Beacon Lights of History, Volume III, Part 1
John Lord

Part 2 out of 5

probably, more illustrious men than any political State in Europe.
It has aimed to accomplish far grander ends. It is invested with
more poetic interest. Its policy, its heroes, its saints, its
doctors, its dignitaries, its missions, its persecutions, all rise
up before us with varied but never-ending interest, when seriously
contemplated. It has proved to be the most wonderful fabric of
what we call worldly wisdom that our world has seen,--controlling
kings, dictating laws to ancient monarchies, and binding the souls
of millions with a more perfect despotism than Oriental emperors
ever sought or dreamed. And what a marvellous vitality it seems to
have! It has survived the attacks of its countless enemies; it has
recovered from the shock of the Reformation; it still remains
majestic and powerful, extending its arms of paternal love or
Briarean terror over half of Christendom. As a temporal
government, rivalling kings in the pomps of war and the pride of
armies, it may be passing away; but as an organization to diffuse
and conserve religious truths,--yea, even to bring a moral pressure
on the minds of princes and governors, and reinforce its ranks with
the mighty and the noble,--it seems to be as potent as ever. It is
still sending its missionaries, its prelates, and its cardinals
into the heart of Protestant countries, who anticipate and boast of
new victories. It derides the dissensions and the rationalistic
speculations of the Protestants, and predicts that they will either
become open Pagans or re-enter the fold of Saint Peter. No longer
do angry partisans call it the "Beast" or the "Scarlet Mother" or
the "predicted Antichrist," since its religious creeds in their
vital points are more in harmony with the theology of venerated
Fathers than those of some of the progressive and proudest parties
which call themselves Protestant. In Germany, in France,--shall I
add, in England and America?--it is more in earnest, and more
laborious and self-denying than many sects among the Protestants.
In Germany--in those very seats of learning and power and fashion
which once were kindled into lofty enthusiasm by the voice of
Luther--who is it that desert the churches and disregard the
sacraments, the Catholics or the Protestants?

Surely such a power, whether we view it as an institution or as a
religion, cannot be despised, even by the narrowest and most
fanatical Protestant. It is too grand and venerable for sarcasm,
ridicule, or mockery. It is too potent and respectable to be
sneered at or lied about. No cause can be advanced permanently
except by adherence to the truth, whether it be agreeable or not.
If the Papacy were a mere despotism, having nothing else in view
than the inthralment of mankind,--of which it has been accused,--
then mankind long ago, in lofty indignation, would have hurled it
from its venerable throne. But despotic as its yoke is in the eyes
of Protestants, and always has been and always may be, it is
something more than that, having at heart the welfare of the very
millions whom it rules by working on their fears. In spite of
dogmas which are deductions from questionable premises, or which
are at war with reason, and ritualism borrowed from other
religions, and "pious frauds," and Jesuitical means to compass
desirable ends,--which Protestants indignantly discard, and which
they maintain are antagonistic to the spirit of primitive
Christianity,--still it is also the defender and advocate of vital
Christian truths, to which we trace the hopes and consolations of
mankind. As the conservator of doctrines common to all Christian
sects it cannot be swept away by the hand of man; nor as a
government, confining its officers and rules to the spiritual
necessities of its members. Its empire is spiritual rather than
temporal. Temporal monarchs are hurled from their thrones. The
long line of the Bourbons vanishes before the tempests of
revolution, and they who were borne into power by these tempests
are in turn hurled into ignominious banishment; but the Pope--he
still sits secure on the throne of the Gregories and the Clements,
ready to pronounce benedictions or hurl anathemas, to which half of
Europe bows in fear or love.

Whence this strange vitality? What are the elements of a power so
enduring and so irresistible? What has given to it its greatness
and its dignity? I confess I gaze upon it as a peasant surveys a
king, as a boy contemplates a queen of beauty,--as something which
may be talked about, yet removed beyond our influence, and no more
affected by our praise or censure than is a procession of cardinals
by the gaze of admiring spectators in Saint Peter's Church. Who
can measure it, or analyze it, or comprehend it? The weapons of
reason appear to fall impotent before its haughty dogmatism.
Genius cannot reconcile its inconsistencies. Serenely it sits,
unmoved amid all the aggressions of human thought and all the
triumphs of modern science. It is both lofty and degraded; simple,
yet worldly wise; humble, yet scornful and proud; washing beggars'
feet, yet imposing commands on the potentates of earth; benignant,
yet severe on all who rebel; here clothed in rags, and there
revelling in palaces; supported by charities, yet feasting the
princes of the earth; assuming the title of "servant of the
servants of God," yet arrogating the highest seat among worldly
dignitaries. Was there ever such a contradiction?--"glory in
debasement, and debasement in glory,"--type of the misery and
greatness of man? Was there ever such a mystery, so occult are its
arts, so subtile its policy, so plausible its pretensions, so
certain its shafts? How imposing the words of paternal
benediction! How grand the liturgy brought down from ages of
faith! How absorbed with beatific devotion appears to be the
worshipper at its consecrated altars! How ravishing the music and
the chants of grand ceremonials! How typical the churches and
consecrated monuments of the passion of Christ! Everywhere you see
the great emblem of our redemption,--on the loftiest pinnacle of
the Mediaeval cathedral, on the dresses of the priests, over the
gorgeous altars, in the ceremony of the Mass, in the baptismal
rite, in the paintings of the side chapels; everywhere are rites
and emblems betokening maceration, grief, sacrifice, penitence, the
humiliation of humanity before the awful power of divine
Omnipotence, whose personality and moral government no Catholic is
tempted to deny.

And yet what crimes and abominations have not been committed in the
name of the Church? If we go back and accept the history of the
darker ages, what wars has not this Church encouraged, what
discords has she not incited, what superstitions has she not
indorsed, what pride has she not arrogated, what cruelties has she
not inflicted, what countries has she not robbed, what hardships
has she not imposed, what deceptions has she not used, what avenues
of thought has she not guarded with a flaming sword, what truth has
she not perverted, what goodness has she not mocked and persecuted?
Ah, interrogate the Albigenses, the Waldenses, the shades of Jerome
of Prague, of Huss, of Savonarola, of Cranmer, of Coligny, of
Galileo; interrogate the martyrs of the Thirty Years' War, and
those who were slain by the dragonnades of Louis XIV., those who
fell by the hand of Alva and Charles IX.; go to Smithfield, and
Paris on Saint Bartholomew; think of gunpowder plots and
inquisitions, and intrigues and tortures, all vigorously carried on
under the cloak of Religion--barbarities worse than those of
savages, inflicted at the command of the ministers of a gospel of

I am compelled to allude to these things; I do not dwell on them,
since they were the result of the intolerance of human nature as
much as the bigotry of the Church,--faults of an age, more than of
a religion; although, whether exaggerated or not, more disgraceful
than the persecutions of Christians by Roman emperors.

As for the supreme rulers of this contradictory Church, so
benevolent and yet so cruel, so enlightened and yet so fanatical,
so humble and yet so proud,--this institution of blended piety and
fraud, equally renowned for saints, theologians, statesmen,
drivellers, and fanatics; the joy and the reproach, the glory and
the shame of earth,--there never were greater geniuses or greater
fools: saints of almost preternatural sanctity, like the first Leo
and Gregory, or hounds like Boniface VIII. or Alexander VI.; an
array of scholars and dunces, ascetics and gluttons, men who
adorned and men who scandalized their lofty position; and yet, on
the whole, we are forced to admit, the most remarkable body of
rulers any empire has known, since they were elevated by their
peers, and generally for talents or services, at a period of life
when character is formed and experience is matured. They were not
greater than their Church or their age, like the Charlemagnes and
Peters of secular history, but they were the picked men, the best
representatives of their Church; ambitious, doubtless, and worldly,
as great potentates generally are, but made so by the circumstances
which controlled them. Who can wield irresponsible power and not
become arrogant, and perhaps self-indulgent? It requires the
almost superhuman virtue of a Marcus Aurelius or a Saint Louis to
crucify the pride of rank and power. If the president of a college
or of a railroad or of a bank becomes a different man to the eye of
an early friend, what can be expected of those who are raised above
public opinion, and have no fetters on their wills,--men who are
regarded as infallible and feel themselves supreme!

But of all these three hundred or four hundred men who have swayed
the destinies of Europe,--an uninterrupted line of pontiffs for
fifteen hundred years or more, no one is so famous as Gregory VII.
for the grandeur of his character, the heroism of his struggles,
and the posthumous influence of his deeds. He was too great a man
to be called by his papal title. He is best known by his baptismal
name, Hildebrand, the greatest hero of the Roman Church. There are
some men whose titles add nothing to their august names,--David,
Julius, Constantine, Augustine. When a man has become very eminent
we drop titles altogether, except in military life. We say Daniel
Webster, Edward Everett, Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Jefferson,
Benjamin Franklin, William Pitt. Hildebrand is a greater name than
Gregory VII., and with him is identified the greatest struggle of
the Papacy against the temporal powers. I do not aim to dissect
his character so much as to present his services to the Church. I
wish to show why and how he is identified with movements of supreme
historical importance. It would be easy to make him out a saint
and martyr, and equally so to paint him as a tyrant and usurper.
It is of little consequence to us whether he was ascetic or
ambitious or unscrupulous; but it IS of consequence to show the
majestic power of those ideas by which he ruled the Middle Ages,
and which will never pass away as sublime agencies so long as men
are ignorant and superstitious. As a man he no longer lives, but
his thunderbolts are perpetual powers, since they still alarm the
fears of men.

Still, his personal history is not uninteresting. Born of humble
parents in Italy in the year 1020, the son of a carpenter, he rose
by genius and virtue to the highest offices and dignities. But his
greatness was in force of character rather than original ideas,--
like that of Washington, or William III., or the Duke of
Wellington. He had not the comprehensive intellect of Charlemagne,
nor the creative genius of Peter of Russia, but he had the sagacity
of Richelieu and the iron will of Napoleon. He was statesman as
well as priest,--marvellous for his activity, insight into human
nature, vast executive abilities, and dauntless heroism. He
comprehended the only way whereby Christendom could be governed,
and unhesitatingly used the means of success. He was not a great
scholar, or theologian, or philosopher, but a man of action,
embracing opportunities and striking decisive blows. From first to
last he was devoted to his cause, which was greater than himself,--
even the spiritual supremacy of the Papacy. I do not read of great
intellectual precocity, like that of Cicero and William Pitt, nor
of great attainments, like those of Abelard and Thomas Aquinas, nor
even an insight, like that of Bacon, into what constitutes the
dignity of man and the true glory of civilization; but, like
Ambrose and the first Leo, he was early selected for important
missions and responsible trusts, all of which he discharged with
great fidelity and ability. His education was directed by the
monks of Cluny,--that princely abbey in Burgundy where "monks were
sovereigns and sovereigns were monks." Like all earnest monks, he
was ascetic, devotional, and self-sacrificing. Like all men
ambitions to rule, "he learned how to obey." He pondered on the
Holy Scriptures as well as on the canons of the Church. So marked
a man was he that he was early chosen as prior of his convent; and
so great were his personal magnetism, eloquence, and influence that
"he induced Bruno, the Bishop of Toul, when elected pope by the
Emperor of Germany, to lay aside the badges and vestments of the
pontifical office, and refuse his title, until he should be elected
by the clergy and people of Rome,"--thus showing that at the age of
twenty-nine he comprehended the issues of the day, and meditated on
the gigantic changes it was necessary to make before the pope could
be the supreme ruler of Christendom.

The autocratic idea of Leo I., and the great Gregory who sent his
missionaries to England, was that to which Hildebrand's ardent soul
clung with preternatural earnestness, as the only government fit
for turbulent and superstitious ages. He did not originate this
idea, but he defended and enforced it as had never been done
before, so that to many minds he was the great architect of the
papal structure. It was a rare spectacle to see a sovereign
pontiff lay aside the insignia of his grandeur at the bidding of
this monk of Cluny; it was grander to see this monk laying the
foundation of an irresistible despotism, which was to last beyond
the time of Luther. Not merely was Leo IX. his tool, but three
successive popes were chosen at his dictation. And when he became
cardinal and archdeacon he seems to have been the inspiring genius
of the papal government, undertaking the most important missions,
curbing the turbulent spirit of the Roman princes, and assisting in
all ecclesiastical councils. It was by his suggestion that abbots
were deposed, and bishops punished, and monarchs reprimanded. He
was the prime minister of four popes before he accepted that high
office to which he doubtless had aspired while meditating as a monk
amid the sunny slopes of Cluny, since he knew that the exigences of
the Church required a bold and able ruler,--and who in Christendom
was bolder and more far-reaching than he? He might have been
elevated to the chair of Saint Peter at an earlier period, but he
was contented with power rather than glory, knowing that his day
would come, and at a time when his extraordinary abilities would be
most needed. He could afford to wait; and no man is truly great
who cannot bide his time.

At last Hildebrand received the reward of his great services,--"a
reward," says Stephen, "which he had long contemplated, but which,
with self-controlling policy, he had so long declined." In the
year 1073 Hildebrand became Gregory VII., and his memorable
pontificate began as a reformer of the abuses of his age, and the
intrepid defender of that unlimited and absolute despotism which
inthralled not merely the princes of Europe, but the mind of
Christendom itself. It was he who not only proclaimed the
liberties of the people against nobles, and made the Church an
asylum for misery and oppression, but who realized the idea that
the Church was the mother of spiritual principles, and that the
spiritual authority should be raised over all temporal power.

In the great crises of States and Empires deliverers seem to be
raised up by Divine Providence to restore peace and order, and
maintain the first condition of society, or extricate nations from
overwhelming calamities. Thus Charlemagne appeared at the right
time to prevent the overthrow of Europe by new waves of barbaric
invasion. Thus William the Silent preserved the nationality of
Holland, and Gustavus Adolphus gave religious liberty to Germany
when persecution was apparently successful. Thus Richelieu
undermined feudalism in France, and established absolutism as one
of the needed forces of his turbulent age, even as Napoleon gave
law and order to France when distracted by the anarchism of a
revolution which did not comprehend the liberty which was invoked.
So Hildebrand was raised up to establish the only government which
could rescue Europe from the rapacities of feudal nobles, and
establish law and order in the hands of the most enlightened class;
so that, like Peter the Great, he looms up as a reformer as well as
a despot. He appears in a double light.

Now you ask: "What were his reforms, and what were his schemes of
aggrandizement, for which we honor him while we denounce him?" We
cannot see the reforms he attempted without glancing at the
enormous evils which stared him in the face.

Society in Europe, in the eleventh century, was nearly as dark and
degraded as it was on the fall of the Merovingian dynasty. In some
respects it had reached the lowest depth of wretchedness which the
Middle Ages ever saw. Never had the clergy been more worldly or
devoted to temporal things. They had not the piety of the fourth
century, nor the intelligence of the sixteenth century; they were
powerful and wealthy, but had grown corrupt. Monastic institutions
covered the face of Europe, but the monks had sadly departed from
the virtues which partially redeemed the miseries that succeeded
the fall of the Roman Empire. The lives of the clergy, regular and
secular, still compared favorably with the lives of the feudal
nobility, who had, in addition to other vices, the vices of robbers
and bandits. But still the clergy had fallen far from the high
standard of earlier ages. Monasteries sought to be independent of
all foreign control and of episcopal jurisdiction. They had been
enormously enriched by princes and barons, and they owned, with the
other clergy, half the lands of Europe, and more than half its
silver and gold. The monks fattened on all the luxuries which then
were known; they neglected the rules of their order and lived in
idleness,--spending their time in the chase, or in taverns and
brothels. Hardly a great scholar or theologian had arisen among
them since the Patristic age, with the exception of a few schoolmen
like Anselm and Peter Lombard. Saint Bernard had not yet appeared
to reform the Benedictines, nor Dominic and Saint Francis to found
new orders. Gluttony and idleness were perhaps the characteristic
vices of the great body of the monks, who numbered over one hundred
thousand. Hunting and hawking were the most innocent of their
amusements. They have been accused of drinking toasts in honor of
the Devil, and celebrating Mass in a state of intoxication. "Not
one in a thousand," says Hallam, "could address to one another a
common letter of salutation." They were a walking libel on
everything sacred. Read the account of their banquets in the
annals which have come down to us of the tenth and eleventh
centuries, when convents were so numerous and rich. If Dugdale is
to be credited, their gluttony exceeded that of any previous or
succeeding age. Their cupidity, their drunken revels, their
infamous haunts, their disgusting coarseness, their hypocrisy,
ignorance, selfishness, and superstition were notorious. Yet the
monks were not worse than the secular clergy, high and low.
Bishoprics and all benefices were bought and sold; "canons were
trodden under foot; ancient traditions were turned out of doors;
old customs were laid aside;" boys were made archbishops; ludicrous
stories were recited in the churches; the most disgraceful crimes
were pardoned for money. Desolation, according to Cardinal
Baronius, was seen in the temples of the Lord. As Petrarch said of
Avignon in a better age, "There is no pity, no charity, no faith,
no fear of God. The air, the streets, the houses, the markets, the
beds, the hotels, the churches, even the altars consecrated to God,
are all peopled with knaves and liars;" or, to use the still
stronger language of a great reviewer, "The gates of hell appeared
to roll back on their infernal hinges, that there might go forth
malignant spirits to empty the vials of wrath on the patrimony even
of the great chief of the apostles."

These vices, it is true, were not confined to the clergy. All
classes were alike forlorn, miserable, and corrupt. It was a
gloomy period. The Church, whenever religious, was sad and
despairing. The contemplative hid themselves in noisome and
sepulchral crypts. The inspiring chants of Ambrose gave place to
gloomy and monotonous antiphonal singing,--that is, when the monks
confined themselves to their own vocation. What was especially
needed was a reform among the clergy themselves. They indeed owned
their allegiance to the Pope, as the supreme head of the Church,
but their fealty was becoming a mockery. They could not support
the throne of absolutism if they were not respected by the laity.
Baronial and feudal power was rapidly gaining over spiritual, and
this was a poor exchange for the power of the clergy, if it led to
violence and rapine. It is to maintain law and order, justice and
safety, that all governments are established.

Hildebrand saw and lamented the countless evils of the day,
especially those which were loosening the bands of clerical
obedience, and undermining the absolutism which had become the
great necessity of his age. He made up his mind to reform these
evils. No pope before him had seriously undertaken this gigantic
task. The popes who for two hundred years had preceded him were a
scandal and a reproach to their exalted position. These heirs of
Saint Peter wasted their patrimony in pleasures and pomps. At no
period of the papal history was the papal chair filled with such
bad or incompetent men. Of these popes two were murdered, five
were driven into exile, and four were deposed. Some were raised to
prominence by arms, and others by money. John X. commanded an army
in person; John XI. died in a fit of debauchery; and John XII. was
murdered by one of the infamous women whom he patronized. Benedict
IX. was driven from the throne by robbery and murder, while Gregory
VI. purchased the papal dignity. For two hundred years no
commanding character had worn the tiara.

Hildebrand, however, set a new example, and became a watchful
shepherd of his fold. His private life was without reproach; he
was absorbed in his duties; he sympathized with learning and
learned men. He was the friend of Lanfranc, and it was by his
influence that this great prelate was appointed to the See of
Canterbury, and a closer union was formed with England. He infused
by his example a quiet but noble courage into the soul of Anselm.
He had great faults, of course,--faults of his own and faults of
his age. I wonder why so STRONG a man has escaped the admiring
eulogium of Carlyle. Guizot compares him with the Russian Peter.
In some respects he reminds me of Oliver Cromwell; since both
equally deplored the evils of the day, and both invoked the aid of
God Almighty. Both were ambitious, and unhesitating in the use of
tools. Neither of them was stained by vulgar vices, nor seduced
from his course by love of ease or pleasure. Both are to be
contemplated in the double light of reformer and usurper. Both
were honest, and both were unscrupulous; honest in seeking to
promote public morality and the welfare of society, and
unscrupulous in the arts by which their power was gained.

That which filled the soul of Hildebrand with especial grief was
the alienation of the clergy from their highest duties, their
worldly lives, and their frail support in his efforts to elevate
the spiritual power. Therefore he determined to make a reform of
the clergy themselves, having in view all the time their assistance
in establishing the papal supremacy. He attacked the clergy where
they were weakest. They--the secular ones, the parish priests--
were getting married, especially in Germany and France. They were
setting at defiance the laws of celibacy; they not only sought
wives, but they lived in concubinage.

Now celibacy had been regarded as the supernal virtue from the time
of Saint Jerome. It was supposed to be a state most favorable to
Christian perfection; it animated the existence of the most noted
saints. Says Jerome, "Take axe in hand and hew down the sterile
tree of marriage." This notion of the superior virtue of virginity
was one of the fruits of those Eastern theogonies which were
engrafted on the early Church, growing out of the Oriental idea of
the inalienable evil of matter. It was one of the fundamental
principles of monasticism; and monasticism, wherever born--whether
in India or the Syrian deserts--was one of the established
institutions of the Church. It was indorsed by Benedict as well as
by Basil; it had taken possession of the minds of the Gothic
nations more firmly even than of the Eastern. The East never saw
such monasteries as those which covered Italy, France, Germany, and
England; they were more needed among the feudal robbers of Europe
than in the effeminate monarchies of Asia. Moreover it was in
monasteries that the popes had ever found their strongest
adherents, their most zealous supporters. Without the aid of
convents the papal empire might have crumbled. Monasticism and the
papacy were strongly allied; one supported the other. So efficient
were monastic institutions in advocating the idea of a theocracy,
as upheld by the popes, that they were exempted from episcopal
authority. An abbot was as powerful and independent as a bishop.
But to make the Papacy supreme it was necessary to call in the aid
of the secular priests likewise. Unmarried priests, being more
like monks, were more efficient supporters of the papal throne. To
maintain celibacy, therefore, was always in accordance with papal

But Nature had gradually asserted its claims over tradition and
authority. The clergy, especially in France and Germany, were
setting at defiance the edicts of popes and councils. The glory of
celibacy was in an eclipse.

No one comprehended the necessity of celibacy, among the clergy,
more clearly than Hildebrand,--himself a monk by education and
sympathy. He looked upon married life, with all its hallowed
beauty, as a profanation for a priest. In his eyes the clergy were
married only to the Church. "Domestic affections suited ill with
the duties of a theocratic ministry." Anything which diverted the
labors of the clergy from the Church seemed to him an outrage and a
degeneracy. How could they reach the state of beatific existence
if they were to listen to the prattle of children, or be engrossed
with the joys of conjugal or parental love? So he assembled a
council, and caused it to pass canons to the effect that married
priests should not perform any clerical office; that the people
should not even be present at Mass celebrated by them; that all who
had wives--or concubines, as he called them--should put them away;
and that no one should be ordained who did not promise to remain
unmarried during his whole life.

Of course there was a violent opposition. A great outcry was
raised, especially in Germany. The whole body of the secular
priests exclaimed against the proceeding. At Mentz they threatened
the life of the archbishop, who attempted to enforce the decree.
At Paris a numerous synod was assembled, in which it was voted that
Gregory ought not here to be obeyed. But Gregory was stronger than
his rebellious clergy,--stronger than the instincts of human
nature, stronger than the united voice of reason and Scripture. He
fell back on the majestic power of prevailing ideas, on the ascetic
element of the early Church, on the traditions of monastic life.
He was supported by more than a hundred thousand monks, by the
superstitions of primitive ages, by the example of saints and
martyrs, by his own elevated rank, by the allegiance due to him as
head of the Church. Excommunications were hurled, like
thunderbolts, into remotest hamlets, and the murmurs of indignant
Christendom were silenced by the awful denunciations of God's
supposed vicegerent. The clergy succumbed before such a terrible
spiritual force. The fear of hell--the great idea by which the
priests themselves controlled their flocks--was more potent than
any temporal good. What priest in that age would dare resist his
spiritual monarch on almost any point, and especially when
disobedience was supposed to entail the burnings of a physical hell
forever and ever? So celibacy was re-established as a law of the
Christian Church at the bidding of that far-seeing genius who had
devised the means of spiritual despotism. That law--so gloomy, so
unnatural, so fraught with evil--has never been repealed; it still
rules the Catholic priesthood of Europe and America. Nor will it
be repealed so long as the ideas of the Middle Ages have more force
than enlightened reason. It is an abominable law, but who can
doubt its efficacy in cementing the power of the popes?

But simony, or the sale of eeclesiastical benefices, was a still
more alarming evil to the mind of Gregory. It was the great
scandal of the Church and age. Here we honor the Pope for striving
to remove it. And yet its abolition was no easy thing. He came in
contact with the selfishness of barons and kings. He found it an
easier matter to take away the wives of priests than the purses of
princes. Priests who had vowed obedience might consent to the
repudiation of their wives, but would great temporal robbers part
with their spoils? The sale of benefices was one great source of
royal and baronial revenues. Bishoprics, once conferred for wisdom
and piety, had become prizes for the rapacious and ambitious.
Bishops and abbots were most frequently chosen from the ranks of
the great. Powerful Sees were the gifts of kings to their
favorites or families, or were bought by the wealthy; so that
worldly or incapable men were made overseers of the Church of
Christ. The clergy were in danger of being hopelessly secularized.
And the evil spread to the extremities of the clerical body. The
princes and barons were getting control of the Church itself.
Bishops often possessed a plurality of Sees. Children were
elevated to episcopal thrones. Sycophants, courtiers, jesters,
imbecile sons of princes, became great ecclesiastical dignitaries.
Who can wonder at the degeneracy of the clergy when they held their
cures at the hands of lay patrons, to whom they swore allegiance
for the temporalities of their benefices? Even the ring and the
crozier, the emblems of spiritual authority,--once received at the
hand of metropolitan archbishops alone,--were now bestowed by
temporal sovereigns, who claimed thereby fealty and allegiance; so
that princes had gradually usurped the old rights of the Church,
and Gregory resolved to recover them. So long as emperors and
kings could fill the rich bishoprics and abbacies with their
creatures, the papal dominion was weakened in its most vital point,
and might become a dream. This evil was rapidly undermining the
whole ecclesiastical edifice, and it required a hero of prodigious
genius, energy, and influence to reform it.

Hildebrand saw and comprehended the whole extent and bearing of the
evil, and resolved to remove it or die in the attempt. It was not
only undermining his throne, but was secularizing the Church and
destroying the real power of the clergy. He made up his mind to
face the difficulty in its most dreaded quarters. He knew that the
attempt to remove this scandal would entail a desperate conflict
with the princes of the earth. Before this, popes and princes were
generally leagued together; they played into each other's hands:
but now a battle was to be fought between the temporal and
spiritual powers. He knew that princes would never relinquish so
lucrative a source of profit as the sale of powerful Sees, unless
the right to sell them were taken away by some tremendous conflict.
He therefore prepared for the fight, and forged his weapons and
gathered together his forces. Nor would he waste time by idle
negotiations; it was necessary to act with promptness and vigor.
No matter how great the danger; no matter how powerful his enemies.
The Church was in peril; and he resolved to come to the rescue,
cost what it might. What was his life compared with the sale of
God's heritage? For what was he placed in the most exalted post of
the Church, if not to defend her in an alarming crisis?

In resolving to separate forever the spiritual from the temporal
power, Hildebrand followed in the footsteps of Ambrose. But he had
also deeper designs. He resolved to raise, if possible, the
spiritual ABOVE the temporal power. Kings should be subject to the
Church, not the Church to the kings of the earth. He believed that
he was the appointed vicar of the Almighty to rule the world in
peace, on the principles of eternal love; that Christ had
established a new theocracy, and had delegated his power to the
Apostle Peter, which had descended to the Pope as the Apostle's
legitimate successor.

I say nothing here of this colossal claim, of this ingenious
principle, on which the monarchical power of the Papacy rests. It
is the great fact of the Middle Ages. And yet, but for this
theocratic idea, it is difficult to see how the external unity of
the Church could have been preserved among the semi-barbarians of
Europe. And what a necessary thing it was--in ages of superstition,
ignorance, and anarchy--to preserve the unity of the Church, to
establish a spiritual power which should awe and control barbaric
princes! There are two sides to the supremacy of the popes as head
of the Church, when we consider the aspect and state of society in
those iron and lawless times. Would Providence have permitted such
a power to rule for a thousand years had it not been a necessity?
At any rate, this is too complicated a question for me to discuss.
It is enough for me to describe the conflict for principles, not to
attempt to settle them. In this matter I am not a partisan, but a
painter. I seek to describe a battle, not to defend either this
cause or that. I have my opinions, but this is no place to present
them. I seek to describe simply the great battle of the Middle
Ages, and you can draw your own conclusions as to the merits of the
respective causes. I present the battle of heroes,--a battle worthy
of the muse of Homer.

Hildebrand in this battle disdained to fight with any but great and
noble antagonists. As the friend of the poor man, crushed and
mocked by a cold and unfeeling nobility; as the protector of the
Church, in danger of being subverted by the unhallowed tyranny and
greed of princes; as the consecrated monarch of a great spiritual
fraternity,--he resolved to face the mightiest monarchs, and suffer,
and if need be die, for a cause which he regarded as the hope and
salvation of Europe. Therefore he convened another council, and
prohibited, under the terrible penalty of excommunication,--for that
was his mighty weapon,--the investiture of bishoprics and abbacies
at the hands of laymen: only he himself should give to ecclesiastics
the ring and the crozier,--the badges of spiritual authority. And
he equally threatened with eternal fire any bishop or abbot who
should receive his dignity from the hand of a prince.

This decree was especially aimed against the Emperor of Germany, to
whom, as liege lord, the Pope himself owed fealty and obedience.
Henry IV. was one of the mightiest monarchs of the Franconian
dynasty,--a great warrior and a great man, beloved by his subjects
and feared by the princes of Europe. But he, as well as Gregory,
was resolved to maintain the rights of his predecessors. He also
perceived the importance of the approaching contest. And what a
contest! The spiritual and temporal powers were now to be arrayed
against each other in a fierce antagonism. The apparent object of
contention changed. It was not merely simony; it was as to who
should be the supreme master of Germany and Italy, the emperor or
the pope. To whom, in the eyes of contemporaries, would victory
incline,--to the son of a carpenter, speaking in the name of the
Church, and holding in his hands the consecrated weapon of
excommunication; or the most powerful monarch of his age, armed
with the secular sword, and seeking to restore the dignity of Roman
emperors? The Pope is supported by the monks, the inferior clergy,
and the vast spiritual powers universally supposed to be delegated
to him by Christ, as the successor of Saint Peter; the Emperor is
supported by large feudal armies, and all the prestige of the
successors of Charlemagne. If the Pope appeals to an ancient
custom of the Church, the Emperor appeals to a general feudal
custom which required bishops and abbots to pay their homage to him
for the temporalities of their Sees. The Pope has the canons of
the Church on his side; the Emperor the laws of feudalism,--and
both the canons of the Church and feudal principles are binding
obligations. Hitherto they have not clashed. But now feudalism,
very generally established, and papal absolutism, rapidly
culminating, are to meet in angry collision. Shall the kings of
the earth prevail, assisted by feudal armies and outward grandeur,
and sustained by such powerful sentiments as loyalty and chivalry;
or shall a priest, speaking in the name of God Almighty, and
appealing to the future fears of men?

What conflict grander and more sublime than this, in the whole
history of society? What conflict proved more momentous in its

I need not trace all the steps of that memorable contest, or
describe the details, from the time that the Pope sent out his
edicts and excommunicated all who dared to disobey him,--including
some of the most eminent German prelates and German princes. Henry
at this time was engaged in a desperate war with the Saxons, and
Gregory seized this opportunity to summon the Emperor--his emperor--
to appear before him at Rome and answer for alleged crimes against
the Saxon Church. Was there ever such audacity? How could Henry
help giving way to passionate indignation; he--the successor of the
Roman Caesars, sovereign lord of Germany and Italy--summoned to the
bar of a priest, and that priest his own subject, in a temporal
sense? He was filled with wrath and defiance, and at once summoned
a council of German bishops at Worms, "who denounced the Pope as a
usurper, a simonist, a murderer, a worshipper of the Devil, and
pronounced upon him the empty sentence of a deposition."

"The aged Hildebrand," in the words of Stephen, "was holding a
council in the second week of Lent, 1076, beneath the sculptured
roof of the Vatican, arrayed in the rich and mystic vestments of
pontifical dominion, and the papal choir were chanting those
immortal anthems which had come down from blessed saints and
martyrs, when the messenger of the Emperor presented himself
before the assembled hierarchy of Rome, and with insolent
demeanor and abrupt speech delivered the sentence of the German
council." He was left unharmed by the indignant pontiff, but
the next day ascending his throne, and in presence of the
dignitaries of his Church, thus invoked the assistance of the
pretended founder of his empire:--

"Saint Peter! lend us your ears, and listen to your servant whom
you have cherished from his infancy; and all the saints also bear
witness how the Roman Church raised me by force and against my will
to this high dignity, although I should have preferred to spend my
days in a continual pilgrimage than to ascend thy pulpit for any
human motive. And inasmuch as I think it will be grateful to you
that those intrusted to my care should obey me; therefore,
supported by these hopes, and for the honor and defence of the
Church, in the name of the Omnipotent God,--Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost,--by my authority and power, I prohibit King Henry, who with
unheard-of pride has raised himself against your Church, from
governing the kingdoms of Germany and Italy; I absolve all
Christians from the oath they have taken to him, and I forbid all
men to yield to him that service which is due unto a king.
Finally, I bind him with the bonds of anathema, that all people may
know that thou art Peter, and that upon thee the Son of God hath
built His Church, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail."

This was an old-fashioned excommunication; and we in these days
have but a faint idea what a dreadful thing it was, especially when
accompanied with an interdict. The churches were everywhere shut;
the dead were unburied in consecrated ground; the rites of religion
were suspended; gloom and fear sat on every countenance; desolation
overspread the land. The king was regarded as guilty and damned;
his ministers looked upon him as a Samson shorn of his locks; his
very wife feared contamination from his society; his children, as a
man blasted with the malediction of Heaven. When a man was
universally supposed to be cursed in the house and in the field; in
the wood and in the church; in eating or drinking; in fasting or
sleeping; in working or resting; in his arms, in his legs, in his
heart, and in his head; living or dying; in this world and in the
next,--what could he do?

And what could Henry do, with all his greatness? His victorious
armies deserted him; a rival prince laid claim to his throne; his
enemies multiplied; his difficulties thickened; new dangers
surrounded him on every side. If loyalty--that potent principle--
had summoned one hundred thousand warriors to his camp, a principle
much more powerful than loyalty--the fear of hell--had dispersed
them. Even his friends joined the Pope. The sainted Agnes, his
own mother, acquiesced in the sentence. The Countess Matilda, the
richest lady in the world, threw all her treasures at the feet of
her spiritual monarch. The moral sentiments of his own subjects
were turned against him; he was regarded as justly condemned. The
great princes of Germany sought his deposition. The world rejected
him, the Church abandoned him, and God had forsaken him. He was
prostrate, helpless, disarmed, ruined. True, he made superhuman
efforts: he traversed his empire with the hope of rallying his
subjects; he flew from city to city,--but all in vain. Every
convent, every castle, every city of his vast dominions beheld in
him the visitation of the Almighty. The diadem was obscured by the
tiara, and loyalty itself yielded to the superior potency of
religious fear. Only Bertha, his neglected wife, was faithful and
trusting in that gloomy day; all else had defrauded and betrayed
him. How bitter his humiliation! And yet his haughty foe was not
contented with the punishment he had inflicted. He declared that
if the sun went down on the 23d of February, 1077, before Henry was
restored to the bosom of the Church, his crown should be
transferred to another. That inexorable old pontiff laid claim to
the right of giving and taking away imperial crowns. Was ever
before seen such arrogance and audacity in a Pope? And yet he knew
that he would be sustained, he knew that his supremacy was based on
a universally recognized idea. Who can resist the ideas of his
age? Henry might have resisted, if resistance had been possible.
Even he must yield to irresistible necessity. He was morally
certain that he would lose his crown, and be in danger of losing
his soul, unless he made his peace with his dangerous enemy. It
was necessary that the awful curse should be removed. He had no
remedy; only one course was before him. He must yield; not to man
alone, but to an idea, which had the force of fate. Wonder not
that he made up his mind to submit. He was great, but not greater
than his age. How few men are! Mohammed could renounce prevailing
idolatries; Luther could burn a papal bull; but the Emperor of
Germany could not resist the accepted vicegerent of the Almighty.

Behold, then, the melancholy, pitiable spectacle of this mighty
monarch in the depth of winter--and a winter of unprecedented
severity--crossing, in the garb of a pilgrim, the frozen Alps,
enduring the greatest privations and fatigues and perils, and
approaching on foot the gloomy fortress of Canossa (beyond the Po),
in which Hildebrand had intrenched himself. Even then the angry
pontiff refused to see him. Henry had to stoop to a still deeper
degradation,--to stand bareheaded and barefooted for three days,
amid the blasts of winter, in the court-yard of the castle, before
the Pope would promise absolution, and then only at the
intercession of the Countess Matilda.

What are we to think of such a fall, such a humiliation on the part
of a sovereign? What are we to think of such haughtiness on the
part of a priest,--his subject? We are filled with blended pity
and indignation. We are inclined to say that this was the greatest
blunder that any monarch ever made; that Henry--humbled and
deserted and threatened as he was--should not have stooped to this;
that he should have lost his crown and life rather than handed over
his empire to a plebeian priest,--for he was an acknowledged hero;
he was monarch of half of Europe. And yet we are bound to consider
Henry's circumstances and the ideas with which he had to contend.
His was the error of the Middle Ages; the feeblest of his modern
successors would have killed the Pope if he could, rather than have
disgraced himself by such an ignominy.

True it is that Henry came to himself; that he repented of his
step. But it was too late. Gregory had gained the victory; and it
was all the greater because it was a moral one. It was known to
all Europe and all the world, and would be known to all posterity,
that the Emperor of Germany had bowed in submission to a foreign
priest. The temporal power had yielded to the spiritual; the State
had conceded the supremacy of the Church. The Pope had triumphed
over the mightiest monarch of the age, and his successors would
place their feet over future prostrate kings. What a victory!
What mighty consequences were the result of it! On what a throne
did this moral victory seat the future pontiffs of the Eternal
City! How august their dominion, for it was over the minds and
souls of men! Truly to the Pope were given the keys of Heaven and
Hell; and so long as the ideas of that age were accepted, who could
resist a man armed with the thunders of Omnipotence?

It mattered nothing that the Emperor was ashamed of his weakness;
that he retracted; that he vowed vengeance; that he marched at the
head of new armies. No matter that his adherents were indignant;
that all Germany wept; that loyalty rallied to his aid; that he
gained victories proportionate with his former defeats; that he
chased Gregory from city to city, and castle to castle, and convent
to convent, while his generals burned the Pope's palaces and wasted
his territories. No matter that Gregory--broken, defeated,
miserable, outwardly ruined--died prematurely in exile; no matter
that he did not, in his great reverses, anticipate the fruits of
his firmness and heroism. His principles survived him; they have
never been lost sight of by his successors; they gained strength
through successive generations. Innocent III. reaped what he had
sown. Kings dared not resist Innocent III., who realized those
three things to which the more able Gregory had aspired,--
"independent sovereignty, control over the princes of the earth,
and the supremacy of the Church." Innocent was the greater pope,
but Hildebrand was the greater man.

Yet, like so many of the great heroes of the world, he was not
destined in his own person to reap the fruits of his heroism. "I
have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and therefore I die in
exile,"--these were his last bitter words. He fancied he had
failed. But did he fail? What did he leave behind? He left his
great example and his still greater ideas. He left a legacy to his
successors which makes them still potent on the earth, in spite of
reformations and revolutions, and all the triumphs of literature
and science. How mighty his deeds! How great his services to his
Church! "He found," says an eloquent and able Edinburgh reviewer,
"the papacy dependent on the emperor; he sustained it by alliances
almost commensurate with the Italian peninsula. He found the
papacy electoral by the Roman people and clergy; he left it
electoral by papal nomination. He found the emperor the virtual
patron of the Roman See; he wrenched that power from his hands. He
found the secular clergy the allies and dependents of the secular
power; he converted them into inalienable auxiliaries of his own.
He found the patronage of the Church the desecrated spoil and
merchandise of princes; he reduced it to his own dominion. He is
celebrated as the reformer of the impure and profane abuses of his
age; he is more justly entitled to the praise of having left the
impress of his gigantic character on all the ages which have
succeeded him."

Such was the great Hildebrand; a conqueror, however, by the force
of recognized ideas more than by his own strength. How long, you
ask, shall his empire last? We cannot tell who can predict the
fortunes of such a power. It is not for me to speculate or preach.
In considering his life and career, I have simply attempted to
paint one of the most memorable moral contests of the world; to
show the power of genius and will in a superstitious age,--and,
more, the majestic force of ideas over the minds and souls of men,
even though these ideas cannot be sustained by reason or Scripture.


Epistles of Gregory VII.; Baronius's Annals; Dupin's Ecclesiastical
history; Voigt, in his Hildebrand als Gregory VII.; Guizot's
Lectures on Civilization; Sir James Stephens's article on
Hildebrand, in Edinburgh Review; Dugdale's Mosasticon; Hallam's
Middle Ages; Digby's Ages of Faith; Jaffe's Regesta Pontificum
Romanorum; Mignet's series of articles on La Lutte des Papes contre
les Empereurs d'Allemagne; M. Villemain's Histoire de Gregoire
VII.; Bowden on the life and Times of Hildebrand; Milman's Latin
Christianity; Watterich's Romanorum Pontificum ab Aequalibus
Conscriptae; Platina's Lives of the Popes; Stubbs's Constitutional
History; Lee's History of Clerical Celibacy; Cardinal Newman's
Essays; Lecky's History of European Morals; Dr. Dollinger's Church
History; Neander's Church History; articles in Contemporary Review
of July and August, 1882, on the Turning Point of the Middle Ages.


A. D. 1091-1153.


One of the oldest institutions of the Church is that which grew out
of monastic life. It had its seat, at a remote period, in India.
It has existed, in different forms, in other Oriental countries.
It has been modified by Brahminical, Buddhistic, and Persian
theogonies, and extended to Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor. Go where
you will in the East, and you see traces of its mighty influence.
We cannot tell its remotest origin, but we see everywhere the force
of its ideas. Its fundamental principle appears to be the desire
to propitiate the Deity by penances and ascetic labors as an
atonement for sin, or as a means of rising to a higher religious
life. It has sought to escape the polluting influences of
demoralized society by lofty contemplation and retirement from the
world. From the first, it was a protest against materialism,
luxury, and enervating pleasures. It recognized something higher
and nobler than devotion to material gains, or a life of degrading

In one sense it was an intellectual movement, while in another it
was an insult to the human understanding. It attempted a purer
morality, but abnegated obvious and pressing duties. It was always
a contradiction,--lofty while degraded, seeking to comprehend the
profoundest mysteries, yet debased by puerile superstitions.

The consciousness of mankind, in all ages and countries, has ever
accepted retribution for sin--more or less permanent--in this world
or in the next. And it has equally accepted the existence of a
Supreme Intelligence and Power, to whom all are responsible, and in
connection with whom human destinies are bound up. The deeper we
penetrate into the occult wisdom of the East,--on which light has
been shed by modern explorations, monumental inscriptions,
manuscripts, historical records, and other things which science and
genius have deciphered,--the surer we feel that the esoteric
classes of India, Egypt, and China were more united in their views
of Supreme Power and Intelligence than was generally supposed fifty
years ago. The higher intellects of Asia, in all countries and
ages, had more lofty ideas of God than we have a right to infer
from the superstitions of the people generally. They had
unenlightened ideas as to the grounds of forgiveness. But of the
necessity of forgiveness and the favor of the Deity they had no

The philosophical opinions of these sages gave direction to a great
religious movement. Matter was supposed to be inherently evil, and
mind was thought to be inherently good. The seat of evil was
placed in the body rather than in the heart and mind. Not the
thoughts of men were evil, but the passions and appetites of the
body. Hence the first thing for a good man to do was to bring the
body--this seat of evil--under subjection, and, if possible, to
eradicate the passions and appetites which enslave the body; and
this was to be done by self-flagellations, penances, austerities,
and solitude,--flight from the contaminating influences of the
world. All Oriental piety assumed this ascetic form. The
transition was easy to the sundering of domestic ties, to the
suppression of natural emotions and social enjoyments. The devotee
became austere, cold, inhuman, unsocial. He shunned the
habitations of men. And the more desirous he was to essay a high
religious life and thus rise in favor with God, the more severe and
revengeful and unforgiving he made the Deity he adored,--not a
compassionate Creator and Father, but an irresistible Power bent on
his destruction. This degrading view of the Deity, borrowed from
Paganism, tinged the subsequent theology of the Christian monks,
and entered largely into the theology of the Middle Ages.

Such was the prevailing philosophy, or theosophy--both lofty and
degraded--with which the Christian convert had to contend; not
merely the shameless vices of the people, so open and flagrant as
to call out disgust and indignation, but also the views which the
more virtuous and religious of Pagan saints accepted and
promulgated: and not saints alone, but those who made the greatest
pretension to intellectual culture, like the Gnostics and
Manicheans; those men who were the first to ensnare Saint
Augustine,--specious, subtle, sophistical, as acute as the Brahmins
of India. It was Eastern philosophy, unquestionably false, that
influenced the most powerful institution that existed in Europe for
above a thousand years,--an institution which all the learning and
eloquence of the Reformers of the sixteenth century could not
subvert, except in Protestant countries.

Now what, more specifically, were the ideas which the early monks
borrowed from India, Persia, and Egypt, which ultimately took such
a firm hold of the European mind?

One was the superior virtue of a life devoted to purely religious
contemplation, and for the same end that animated the existence of
fakirs and sofis. It was to escape the contaminating influence of
matter, to rise above the wants of the body, to exterminate animal
passions and appetites, to hide from a world which luxury
corrupted. The Christian recluses were thus led to bury themselves
in cells among the mountains and deserts, in dreary and
uncomfortable caverns, in isolated retreats far from the habitation
of men,--yea, among wild beasts, clothing themselves in their skins
and eating their food, in order to commune with God more
effectually, and propitiate His favor. Their thoughts were
diverted from the miseries which they ought to have alleviated and
the ignorance which they ought to have removed, and were
concentrated upon themselves, not upon their relatives and
neighbors. The cries of suffering humanity were disregarded in a
vain attempt to practise doubtful virtues. How much good those
pious recluses might have done, had their piety taken a more
practical form! What missionaries they might have made, what self-
denying laborers in the field of active philanthropy, what noble
teachers to the poor and miserable! The conversion of the world to
Christianity did not enter into their minds so much as the desire
to swell the number of their communities. They only aimed at a
dreamy pietism,--at best their own individual salvation, rather
than the salvation of others. Instead of reaching to the beatific
vision, they became ignorant, narrow, and visionary; and, when
learned, they fought for words and not for things. They were
advocates of subtile and metaphysical distinctions in theology,
rather than of those practical duties and simple faith which
primitive Christianity enjoined. Monastic life, no less than the
schools of Alexandria, was influential in creating a divinity which
gave as great authority to dogmas that are the result of
intellectual deductions, as those based on direct and original
declarations. And these deductions were often gloomy, and colored
by the fears which were inseparable from a belief in divine wrath
rather than divine love. The genius of monasticism, ancient and
modern, is the propitiation of the Divinity who seeks to punish
rather than to forgive. It invented Purgatory, to escape the awful
burnings of an everlasting hell of physical sufferings. It
pervaded the whole theology of the Middle Ages, filling hamlet and
convent alike with an atmosphere of fear and wrath, and creating a
cruel spiritual despotism. The recluse, isolated and lonely,
consumed himself with phantoms, fancied devils, and "chimeras
dire." He could not escape from himself, although he might fly
from society. As a means of grace he sought voluntary solitary
confinement, without nutritious food or proper protection from the
heat and cold, clad in a sheepskin filled with dirt and vermin.
What life could be more antagonistic to enlightened reason? What
mistake more fatal to everything like self-improvement, culture,
knowledge, happiness? And all for what? To strive after an
impossible perfection, or the solution of insoluble questions, or
the favor of a Deity whose attributes he misunderstood.

But this unnatural, unwise retirement was not the worst evil in the
life of a primitive monk, with all its dreamy contemplation and
silent despair. It was accompanied with the most painful
austerities,--self-inflicted scourgings, lacerations, dire
privations, to propitiate an angry deity, or to bring the body into
a state which would be insensible to pain, or to exorcise passions
which the imaginations inflamed. All this was based on penance,--
self-expiation,--which entered so largely into the theogonies of
the East, and which gave a gloomy form to the piety of the Middle
Ages. This error was among the first to kindle the fiery protests
of Luther. The repudiation of this error, and of its logical
sequences, was one of the causes of the Reformation. This error
cast its dismal shadow on the common life of the Middle Ages. You
cannot penetrate the spirit of those centuries without a painful
recognition of almost universal darkness and despair. How gloomy
was a Gothic church before the eleventh century, with its dark and
heavy crypt, its narrow windows, its massive pillars, its low roof,
its cold, damp pavement, as if men went into that church to hide
themselves and sing mournful songs,--the Dies Irae of monastic

But the primitive monks, with all their lofty self-sacrifices and
efforts for holy meditation, towards the middle of the fourth
century, as their number increased from the anarchies and miseries
of a falling empire, became quarrelsome, sometimes turbulent, and
generally fierce and fanatical. They had to be governed. They
needed some master mind to control them, and confine them to their
religious duties. Then arose Basil, a great scholar, and
accustomed to civilized life in the schools of Athens and
Constantinople, who gave rules and laws to the monks, gathered them
into communities and discouraged social isolation, knowing that the
demons had more power over men when they were alone and idle.

This Basil was an extraordinary man. His ancestors were honorable
and wealthy. He moved in the highest circle of social life, like
Chrysostom. He was educated in the most famous schools. He
travelled extensively like other young men of rank. His tutor was
the celebrated Libanius, the greatest rhetorician of the day. He
exhausted Antioch, Caesarea, and Constantinople, and completed his
studies at Athens, where he formed a famous friendship with Gregory
Nazianzen, which was as warm and devoted as that between Cicero and
Atticus: these young men were the talk and admiration of Athens.
Here, too, he was intimate with young Julian, afterwards the
"Apostate" Emperor of Rome. Basil then visited the schools of
Alexandria, and made the acquaintance of the great Athanasius, as
well as of those monks who sought a retreat amid Egyptian
solitudes. Here his conversion took place, and he parted with his
princely patrimony for the benefit of the poor. He then entered
the Church, and was successively ordained deacon and priest, while
leading a monastic life. He retired among the mountains of
Armenia, and made choice of a beautiful grove, watered with crystal
streams, where he gave himself to study and meditation. Here he
was joined by his friend Gregory Nazianzen and by enthusiastic
admirers, who formed a religious fraternity, to whom he was a
spiritual father. He afterwards was forced to accept the great See
of Caesarea, and was no less renowned as bishop and orator than he
had been as monk. Yet it is as a monk that he left the most
enduring influence, since he made the first great change in
monastic life,--making it more orderly, more industrious, and less

He instituted or embodied, among others, the three great vows,
which are vital to monastic institutions,--Poverty, Obedience, and
Chastity. In these vows he gave the institution a more Christian
and a less Oriental aspect. Monachism became more practical and
less visionary and wild. It approximated nearer to the Christian
standard. Submission to poverty is certainly a Christian virtue,
if voluntary poverty is not. Chastity is a cardinal duty.
Obedience is a necessity to all civilized life. It is the first
condition of all government.

Moreover, these three vows seem to have been called for by the
condition of society, and the prevalence of destructive views.
Here Basil,--one of the commanding intellects of his day, and as
learned and polished as he was pious,--like Jerome after him,
proved himself a great legislator and administrator, including in
his comprehensive view both Christian principles and the
necessities of the times, and adapting his institution to both.

One of the most obvious, flagrant, and universal evils of the day
was devotion to money-making in order to purchase sensual
pleasures. It pervaded Roman life from the time of Augustus. The
vow of poverty, therefore, was a stern, lofty, disdainful protest
against the most dangerous and demoralizing evil of the Empire. It
hurled scorn, hatred, and defiance on this overwhelming evil, and
invoked the aid of Christianity. It was simply the earnest
affirmation and belief that money could not buy the higher joys of
earth, and might jeopardize the hopes of heaven. It called to mind
the greatest examples; it showed that the great teachers of
mankind, the sages and prophets of history, had disdained money as
the highest good; that riches exposed men to great temptation, and
lowered the standard of morality and virtue,--"how hardly shall
they who have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" It appealed
to the highest form of self-sacrifice; it arrayed itself against a
vice which was undermining society. And among truly Christian
people this new application of Christ's warnings against the
dangers of wealth excited enthusiasm. It was like enlisting in the
army of Christ against his greatest enemies. Make any duty clear
and imperious to Christian people, and they will generally conform
to it. So the world saw one of the most impressive spectacles of
all history,--the rich giving up their possessions to follow the
example and injunctions of Christ. It was the most signal test of
Christian obedience. It prompted Paula, the richest lady of
Christian antiquity, to devote the revenues of an entire city,
which she owned, to the cause of Christ; and the approbation of
Jerome, her friend, was a sufficient recompense.

The vow of Chastity was equally a protest against one of the
characteristic vices of the day, as well as a Christian virtue.
Luxury and pleasure-seeking lives had relaxed the restraints of
home and the virtues of earlier days. The evils of concubinage
were shameless and open throughout the empire, which led to a low
estimate of female virtue and degraded the sex. The pagan poets
held up woman as a subject of scorn and scarcasm. On no subject
were the apostles more urgent in their exhortations than to a life
of purity. To no greater temptation were the converts to
Christianity subjected than the looseness of prevailing sentiments
in reference to this vice. It stared everybody in the face. Basil
took especial care to guard the monks from this prevailing
iniquity, and made chastity a transcendent and fundamental virtue.
He aimed to remove the temptation to sin. The monks were enjoined
to shun the very presence of women. If they carried the system of
non-intercourse too far, and became hard and unsympathetic, it was
to avoid the great scandal of the age,--a still greater evil. To
the monk was denied even the blessing of the marriage ties.
Celibacy became a fundamental law of monachism. It was not to
cement a spiritual despotism that Basil forbade marriage, but to
attain a greater sanctity,--for a monk was consecrated to what was
rightly held the higher life. This law of celibacy was abused, and
gradually was extended to all the clergy, secular as well as
regular, but not till the clergy were all subordinated to the rule
of an absolute Pope. It is the fate of all human institutions to
become corrupt; but no institution of the Church has been so
fatally perverted as that pertaining to the marriage of the clergy.
Founded to promote purity of personal life, it was used to uphold
the arms of spiritual despotism. It was the policy of Hildebrand.

The vow of Obedience, again, was made in special reference to the
disintegration of society, when laws were feebly enforced and a
central power was passing away. The discipline even of armies was
relaxed. Mobs were the order of the day, even in imperial cities.
Moreover, monks had long been insubordinate; they obeyed no head,
except nominally; they were with difficulty ruled in their
communities. Therefore obedience was made a cardinal virtue, as
essential to the very existence of monastic institutions. I need
not here allude to the perversion of this rule,--how it degenerated
into a fearful despotism, and was made use of by ambitious popes,
and finally by the generals of the Mendicant Friars and the
Jesuits. All the rules of Basil were perverted from their original
intention; but in his day they were called for.

About a century later the monastic system went through another
change or development, when Benedict, a remarkable organizer,
instituted on Monte Cassino, near Naples, his celebrated monastery
(529 A. D.), which became the model of all the monasteries of the
West. He reaffirmed the rules of Basil, but with greater
strictness. He gave no new principles to monastic life; but he
adapted it to the climate and institutions of the newly founded
Gothic kingdoms of Europe. It became less Oriental; it was made
more practical; it was invested with new dignity. The most
visionary and fanatical of all the institutions of the East was
made useful. The monks became industrious. Industry was
recognized as a prime necessity even for men who had retired from
the world. No longer were the labors of monks confined to the
weaving of baskets, but they were extended to the comforts of
ordinary life,--to the erection of stately buildings, to useful
arts, the systematic cultivation of the land, to the accumulation
of wealth,--not for individuals, but for their monasteries.
Monastic life became less dreamy, less visionary, but more useful,
recognizing the bodily necessities of men. The religious duties of
monks were still dreary, monotonous, and gloomy,--long and
protracted singing in the choir, incessant vigils, an unnatural
silence at the table, solitary walks in the cloister, the absence
of social pleasures, confinement to the precincts of their
convents; but their convents became bee-hives of industry, and
their lands were highly cultivated. The monks were hospitable;
they entertained strangers, and gave a shelter to the persecuted
and miserable. Their monasteries became sacred retreats, which
were respected by those rude warriors who crushed beneath their
feet the glories of ancient civilization. Nor for several
centuries did the monks in their sacred enclosures give especial
scandal. Their lives were spent in labors of a useful kind,
alternated and relieved by devotional duties.

Hence they secured the respect and favor of princes and good men,
who gave them lands and rich presents of gold and silver vessels.
Their convents were unmolested and richly endowed, and these became
enormously multiplied in every European country. Gradually they
became so rich as to absorb the wealth of nations. Their abbots
became great personages, being chosen from the ranks of princes and
barons. The original poverty and social insignificance of
monachism passed away, and the institution became the most powerful
organization in Europe. It then aspired to political influence,
and the lord abbots became the peers of princes and the ministers
of kings. Their abbey churches, especially, became the wonder and
the admiration of the age, both for size and magnificence. The
abbey church of Cluny, in Burgundy, was five hundred and thirty
feet long, and had stalls for two hundred monks. It had the
appointment of one hundred and fifty parish priests. The church of
Saint Albans, in England, is said to have been six hundred feet
long; and that of Glastonbury, the oldest in England, five hundred
and thirty. Peterborough's was over five hundred. The kings of
England, both Saxon and Norman, were especial patrons of these
religious houses. King Edgar founded forty-seven monasteries and
richly endowed them; Henry I. founded one hundred and fifty; and
Henry II. as many more. At one time there were seven hundred
Benedictine abbeys in England, some of which were enormously rich,--
like those of Westminster, St. Albans, Glastonbury, and Bury St.
Edmunds,--and their abbots were men of the highest social and
political distinction. They sat in Parliament as peers of the
realm; they coined money, like feudal barons; they lived in great
state and dignity. The abbot of Monte Cassino was duke and prince,
and chancellor of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This celebrated
convent had the patronage of four bishoprics, sixteen hundred and
sixty-two churches, and possessed or controlled two hundred and
fifty castles, four hundred and forty towns, and three hundred and
thirty-six manors. Its revenues exceeded five hundred thousand
ducats, so that the lord-abbot was the peer of the greatest secular
princes. He was more powerful and wealthy, probably, than any
archbishop in Europe. One of the abbots of St. Gall entered
Strasburg with one thousand horsemen in his train. Whiting, of
Glastonbury, entertained five hundred people of fashion at one
time, and had three hundred domestic servants. "My vow of
poverty," said another of these lordly abbots,--who generally rode
on mules with gilded bridles and with hawks on their wrists,--"has
given me ten thousand crowns a year; and my vow of obedience has
raised me to the rank of a sovereign prince."

Among the privileges of these abbots was exemption from taxes and
tolls; they were judges in the courts; they had the execution of
all rents, and the supreme control of the income of the abbey
lands. The revenues of Westminster and Glastonbury were equal to
half a million of dollars a year in our money, considering the
relative value of gold and silver. Glastonbury owned about one
thousand oxen, two hundred and fifty cows, and six thousand sheep.
Fontaine abbey possessed forty thousand acres of land. The abbot
of Augia, in Germany, had a revenue of sixty thousand crowns,--
several millions, as money is now measured. At one time the monks,
with the other clergy, owned half of the lands of Europe. If a
king was to be ransomed, it was they who furnished the money; if
costly gifts were to be given to the Pope, it was they who made
them. The value of the vessels of gold and silver, the robes and
copes of silk and velvet, the chalices, the altar-pieces, and the
shrines enriched with jewels, was inestimable. The feasts which
the abbots gave were almost regal. At the installation of the
abbot of St. Augustine, at Canterbury, there were consumed fifty-
eight tuns of beer, eleven tuns of wine, thirty-one oxen, three
hundred pigs, two hundred sheep, one thousand geese, one thousand
capons, six hundred rabbits, nine thousand eggs, while the guests
numbered six thousand people. Of the various orders of the
Benedictines there have been thirty-seven thousand monasteries and
one hundred and fifty thousand abbots. From the monks, twenty-one
thousand have been chosen as bishops and archbishops, and twenty-
eight have been elevated to the papal throne.

From these things, and others which may seem too trivial to
mention, we infer the great wealth and power of monastic
institutions, the most flourishing days of which were from the
sixth century to the Crusades, beginning in the eleventh, when more
than one hundred thousand monks acknowledged the rule of Saint
Benedict. During this period of prosperity, when the vast abbey
churches were built, and when abbots were great temporal as well as
spiritual magnates, quite on an equality with the proudest feudal
barons, we notice a marked decline in the virtues which had
extorted the admiration of Europe. The Benedictines retained their
original organization, they were bound by the same vows (as
individuals, the monks were always poor), they wore the same dress,
as they did centuries before, and they did not fail in their duties
in the choir,--singing their regular chants from two o'clock in the
morning. But discipline was relaxed; the brothers strayed into
unseemly places; they indulged in the pleasures of the table; they
were sensual in their appearance; they were certainly ignorant, as
a body; and they performed more singing than preaching or teaching.
They lived for themselves rather than for the people. They however
remained hospitable to the last. Their convents were hotels as
well as bee-hives; any stranger could remain two nights at a
convent without compensation and without being questioned. The
brothers dined together at the refectory, according to the rules,
on bread, vegetables, and a little meat; although it was noticed
that they had a great variety in cooking eggs, which were turned
and roasted and beaten up, and hardened and minced and fried and
stuffed. It is said that subsequently they drank enormous
quantities of beer and wine, and sometimes even to disgraceful
excess. Their rules required them to keep silence at their meals;
but their humanity got the better of them, and they have been
censured for their hilarious and frivolous conversation,--for jests
and stories and puns. Bernard accused the monks of degeneracy, of
being given to the pleasures of the table, of loving the good
things which they professed to scorn,--rare fish, game, and
elaborate cookery.

That the monks sadly degenerated in morals and discipline, and even
became objects of scandal, is questioned by no respectable
historian. No one was more bitter and vehement in his denunciations
of this almost universal corruption of monastic life than Saint
Bernard himself,--the impersonation of an ideal monk. Hence reforms
were attempted; and the Cluniacs and Cistercians and other orders
arose, modelled after the original institution on Monte Cassino.
These were only branches of the Benedictines. Their vows and habits
and duties were the same. It would seem that the prevailing vices
of the Benedictines, in their decline, were those which were
fostered by great wealth, and consequent idleness and luxury. But
at their worst estate the monks, or regular clergy, were no worse
than the secular clergy, or parish priests, in their ordinary lives,
and were more intelligent,--at least more learned. The ignorance of
the secular clergy was notorious and scandalous. They could not
even write letters of common salutation; and what little knowledge
they had was extolled and exaggerated. It was confined to the
acquisition of the Psalter by heart, while a little grammar,
writing, and accounts were regarded as extraordinary. He who could
write a few homilies, drawn from the Fathers, was a wonder and a
prodigy. There was a total absence of classical literature.

But the Benedictines, idle and worldly as they were, guarded what
little literature had escaped the ruin of the ancient civilization.
They gave the only education the age afforded. There was usually a
school attached to every convent, and manual labor was shortened in
favor of students. Nor did the monks systematically and
deliberately shut the door of knowledge against those inclined to
study, for at that time there was no jealousy of learning; there
was only indifference to it, or want of appreciation. The age was
ignorant, and life was hard, and the struggle for existence
occupied the thoughts of all. The time of the monks was consumed
in alternate drudgeries and religious devotions. There was such a
general intellectual torpor that scholars (and these were very few)
were left at liberty to think and write as they pleased on the
great questions of theology. There was such a general unanimity of
belief, that the popes were not on the look-out for heresy. Nobody
thought of attacking their throne. There was no jealousy about the
reading of the Scriptures. Every convent had a small library,
mostly composed of Lives of the saints, and of devout meditations
and homilies; and the Bible was the greatest treasure of all,--the
Vulgate of Saint Jerome, which was copied and illuminated by busy
hands. In spite of the general ignorance, the monks relieved their
dull lives by some attempts at art. This was the age of the most
beautiful illuminated manuscripts. There was but little of
doctrinal controversy, for the creed of the Church was settled; but
pious meditations and the writings of noted saints were studied and
accepted,--especially the works of Saint Augustine, who had fixed
the thinking of the West for a thousand years. Pagan literature
had but little charm until Aristotle was translated by Arabian
scholars. The literature of the Church was puerile and
extravagant, yet Christian,--consisting chiefly of legends of
martyrs and Lives of saints. That literature has no charm to us,
and can never be revived, indeed is already forgotten and
neglected, as well it may be; but it gave unity to Christian
belief, and enthroned the Christian heroes on the highest pedestal
of human greatness. In the monasteries some one of the fraternity
read aloud these Lives and Meditations, while the brothers worked
or dined. There was no discussion, for all thought alike; and all
sought to stimulate religious emotions rather than to quicken
intellectual activity.

About half the time of the monks, in a well-regulated monastery,
was given to singing and devotional exercises and religious
improvement, and the other half to labors in the fields, or in
painting or musical composition. So far as we know, the monks
lived in great harmony, and were obedient to the commands of their
superiors. They had a common object to live for, and had few
differences in opinion on any subject. They did not enjoy a high
life, but it was free from distracting pleasures. They held to
great humility, with which spiritual pride was mingled,--not the
arrogant pride of the dialectician, but the self-satisfied pride of
the devotee. There was no religious hatred, except towards Turks
and Saracens. The monk, in his narrowness and ignorance, may be
repulsive to an enlightened age: he was not repulsive to his own,
for he was not behind it either in his ideas or in his habits of
life. In fact, the more repulsive the monk of the dark ages is to
this generation, the more venerated he was by bishops and barons
seven hundred years ago; which fact leads us to infer that the
degenerate monk might be to us most interesting when he was most
condemned by the reformers of his day, since he was more humane,
genial, and free than his brethren, chained to the rigid discipline
of his convent. Even a Friar Tuck is not so repulsive to us as an
unsocial, austere, narrow-minded, and ignorant fanatic of the
eleventh century.

But the monks were not to remain forever imprisoned in the castles
of ignorance and despair. With the opening of the twelfth century
light began to dawn upon the human mind. The intellectual monk,
long accustomed to devout meditations, began to speculate on those
subjects which had occupied his thoughts,--on God and His
attributes, on the nature and penalty of sin, on redemption, on the
Saviour, on the power of the will to resist evil, and other
questions that had agitated the early Fathers of the Church. Then
arose such men as Erigena, Roscelin, Berenger, Lanfranc, Anselm,
Bernard, and others,--all more or less orthodox, but inquiring and
intellectual. It was within the walls of the cloister that the
awakening began and the first impulse was given to learning and
philosophy. The abbey of Bec, in Normandy, was the most
distinguished of new intellectual centres, while Clairvaux and
other princely abbeys had inmates as distinguished for meditative
habits as for luxury and pride.

It was at this period, when the convents of Europe rejoiced in
ample possessions, and their churches rivalled cathedrals in size
and magnificence, and their abbots were lords and princes,--the
palmy age of monastic institutions, chiefly of the Benedictine
order,--that Saint Bernard, the greatest and best representative of
Mediaeval monasticism, was born, 1091, at Fontaine, in Burgundy.
He belonged to a noble family. His mother was as remarkable as
Monica or Nonna. She had six sons and a daughter, whom she early
consecrated to the Lord. Bernard was the third son. Like Luther,
he was religiously inclined from early youth, and panted for
monastic seclusion. At the age of twenty-three he entered the new
monastery at Citeaux, which had been founded a few years before by
Stephen Harding, an English saint, who revived the rule of Saint
Benedict with still greater strictness, and was the founder of the
Cistercian order,--a branch of the Benedictines. He entered this
gloomy retreat, situated amid marshes and morasses, with no outward
attractions like Cluny, but unhealthy and miserably poor,--the
dreariest spot, perhaps, in Burgundy; and he entered at the head of
thirty young men, of the noble class, among whom were four of his
brothers who had been knights, and who presented themselves to the
abbot as novices, bent on the severest austerities that human
nature could support.

Bernard himself was a beautiful, delicate, refined young man,--
tall, with flaxen hair, fair complexion, blue eyes from which shone
a superhuman simplicity and purity. His noble birth would have
opened to him the highest dignities of the Church, but he sought
only to bear the yoke of Christ, and to be nailed to the cross; and
he really became a common laborer wrapped in a coarse cowl, digging
ditches and planting fields,--for such were the labors of the monks
of Citeaux when not performing their religious exercises. But his
disposition was as beautiful as his person, and he soon won the
admiration of his brother monks, as he had won the affection of the
knights of Burgundy. Such was his physical weakness that "nearly
everything he took his stomach rejected;" and such was the rigor of
his austerities that he destroyed the power of appetite. He could
scarcely distinguish oil from wine. He satisfied his hunger with
the Bible and quenched his thirst with prayer. In three years he
became famous as a saint, and was made Abbot of Clairvaux,--a new
Cistercian convent, in a retired valley which had been a nest of

But his intellect was as remarkable as his piety, and his monastery
became not only a model of monastic life to which flocked men from
all parts of Europe to study its rules, but the ascetic abbot
himself became an oracle on all the questions of the day. So great
was his influence that when he died, in 1153, he left behind one
hundred and sixty monasteries formed after his model. He became the
counsellor of kings and nobles, bishops and popes. He was summoned
to attend councils and settle quarrels. His correspondence exceeded
that of Jerome or Saint Augustine. He was sought for as bishop in
the largest cities of France and Italy. He ruled Europe by the
power of learning and sanctity. He entered into all the theological
controversies of the day. He was the opponent of Abelard, whose
condemnation he secured. He became a great theologian and
statesman, as well as churchman. He incited the princes of Europe
to a new crusade. His eloquence is said to have been marvellous;
even the tones of his voice would melt to pity or excite to rage.
With a long neck, like that of Cicero, and a trembling, emaciated
frame, he preached with passionate intensity. Nobody could resist
his eloquence. He could scarcely stand upright from weakness, yet
he could address ten thousand men. He was an outspoken man, and
reproved the greatest dignitaries with as much boldness as did
Savonarola. He denounced the gluttony of monks, the avarice of
popes, and the rapacity of princes. He held heresy in mortal
hatred, like the Fathers of the fifth century. His hostility to
Abelard was direful, since he looked upon him as undermining
Christianity and extinguishing faith in the world. In his defence
of orthodoxy he was the peer of Augustine or Athanasius. He
absolutely abhorred the Mohammedans as the bitterest foes of
Christendom,--the persecutors of pious pilgrims. He wandered over
Europe preaching a crusade. He renounced the world, yet was
compelled by the unanimous voice of his contemporaries to govern the
world. He gave a new impulse to the order of Knights Templars. He
was as warlike as he was humble. He would breathe the breath of
intense hostility into the souls of crusaders, and then hasten back
to the desolate and barren country in which Clairvaux was situated,
rebuild his hut of leaves and boughs, and soothe his restless spirit
with the study of the Song of Songs. Like his age, and like his
institution, he was a great contradiction. The fiercest and most
dogmatic of controversialists was the most gentle and loving of
saints. His humanity was as marked as his fanaticism, and nothing
could weaken it,--not even the rigors of his convent life. He wept
at the sorrows of all who sought his sympathy or advice. On the
occasion of his brother's death he endeavored to preach a sermon on
the Canticles, but broke down as Jerome did at the funeral of Paula.
He kept to the last the most vivid recollection of his mother; and
every night, before he went to bed, he recited the seven Penitential
Psalms for the benefit of her soul.

In his sermons and exhortations Bernard dwelt equally on the wrath
of God and the love of Christ. Said he to a runaway Cistercian,
"Thou fearest watchings, fasts, and manual labor, but these are
light to one who thinks on eternal fire. The remembrance of the
outer darkness takes away all horror from solitude. Place before
thine eyes the everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth, the fury
of those flames which can never be extinguished" (the essence of
the theology of the Middle Ages,--the fear of Hell, of a physical
and eternal Hell of bodily torments, by which fear those ages were
controlled). Bernard, the loveliest impersonation of virtue which
those ages saw, was not beyond their ideas. He impersonated them,
and therefore led the age and became its greatest oracle. The
passive virtues of the Sermon on the Mount were united with the
fiercest passions of religious intolerance and the most repulsive
views of divine vengeance. That is the soul of monasticism, even
as reformed by Harding, Alberic, and Bernard in the twelfth
century,--less human than in the tenth century, yet more

The monks of Citeaux, of Morimond, of Pontigny, of Clairvaux, amid
the wastes of a barren country, with their white habits and
perpetual vigils and haircloth shirts and root dinners and hard
labors in the field were yet the counsellors and ministers of kings
and the creators of popes, and incited the nations to the most
bloody and unfortunate wars in the whole history of society,--I
mean the Crusades. Some were great intellectual giants, yet all
repelled scepticism as life repels death; all dwelt on the
sufferings of the cross as a door through which the penitent and
believing could surely enter heaven, yet based the justice of the
infinite Father of Love on what, when it appeals to consciousness,
seems to be the direst injustice. We cannot despise the Middle
Ages, which produced such beatific and exalted saints, but we pity
those dismal times when the great mass of the people had so little
pleasure and comfort in this life, and such gloomy fears of the
world to come; when life was made a perpetual sacrifice and
abnegation of all the pleasures that are given us to enjoy,--to use
and not to pervert. Hence monasticism was repulsive, even in its
best ages, to enlightened reason, and fatal to all progress among
nations, although it served a useful purpose when men were governed
by fear alone, and when violence and strife and physical discomfort
and ignorance and degrading superstitions covered the fairest
portion of the earth with a funereal pall for more than a thousand

The thirteenth century saw a new development of monastic
institutions in the creation of the Mendicant Friars,--especially
the Dominicans and Franciscans,--monks whose mission it was to
wander over Europe as preachers, confessors, and teachers. The
Benedictines were too numerous, wealthy, and corrupt to be
reformed. They had become a scandal; they had lost the confidence
of good men. There were needed more active partisans of the Pope
to sustain his authority; the new universities required abler
professors; the cities sought more popular preachers; the great
desired more intelligent confessors. The Crusades had created a
new field of enterprise, and had opened to the eye of Europe a
wider horizon of knowledge. The universities which had grown up
around the cathedral schools had kindled a spirit of inquiry.
Church architecture had become lighter, more cheerful, and more
symbolic. The Greek philosophy had revealed a new method. The
doctrines of the Church, if they did not require a new system, yet
needed, or were supposed to need, the aid of philosophy, for the
questions which the schoolmen discussed were so subtile and
intricate that only the logic of Aristotle could make them clear.

Now the Mendicant orders entered with a zeal which has never been
equalled, except by the Jesuits, into all the inquiries of the
schools, and kindled a new religious life among the people, like
the Methodists of the last century. They were somewhat similar to
the Temperance reformers of the last fifty years. They were
popular, zealous, intelligent, and religious. So great were their
talents and virtues that they speedily spread over Europe, and
occupied the principal pulpits and the most important chairs in the
universities. Bonaventura, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and
Duns Scotus were the great ornaments of these new orders. Their
peculiarity--in contrast with the old orders--was, that they
wandered from city to city and village to village at the command of
their superiors. They had convents, like the other monks; but they
professed absolute poverty, went barefooted, and submitted to
increased rigors. Their vows were essentially those of the
Benedictines. In less than a century, however, they too had
degenerated, and were bitterly reproached for their vagabond habits
and the violation of their vows. Their convents had also become
rich, like those of the Benedictines. It was these friars whom
Chaucer ridiculed, and against whose vices Wyclif declaimed. Yet
they were retained by the popes for their services in behalf of
ecclesiastical usurpation. It was they who were especially chosen
to peddle indulgences. Their history is an impressive confirmation
of the tendency of all human institutions to degenerate. It would
seem that the mission of the Benedictines had been accomplished in
the thirteenth century, and that of the Dominicans and Franciscans
in the fourteenth.

But monasticism, in any of its forms, ceased to have a salutary
influence on society when the darkness of the Middle Ages was
dispersed. It is peculiarly a Mediaeval institution. As a
Mediaeval institution, it conferred many benefits on the semi-
barbarians of Europe. As a whole, considering the shadows of
ignorance and superstition which veiled Christendom, and the evils
which violence produced, its influence was beneficent.

Among the benefits which monastic institutions conferred, at least
indirectly, may be mentioned the counteracting influence they
exerted against the turbulence and tyranny of baronial lords, whose
arrogance and extortion they rebuked; they befriended the
peasantry; they enabled poor boys to rise; they defended the
doctrine that the instructors of mankind should be taken from all
classes alike; they were democratic in their sympathies, while
feudal life produced haughtiness and scorn; they welcomed scholars
from the humblest ranks; they beheld in peasants' children souls
which could be ennobled. Though abbots were chosen generally from
the upper classes, yet the ordinary monks sprang from the
peasantry. For instance, a peasant's family is deprived of its
head; he has been killed while fighting for a feudal lord. The
family are doomed to misery and hardship. No aristocratic tears
are shed for them; they are no better than dogs or cattle. The
mother is heartbroken. Not one of her children can ordinarily rise
from their abject position; they can live and breathe the common
air, and that is all. They are unmolested in their mud huts, if
they will toil for the owner of their village at the foot of the
baronial castle. But one of her sons is bright and religious. He
attracts the attention of a sympathetic monk, whose venerable
retreat is shaded with trees, adorned with flowers, and seated
perhaps on the side of a murmuring stream, whose banks have been
made fertile by industry and beautiful with herds of cattle and
flocks of sheep. He urges the afflicted mother to consecrate him
to the service of the Church; and the boy enters the sanctuary and
is educated according to the fashion of the age, growing up a well-
trained, austere, and obedient member of the fraternity, whose
spirit is dominated by its superiors in all activities. He passes
from office to office. In time he becomes the prior of his
convent,--possibly its abbot, the equal of that proud baron in
whose service his father lost his life, the controller of
innumerable acres, the minister of kings. How, outside the Church,
could he thus have arisen? But in the monastery he is enabled, in
the most aristocratic age of the world, to rise to the highest of
worldly dignities. And he is a man of peace and not of war. He
hates war; he seeks to quell dissensions and quarrels. He believes
that there is a higher than the warrior's excellence. Monachism
recognized what feudalism did not,--the claims of man as man. In
this respect it was human and sympathetic. It furnished a retreat
from misery and oppression. It favored contemplative habits and
the passive virtues, so much needed in turbulent times. Whatever
faults the monks had, it must be allowed that they alleviated
sufferings, and presented the only consolation that their gloomy
and iron age afforded. In an imperfect manner their convents
answered the purpose of our modern hotels, hospitals, and schools.
It was benevolence, charity, and piety which the monks aimed to
secure, and which they often succeeded in diffusing among people
more wretched and ignorant than themselves.


Saint Bernard's Works, especially the Epistles; Mabillon; Helyot's
Histoire des Ordres Monastiques; Dugdale's Monasticon; Doring's
Geschichte der Monchsorden; Montalembert's Les Moines d'Occident;
Milman's Latin Christianity; Morison's Life and Times of Saint
Bernard; Lives of the English Saints; Stephen Harding; Histoire
d'Abbaye do Cluny, par M. P. Lorain; Neander's Church History;
Butler's Lives of the Saints; Vaughan's Life of Thomas Aquinas;
Digby's Ages of Faith.


A. D. 1033-1109.


The Middle Ages produced no more interesting man than Anselm, Abbot
of Bec and Archbishop of Canterbury,--not merely a great prelate,
but a great theologian, resplendent in the virtues of monastic life
and in devotion to the interests of the Church. He was one of the
first to create an intellectual movement in Europe, and to
stimulate theological inquiries.

Anselm was born at Aosta, in Italy, 1033, and he died in 1109, at
the age of 76. He was therefore the contemporary of Hildebrand, of
Lanfranc, of Berenger, of Roscelin, of Henry IV. of Germany, of
William the Conqueror, of the Countess Matilda, and of Urban II.
He saw the first Crusade, the great quarrel about investitures and
the establishment of the Normans in England. Aosta was on the
confines of Lombardy and Burgundy, in a mountainous district, amid
rich cornfields and fruitful vines and dark, waving chestnuts, in
sight of lofty peaks with their everlasting snow. Anselm belonged
to a noble but impoverished family; his father was violent and
unthrifty, but his mother was religious and prudent. He was by
nature a student, and early was destined to monastic life,--the
only life favorable to the development of the intellect in a rude
and turbulent age. I have already alluded to the general ignorance
of the clergy in those times. There were no schools of any note at
this period, and no convents where learning was cultivated beyond
the rudiments of grammar and arithmetic and the writings of the
Fathers. The monks could read and talk in Latin, of a barbarous
sort,--which was the common language of the learned, so far as any
in that age could be called learned.

The most famous place in Europe, at that time, where learning was
cultivated, was the newly-founded abbey of Bec in Normandy, under
the superintendence of the Archbishop of Rouen, of which Lanfranc
of Pavia was the prior. It was the first abbey in Normandy to open
the door of learning to the young and inquiring minds of Western
Europe. It was a Benedictine abbey, as severe in its rules as that
of Clairvaux. It would seem that the fame of this convent, and of
Lanfranc its presiding genius (afterwards the great Archbishop of
Canterbury), reached the ears of Anselm; so that on the death of
his parents he wandered over the Alps, through Burgundy, to this
famous school, where the best teaching of the day was to be had.
Lanfranc cordially welcomed his fellow-countryman, then at the age
of twenty-six, to his retreat; and on his removal three years
afterwards to the more princely abbey of St. Stephen in Caen,
Anselm succeeded him as prior. Fifteen years later he became
abbot, and ruled the abbey for fifteen years, during which time
Lanfranc--the mutual friend of William the Conqueror and the great
Hildebrand--became Archbishop of Canterbury.

During this seclusion of thirty years in the abbey of Bec, Anselm
gave himself up to theological and philosophical studies, and
became known both as a profound and original thinker and a powerful
supporter of ecclesiastical authority. The scholastic age,--that
is, the age of dialectics, when theology invoked the aid of
philosophy to establish the truths of Christianity,--had not yet
begun; but Anselm may be regarded as a pioneer, the precursor of
Thomas Aquinas, since he was led into important theological
controversies to establish the creed of Saint Augustine. It was
not till several centuries after his death, however, that his
remarkable originality of genius was fully appreciated. He
anticipated Descartes in his argument to prove the existence of
God. He is generally regarded as the profoundest intellect among
the early schoolmen, and the most original that appeared in the
Church after Saint Augustine. He was not a popular preacher like
Saint Bernard, but he taught theology with marvellous lucidity to
the monks who sought the genial quiet of his convent. As an abbot
he was cheerful and humane, almost to light-heartedness, frank and
kind to everybody,--an exception to most of the abbots of his day,
who were either austere and rigid, or convivial and worldly. He
was a man whom everybody loved and trusted, yet one not unmindful
of his duties as the supreme ruler of his abbey, enforcing
discipline, while favoring relaxation. No monk ever led a life of
higher meditation than he; absorbed not in a dreamy and visionary
piety, but in intelligent inquiries as to the grounds of religious
belief. He was a true scholar of the Platonic and Angustinian
school; not a dialectician like Albertus Magnus and Abelard, but a
man who went beyond words to things, and seized on realities rather
than forms; not given to disputatious and the sports of logical
tournaments, but to solid inquiries after truth. The universities
had not then arisen, but a hundred years later he would have been
their ornament, like Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventura.

Like other Norman abbeys, the abbey of Bec had after the Conquest
received lands in England, and it became one of the duties of the
abbot to look after its temporal interests. Hence Anselm was
obliged to make frequent visits to England, where his friendship
with Lanfranc was renewed, and where he made the acquaintance of
distinguished prelates and abbots and churchmen, among others of
Eadmer, his future biographer. It seems that he also won the
hearts of the English nobility by his gentleness and affability, so
that they rendered to him uncommon attentions, not only as a great
ecclesiastic who had no equal in learning, but as a man whom they
could not help loving.

The life of Anselm very nearly corresponded with that of the
Conqueror, who died in 1087, being five years older; and he was
Abbot of Bec during the whole reign of William as King of England.
There was nothing particularly memorable in his life as abbot aside
from his theological studies. It was not until he was elevated to
the See of Canterbury, on the death of Lanfranc, that his memorable
career became historical. He anticipated Thomas Becket in his
contest to secure the liberties of the Church against the
encroachments of the Norman kings. The cause of the one was the
cause of the other; only, Anselm was trained in monastic seclusion,
and Becket amid the tumults and intrigues of a court. The one was
essentially an ecclesiastic and theologian; the other a courtier
and statesman. The former was religious, and the latter secular in
his habits and duties. Yet both fought the same great battle, the
essential principle of which was the object of contention between
the popes and the emperors of Germany,--that pertaining to the
right of investiture, which may be regarded, next to the Crusades,
as the great outward event of the twelfth century. That memorable
struggle for supremacy was not brought to a close until Innocent
III. made the kings of the earth his vassals, and reigned without a
rival in Christendom. Gregory VII. had fought heroically, but he
died in exile, leaving to future popes the fruit of his
transcendent labors.

Lanfranc died in 1089,--the ablest churchman of the century next to
the great Hildebrand, his master. It was through his influence
that England was more closely allied with Rome, and that those
fetters were imposed by the popes which the ablest of the Norman
kings were unable to break. The Pope had sanctioned the atrocious
conquest of England by the Normans--beneficially as it afterwards
turned out--only on the condition that extraordinary powers should
be conferred on the Archbishop of Canterbury, his representative in
enforcing the papal claims, who thus became virtually independent
of the king,--a spiritual monarch of such dignity that he was
almost equal to his sovereign in authority. There was no such See
in Germany and France as that of Canterbury. Its mighty and lordly
metropolitan had the exclusive right of crowning the king. To him
the Archbishop of York, once his equal, had succumbed. He was not
merely primate, but had the supreme control of the Church in
England. He could depose prelates and excommunicate the greatest
personages; he enjoyed enormous revenues; he was vicegerent of the

Loth was William to concede such great powers to the Pope, but he
could not be King of England without making a king of Canterbury.
So he made choice of Lanfranc--then Abbot of St. Stephen, the most
princely of the Norman convents--for the highest ecclesiastical
dignity in his realm, and perhaps in Europe after the papacy
itself. Lanfranc was his friend, and also the friend of
Hildebrand; and no collision took place between them, for neither
could do without the other. William was willing to waive some of
his prerogatives as a sovereign for such a kingdom as England,
which made him the most powerful monarch in Western Europe, since
he ruled the fairest part of France and the whole British realm,
the united possession of both Saxons and Danes, with more absolute
authority than any feudal sovereign at that time possessed. His
victorious knights were virtually a standing army, bound to him
with more than feudal loyalty, since he divided among them the
lands of the conquered Saxons, and gave to their relatives the
richest benefices of the Church. With the aid of an Italian
prelate, bound in allegiance to the Pope, he hoped to cement his
conquest. Lanfranc did as he wished,--removed the Saxon bishops,
and gave their sees to Normans. Since Dunstan, no great Saxon
bishop had arisen. The Saxon bishops were feeble and indolent, and
were not capable of making an effective resistance. But Lanfranc
was even more able than Dunstan,--a great statesman as well as
prelate. He ruled England as grand justiciary in the absence of
the monarch, and was thus viceregent of the kingdom. But while he
despoiled the Saxon prelates, he would suffer no royal spoliation
of the Norman bishops. He even wrested away from Odo, half-brother
of the Conqueror, the manors he held as Count of Kent, which
originally belonged to the See of Canterbury. Thus was William,
with all his greed and ambition, kept in check by the spiritual
monarch he had himself made so powerful.

On the death of this great prelate, all eyes were turned to Anselm
as his successor, who was then Abbot of Bec, absorbed in his
studies. But William Rufus, who had in the mean time succeeded to
the throne of the Conqueror, did not at once appoint any one to the
vacant See, since he had seized and used its revenues to the
scandal of the nation and the indignation of the Church. For five
years there was no primate in England and no Archbishop of
Canterbury. At last, what seemed to be a mortal sickness seized
the King, and in the near prospect of death he summoned Anselm to
his chamber and conferred upon him the exalted dignity,--which
Anselm refused to accept, dreading the burdens of the office, and
preferring the quiet life of a scholar in his Norman abbey. Like
Thomas Aquinas, in the next century, who refused the archbishopric
of Naples to pursue his philosophical studies in Paris, Anselm
declined the primacy of the Church in England, with its cares and
labors and responsibilities, that he might be unmolested in his
theological inquiries. He understood the position in which he
should be placed, and foresaw that he should be brought in
collision with his sovereign if he would faithfully guard the
liberties and interests of the Church. He was a man of peace and
meditation, and hated conflict, turmoil, and active life. He knew
that one of the requirements a great prelate is to have business
talents, more necessary perhaps than eloquence or learning. At
last, however, on the pressing solicitation of the Pope, the King,
and the clergy, he consented to mount the throne of Lanfranc, on
condition that the temporalities, privileges, and powers of the See
of Canterbury should not be attacked. The crafty and rapacious,
but now penitent monarch, thinking he was about to die, and wishing
to make his peace with Heaven, made all the concessions required;
and the quiet monk and doctor, whom everybody loved and revered,
was enthroned and consecrated as the spiritual monarch of England.

Anselm's memorable career as bishop began in peace, but was soon
clouded by a desperate quarrel with his sovereign, as he had
anticipated. This learned and peace-loving theologian was forced
into a contest which stands out in history like the warfare between
Hildebrand and Henry IV. It was the beginning of that fierce
contest in England which was made memorable by the martyrdom of
Becket. Anselm, when consecrated, was sixty years of age,--a
period of life when men are naturally timid, cautious, and averse
to innovations, quarrels, and physical discomforts.

The friendly relations between William Rufus and Anselm were
disturbed when the former sought to exact large sums of money from
his subjects to carry on war against his brother Robert. Among
those who were expected to make heavy contributions, in the shape
of presents, was the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose revenues were
enormous,--perhaps the largest in the realm next to those of the
King. Anselm offered as his contribution five hundred marks, what
would now be equal to l0,000 pounds,--a large sum in those days,
but not as much as the Norman sovereign expected. In indignation
he refused the present, which seemed to him meagre, especially
since it was accompanied with words of seeming reproof; for Anselm
had said that "a free gift, which he meant this to be, was better
than a forced and servile contribution." The King then angrily
bade him begone; "that he wanted neither his money nor his
scolding." The courtiers tried to prevail on the prelate to double
the amount of his present, and thus regain the royal favor; but he
firmly refused to do this, since it looked to him like a corrupt
bargain. Anselm, having distributed among the poor the money which
the King had refused, left the court as soon as the Christmas
festival was over and retired to his diocese, preserving his
independence and dignity.

A breach had not been made, but the irritation was followed by
coolness; and this was increased when Anselm desired to have the
religious posts filled the revenues of which the King had too long
enjoyed, and when, in addition, he demanded a council of bishops to
remedy the disorders and growing evils of the kingdom. This
council the angry King refused with a sneer, saying, "he would call
the council when he himself pleased, not when Anselm pleased." As
to the filling the vacancies of the abbeys, he further replied:
"What are abbeys to YOU? Are they not MINE? Go and do what you
like with your farms, and I will do what I please with my abbeys."
So they parted, these two potentates, the King saying to his
companions, "I hated him yesterday; I hate him more to-day; and I
shall hate him still more to-morrow. I refuse alike his blessings
and his prayers." His chief desire now was to get rid of the man
he had elevated to the throne of Canterbury. It may be observed
that it was not the Pope who made this appointment, but the King of
England. Yet, by the rules long established by the popes and
accepted by Christendom, it was necessary that an archbishop,
before he could fully exercise his spiritual powers, should go to
Rome and receive at the hands of the Pope his pallium, or white
woollen stole, as the badge of his office and dignity. Lanfranc
had himself gone to Rome for this purpose,--and a journey from
Canterbury to Rome in the eleventh century was no small
undertaking, being expensive and fatiguing. But there were now at
Rome two rival popes. Which one should Anselm recognize? France
and Normandy acknowledged Urban. England was undecided whether it
should be Urban or Clement. William would probably recognize the
one that Anselm did not, for a rupture was certain, and the King
sought for a pretext.

So when the Archbishop asked leave of the King to go to Rome,
according to custom, William demanded to know to which of these two
popes he would apply for his pallium. "To Pope Urban," was the
reply. "But," said the King, "him I have not acknowledged; and no
man in England may acknowledge a pope without my leave." At first
view the matter was a small one comparatively, whether Urban was or
was not the true pope. The real point was whether the King of
England should accept as pope the man whom the Archbishop
recognized, or whether the Archbishop should acknowledge him whom
the King had accepted. This could be settled only by a grand
council of the nation, to whom the matter should be submitted,--
virtually a parliament. This council, demanded by Anselm, met in
the royal castle of Rockingham, 1095, composed of nobles, bishops,
and abbots. A large majority of the council were in the interests
of the King, and the subject at issue was virtually whether the
King or the prelate was supreme in spiritual matters,--a point
which the Conqueror had ceded to Lanfranc and Hildebrand. This
council insulted and worried the primate, and sought to frighten
him into submission. But submission was to yield up the liberties
of the Church. The intrepid prelate was not prepared for this, and
he appealed from the council to the Pope, thereby putting himself
in antagonism to the King and a majority of the peers of the realm.
The King was exasperated, but foiled, while the council was
perplexed. The Bishop of Durham saw no solution but in violence;
but violence to the metropolitan was too bold a measure to be
seriously entertained. The King hoped that Anselm would resign, as
his situation was very unpleasant.

But resignation would be an act of cowardice, and would result in
the appointment of an archbishop favorable to the encroachments of
the King, who doubtless aimed at the subversion of the liberties of
the Church and greater independence. Five centuries later the
sympathies of England would have been on his side. But the English
nation felt differently in the eleventh century. All Christendom
sympathized with the Pope; for this resistance of Anselm to the
King was the cause of the popes themselves against the monarchs of
Europe. Anselm simply acted as the vicegerent of the Pope. To
submit to the dictation of the King in a spiritual matter was to
undermine the authority of Rome. I do not attempt to settle the
merits of the question, but only to describe the contest. To
settle the merits of such a question is to settle the question
whether the papal power in its plenitude was good or evil for
society in the Middle Ages.

One thing seems certain, that the King was thus far foiled by the
firmness of a churchman,--the man who had passed the greater part
of his life in a convent, studying and teaching theology; one of
the mildest and meekest men ever elevated to high ecclesiastical
office. Anselm was sustained by the power of conscience, by an
imperative sense of duty, by allegiance to his spiritual head. He
indeed owed fealty to the King, but only for the temporalities of
his See. His paramount obligations as an archbishop were,
according to all the ideas of his age, to the supreme pontiff of
Christendom. Doubtless his life would have been easier and more
pleasant had he been more submissive to the King. He could have
brought all the bishops, as well as barons, to acknowledge the
King's supremacy; but on his shoulders was laid the burden of
sustaining ecclesiastical authority in England. He had anticipated
this burden, and would have joyfully been exempted from its weight.
But having assumed it, perhaps against his will, he had only one
course to pursue, according to the ideas of the age; and this was
to maintain the supreme authority of the Pope in England in all
spiritual matters. It was remarkable that at this stage of the
contest the barons took his side, and the bishops took the side of
the King. The barons feared for their own privileges should the
monarch be successful; for they knew his unscrupulous and
tyrannical character,--that he would encroach on these and make
himself as absolute as possible. The bishops were weak and worldly
men, and either did not realize the gravity of the case or wished
to gain the royal favor. They were nearly all Norman nobles, who
had been under obligations to the crown.

The King, however, understood and, appreciated his position. He
could not afford to quarrel with the Pope; he dared not do violence
to the primate of the realm. So he dissembled his designs and
restrained his wrath, and sought to gain by cunning what he could
not openly effect by the exercise of royal power. He sent
messengers and costly gifts to Rome, such as the needy and greedy
servants of the servants of God rarely disdained. He sought to
conciliate the Pope, and begged, as a favor, that the pallium
should be sent to him as monarch, and given by him, with the papal
sanction, to the Archbishop,--the name of Anselm being suppressed.
This favor, being bought by potent arguments, was granted unwisely,
and the pallium was sent to William with the greatest secrecy. In
return, the King acknowledged the claims of Urban as pope. So
Anselm did not go to Rome for the emblem of his power.


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