions can really accomplish their task, it is necessary that they should be accepted by the free-will of man: it is necessary that man should submit, but it must be willingly and freely, and that he still preserves his liberty in the midst of this submission. This is the double problem which religions are called upon to solve.
They have too often mistaken their object. They have regarded liberty as an obstacle, and not as a means; they have forgotten the nature of the power to which they address themselves, and have conducted themselves towards the human soul as they would towards a material force. It is this error that has led them to range themselves on the side of power, on the side of despotism, against human liberty; regarding it as an adversary, they have endeavored to subjugate rather than to protect it. Had religions but fairly considered their means of operation, had they not suffered themselves to be drawn away by a natural but deceitful bias, they would have seen that liberty is a condition, without which man cannot be morally governed; that religion neither has nor ought to have any means of influence not strictly moral: they would have respected the will of man in their attempt to govern it. They have too often forgotten this, and the issue has been that religious power and liberty have suffered together.
I will not push further this investigation of the general consequences that have followed the influence of the Church upon European civilization. I have summed them up in this double result,—a great and salutary influence upon its moral and intellectual condition; an influence rather hurtful than beneficial to its political condition. We have now to try our assertions by facts, to verify by history what we have as yet only deduced from the nature and situation of ecclesiastical society. Let us now see what was the fate of the Christian church from the fifth to the twelfth century, and whether the principles which I have laid down, the results which I have endeavored to draw from them, have really been such as I have represented them.
Let me caution you, however, against supposing that these principles, these results, appeared all at once, and as clearly as they are here set forth by me. We are apt to fall into the great and common error, in looking at the past through centuries of distance, of forgetting moral chronology; we are apt to forget (extraordinary forgetfulness!) that history is essentially successive. Take the life of any man, of Oliver Cromwell, of Cardinal Richelieu, of Gustavus Adolphus. He enters upon his career; he pushes forward in life, and rises; great circumstances act upon him; he acts upon great circumstances. He arrives at the end of all things—and then it is we know him. But it is in his whole character; it is as a complete, a finished piece; such, in a manner, as he is turned out, after long labor, from the workshop of Providence. Now at the outset he was not what he thus became; he was not completed—not finished at any single moment of his life; he was formed progressively. Men are formed morally in the same way as they are physically. They change every day. Their existence is constantly undergoing some modification. The Cromwell of 1650 was not the Cromwell of 1640. It is true, there is always a large stock of individuality; the same man still holds on; but how many ideas, how many sentiments, how many inclinations have changed in him! What a number of things he has lost and acquired! Thus, at whatever moment of his life we may look at a man, he is never such as we see him when his course is finished.
It is here, nevertheless, that a great number of historians have fallen into error. When they have acquired a complete idea of a man, have settled his character, they see him in this same character throughout his whole career. With them, it is the same Cromwell who enters parliament in 1628, and who dies in the palace of Whitehall thirty years afterwards. Just such mistakes as these we are apt to fall into with regard to institutions and general influences. I caution you against them. I have laid down in their complete form, as a whole, the principles of the Church, and the consequences which may be deduced from them. Be assured, however, that historically this picture is not true. All it represents has taken place disjointedly, successively; has been scattered here and there over space and time. Expect not to find, in the recital of events, a similar completeness or whole, the same prompt and systematic connection. One principle will be visible here, another there; all will be incomplete, unequal, dispersed; we must come to modern times, to the end of its career, before we can view it as a whole.
I shall now lay before you the various states through which the Church passed from the fifth to the twelfth century. We may not find, perhaps, the complete demonstration of the statements which I have made, but we shall see enough, I apprehend, to convince us that they are founded in truth.
The first state in which we see the Church in the fifth century, is as the Church imperial—the Church of the Roman empire. Just at the time the empire fell, the Church believed she had attained the summit of her hopes: after a long struggle, she had completely vanquished paganism. Gratian, the last emperor who assumed the pagan dignity of sovereign pontiff, died at the close of the fourth century. The Church believed herself equally victorious in her struggle against heretics, particularly against Arianism, the principal heresy of the time. Theodosius, at the end of the fourth century, put them down by his imperial edicts; and had the double merit of subduing the Arian heresy and abolishing the worship of idols throughout the Roman world. The Church, then, was in possession of the government, and had obtained the victory over her two greatest enemies. It was at this moment that the Roman empire failed her, and she stood in the presence of new pagans, of new heretics—in the presence of the barbarians, the Goths, Vandals, Burgundians and Franks.* The fall was immense. You may easily imagine that an affectionate attachment for the empire was for a long time preserved in the Romish church. Hence we see her cherish so fondly all that was left of it—municipal government and absolute power. Hence, when she had succeeded in converting the barbarians, she endeavored to re-establish the empire; she called upon the barbarian kings, she conjured them to become Roman emperors, to assume the privilege of Roman emperors; to enter into the same relations with the Church which had existed between her and the Roman empire. This was the great object for which the bishops of the fifth and sixth centuries labored.* Such was the general state of the Church.
The attempt could not succeed—it was impossible to make a Roman empire, to mould a Roman society out of barbarians. Like the civil world, the Church herself sunk into barbarism. This was her second state. Comparing the writings of the monkish ecclesiastical chroniclers of the eighth century with those of the preceding six, the difference is immense. All remains of Roman civilization had disappeared, even its very language—all became buried in complete barbarism. On one side the rude barbarians, entering into the Church, became bishops and priests; on the other, the bishops, adopting the barbarian life, became, without quitting their bishoprics, chiefs of bands of marauders, and wandered over the country, pillaging and destroying like so many companies of Clovis. Gregory of Tours† gives an account of several bishops who thus passed their lives, and among others Salone and Sagittarius.
Two important facts took place while the Church continued in this state of barbarism. The first was the separation of the spiritual and temporal powers. Nothing could be more natural than the birth of this principle at this epoch. The Church would have restored the absolute power of the Roman empire that she might partake of it, but she could not; she therefore sought her safety in independence. It became necessary that she should be able in all parts to defend herself by her own power; for she was threatened in every quarter. Every bishop, every priest, saw the rude chiefs in their neighborhood interfering in the affairs of the Church, that they might obtain a part of her wealth, her territory, her power; and no other means of defence seemed left but to say, “The spiritual order is completely separated from the temporal; you have no right to interfere with it.” This principle became, at every point of attack, the defensive armor of the Church against barbarism.
A second important fact which took place at this same period, was the establishment of the monastic orders in the West. It was at the commencement of the sixth century that St. Benedict published the rules of his order for the use of the monks of the West, then few in number, but who from this time prodigiously increased. The monks at this epoch did not yet belong to the clerical body, but were still regarded as a part of the laity. Priests and even bishops were sometimes chosen from among them; but it was not till the close of the fifth and beginning of the sixth century that monks in general were considered as belonging to the clergy, properly so called. Priests and bishops now entered the cloister, thinking by so doing they advanced a step in their religious life, and increased the sanctity of their office. The monastic life thus all at once became exceedingly popular throughout Europe. The monks had a greater power over the imagination of the barbarians than the secular clergy. The simple bishop and priest had in some measure lost their hold upon the minds of barbarians, who were accustomed to see them every day; to maltreat, perhaps to pillage them. It was a more important matter to attack a monastery, a body of holy men congregated in a holy place. Monasteries, therefore, became during this barbarous period an asylum for the Church, as the Church was for the laity. Pious men here took refuge, as others in the East had done before in the Thebaid, in order to escape the worldly life and corruption of Constantinople.*
These, then, are the two most important facts in the history of the Church, during the period of barbarism. Eirst, the separation of the spiritual and temporal powers; and, secondly, the introduction and establishment of the monastic orders in the West.
Towards the end of this period of barbarism, a fresh attempt was made to raise up a new Roman empire—I allude to the attempt of Charlemagne. The Church and the civil sovereign again contracted a close alliance. The Holy See was full of docility while this lasted, and greatly increased its power. The attempt, however, again failed. The empire of Charlemagne was broken up; but the advantages which the See of Rome derived from his alliance were great and permanent. The popes henceforward were decidedly the chiefs of the Christian world.
Upon the death of Charlemagne, another period of unsettledness and confusion followed. The Church, together with civil society, again fell into a chaos; again with civil society she arose, and with it entered into the frame of the feudal system. This was the third state of the Church. The dissolution of the empire formed by Charlemagne, was followed by nearly the same results in the Church as in civil life; all unity disappeared, all became local, partial, and individual. Now began a struggle, in the situation of the clergy, such as had scarcely ever before been seen: it was the struggle of the feelings and interest of the possessor of the fief, with the feelings and interest of the priest. The chiefs of the clergy were placed in this double situation; the spirit of the priest and of the temporal baron struggled within them for mastery. The ecclesiastical spirit naturally became weakened and divided by this process—it was no longer so powerful, so universal. Individual interest began to prevail. A taste for independence, the habits of the feudal life, loosened the ties of the hierarchy. In this state of things, the Church made an attempt within its own bosom to correct the effects of the general break-up. It endeavored in several parts of its empire, by means of federation, by common assemblies and deliberations, to organize national Churches. It is during this period, during the sway of the feudal system, that we meet with the greatest number of councils, convocations, and ecclesiastical assemblies, as well provincial as national. In France especially, this endeavor at unity appeared to be followed up with much spirit. Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, may be considered as the representative of this idea. He labored incessantly to organize the French Church; he sought out and employed every means of correspondence and union which he thought likely to introduce into the feudal church a little more unity. We find him on one side maintaining the independence of the Church with respect to temporal power, on the other its independence with respect to the Roman See; it was he who, learning that the pope wished to come to France, and threatened to excommunicate the bishops, said, Si excommunicaturus venerit, excommunicatus abibit,—If he shall come to excommunicate, he will go away excommunicated.
But the attempt thus to organize a feudal church succeeded no better than the attempt to re-establish the imperial one. There were no means of reproducing any degree of unity among its members; it tended more and more towards dissolution. Each bishop, each prelate, each abbot, isolated himself more and more in his diocese or monastery. Abuses and disorders increased from the same cause. At no time was the crime of simony carried to a greater extent, at no time were ecclesiastical benefices disposed of in a more arbitrary manner, never were the morals of the clergy more loose and disorderly.
Both the people and the better portion of the clergy were greatly scandalized at this sad state of things; and a desire for reform in the Church soon began to show itself—a desire to find some authority round which it might rally its better principles, and which might impose some wholesome restraints on the others. Several bishops, Claude of Turin, Agobard of Lyons, and others, in their respective dioceses attempted this, but in vain; they were not in a condition to accomplish so vast a work. In the whole Church there was only one power that could succeed in this, and that was the Roman See; nor was that power slow in assuming the position which it wished to attain. In the course of the eleventh century, the Church entered upon its fourth state—that of a theocracy supported by monastic institutions.
The person who raised the Holy See to this power, so far as it can be considered the work of an individual, was Gregory VII.*
It has been the custom to represent this great pontiff as an enemy to all improvement, as opposed to intellectual development, to the progress of society; as a man whose desire was to keep the world stationary or retrograding. Nothing is farther from the truth. Gregory, like Charlemagne and Peter the Great, was a reformer of the despotic school. The part he played in the Church was very similar to that which Charlemagne and Peter the Great, the one in France and the other in Russia, played among the laity. He wished to reform the Church first, and next civil society by the Church. He wished to introduce into the world more morality, more justice, more order and regularity; he wished to do all this through the Holy See, and to turn all to its profit.
While Gregory was endeavoring to bring the civil world into subjection to the Church, and the Church to the See of Rome—not, as I have said before, to keep it stationary, or make it retrograde, but with a view to its reform and improvement—an attempt of the same nature, a similar movement, was made within the solitary enclosures of the monasteries. The want of order, of discipline, and of a stricter morality, was severely felt and cried out for with a zeal that would not be said nay. About this time Robert De Molême established his severe rule at Cîteaux; about the same time flourished St. Norbert, and the reform of the canons, the reform of Cluny,* and, at last, the great reform of St. Bernard. A general fermentation reigned within the monasteries: the old monks did not like this; in defending themselves, they called these reforms an attack upon their liberty; pleaded the necessity of conforming to the manners of the times, that it was impossible to return to the discipline of the primitive Church, and treated all these reformers as madmen, as enthusiasts, as tyrants. Dip into the history of Normandy, by Ordericus Vitalius, and you will meet with these complaints at almost every page.
All this seemed greatly in favor of the Church, of its unity, and of its power. While, however, the popes of Rome sought to usurp the government of the world, while the monasteries enforced a better code of morals and a severer form of discipline, a few mighty, though solitary individuals protested in favor of human reason, and asserted its claim to be heard, its right to be consulted, in the formation of man’s opinions. The greater part of these philosophers forbore to attack commonly received opinions—I mean religious creeds; all they claimed for reason was the right to be heard—all they declared was, that she had the right to try these truths by her own tests, and that it was not enough that they should be merely affirmed by authority. John Erigena, or John Scotus, as he is more frequently called, Roscelin, Abelard, and others, became the noble interpreters of individual reason, when it now began to claim its lawful inheritance. It was the teaching and writings of these giants of their days that first put in motion that desire for intellectual liberty, which kept pace with the reform of Gregory VII and St. Bernard. If we examine the general character of this movement of mind, we shall find that it sought not a change of opinion, that it did not array itself against the received system of faith; but that it simply advocated the right of reason to work for itself—in short, the right of free inquiry.
The scholars of Abelard, as he himself tells us, in his Introduction to Theology, requested him to give them “some philosophical arguments, such as were fit to satisfy their minds; begged that he would instruct them, not merely to repeat what he taught them, but to understand it; for no one can believe that which he does not comprehend, and it is absurd to set out to preach to others concerning things which neither those who teach nor those who learn can understand. What other end can the study of philosophy have, if not to lead us to a knowledge of God, to which all studies should be subordinate? For what purpose is the reading of profane authors, and of books which treat of worldly affairs, permitted to believers, if not to enable them to understand the truths of the Holy Scriptures, and to give them the abilities necessary to defend them? It is above all things desirable for this purpose, that we should strengthen one another with all the powers of reason; so that in questions so difficult and complicated as those which form the object of Christian faith, you may be able to hinder the subtilties of its enemies from too easily corrupting its purity.”
The importance of this first attempt after liberty, or this rebirth of the spirit of free inquiry, was not long in making itself felt. Though busied with its own reform, the Church soon took the alarm, and at once declared war against these new reformers, whose methods gave it more reason to fear than their doctrines. This clamor of human reason was the grand circumstance which burst forth at the close of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth centuries, just at the time when the Church was establishing its theocratic and monastic form. At this epoch, a serious struggle for the first time broke out between the clergy and the advocates of free inquiry. The quarrels of Abelard and St. Bernard, the councils of Soissons and Sens, at which Abelard was condemned, were nothing more than the expression of this fact, which holds so important a place in the history of modern civilization.* It was the principal occurrence which affected the Church in the twelfth century; the point at which we will, for the present, take leave of it.
But at this same instant another power was put in motion, which, though altogether of a different character, was perhaps one of the most interesting and important in the progress of society during the middle ages—I mean the institution of free cities and boroughs; or what is called the enfranchisement of the commons. How strange is the inconsistency of grossness and ignorance! If it had been told to these early citizens who vindicated their liberties with such enthusiasm, that there were certain men who cried out for the rights of human reason, the right of free inquiry, men whom the Church regarded as heretics, they would have stoned or burned them on the spot. Abelard and his friends more than once ran the risk of suffering this kind of martyrdom. On the other hand, these same philosophers, who were so bold in their demands for the privileges of reason, spoke of the enfranchisement of the commons as an abominable revolution, calculated to destroy civil society. Between the movement of philosophy and the movement of the commons—between political liberty and the liberty of the human mind—a war seemed to be declared; and it has required ages to reconcile these two powers, and to make them understand that their interests are the same. In the twelfth century they had nothing in common, as we shall more fully see in the next lecture, which will be devoted to the formation of free cities and municipal corporations.
[* ] The legislative body of France, the States-General, was not summoned between 1614 and 1789. During that time the laws were mere royal edicts. The term “parliament” in French usage means not a legislative body, but a law court.
[* ] In the fifth century the schools of the Roman empire, modeled on the secular schools of earlier pagan Greece and Rome, were swept away. In their place the Church established schools in connection with cathedrals and monasteries. These taught only what was needed for the clerical and monastic life. Until the eighth century there were no schools for the education of the laity, as indeed there was little opportunity for the use of education by a layman. In England and France, in the eighth and ninth centuries, there was a revival of education due largely to Alcuin and the fostering care of Charlemagne and Alfred the Great. Both monastic and cathedral schools were improved, while new schools were established. Amid the anarchy of the tenth century there was again a relapse, from which came a revival in the eleventh century leading to the establishment of the mediæval universities. Cf. West’s Alcuin and the Rise of the Christian Schools; Mullinger’s Schools of Charles the Great.
[* ] The rise of Christianity improved the condition of the slave by inculcating more humane ideas regarding his treatment. The Roman emperors under the influence of the Church softened many of the harsh features of the system, and the clergy at the same time advocated manumission as a religious duty. During the middle ages the attitude of the Church was pretty steadily that of opposition to slavery. It must not, however, be a matter of surprise that an institution so closely connected with the industrial life of the world was not removed until a change could be made in general economic habits. It has even been held by some that the amelioration of the condition of the slave and serf without manumission, was better for society and the slave than complete emancipation would have been during some portions of this period.
[* ] The wager of battle was an appeal to arms to determine the truth as between two parties, in the belief that divine power would give the victory to the right man. The ordeals were of various kinds—lot, walking over hot iron, immersing the hand in hot water. If an accused person appealed to one of these and escaped injury, he was cleared. Under the oath of compurgation, the accused was freed if on oath he declared himself innocent and produced a certain number of other persons to swear that they believed his statement. All through the middle ages the Church was endeavoring to replace these and other Teutonic laws with laws and ideas drawn from the old Roman law. Consult the admirable account of the German legal ideas in Chapter VIII of Emerton’s Introduction to the Middle Ages.
[† ] The Roman law had never entirely disappeared from use in Europe. It influenced the formation of the canon law, and some of its principles had early modified the Teutonic law. With the rise of the universities its study was renewed, and gradually it supplanted German law in continental Europe. While the Church did much to preserve and to spread the principles of Roman law, it is too much to affirm that but for the Church it would have perished. One of the two great gifts of the ancient world to the modern was the Roman law.
[* ] Penance included sorrow for sin, reformation, and the doing of expiatory works. The sacrament of penance in the Church embraced the granting of forgiveness of sins, by the absolution of a priest, to those who repented, confessed, and performed satisfaction. In the early days public confession and penance was common, but after the time of the crusades almsdoing, fasts, and pilgrimages were usually enjoined in place of public penance.
[* ] See especially Bentham’s Principles of Morals and Legislation, chaps. xii-xiv.
[† ] The Truce of God was a regulation of the Church enjoining the suspension of all private warfare from Wednesday evening to Monday morning in each week, also during the seasons of Advent and Lent, and on the great feasts. It was also binding at all times in certain places, as churches and convents, and for the protection of certain classes, as pilgrims, women, bishops, monks, clerks, merchants. This regulation appears first to have been introduced at a synod in Roussillon, in 1027, whence it spread over Aquitaine, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and England. It was enjoined by numerous councils of the Church. Excommunication and banishment were its penalties. Its greatest force was in the twelfth century. Emerton, noting that many churchmen wished to do away entirely with private warfare as a means of settling differences, adds, “The demand not to fight at all was too much for mediæval human nature.” The Truce was all that was practicable in that period.
[* ] It must not be forgotten that true advance in knowledge and in scientific methods came only in opposition to, and by the breakdown of, the authority of the Church over the intellect. Independent thinking even in philosophy was not permitted in the middle ages. The influence of the Church and also of the scholastic system was to train and develop the intellect, but not to add to knowledge.
[† ] What is stated in this paragraph is more exactly true of the influence of the Christian religion—of Christianity as an uplifting force than of the Church as an institution. The true spirit of Christianity and the authority and influence of the organized Church have not always pointed or moved in one and the same direction.
[* ] These barbarians, it will be remembered, followed the Arian heresy, both those who embraced Christianity before the invasion of the empire and those who did so after that event. The Burgundians, converted by Arian missionaries in 433, adopted the Catholic faith about 517. The Franks, following the example of Clovis, embraced the orthodox faith in 497.
[* ] It cannot be truly affirmed that the Church as a whole had any such object. This is too sweeping a generalization.
[† ] Gregory of Tours (540-594) was the father of mediæval French history. His Historia Ecclesiastica Francorum covers the fifth and sixth centuries, and is almost the only source of information for this period. His avowed aim was to recount “the wars of kings with hostile nations, of martyrs with pagans, of churches with heretics.”
[* ] Monasticism, or monachism—a life of religious retirement—is of pre-Christian origin, and is found in connection with most of the leading religions. St. Anthony of Egypt, born in 251, is generally regarded as the founder of Christian monachism. He lived, a hermit, in the Egyptian desert, whither many, attracted by his holiness, followed and adopted the ascetic life. Pachomius of the Thebaid built a monastery in the fourth century where the ascetics dwelt together cœnobites); he was the first to form rules for the organization, thus giving a government to the system. St. Basil in the same century spent several years in monastic life, and after he became Bishop of Cæsarea published a code of rules for the regulation of the cœnobitic monachism, substantially as they remain to-day for the Greek Church.
Among the earliest communities of monks in Gaul was that established about 375 by St. Martin of Tours, at Marmoutiers, where he built a convent. About 415 John Cassian founded a large monastery near Marseilles, and by his writings did much to spread through the West a knowledge of Eastern monachism.
The first regular order with monastic vows and a complete organization was established by St. Benedict of Nursia, who in 529 founded the famous convent of Monte Casino near Naples, whence went forth the order of the Benedictines. The strict rules laid down by him were adopted in all the European convents. The monks were to take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; their rules of discipline required them to devote their time to study, and to manual labor, mainly agricultural. Asceticism of a moderate type was enjoined.
By the influence of Gregory the Great monasticism first entered upon the field of missionary work among the barbarians. During the dark period from the sixth century to the ninth the monks rendered great services to the cause of religion, letters, and civilization. By their industrious hands waste forests and barren lands were converted into rich and productive gardens; in the convents were preserved all the remains of ancient learning; there missionaries were educated.
At first monks were laymen, but before the tenth century they formed a class of the clergy. During the earlier period the monasteries and their inhabitants had been subject to thebishop of the diocese, but by the twelfth century they had been made immediately subject to papal jurisdiction.
Reverence for these institutions, and gratitude for the benefits they conferred, led to gifts and endowments on the part of the pious laity, until at length the monasteries became as notorious for riches, luxury, and corruption, as they were at first for simplicity, devotion, and industry.
[* ] Gregory VII (Hildebrand) succeeded Alexander II in the papal chair in 1073. He virtually governed the Church during the time of his predecessor, and was indeed the real author of the decree of Nicholas II, 1059, by which the power of nominating and confirming the pope was taken from the German emperors and vested in the cardinals. His whole life was devoted to aggrandizing the power of the Holy See. His talents were great, and his energy indomitable. He died in 1085. For the rise and progress of the papal power, see Hallam’s Middle Ages, chap. vii; Ranke’s History of the Popes; [Bryce’s Holy Roman Empire; Duruy’s History of the Middle Ages; and Emerton’s Mediæval Europe.]
The papal power was at its height from the time of Innocent III, 1194, to that of Boniface VIII, 1294, after which it sensibly declined. H.
[* ] The reform of Cluny started from the establishment of a monastery at Cluny, in Aquitaine, in 910. Here the Benedictine rules were vigorously enforced, and monastic life brought back to its power form of extreme asceticism. Beyond this, however, was the idea that monasticism had a wider mission in reforming the outside world. Other monasteries in Europe caught the idea, and an association was organized known as the Congregation of Cluny, that included numbers throughout all Europe. The Abbot of Cluny was regarded as the real head of the organization. The influence of this movement was to give a purer tone to all monastic life, and to affect the religious life outside the monastery. Hildebrand (Gregory VII) was a monk at Cluny, and his reforms were in line with the “Cluny movement.” Later, but, in many respects, not greater, was the reform of St. Bernard, and the founding by him of the Cistercian community at Clairvaux (1115).
[* ] Abelard was one of the most prominent founders of Scholasticism. The significance of the quarrel between Abelard and St. Bernard was that it exemplified the whole struggle between freedom of thought and inquiry, and the authoritative rule of the Church as enforced by the extremists.