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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 4 — Christendom at the Opening of the Sixteenth Century

Chapter 3 — The Papacy, or Christendom under the Tiara

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Complex Constitution of the Papacy – Temporal Sovereignty limited to Papal States – Pontifical Supremacy covers all Christendom – Governmental Machinery – Legate-a-latere – Interdict – The Concordat – Concordat with Austria – The Papacy in Piedmont – Indulgences – The Confessional – The Papacy Absolute in Temporals as in Spirituals – Enormous Strength

WE now ascend to the summit of the European edifice as constituted at the beginning of the sixteenth century. There was a higher monarch in the world than the emperor, and a more powerful kingdom in Christendom than the Empire. That monarch was the Pope – that Empire, the Papacy.

Any view of Christendom that fails to take note of the relations of the Papacy to its several kingdoms, overlooks the prominent characteristic of Europe as it existed when the great struggle for religion and liberty was begun. The relation of the Papacy to the other kingdoms of Christendom was, in a word, that of dominancy. It was their chief, their ruler. It taught them to see in the Seven Hills, and the power seated thereon, the bond of their union, the fountain of their legislation, and the throne of their government. It thus knit all the kingdoms of Europe into one great confederacy or monarchy. They lived and breathed in the Papacy. Their fleets and armies, their constitutions and laws, existed more for it than for themselves. They were employed to advance the policy and uphold the power of the sovereigns who sat in the Papal chair.

In the one Pontifical government there were rolled up in reality two governments, one within the other. The smaller of these covered the area of the Papal States; while the larger, spurning these narrow limits, embraced the whole of Christendom, making of its thrones and nations but one monarchy, one theocratic kingdom, over which was stretched the scepter of an absolute jurisdiction.

In order to see how this came to pass, we must briefly enumerate the various expedients by which the Papacy contrived to exercise jurisdiction outside its own special territory, and by which it became the temporal not less than the spiritual head of Christendom – the real ruler of the kingdoms of medieval Europe. How a monarchy, professedly spiritual, should exercise temporal dominion, and especially how it should make its temporal dominion co-extensive with Christendom, is not apparent at first sight. Nevertheless, history attests the fact that it did so make it. One main expedient by which the Papacy wielded temporal power and compassed political ends in other kingdoms was the office of "legate-a-latere." The term signifies an ambassador from the Pope's side. The legate-a- latere was, in fact, the alter ego of the Pope, whose person he represented, and with whose power he was clothed. He was sent into all countries, not to mediate but to govern; his functions being analogous to those of the deputies or rulers whom the pagan masters of the world were wont to send from Rome to govern the subject provinces of the Empire.

In the prosecution of his mission the legate-a-latere made it his first business in the particular country into which he entered to set up his court, and to try causes and pronounce judgment in the Pope's name. Neither the authority of the sovereign nor the law of the land was acknowledged in the court of the legate; all causes were determined by the canon law of Rome. A vast multitude of cases, and these by no means spiritual, did the legate contrive to bring under his jurisdiction. He claimed to decide all questions of divorce. These decisions involved, of course, civil issues, such as the succession to landed estates, the ownership of other forms of wealth, and in some instances the right to the throne. All questions touching the lands and estates of the convents, monasteries, and abbeys were determined by the legate. This gave him the direct control of one-half the landed property of most of the kingdoms of Europe. He could impose taxes, and did levy a penny upon every house in France and England. He had power, moreover, to impose extraordinary levies for special objects of the Church upon both clergy and laity. He made himself the arbiter of peace and war. [1] He meddled in all the affairs of princes, conducted perpetual intrigues, fomented endless quarrels, and sustained himself umpire in all controversies. If any one felt himself aggrieved by the judgment of the legate, he could have no redress from the courts of the country, nor even from the sovereign. He must go in person to Rome. Thus did the Pope, through his legate-a-latere, manage to make himself the grand justiciary of the kingdom. [2]

The vast jurisdiction of the legate-a-latere was supported and enforced by the "interdict." The interdict was to the legate instead of an army. The blow it dealt was more rapid, and the subjugation it effected on those on whom it fell was more complete, than any that could have been achieved by any number of armed men. When a monarch proved obdurate, the legate unsheathed this sword against him. The clergy throughout the length and breadth of his kingdom instantly desisted from the celebration of the ordinances of religion. All the subjects were made partners with the sovereign in this ghostly but dreadful infliction. In an age when there was no salvation but through the priesthood, and no grace but through the channel of the Sacraments, the terrors of interdict were irresistible. All the signs of malediction everywhere visible throughout the land on which this terrible chastisement had been laid, struck the imagination with all the greater force that they were viewed as the symbols of a doom which did not terminate on earth, but which extended into the other world. The interdict in those ages never failed to gain its end, for the people, punished for the fault, real or supposed, of their sovereign, broke out into murmurs, sometimes into rebellion, and the

unhappy prince found in the long run that he must either face insurrection or make his peace with the Church. It was thus the shadow of power only which was left the king; the substance of sovereignty filched from him was carried to Rome and vested in the chair of the Pope. [3]

Another contrivance by which the Papacy, while it left to princes the name of king, took from them the actual government of their kingdoms, was the Concordat. These agreements or treaties between the Pope and the kings of Christendom varied in their minor details, but the leading provisions were alike in all of them, their key-note being the supremacy of Rome, and the subordination of the State with which that haughty power had deigned to enter into compact. The Concordat bound the government with which it was made to enact no law, profess no religion, open no school, and permit no branch of knowledge to be taught within its dominions, until the Pope had first given his consent. Moreover, it bound it to keep open the gates of the realm for the admission of such legates, bishops, and nuncios as the Pope might be pleased to send thither for the purpose of administering his spiritual authority, and to receive such bulls and briefs as he might be pleased to promulgate, which were to have the force of law in the counter whose rights and privileges these missives very possibly invaded, or altogether set aside. The advantages secured by the contracting parties on the other side were usually of the most meager kind, and were respected only so long as it was not for the interests of the Church of Rome to violate them. In short, the Concordat gave the Pope the first place in the government of the kingdom, leaving to the sovereign and the Estates of the Realm only the second. It bound down the prince in vassalage, and the people in serfdom political and religious. [4]

Another formidable instrumentality for compassing the same ends was the hierarchy. The struggle commenced by Hildebrand, regarding investitures, ended in giving to the Pope the power of appointing bishops throughout all the Empire. This placed in the hands of the Pontiff the better half of the secular government of its kingdoms. The hierarchy formed a body powerful by their union, their intelligence, and the reverence which waited on their sacred office. Each member of that body had taken a feudal oath of obedience to the Pope. [5] The bishop was no mere priest, he was a ruler as well, being possessed of jurisdiction – that is, the power of law – the law he administered being the canon law of Rome. The "chapter" was but another term for the court by which the bishop exercised that jurisdiction, and as it was a recognized doctrine that the jurisdiction of the bishop was temporal as well as spiritual, the hierarchy formed in fact a magistracy, and a magistracy planted in the country by a foreign power, under an oath of obedience to the power that had appointed it – a magistracy independent of the sovereign, and wielding a combined temporal and spiritual jurisdiction over every person in the realm, and governing him alike in his religious acts, in his political duties, and in his temporal possessions.

Let us take the little kingdom of Sardinia as an illustration. On the 8th of January, 1855, a bill was introduced into the Parliament of Turin for the suppression of convents and the more equal distribution of Church lands. The habitable portion of Sardinia is mostly comprised in the rich valley of the Po, and its population amounts only to about four and a half millions. Yet it appeared from the bill that in this small territory there were seven archbishops, thirty-four bishops, forty-one chapters, with eight hundred and sixty canons attached to the bishoprics; seventy-three simple chapters, with four hundred and seventy canons; eleven hundred livings for the canons; and lastly, four thousand two hundred and forty-seven parishes, with some thousands of parish priests. The domains of the Church represented a capital of four hundred millions of francs, yielding a yearly revenue of seventeen millions and upwards. Nor was even this the whole of the ecclesiastical burden borne by the little State. To the secular clergy we have to add eight thousand five hundred and sixty-three persons who wore cowls and veils. These were distributed into six hundred and four religious houses, whose annual cost was two millions and a half of francs.

There were thus from twelve to twenty thousand persons in Piedmont, all under oath, or under vows equivalent to an oath, to obey only the orders that came from Rome. These held one-fourth of the lands of the kingdom; they were exempt from the jurisdiction of the laws. They claimed the right of dictating to all the subjects of the realm how to act in every matter in which duty was involved – that is, in every matter absolutely – and they had the power of compelling obedience by penalties of a peculiarly forcible kind. It is obvious at a glance that the actual government of the kingdom was in the hands of these men – that is, of their master at Rome.

Let us glance briefly at the other principalities of the peninsula – the Levitical State, as Italy was wont to be called. We leave out of view the secular clergy with their gorgeous cathedrals, so rich in silver and gold, as well as in statuary and paintings; nor do we include their ample Church lands, and their numerous dues drawn from the people. We confine ourselves to the ranks of the cloister. In 1863 a "Project of Law" was tabled in the Italian Chamber of Deputies for their suppression. [6] From this "Project" it appeared that there were in Italy eighty-four orders of monks, distributed in two thousand three hundred and eighty-two religious houses.

Each of these eighty-four orders had numerous affiliated branches radiating over the country. All held property, save the four Mendicant orders. The value of the conventual property was estimated at forty million lire, and the number of persons made a grand total of sixty-three thousand two hundred and thirty-nine. This does not include the conventual establishments of the Papal States, nor the religious houses of Piedmont, which had been suppressed previous to 1863. If we take these into account, we cannot estimate the monastic corps of Italy at less than a hundred thousand. [7]

Besides those we have enumerated there were a host of instrumentalities all directed to the same end, the enforcement even of the government of Rome, mainly in things temporal, in the dominions of other sovereigns. Chief among these was the Confessional. The Confessional was called "the place of penitence;" it was, in reality, a seat of jurisdiction. It was a tribunal the highest of all tribunals, because to the Papist the tribunal of God. Its terrors as far transcended those of the human judgment-seat, as the sword of eternal anathema transcends the gallows of temporal governments. It afforded, moreover, unrivaled facilities for sowing sedition and organizing rebellion. Here the priest sat unseen, digging, hour by hour and day after day, the mine beneath the prince he had marked out for ruin, while the latter never once suspected that his overthrow was being prepared till he was hurled from his seat. There was, moreover, the device of dispensations and indulgences. Never did merchant by the most daring venture, nor statesman by the most ingenious scheme of finance, succeed in amassing such store of wealth as Rome did simply by selling pardon. She sent the vendors of her wares into all countries, and as all felt that they needed forgiveness, all flocked to her market; and thus, "as one gathereth eggs," to employ the language of the prophet, so did Rome gather the riches of all the earth. She took care, moreover, that these riches should not "take to themselves wings and flee away." She invented mortmain. Not a penny of her accumulated hoards, not an acre of her wide domains, did her "dead hand" ever let go. Her property was beyond the reach of the law; this crowned the evil. The estates of the nobles could be dealt with by the civil tribunals, if so overgrown as to be dangerous to the public good. But it was the fate of the ecclesiastical property ever to grow – and with it, of course, the pride and arrogancy of its owners – and however noxious the uses to which it was turned, however much it tended to impoverish the resources of the State, and undermine the industry of the nation, no remedy could be applied to the mischief. Century after century the evil continued and waxed stronger, till at length the Reformation came and dissolved the spell by which Rome had succeeded in making her enormous possessions inviolable to the arm of the law; covering them, as she did, with the sanctions of Heaven.

Thus did Rome by these expedients, and others which it were tedious here to enumerate, extend her government over all the countries of Christendom, alike in temporals as in spirituals. "The Pope's jurisdiction," said a Franciscan, "is universal, embracing the whole world, its temporalities as well as its spiritualities." [8] Rome did not set up the chair of Peter bodily in these various countries, nor did she transfer to them the machinery of the Papal government as it existed in her own capital. It was not in the least necessary that she should do so. She gained her end quite as effectually by legates-a-latere, by Concordats, by bishops, by bulls, by indulgences, and by a power that stood behind all the others and lent them its sanction and force – namely, the Infallibility – a fiction, no doubt, but to the Romanist a reality – a moral omnipotence, which he no more dared disobey than he dared disobey God, for to him it was God. The Infallibility enabled the Pope to gather the whole Romanist community dispersed over the world into one army, which, obedient to its leader, could be put in motion from its center to its wide circumference, as if it were one man, forming an array of political, spiritual, and material force, which had not its like on earth.

Nor, when he entered the dominions of another sovereign, did the Pontiff. put down the throne, and rule himself in person. Neither was this in the least necessary. He left the throne standing, together with the whole machinery of the government tribunals, institutions, the army – all as aforetime, but he deprived them of all force, and converted them into the instrumentalities and channels of Papal rule. They were made outlying portions of the Pontifical monarchy. Thus did Rome knit into one great federation the diverse nationalities and kingdoms of Western Europe. One and the same character – namely, the theocratic – did she communicate to all of them. She made all obedient to one will, and subservient to one grand scheme of policy. The ancient Rome had exhibited a marvelous genius for welding the nations into one, and teaching them obedience to her behests; but her proudest triumphs in this field were eclipsed by the yet greater success of Papal Rome. The latter found a more powerful principle of cohesion wherewith to cement the nations than any known to the former, and she had, moreover, the art to imbue them with a spirit of profounder submission than was ever yielded to her pagan predecessor; and, as a consequence, while the Empire of the Caesars preserved its unity unbroken, and its strength unimpaired, for only a brief space, that of the Popes has continued to flourish in power and great glory for well-nigh a thousand years.

Such was the constitution of Christendom as fully developed at the end of the fifteenth

and beginning of the sixteenth century. The verdict of Adam Smith, pronounced on Rome, viewed as the head and mistress of this vast confederation, expresses only the sober truth: "The Church of Rome," said he, "is the most formidable combination that ever was formed against the authority and security of civil government, as well as against the liberty, reason, and happiness of mankind." It is no mere scheme of ecclesiastical government that is before us, having for its aim only to guide the consciences of men in those matters that appertain to God, and the salvation of their souls. It is a so-called Superhuman Jurisdiction, a Divine Vicegerency, set up to govern men in their understandings and consciences, in their goods, their liberties, and their lives. Against such a power mere earthly force would have naught availed. Reason and argument would have fought against it in vain. Philosophy and literature, raillery and skepticism, would have shot their bolts to no purpose. A Divine assailant only could overthrow it: that assailant was PROTESTANTISM.


Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 23rd, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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