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Article I.—ST. FRANCIS AND HIS TIME.
Recent events have turned the attention of historical students, both in Europe and America, to a review of those periods in the history of the Romish Church that have been most remarkable for their danger and their triumph. Of the different attempts that have been made by the human intellect to rise up against the Roman yoke and throw it off, there are two that may be deemed peculiarly worthy of careful study. The one, that which followed close upon the revival of classical scholarship, and the inventions and discoveries of the fifteenth and six. teenth centuries, is already for the most part well understood, With the other, that which occurred at the moment when Europe was emerging from the darkness of the Middle Ages, and men were showing the first symptoms of intellectual freedom, the world is far less familiar. At a time when so many possibilities are involved in the action of the Council now convened at Rome, it may not be without interest to pass in review
Vol. xxix. 25
some of the events of that great struggle which took place in the thirteenth century.
One of the most brilliant administrations in the history of the Romish Church was that of Innocent III. Gregory VII., by the boldness of his ambition, did more perhaps to raise the hierarchy to an ascendency over the secular governments; and, Sixtus V., by the skill with which he conducted his church through the most critical period of its history, earned the right perhaps to be regarded as a still greater statesman. But neither of these embodied in himself so completely all those attributes which are naturally associated with the name Supreme Pontiff, as did he who wore the triple crown and gave law to Christendom at the beginning of the thirteenth century. By the prominence which he gave to the Canons of the Church, by the steadiness with which he insisted upon the binding force of the Decretals, by the unity and coherence of his policy, as well as by the judicious exercise of the enormous power already vested in the pontifical throne, Innocent brought to its culmination that policy of papal ascendency which for three hundred and fifty years had been slowly revolutionizing the constitution of the Church. That great revolution (for it can be called nothing less) which had begun about the middle of the ninth century with the fabrication of the Isidorian Decretals, and which had found its most powerful support in the forgeries of Gratian, reached its appropriate and complete fruition in the words of Innocent III., when he declared that "Christ had committed the whole world, temporal as well as spiritual, to the government of the Popes."
These extraordinary claims on the part of the pope were not without their influence on the political condition of the different European nationalities. Those who had come to look upon the Pontiff as infallible in all matters of eternal interest, advanced by an easy logic to have full faith in all his assumptions of infallibility in the minor and less difficult affairs of temporal interest. Thus the secular power of the pope came by degrees to be felt in all parts of Europe, and Innocent was able to convert into realities visions of temporal supremacy which had filled the mind of the great Hildebrand
but which even Hildcbrand himself had not been strong enough to realize. He not only succeeded in wrenching an oath of fealty from the temporal officers at Rome, and in bringing under his control several of the imperial provinces of Italy; but also in making the tremendous force of his power felt in every country north of the Alps. In Germany he annulled the election of one Emperor, and raised into the vacant throne another whom he in turn also excommunicated. In France he laid Philip Augustus under an interdict which absolved all French subjects from their allegiance, and which offered the French crown to any one who would take the trouble to accept and defend it. From Baldwin, the conqueror of Constantinople, he received the virtual control of the Eastern Empire, and from the hand of John he accepted tbat villanage of England which was to blacken forever the name of an English king, and secure the advantages of the Great Charter to the English people.
The boldness with which Innocent thus ventured to bestow kingdoms, and cite princes to his judgment seat, would seem to indicate either that the temporal as well as the spiritual supremacy of the Pontiffs had been established beyond question, or that, as a last desperate throw in a losing game, the pope, having abandoned all hope of convincing his opponents, was determined to stun them into submission by the very audacity of his pretensions.
Hut however this enormous display of temporal power is to be interpreted, it requires but a glance at the political and religious characteristics of the thirteenth century to see that there were to the church grounds for the most serious alarm. Though the material prosperity of the hierarchy was unabated, there were beginning to germinate in all parts of Christendom certain seeds of discontent. It began to be painfully apparent, not only to the clear intelligence of the pope but also to all the higher officers of the church, that there was need of the greatest wisdom in the administration of her affairs and in the direction of her councils. For it was in this very century that the darkness of the Middle Ages began to disappear. It was during this very reign of Innocent III. that the gray dawn of twilight gave the first promise of modern intelligence and modern independence. Indeed new methods of thought had already begun to prevail. On every hand there was beginning to manifest itself a spirit with which the church was unacquainted. In every province of Europe the people had caught a spirit of menace which could not be overlooked or ignored. It was that disintegrating spirit which manifested a general distrust of all central authority, and that fraternizing spirit which discovered a universal tendency toward the establishment of free cities and independent brotherhoods. Already there were to be detected the active germs of the commercial cities of Italy. Frankfort and Bruges showed signs of independence; London and Norwich had just come into possession of corporate charters; and the cities of the Hanse were forming the league that was to secure for them centuries ot commercial supremacy.
Nor were the independent religious associations of the period less numerous or less important. There was scarcely a corner in Europe in which there was not to be found a group of sectaries. These different groups were distinguished from each other usually by some slight differences of doctrine, but they were all united in their opposition to what they deemed the proud luxury and haughty dominance of their spiritual lords. These individual discontents considered singly would have been deemed of trifling impoitance, but reduced to an aggregate they afforded just cause of alarm. And the importance to the church of those manifestations was greatly aggravated by the fact that they found freest expression where there was the greatest political independence, and the most active individual intelligence. That such was the case, may be shown by a single illustration.
The most flourishing and civilized portion of Europe at the beginning of the thirteenth century was perhaps the southern part of France. This territory had a substantially distinct national character, and it was favored with some elements of civilization that were peculiarly its own. Its geographical position had ensured it against barbarian desolation, and it had thus been able to preserve a greater number of relics of Roman art and culture than almost any portion of Italy itself. Moreover it was beginning to have a speech of its own. As yet the different vernacular dialects, that since the fifth century, had been springing up here and there in Europe, were left to the monopoly of boors and outcasts. But the language of Provence was fast usurping the place of the Latin. The most elegant scholars and poets of Languedoc did not disdain to clothe their thoughts in their mother tongue.
And the people were as free in thought as they were elegant in literature. Of all the Europeans they alone had been brought into peaceful contact with the Moors of Grenada. While the Normans anil the Spaniards were meeting the Mussulmans only to give and receive blows, the people of Provence were exchanging the most friendly hospitalities with scholars that were skilled in all the learning of the Arabs. Nor were these their only advantages. The marts of Narbonne and Toulouse were often sought by merchants of Athens, who brought with their merchandize, not only the literature of their fathers, but also their bold methods and theories in matters of philosophy and religion.
Now these combined influences could not be without their effect upon the enquiring intelligence of the people of Provence. Moreover when the bands which either in literature or politics or religion have bound a people to hereditary forms are once sundered, there is no longer willing submission to any kind of servitude whatever. Political and religious reforms have ever produced each other. The general outburst of intelligence which wo have noticed in Southern France, would be likely, therefore, to be followed by a corresponding movement in matters of religion. And such, indeed, was the fact. A new system of theology combining some of the doctrines of the ancient Manichees, with a still greater number of those which were afterwards to form the creeds of the Protestants, was the result. And these new doctrines, whole pages of which would be accepted by modern Calvinists, spread with great rapidity. They extended to the North well on toward Paris, and found also a congenial home in the darkest defiles of the Alps. Over a large territory they almost completely supplanted the Catholic church. The regular clergy were either driven away or looked upon with disgust mingled with contempt.