Chapter 4: The Ministry in the Middle Ages, by Roland H. Bainton
[Roland H. Bainton joined the faculty of the Yale Divinity School in 1920 and remained there until his retirement as Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History in 1962. He was author of thirty-two books, including Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, The Church of Our Fathers, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Early Christianity, and The Medieval Church.]
No more compact summary of the results of the previous chapter is to be found in the contemporary literature than Chrysostom's tract On the Priesthood1 from which some quotations already have been given. It was written to justify the decision to remain a monk rather than to undertake the more onerous tasks of a parish minister. What a reversal of values comes here to light! At first monasticism was deemed the most rugged form of the Christian life, the very successor to martyrdom. Now the priesthood had come to be regarded as more arduous and monasticism was defended as the safest way to heaven, for though here one might not rise so high, neither could one fall so low. Chrysostom proceeds in his tract to enumerate the many features of the stupendous office.
The priest first of all, said he, has sacramental functions. He stands; before the altar bringing down not fire from heaven but the Holy Spirit. At his hands the Lord is again sacrificed upon the altar and the people empurpled with that precious blood. Only by eating of the flesh of the Lord and drinking of his blood can man escape the fires of hell. How tremendous then is the office of the priest through whose hands alone this saving rite can be administered! Vastly greater is he than an earthly parent who generates only unto earthly life, whereas the priest regenerates unto life eternal. To him has been given an authority exceeding that of angels and archangels.
He has likewise a disciplinary function, for he must excommunicate the unworthy, and whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. He is to serve likewise as a judge, and much of his time will be consumed in adjudicating the disputes of his flock. He is also an administrator of the property of the Church which is to be used for the entertainment of strangers and the care of the sick.
He is the instructor of his people through the pulpit; a skilled theologian, he must be able to refute the heretics and the pagans. As a preacher he will have to compete with tragedies and musical entertainments. He has a pastoral function and must be able to mingle with men in all walks of life. If he does not make a round of visits every day, unspeakable offense will ensue. He must distribute his smiles with utter impartiality and not beam inordinately upon anyone in particular. The virgins are under his care, and he must endeavor to confine them to their homes, save for inexorable necessity. The widows will try his patience, since they are garrulous and querulous. The married women he must visit when sick, comfort when sorrowful and reprove when idle, and in all of this scrupulously guard himself, recognizing that chaste women may be even more upsetting than the wanton.
Thus far Chrysostom. His picture is comprehensive and illuminating. It leaves out much which was to accrue to the priesthood in a later time. The distinction between the clergy and the laity is implied but is not spelled out. Already it had been made clear. Although Constantine as a layman was accorded a large share in the calling and direction of councils, yet when his son Constantius undertook to enforce decisions contrary to Nicene orthodoxy, he was roundly reproved by Bishop Hosius on the ground that emperors may not burn incense.2 And the Emperor Theodosius was twice reproved by Ambrose, once when after the massacre of Thessalonica he approached the church; secondly when, already absolved for the bloodshed, he ventured to go beyond the chancel and take his place among the priests.3 Constantine had conferred special immunities upon the clergy, subsequently curtailed when they precipitated too great a rush for holy orders.4 Still the clergy remained a caste.
Their functions and deportment differed from those of the laity. Not only the monk but also the minister had a code. Priests should not meddle in business and if they did, were to be shunned as the plague.5 The bishop of course was responsible as an agent for the goods of the Church and the Church, even before Constantine, held property as a corporation. The goods were not vested in the bishop personally-and for himself he must abstain from all private commercial transactions. Again he must not be a magistrate, and when Paul of Samosata, in the late third century, became a Ducenarius of Zenobia of Palmyra the very pronunciation of his title evoked a shiver of disapprobation.6 The objection arose largely from the fear that the magistrate might have' to pass sentence of death or torture. Consequently, to deter the mob from making him a bishop, Ambrose, at that time a Pretorian prefect, held an impromptu court and passed a severe sentence to show that one who so acted according to the law was disqualified for the service of the gospel.7 The throng as a matter of fact was not deterred, and that in itself was a step toward the Middle Ages. Above all, the minister should never be a soldier. Ambrose was quite clear on that score, although he did not condemn soldiers and even exhorted the emperor to a campaign and almost a crusade against the Arian barbarians.8 The minister then should not be a merchant, a magistrate, or a militiaman.
The monk, whose role appeared to Chrysostom relatively easier, was, however, acquiring enlarged functions which blurred the differentiation. By St. Jerome scholarship and monasticism were combined and the role of the Benedictines was thus foreshadowed. Likewise after the sack of Rome, when refugees streamed into the East, Jerome's monastery became a hostel. He tells us also of high-born Roman matrons, who having embraced the religious life, dedicated themselves to ministering in hospitals to sufferers from the most loathsome diseases.9 The cell had thus become expanded to encompass the study, the hostel, and the hospital.
The Church throughout the Empire had acquired a high degree of universality and centralization which served as a model to be surpassed in the high Middle Ages, but only after a long period of obscuration. The bishop of Rome enjoyed a certain presidency of love. His church was regarded as the purest custodian of the primitive tradition because founded by the two pillar apostles, Peter and Paul. The bishop of Rome by the middle of the fourth century was deemed to have been the successor of Peter, not simply as the founder but as himself the first bishop of Rome. His successor in the see wielded the power of the keys to him committed. Actually the early ecumenical councils were not summoned by the bishops of Rome nor did they attend. At the same time Rome exerted a preponderant influence upon their decisions and when the orthodox were intimidated or persecuted they looked to Rome as their protector and asylum.
After the barbarian invasions in the West great changes ensued. The traditional functions of the priest described by Chrysostom all continued but the once forbidden tasks also were added to his portfolio. In consequence, although in a formal way the line between the laity and the clergy was accentuated, in function the two more nearly approximated each other, doubly so because the laity assumed a larger role in the founding, supplying, and reforming of churches. The monks likewise extended their functions when many became priests. In the meantime, priests became celibate and thus the regular and secular clergy were less to be distinguished. The term "regular" was applied to the monastics because they followed the regula or rule, the term "secular" to the parish clergy because they served in saeculo, in the world. The word had not yet acquired the connotation of secular in the sense of worldly.
These great changes were occasioned by a vast alteration in the social structure as a result of the barbarian inroads.10 Centralization and public order broke down. The invasions menaced goods and life. After the main incursions subsided sporadic raids of pillaging Norsemen continued and even major thrusts from the Danes in the West and the Magyars in the East. When the barbarian kingdoms became established they warred upon one another and within them barons preyed upon barons. Security had to be sought on some walled promontory in the company of bellowing and offensive herds. The disorders interfered with commerce. A further and even more serious setback was occasioned by the Mohammedan invasion commencing in the sixth century which made of the Mediterranean an Islamic sea.11 The decline of commerce meant also that there was a decline of cities and a reversion to an agricultural economy with exchange in kind rather than in coin.
The invaders were either Arian Christians or pagans, in neither case orthodox subscribers to the Nicene creed. This meant that they did not accept the leadership of Peter's successors. The Arians had no centralizing focus comparable to Rome and their missionaries had attached themselves in the north to the tribes. When these were converted to the Nicene faith they still retained or tended to retain the decentralized organization. An assertion of authority on the part of the Roman church was all the more difficult because the city of Rome geographically was no longer at the ccnter of the Christian world, as in the days when the extremities were Spain and Syria. After the Mediterranean was lost to Islam, Rome came to be on the periphery of the new world of the West. The center was at Metz in Germany and the other extremity at Hadrian's wall in Scotland.
The task of converting and Christianizing the northern peoples was stupendous in view of the disorder, hampered communication, and nonviable currency. New methods were imperative, and new functions, imperceptibly at first but inevitably, accrued to the Church and to the clergy. Rome could commission missionaries to the North but thereafter they were on their own. No missionary boards could finance them with bank drafts or postal money orders. They would have to be self-sustaining and there was only one way by which they could support themselves in a rural society and that was on the land. They acquired ground already domesticated or themselves undertook to fell the forests or drain the swamps. No agency of the Church was so well adapted to this task as the monastery and it can be no accident that whereas Christianity went into Ireland under episcopal auspices, when the curtain rises for the second scene, the form disclosed is monastic. Groups of monks could form a community and establish a self-sufficient life with their own fields, vineyards, granaries, fish ponds, rabbitries, and orchards. As late as the high Middle Ages the Cistercians profoundly affected the economic life of Europe by their projects of reclamation. Waters were gathered behind dikes into ponds stocked with fish, bogs were transformed into "golden meadows," greenhouses introduced new plantings, and forests were discriminately cut with an eye to conservation.12
In all of this one sees much that was new in the functions of the clergy. Chrysostom had not enumerated among the ministerial cares the maintenance of a suitable temperature in a greenhouse. The three activities which the Early Church had forbidden to the clergy came to be appropriated. The first was business. To be sure, in the first centuries the bishop was the administrator of the Church's goods but in the Middle Ages he was more, and the Church's business was so enlarged, so intricate, and so geared into all of the property and commercial activities that the difference at this point between the cleric and the lay was no more than that the former was more successful.
The bishop of Rome became a great business administrator. In the days of Gregory I (590-604) vast possessions not overrun by the Lombards were still in the hands of the Church, timber and grain lands in Sardinia, Sicily, Calabria, and northern Italy. We find the bishop of Rome sending the churches lumber and lead, supplying the populace of Rome with grain, panem if not circensem, and supporting a great concourse of nuns presumably refugees in the city. In order to manage these huge estates an imposing bureaucracy had been developed with a whole hierarchy of managers, rectores patrimonii.13 The letters of Gregory afford a striking contrast to those of Augustine who was concerned with the cure of souls rather than with the care of estates. The epistles of Gregory read like the correspondence of a dean. Every letter renders a decision.
To the north in Gaul and later in Germany the secular clergy came in surprisingly short order to be endowed with fantastic estates, as much as one-third or one-half of the land in the kingdom. Frequent expropriations by rulers like Charles Martel were speedily recouped by fresh donations. These gifts were now vested not in the Church as a corporation but personally in the bishop or the abbot.14 Of course, he still thought of himself as acting for the Church. In any case, immense amounts of his time would have to be devoted to oversight and collection.
The fate of the monasteries was not different. The Benedictines began with a regime of manual labor for each of the brothers, but when lands were given with the laborers thrown in the monks did not drive them off in order to do the work themselves but accepted the serfs with the soil. The monk then became a squire or, if his tastes so dictated, perchance a scholar with a lily hand. In the high Middle Ages, when the new monastic orders produced wine, wool, and grain beyond their needs, they began to dispose of the surplus in the channels of trade, outfitted convoys on the roads, and flotillas on the rivers. Altogether they were the most enterprising businessmen of their day.15
Functions of government devolved upon churchmen. There was no conspiracy for power, simply the discharge of a job to be done. In Italy the popes reluctantly took over the role of the Caesars. By reason of the invasions any control in Italy, even in the areas still free of the invaders, was but tenuous when exercised from Constantinople or even Ravenna. Gregory I, precisely because of his immense resources, found himself doing what formerly government had undertaken. The debilitating practice of feeding the Roman populace went back to the days when rival contestants for office distributed largesses of food to the public. In the end the Empire was feeding the citizens. When then the sovereign at Constantinople could no longer function in this way, the Church of Rome wafted the wheat from the plains of Africa. If Roman citizens were captured by the barbarians who had the gold for their ransom if not the bishop of Rome? And if he thus dealt with the barbarians, how inevitable that he should make agreements and even treaties with their rulers? Little wonder that Pippin, the king of the Franks in 754, recognized the actual conditions when he conferred upon the pope the keys of ten cities that over them he might exercise civil rule. This date is commonly taken to mark the beginning of the estates of the Church Over which the pope was temporal lord until 1870. His authority was restored in 1929 over the diminished area of Vatican City.
In the north churchmen likewise assumed functions of government. Since the clergy were the only literate class the kings of the Franks drafted them as civil servants. The precedent was thereby laid for many a subsequent figure who combined the role of a high ecclesiastic and a prime minister or chancellor of the realm, men like Sully, Ximenes, Woolsey, and Richelieu. The amazement of Henry II can well be divined when his favorite Thomas à Becket refused to conform. Bishops and abbots became rulers in their own domains when the feudal system became established and taxes, military levies, and the administration of justice devolved upon the holders of land. So long as churchmen held vast estates they could not escape obedience and service to their overlords nor responsibilities and protection for the underlings. They had become prince-bishops and prince-abbots.
Under such circumstances they could scarcely obviate involvement in war. In the days of the invasions even abbots as well as bishops donned armor over their cassocks to repel raiders. Monasteries were begirt with walls. Sometimes even nuns entered the fray and in the conflict of baron with baron the churchman behaved like his neighbor. In the days of Henry II in Germany, for example, a robber baron so devastated the archdiocese of Treves that the archbishop fled. The Emperor thereupon selected a hardfisted young noble, raced him through the grades of the hierarchy until he was made the archbishop of Treves. He promptly distributed the goods of the Church to knights who formed a small standing army and repulsed the marauder.16
Such behavior at least prior to the year 1000 was looked upon as a defection from the Christian ideal. The view that the soldier could himself be esteemed as a servant of the Church, that the knight should be inducted with a religious ceremony and that churchmen might even participate in conflict with the sword as well as with the cross, was the outcome of a great peace crusade. In the first half of the eleventh century churchmen sponsored the Truce of God and the Peace of God whereby the time for active hostilities was so restricted that warfare became a summer sport and the number of combatants so reduced as to make of it an aristocratic pastime. This was the intent, but many barons took the oath and did not keep it. Then churchmen raised a disciplinary army of enforcement, a peace militia. Here was the notion of the holy war, under the auspices of the Church in order to suppress war. This concept was basic for the Crusades. Urban II began his famous exordium with a plea for peace. "Let Christians," he urged, "stop shearing each other and go against the common enemy of the faith!" And all the assembly shouted, "Dieu le veult!" 17
The prohibition of clerical participation broke down. An example is given in the case of a priest in the Frankish army on the first crusade. At Constantinople quarrels with the Greeks led to a skirmish between vessels in the Bosphorus. Anna, the daughter of the Greek emperor, relates with horror that a priest from the bow of his ship hurled missiles against her father's admiral till even stones were exhausted. When the Frankish vessel was captured this priest, severely wounded, embraced the opposing commander saying that with better weapons he would have won, then expired and went to hell, according to Anna, because as a priest he had taken weapons.18 The West, however, did not condemn him. Even before the crusade Leo X led his forces against the Normans. The aversion even of monasticism to war collapsed with the founding of the Hospitalers, Knights of St. John, and the Templars with the enthusiastic blessing of that great monk St. Bernard.
This change in clerical functions excites wonder but even more remarkable was the success of the papacy in uniting the diverse and warring factions of France in the first crusade: the knights of Langue d'Oui and Languedoc, the Normans of Normandy, and the Normans of Sicily and southern Italy, Godfrey and Baldwin, the Roberts and Tancred, Raymond of Toulouse, and Adhemar of Puy. What united them was the conviction that God willed it.
How did the Church ever come to persuade them of this? The attempt would hardly have succeeded had not the Church been fired with a flaming zeal to Christianize the very fabric of society and to accomplish this end first of all by emancipating and purifying herself. The Gregorian reformers were deeply aware of all the corruptions inherent in the very processes of Christianization. The Church had to be of the people in order to win the people and in so doing all too readily became like the people. The warring of bishops and abbots was understandable enough in a disorderly society and might be condoned as self-defense. Yet all too often it became predatory. The immense episcopal baronies had originated innocently out of the very necessities of the situation. Then they had become so lucrative as to tempt the avaricious and the ambitious. The manning of churches by lay patrons, at first a boon, had become a bane, when through their power of lay investiture they consecrated superfluous sons in order to enlarge their domains. The centralizing of political authority in the hands of the emperor was stabilizing but if to this end he determined episcopal appointments his eye might be less directed to saintliness than to amenability. The marriage of the clergy was supported by the sanction of eminent churchmen such as St. Ambrose but introduced the possibility of a hereditary episcopacy.
To cure all of these ills two drastic reforms were launched. The one aimed at the independence, the other at the purity of the Church. The clergy were to be emancipated from lay control. They were not to be subject to the civil courts. Justice for churchmen should be administered by the Church. The tonsured were to be exempt from lay authority, and even though guilty of theft, rape, and murder should enjoy benefit of clergy. The practice of assigning all ecclesiastics to the bishop's court is discernible in England only after the conquest and was a result of the Gregorian reform. Popular sentiment supported this exemption because the secular courts were so severe. On a single gallows one might see twenty men hanging for trivial offenses. The bishop could not impose the death penalty. He might adjudge the accused guilty and turn him over for punishment to the civil power. Commonly, however, he exacted only purgation. He might condemn the culprit to an ecclesiastical prison, but still, there would be no taking of life.19
Again the clergy should be free from all lay interference both in the inception and conduct of their office. The Church should determine appointments and the new incumbents should swear fealty only to the pope. Such demands might have been readily conceded if the Church had not owned one half of the land on which all political institutions were based. Church lands, moreover, were not consolidated but dispersed in strips and patches which if withdrawn from the emperor's control would leave him with an inchoate and unmanageable domain. The Church might easily have been accorded independence had she been willing to renounce her endowments but she argued that so many donations had been given in trust and were not to be alienated to the sons of perdition.
But if the bishops were not to be appointed by lay patrons nor to swear allegiance to lay rulers, by whom then were they to be inducted and invested? A special machinery was developed by the Church to meet this need, namely, the College of the Cardinals. The suggestion had been made long since in the spurious Decretals of the ninth century which significantly emanated from the lower church clergy of France who desired the centralization of Church government and the enhancement of the papacy as a defense against the highhandedness of overlords, alike lay and clerical. The proposal was made that the pope be fortified by a college of assistants; thereby the central administration would be strengthened and the local metropolitans set down a notch in the hierarchy.20 Not until the eleventh century was the idea implemented and the Cardinals established with the function of choosing popes quite independently of any lay directives.
By this move the hierarchy was further elaborated and the gradations within the clergy still more accentuated. In one respect, however, the cleavage within the ranks was diminished. When the altar was moved to the rear of the apse the bishop no longer stood behind the communion table but took his place with the other clergy in the choir stall. Though he had there a throne, he was still but one in a row.21
While the clerical body was being welded, the line between the clergy and the laity was heightened. There were two postures at communion. The priest stood; the people kneeled. And there came to be two positions. The priest at the altar; the people before the altar rail. Only the priest partook of both elements. From the laity the wine came to be withheld.
But nothing did so much to set the clergy apart from the body of the faithful as did the imposition of celibacy. In the earlier period it had not been demanded. The Bishop of Mans, for example, had been openly married and called his wife Episcopissa. In 966 Rutherius declared that all of the clergy in his area were married and some of them more than once. If the decree prohibiting repeated marriages were enforced only boys would be left in the Church. He endeavored to institute a reform but was driven to seek the sanctuary of an abbey. At the same time, for centuries an incompatibility had been sensed between sexual relations and ministry at the altar and the married priest was enjoined to abstain during the period of his ministration.22 The Gregorian reform, partly for practical reasons to break up the system of hereditary bishoprics and partly for ascetic reasons because virginity was rated higher than marriage, undertook to make the reform universal. Opposition was intense but the rule became canon law.
Coincidently a device was introduced to demark the clergy as a special class by imposing upon them a distinctive dress which would serve both to enhance their prestige and to guard their morals by setting them apart. Complaint was made of those clad in scarlet, wearing rings, "with short tunics, ornamentally trimmed, with knives and basilards hanging at their girdles." The rules prescribed that the head must be tonsured, the beard closely trimmed, sleeves must be short, coats long, and colors somber. There was as yet no specific uniform for the clergy as to street attire save for the distinguishing mark of the tonsure.23
These reforms occasioned much stout resistance particularly from the civil government. There was no serious objection to having the clergy dress differently nor did civil rulers too much care if the priests were unmarried, save that celibacy terminated a system by which the noble and royal houses had profited. Vastly more serious from the point of view of the state was the abolition of lay investiture. For how could a king be sovereign in his own domain if he could not count on unqualified obedience from subordinates who controlled one half of the land? Plainly France, Germany, England, and Spain would be ruled from Rome. Again, exemption from the civil courts constituted a serious threat to the administration of even-handed justice throughout the realm, particularly in a society where the ratio of the clergy to the laity was estimated as somewhere between 1 to 50 and 1 to 25.24
This opposition, though serious, was cowed. Henry II of England, who in resisting clerical immunities occasioned the murder of an archbishop, had to do penance at his tomb. Henry IV in Germany hurled defiance at Gregory VII when the pope categorically insisted on the imposition of clerical celibacy and the abolition of lay investiture. The emperor for his truculence was placed under excommunication and his subjects released from their oaths of obedience. The emperor thereupon found himself devoid of subjects; in order to recover his scepter he must stand a suppliant in the snow at Canossa.
The line though tortuous, runs from this dramatic papal triumph to the dazzling pontificate of Innocent III in the thirteenth century when the objectives of the Gregorian reform were accomplished to an astounding degree.
A culture had emerged properly designated as Christendom. The Christian faith, save for a remnant of the Jews and occasional heretics, was dominant from Caledonia to Calabria. And the lord pope was more effectively the head of the society than was any civil ruler. St. Peter's vicar exalted the lowly and abased the proud. Never did he claim to rule as a temporal sovereign, save of course in the papal states and in those areas which became fiefs of the papacy, namely Sicily, Portugal, and England. Elsewhere he claimed jurisdiction only over sin, but inasmuch as most human endeavor is tainted with sin, the pope's area of possible jurisdiction was large.
This authority was exercised without direct force of arms. The pope might indeed call upon one prince to discipline another. The popes had not been above leading armies to repel the Normans. But Innocent III did not undertake to police the world. He ruled by admonition and the spiritual weapon of excommunication carrying with it the exclusion from blessedness in the life eternal.
When this point in a church history course is reached, the class gasps and inquires how the pope ever came to exercise such authority that at his word an emperor excluded from the altar should be deemed by his subjects unfit to govern Christian folk. Truly one cannot but be amazed that excommunication should have been so seriously regarded as to have become a political weapon. This never could have taken place if the Church for centuries had not been training the populace on remote farms and in distant hamlets. A host of unrecorded emissaries must have instilled this faith.
The first stage in the fashioning of Christendom was the conversion of the northern peoples. Seculars and regulars alike contributed. The task of these missionaries differed little from that of the first Apostles, save that the audience was different. The gospel now was addressed not to the cultivated philosopher or the ecstatic initiate of the mystery cults but to cruder folk: Druids scarcely beyond human sacrifice, Teutons worshipping Thor within the sacred Oak. From fragmentary remains of that time one would judge that Christ was presented as the Redeemer on the rood, by death conquering death and insuring for man blessedness in the world to come. One recalls the sermon of Paulinus when he pointed to the swallow flitting through the Saxon banqueting hall from darkness to darkness as a parable of the life of man, were it not that Christ has shed light and hope on the darkness beyond.25 Again King Oswy at Whitby is claimed to have decided for the Roman representative because he was the agent of St. Peter, holder of the keys to the gates of heaven.26 At the other extremity of the empire Cyril and Methodius impressed the Bulgar king by a picture of the judgment to come. The power of the death-conquering Christ was reinforced by the intercession of the saints whose relics were a part of the missionary's equipment. Among polytheistic peoples the saints readily became the successors of the gods. The pacific aspects of Christianity proved no deterrent to a warlike folk who saw in Peter the doughty knight with his broad sword cleaving clean the ear of the high priest's servant.27 The ethical demands of the gospel were laid with emphasis upon unbridled peoples, witness the early development of the penitentials. Not only were penalties imposed on earth but punishments and rewards offered in the life to come. The Pauline doctrine of justification by faith apart from works was too precarious a word to commit to these undisciplined hordes.
Conversion was by peoples rather than by individuals. The desirability of this method is much debated in our own day. Frequently the churches have demanded a personal commitment and an understanding of the faith as a prerequisite for baptism. The result has been that converts have suffered a complete social dislocation and, disowned by their own people, have had to find a home within a European or Europeanized community. This was not the course adopted in the winning of the West. Commonly kings and queens were converted and at their behest whole peoples received the waters of baptism. Such conversion was of necessity highly superficial and genuine Christianization had to come afterward.
Only then did the real work begin. Once more the regulars and the seculars shared. We have already noted how readily monasticism adapted itself to the rural economy and how the monks altered the contours of the land. They ministered likewise to the folk round about by draining their swamps and by training their children; in some cases also by serving their churches. The monk, however much he might cherish seclusion and prize contemplation, was never actually with- drawn from the social fabric. No pope of the twelfth century, for example, was so influential as the monk St. Bernard. So frequently was he called upon to leave the cloister that he referred to himself as a bird out of his nest. His critics called him a frog out of his pond. Whether he was rebuking the Count of Champagne or the King of France, settling the papal schism or fomenting the Second Crusade, this indefatigable, inexorable, and irresistible abbot so swayed his fellows that mothers are said to have hidden their sons at his approach.
But the monks were not dedicated primarily to the service of the community and the ministry of the abbot was first of all to his own sons in the cloister. The letters and the sermons of St. Bernard rebuke the foibles of monks with an itch for singularity, who enjoy better the singing of one psalm alone in the choir when the brothers are asleep than an entire psalter in the company of the brethren. Again the monk is rebuked who seeks to distinguish himself by spectacular austerity, and lacking a mirror, is continually scrutinizing the visibility of his ribs.28 Bernard is again the lyrical preacher as he discourses on Christ the bridegroom in the Canticles or as he dwells with rapture on the vision of the ineffable
When society became more stabilized, increasingly the needs of the people were met by churches whether in cities, towns, or hamlets. In the urban centers there were cathedral churches staffed by a considerable corps of the clergy responsible for the cure of souls in the area and sometimes, as in the case of Chantry priests, committed to saying masses for designated persons living or dead. The cathedral churches were manned sometimes by seculars, sometimes by regulars. In England the great secular cathedrals were St. Paul's, York, Lincoln, Salisbury, Exeter, Hereford, and Lichfield. These were governed by a dean and a chapter. The regular cathedrals were at the same time Benedictine abbeys, namely, Canterbury, Durham, Winchester, Norwich, Ely, and Worchester. The monks in theory elected the abbot, and he was also the bishop.29
The bulk of the population lived in the villages, and in ecclesiastical parlance belonged to vicarages. The term arose because the incumbent was commonly a substitute. Many changes brought the system to pass. In the early Middle Ages a landlord frequently built a chapel and appointed to it a rector, assigning certain lands for his support. Out of this arrangement grew the tithe system, but inasmuch as the private chaplain to the landlord was frequently expected to be his boon companion in hunting and hawking and sometimes did not reside at all but delegated his functions to a vicar, the bishops struggled to emancipate the rural churches from lay control. One expedient was to assign them to monasteries, which became themselves the rectors and the recipients of the revenues.30 Sometimes they undertook to provide for the cure of souls from their own ranks, but of this arrangement there was grievous complaint inasmuch as the only baptismal font was located at the monastery, and the villages might be a dozen miles away. In case of extremity an infant might die on the road. Therefore a substitute for the rector, a vicar, was assigned to the parish.31 His living was precarious since the monastery continued to appropriate approximately two-thirds of the income.32 Such exactions were not wholly without warrant, at any rate in medieval eyes, because the monasteries were engaged in prayers for the living and the dead and also in extensive hospitality. Yet the bishops generally fought the monasteries on behalf of the vicars and themselves, and if there were no monastery in the picture, the bishop made his own levy. On the Continent the bishop often took one fourth or one-third of the income, and when such imposts were replaced by free gifts these in turn became involuntary. An effort was made on one occasion to restrict a bishop to not more than a bushel of barley, a keg of wine, and a pig worth sixpence.33 The bishop also could plead necessity, for his obligations, too, were heavy. One bishop reported that he had to entertain three hundred guests on a single day, not to mention sixty or eighty beggars.34 Then, too, there were scholars whose educational expenses could be defrayed only through a church living, and when the average vicarage comprised, as in England, four thousand acres,35 why should it not support more than the vicar? All of this was plausible enough, yet the net result was that the vicar had in part at least to support himself by the cultivation of his own glebe, which was expected to yield one-half of his income.36 There are references to vicars so poor as to be driven to steal. One need not greatly marvel that they were on the lookout for more lucrative benefices and did not too long remain in a particular cure.37
Neither should one be altogether amazed if vicars who lived so precariously were not distinguished for erudition. The story is told of a dean who conducted an examination of his subordinates. He called; on one to parse the opening sentence of the canon of the Mass, Te igitur clementissime Pater. "What governs Te?" he was asked. "Pater," was his reply, "because the Father governs everything." The dean marked him down as sufficienter illiteratus. Yet when the laity were interrogated as to the sufficiency of their parson in the role of preacher and teacher, they gave him a favorable report, and one may well conceive that he who could not parse the Latin Mass might be able to instruct his flock in the rudiments of faith and conduct.38
The parish priest at any rate was the most instructed person in the community. To him men turned as counselor, teacher, lawyer, doctor, and friend. His foremost function was the performance of the Sacraments. Baptism was deemed essential for salvation. If a priest were not present, a midwife might administer the rite using Latin, good or bad, or even English provided there were the intent to baptize.
For adults the great sacrament was the Mass. It was conducted in Latin, and the people did not understand the lines. In any case much of the liturgy was inaudible. The congregation was encouraged to occupy itself with private devotions so that two parallel services were taking place coincidentally. At the same time the dramatic acts of the liturgy, such as the elevation of the host, were readily intelligible and besides the Church was richly endowed with symbolism that it might be "a book to the lewd [ignorant] people that they may read in the imagery and painture that clerks read in the book."39
The ignorance of the people is not, however, to be exaggerated. They understood much. They knew that the Mass arose from the Supper which the Lord shared with his disciples before he suffered. They knew that it re-enacted the suffering of the Lord. On the altar the cross of Calvary was again set up. If he who there suffered was God then the incarnation also had to be repeated. The very bread and wine were changed not to the sight of the eye, the touch of the hand, or the taste of the mouth but in substance into the very flesh and blood of God. The faithful in eating partook of His very life. The gospel was reduced to one central event -- the Passion. And the Passion meant the forgiveness of sins, communion with the ever-dying and ever-risen Lord. The Mass was celebrated not simply on behalf of those attending but also for the souls departed whose bodies lay beneath the stones in the cathedral floor. Here the Church Militant met with the Church Triumphant and earthly pilgrims were rapt into the company of the saints in heaven.
Quite as influential as the Mass in the Middle Ages was the sacrament of penance involving contrition, confession, and satisfaction. In the confessional the priest came into direct contact with the parishioner and subjected him to a thoroughgoing spiritual examination in faith and in morals:
The clergy were taught to probe into the most secret places of a man's life so that his confession might be full and nothing kept back from God. Some of the questions which he was told to put to the penitent were very searching. "Have you ever borrowed things and not returned them?" "Have you taught your children the Creed and the Lord's Prayer?" "Have you without devotion heard any predicacion?" "If your children are 'shrewes' have you tried to teach them good manners?" "Have you ever ridden over growing corn?" "Have you left the churchyard open so that beasts got in?" "Have you eaten with such main that you have cast it up again?" This was indeed a searching cross-examination, from which no one could hope to emerge faultless.40
Yet the outcome was not despair. Confession expunged sins so that the devil was compelled to erase them from his record.41 Alongside of the sacraments were the sacred ceremonies, often immemorial usages reaching back into a remote pagan antiquity, invested now with Christian symbolism, teaching rnen the sacred meaning of the seasonal round. At Christmas
children stole into church to see the crib.... At Candlemas the congregation marched around the church with their lighted candles. All received ashes on Ash Wednesday that they might understand the defilement of sin. On Maunday Thursday, great men washed the feet of the poor. On Good Friday men crept to the Cross in humble adoration of Him who had died for them. On Easter Eve the new fire was hallowed from which the Paschal candle was lighted. At Rogationtide the fields were blessed and religion consecrated the daily toil. At Whitsuntide the dove descended from the roof of the church, while clouds of incense perfumed the air. At Corpus Christi time were the glad processions of those rejoicing in Emmanuel, God with us. At Lammas the loaf . . . was presented as an act of thanksgiving. On All Hallows five boys in surplices chanted "Venite omnes virgines sapientissimae" in honour of those who had gone in to the marriage supper of the Lamb. On St. Nicholas Day or Holy Innocents a boy pontificated, reminding all of the command to turn and become as little children!42
Such customs at their best served to hallow the terrestrial pilgrimage. Of all the means at the disposal of the Church for the instruction and edification of the flock none was more efficacious at its best than preaching. The Church expected it of the parish priest and strove to give him aid and counsel in the task. One of the great manuals of the art of preaching was The Pastoral Rule of Gregory the Great. The pope there instructs the pastor first as to how he shall demean himself:
He is to be discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech, a near neighbor to everyone in sympathy, exalted above all in contemplation; a familiar friend of good livers through humility, unbending against vice of evil doers through zeal for righteousness; not relaxing in his care for what is inward from being occupied in outward things, not neglecting to provide for outward things in his solicitude for what is inward.
The pastor is then counseled to adapt the Word to the hearer, and the manual proceeds by setting up series of contrasting pairs. Those who are well should be enjoined to employ the health of the body to the health of the soul. The sick are to be admonished to consider themselves the sons of God subject to the scourge of discipline. The meek must not be suffered to grow torpid in laziness nor the passionate to be deceived by zeal for uprightness. Let the humble hear how eternal are the things they long for, how transitory the things they despise; let the haughty hear how transitory are the things they court, how eternal the things they lose. These and many other injunctions deal with eternal types and The Pastoral Rule was therefore of use in any culture, but it certainly was not addressed specifically to the condition of the parson in the Middle Ages.43
Jacob of Voragine, who flourished in thirteenth-century Italy, pointed out that times had changed, and whereas preachers in the early days of the Church were like fishermen, who in one cast of the net drew in a multitude, today the preacher is more like a hunter, who with great labor and outcry catches but a single animal. If in fishing the catch is not large, the reason may lie with the fish. There are those who adroitly avoid the net of preaching. In other words, the problem is how to get at them at all. The fault may lie also with the fisherman:
They fish at the wrong time, they fish too deep, they fish with poor tackle or broken nets, or they fish in the wrong place. Those who fish among riches, pleasures, and honor, are fishing in the wrong place. Those who look for death-bed repentances, or try to instruct others when they themselves are ignorant are fishing at the wrong time. Those who look for money or honor throw their hooks too low, and those who preach in word while their lives do not correspond, fish with broken nets. 44
A booklet entitled Instructions for Parish Priests by John Myrc (Mirk), written in English somewhat earlier than 1450, is rather remarkable for enjoining preaching and then saying so little about it. The opening section is a reminder to the priest that his preaching will be in vain if his life is evil.
For little of worth is the preaching
If thou be of evil living.
He must be chaste, eschew oaths and drunkenness.
Taverns also thou must forsake
And merchandise thou shalt not make.
Wrestling and shooting and such manner game
Thou must not use without blame.
Hawking, hunting and dancing
Thou must forgo for anything
Cutted clothes and peaked schoon[shoes]
Thy good fame they will for-done.
Markets and fairs I thee forbid
But it be for the more need.
In honest clothes thou must gone [go]
Basilard and baudrick wear thou none.
Beard and crown thou must be shave
If thou would thy order save.
Of meat and drink thou must be free
To poor and rich by thy degree.
Gladly thou must thy psalter read
And of the day of doom have dread.
And ever do good against evil
Or else thou might not live well.
Women's service thou must forsake
Of evil fame lest they thee make.
. . . Thus this world thou must despise
And holy virtues have in vise [view]
If thou do thus, thou shalt be dear
To all men that seen and hear.
Thus thou must also preach
And thy parish gladly teach
When one hath done a sin
Look he lie not long therein
But anone that he him shrive
Be it husband, be it wife
Lest he forget by Lenten's day
And out of mind it go away.45
The poem then goes on to discuss excommunication, baptism, the Mass, behavior in church, payment of tithes, articles of belief, and above all how to conduct confession. One might indeed infer from these instructions that although preaching was enjoined, it was either not too highly regarded or else considered too simple to require elaboration. All of which raises the question how much preaching there was in the Middle Ages. Owst, who has written two superb volumes on the subject as it bears on England, points out that Gasquet considered the office of preaching to have been adequately fulfilled, whereas Coulton held that it was shamefully neglected. Owst concludes that there could scarcely have been so much contemporary complaint of neglect if Coulton were not more nearly right. But then again H. Maynard Smith warns that we are in danger today of passing from a sentimental view of the Middle Ages seen from a sanctuary where the sun irradiates the stained-glass windows, to a realistic view of the Middle Ages as seen from a gutter on a gloomy day. At any rate the literature of complaint and denunciation demonstrates that some people were fully alive to the need of preaching in the parishes and did their best to remedy the deficiencies. On the other hand, the activity of the friars in invading the parishes in order to supplement the work of the priests, particularly at the point of preaching, is itself the proof that they were indeed remiss.
Or if not remiss, they were incompetent or impeded. Opportunities for anything beyond a grammar-school education were scant. The printing press was not available to supply cheap and plentiful tools, and congregations were inattentive and disorderly. Inasmuch as the church was the only large covered building in the community, it was used for buying and selling. Even during the services gallants ogled the ladies, women gossiped, pickpockets stole and prostitutes solicited.46 The preacher was driven to meretricious devices for attracting attention such as suspending the eggs of ostriches in the churches.47 When the congregation dozed, a preacher cried, "There was a king named Arthur," and as ears pricked up, he castigated the hearers for listening only when titillated by tales.48
A favorite device was that of playing one portion of the audience against another, all the more readily because men and women were seated separately, and the various professions were distinguishable by their costumes. Gibes at the women were especially relished. In the sermon manuals one finds several examples. For instance, there is the tale of a man who, desiring to be relieved of his wife without culpability, departed on a journey leaving with her two boxes of candy, one poisoned, the other harmless. He instructed her under no circumstances to touch the box which he and not she knew to be fatal. On his return, as he expected, she was dead. But this sort of raillery could not be overdone because the women predominated in the audience, and if the laugh were on them, their feelings must then be relieved by castigation of the men for gluttony, drunkenness, swearing, and the like.49
Most of the illustrations in the extant handbooks are fantastic allegorizations of the characteristics of animals applied to humankind or stories of preposterous miracles by the saints or the Virgin Mary. The moral pointed by the tales was, however, perfectly sound, and sometimes the examples were taken from real life as in the case of a judge who received from one of two litigants an ox while his wife received from the other a cow. The verdict was in favor of the latter, and when the former complained, he was told that the cow would not suffer the ox to speak.50 Just what this illustrates is another matter. A further example is devoid of ambiguity. In this instance a homily tells of a lady
that had two "little doggis," loved them so that she took great pleasance in the sight and feeding of them: and she made every day dress and made for them dishes with sops of milk, and often gave them flesh. But there was once a friar that said to her, that it was not well done that the dogs were fed and made so fat, and the poor people so lean and famished for hunger. And so the lady for his saying was wroth with him, but she would not amend it. So the lady came to a bad end, as she deserved.51
Preaching at its worst must have been banal, at its best superb. The note of prophetic denunciation against extortion is not lacking in the sermons of those who stood face to face with the extortioners. Take this excerpt from a sermon in The Handbook of Bromyard. The despoiled, he says,
With boldness at the last judgment will they be able to put their plaint before God and seek justice, speaking with Christ the judge, and reciting each in turn the injury from which they specially suffered. Some of them were able to say, as the subjects of evil lords -- "We have hungered. But those our lords standing over there were the cause of this, because they took us from OUT labours and OUT goods." Others -- "We have hungered and died of famine, and those yonder did detain our goods that were owing to us." Others -- "We have thirsted and been naked, because those standing opposite, each in his own way, so impoverished us that we were unable to buy drink and clothing." Others -- "We were made infirm. Those yonder did it, who beat us and afflicted us with blows." Others -- "We were without shelter. But those men were the cause of it, by driving us from our home and from our land; . . . or because they did not receive us into their own guesthouses." Others -- "We were in prison. But those yonder were the cause, indicting us on false charges, and setting us in the stocks." Others -- "Our bodies have not been buried in consecrated ground. Those yonder are responsible for this, by slaying us in numerous and in various places. Avenge, O Lord, our blood that has been shed."
Without a doubt the just Judge will do justice to those clamouring thus. Terrible as is the indictment of the wronged, terrible likewise will be the fate of the oppressors. Many who were here on earth are called nobles shall blush in deepest shame at that Judgment-seat, when around their necks they shall carry, before all the world, all the sheep and oxen and the beasts of the field that they confiscated or seized and did not pay for.52
Raoul Ardent celebrates in his sermon the foolishness of the Cross. God, he says,
hid His divine power in human weakness, and His wisdom in foolishness. For to men it has seemed foolishness that God became man, that the Impassible suffered, that the Immortal died. Therefore, the wisdom of God, by foolishness, conquered the craft of the Devil.... Let us, therefore, brethren, learn from the example of our Redeemer to conquer the evil of this world, not by pride, but by humility, by patience, and gentleness. Let us learn to conquer the wisdom of this age, not by craftiness, but by the foolishness of God. For indeed, to this age it seems foolish and futile to despise the world, to reject the age, to forsake all things, to love poverty and inferior station, to desire things invisible. And yet, this foolishness conquers the wisdom of both the devil and man.
Bernard of Clairvaux declares contemplation to be vain if it produces not the fruits of holiness. He inquires:
Does it appear to you that two persons have equal and similar love towards Christ of whom the one sympathizes indeed piously with His sufferings, is moved to a lively sorrow by them, and easily softened by the memory of all that He endured; who feeds upon the sweetness of that devotion, and is strengthened thereby to all salutary, honourable, and pious actions; while the other, being always fired by a zeal for righteousness, having everywhere an ardent passion for truth, and earnestly desiring wisdom prefers above all things sanctity of life, and a perfectly disciplined character; who is ashamed of ostentation, abhors detraction, knows not what it is to be envious, detests pride, and not only avoids, but dislikes and despises every kind of worldly glory; who vehemently hates and perseveres in destroying in himself every impurity of the heart and of the flesh; and lastly, who rejects, as if it were naturally, all that is evil, and embraces all that is good? If you compare these two types of affection, does it not appear to you that the second is plainly the superior?
Bede the Venerable chanted the ineffable joys of the celestial city:
O truly blessed Mother Church! So illuminated by the honour of Divine condescension, so adorned by the glorious blood of triumphant martyrs, so decked with the inviolate confession of snow-white virginity! Among its flowers, neither roses nor lilies are wanting. Endeavor now, beloved, each for yourselves, in each kind of honour, to obtain your own dignity -- crowns, snow-white for chastity, or purple for passion.
With how joyous a breast the heavenly city receives those that return from fight! How happily she meets them that bear the trophies of the conquered enemy! With triumphant men, women also come, who rose superior both to this world and to their sex, doubling the glory of their warfare; virgins with youths, who surpassed their tender years by their virtues. Yet not they alone, but the rest of the multitude of the faithful shall also enter the palace of that eternal court, who in peaceful union have observed the heavenly commandments, and have maintained the purity of the faith.53
Whether the preaching of the friars was basically different from that of the parish priest is not easy to determine. Perhaps because the former were itinerants, they could be freer in denunciation, since on the morrow they would be up and off. Because they had been impelled to come in the first place to the parishes out of missionary zeal, their sermons were more fervent. They were renowned for their ability to allay feuds at home and to promote crusades abroad. The Franciscan Salimbene gives a vivid account of the revival called the Great Alleluia in northern Italy in the early thirteenth century.
Brother Benedict of Parma . . . called the Brother of the Horn . . was like another John the Baptist to behold.... His beard was long and black and he had a little horn of brass, wherewith he trumpeted; terribly did his horn bray at times, and at other times it would make dulcet melody. He was girt with a girdle of skin, his robe was black as sack-cloth of hair, and falling even to his feet. His rough mantle was made like a soldier's cloak, adorned both before and behind with a red cross, broad and long, from the collar to the foot, even as the cross of a priest's chasuble. Thus clad he went about with his horn, preaching and praising God in the churches and open places; and a great multitude of children followed him, oft-times with branches of trees and lighted tapers.... [He would cry] "Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!" Then he would sound his trumpet; and afterwards he preached, adding a few good words in praise of God.
Brother John of Vicenza, another of the preachers in the revival, had the reputation of being able to raise the dead. When then the Florentines heard he was coming to their city, they exclaimed, "For God's sake let him not come hither for we have heard how he raiseth the dead, and we are already so many that there is no room for us in the city."54
How much such preaching accomplished is difficult to assess. A modern author, writing about Franciscan preaching in Italy, describes the popularity of the evangelists whose engagements had to be regulated by the popes. He tells of the great audiences of eighty thousand assembled at one time, of the feuds reconciled and crusades launched.55 All of this failed to inaugurate the millennium but one may surmise from the very survival of the Church that preaching did much to sting the callous, hearten the discouraged, fortify the faint, and enrapture the questing. Witness Chaucer's gentle picture of the faithful parish priest and the testimony of an anonymous English poet who to his bishop rendered this testimony:
He preached on so fair manner
That it was joy for to hear
And when his sermon ended was
The folk with mikel joy up rose
And thanked Jesus in that place
That gave their bishop so much grace.56
In a remarkable way the Church succeeded also in enlisting the laity in her service. One recalls the dramatic account of how the nobles assisted in the building of the cathedral at Chartres by harnessing themselves to carts that like beasts they might pull loads of wine, oil, grain, stone, and timber, both for the building and the builders. One reads how they pulled in silence save for the confession of sins and suppliant prayer.57 Another chronicle relates how the villagers constructed their own parish church:
Inasmuch as the Castle Church of Clitheroe, being their parish church, was distant twelve miles, and the ways very foul, painful, and perilous, and the country in the winter season so extremely and vehemently cold, that infants borne to the church are in great peril of their lives, and the aged and impotent people and women great with child not able to travel so far to hear the Word of God, and the dead corpses like to remain unburied till such time as great annoyance to grow thereby, the inhabitants about 1512, at their proper costs, made a chapel-of-ease in the said forest.58
Nor should one forget the guilds which contributed this stained-glass window or that. Nor the architects of the cathedrals, laymen largely, who dreamed in stone and compelled the medium both to conform to its nature in carrying weight and to defy its nature by seeming to soar after the illimitable. The strolling players, the jongleurs, even the troubadours sang not only of amours but related the legends of the saints. By a tale thus told, Peter Waldo was converted.
Nor are the rulers, who so often quarreled with churchmen to be regarded as the sons of Belial. They represented themselves as reformers, often genuinely. At any rate, they functioned as equal partners in a Christian society endowed with the two swords, temporal and spiritual, each responsible to and for the other. Henry IV in the investiture controversy complained of Gregory VII as one who had stepped out of his proper role by fomenting war. This emperor was a traditional, early medieval Christian who objected to the new trend whereby the clergy were embracing weapons or stirring up warriors to battle under the banners of the Church. Moreover, Henry's father had displaced and replaced bishops, not primarily in order to advance political interests but because the unworthy were desecrating the see of St. Peter. Lay princes and town governments felt a very real responsibility for the morals of the churchmen in the areas under their jurisdiction. The great conflict of the Middle Ages was not between Christ and Lucifer but between St. Peter and Caesar, a Christian Caesar like Constantine and Theodosius with a genuine concern for the Church. In fact one can talk about a priesthood of all believers even in the Middle Ages, in this sense that each according to his station had a share in, and a responsibility for, a Christian world order.
At the same time there was much to disappoint in so magnificent an achievement; success itself bred corruption. The very process of Christianizing Europe entailed the paganizing of the Church. Legend has it that the missionary Boniface was about to strike with his ax the sacred Oak of Thor as the pagans stood by expecting the god of thunder to smite the blasphemer with his bolt. Instead lightning struck the tree splitting it into four equal parts whereby it was the more readily cut up into planks for the construction of a church.59 Here is a symbol of the way in which paganism was incorporated into Christianity. Sacred oaks became churches, and the gods, if they did not survive as fairies, were transmuted into saints. In the field of morals bellicosity was not subdued but only enlisted for crusades.
Even reforms recoiled. The whole history of monasticism is the story of trying to keep poor. The Benedictines at first lived by their labor but when serfs came with the soil the monks became, as we noted, adminis- trators or scholars or contemplatives, and perchance even simply drones The Cistercians tried to revive the original pattern insisting on manual labor and undertaking to break in wastelands. They were so successfu1 that their produce exceeded their needs and they entered into commerce and waxed fat. Francis and Dominic tried a new way. They would labor; they would beg, but the wages and the alms should not exceed the daily needs. The orders grew. Supplying five hundred brethren by daily begging proved to be a very precarious assignment. Begging therefore was allocated to experts. And then the Church offered to take the onus of owning property and of allowing the Franciscans to enjoy the use. The Conventual Franciscans accepted this subterfuge. The Spirituals refused and the order was rent. In the end and almost of necessity the moderates came to predominate.60
The great Gregorian reforms achieved an astounding success and yet only at the price of dilution. The peace campaign ended in crusades and crusades fell into disrepute when the very dregs of Europe were enlisted for the Holy Land, when Christian princes were willing to sell Christian slaves to the Turks, when the financing of crusades became a racket, and when disasters made men doubt whether after all Dieu le Veult.61
The imposition of clerical celibacy in the Middle Ages met with only restricted success. Many of the clergy refused to abandon their wives but this gallant gesture degenerated into a system of clerical concubinage condoned and even taxed by the Church. A medieval prince-bishop frivolously remarked that as a bishop he was celibate but as a prince he was the father of a large family.62 The very papacy was invaded by laxity, witness the license of Renaissance popes. The prevalence of irregularities is revealed in the story that word reached a concubinous vicar of an impending visit from the bishop to terminate the relationship. The vicar's lady, carrying a basket, intercepted the bishop on the way, who inquired where she was going. She replied that she was taking a present to the bishop's lady at her lying in.63 The bishop paid his call without raising the question. On another occasion when after a revival in Wales the clergy resolved to put away their concubines, the bishop actually forbade them because he would lose the revenue derived from the tax on such infractions of the canon law.64 The abolition of clerical concubinage was a major item on the docket alike of the Protestant and the Catholic reformers of the sixteenth century.
When so many reforms proved abortive, the very zeal by which they had been engendered kindled a new effort for the correction of abuses. Curiously the thirteenth century is not only the high period of the papal theocracy but also of sectarian movements. There were other factors to be sure than Christian reformatory zeal. The heresy which most disturbed Innocent III was a revival of ancient Gnosticism with its sharp disparagement of life in the flesh. The Cathari owed their origin to contacts with another Gnostic group the Bogomili of Bulgaria with whom the Crusades had brought them in contact. These folk, however, thought of themselves as Christian, employed the Gospels, and outdid the most monkish of monks in their austerities.
The critique of the Cathari cannot be brushed off by branding them as heretics, when there were other sectaries who made the same complaints and who very definitely were not heretics but only schismatics, and schismatics only because cast out against their will. Such was the case of Peter Waldo, a product of the rising mercantile class in southern France in the twelfth century. He sold his goods, gave to the poor, and dedicated himself to a life of poverty. All this was perfectly regular and would have received the approbation of the Church without the least cavil, but he felt an urge to acquaint himself with the Scriptures and then to inform others. He began to preach. Since he was an unauthorized layman, he was subjected to a theological examination. A contemporary records that he was asked, "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?" "Yes," he replied. "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord?" "yes," was the answer. "Do you believe in the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ?" "yes," he responded. There was a roar of consternation, for he should have called Mary the Mother of God. The expression "Mother of Christ" indicated that he was a Nestorian heretic. He was refused permission to preach but he defied the order and thus became the originator of a schismatic group.65
A generation later St. Francis was in a similar position, but this time Pope Innocent III, perhaps mindful of the blunder of his predecessor, granted a quasi permission, and the saint became the father of a great preaching order. The line between the sectaries and the new monastic preaching orders was always tenuous. St. Francis believed his Rule to have been given by the Holy Spirit and many of his followers preferred on that account the Rule to the Church. The Fratichelli became schismatics. Among the Dominicans Savonarola was a prophetic proclaimer of diluvial doom on a generation scornful of the way of salvation. In general the sermons of the sectaries were marked by a strong ethical emphasis and a recurrent note of denunciation of those churchmen whose lives identified them as anti-Christs and limbs of Lucifer -- so Wycliff, so Hus and their respective followers.
Against the heretics and the schismatics the Church invoked the Inquisition. Churchmen should inquire and pass sentence. Civil rulers should implement their decisions at the stake. The Inquisition was deemed a department of the cure of souls. Its object was not to burn heretics in the body but to save them by the fear of a brief temporal fire from the unquenchable flames. The whole technique of the Inquisition was designed to break down the suspect that he might confess, adjure, be reconciled, and saved. Of course, it was also important that he should supply the names of others that they too might be subject to the pressures needful for the saving of their souls.
Such methods intimidated some but served only to stimulate in others a more passionate rebellion. We are frequently disposed to accept unqualified their strictures on that Church which occasioned their criticism and which sought by such means to stifle their complaints. We must remember, however, that the Church cannot have been devoid of vitality when she was able to bear such sons. They might be her undoing. They were at the same time the witness to her residual integrity.
A veritable symbol of the late Middle Ages is Dante Alighieri who even better than the great Aquinas conveyed the mood of a life lived sub specie aeternitatis. Dante was a layman. Likewise he was an imperialist and not a papalist, exiled from Florence because he favored the emperor rather than the pope. In his political theory he desired to restrict the Church severely to the spiritual sphere. Highly versed in the universal language of the Church, the Latin tongue, nevertheless, he composed the great poem of medieval faith in the language of the common folk. The Divina Commedia is written in the Italian vernacular. He desired the continuance of the great Christian society under the two luminaries, the Church and State, yet he was as critical of particular popes as were the prophetic reformers. In the tradition of the Spiritual Franciscans he portrayed Christ upon the cross, deserted by all save La Donna Poverta.
1 Chrysostom, "On the Priesthood," Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, IX.
2 Shotwell and Loomis, See of Peter, (New York, 1927), 577-80.
3 Theodoret, "Ecclesiastical History," 17, Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. 2, III, 14345.
4 Maude Aline Huttmann, "The Establishment of Christianity and the Proscription of Paganism," Columbia University, Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, LX, 2 (1914), 149-57 and 62-63.
5 Letter 52, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. 2, VI, 91.
6 Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, VII, 30.
7 F. Holmes Dudden, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose (Oxford, 1935), 66.
8 The code of the just war is elaborated in the De Officiis. Exhortations to the emperor to fight the Arian Goths appear in the De Fide.
9 Letter 77, op. cit., 160.
10 Hans von Schubert, Geschichte der christlichen Kirche im frühmittelalter (Tübingen, 1921).
11 Henri Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe (New York, 1937).
12 James Westfall Thompson, An Economic and Social History of the Middle Ages 300-1300 (New York, 1928), 614-15.
13 Evelyn Mary Spearing, The Patrimony of the Roman Church in the Time of Gregory the Great (Cambridge, 1918).
14 Emile Lesne, Histoire de la Propiété ecclésiastique en France, 8 vols. (Lille, 1910-43).
15 George Gordon Coulton, Five Centuries of Religion, 4 vols. (1923-50) especially III.
16 James Westphal Thompson, History of the Middle Ages (New York, 1931), 172.
17 Carl Erdmann, Die Entstehung des Krenzzugsgedankens (Stuttgart, 1935)
18 Anna Comnena, The Alexiad, tr. Elizabeth A. S. Dawes (London, 1928)255-56.
19 Leona C. Gabel, "Benefit of Clergy in England in the Later Middle Ages," Smith College Studies in History, X1V, Nos. 1-4 (Oct., 1928-July, 1929).
20 Ernest Harold Davenport, The False Decretals, (Oxford, 1916).
21 Edwin Hatch, The Growth of Church Institutions (New York, 1887), chap. 12.
22 Henry C. Lea, An Historical Sketch of Sacerdotal Celibacy (Boston, 1884),
23 Edward L. Cutts, Parish Priests and Their People in the Middle Ages in England (London, 1898), 164, 166-67, 183.
24 H. Maynard Smith, Pre-Reformation England (London, 1938), 138.
25 Bede's Ecclesiastical History, II, xiii, tr. L. Gidley, (Oxford, 1870), 150.
26 Ibid., III, XXV, 254.
27 Norman Boggs, The Christian Saga, 2 vols. (New York, 1931), 329.
28 De Gradibus Humilitatis, XIV, G. B. Burch, ed. and tr. (Cambridge, Mass.,1940).
29 R. S. Arrow-Smith, The Prelude to the Reformation (London, 1923), 14-15.
30 Cutts, Op. Cit., 97.
31 R. A. R. Hartridge, A History of Vicarages in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Eng., 1930), 163, 196.
32 Ibid., 14.
33 Hatch. op. cit., 55.
34 Arrowsmith, op. cit., 9.
35 John R. H. Moorman, Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge, Eng., 1945), 12.
36 Smith, op. cit., 60.
37 Arrowsmith, op. cit., 46.
38 Moorman, op. cit., 92-93.
39 Bernard Lord Manning, The People's Faith in the Time of Wyclif (Cambridge, Eng., 1919), 13.
40 Moorman, op. cit., 87. Quotations modernized.
41 Lecoy de la Marche, Anecdotes historiques -- Etienne de Bourbon (Paris, 1877), 155.
42 Smith, op. cit., 133-34.
43 Post-Nicene Fathers, 2d series, XII, 40-41 passim.
44 Materials from the Life of Jacopo da Varagine, ed. Ernest Cushing Richardson (New York, 1935), 102-3.
45 John Myrc, "Instructions for Parish Priests," Early English Text Society 1868, 1-3, modernized.
46 Moorman, op. cit., 79.
47 Smith, op. cit., 106.
48 G. R. Owst, Preaching in Medieval England (Cambridge, Eng., 1926), 175.
49 G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (Cambridge, Eng., 1933), 389-90.
50 Ibid., 342.
51 Margaret Deanesley, A History of the Medieval Church (London, 1934),203.
52 Owst, Literature and Pulpit, 300-301.
53 Ray C. Petry, No Uncertain Sound (Philadelphia, 1948), 132, 156- 57, 108-9.
54 G. G. Coulton, From Saint Francis to Dante (London, 1906), 21 and 29.
55 Karl Hefele, Der hl. Bernhardin von Siena und die franziskanishe Wanderpredigt in Italien während des 15, Jahrhunderts (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1912).
56 0wst, Preaching, 169, modernized.
57 Thompson, op. cit., 672.
58 Cutts, op. cit., 120-21.
59 Willibald, The Life of Saint Boniface, G. W. Robinson, tr. (Harvard translations, 1916).
60 Ernst Benz, Ecclesia Spiritualis (Stuttgart, 1934).
61 Palmer Throop, Criticism of the Crusade (Amsterdam, 1940).
62 J. P. Whitney, Hildebrandine Essays (Cambridge, Eng., 1932), 16.
63 Moorman, op. cit., 64.
64 Smith, op. cit., 46.
65 Walter Map, "De Nugis Curialium," Dist. 1, cap. xxxi, in Anecdota Oxoniensa (Oxford, 1914), 61.