Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

power, or at least the absolute independence of the former, may be considered as a sort of key-note, that regulates every passage of the canon law, which was “ almost entirely founded on the legislative authority of the popes.” Hence, the canonists were among the most strenuous supporters of the papacy, both from the habit of their studies, and the interest of their profession.

The institution of the mendicant or begging friars, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, is by all writers considered as one great cause that contributed to uphold the power of the Roman see. The acquisition of wealth and its natural consequences, had operated, not only upon the secular clergy, but also upon the ancient monastic orders, to the neglect of that voluntary humiliation and austerity of manners, in self-mortification, and the renouncing of worldly enjoyments, which are far more commanding over the superstitious veneration of the vulgar and ignorant, than the influence even of power and riches. This had been seen in the progress made by the sects that now stood in opposition to the Roman hierarchy. The genius of the papacy, wise in its generation, contrived a remedy for this; or, to speak in Scriptural language, the “ prince of darkness," not exhausted in his artifices to support his reign, had a “ deceiveablness of unrighteousness” ready at hand, to delude those who were beginning to grow dissatisfied under the galling yoke of their spiritual tyrants — now, to many, more an object of envy on account of their earthly possessions, than of any fixed principle of religious veneration.

This contrivance was, the institution of new orders of monks or friars, who should embrace voluntary poverty, be capable of acquiring no property, but subsist on alms and the charity of the people. The two most celebrated of these orders, were the Dominicans and the Franciscans, called after their founders, St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisa, and established by the authority of Pope Honorius III.1 “ These great reformers, who have produced so extraordinary an effect upon mankind, were of very different characters; the one, active and ferocious, had taken a prominent part in the crusade against the unfortunate Albigeois, and was among the first who bore the terrible name of inquisitor ; while the other, a harmless enthusiast, pious and sincere, but hardly of a sane mind, was much rather accessary to the intellectual than to the moral

"AD. 1216 and 1223.

no

degradation of his species. Various other orders of mendicant friars were instituted in the thirteenth century; but most of them were soon suppressed ; and besides the two principal, none remain but the Augustines and the Carmelites 1."

These new itinerants, enlisted into the armies of the papacy, were also known by the name of “ preaching friars," doubt, in distinction from the established clergy, who had become very sparing of these labours among the people. Nor, in the temper of the times, were they less acceptable to the multitudes who thronged to hear their sermons, by inveighing freely against the supineness and corruption of their spiritual guides. “ They practised all the stratagems of itinerancy, preaching in the public streets, and administering the communion on a portable altar. Thirty years after their institution, an historian complains that the parish churches were deserted, that none confessed except to these friars ; in short, that the regular discipline was subverted?.” But all this was rendered conducive, through the policy of Rome, to her increase of power and wealth, by the protection and indulgences which her pontiffs afforded them. In spite of all the opposition of the bishops and clergy, and of the university of Paris, which continued to be urged against them till almost the end of the thirteenth century, Rome was always their friend, and Boniface VIII. peremptorily established the privileges and immunities of these mendicant orders 3.

A great source of influence and emolument was also found by the Roman pontiffs, in their assumed right to grant dispensations for marriage, within the prohibited decrees of consanguinity; and, in certain cases, to release from the obligation of oaths. “ Two principles are laid down in the decretals, that an oath disadvantageous to the church is not binding; and that one extorted by force was of slight obligation, and might be annulled by ecclesiastical authority :” principles of immense practical importance in the history of Roman Catholic Europe“.

“ It must appear, I think,” observes Mr. Hallam, “ to every careful inquirer, that the papal authority, though manifesting outwardly more show of strength every year, had been secretly undermined, and lost a great deal of its hold upon public

1

Hallam, Mosheim. * Matt. Paris, in Hallam.

3 A.D. 1295. * “ Juramentum contra utilitatem ecclesiasticam præstitum non tenet.”-See note in Hallam.

opinion, before the accession of Boniface VIII., in 1294, to the pontifical throne. The clergy were rendered sullen by demands of money, invasions of the legal right of patronage, and unreasonable partiality to the mendicant orders. A part of the mendicants themselves had begun to declaim against the corruptions of the papal court; while the laity, subjects and sovereigns alike, looked upon both the head and the members of the hierarchy with jealousy and dislike. Boniface, full of inordinate arrogance and ambition, and not sufficiently sensible of this gradual change in human opinion, endeavoured to strain to a higher pitch the despotic pretensions of former pontiffs. As Gregory VII. seems the most usurping of mankind, till we read the history of Innocent III., so Innocent III. is thrown into the shade by the superior audacity of Boniface VIII.”

Not long after the elevation of this pontiff, however, the two most powerful sovereigns of Europe, Philip of France and Edward I. of England, began at the same moment to attack the revenues of the church in a very arbitrary manner. Where the pope tried to resist the French king, he failed in the contest. That monarch even contrived to seize the person of the pontiff; and, after his death, the see of Rome never vindicated its honour. From that epocha,

slowly, like the retreat of water, or the stealthy pace of old age,” says Mr. Hallam, that extraordinary power over human opinion has been subsiding for five centuries."

In the beginning of the fourteenth century', Clement V., at the instigation, it is commonly supposed, of the king of France, by whose influence he had been elected, took the extraordinary step of removing the papal chair to Avignon. In this city it remained for more than seventy years, chiefly under the influence of France. During this period, a contest with the

emperor, Louis of Bavaria, marks the decreasing influence of the papacy. Some public writers of this century, as Dante, Ockham, and Marsilius of Padua, exposed the insufficiency of the foundations on which the edifice of the pope's temporal authority was built. Some wild fanatics also, of the Franciscan order, who had seceded from the main body, on account of certain alleged deviations from the rigour of their primitive rules, being cruelly persecuted by the pope, began to proclaim aloud the corruption of the church, and fixed the name of Anti

I A.D. 1305.

the papacy,

christ upon the papacy. In the mean time, the popes who sat at Avignon continued to invade, with surprising rapaciousness, the patronage and revenues of the church, which raised still more the spirit of resistance. After the Avignon residence followed the great schism in

an event the most remarkable, except the Reformation, in its history.” The cardinals, of whom the majority were French, being assembled at Rome, in conclave, for the election of a pope, were disturbed by a tumultuous populace, who demanded a Roman, or, at least, an Italian pope. The people were satisfied with the election of Urban VI. The cardinals announced their choice to the absent members of their college, and for several weeks behaved towards Urban as their pope ; but becoming offended at his temper, they withdrew to a neighbouring town, protested against his election as compulsory, and elected Clement VII. Urban remained at Rome, and Clement resumed the station at Avignon, sharing between them, in nearly equal proportions, the obedience of Europe. This division of the papacy, as well as the mutual opposition of the rival popes to each other, greatly weakened its authority. A council held at Pisa', with the design to heal this schism, ended with adding a third to the rival pontiffs. A general council called at Constance?, deposed the pope that summoned them, as well as his two competitors, and raised Martin V. to the papal chair.

Thus was shewn to the world a power in the ecclesiastical state, which was superior to the papal, and the re-appearances of which have required all the artifices of subsequent popes to prevent or control it, and have encouraged a new set of political reformers within the Roman Catholic body, who are for regulating the papacy by law, and setting bounds to it. But in a council held at Basle", though the most determined measures were adopted, the court of Rome finally prevailed. “The principal European nations determined,” however, “ with different degrees, indeed, of energy, to make a stand against the despotism of Rome. In this resistance, England was not only the first engaged, but the most consistent ; her free parliament preventing, as far as the times permitted, that wavering policy to which a court is liable." “ England was under the influence of a peculiar hostility to the clergy, arising from the dissemination of the principles of Wickliff.

All ecclesiastical pos

'A.D. 1409.

? A.D. 1414.

3A.D. 1433.

sessions were marked for spoliation by the system of this reformer; and the house of commons more than once endeavoured to carry it into effect, pressing Henry IV. to seize the temporalities of the church for public exigencies.

“ From the principles established during the schism, and in the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, arose the far-famed liberties of the Gallican church, which honourably distinguished her from the other members of the Roman communion.” “ These liberties depended upon two maxims; one, that the pope does not possess any direct or indirect temporal authority; the other, that his spiritual jurisdiction can only be exercised in conformity to such parts of the canon law as are received by the kingdom of France."

In Germany, the artifices of the court of Rome prevailed, to increase her exactions. “ But she purchased too dearly her triumph over the weakness of Frederic III. ; and the Hundred Grievances of Germany, presented to Adrian VI. by the diet of Nuremberg, in 1522, manifested the workings of a long-treasured resentment, that had made straight the path before the Saxon reformer.”

“ While the bishops of Rome were losing their general influence over Europe, they did not gain more estimation in Italy.” “ In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the popes degraded their character by too much anxiety about the politics of Italy. The veil woven by religious awe was rent asunder, and the features of ordinary ambition appeared without disguise. For it was no longer that magnificent and original system of spiritual power, which made Gregory VII., even in exile, a rival of the emperor ; which held forth redress where the law could not protect, and punishment where it could not chastise; which fell in sometimes with superstitious feelings, and sometimes with political interest. Many might believe that the pope could depose a schismatic prince, who were disgusted at his attacking an unoffending neighbour. As the cupidity of the clergy, in regard to worldly estate, had lowered their character every where, so similar conduct of their head undermined the respect felt for him in Italy. The censures of the church, those excommunications and interdicts which had made Europe tremble, became gradually despicable as well as odious, when they were lavished in every squabble for territory which the pope was pleased to make his own.”

The concluding remarks of Mr. Hallam on the ecclesiastical power,' are well worthy of attention. Five centuries

« VorigeDoorgaan »