The work of Otto I was skilfully done, since it survived the follies of his son and grandson. For twenty years after his death (973) the titular rulers of the Empire were boys and women-regents. At Rome, in Germany, on the western and eastern frontiers all the beaten factions and humiliated rivals plucked up courage to make another bid for victory. The old Empress Adelaide, and her daughter-in-law the Empress Theophano, divided or disputed the control of the administration until 991; from that date till 998 the elder woman, freed from interference by the death of Theophano, exercised a great though a declining influence. Neither Empress was competent to handle the singular difficulties of the situation. Adelaide, though true to the German ambitions of her husband, was guided by personal prejudice in the selection of her ministers. Theophano, a woman of remarkable abilities and attainments, despised the monotonous intricacies of German politics, encouraged both her husband and her son to regard Italy as the worthiest field for the activities of an Emperor, and in Italy looked rather to Rome and the South than to Lombardy. It was the church party, both in Germany and in Lombardy, which in these years kept the subjects of the Empire true to their allegiance. The German dukes were less disinterested. But the precedents which Otto I had established proved invaluable when his son was required to deal with a rebellion, or had the opportunity of appointing to a vacant dukedom.
The blame for the chimerical ambitions of Otto II and Otto III is usually thrown upon Theophano, that brilliant missionary of Byzantine culture and Byzantine political ideas. But the influence which perverted the judgement of these Emperors, until they became a byeword in Europe, was something more impalpable than the will-force of a domineering woman. They were born into the misty morning twilight of the medieval renaissance, of an age when intellectual curiosity was awakening, when philosophy, the sciences and Latin literature were studied with a lively but uncritical enthusiasm, when the rhetorician and the sophist were the uncrowned kings of intelligent society. The philosophy was little more than school-logic, derived at second or third hand from Aristotle, the science a grotesque amalgam of empiricism and tradition. The Latin classics, apart from their use as a source of tropes and commonplaces, only served to inspire a superstitious and uncomprehending reverence for ancient Rome. Of this new learning Otto II and his son were naive disciples. They could not sufficiently admire the encyclopaedic Gerbert, the most fashionable and incomparably the ablest teacher of their day. Otto II and his court listened patiently for hours while Gerbert disputed with a Saxon rival concerning the subdivisions of the genus philosophy. Otto III invited Gerbert to come to court and cure him of "Saxon rusticity"; he deluged the complaisant tutor with Latin verses, consulted him in affairs of state, and finally promoted him to the Papacy. Gerbert was in fact a subtle and ambitious politician, who filled the chair of Peter with no small degree of credit. But his more serious talents would never have found their opportunity save for his skill in ministering to the pseudo-classicism of rustic Saxons.
Each of these Emperors turned his back on Germany at the first opportunity. Each met in Italy with bitter disillusionment and an untimely fate.
Otto II, in whose idealism there was a trace of his father's concrete ambition, planned the conquest of South Italy and Sicily. The scheme was not impracticable as the Hohenstauffen were afterwards to prove. And in the year 980 it could be justified as advantageous to the whole of Christian Europe. A new Saracen peril was impending in the Western Mediterranean. A new dynasty of Mohammedan adventurers, the Fatimites, had arisen on the coast of Northern Africa and had made themselves masters of Egypt (969). Five years before that event they had already occupied Sicily; in 976 they turned their attention to Italy. The south of the peninsula was divided between the Eastern Empire and Pandulf Ironhead, the lord of Capua, who had established an ephemeral despotism on the ruins of Lombard and Byzantine power. Even he could not face the Arabs in the open field, and his death (981) was followed by the partition of his lands and bitter strife among his sons. Unless Otto intervened it was not unlikely that Italy, south of the Garigliano, would become a province of the Caliphate of Cairo. Otto, however, was ill-qualified to be the general of a crusade. His military experience had been gained in petty operations against the Danes and Slavs, and in an invasion of France vaingloriously begun but ending in humiliation (978). Full of self-confidence he led a powerful force into Apulia, intending to expel first the Greeks and then the Arabs. He captured Bari and Taranto without difficulty; but he had no sooner entered Calabria than he allowed himself to be entrapped by the Emir of Sicily. On the field of Colonne (982) he lost the flower of his army and barely escaped capture by flight to a passing merchant vessel. Next year he died, in the midst of feverish preparations to wipe out this disgrace. It was left for the despised Greeks to repel the Arabs from the mainland; Sicily remained a Mohammedan possession till the coming of the Normans (1062).
It is easier to sympathise with the policy of Otto II than with the man himself. The case is reversed when we turn to the career of his son. Otto III, an infant at his father's death, escaped from female tutelage in 996, and made his first Italian expedition as an autocrat of sixteen. He went to free the Papacy from the bondage of a Roman faction, the party of the infamous John XII, again rearing its head under a new leader. The boy-ruler suppressed the rebels with some gratuitous cruelty. But he was not without noble ambitions or the capacity of appreciating finer natures than his own. Called upon to nominate a Pope he selected his cousin Bruno, a youth little older than himself, but a statesman and an idealist, who set himself to assert the authority of the Holy See over the national Churches, partly no doubt in the interests of the Empire but more in those of morality and discipline. Unhappily Bruno died before his influence had eradicated from the Emperor's character the weaknesses fostered by scheming flatterers and an injudicious education. Gerbert, who succeeded Bruno with the title of Sylvester II, encouraged his pupil in a career of puerile extravagances. While the new Pope extended his jurisdiction and magnified his office, the young Emperor was planning to revive in Rome the ancient glories of the Caesars. Otto built a palace on the Aventine; he imitated the splendour and travestied the ceremonial of the Byzantine court; he devised pompous legends to be inscribed on his seal and on his crown. In the year 1000 he made a solemn pilgrimage to Aachen and opened the vault of Charles the Great; another to Poland, to pray at the shrine of his martyred friend, St. Adalbert, in Gnesen. Meanwhile the serious business of the Empire was neglected; the Slavonic states shook off the German connection; the eastern frontier was unguarded. Even the Romans, whom he cherished as his peculiar people, despised his vagaries and rose in insurrection. This was the awakening. Alive at last to the difference between his dreams and his true position, he quitted the Eternal City to wander aimlessly in Italy, and died broken-hearted at the age of twenty-one.
It would obviously be unjust to judge the Holy Roman Empire of the first Otto by the tragicomic aberrations of his immediate successors. Their careers illustrate, in an extreme form, the temptations to which an Emperor was exposed; but neither of them understood the essence of the institution. Far from idealising the Empire overmuch they did not make it ideal enough. The true conception of Empire eluded their grasp and was unaffected by their failure. The policy of Otto the Great is justified by the fact that he, like Charles the Great, gave to a national monarchy the character of a religious office and the sense of a sacred mission. To appreciate his achievement we need only compare the German monarchy, as it stood in the year 1000, after a generation of misgovernment had marred the architect's design, with that of the Capets in France or of the House of Egbert in England. The difference is not only in size or outward splendour. The Holy Roman Empire stood for a nobler theory of royal and national Duty.
Before discussing the origins or the effects of feudalism it is well to form a definite conception of the system as we find it in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when it is the basis of local government, of justice, of legislation, of the army and of all executive power. In this period the lawyers have arrived at the doctrine that all lands is held from the King either mediately or directly. The King is himself a great landowner with demesnes scattered over the length and breadth of the realm; the revenues of these estates supply him with the larger part of his permanent income. The King is surrounded by a circle of tenants-in-chief, some of whom are bishops and abbots and ecclesiastical dignitaries of other kinds; the remainder are dukes, counts, barons, knights. All of these, laymen and churchmen alike, are bound to perform more or less specific services in return for their lands; the most important is military service, with a definite quota of knights, which they usually render at their own charge; but they are also liable to pay aids (auxilia) of money in certain contingencies, to appear regularly at the King's council and to sit as assessors in his law court. They hold their lands in fact upon a contract; but the precise obligations named in this contract do not exhaust their relation to the King. In a vague and elastic sense they owe him honour (obsequium) and loyalty (fidelitas). They must do all in their power to uphold his interests and exalt his dignity. He on his side is bound to consult them collectively, in all matters of importance, and to maintain them individually in the rights and possessions which he has granted to them. These personal and indefinite ties should not be renounced, on either side, without some very serious reason—gross treachery, gross neglect of duty, gross abuse of power or privilege.
These tenants-in-chief have on their estates a number of sub-tenants, who are bound to them by similar contracts and a similar personal relation. The homage of the sub-tenant to his immediate lord ought to be qualified by a reservation of the allegiance which all subjects owe to the King. Whether this reservation shall be made or, when made, shall have any practical consequences, will depend upon the King's resources and personality. Where effective, it means that he can claim from the sub-tenants the discharge of certain national duties, can call on them for military service, can judge them in his court, can tax them with the consent of his council, that is of their lords; on the other hand, it means that these sub-tenants may not allege the commands of their lord as an excuse for making war upon the King or committing any breach of the public peace. Where the general duty of allegiance has lapsed into oblivion, the tenant-in-chief is in all but name a dependent king, and the feudal state becomes a federation under a hereditary president, who occasionally arbitrates between the members of the federation and occasionally leads them out to war.
The other members of the feudal state group themselves or are forcibly grouped under the rule of different persons in the feudal hierarchy. In the open country the soil is partly tilled by small free-holders, who pay to this or that lord a rent in money, kind, or services. Like the feudal sub-tenants these free-holders are, for most purposes, subject to the jurisdiction of their lord; though in the well organised state the royal judges protect them against the grosser forms of violence. But the greater part of the land is divided between servile village-communities, who give up perforce a large proportion of their working-days to the cultivation of the lord's demesne. The tendency of feudal law is to treat these peasants as slaves, to deny them the assistance of the royal law-courts, to regard them as holding their land at the will of their lord. In practice the lord finds that he cannot insist upon the full measure of his legal right. Though he has the right to reclaim all runaways, it is difficult to hunt them down; though he can fix the measure of his own demands, it is dangerous and unprofitable to arouse a spirit of mutiny. A judge from whom his serfs have no appeal in matters that concern their tenure, he finds it politic to make and to observe definite contracts, which remain unaltered from one generation to another. Hence the condition of the serfs, though hard, is less precarious than we might suppose if we only studied what the feudal lawyer has to say about them. Turning from the country to the towns, we find that all are subject to a lord or to the King; that some are only half-emancipated communities of serfs; that in others the burgesses have the status of small free-holders; that in a minority, but a growing minority, of cases the burgesses have established the right to deal collectively with the lord, to be regarded as communes or free cities. In these cases there is a form of popular self-government under elected magistrates. Through the magistrates the town pays a fixed rent to the former lord; usually it claims the special protection of the King, and comes to hold the position of a tenant-in-chief (une seigneurie collective populaire). No society could be, in spirit and in organisation, more anti-feudal than the free town of the Middle Ages; but it can only secure a safe existence by obtaining a definite position in the feudal hierarchy. In fact, the clergy are the only considerable class who succeed in resisting the universal tendency to feudalise all landed property and to find for every man a lord. Even they are compelled to make large concessions to the spirit of the age. It is only at the cost of long and ruinous conflicts that bishops and other prelates establish some distinction between their position and that of the ordinary tenant-in-chief. Even so it remains the law that the principal endowments of every religious foundation are fiefs held under a feudal contract of service. More successful, though not less difficult, was the struggle against the theory that the parish-priest is the vassal of his patron and may, by recognising his obligations as a vassal, acquire the vassal's privilege of passing on his office to his son.
Such then was feudalism in the concrete. It is the negation of all that we hold to be most important in the conceptions of the state and citizenship. In effect, though not altogether in theory, it subordinates the obligations of the citizen to those which the individual incurs by entering on a voluntary contract. This contract may or may not be made with the ruler of the state; in the majority of cases it is made with a fellow-citizen. Though honourable, according to current ideas, this contract always leaves to the lord some loopholes for the exercise of arbitrary and capricious authority; it impairs, if it does not destroy, the rule of law. Again, the effect of the system is to throw the main burden of national defence, and the main control of the royal power, upon a close hereditary caste of landowners. The standard of public duty is lowered; the government becomes either an absolutism or an oligarchy, and in either case studies chiefly the interests of a class which despises industry and holds privilege to be the necessary basis of society. Under feudalism the powers of the Crown, executive, judicial, administrative, are often granted away to be held by the same tenure as the fiefs over which they are exercised. And thus is created the worst form of civil service that we can conceive; a corps of hereditary officials, who can only be checked or removed with extreme difficulty, who render no account of the sums which they collect under the name of fines or dues, who are seldom educated to the point of realising that, even in their private interest, honesty is the best policy. If this system had developed to its logical conclusion, if the principles of feudal government had not been mitigated by revolt from below and interested tyranny from above, the only possible end would have been a state of particularism and anarchy compared with which the Germany of the fifteenth century, or the Italy of the eighteenth, might be called an earthly paradise.
The very defects of the feudal system are, however, the best proof that it was the natural and inevitable product of social evolution. A legal theory so complex, so repugnant to the best traditions both of Roman and barbarian government, could not have obtained general recognition, as part of the natural order of things, unless it had grown up by degrees, unless it had been the outcome of older usages and institutions. A form of social organisation so cumbrous and so dangerous could hardly have survived for centuries unless it had solved difficulties of unusual urgency and magnitude. Let us then consider, in their historical order, the antecedents of feudalism and the reasons of state by which it was justified.
Before the downfall of the Roman Empire the duties of local government were slipping from the grasp of the imperial executive. With or without official consent, the great proprietors—already held responsible for the taxes, the military service, and the good conduct of their dependents—were assuming rights of jurisdiction. When Gaul was reorganised by the Merovingians, these private courts of law continued to exist; and they were even legally recognised (by Clotaire II in 614) as institutions of public utility. A certain number of great estates were further protected by special charters of privilege (immunitas) which forbade public officials to enter them for the purposes of making arrests, of holding courts, of collecting fines and levying distraints. The owners were obliged to surrender any person accused of a grave crime, but otherwise did justice at their pleasure.
This system of immunity was greatly extended by the Carolingian sovereigns, but with two important changes. (1) Henceforward the privilege was seldom granted to laymen, but was bestowed as a matter of course on the estates of bishops and of religious houses. (2) The holders of such ecclesiastical estates were compelled to vest their powers of police and justice in the hands of laymen (advocati) chosen either by the central power or by some approved form of election. The intention of these changes was to use the private courts for the maintenance of public order, to extract the sting from a dangerous privilege, and to make it a serviceable instrument of royal policy. But only one half of the scheme was permanent. By the middle of the ninth century, when immunitas had been granted to all religious foundations, the Carolingians allowed the right of choosing the advocati to slip from their feeble grasp. The privileged estates remained, but the royal control over their internal government was gone. They became ecclesiastical seignories; whatever checks were imposed upon the power of their rulers came from the lay-nobles who were their neighbours, or from the subject population. Partly from respect for custom and tradition, partly from motives of self-interest, the great ecclesiastical landowners sided with the Crown, even in the tenth century, when the fortunes of royalty were at their lowest ebb. But for this support a price had to be paid; the old privileges were maintained and even augmented by grants of the power of life and death (hautejustice, blut-bann). Thus came into existence the class of ecclesiastical princes, who throughout the Middle Ages maintained a state, and wielded a power, comparable with that of any lay feudatory.
The ecclesiastical immunitas, as early as the ninth century, was in the eyes of all ambitious landowners the model of a privileged estate. But it was by another road that the layman arrived at the position of a petty sovereign. Speaking broadly, there are two stages in his progress. First, he comes into the position of a royal tenant, holding his lands in exchange for services and fealty. Secondly, he acquires, by delegation or usurpation, a greater or smaller part of the royal authority over his own dependents.
(1) The idea of a personal contract between the free warrior and his lord, by which the former places himself at the disposition of the latter and promises unlimited service, is one which occurs in many primitive societies and is peculiar to no one branch of the human race. Tacitus noticed, as one feature of German life in his time, the free war-band (comitatus) who lived in the house of their chief, followed him to battle, and thought it the last degree of infamy to return alive from the field on which he had fallen. The Merovingian kings maintained a bodyguard of this kind (antrustions). Under the Carolingians such followers appear in the host, in the royal household, in every branch of the administration. They are the most trusted agents of the King and possess considerable social consequence. They are called vassi, a name formerly applied to any kind of dependent, but now reserved for free men rendering free services to the King or some other lord, and subject to his jurisdiction. So valuableare these followers that, in the eighth and ninth centuries, the power of the great is largely measured by the number of vassi whom they can put into the field.
Various considerations suggested to Frankish rulers and nobles the expediency of endowing these followers with land, and of granting land to no tenant unless he would take the vassal's oath. Usually land was the only form of pay which the lord could give; and it always served as a material guarantee of faithful service, since it could be resumed whenever the vassal made default. In days when law and morality availed little as the sanctions of contracts, the landlord naturally desired to bind his tenant to him by a personal obligation; and there were obvious advantages in providing that every tenant should be liable to aid his lord with arms. The estates granted to vassals were known as benefices (beneficia); they foreshadowed the lay-fief of later times. But there are some distinctions to be drawn. The benefice was not de jure heritable; it escheated on the death of either lord or tenant. The service was not measured with the same precision as in later times. The military duties of the beneficed vassal were not different in kind or degree from those of the ordinary freemen. Finally, the idea had not yet arisen that vassals were superior in status to the rest of the community. The importance of the vassal depended entirely on his wealth and his rank in the King's employ. Only in the old age of the Carolingian Empire, when the class of free landowners, acknowledging no lord, had been almost ground out of existence by official oppression and the intolerable burden of military service, was the burden of national defence thrown entirely upon vassals. Then, as the sole military class in the community, they acquired the consideration which, in early stages of social development, is the monopoly of those who are trained to arms.
(2) It was natural that the tie of vassalage should be imposed on every important official; and natural also to regard his office as a benefice, tenable for life or during good behaviour. At an early date we find cases of conquered princes—a Duke of Aquitaine, a Duke of Bavaria, a King of Denmark—who take the vassal's oath and agree to hold their former dominions as a beneficium. So again a member of the royal house does homage and promises service in return for his appanage. More common, and more important for the future, is the practice of treating counts as vassals. All over the Frankish Empire the county was the normal unit of local administration. The count led the military levies, collected the royal dues, enforced the laws, maintained the peace, and was a judge with powers of life and death. The Carolingians controlled their counts by means of itinerant inspectors (missi dominici); but with the disruption of their Empire this check was destroyed, while the power of the count survived. By that time the office had often become hereditary, on the analogy of the beneficium, and the count appropriated to his own use the profits of his office. In such cases his county became a small principality, classed by lawyers as a fief, but often ruled without any reference to the interests of the royal overlord. The fiefs of Anjou, Champagne and Flanders began in this way as hereditary countships. Sometimes, again, we find that a great vassal obtains, by grant of usurpation, the prerogatives of a count over his own lands; examples are the prince-bishops of Trier (898 A.D.), Hamburg (937), and Metz (945).
The first effect of this striking change in the nature of landed property and of public office was to substitute for the centralised state of the Carolingians a lax federal system, in which each unit was a group of men attached to the person of a hereditary superior. This nascent feudalism was often brutal, always summary and short-sighted, in its methods of government. The feudal group was engaged in a perpetual struggle for existence with neighbouring groups. Feudal policy was aggressive; for every lord had his war-band, whom he could only hold together by providing them with adventure and rich plunder; nor could any lord regard himself as safe while a neighbour of equal resources remained unconquered. Furthermore, as though the disintegration of society had not gone far enough, every great fief was in constant danger of civil war and partition. As the lord had treated the King, so he in turn was treated by his vassals. He endowed them with lands, he allowed them to found families, he gave them positions of authority; and then they defied him. In the eleventh century the great fief bristled with castles held by chief vassals of the lord; in the small county of Maine alone we hear of thirty-five such strongholds; generally speaking they were centres of rebellion and indiscriminate rapine. Such feudalism was not a system of government; it was a symptom of anarchy.
Yet feudalism had not always been a mere tyranny of the military class over the unarmed population. Like the Roman Empire, that of the Franks had forfeited respect and popularity by misgovernment, by feeble government, by insupportable demands on the personal service of the subject. The land-owner was a less exacting master than the Empire; often he could defend his tenants from imperial exactions. During the invasions of the Northmen and Hungarians, he was impelled by his own interest to guard his estates to the best of his ability. Therefore common men looked to their landlord, or looked about them for a landlord, to whom they could commend themselves. The great estate was the ark of refuge from the general flood of social evils. In the eleventh century the situation changed. The Hungarian tide of invasion was rolled back by a Henry the Fowler and an Otto the Great; the Northmen enrolled themselves as members of the European commonwealth. The petty feudal despot was no longer needed. From a protector he had degenerated into a pest of society. The great political problem of the age was to make him innocuous. It was taken in hand, and it was settled, by a variety of means.
In France the Church took the lead of the repressive movement, endeavouring to mitigate the horrors of private war by certain restrictions upon the combatants. During the eleventh century it was not unusual for the bishop of a diocese to secure the co-operation of representative men, from all classes of society, in proclaiming a local Truce of God (Treuga Dei). This Truce, which all men were invited to swear that they would observe, forbade the molestation of ecclesiastics, peasants and other non-combatants; provided that cultivated land should not be harried or cattle carried off; and named certain seasons when no war should be waged. A typical agreement of this kind enjoins that all private hostilities shall be suspended from Wednesday evening to Monday morning in each week; from the beginning of Advent till a week after the Epiphany; from the beginning of Lent till a week after Easter; from the Rogation Days till a week after Pentecost. The Truce of God was approved by the Crown both in France and in Germany; even in the twelfth century it was still recommended by church councils as a useful expedient. But it was seldom effectual. There was no machinery for enforcing it; and those who swore to uphold it were so divided by conflicting class interests that they could not co-operate with any cordiality. The second of these defects, though not the first, can also be perceived in the German system of the Land-peace. Periodically we find an Emperor constraining a particular province, or even the whole German kingdom, to accept a set of rules which are partly modelled on those of the Treuga Dei and partly in the nature of criminal legislation. Thus in 1103 the magnates of the kingdom were required to swear that for the next four years they would not molest ecclesiastics, merchants, women, or Jews; that during the same period they would neither burn nor break into private houses; that they would not kill or wound or hold to ransom any man. In regard to the last rule the magnates insisted on some modification; it was finally provided that a man meeting a private enemy on the high-road might attack him, but might not pursue him if he took refuge in a private house. The general Land-peaces of Frederic Barbarossa (1152) and Frederic II (1235) are the most important enactments of this kind; but they deviate widely from the original type. They are permanent; they aim at the total suppression of lawless self-help; they are codes of criminal law which, if thoroughly enforced, would have opened a new era in German history. As the case stands—they are only the evidence of an unrealised project of reform.
It was not by confederations of this kind, whether spontaneous or compulsory, that feudalism could be bridled. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the great age of medieval statesmanship, saw other and more effectual remedies applied. In the free cities of France, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, the commercial classes perfected a form of association which, however faulty in other respects, was successful in excluding feudalism from the principal centres of urban industry. In the larger states, whether kingdoms or not, the rulers, supported by the Church and the commons, bestirred themselves to slay the many-headed Hydra. Feudalism was not extirpated, but it was brought under the law. In many districts it defied repression. To the end of the Middle Ages the Knights of Suabia and the Rhineland maintained the predatory traditions of the Dark Ages; and everywhere feudalism remained a force inimical to national unity. But the great feudatories who survived into the age of Machiavelli and of the new despotisms had usually some claims upon the respect of their subjects. The Duchy of Brittany, the Burgundian inheritance, the German electorates, were mainly objectionable as impeding the growth of better communities—better because more comprehensive, more stable, more fitted to be the nurseries of great ideas and proud traditions.
It remains to speak of chivalry, that peculiar and often fantastic code of etiquette and morals which was grafted upon feudalism in the eleventh and succeeding centuries. The practical influence of chivalry has been exaggerated. Chivalrous ethics were in great measure the natural product of a militarist age. Bravery and patriotism, loyalty and truthfulness, liberality and courtesy and magnanimity—these are qualities which the soldier, even in a semi-civilised society, discovers for himself. The higher demands of chivalric morality were as habitually disregarded as the fundamental precepts of the Christian faith. The chivalric statesmen of the Middle Ages, from Godfrey of Bouillon to Edward III and the Black Prince, appear, under the searchlight of historical criticism, not less calculating than Renaissance despots or the disciples of Frederic the Great of Prussia. But something less than justice has been rendered to the chivalric ideal. The ethics which it embodied were arbitrary and one-sided; but they represent a genuine endeavour to construct, if only for one class, a practicable code of conduct at a time when religion too often gloried in demanding the impossible. Chivalry degenerated into extravagance and conventional hyperbole; but at the worst it had the merit of investing human relationships and human occupations with an ideal significance. In particular it gave to women a more honourable position than they had occupied in any social system of antiquity. It rediscovered one half of human nature. But for chivalry the Beatrice of Dante, the Laura of Petrarch, Shakespeare's Miranda and Goethe's Marguerite, could not have been created, much less comprehended.
Chivalry in the oldest discoverable form was the invention of the Church. The religious service by which the neophyte was initiated as a knight has been traced back to the time of Otto III, when it appears in the liturgy of the Roman churches. But the ceremony was not in general use, outside Italy, before the age of the Crusades. It was Urban II who inspired the knighthood of northern Europe with the belief that they were Dei militia, the soldiers of the Church; and it is significant that warfare against the unbeliever ranks prominently among the duties enjoined upon the new-made knight, though it does not stand alone. The defence of the true faith and of the Church is also inculcated; merit might be acquired in persecuting heretics or in fighting for the Pope against an unjust Emperor. Nor are the claims of the widow, the orphan and the defenceless totally forgotten. But the perfect knight of the Church was the Templar, the soldier living under the rule of a religious order and devoting his whole energies to the cause of the Holy Sepulchre. It was a remarkable innovation when St. Bernard, the mirror of orthodox conservatism, undertook to legislate for the Order of the Temple; for the primitive Church had hardly tolerated wars in self- defence. From one point of view it was a wholesome change of attitude in the moral leaders of society, that they should recognise war and a military class as inevitable necessities, that they should undertake to moralise and idealise the commonest of occupations. But the resolve was marred in the execution. In the desire to be practical, the Church set up too low an aim and translated Christianity into precepts which were only suited for one short stage of medieval civilisation, the stage of the Crusades.
In the long run the poet had far more influence than the priest upon the chivalric classes. It is remarkable how uniformly Popes and Councils set their faces against the bloodshed and extravagant futilities of the tournament; still more remarkable that even threats of excommunication could not deter the most orthodox of knights from seeking distinction and distraction in these mimic wars. Equally significant is the growth of the service des dames which, although invested by troubadours and minnesingers with a halo of religious allegory, was disliked by the Church, not merely from a dread of possible abuses, but as inherently idolatrous. The cult of the Virgin, while doing honour to the new conception of womanhood, was also a protest against a secular romanticism. Here and there a Wolfram von Eschenbach essays the feat of reconciling poetry with religion in the picture of the perfect knight. But the school of courtoisie prevailed; the most celebrated of the troubadours are mundane, not to say profane; Walther von der Vogelweide, with his bitter attacks upon the Papacy, is more typical of his class than Wolfram with his allegory of Parsifal and the Sangraal. It was in Provence, on the eve of the Albigensian Crusade, in the society which was most indifferent to official Christianity and most hostile to the clergy, that chivalry was most sedulously preached and developed in the most curious detail. In the hands of the troubadours it became a gospel of pageantry and fanfaron, of artificial sentiments and artificial heroisms, cloaking the materialism, the sensuality and the inordinate ostentation of a theatrical and frivolous society, intoxicated with the pride of life.
THE PAPACY BEFORE GREGORY VII
An institution is not necessarily discredited when we discover that it has grown from small beginnings, has been applied under new conditions to new purposes, and in the course of a long history has been defended by arguments which are demonstrably false. The child, no doubt, is father of the man; but the man is something different from, and may well be something better than, his infant self. We must not attach undue importance to the study of origins. On the other hand we cannot afford to neglect them. However slight the fibres by which the present is rooted in the past, to observe them is to realise the continuity of human development—the most important, the most obvious, and the most neglected of the lessons that history can teach. It is true that the roots, however strong and however deeply set, are insufficient to account for the characteristics of the plant which springs from them. But it is also true that neither plants nor institutions can altogether shed the husk of their immaturity. They are not entirely adapted to the conditions under which they reach their full development. The Papacy in the zenith of its power and renown is partly new and partly old. When we consider the papal theory, as it floated before the mind of a Gregory VII or an Innocent III, it produces in us the same impression of symmetry, logical consistency and completeness, which we experience on entering for the first time one of the great medieval churches. But when once we have grasped the design of the architect, we shall usually find that he has conformed in some respects to unmeaning traditions inherited from an earlier period, and further that his work incorporates the remnants of an older, simpler structure. Here are pillars of massive girth altogether disproportionate to the delicate arches which they carry; there an old tower has been buttressed to make it capable of supporting a new spire. For all the builder's cunning, we can yet distinguish between the new and the renovated. So it is with the papal apologia in the great days of papal policy. A sentence from the laws of ancient Rome dovetails with an axiom stolen from the philosophers of the Porch or the Academy. Fables of Gallic or Egyptian origin are invoked to corroborate the canons of Nicene and Chalcedonian synods. A text from a Hebrew prophet is interpreted by the fancy of an African expositor. The fabric composed of these incongruous elements has in truth a unity of purpose; but the design is so disguised and so perverted by the recalcitrance of the materials, that we are irresistibly impelled to ask how and why they came to be employed.
More than any other human institution the Papacy has suffered from a supposed necessity of justifying every forward step by precedent and reference to authority. Twice in the course of sixteen centuries the Holy See has ventured on a startling change of front, and has been sorely embarrassed to rebut the charge of inconsistency. One such change was silently effected at the close of the seventeenth century, when the Popes ceased to concern themselves more than was unavoidable with international affairs. This was a great change; yet not so great as that made in the latter part of the eleventh century, by Gregory VII. For he revolutionised the whole theory of papal prerogative. Neither a profound lawyer nor a profound theologian, he regarded the past history of his office with the idealism of a poet, and looked into its future with the sanguine radicalism of a Machiavelli or a Hobbes. Gregory VII conceived of Christendom as an undivided state; of a state as a polity dominated by a sovereign; of a sovereign as a ruler who must be either absolute or useless. And who, he asked, but the heir of the Prince of the Apostles could presume to claim a power so tremendous? For us the audacity of his pretensions is excused by the lofty aims which they were meant to serve. To conciliate contemporary opinion it was necessary that the new claims should be represented as the revival of old rights, as the logical corollaries of undisputed truths. And this course involved as its consequence an industrious, if partially unconscious, perversion of past history. For the Popes who had gone before him claimed powers which, though extensive, were capable of definition; which, though startling, could in the main be defended by appeal to well-established usage. The new policy led to this paradoxical situation, that precedents were diligently invoked to prove the Pope superior to all precedents.
With Gregory VII the primacy of Western Christendom assumed a new character. But the primacy, in one form or another, had for centuries belonged to the Roman See. So much his remote predecessors had achieved, and their success is all the more remarkable when we remember how few of them had been distinguished statesmen. It is no matter for surprise that, in the course of nine troubled centuries, some Bishops of Borne had proved incompetent and others had betrayed the interests committed to their charge. It is, however, surprising that the Roman See was able to assume and hold the leading position among Western bishops without rendering much service to the extension or the organisation of the Church.
Of all the early Popes, save Leo I and Gregory I, it is true that we may be tolerably at home in the history of their times without knowing much about them. No Pope is ranked among the leading Western Fathers. The only considerable theologian who occupied the Holy See, before the year 1000, is Gregory I; and the highest praise which we can give his writings is that they imparted new life to some ideas of St. Augustine. It is as statesmen, not as thinkers, that the early Popes appeal to our attention. Yet their practical achievements scarcely account for the reverence which they inspired. The one great mission which Rome set on foot was that of Augustine to England. The other evangelists of the Dark Ages found their inspiration elsewhere, in the monasteries of Ireland or of Gaul and Germany. If we consider the progress of theological science, and of ecclesiastical organisation, we find that the great controversies were resolved, and the great legislative assemblies convened, in the Eastern Empire. It was but rarely that Rome asserted her right to speak in the name even of the Western Church; the record of the early Popes who attained to such a momentary pre-eminence was not such as the West could recollect with satisfaction. In fact, it was due to other causes than the merits of individual Popes that Rome became and remained the religious metropolis of Europe.
How, then, are we to account for her triumphant progress? Hobbes suggested one explanation when he called the Papacy "the ghost of the Roman Empire." And it is true that the later Emperors found it convenient to confer special privileges on the bishops of their ancient capital. But they adopted this policy too late, when reverence for the Empire was already declining in the West. By imperial grants the Papacy gained no substantial powers, while individual Popes lost credit and independence by their special connection with the New Rome on the Bosporus. They were compelled to play an ignominious part in the squabbles of the Eastern Churches, they were loaded with onerous secular duties; they became the emblems and the agents of an alien tyranny, mistrusted alike by the barbarian invaders and the nominal subjects of the Empire.
Other critics have explained the prestige of the Papacy as the fruit of successful impostures. For this hypothesis there is little to be said. One or two Popes, not the greatest, have condescended to use forged title-deeds. But the effect of these frauds has been much exaggerated. The most famous of them are the Donation of Constantine and the False Decretals. The former, though probably of Roman origin, was little used at Rome, and only served to justify the modest beginnings of the temporal power. The latter are of more importance, and are sometimes regarded as opening an era of new pretensions. In fact they are little more than reiterations and amplifications of very ancient claims. Though frequently quoted by the canon lawyers, they are not indispensable links in the claim of historical proofs and precedents. They are chiefly significant as attesting the general desire of churchmen to find some warrant for a vigorous exercise of the papal prerogative. A primate with real powers was desired, not only by the clergy of the national churches as a bulwark against the brutal oppression of the State, but also by all religious thinkers as a symbol of corporate unity and a guarantee of doctrinal uniformity.
No theory can be regarded as supplying a satisfactory explanation of papal authority, unless it explains this general belief in the necessity for a visible Head of the Western Church. In part the necessity was political. Exposed to the common danger of secular tyranny, the national churches looked for safety in federation; and they notified their union in the only way that uneducated laymen could understand, by announcing their subjection to a single spiritual sovereign. But there remained the problem of justifying this act of independence amounting to rebellion. The justification was found in two arguments, the one historical, the other doctrinal; the one based upon the Roman legend of St. Peter, the other on the acknowledged importance of holding fast to right tradition. Each of these arguments calls for some consideration.
St. Peter, says the legend, was invested with the primacy among the Apostles; such is the plain meaning of the Saviour's declaration, Tu es Petrus. St. Peter founded the Roman Church and instituted the Roman bishopric. To Linus, the first bishop, Peter bequeathed his Divine commission and his knowledge of the Christian verities. From Linus these gifts descended without diminution to one after another in the unbroken chain of his successors. Hence Rome is entitled to the same pre-eminence among the churches which Peter held among his brethren. To examine the historical basis of the legend would be a lengthy and unprofitable task. Of St. Peter's connection with the Eternal City we know nothing certain, except that he preached and suffered there. If bishops existed in his time, there is some reason for thinking that the office was collegiate, and that the committee of bishops was less important then in the spiritual life of the community than at a later time. Not until the second century did the episcopate become monarchical and the holder of the office the supreme authority within the Church by which he was elected. The change was complete by the time of Irenaeus, who wrote circa 180 A.D.; to him we owe our earliest catalogue of Roman bishops, beginning with Linus and ending with Eleutherus, the twelfth from Peter and the contemporary of Irenaeus. The later names in the list are doubtless those of authentic bishops; the earlier may be in some sense historical, the names of famous presbyters or of men who made their mark on the old episcopal committee. A point of secondary interest is that Irenaeus speaks of bishops, not of Popes; this title came into use a hundred years after his time. More important is the fact that, in the third century, when our documents become more copious, Rome is generally recognised as first in dignity among the churches (ecclesia principalis), but has no appellate jurisdiction and no legislative powers. It is only admitted that, when disputes arise on points of tradition, her testimony is entitled to special honour, as that of a church which preserves the memory of Peter's teaching. As doctrinal controversies become more acute and more fundamental, the importance of tradition is emphasised, the authority of those who voice it is magnified. Ultimately all the pretensions of the Holy See are founded on the claim that she possesses the only undefiled tradition. But it was not until long after the third century that the consequences of the claim were realised even by the claimants.
If we were invited, at the present day, to suggest a means of conserving intact a body of doctrinal definitions and disciplinary law, we should not naturally select some mode of oral transmission as the safest available. Yet this expedient has found much favour in the past. Even among the Jews, with their extreme respect for sacred books, the written word was made of none account by the traditions of expositors. The votaries of the Greek mystic cults deliberately avoided writing down their more important formulae. Several considerations were in favour of this curious policy. There were no scientific canons for the interpretation of written texts; allegorising commentators read their own wild fancies into the plainest sentences. The only way of meeting them was to fall back on the traditional interpretation. We use the texts to test the traditions; but criticism in its early stages pursues the opposite course, and as a natural consequence rates tradition above Scripture. Other reasons which discouraged the use of writing were, first, the fear that no literary skill might be equal to the difficulty of accurate statement; secondly, the natural reluctance of the religious mind to let the deepest truths be exposed to the vulgar scoffs and criticism of the uninitiated; thirdly, some remnant of the primitive superstition that the formulae of a ritual are magic spells, which would lose their potency if published to the world; and, finally, the natural instinct of a sacerdotal class to reserve the knowledge of deepest mysteries to a select inner circle. For all these reasons a jealously guarded tradition, commonly designated as the arcana or secreta, was to be found in all the early Christian Churches. To give a few examples: the Apostles' Creed, the distinctive symbol of the Roman Church, was preserved by oral tradition only down to the fourth century, and was not imparted to any catechumen until the time of his baptism. The minute rules of penitential discipline were first committed to writing by Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, towards the close of the seventh century; and this innovation was sharply criticised by some ecclesiastical synods. Most remarkable of all is the reluctance of the churches to write down the essential, operative parts of the Mass. Written copies are first mentioned in the fourth century, and it was not until a much later period that the diversities of local tradition were corrected by the issue of a standard text. It might be supposed that the non-existence of official copies was due to the want of any device, such as printing, by which they could be cheaply multiplied. But there is a curious fact which suggests that publication was considered undesirable. One section of the Canon of the Mass was called the secret part (secretum), and was recited by the celebrant in an undertone, that it might not become known to the congregation. Similarly, all literary exposition of such central doctrines as the Atonement, or the Trinity, was deprecated by early theologians, who pass by them with the remark that they are known to the initiate.
This cult of secrecy engendered difficulties which are written large upon the page of history. Disputes arose about the wording of the creeds, about the canon of the Scriptures, about the number and nature of the mortal sins, and the penances which they should entail. Periodically a curious investigator raised a storm by claiming that he had discovered a flaw in the traditional formulae, or a mistake in the sense which was currently attached to them. The one way of meeting such doubts was to compare the traditions of the older churches. This could be done by a provincial synod or a general council. But of these tribunals the former was unsatisfactory, as its decisions were of merely local validity and might be overruled by the voice of the universal Church. The general council was hard to convene, particularly after a rift had opened between the Eastern and the Western Churches. It was easier to select as the final arbiter a bishop whose knowledge of tradition was derived from an apostolic predecessor. In the East there were three such sees (Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria), but in the West Rome alone satisfied the necessary conditions. And the Bishops of Rome could claim, with some show of reason, that their tradition was derived from a worthier source, and had been better guarded against contagion, than that of any other Apostolic Church. Was it not a well-established fact that Rome had preserved an unwavering front in the face of the heretical Arius, when even Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria had wavered?
Recourse to Rome as the oracle of the faith was so obvious an expedient, given the prevailing attitude towards tradition, that we can only be surprised to find how slow and gradual was the triumph of the Roman claims. The victory of logic was retarded both by the pride and by the common sense of the other Western Churches. On the one hand, the See of Carthage clung to the old ideal of Christendom as a confederation of self-governing churches, which might consult one another as they pleased but recognised no superior except a general council. Carthage carried with her the whole Church of Africa, and furnished an example which less illustrious communities were proud to imitate. The conquest of Africa by the Vandal heretics was necessary before the African Christians would consent to look to Rome as their spiritual metropolis. On the other hand, the rulings of the Roman bishops were justly suspected of being tempered by regard for expediency. Sometimes they relaxed penitential discipline, for fear of driving the weaker brethren to apostasy. Sometimes, under pressure from Constantinople, they proposed an ambiguous compromise with heresy. Such considerations were but gradually overborne by the pressure of circumstances. The spread of Arianism and the irruption of the Teutons (themselves often Arians) at length compelled the churches to take the obvious means of preserving their imperilled uniformity and union.
It is in the acts of the Council of Sardica (343 A.D.) that we find the first explicit recognition of the Pope as an arbiter and (we may almost say) a judge of appeal. This council was merely a gathering of Western bishops, and the canons which it passed were never accepted by the Church of Africa. So doubtful was their validity that the Popes of the next generation disingenuously asserted that they had been passed at the earlier and more famous Council of Nicaea (325). Yet even at Sardica the Pope was only endowed with one definite prerogative. Henceforward any bishop condemned by a provincial synod might appeal to him; he could then order a second trial to be held, and could send his legates to sit among the judges; but he could not hear the case in his own court. More striking than this decree are the words of the letter which the Council addressed to Pope Julius: "It will be very right and fitting for the priests of the Lord, from every province, to refer to their Head, that is to the See of Peter." This recommendation was readily obeyed by the Churches of Gaul and Spain. Questions from their bishops poured in upon the Popes, who began to give their decisions in the form of open letters, and to claim for these letters the binding force of law. Pope Liberius (352-366 A.D.) appears to have commenced the practice, although the earliest of the extant "Decretals" is from the pen of Pope Siricius (385). Sixty years after Siricius' time, when the Western Empire was in its death-agony, this claim to legislative power was formally confirmed by the Emperor Valentinian III (445). But for some time after the Council of Sardica the new prerogative was used with the greatest caution. The Popes of that period use every precaution to make their oracular answers inoffensive. They assure their correspondents that Rome enjoins no novelties; that she does not presume to decide any point on which tradition is silent; that she is merely executing a mandate which general councils have laid upon her. Those who evince respect for her claims are overwhelmed with compliments. A decretal of Innocent I (402-417) begins as follows:—
"Very dear brother, the Church's rules of life and conduct are well known to a priest of your merit and dignity. But since you have urgently inquired of us concerning the rule which the Roman Church prescribes, we bow to your desire and herewith send you our rules of discipline, arranged in order."
On the other hand, no opportunity is lost of calling attention to the Roman primacy. Pope Siricius (384-398) writes in one of his letters: "We bear the burdens of all who are oppressed; it is the Apostle Peter who speaks in our person." Through the more confidential and domestic utterances of these Popes there runs a vein of haughty self-assertion. In the homilies of Leo I (440-461) the text Tu es Petrus rings like a trumpet note; here we have the Roman ruler communing with his Roman people, the pride of empire taking a new shape amidst the ruins of that secular empire which the pagan Romans of the past had built up.
In the general chaos produced by the barbarian migrations the consequence of the Papacy, as compared with that of other Western sees, was considerably enhanced by various causes: by the ruin of Carthage, the most unsparing of her critics; by the progressive deterioration of the other churches, which was most marked in those provinces where the barbarians were most readily converted; by the rising tide of ignorance, which overwhelmed all rival conceptions of Christendom and blotted out the past history of the Church. So great was this ignorance that Innocent I could claim, without much fear of contradiction, that "no man has founded any church in Italy, Sicily, Gaul, Spain, or Africa, excepting those whom Peter and his successors have ordained as priests." In the Italian peninsula there were three churches—Ravenna, Milan, Aquileia—which obstinately refused to consider themselves mere offshoots from the See of Peter. But the legend struck root and throve, as successive Popes associated themselves with missions to the unconverted tribes and with reforms in the barbarian churches.
Among the earlier events which contributed to make the Roman belief the standard for all Western Christendom we need only mention the conquests of the orthodox Frankish monarchy; the official conversions from Arianism of the Burgundians (516) and the Visigoths in Spain (586); the extirpation of the Vandals and Ostrogoths by Justinian's generals; the missions of Augustine to England, of Wilfrid, Willibrord, and Boniface to the Germans; the submission of the Frankish Church under the influence of Boniface and Pepin the Short (748). Naturally the moral influence of Rome in the northern lands was augmented by the revival of the Western Empire, which meant the co-operation of Pope and Emperor in the extension of the Christian Republic. Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs, found it necessary to renounce the allegiance of the Greek Church, and to place their converts under the protection of Rome (866). It was from Rome that St. Adalbert went forth on his ill-starred but glorious mission to the Prussians (997); and it was a Pope, Sylvester II, who earned the glory of uniting the Hungarian people to Western Christendom (1000). Finally, Canute the Great, of Denmark and of England, came in the manner of a pilgrim (1027) to lay the homage of his Scandinavian subjects on the altar of St. Peter. The Popes reaped where they had not sown; but the harvest was rich and splendid.
No less important was the political character which the papal office assumed with the revival of the Empire. Already under Gregory the Great we can trace the beginnings of a temporal power. Naturally and necessarily the Pope, already like other bishops a functionary charged with important secular duties, took upon himself the protection and government of Rome and the surrounding duchy, when the rulers of Byzantium shook off these unprofitable responsibilities. Naturally and excusably he claimed, over his vast Italian estates, the powers of jurisdiction which every landowner was assuming as a measure of self-defence against oppression or unbridled anarchy. In the time of Pepin the Short a further step was taken. The Frank, unwilling to involve himself in Italy yet anxious to secure the Holy See against the Lombards, recognized Pope Stephen II as the lawful heir of the derelict imperial possessions. And Charles the Great, both as King and as Emperor, confirmed the donation of his father. To make the Pope an independent sovereign was indeed a policy which he refused to entertain. His ideal was that of the Eastern Emperors: himself as the head of State and Church, the Pope as the Patriarch of all the churches in the Empire, elected with the Emperor's approval, ruling the clergy with the Emperor's counsel, enjoying over the lands of his see the largest privileges bestowed on any bishop, but still in all secular affairs a subject of the Empire. But on the other hand arose at Rome a different conception of the Pope's prerogative. Long ago Pope Gelasius had formulated the principle, more useful to his remote successors than himself, of the Two Powers, Church and State, both derived from God and both entitled to absolute power in their respective spheres. On this principle the State should not interfere with episcopal elections, or with matters of faith and discipline; it should not exercise jurisdiction over the priesthood who are servants of the Church, or over Church estates since they are held in trust for God and the poor. This view was proclaimed to the world by Leo III, who caused to be set up in the Lateran a mosaic representing in an allegory his relations to the Empire. St. Peter sits enthroned above; Charles and Leo kneel to right and left, in the act of receiving from the Apostle the pallium and the gonfalon, the symbols of their respective offices.
No powerful Emperor ever accepted the Gelasian principle entire. To refute it was, however, difficult, so well did it harmonise with the current conception of the State. Under the later Carolingians it became the programme both of reformers and of mere ecclesiastical politicians. The new monasteries, founded or reorganised under the influence of Cluny, placed themselves beneath the special protection of the Pope, thus escaping from secular burdens. The national hierarchies hailed the forgeries of the Pseudo-Isidore as the charter of ecclesiastical liberty. Pope Nicholas I took his stand at the head of the new movement, and gave it a remarkable development when he asserted his jurisdiction over the adulterous Lothaire II (863). Nicholas died before he couldgive further illustrations of his claim to be supreme, even over kings, in matters of morality and faith. From his time to that of Hildebrand there was no Pope vigorous enough to make a similar example. Dragged down by their temporal possessions to the level of municipal seigneurs and party instruments, the Popes from 867 to 962 were, at the best, no more than vigorous Italian princes. To that level they returned after the period of the Saxon Ottos (962-1002). In those forty years there were glimpses of a better future; the German Pope, Gregory V, allied himself to Cluny (996-999); as Sylvester II (999-1003) the versatile Gerbert of Aurillac—at once mathematician, rhetorician, philosopher, and statesman—entered into the romantic dreams of his friend and pupil, Otto III, and formed others on his own behalf which centred round the Papacy rather than the Empire. Sylvester saw in imagination the Holy See at the head of a federation of Christian monarchies. But fate was no kinder to him than to Otto; he outlived his boy patron only by a year.
THE HILDEBRANDINE CHURCH
Modern life has travelled so far beyond medieval Christianity that it is only with an effort we retrace our steps to the intellectual position of a St. Bernard, a St. Francis, or the Imitatio Christi. Apart from the difficulties of an unfamiliar terminology, we have become estranged from ideas which then were commonplaces; beliefs once held to be self-evident and cardinal now hover on the outer verge of speculative thought, as bare possibilities, as unproved and unprovable guesses at truth. Our own creeds, it may be, rest upon no sounder bottom of logical demonstration. But they have been framed to answer doubts, and to account for facts, which medieval theories ignored; and in framing them we have been constrained partly to revise, partly to destroy, the medieval conceptions of God and the Universe, of man and the moral law.
This is not the place for a critique of medieval religion. But, unless we bear in mind some essential features of the Catholic system of thought, we miss the key to that ecclesiastical statesmanship which dominates the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The programme of the great Popes, from Gregory VII to Boniface VIII, must appear a tissue of absurdities, of preposterous ambitions and indefensible actions, unless it is studied in relation to a theology as far remote from primitive Christianity as from the cults and philosophies of classical antiquity.
The first article in this theology is the existence of a personal God who, though all-pervading and all-powerful, does not reveal Himself immediately to the human beings whom He has created to be His worshippers, and does not so order the world that events shall always express His will and purpose. He has endowed man with a sinful nature, and has permitted His universe to be invaded by evil intelligences of superhuman power and malignancy, who tempt man to destruction and are bent upon subverting the Divine order of which they form a part. He is supremely benevolent, and yet He only manifests the full measure of this quality when His help is invoked by prayer; His goodwill often finds expression in miracles—that is, in the suspending or reversing of the general laws which He has Himself laid down for the regulation of the universe and human destinies. He is inscrutable and incomprehensible; yet to be deceived as to the nature of His being is the greatest of all sins against His majesty. The goal of the religious life is personal communion with Him, the intuitive apprehension and spontaneous acceptance of His will, the Beatific Vision of His excellencies. But this state of blessedness cannot be reached by mere self-discipline; the prayers, the meditations, the good works of the isolated and uninstructed individual, can only serve to condone a state of irremediable ignorance. The avenue to knowledge of Him lies through faith; and faith means the unquestioning acceptance of the twofold revelation of Himself which He has given in the Scriptures and in the tradition of the Church. The two revelations are in effect reduced to one by the statement that only the Church is competent to give an authoritative exposition of the sacred writings. Upon the Church hangs the welfare of the individual and the world. Without participation in her sacraments the individual would be eternally cut off from God; without her prayers the tide of evil forces would no longer be held in check by recurring acts of miraculous intervention, but would rise irresistibly and submerge the human race.
A society charged with these tremendous duties, the only organ of the Divine will and affording the only assurance of salvation, must obviously be superior to all mundane powers. It would be monstrous if her teaching were modified, if her powers of self-government were restricted, to suit the ambitions or the so-called common sense of a lay ruler. The Church stands to the State in the relation of the head to the members, of the soul to the body, of the sun to the moon. The State exists to provide the material foundations of the Christian society, to protect the Church, to extend her sphere and to constrain those who rebel against her law. In a sense the State is ordained by God, but only in the sense of being a necessary condition for the existence of a Christian Commonwealth. Logically the State should be the servant of the Church, acting with delegated powers under her direction.
But theories, however logical, must come to terms with facts, or vanish into the limbo of chimeras. The power of the Hildebrandine Church was subject to serious limitations. On certain questions of importance the national hierarchies were inclined to side with the State against the Pope; and thus, for example, the claims of the Curia to tax the clergy, and to override the rights of ecclesiastical patrons, were restricted at one time or another by concordats, or by secular legislation such as the English statutes of Provisors and Praemunire. Where the whole of the clerical order presented a solid front, it was sometimes possible to make good a claim against which there was much to be said on grounds of common sense; as, for instance, benefit of clergy,—the exclusive jurisdiction of the Church over criminous ecclesiastics,—which was enforced even against a sovereign so powerful and so astute as Henry II of England. But, in the last resort, the pretensions of the Church depended for success upon a public opinion which was hard to move. Not because the average layman was critical or anti-clerical, but because he was illogical and unimaginative, he remained cold to any programme of reform which could only be justified by long trains of deductive reasoning; his natural impulse was against violent innovations, and he felt rather than argued that the State, as the ultimate guarantee of social order, must be maintained even at some cost of theological consistency. Until he could be convinced that high moral issues and his own salvation were at stake, it was useless or dangerous to excommunicate his king and to lay his country under interdict. For want of lay support the Church failed to make good such important claims as those of immunity from national taxation and of jurisdiction in cases of commercial contract. More striking still, she was prevented from establishing the Inquisition in states where that tribunal would have found no lack of work.
Still, in spite of clerical divisions and lay conservatism, "the freedom of the Church" was an ideal which commanded universal homage; and it was necessary for the most obstinate opponent of ecclesiastical privilege to make it clear that his policy involved no real attack upon this freedom. Otherwise, defeat was certain. Thrice in two hundred years the cry for freedom was raised against the Holy Roman Empire; and three prolonged conflicts ended in the discomfiture of the most resolute and resourceful statesmen who ever held that office-Henry IV (1056-1105), Henry V (1106-1125), Frederic Barbarossa (1152-1190), and Frederic II (1212-1250). In the first of these great conflicts the question at issue was the reformation of the national clergy and their emancipation from secular authority. Henry IV paid for his assertion of prerogative and custom, both by the ignominious though illusory surrender at Canossa (1077), and by the unparalleled humiliations of his latter days, when he was compelled, as the prisoner of his own son, not only to abdicate but also to sign a confession of infamous offences against religion and morality. Henry V, reviving the plans of the father whom he had betrayed and entrapped, was reduced through very weariness to conclude the Concordat of worms (1122)—a renunciation which only ended in something less than absolute defeat for the Empire, because the imperial concessions were interpreted with more regard to the letter than the spirit. In the second struggle the immediate issue was the freedom of papal elections, the ultimate question whether Pope or Emperor should shape the Church's policy; and Frederic Barbarossa was compelled, after a schism of seventeen years' duration to surrender claims which dated from the time of Charles the Great, and to make peace with Alexander III, whom he had sworn that he would never recognise (Treaty of Anagni, 1176). Henry VI, the son of Barbarossa, when he joined the kingdom of Sicily to the Empire through his marriage with Constance, the heiress of the Norman throne, sowed the seed of a new conflict, and bequeathed to Frederic II the perilous ideal of an Italy united under a Hohenstauffen despotism. Ecclesiastical freedom now became a euphemism for the preservation of the temporal power, and for the project of a federal Italy, owning allegiance to a papal suzerain. Frederic II, who came nearer to success in a more far-reaching policy than any of his predecessors, was worn out by the steady alternation of successes with reverses, and left his sons and grandson to reap the bitter harvest of a failure which he had barely realised.
The moral issue dwindles to smaller proportions in each successive stage of this titanic duel between the titular representatives of State and Church; and from first to last the Papacy depended largely upon allies who were pursuing their own objects in the Church's name. The German princes, the Normans of Lower Italy and Sicily, the Lombard communes, all contributed in varying degrees to the defeat of the Henries and the Frederics. The German princes brought Henry IV to his knees at two critical moments in the reign; the majority of them held obstinately aloof from the Italian wars of Barbarossa; and Frederic II, who endeavoured to buy their neutrality by extravagant concessions, found himself confronted by German rebels and pretenders towards the close of his career (1246-1250), when the Italian situation appeared to be changing in his favour. The Normans intervened more than once in the Wars of Investitures to shelter a fugitive Pope or rescue Rome from German armies; the Lombards, as we shall relate elsewhere, were the chief barrier between Rome and Frederic Barbarossa, between Frederic II and Germany. Charles of Anjou was the latest and most efficient champion of the papal cause; and he lives in history as the forerunner of the conscienceless and shameless statesmanship of the Renaissance epoch. And yet, when we have allowed for the utility of these alliances, the question remains why radical communes, rebellious feudatories, and adventurers in search of kingdoms, found it worth their while to enlist in the service of the Church, and to endure the restrictions which such a service inevitably entailed. The true strength of the Church lay in her moral influence. It was a handful, even among the clergy, who devoted themselves heart and soul to the ideal of society which she set up. Still her ideal was in possession of the field; it might be subjected to a negative and sceptical criticism by an isolated philosopher, by a heretical sect, or by an orthodox layman smarting under priestly arrogance; but when the forces of the Church were mobilised, the indifferent majority stood aside and shrugged their shoulders. The way of Rome might not be the way of Christ; but if the Apostolic misinterpreted the lessons of Scripture and tradition, from whom could a better rule of life be learned? An erring Church was better than no Church at all. In the thirteenth century, when papal extortions were a subject of complaint in every European state, Frederic II put himself forward as the champion of the common interest, and appealed from the Pope to the bar of public opinion. It was his turn today, he said with perfect truth; the turn of kings and princes would come when the Emperor was overthrown. His eloquence made some impression; but his fellow-sovereigns could not or would not prevent the Pope from taxing their clergy and recruiting their subjects for the Holy War against the secular chief of Christendom, the head and front of whose offending was that he opposed the interests of the State to the so-called rights of the Church.
It is no mere accident that the heyday of sacerdotal pretensions coincided with the golden age of the religious orders; that the Hildebrandine policy took shape when the Cluniac movement was overflowing the borders of France into all the adjacent countries; that Alexander III was a younger contemporary of St. Bernard, and that the death-grapple between Empire and Papacy followed hard upon the foundation of the mendicant fraternities by St. Francis and St. Dominic. The monks and the friars were the militia of the Church. Not that the medieval orders devoted themselves to a political propaganda with the zeal and system of the Jesuits in the sixteenth century. The serviceswhich the Cluniacs and the Cistercians, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, rendered to the militant Papacy were more impalpable and indirect. From time to time, it is true, they were entrusted with important missions—to raise money, to preach a crusade, to influence monarchs, to convert or to persecute the heretic; St. Bernard, the founder of Clairvaux and the incarnation of the monastic spirit, was for twenty years (1133-1153) the oracle to whom Pope after Pope resorted for direction. But even in St. Bernard's time, and even when the reigning Pope was his nominee or pupil, there was a certain divergence between the theories for which he stood and the actual policy of the Curia. It was, for example, against his better judgment that he organised the Second Crusade in deference to the express commands of Pope Eugenius III; and on the other hand, the Papacy preserved towards the pioneers of scholasticism an attitude which he thought unduly lenient. Rome was more broad-minded than Clairvaux, more alive to realities, more versed in statecraft and diplomacy; while Clairvaux fostered a nobler conception of the spiritual life, and was more consistent in withholding the Church from secular entanglements. The qualities which made the monk invaluable as a leader of public opinion also made him an incalculable and intractable factor in political combinations. He was most useful as the missionary and the embodiment of an ecclesiastical idea which, unconsciously perhaps but none the less emphatically, attacked the foundations of the secular State. The founders of the great orders, whether they found their inspiration (with St. Bernard) in the Rule of Benedict, or rather strove (with St. Francis) to follow literally the commission imposed by Christ upon his twelve Apostles, returned upon a past in which the State and Caesar were nothing to the Christian but "the powers that be." The monastic or mendicant order, designed as an exemplar of the Christian society, was a voluntary association governed by the common conscience, as expressed in the will of representative chapters and an elected superior. The absolute obedience of the monk or friar was self-imposed, the consequence of a vow only accepted from one who had felt the inner call and had tested it in a severe probation. In virtue of his self-surrender he became dead to the world, a citizen of the kingdom of heaven upon earth. No secular duties could be lawfully demanded of him; he had migrated from the jurisdiction of the State to that of God. The religious orders claimed the right to be free from all subjection save that of the Church, as represented by the Pope. Though far from holding the State a superfluous invention—they regarded it as a Divine instrument to curb the lawless passions of the laity—they demanded that all other ministers of God, from the archbishop to the humblest clerk in orders, should enjoy the same exemption as themselves on condition of accepting the same threefold obligation—Poverty, Obedience, Chastity. It was consequently in the religious orders that the chief movements for reforming the medieval clergy found their warmest partisans; and the same school supplied the theoretical basis for each new claim of privilege. The Orders were the salt of the Church, so long as they preserved the spirit of their founders. But they were also responsible for the insanely logical pretensions which characterise the Church's policy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; and it was with reason that Wycliffe, the greatest medieval critic of the sacerdotal theory, attacked the Mendicant Orders as typifying all that was worst in the hierarchy of his age.
Naturally enough the monastic spirit has been often treated as an absolute antithesis to the lay statesmanship which it so bitterly opposed. But in fact they sprang from the same root of a discontent, which was wholly reasonable, with the anarchical conditions of the early Middle Ages. The religious reformer, stunned and bewildered by the wrong-doing of men and the manifest inequity of fortune, argued that a world so irredeemably bad must be regarded as an ordeal for the faith of the believer. Man was afflicted in this life that he might realise the supreme value of the life to come. He was surrounded by evil that he might learn to hate it. He was placed in society that he might school himself to control the immoral and non-moral instincts which society calls into play. The political reformers, at least in their more disinterested moods, were animated by the same belief in an all-wise Providence, but drew different deductions from it. The God who created man as a social being could not have intended that society should remain perpetually unjust. He must have intended that it should approximate, however imperfectly, to the idea of justice which He has revealed. The State is a divine institution, and therefore man must do his best to reform the State. The lay ruler, as the representative of justice, is God's steward and even in a sense His priest. Frederic II, whom his contemporaries denounced as an apostate and blasphemer, only expressed in a particularly daring form the tradition of medieval royalty when he styled himself, or allowed his flatterers to style him, the Corner-Stone of the Church, the Vicar of God, the New Messiah.
Similarly, the heretics and rationalists, whose criticism was even more dangerous to the Church than the open violence of the State, had more in common with their opponents than we should infer from the duration and the character of the disputes which they provoked. In the background of medieval history, and developing pari passu with the feud of Papacy and Empire, there was a war, of arguments and persecution, against free thought, in which the religious Orders figured as the protagonists of orthodoxy. Berengar of Tours, who challenged the doctrine of transubstantiation and so endangered the basis of the sacerdotal theory, lived in the age when a regenerated Papacy was arming for the war on secularism; it was Hildebrand himself who pronounced the final sentence on the first of the heresiarchs. The age of Henry V and of the Concordat of Worms saw the rise of a medieval Puritanism in Languedoc and Flanders. Between the Concordat of Worms and the schism of Frederic Barbarossa lies the age of Abelard,—the metaphysical free-lance who made philosophy the talk of the street-corner and the marketplace,—and of Arnold of Brescia, who demanded that the Church should be reduced to apostolic poverty. To the youthful days of Frederic II belong the Albigensian Crusade, the futile campaign of authority against Averroes and Aristotle, the heresy-hunts of volunteer inquisitors in Italy and Germany. While the same Emperor was trying conclusions with Innocent IV, the Papal Inquisition became a permanent branch of the ecclesiastical executive; and the Mendicant Orders, who supplied the inquisitors, simultaneously took upon themselves the harder task of converting the universities from the cult of Aristotle to a belief in the Christian scholasticism formulated by Albertus Magnus and Aquinas. The weapons of this interminable and many-sided controversy were as rude as the age which forged them: on the one side, coarse invective and irreverent paradox; on the other, scandalous imputations, spiritual censures, the sword, the prison, and the stake. For the medieval attitude towards heterodoxy was unflinching and uncompromising. To remain sceptical when the Church had defined was as the sin of witchcraft or idolatry. The existence of the rebel was an insult to the Most High, a menace to the salvation of the simple; he was a diseased limb of the body politic, calling for sharp surgery. And yet these nonconformists were anything but unbelievers. The free-thinkers of the schools, apart from a few obscure eccentrics, only desired to find a rational basis for the common creed or to eliminate from it certain articles which, on moral grounds and grounds of history, they stigmatised as mere interpolations. The offence of Berengar was that he attacked a dogma which had been an open question within the last two hundred years; of Abelard, that he offered his own theories on some points in regard to which the orthodox tradition was mute or inconsistent. As for the sectaries, their offence usually consisted in exaggerating one or other of three doctrines which the Church acknowledged in a more moderate shape. Either, like the Poor Men of Lyons, they desired that the Church should return to primitive simplicity; or, like the Albigeois, they harped upon the Pauline antithesis between the spirit and the flesh, pushed to extremes the monastic contempt for earthly ties, and exalted the Christian Devil to the rank of an evil deity, supreme in the material universe. Or, finally, with Joachim of Corazzo and the Fraticelli, they developed the cardinal idea of the more orthodox mystics, the belief in the inner light, and taught that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. In short, all were guilty, not of repudiating Christianity, but of interpreting the Christian doctrine in a sense forbidden by authority. Beneath all differences there was unity; behind the controversy, agreement. There are no feuds more bitter, no recriminations more unjust, than those of men who look at the same faith from different sides.
In justice to the official Church it must be remembered that, whether she had to deal with kings or heretics, the peculiar nature of her power forced her to work through instruments which she was powerless to keep in hand, and in which she had placed her confidence with the temerity of desperation. There can be no greater contrast than that between the Hildebrandine programme and the measures by which it was incompletely realised. To enforce the celibacy of the clergy the mobs of Milan and the South-German cities were commissioned to rabble married priests. To make an end of simony the German princes were encouraged in a policy of provincial separatism, a premium was placed on perjured accusations, and a son was suborned to betray his father. That the tide of the Albigensian heresy might be stemmed, Innocent III launched against the brilliant civilisation of Languedoc the brutal and avaricious feudalism of the North. Sometimes the error was recognised after it had been committed. But no experience could cure the official Church of the delusion that every volunteer must be credited with the purest motives until the contrary is proved. The same ignorance of human nature characterised her methods of administrative routine. Even if, for the sake of argument, we admit the truth of the principles which were alleged to justify the Papal Inquisition, or the censorship of the bishops' courts, or the appellate jurisdiction of the Curia, the fact remains that these institutions were so organised and so conducted that the most flagrant abuses were only to be expected. A system which, if staffed with saints, would have been barely tolerable, became iniquitous when it was committed to the charge of petty officials, ill-paid, ill- supervised, and ill-selected. To a great extent the crimes and follies of the medieval Church were those of a complex bureaucracy in a half-civilised state. Such a system fails through being too ambitious; the founders have neither the technical experience requisite for a satisfactory arrangement of details, nor the subordinates who can repair the defects of the machine by the efficiency and honesty with which they tend it; and yet because the aim is grandiose, because the supporters of the scheme proclaim their readiness and their capacity to regenerate the State and human nature, they are hailed as the prophets of a new order; they are allowed to plead the excellence of their motives in extenuation of all and any means; and they end by creating new evils without appreciably diminishing the old.