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

Part 3 out of 5

The King, having succeeded thus far, then demanded of the Pope the
deposition of Anselm. He could not himself depose the archbishop.
He could elevate him, but not remove him; he could make, but not
unmake. Only he who held the keys of Saint Peter, who was armed
with spiritual omnipotence, could reverse his own decrees and rule
arbitrarily. But for any king to expect that the Pope would part
with the ablest defender of the liberties of the Church, and
disgrace him for being faithful to papal interests, was absurd.
The Pope may have used smooth words, but was firm in the uniform
policy of all his predecessors.

Meanwhile political troubles came so thick and heavy on the King,
some of his powerful nobles being in open rebellion, that he felt
it necessary to dissemble and defer the gratification of his
vengeance on the man he hated more than any personage in England.
He pretended to restore Anselm to favor. "Bygones should be
bygones." The King and the Archbishop sat at dinner at Windsor
with friends and nobles, while an ironical courtier pleasantly
quoted the Psalmist, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for
brethren to dwell together in unity!"

The King now supposed that Anselm would receive the pallium at his
royal hands, which the prelate warily refused to accept. The
subject was carefully dropped, but as the pallium was Saint Peter's
gift, it was brought to Canterbury and placed upon the altar, and
the Archbishop condescended, amid much pomp and ceremony, to take
it thence and put it on,--a sort of puerile concession for the sake
of peace. The King, too, wishing conciliation for the present,
until he had gained the possession of Normandy from his brother
Robert, who had embarked in the Crusades, and feeling that he could
ill afford to quarrel with the highest dignitary of his kingdom
until his political ambition was gratified, treated Anslem with
affected kindness, until his ill success with the Celtic Welsh put
him in a bad humor and led to renewed hostility. He complained
that Anselm had not furnished his proper contingent of forces for
the conquest of Wales, and summoned him to his court. In a secular
matter like this, Anselm as a subject had no remedy. Refusal to
appear would be regarded as treason and rebellion. Yet he
neglected to obey the summons, perhaps fearing violence, and sought
counsel from the Pope. He asked permission to go to Rome. The
request was angrily refused. Again he renewed his request, and
again it was denied him, with threats if he departed without leave.
The barons, now against him, thought he had no right to leave his
post; the bishops even urged him not to go. To all of whom he
replied: "You wish me to swear that I will not appeal to Saint
Peter. To swear this is to forswear Saint Peter; to forswear Saint
Peter is to forswear Christ." At last it seems that the King gave
a reluctant consent, but with messages that were insulting; and
Anselm, with a pilgrim's staff, took leave of his monks, for the
chapter of Canterbury was composed of monks, set out for Dover, and
reached the continent in safety.

"Thus began," says Church, "the system of appeals to Rome, and of
inviting foreign interference in the home affairs of England; and
Anselm was the beginning of it." But however unfortunate it
ultimately proved, it was in accordance with the ideas and customs
of the Middle Ages, without which the papal power could not have
been so successfully established. And I take the ground that the
Papacy was an institution of which very much may be said in its
favor in the dark ages of European society, especially in
restraining the tyranny of kings and the turbulence of nobles.
Governments are based on expediencies and changing circumstances,
not on immutable principles or divine rights. If this be not true,
we are driven to accept as the true form of government that which
was recognized by Christ and his disciples. The feudal kings of
Europe claimed a "divine right," and professed to reign by the
"grace of God." Whence was this right derived? If it can be
substantiated, on what claim rests the sovereignty of the people?
Are not popes and kings and bishops alike the creation of
circumstances, good or evil inventions, as they meet the wants of

Anselm felt himself to be the subject of the Pope as well as of the
King, but that, as a priest; his supreme allegiance should be given
to the Pope, as the spiritual head of the Church and vicegerent of
Christ upon the earth. We differ from him in his view of the
claims of the Pope, which he regarded as based on immutable truth
and the fiat of Almighty power,--even as Richelieu looked upon the
imbecile king whom he served as reigning by divine right. The
Protestant Reformation demolished the claims of the spiritual
potentate, as the French Revolution swept away the claims of the
temporal monarch. The "logic of events" is the only logic which
substantiates the claims of rulers; and this logic means, in our
day, constitutional government in politics and private judgment in
religion,--the free choice of such public servants, whatever their
titles of honor, in State and Church, as the exigencies and
circumstances of society require. The haughtiest of the popes, in
the proudest period of their absolute ascendancy, never rejected
their early title,--"servant of the servants of God." Wherever
there is real liberty among the people, whose sovereignty is
acknowledged as the source of power, the ruler IS a servant of the
people and not their tyrant, however great the authority which they
delegate to him, which they alone may continue or take away.
Absolute authority, delegated to kings or popes by God, was the
belief of the Middle Ages; limited authority, delegated to rulers
by the people, is the idea of our times. What the next invention
in government may be no one can tell; but whatever it be, it will
be in accordance with the ideas and altered circumstances of
progressive ages. No one can anticipate or foresee the revolutions
in human thought, and therefore in human governments, "till He
shall come whose right it is to reign."

Taking it, then, to be the established idea of the Middle Ages that
all ecclesiastics owed supreme allegiance to the visible head of
the Church, no one can blame Anselm for siding with the Pope,
rather than with his sovereign, in spiritual matters. He would
have been disloyal to his conscience if he had not been true to his
clerical vows of obedience. Conscience may be unenlightened, yet
take away the power of conscience and what would become of our
world? What is a man without a conscience? He is a usurper, a
tyrant, a libertine, a spendthrift, a robber, a miser, an idler, a
trifler,--whatever he is tempted to be; a supreme egotist, who says
in his heart, "There is no God." The Almighty Creator placed this
instinct in the soul of man to prevent the total eclipse of faith,
and to preserve some allegiance to Him, some guidance in the trials
and temptations of life. We lament a perverted conscience; yet
better this than no conscience at all, a voice silenced by the
combined forces of evil. A man MUST obey this voice. It is the
wisdom of the ages to make it harmonious with eternal right; it is
the power of God to remove or weaken the assailing forces which
pervert or silence it.

See, then, this gentle, lovable, and meditative scholar--not haughty
like Dunstan, not arrogant like Becket, not sacerdotal like Ambrose,
not passionate like Chrysostom, but meek as Moses is said to have
been before Pharaoh (although I never could see this distinguishing
trait in the Hebrew leader)--yet firmly and heroically braving the
wrath of the sovereign who had elevated him, and pursuing his
toilsome journey to Rome to appeal to justice against injustice, to
law against violence. He reached the old capital of the world in
midwinter, after having spent Christmas in that hospitable convent
where Hildebrand had reigned, and which was to shield the persecuted
Abelard from the wrath of his ecclesiastical tormentors. He was
most honorably received by the Pope, and lodged in the Lateran, as
the great champion of papal authority. Vainly did he beseech the
Pope to relieve him from his dignities and burdens; for such a man
could not be spared from the exalted post in which he had been
placed. Peace-loving as he was, his destiny was to fight battles.

In the following year Pope Urban died; and in the following year
William Rufus himself was accidentally killed in the New Forest.
His death was not much lamented, he having proved hard,
unscrupulous, cunning, and tyrannical. At this period the kings of
England reigned with almost despotic power, independent of barons
and oppressive to the people. William had but little regard for
the interests of the kingdom. He built neither churches nor
convents, but Westminster Hall was the memorial of his iron reign.

Much was expected of Henry I., who immediately recalled Anselm from
Lyons, where he was living in voluntary exile. He returned to
Canterbury, with the firm intention of reforming the morals of the
clergy and resisting royal encroachments. Henry was equally
resolved on making bishops as well as nobles subservient to him.
Of course harmony and concord could not long exist between such
men, with such opposite views. Even at the first interview of the
King with the Archbishop at Salisbury, he demanded a renewal of
homage by a new act of investiture, which was virtually a
continuance of the quarrel. It was, however, mutually agreed that
the matter should be referred to the new pope. Anselm, on his
part, knew that the appeal was hopeless; while the King wished to
gain time. It was not long before the answer of Pope Pascal came.
He was willing that Henry should have many favors, but not this.
Only the head of the Church could bestow the emblems of spiritual
authority. On receiving the papal reply the King summoned his
nobles and bishops to his court, and required that Anselm should
acknowledge the right of the King to invest prelates with the
badges of spiritual authority. The result was a second embassy to
the Pope, of more distinguished persons,--the Archbishop of York
and two other prelates. The Pope, of course, remained inflexible.
On the return of the envoys a great council was assembled in
London, and Anselm again was required to submit to the King's will.
It seems that the Pope, from motives of policy (for all the popes
were reluctant to quarrel with princes), had given the envoys
assurance that, so long as Henry was a good king, he should have
nothing to fear from the clergy.

These oral declarations were contrary to the Pope's written
documents, and this contradiction required a new embassy to Rome;
but in the mean time the King gave the See of Salisbury to his
chancellor, and that of Hereford to the superintendent of his
larder. When the answer of the Pope was finally received, it was
found that he indignantly disavowed the verbal message, and
excommunicated the three prelates as liars. But the King was not
disconcerted. He suddenly appeared at Canterbury, and told Anselm
that further opposition would be followed by the royal enmity; yet,
mollifying his wrath, requested Anselm himself to go to Rome and do
what he could with the Pope. Anselm assured him that he could do
nothing to the prejudice of the Church. He departed, however, the
King obviously wishing him out of the way.

The second journey of Anselm to Rome was a perpetual ovation, but
was of course barren of results. The Pope remained inflexible, and
Anselm prepared to return to England; but, from the friendly hints
of the prelates who accompanied him, he sojourned again at Lyons
with his friend the archbishop. Both the Pope and the King had
compromised; Anselm alone was straightforward and fearless. As a
consequence his revenues were seized, and he remained in exile. He
had been willing to do the Pope's bidding, had he made an exception
to the canons; but so long as the law remained in force he had
nothing to do but conform to it. He remained in Lyons a year and a
half, while Henry continued his negotiations with Pascal; but
finding that nothing was accomplished, Anselm resolved to
excommunicate his sovereign. The report of this intention alarmed
Henry, then preparing for a decisive conflict with his brother
Robert. The excommunication would at least be inconvenient; it
might cost him his crown. So he sought an interview with Anselm at
the castle of l'Aigle, and became outwardly reconciled, and
restored to him his revenues.

"The end of the dreary contest came at last, in 1107, after
vexatious delays and intrigues." It was settled by compromise,--as
most quarrels are settled, as most institutions are established.
Outwardly the King yielded. He agreed, in an assembly of nobles,
bishops, and abbots at London, that henceforth no one should be
invested with bishopric or abbacy, either by king or layman, by the
customary badges of ring and crosier. Anselm, on his part, agreed
that no prelate should be refused consecration who was nominated by
the King. The appointment of bishops remained with the King; but
the consecration could be withheld by the primate, since he alone
had the right to give the badges of office, without which spiritual
functions could not be lawfully performed. It was a moral victory
to the Church, but the victory of an unpopular cause. It cemented
the power of the Pope, while freedom from papal interference has
ever been dear to the English nation.

When Anselm had fought this great fight he died, 1109, in the
sixteenth year of his reign as primate of the Church in England,
and was buried, next to Lanfranc, in his abbey church. His career
outwardly is memorable only for this contest, which was afterwards
renewed by Thomas Becket with a greater king than either William
Rufus or Henry I. It is interesting, since it was a part of the
great struggle between the spiritual and temporal powers for two
hundred years,--from Hildebrand to Innocent III. This was only one
of the phases of the quarrel,--one of the battles of a long war,--
not between popes and emperors, as in Germany and Italy, but
between a king and the vicegerent of a pope; a king and his
subject, the one armed with secular, the other with spiritual,
weapons. It was only brought to an end by an appeal to the fears
of men,--the dread of excommunication and consequent torments in
hell, which was the great governing idea of the Middle Ages, the
means by which the clergy controlled the laity. Abused and
perverted as this idea was, it indicates and presupposes a general
belief in the personality of God, in rewards and punishments in a
future state, and the necessity of conforming to the divine laws as
expounded and enforced by the Christian Church. Hence the dark
ages have been called "Ages of Faith."

It now remains to us to contemplate Anselm as a theologian and
philosopher,--a more interesting view, for in this aspect his
character is more genial, and his influence more extended and
permanent. He is one of the first who revived theological studies
in Europe. He did not teach in the universities as a scholastic
doctor, but he was one who prepared the way for universities by the
stimulus he gave to philosophy. It was in his abbey of Bec that he
laid the foundation of a new school of theological inquiry. In
original genius he was surpassed by no scholastic in the Middle
Ages, although both Abelard and Thomas Aquinas enjoyed a greater
fame. It was for his learning and sanctity that he was canonized,--
and singularly enough by Alexander VI., the worst pope who ever
reigned. Still more singular is it that the last of his
successors, as abbot of Bec, was the diplomatist Talleyrand,--one
of the most worldly and secular of all the ecclesiastical
dignitaries of an infidel age.

The theology of the Middle Ages, of which Anselm was one of the
greatest expounders, certainly the most profound, was that which
was systematized by Saint Augustine from the writings of Paul.
Augustine was the oracle of the Latin Church until the Council of
Trent, and nominally his authority has never been repudiated by the
Catholic Church. But he was no more the father of the Catholic
theology than he was of the Protestant, as taught by John Calvin:
these two great theologians were in harmony in all essential
doctrines as completely as were Augustine and Anselm, or Augustine
and Thomas Aquinas. The doctrines of theology, as formulated by
Augustine, were subjects of contemplation and study in all the
convents of the Middle Ages. In spite of the prevailing ignorance,
it was impossible that inquiring men, "secluded in gloomy
monasteries, should find food for their minds in the dreary and
monotonous duties to which monks were doomed,--a life devoted to
alternate manual labor and mechanical religious services." There
would be some of them who would speculate on the lofty subjects
which were the constant themes of their meditations. Bishops were
absorbed in their practical duties as executive rulers. Village
priests were too ignorant to do much beyond looking after the wants
of hinds and peasants. The only scholarly men were the monks. And
although the number of these was small, they have the honor of
creating the first intellectual movement since the fall of the
Roman Empire. They alone combined leisure with brain-work. These
intellectual and inquiring monks, as far back as the ninth century
speculated on the great subjects of Christian faith with singular
boldness, considering the general ignorance which veiled Europe in
melancholy darkness. Some of them were logically led "to a secret
mutiny and insurrection" against the doctrines which were
universally received. This insurrection of human intelligence gave
great alarm to the orthodox leaders of the Church; and to suppress
it the Church raised up conservative dialecticians as acute and
able as those who strove for emancipation. At first they used the
weapons of natural reason, but afterwards employed the logic and
method of Aristotle, as translated into Latin from the Arabic, to
assist them in their intellectual combats. Gradually the movement
centred in the scholastic philosophy, as a bulwark to Catholic
theology. But this was nearly a hundred years after the time of
Anselm, who himself was not enslaved by the technicalities of a
complicated system of dialectics.

Naturally the first subject which was suggested to the minds of
inquiring monks was the being and attributes of God. He was the
beginning and end of their meditations. It was to meditate upon
God that the Oriental recluse sought the deserts of Asia Minor and
Egypt. Like the Eastern monk of the fourth century, he sought to
know the essence and nature of the Deity he worshipped. There
arose before his mind the great doctrines of the trinity, the
incarnation, and redemption. Closely connected with these were
predestination and grace, and then "fixed fate, free-will,
foreknowledge absolute." On these mysteries he could not help
meditating; and with meditation came speculation on unfathomable
subjects pertaining to God and his relations with man, to the
nature of sin and its penalty, to the freedom of the will, and
eternal decrees.

The monk became first a theologian and then a philosopher, whether
of the school of Plato or of Aristotle he did not know. He began
to speculate on questions which had agitated the Grecian schools,--
the origin of evil and of matter; whether the world was created or
uncreated; whether there is a distinction between things visible
and invisible; whether we derive our knowledge from sensation or
reflection; whether the soul is necessarily immortal; how free-will
is to be reconciled with God's eternal decrees, or what the Greeks
called Fate; whether ideas are eternal, or are the creation of our
own minds. These, and other more subtile questions--like the
nature of angels--began to agitate the convent in the ninth

It was then that the monk Gottschalk revived the question of
predestination, which had slumbered since the time of Saint
Augustine. Although the Bishop of Hippo was the oracle of the
Church, and no one disputed his authority, it would seem that his
characteristic doctrine,--that of grace; the essential doctrine of
Luther also,--was never a favorite one with the great churchmen of
the Middle Ages. They did not dispute Saint Augustine, but they
adhered to penances and expiations, which entered so largely into
the piety of the Middle Ages. The idea of penances and expiations,
pushed to their utmost logical sequence, was salvation by works and
not by faith. Grace, as understood by the Fathers, was closely
allied to predestination; it disdained the elaborate and cumbrous
machinery of ecclesiastical discipline, on which the power of the
clergy was based. Grace was opposed to penance, while penance was
the form which religion took; and as predestination was a
theological sequence of grace, it was distasteful to the Mediaeval
Church. Both grace and predestination tended to undermine the
system of penance then universally accepted. The great churchmen
of the Middle Ages were plainly at war with their great oracle in
this matter, without being fully aware of their real antagonism.
So they made an onslaught on Gottschalk, as opposed to those ideas
on which sacerdotal power rested,--especially did Hinemar,
Archbishop of Rheims, the greatest prelate of that age.
Persecuted, Gottschalk appealed to reason rather than authority,
thus anticipating Luther by five hundred years,--an immense heresy
in the Middle Ages. Hinemar, not being able to grapple with the
monk in argument, summoned to his aid the brightest intellect of
that century,--the first man who really gave an impulse to
philosophical inquiries in the Middle Ages, the true founder of

This man was John Scotus Erigena,--or John the Erin-born,--who was
also a monk, and whose early days had been spent in some secluded
monastery in Ireland, or the Scottish islands. Somehow he
attracted the attention of Charles the Bald, A. D. 843, and became
his guest and chosen companion. And yet, while he lived in the
court, he spent the most of his time in intellectual seclusion. As
a guest of the king he may have become acquainted with Hinemar, or
his acquaintance with Hinemar may have led to his friendship with
Charles. He was witty, bright, and learned, like Abelard, a
favorite with the great. In his treatise on Predestination, in
which he combated the views of Gottschalk, he probably went further
than Hinemar desired or expected: he boldly asserted the supremacy
of reason, and threw off the shackles of authority. He combated
Saint Augustine as well as Gottschalk. He even aspired to
reconcile free-will with the divine sovereignty,--the great mistake
of theologians in every age, the most hopeless and the most
ambitious effort of human genius,--a problem which cannot be
solved. He went even further than this: he attempted to harmonize
philosophy with religion, as Abelard did afterwards. He brought
all theological questions to the test of dialectical reasoning.
Thus the ninth century saw a rationalist and a pantheist at the
court of a Christian king. Like Democritus, he maintained the
eternity of matter. Like a Buddhist, he believed that God is all
things and all things are God. Such doctrines were not to be
tolerated, even in an age when theological speculations did not
usually provoke persecution. Religious persecution for opinions
was the fruit of subsequent inquiries, and did not reach its height
until the Dominicans arose in the thirteenth century. But Erigena
was generally denounced; he fell under the censure of the Pope,
and, probably on that account, took refuge about the year 882 in
England,--it is said at Oxford, where there was probably a
cathedral school, but not as yet a university, with its professors'
chairs and scholastic honors. Others suppose that he died in
Paris, 891.

A spirit of inquiry having been thus awakened among a few
intellectual monks, they began to speculate about those questions
which had agitated the Grecian schools: whether genera and species--
called "universals," or ideas--have a substantial and independent
existence, or whether they are the creation of our own minds;
whether, if they have a real existence, they are material or
immaterial essences; whether they exist apart from objects
perceptible by the senses. It is singular that such questions
should have been discussed in the ninth century, since neither
Plato nor Aristotle were studied. Unless in the Irish monastic
schools, it may be doubted whether there was a Greek scholar in
Western Europe,--or even in Rome.

No very remarkable man arose with a rationalizing spirit, after
Erigena, until Berengar of Tours in the eleventh century, who
maintained that in the Sacrament the presence of the body of Christ
involves no change in the nature and essence of the bread and wine.
He was opposed by Lanfranc. But the doctrine of transubstantiation
was too deeply grounded in the faith of Christendom to be easily
shaken. Controversies seemed to centre around the doctrine of the
real existence of ideas,--what are called "universals,"--which
doctrine was generally accepted. The monks, in this matter,
followed Saint Augustine, who was a realist, as were also the
orthodox leaders of the Church generally from his time to that of
Saint Bernard. It was a sequence of the belief in the doctrine of
the Trinity.

No one of mark opposed the Realism which had now become one of the
accepted philosophical opinions of the age, until Roscelin, in the
latter part of the eleventh century, denied that universals have a
real existence. It was Plato's doctrine that universals have an
independent existence apart from individual objects, and that they
exist before the latter (universalia ANTE rem,--the thought BEFORE
the thing); while Aristotle maintained that universals, though
possessing a real existence, exist only in individual objects
(universalia IN re,--the thought IN the thing). Nominalism is the
doctrine that individuals only have real existence (universalia
POST rem,--the thought AFTER the thing).

It is not probable that this profound question about universals
would have excited much interest among the intellectual monks of
the eleventh century, had it not been applied to theological
subjects, in which chiefly they were absorbed. Now Roscelin
advanced the doctrine, that, if the three persons in the Trinity
were one thing, it would follow that the Father and the Holy Ghost
must have entered into the flesh together with the Son; and as he
believed that only individuals exist in reality, it would follow
that the three persons of the Godhead are three substances, in fact
three Gods. Thus Nominalism logically led to an assault on the
received doctrine of the Trinity--the central point in the theology
of the Church. This was heresy. The foundations of Christian
belief were attacked, and no one in that age was strong enough to
come to the rescue but Anselm, then Abbot of Bec.

His great service to the cause of Christian theology, and therefore
to the Church universal, was his exposition of the logical results
of the Nominalism of Roscelin,--to whom universals, or ideas, were
merely creations of the mind, or conventional phrases, having no
real existence. Hence such things as love, friendship, beauty,
justice, were only conceptions. Plato and Augustine maintained
that they are eternal verities, not to be explained by definitions,
appealing to consciousness, in the firm belief in which the soul
sustains itself; that there can be no certain knowledge without a
recognition of these; that from these only sound deductions of
moral truth can be drawn; that without a firm belief in these
eternal certitudes there can be no repose and no lofty faith.
These ideas are independent of us. They do not vary with our
changing sensations; they have nothing to do with sensation. They
are not creations of the brain; they inherently exist, from all
eternity. The substance of these ideas is God; without these we
could not conceive of God. Augustine especially, in the true
spirit of Platonism, abhorred doctrines which made the existence of
God depend upon our own abstractions. To him there was a reality
in love, in friendship, in justice, in beauty; and he repelled
scepticism as to their eternal existence, as life repels death.

Roscelin took away the platform from whose lofty heights Socrates
and Plato would survey the universe. He attacked the citadel in
which Augustine intrenched himself amid the desolations of a
dissolving world; he laid the axe at the root of the tree which
sheltered all those who would fly from uncertainty and despair.

But if these ideas were not true, what was true; on what were the
hopes of the world to be based; where was consolation for the
miseries of life to be found? "There are many goods," says Anselm,
"which we desire,--some for utility, and others for beauty; but all
these goods are relative,--more or less good,--and imply something
absolutely good. This absolute good--the summum bonum--is God. In
like manner all that is great and high are only relatively great
and high; and hence there must be something absolutely great and
high, and this is God. There must exist at least one being than
which no other is higher; hence there must be but one such being,--
and this is God."

It was thus that Anselm brought philosophy to the support of
theology. He would combat the philosophical reasonings of Roscelin
with still keener dialectics. He would conquer him on his own
ground and with his own weapons.

Let it not be supposed that this controversy about universals was a
mere dialectical tournament, with no grand results. It goes down
to the root of almost every great subject in philosophy and
religion. The denial of universal ideas is rationalism and
materialism in philosophy, as it is Pelagianism and Arminianism in
theology. The Nominalism of Roscelin reappeared in the rationalism
of Abelard; and, carried out to its severe logical sequences, is
the refusal to accept any doctrine which cannot be proved by
reason. Hence nothing is to be accepted which is beyond the
province of reason to explain; and hence nothing is to be received
by faith alone. Christianity, in the hands of fearless and logical
nominalists, would melt away,--that is, what is peculiar in its
mysterious dogmas. Its mysterious dogmas were the anchors of
belief in ages of faith. It was these which animated the existence
of such men as Augustine, Bernard, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas.
Hence their terrible antagonism even to philosophical doctrines
which conflicted with the orthodox belief, on which, as they
thought, the salvation of mankind rested.

But Anselm did not rest with combating the Nominalism of Roscelin.
In the course of his inquiries and arguments he felt it necessary
to establish the belief in God--the one great thing from which all
other questions radiated--by a new argument, and on firmer ground
than that on which it had hitherto rested. He was profoundly
devotional as well as logical, and original as he was learned.
Beyond all the monks of his age he lived in the contemplation of
God. God was to him the essence of all good, the end of all
inquiries, the joy and repose of his soul. He could not understand
unless he FIRST believed; knowledge was the FRUIT of faith, not its
CAUSE. The idea of God in the mind of man is the highest proof of
the existence of God. That only is real which appeals to
consciousness. He did not care to reason about a thing when
reasoning would not strengthen his convictions, perhaps involve him
in doubts and perplexities. Reason is finite and clouded and
warped. But that which directly appeals to consciousness (as all
that is eternal must appeal), and to that alone, like beauty and
justice and love,--ultimate ideas to which reasoning and
definitions add nothing,--is to be received as a final certitude.
Hence, absolute certainty of the existence of God, as it appeals to
consciousness,--like the "Cogito, ergo sum." In this argument he
anticipated Descartes, and proved himself the profoundest thinker
of his century, perhaps of five centuries.

The deductions which Anselm made from the attributes of God and his
moral government seem to have strengthened the belief of the Middle
Ages in some theological aspects which are repulsive to
consciousness,--his stronghold; thereby showing how one-sided any
deductions are apt to be when pushed out to their utmost logical
consequences; how they may even become a rebuke to human reason in
those grand efforts of which reason is most proud, for theology, it
must be borne in mind, is a science of deductions from acknowledged
truths of revelation. Hence, from the imperfections of reason, or
from disregard of other established truths, deductions may be
pushed to absurdity even when logical, and may be made to conflict
with the obvious meaning of primal truths from which these
deductions are made, or at least with those intuitions which are
hard to be distinguished from consciousness itself. There may be
no flaw in the argument, but the argument may land one in absurdity
and contradiction. For instance, from the acknowledged sinfulness
of human nature--one of the cardinal declarations of Scripture, and
confirmed by universal experience--and the equally fundamental
truth that God is infinite, Anselm assumed the dogma that the guilt
of men as sinners against an infinite God is infinitely great.
From this premise, which few in his age were disposed to deny, for
it was in accordance with Saint Augustine, it follows that infinite
sin, according to eternal justice, could only be atoned for by an
infinite punishment. Hence all men deserve eternal punishment, and
must receive it, unless there be made an infinite satisfaction or
atonement, since not otherwise can divine love be harmonized with
divine justice. Hence it was necessary that the eternal Son should
become man, and make, by his voluntary death on the cross, the
necessary atonement for human sins. Pushed out to the severest
logical consequences, it would follow, that, as an infinite
satisfaction has atoned for sin, ALL sinners are pardoned. But the
Church shrank from such a conclusion, although logical, and
included in the benefits of the atonement only the BELIEVING
portion of mankind. The discrepancy between the logical deductions
and consciousness, and I may add Scripture, lies in assuming that
human guilt IS INFINITELY great. It is thus that theology became
complicated, even gloomy, and in some points false, by metaphysical
reasonings, which had such a charm both to the Fathers and the
Schoolmen. The attempt to reconcile divine justice with divine
love by metaphysics and abstruse reasoning proved as futile as the
attempt to reconcile free-will with predestination; for divine
justice was made by deduction, without reference to other
attributes, to conflict with those ideas of justice which
consciousness attests,--even as a fettered will, of which all are
conscious (that is, a will fettered by sin), was pushed out by
logical deductions into absolute slavery and impotence.

Anselm did not carry out metaphysical reasonings to such lengths as
did the Schoolmen who succeeded him,--those dialecticians who lived
in universities in the thirteenth century. He was a devout man,
who meditated on God and on revealed truth with awe and reverence,
without any desire of system-making or dialectical victories. This
desire more properly marked the Scholastic doctors of the
universities in a subsequent age, when, though philosophy had been
invoked by Anselm to support theology, they virtually made theology
subordinate to philosophy. It was his main effort to establish, on
rational grounds, the existence of God, and afterwards the
doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. And yet with Anselm
and Roscelin the Scholastic age began. They were the founders of
the Realists and the Nominalists,--those two schools which divided
the Church in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and which will
probably go on together, under different names, as long as men
shall believe and doubt. But this subject, on which I have only
entered, must be deferred to the next lecture.


Church's Life of Saint Anselm; Neander's Church History; Milman's
History of the Latin Church; Stockl's History of the Philosophy of
the Middle Ages; Ueberweg's History of Philosophy; Wordsworth's
Ecclesiastical Biography; Trench's Mediaeval Church history;
Digby's Ages of Faith; Fleury's Ecclesiastical History; Dupin's
Ecclesiastical History; Biographie Universelle; M. Rousselot's
Histoire de la Philosophie du Moyen Age; Newman's Mission of the
Benedictine Order; Dugdale's Monasticon; Hallam's Literature of
Europe; Hampden's article on the Scholastic Philosophy, in
Encyclopaedia Metropolitana.


A. D. 1225(7)-1274.


We have seen how the cloister life of the Middle Ages developed
meditative habits of mind, which were followed by a spirit of
inquiry on deep theological questions. We have now to consider a
great intellectual movement, stimulated by the effort to bring
philosophy to the aid of theology, and thus more effectually to
battle with insidious and rising heresies. The most illustrious
representative of this movement was Thomas of Aquino, generally
called Thomas Aquinas. With him we associate the Scholastic
Philosophy, which, though barren in the results at which it aimed,
led to a remarkable intellectual activity, and hence, indirectly,
to the emancipation of the mind. It furnished teachers who
prepared the way for the great lights of the Reformation.

Anselm had successfully battled with the rationalism of Roscelin,
and also had furnished a new argument for the existence of God. He
secured the triumph of Realism for a time and the apparent
extinction of heresy. But a new impulse to thought was given, soon
after his death, by a less profound but more popular and brilliant
man, and, like him, a monk. This was the celebrated Peter Abelard,
born in the year 1079, in Brittany, of noble parents, and a boy of
remarkable precocity. He was a sort of knight-errant of
philosophy, going from convent to convent and from school to
school, disputing, while a mere youth, with learned teachers,
wherever he could find them. Having vanquished the masters in the
provincial schools, he turned his steps to Paris, at that time the
intellectual centre of Europe. The university was not yet
established, but the cathedral school of Notre Dame was presided
over by William of Champeaux, who defended the Realism of Anselm.

To this famous cathedral school Abelard came as a pupil of the
veteran dialectician at the age of twenty, and dared to dispute his
doctrines. He soon set up as a teacher himself; but as Notre Dame
was interdicted to him he retired to Melun, ten leagues from Paris,
where enthusiastic pupils crowded to his lecture room, for he was
witty, bold, sarcastic, acute, and eloquent. He afterwards removed
to Paris, and so completely discomfited his old master that he
retired from the field. Abelard then applied himself to the study
of divinity, and attended the lectures of Anselm of Laon, who,
though an old man, was treated by Abelard with great flippancy and
arrogance. He then began to lee-tare on divinity as well as
philosophy, with extraordinary eclat. Students flocked to his
lecture room from all parts of Germany, Italy, France, and England.
It is said that five thousand young men attended his lectures,
among whom one hundred were destined to be prelates, including that
brilliant and able Italian who afterwards reigned as Innocent III.
It was about this time, 1117, when he was thirty-eight, that he
encountered Heloise,--a passage of his life which will be
considered in a later volume of this work. His unfortunate love
and his cruel misfortune led to a temporary seclusion in a convent,
from which, however, he issued to lecture with renewed popularity
in a desert place in Champagne, where he constructed a vast edifice
and dedicated it to the Paraclete. It was here that his most
brilliant days were spent. It is said that three thousand pupils
followed him to this wilderness. He was doubtless the most
brilliant and successful lecturer that the Middle Ages ever saw.
He continued the controversy which was begun by Roscelin respecting
universals, the reality or which he denied.

Abelard was not acquainted with the Greek, but in a Latin
translation from the Arabic he had studied Aristotle, whom he
regarded as the great master of dialectics, although not making use
of his method, as did the great Scholastics of the succeeding
century. Still, he was among the first to apply dialectics to
theology. He maintained a certain independence of the patristic
authority by his "Sic et Non," in which treatise he makes the
authorities neutralize each other by placing side by side
contradictory assertions. He maintained that the natural
propensity to evil, in consequence of the original transgression,
is not in itself sin; that sin consists in consenting to evil. "It
is not," said he, "the temptation to lust that is sinful, but the
acquiescence in the temptation;" hence, that virtue cannot be
tested without temptations; consequently, that moral worth can only
be truly estimated by God, to whom motives are known,--in short,
that sin consists in the intention, and not in act. He admitted
with Anselm that faith, in a certain sense, precedes knowledge, but
insisted that one must know why and what he believes before his
faith is established; hence, that faith works itself out of doubt
by means of rational investigation.

The tendency of Abelard's teachings was rationalistic, and
therefore he arrayed against himself the great champion of
orthodoxy in his day,--Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, the most
influential churchman of his age, and the most devout and lofty.
His immense influence was based on his learning and sanctity; but
he was dogmatic and intolerant. It is probable that the
intellectual arrogance of Abelard, his flippancy and his sarcasms,
offended more than the matter of his lectures. "It is not by
industry," said he, "that I have reached the heights of philosophy,
but by force of genius." He was more admired by young and worldly
men than by old men. He was the admiration of women, for he was
poet as well as philosopher. His love-songs were scattered over
Europe. With a proud and aristocratic bearing, severe yet
negligent dress, beautiful and noble figure, musical and electrical
voice, added to the impression he made by his wit and dialectical
power, no man ever commanded greater admiration from those who
listened to him. But he excited envy as well as admiration, and
was probably misrepresented by his opponents. Like all strong and
original characters, he had bitter enemies as well as admiring
friends; and these enemies exaggerated his failings and his
heretical opinions. Therefore he was summoned before the Council
of Soissons, and condemned to perpetual silence. From this he
appealed to Rome, and Rome sided with his enemies. He found a
retreat, after his condemnation, in the abbey of Cluny, and died in
the arms of his friend Peter the Venerable, the most benignant
ecclesiastic of the century, who venerated his genius and defended
his orthodoxy, and whose influence procured him absolution from the

But whatever were the faults of Abelard; however selfish he was in
his treatment of Heloise, or proud and provoking to adversaries, or
even heretical in many of his doctrines, especially in reference to
faith, which he is accused of undermining, although he accepted in
the main the received doctrines of the Church, certainly in his
latter days, when he was broken and penitent (for no great man ever
suffered more humiliating misfortunes),--one thing is clear, that
he gave a stimulus to philosophical inquiries, and awakened a
desire of knowledge, and gave dignity to human reason, beyond any
man in the Middle Ages.

The dialectical and controversial spirit awakened by Abelard led to
such a variety of opinions among the inquiring young men who
assembled in Paris at the various schools, some of which were
regarded as rationalistic in their tendency, or at least a
departure from the patristic standard, that Peter Lombard, Bishop
of Paris, collected in four books the various sayings of the
Fathers concerning theological dogmas. He was also influenced to
make this exposition by the "Sic et Non" of Abelard, which tended
to unsettle belief. This famous manual, called the "Book of
Sentences," appeared about the middle of the twelfth century, and
had an immense influence. It was the great text-book of the
theological schools.

About the time this book appeared the works of Aristotle were
introduced to the attention of students, translated into Latin from
the Saracenic language. Aristotle had already been commented upon
by Arabian scholars in Spain,--among whom Averroes, a physician and
mathematician of Cordova, was the most distinguished,--who regarded
the Greek philosopher as the founder of scientific knowledge. His
works were translated from the Greek into the Arabic in the early
part of the ninth century.

The introduction of Aristotle led to an extension of philosophical
studies. From the time of Charlemagne only grammar and elementary
logic and dogmatic theology had been taught, but Abelard introduced
dialectics into theology. A more complete method was required than
that which the existing schools furnished, and this was supplied by
the dialectics of Aristotle. He became, therefore, at the close of
the twelfth century, an acknowledged authority, and his method was
adopted to support the dogmas of the Church.

Meanwhile the press of students at Paris, collected into various
schools,--the chief of which were the theological school of Notre
Dame, and the school of logic at Mount Genevieve, where Abelard had
lectured,--demanded a new organization. The teachers and pupils of
these schools then formed a corporation called a university
(Universitas magistrorum et Scholarium), under the control of the
chancellor and chapter of Notre Dame, whose corporate existence was
secured from Innocent III. a few years afterwards.

Thus arose the University of Paris at the close of the twelfth
century, or about the beginning of the thirteenth, soon followed in
different parts of Europe by other universities, the most
distinguished of which were those of Oxford, Bologna, Padua, and
Salamanca. But that of Paris took the lead, this city being the
intellectual centre of Europe even at that early day. Thither
flocked young men from Germany, England, and Italy, as well as from
all parts of France, to the number of twenty-five or thirty
thousand. These students were a motley crowd: some of them were
half-starved youth, with tattered, clothes, living in garrets and
unhealthy cells; others again were rich and noble,--but all were
eager for knowledge. They came to Paris as pilgrims flocked to
Jerusalem, being drawn by the fame of the lecturers. The quiet old
schools of the convents were deserted, for who would go to Fulda or
York or Citeaux, when such men as Abelard, Albert, and Victor were
dazzling enthusiastic youth by their brilliant disputations? These
young men also seem to have been noisy, turbulent, and dissipated
for the most part, "filling the streets with their brawls and the
taverns with the fumes of liquor. There was no such thing as
discipline among them. They yelled and shouted and brandished
daggers, fought the townspeople, and were free with their knocks
and blows." They were not all youth; many of them were men in
middle life, with wives and children. At that time no one finished
his education at twenty-one; some remained scholars until the age
of thirty-five.

Some of these students came to study medicine, others law, but more
theology and philosophy. The headquarters of theology was the
Sorbonne, opened in 1253,--a college founded by Robert Sorbon,
chaplain of the king, whose aim was to bring together the students
and professors, heretofore scattered throughout the city. The
students of this college, which formed a part of the university,
under the rule of the chancellor of Notre Dame, it would seem were
more orderly and studious than the other students. They arose at
five, assisted at Mass at six, studied till ten,--the dinner hour;
from dinner till five they studied or attended lectures; then went
to supper,--the principal meal; after which they discussed problems
till nine or ten, when they went to bed. The students were divided
into hospites and socii, the latter of whom carried on the
administration. The lectures were given in a large hall, in the
middle of which was the chair of the master or doctor, while
immediately below him sat his assistant, the bachelor, who was
going through his training for a professorship. The chair of
theology was the most coveted honor of the university, and was
reached only by a long course of study and searching examinations,
to which no one could aspire but the most learned and gifted of the
doctors. The students sat around on benches, or on the straw.
There were no writing-desks. The teaching was oral, principally by
questions and answers. Neither the master nor the bachelor used a
book. No reading was allowed. The students rarely took notes or
wrote in short-hand; they listened to the lectures and wrote them
down afterwards, so far as their memory served them. The usual
text-book was the "Book of Sentences," by Peter Lombard. The
bachelor, after having previously studied ten years, was obliged to
go through a three years' drill, and then submit to a public
examination in presence of the whole university before he was
thought fit to teach. He could not then receive his master's badge
until he had successfully maintained a public disputation on some
thesis proposed; and even then he stood no chance of being elevated
to a professor's chair unless he had lectured for some time with
great eclat. Even Albertus Magnus, fresh with the laurels of
Cologne, was compelled to go through a three years' course as a
sub-teacher at Paris before he received his doctor's cap, and to
lecture for some years more as master before his transcendent
abilities were rewarded with a professorship. The dean of the
faculty of theology was chosen by the suffrages of the doctors.

The Organum (philosophy of first principles) of Aristotle was first
publicly taught in 1215. This was certainly in advance of the seven
liberal arts which were studied in the old Cathedral schools,--
grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic (Trivium); and arithmetic,
geometry, music, and astronomy (Quadrivium),--for only the elements
of these were taught. But philosophy and theology, under the
teaching of the Scholastic doctors (Doctores Scholastici), taxed
severely the intellectual powers. When they introduced dialectics
to support theology a more severe method was required. "The method
consisted in connecting the doctrine to be expounded with a
commentary on some work chosen for the purpose. The contents were
divided and subdivided, until the several propositions of which it
was composed were reached. Then these were interpreted, questions
were raised in reference to them, and the grounds of affirming or
denying were presented. Then the decision was announced, and in
case this was affirmative, the grounds of the negative were

Aristotle was made use of in order to reduce to scientific form a
body of dogmatic teachings, or to introduce a logical arrangement.
Platonism, embraced by the early Fathers, was a collection of
abstractions and theories, but was deficient in method. It did not
furnish the weapons to assail heresy with effect. But Aristotle
was logical and precise and passionless. He examined the nature of
language, and was clear and accurate in his definitions. His logic
was studied with the sole view of learning to use polemical
weapons. For this end the syllogism was introduced, which descends
from the universal to the particular, by deduction,--connecting the
general with the special by means of a middle term which is common
to both. This mode of reasoning is opposite to the method by
induction, which rises to the universal from a comparison of the
single and particular, or, as applied in science, from a collection
and collation of facts sufficient to form a certainty or high
probability. A sound special deduction can be arrived at only by
logical inference from true and certain general principles.

This is what Anselm essayed to do; but the Schoolmen who succeeded
Abelard often drew dialectical inferences from what appeared to be
true, while some of them were so sophistical as to argue from false
premises. This syllogistic reasoning, in the hands of an acute
dialectician, was very efficient in overthrowing an antagonist, or
turning his position into absurdity, but not favorable for the
discovery of truth, since it aimed no higher than the establishment
of the particulars which were included in the doctrine assumed or
deduced from it. It was reasoning in perpetual circles; it was
full of quibbles and sophistries; it was ingenious, subtle, acute,
very attractive to the minds of that age, and inexhaustible from
divisions and subdivisions and endless ramifications. It made the
contests of the schools a dialectical display of remarkable powers
in which great interest was felt, yet but little knowledge was
acquired. In one respect the Scholastic doctors rendered a
service: they demolished all dreamy theories and poured contempt on
mystical phrases. They insisted, like Socrates, on a definite
meaning to words. If they were hair-splitting in their definitions
and distinctions, they were at least clear and precise. Their
method was scientific. Such terms and expressions as are
frequently used by our modern transcendental philosophers would
have been laughed to scorn by the Schoolmen. No system of
philosophy can be built up when words have no definite meaning.
This Socrates was the first to inculcate, and Aristotle followed in
his steps.

With the Crusades arose a new spirit, which gave an impulse to
philosophy as well as to art and enterprise. "The primum mobile of
the new system was Motion, in distinction from the rest which
marked the old monastic retreats." An immense enthusiasm for
knowledge had been kindled by Abelard, which was further
intensified by the Scholastic doctors of the thirteenth century,
especially such of them as belonged to the Dominican and Franciscan

These celebrated Orders arose at a great crisis in the Papal
history, when rival popes aspired to the throne of Saint Peter,
when the Church was rent with divisions, when princes were
contending for the right of investiture, and when heretical
opinions were defended by men of genius. At this crisis a great
Pope was called to the government of the Church,--Innocent III.,
under whose able rule the papal power culminated. He belonged to
an illustrious Roman family, and received an unusual education,
being versed in theology, philosophy, and canon law. His name was
Lothario, of the family of the Conti; he was nephew of a pope, and
counted three cardinals among his relatives. At the age of twenty-
one, about the year 1181, he was one of the canons of Saint Peter's
Church; at twenty-four he was sent by the Pope on important
missions. In 1188 he was created cardinal by his uncle, Clement
III.; and in 1198 he was elected Pope, at the age of thirty-eight,
when the Crusades were at their height, when the south of France
was agitated by the opinions of the Albigenses, and the provinces
on the Rhine by those of the Waldenses. It was a turbulent age,
full of tumults, insurrections, wars, and theological dissensions.
The old monastic orders had degenerated and lost influence through
idleness and self-indulgence, while the secular clergy were
scarcely any better. Innocent cast his eagle eye into all the
abuses which disgraced the age and Church, and made fearless war
upon those princes who usurped his prerogatives. He excommunicated
princes, humbled the Emperor of Germany and the King of England,
put kingdoms under interdict, exempted abbots from the jurisdiction
of bishops, punished heretics, formed crusades, laid down new
canons, regulated taxes, and directed all ecclesiastical movements.
His activity was ceaseless, and his ambition was boundless. He
instituted important changes, and added new orders of monks to the
Church. It was this Pope who made auricular confession obligatory,
thus laying the foundation of an imperious spiritual sway in the
form of inquisitions.

A firm guardian of public morals, his private life was above
reproach. His habits were simple and his tastes were cultivated.
He was charitable and kind to the poor and unfortunate. He spent
his enormous revenues in building churches, endowing hospitals, and
rewarding learned men; and otherwise showed himself the friend of
scholars, and the patron of benevolent movements. He was a
reformer of abuses, publishing the most severe acts against
venality, and deciding quarrels on principles of justice. He had
no dramatic conflicts like Hildebrand, for his authority was
established. As the supreme guardian of the interests of the
Church he seldom made demands which he had not the power to
enforce. John of England attempted resistance, but was compelled
to submit. Innocent even gave the arch-bishopric of Canterbury to
one of his cardinals, Stephen Langton, against the wishes of a
Norman king. He made Philip II take back his lawful wife; he
nominated an emperor to the throne of Constantine; he compelled
France to make war on England, and incited the barons to rebellion
against John. Ten years' civil war in Germany was the fruit of his
astute policy, and the only great failure of his administration was
that he could not exempt Italy from the dominion of the Emperors of
Germany, thus giving rise to the two great political parties of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,--the Guelphs and Ghibellines.

To cement his vast spiritual power and to add to the usefulness and
glory of the Church, he not only countenanced but encouraged the
Mendicant Friars, established by Saint Francis of Assisi, and Saint
Dominic of the great family of the Guzmans in Spain. These men
made substantially the same offers to the Pope that Ignatius Loyola
did in after times,--to go where they were sent as teachers,
preachers, and missionaries without condition or reward. They
renounced riches, professed absolute poverty, and wandered from
village to city barefooted, and subsisting entirely on alms as
beggars. The Dominican friar in his black habit, and the
Franciscan in his gray, became the ablest and most effective
preachers of the thirteenth century. The Dominicans confined their
teachings to the upper classes, and became their favorite
confessors. They were the most learned men of the thirteenth
century, and also the most reproachless in morals. The Franciscans
were itinerary preachers to the common people, and created among
them the same religious revival that the Methodists did later in
England under the guidance of Wesley. The founder of the
Franciscans was a man who seemed to be "inebriated with love," so
unquenchable was his charity, rapt his devotions, and supernal his
sympathy. He found his way to Rome in the year 1215, and in
twenty-two years after his death there were nine thousand religious
houses of his Order. In a century from his death the friars
numbered one hundred and fifty thousand. The increase of the
Dominicans was not so rapid, but more illustrious men belonged to
this institution. It is affirmed that it produced seventy
cardinals, four hundred and sixty bishops, and four popes.

It was in the palmy days of these celebrated monks, before
corruption had set in, that the Dominican Order was recruited with
one of the most extraordinary men of the Middle Ages. This man was
Saint Thomas, born 1225 or 1227, son of a Count of Aquino in the
kingdom of Naples, known in history as Thomas Aquinas, "the most
successful organizer of knowledge," says Archbishop Trench, "the
world has known since Aristotle." He was called "the angelical
doctor," exciting the enthusiasm of his age for his learning and
piety and genius alike. He was a prodigy and a marvel of
dialectical skill, and Catholic writers have exhausted language to
find expressions for their admiration. Their Lives of him are an
unbounded panegyric for the sweetness of his temper, his wonderful
self-control, his lofty devotion to study, his indifference to
praises and rewards, his spiritual devotion, his loyalty to the
Church, his marvellous acuteness of intellect, his industry, and
his unparalleled logical victories. When he was five years of age
his father, a noble of very high rank, sent him to Monte Cassino
with the hope that he would become a Benedictine monk, and
ultimately abbot of that famous monastery, with the control of its
vast revenues and patronage. Here he remained seven years, until
the convent was taken and sacked by the soldiers of the Emperor
Frederic in his war with the Pope. The young Aquino returned to
his father's castle, and was then sent to Naples to be educated at
the university, living in a Benedictine abbey, and not in lodgings
like other students. The Dominicans and Franciscans held chairs in
the university, one of which was filled with a man of great
ability, whose preaching and teaching had such great influence on
the youthful Thomas that he resolved to join the Order, and at the
age of seventeen became a Dominican friar, to the disappointment of
his family. His mother Theodora went to Naples to extricate him
from the hands of the Dominicans, who secretly hurried him off to
Rome and guarded him in their convent, from which he was rescued by
violence. But the youth persisted in his intentions against the
most passionate entreaties of his mother, made his escape, and was
carried back to Naples. The Pope, at the solicitation of his
family, offered to make him Abbot of Monte Cassino, but he remained
a poor Dominican. His superior, seeing his remarkable talents,
sent him to Cologne to attend the lectures of Albertus Magnus, then
the most able expounder of the Scholastic Philosophy, and the
oracle of the universities, who continued his lectures after he was
made a bishop, and even until he was eighty-five. When Albertus
was transferred from Cologne to Paris, where the Dominicans held
two chairs of theology, Thomas followed him, and soon after was
made bachelor. Again was Albert sent back to Cologne, and Thomas
was made his assistant professor. He at once attracted attention,
was ordained priest, and became as famous for his sermons as for
his lectures. After four years at Cologne Thomas was ordered back
to Paris, travelling on foot, and begging his way, yet stopping to
preach in the large cities. He was still magister and Albert
professor, but had greatly distinguished himself by his lectures.

His appearance at this time was marked. His body was tall and
massive, but spare and lean from fasting and labor. His eyes were
bright, but their expression was most modest. His face was oblong,
his complexion sallow; his forehead depressed, his head large, his
person erect.

His first great work was a commentary of about twelve hundred pages
on the "Book of Sentences," in the Parma edition, which was
received with great admiration for its logical precision, and its
opposition to the rationalistic tendencies of the times. In it are
discussed all the great theological questions treated by Saint
Angustine,--God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace, predestination,
faith, free-will, Providence, and the like,--blended with
metaphysical discussions on the soul, the existence of evil, the
nature of angels, and other subjects which interested the Middle
Ages. Such was his fame and dialectical skill that he was taken
away from his teachings and sent to Rome to defend his Order and
the cause of orthodoxy against the slanders of William of Saint
Amour, an aristocratic doctor, who hated the Mendicant Friars and
their wandering and begging habits. William had written a book
called "Perils" in which he exposed the dangers to be apprehended
from the new order of monks, in which he proved himself a true
prophet, for ultimately the Mendicant Friars became subjects of
ridicule and reproach. But the Pope came to the rescue of his best

On the return of Thomas to Paris he was made doctor of theology, at
the same time with Bonaventura the Franciscan, called "the seraphic
doctor," between whom and Thomas were intimate ties of friendship.
He had now reached the highest honor that the university could
bestow, which was conferred with such extraordinary ceremony that
it would seem to have been a great event in Paris at that time.

His fame chiefly rests on the ablest treatise written in the Middle
Ages,--the "Summa Theologica,"--in which all the great questions in
theology and philosophy are minutely discussed, in the most
exhaustive manner. He took the side of the Realists, his object
being to uphold Saint Augustine. He was, more a Platonist in his
spirit than an Aristotelian, although he was indebted to Aristotle
for his method. He appealed to both reason and authority. He
presented the Christian religion in a scientific form. His book is
an assimilation of all that is precious in the thinking of the
Church. If he learned many things at Paris, Cologne, and Naples,
he was also educated by Chrysostom, by Augustine, and Ambrose. "It
is impossible," says Cardinal Newman, and no authority is higher
than his, "to read the Catena of Saint Thomas without being struck
by the masterly skill with which he put it together. A learning of
the highest kind,--not mere literary book knowledge which may have
supplied the place of indexes and tables in ages destitute of these
helps, and when they had to be read in unarranged and fragmentary
manuscripts, but a thorough acquaintance with the whole range of
ecclesiastical antiquity, so as to be able to bring the substance
of all that had been written on any point to bear upon the text
which involved it,--a familiarity with the style of each writer so
as to compress in a few words the pith of the whole page, and a
power of clear and orderly arrangement in this mass of knowledge,
are qualities which make this Catena nearly perfect as an
interpretation of Patristic literature." Dr. Vaughan, in
eulogistic language, says "The 'Summa Theologica' may be likened to
one of the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages, infinite in detail
but massive in the grouping of pillars and arches, forming a
complete unity that must have taxed the brain of the architect to
its greatest extent. But greater as work of intellect is this
digest of all theological richness for one thousand years, in which
the thread of discourse is never lost sight of, but winds through a
labyrinth of important discussions and digressions, all bearing on
the fundamental truths which Paul declared and Augustine

This treatise would seem to be a thesaurus of both Patristic and
Mediaeval learning; not a dictionary of knowledge, but a system of
truth severely elaborated in every part,--a work to be studied by
the Mediaeval students as Calvin's "Institutes" were by the
scholars of the Reformation, and not far different in its scope and
end; for the Patristic, the Mediaeval, and the Protestant divines
did not materially differ in reference to the fundamental truths
pertaining to God, the Incarnation, and Redemption. The Catholic
and Protestant divines differ chiefly on the ideas pertaining to
government and ecclesiastical institutions, and the various
inventions of the Middle Ages to uphold the authority of the
Church, not on dogmas strictly theological. A student in theology
could even in our times sit at the feet of Thomas Aquinas, as he
could at the feet of Augustine or Calvin; except that in the
theology which Thomas Aquinas commented upon there is a cumbrous
method, borrowed from Aristotle, which introduced infinite
distinctions and questions and definitions and deductions and
ramifications which have no charm to men who have other things to
occupy their minds than Scholastic subtilties, acute and logical as
they may be. Thomas Aquinas was raised to combat, with the weapons
most esteemed in his day, the various forms of Rationalism,
Pantheism, and Mysticism which then existed, and were included in
the Nominalism of his antagonists. And as long as universities are
centres of inquiry the same errors, under other names, will have to
be combated, but probably not with the same methods which marked
the teachings of the "angelical doctor." In demolishing errors and
systematizing truth he was the greatest benefactor to the cause of
"orthodoxy" that appeared in Europe for several centuries, admired
for his genius as much as Spencer and other great lights of science
are in our day, but standing preeminent and lofty over all, like a
beacon light to give both guidance and warning to inquiring minds
in every part of Christendom. Nor could popes and sovereigns
render too great honor to such a prodigy of genius. They offered
him the abbacy of Monte Cassino and the archbishopric of Naples,
but he preferred the life of a quiet student, finding in knowledge
and study, for their own sake, the highest reward, and pursuing his
labors without the impedimenta of those high positions which
involve ceremonies and cares and pomps, yet which most ambitious
men love better than freedom, placidity, and intellectual repose.
He lived not in a palace, as he might have lived, surrounded with
flatterers, luxuries, and dignities, but in a cell, wearing his
simple black gown, and walking barefooted wherever he went, begging
his daily bread according to the rules of his Order. His black
gown was not an academic badge, but the Dominican dress. His only
badge of distinction was the doctors' cap.

Dr. Vaughan, in his heavy and unartistic life of Thomas Aquinas,
has drawn a striking resemblance between Plato and the Mediaeval
doctor: "Both," he says, "were nobly born, both were grave from
youth, both loved truth with an intensity of devotion. If Plato
was instructed by Socrates, Aquinas was taught by Albertus Magnus;
if Plato travelled into Italy, Greece, and Egypt, Aquinas went to
Cologne, Naples, Bologna, and Rome; if Plato was famous for his
erudition, Aquinas was no less noted for his universal knowledge.
Both were naturally meek and gentle; both led lives of retirement
and contemplation; both loved solitude; both were celebrated for
self-control; both were brave; both held their pupils spell-bound
by their brilliant mental gifts; both passed their time in
lecturing to the schools (what the Pythagoreans were to Plato, the
Benedictines were to the angelical); both shrank from the display
of self; both were great dialecticians; both reposed on eternal
ideas; both were oracles to their generation." But if Aquinas had
the soul of Plato, he also had the scholastic gifts of Aristotle,
to whom the Church is indebted for method and nomenclature as it
was to Plato for synthesis and that exalted Realism which went hand
in hand with Christianity. How far he was indebted to Plato it is
difficult to say. He certainly had not studied his dialectics
through translations or in the original, but had probably imbibed
the spirit of this great philosopher through Saint Augustine and
other orthodox Fathers who were his admirers.

Although both Plato and Aristotle accepted "universals" as the
foundation of scientific inquiry, the former arrived at them by
consciousness, and the other by reasoning. The spirit of the two
great masters of thought was as essentially different as their
habits and lives. Plato believed that God governed the world;
Aristotle believed that it was governed by chance. The former
maintained that mind is divine and eternal; the latter that it is a
form of the body, and consequently mortal. Plato thought that the
source of happiness was in virtue and resemblance to God; while
Aristotle placed it in riches and outward prosperity. Plato
believed in prayer; but Aristotle thought that God would not hear
or answer it, and therefore that it was useless. Plato believed in
happiness after death; while Aristotle supposed that death ended
all pleasure. Plato lived in the world of abstract ideas;
Aristotle in the realm of sense and observation. The one was
religious; the other secular and worldly. With both the passion
for knowledge was boundless, but they differed in their conceptions
of knowledge; the one basing it on eternal ideas and the deductions
to be drawn from them, and the other on physical science,--the
phenomena of Nature,--those things which are cognizable by the
senses. The spiritual life of Plato was "a longing after love and
of eternal ideas, by the contemplation of which the soul sustains
itself and becomes participant in immortality." The life of
Aristotle was not spiritual, but intellectual. He was an
incarnation of mere intellect, the architect of a great temple of
knowledge, which received the name of Organum, or the philosophy of
first principles.

Thomas Aquinas, we may see from what has been said, was both
Platonic and Aristotelian. He resembled Plato in his deep and
pious meditations on the eternal realities of the spiritual world,
while in the severity of his logic he resembled Aristotle, from
whom he learned precision of language, lucidity of statement, and a
syllogistic mode of argument well calculated to confirm what was
already known, but not to make attainments in new fields of thought
or knowledge. If he was gentle and loving and pious like Plato, he
was also as calm and passionless as Aristotle.

This great man died at the age of forty-eight, in the year 1274, a
few years after Saint Louis, before his sum of theology was
completed. He died prematurely, exhausted by his intense studies;
leaving, however, treatises which filled seventeen printed folio
volumes,--one of the most voluminous writers of the world. His
fame was prodigious, both as a dialectician and a saint, and he was
in due time canonized as one of the great pillars of the Church,
ranking after Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the
Great,--the standard authority for centuries of the Catholic

The Scholastic Philosophy, which culminated in Thomas Aquinas,
maintained its position in the universities of Europe until the
Reformation, but declined in earnestness. It descended to the
discussion of unimportant and often frivolous questions. Even the
"angelical doctor" is quoted as discussing the absurd question as
to how many angels could dance together on the point of a needle.
The play of words became interminable. Things were lost sight of
in a barbarous jargon about questions which have no interest to
humanity, and which are utterly unintelligible. At the best,
logical processes can add nothing to the ideas from which they
start. When these ideas are lofty, discussion upon them elevates
the mind and doubtless strengthens its powers. But when the
subjects themselves are frivolous, the logical tournaments in their
defence degrade the intellect and narrow it. Nothing destroys
intellectual dignity more effectually than the waste of energies in
the defence of what is of no practical utility, and which cannot be
applied to the acquisition of solid knowledge. Hence the
Scholastic Philosophy did not advance knowledge, since it did not
seek the acquisition of new truths, but only the establishment of
the old. Its utility consisted in training the human mind to
logical reasonings. It exercised the intellect and strengthened
it, as gymnastics do the body, without enlarging it. It was
nothing but barren dialectics,--"dry bones," a perpetual fencing.
The soul cries out for bread; the Scholastics gave it a stone.

We are amazed that intellectual giants, equal to the old Greeks in
acuteness and logical powers, could waste their time on the
frivolous questions and dialectical subtilties to which they
devoted their mighty powers. However interesting to them, nothing
is drier and duller to us, nothing more barren and unsatisfying,
than their logical sports. Their treatises are like trees with
endless branches, each leading to new ramifications, with no
central point in view, and hence never finished, and which might be
carried on ad infinitum. To attempt to read their disquisitions is
like walking in labyrinths of ever-opening intricacies. By such a
method no ultimate truth could be arrived at, beyond what was
assumed. There is now and then a man who professes to have derived
light and wisdom from those dialectical displays, since they were
doubtless marvels of logical precision and clearness of statement.
But in a practical point of view those "masterpieces of logic" are
utterly useless to most modern inquirers. These are interesting
only as they exhibit the waste of gigantic energies; they do not
even have the merit of illustrative rhetoric or eloquence. The
earlier monks were devout and spiritual, and we can still read
their lofty meditations with profit, since they elevate the soul
and make it pant for the beatitudes of spiritual communion with
God. But the writings of the Scholastic doctors are cold, calm,
passionless, and purely intellectual,--logical without being
edifying. We turn from them, however acute and able, with blended
disappointment and despair. They are fig-trees, bearing nothing
but leaves, such as our Lord did curse. The distinctions are
simply metaphysical, and not moral.

Why the whole force of an awakening age should have been devoted to
such subtilties and barren discussion it is difficult to see,
unless they were found useful in supporting a theology made up of
metaphysical deductions rather than an interpretation of the
meaning of Scripture texts. But there was then no knowledge of
Greek or Hebrew; there was no exegetical research; there was no
science and no real learning. There was nothing but theology, with
the exception of Lives of the Saints. The horizon of human
inquiries was extremely narrow. But when the minds of very
intellectual men were directed to one particular field, it would be
natural to expect something remarkable and marvellously elaborate
of its kind. Such was the Scholastic Philosophy. As a mere
exhibition of dialectical acumen, minute distinctions, and logical
precision in the use of words, it was wonderful. The intricacy and
detail and ramifications of this system were an intellectual feat
which astonishes us, yet which does not instruct us, certainly
outside of a metaphysical divinity which had more charm to the men
of the Middle Ages than it can have to us, even in a theological
school where dogmatic divinity is made the most important study.
The day will soon come when the principal chair in the theological
school will be for the explanation of the Scripture texts on which
dogmas are based; and for this, great learning and scholarship will
be indispensable. To me it is surprising that metaphysics have so
long retained their hold on the minds of Protestant divines.
Nothing is more unsatisfactory, and to many more repellent, than
metaphysical divinity. It is a perversion of the spirit of
Christian teachings. "What says our Lord?" should be the great
inquiry in our schools of theology; not, What deductions can be
drawn from them by a process of ingenious reasoning which often,
without reference to other important truths, lands one in
absurdities, or at least in one-sided systems?

But the metaphysical divinity of the Schoolmen had great
attractions to the students of the Middle Ages. And there must
have been something in it which we do not appreciate, or it would
not have maintained itself in the schools for three hundred years.
Perhaps it was what those ages needed, the discipline through which
the mind must go before it could be prepared for the scientific
investigations of our own times. In an important sense the
Scholastic doctors were the teachers of Luther and Bacon.
Certainly their unsatisfactory science was one of the marked
developments of the civilization of Europe, through which the
Gothic nations must need pass. It has been the fashion to ridicule
it and depreciate it in our modern times, especially among
Protestants, who have ridiculed and slandered the papal power and
all the institutions of the Middle Ages. Yet scholars might as
well ridicule the text-books they were required to study fifty
years ago, because they are not up to our times. We should not
disdain the early steps by which future progress is made easy. We
cannot despise men who gave up their lives to the contemplation of
subjects which demand the highest tension of the intellectual
faculties, even if these exercises were barren of utilitarian
results. Some future age may be surprised at the comparative
unimportance of questions which interest this generation. The
Scholastic Philosophy cannot indeed be utilized by us in the
pursuit of scientific knowledge; nor (to recur to Vaughan's simile
for the great work of Aquinas) can a mediaeval cathedral be
utilized for purposes of oratory or business. But the cathedral is
nevertheless a grand monument, suggesting lofty sentiments, which
it would be senseless and ruthless barbarism to destroy or allow to
fall into decay, but which should rather be preserved as a precious
memento of what is most poetic and attractive in the Middle Ages.
When any modern philosopher shall rear so gigantic and symmetrical
a monument of logical disquisitions as the "Summa Theologica" is
said to be by the most competent authorities, then the sneers of a
Macaulay or a Lewes will be entitled to more consideration. It is
said that a new edition of this great Mediaeval work is about to be
published under the direct auspices of the Pope, as the best and
most comprehensive system of Christian theology ever written by


Dr. Vaughan's Life of Thomas Aquinas; Histoire de la Vie et des
Ecrits de St. Thomas d'Aquin, par l'Abbe Bareille; Lacordaire's
Life of Saint Dominic; Dr. Hampden's Life of Thomas Aquinas;
article on Thomas Aquinas, in London Quarterly, July, 1881; Summa
Theologica; Neander, Milman, Fleury, Dupin, and Ecclesiastical
Histories generally; Biographie Universelle; Werner's Leben des
Heiligen Thomas von Aquino; Trench's Lectures on Mediaeval History;
Ueberweg & Rousselot's History of Philosophy. Dr. Hampden's
article, in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, on Thomas Aquinas and
the Scholastic Philosophy, is regarded by Hallam as the ablest view
of this subject which has appeared in English.


A. D. 1118-1170.


A great deal has been written of late years on Thomas Becket,
Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Henry II.,--some
historians writing him up, and others writing him down; some making
him a martyr to the Church, and others representing him as an
ambitious prelate who encroached on royal authority,--more of a
rebel than a patriot. His history has become interesting, in view
of this very discrepancy of opinion,--like that of Oliver Cromwell,
one of those historical puzzles which always have attraction to
critics. And there is abundant material for either side we choose
to take. An advocate can make a case in reference to Becket's
career with more plausibility than about any other great character
in English history,--with the exception of Queen Elizabeth,
Cromwell, and Archbishop Laud.

The cause of Becket was the cause of the Middle Ages. He was not
the advocate of fundamental principles, as were Burke and Bacon.
He fought either for himself, or for principles whose importance
has in a measure passed away. He was a high-churchman, who sought
to make the spiritual power independent of the temporal. He
appears in an interesting light only so far as the principles he
sought to establish were necessary for the elevation of society in
his ignorant and iron age. Moreover, it was his struggles which
give to his life its chief charm, and invest it with dramatic
interest. It was his energy, his audacity, his ability in
overcoming obstacles, which made him memorable,--one of the heroes
of history, like Ambrose and Hildebrand; an ecclesiastical warrior
who fought bravely, and died without seeing the fruits of his

There seems to be some discrepancy among historians as to Becket's
birth and origin, some making him out a pure Norman, and others a
Saxon, and others again half Saracen. But that is, after all, a
small matter, although the critics make a great thing of it. They
always are inclined to wrangle over unimportant points. Michelet
thinks he was a Saxon, and that his mother was a Saracen lady of
rank, who had become enamored of the Saxon when taken prisoner
while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and who returned with him
to England, embraced his religion, and was publicly baptized in
Saint Paul's Cathedral, her beauty and rank having won attention;
but Mr. Froude and Milman regard this as a late legend.

It would seem, however, that he was born in London about the year
1118 or 1119, and that his father, Gilbert Becket, was probably a
respectable merchant and sheriff, or portreeve, of London, and was
a Norman. His parents died young, leaving him not well provided
for; but being beautiful and bright he was sent to school in an
abbey, and afterwards to Oxford. From Oxford he went into a house
of business in London for three years, and contrived to attract the
notice of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who saw his talents,
sent him to Paris, and thence to Bologna to study the canon law,
which was necessary to a young man who would rise in the world. He
was afterwards employed by Theobald in confidential negotiations.
The question of the day in England was whether Stephen's son
(Eustace) or Matilda's son (Henry of Anjou) was the true heir to
the crown, it being settled that Stephen should continue to rule
during his lifetime, and that Henry should peaceably follow him;
which happened in a little more than a year. Becket had espoused
the side of Henry.

The reign of Henry II., during which Becket's memorable career took
place, was an important one. He united, through his mother
Matilda, the blood of the old Saxon kings with that of the Norman
dukes. He was the first truly English sovereign who had sat on the
throne since the Conquest. In his reign (1154-1189) the blending
of the Norman and Saxon races was effected. Villages and towns
rose around the castles of great Norman nobles and the cathedrals
and abbeys of Norman ecclesiastics. Ultimately these towns
obtained freedom. London became a great city with more than a
hundred churches. The castles, built during the disastrous civil
wars of Stephen's usurped reign, were demolished. Peace and order
were restored by a legitimate central power.

Between the young monarch of twenty-two and Thomas, as a favorite
of Theobald and as Archdeacon of Canterbury, an intimacy sprang up.
Henry II. was the most powerful sovereign of Western Europe, since
he was not only King of England, but had inherited in France Anjou
and Touraine from his father, and Normandy and Maine from his
mother. By his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine, he gained seven
other provinces as her dower. The dominions of Louis were not half
so great as his, even in France. And Henry was not only a powerful
sovereign by his great territorial possessions, but also for his
tact and ability. He saw the genius of Becket and made him his
chancellor, loading him with honors and perquisites and Church

The power of Becket as chancellor was very great, since he was
prime minister, and the civil administration of the kingdom was
chiefly intrusted to him, embracing nearly all the functions now
performed by the various members of the Cabinet. As chancellor he
rendered great services. He effected a decided improvement in the
state of the country; it was freed from robbers and bandits, and
brought under dominion of the law. He depressed the power of the
feudal nobles; he appointed the most deserving people to office; he
repaired the royal palaces, increased the royal revenues, and
promoted agricultural industry. He seems to have pursued a peace
policy. But he was headstrong and grasping. His style of life
when chancellor was for that age magnificent: Wolsey, in after
times, scarcely excelled him. His dress was as rich as barbaric
taste could make it,--for the more barbarous the age, the more
gorgeous is the attire of great dignitaries. "The hospitalities of
the chancellor were unbounded. He kept seven hundred horsemen
completely armed. The harnesses of his horses were embossed with
gold and silver. The most powerful nobles sent their sons to serve
in his household as pages; and nobles and knights waited in his
antechamber. There never passed a day when he did not make rich
presents." His expenditure was enormous. He rivalled the King in
magnificence. His sideboard was loaded with vessels of gold and
silver. He was doubtless ostentatious, but his hospitality was
free, and his person was as accessible as a primitive bishop. He
is accused of being light and frivolous; but this I doubt. He had
too many cares and duties for frivolity. He doubtless unbent. All
men loaded down with labors must unbend somewhere. It was nothing
against him that he told good stories at the royal table, or at his
own, surrounded by earls and barons. These relaxations preserved
in him elasticity of mind, without which the greatest genius soon
becomes a hack, a plodding piece of mechanism, a stupid lump of
learned dulness. But he was stained by no vices or excesses. He
was a man of indefatigable activity, and all his labors were in the
service of the Crown, to which, as chancellor, he was devoted, body
and soul.

Is it strange that such a man should have been offered the See of
Canterbury on the death of Theobald? He had been devoted to his
royal master and friend; he enjoyed rich livings, and was
Archdeacon of Canterbury; he had shown no opposition to the royal
will. Moreover Henry wanted an able man for that exalted post, in
order to carry out his schemes of making himself independent of
priestly influence and papal interference.

So Becket was made archbishop and primate of the English Church at
the age of forty-four, the clergy of the province acquiescing,--
perhaps with secret complaints, for he was not even priest; merely
deacon, and the minister of an unscrupulous king. He was ordained
priest only just before receiving the primacy, and for that

Nothing in England could exceed the dignity of the See of
Canterbury. Even the archbishopric of York was subordinate.
Becket as metropolitan of the English Church was second in rank
only to the King himself. He could depose any ecclesiastic in the
realm. He had the exclusive privilege of crowning the king. His
decisions were final, except an appeal to Rome. No one dared
disobey his mandates, for the law of clerical obedience was one of
the fundamental ideas of the age. Through his clergy, over whom
his power was absolute, he controlled the people. His law courts
had cognizance of questions which the royal courts could not
interfere with. No ecclesiastical dignitary in Europe was his
superior, except the Pope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had been a great personage under the
Saxon kings. Dunstan ruled England as the prime minister of Edward
the Martyr, but his influence would have been nearly as great had
he been merely primate of the Church. Nor was the power of the
archbishop reduced by the Norman kings. William the Conqueror
might have made the spiritual authority subordinate to the
temporal, if he had followed his inclinations. But he dared not
quarrel with the Pope,--the great Hildebrand, by whose favor he was
unmolested in the conquest of the Saxons. He was on very intimate
terms of friendship with Lanfranc, whom he made Archbishop of
Canterbury,--an able, ambitious Italian, who was devoted to the See
of Rome and his spiritual monarch. The influence of Hildebrand and
Lanfranc combined was too great to be resisted. Nor did he attempt
resistance; he acquiesced in the necessity of making a king of
Canterbury. His mind was so deeply absorbed with his conquest and
other state matters that he did not seem to comprehend the
difficulties which might arise under his successors, in yielding so
much power to the primate. Moreover Lanfranc, in the quiet
enjoyment of his ecclesiastical privileges, gave his powerful
assistance in imposing the Norman yoke. He filled the great sees
with Norman prelates. He does not seem to have had much sympathy
with the Saxons, or their bishops, who were not so refined or
intellectual as the bishops of France. The Normans were a superior
race to the Saxons in executive ability and military enthusiasm.
The chivalric element of English society, among the higher classes,
came from the Normans, not from the Saxons. In piety, in passive
virtues, in sustained industry, in patient toil, in love of
personal freedom, the Saxons doubtless furnished a finer material
for the basis of an agricultural, industrial, and commercial
nation. The sturdy yeomen of England were Saxons: the noble and
great administrators were Normans. In pride, in ambition, and in
executive ability the Normans bore a closer resemblance to the old
heroic Romans than did the Saxons.

The next archbishop after Lanfranc was Anselm, appointed by William
Rufus. Anselm was a great scholar, the profoundest of the early
Schoolmen; a man of meditative habits, who it was presumed would
not interfere with royal encroachments. William Rufus never
dreamed that the austere and learned monk, who had spent most of
his days in the abbey of Bec in devout meditations and scholastic
inquiries, would interfere with his rapacity. But, as we have
already seen, Anselm was conscientious, and became the champion of
the Papal authority in the West. He occupied two distinct
spheres,--he was absorbed in philosophical speculations, yet took
an interest in all mundane questions. His resolve to oppose the
king's usurpations in the spiritual realm caused the bitter quarrel
already described, which ended in a compromise.

When Henry I. came to the throne, he appointed Theobald, a feeble
but good man, to the See of Canterbury,--less ambitious than
Lanfranc, more inoffensive than Anselm; a Norman disinclined to
quarrel with his sovereign. He died during the reign of Henry II.,
and this great monarch, as we have seen, appointed Becket to the
vacant See, thinking that in the double capacity of chancellor and
archbishop he would be a very powerful ally. But he was amazingly
deceived in the character of his Chancellor. Becket had not sought
the office,--the office had sought him. It would seem that he
accepted it unwillingly. He knew that new responsibilities and
duties would be imposed upon him, which, if he discharged
conscientiously like Anselm, would in all probability alienate his
friend the King, and provoke a desperate contest. And when the
courtly and luxurious Chancellor held out, in Normandy, the skirts
of his gilded and embroidered garments to show how unfit he was for
an archbishop, Henry ought to have perceived that a future
estrangement was a probability.

Better for Henry had Becket remained in the civil service. But
Henry, with all his penetration, had not fathomed the mind of his
favorite. Becket was not one to dissemble, but a great change
may have been wrought in his character. Probably the new
responsibilities imposed upon him as Primate of the English Church
pressed upon his conscience. He knew that supreme allegiance was
due to the Pope as head of the Church, and that if compelled to
choose between the Pope and the King, he must obey the Pope. He was
ambitious, doubtless; but his subsequent career shows that he
preferred the liberties of his Church to the temporal interests of
the sovereign. He was not a theologian, like Lanfranc and Anselm.
Of all the great characters who preceded him, he most resembles
Ambrose. Ambrose the governor, and a layman, became Archbishop of
Milan. Becket the minister of a king, and only deacon, became
Archbishop of Canterbury. The character of both these great men
changed on their elevation to high ecclesiastical position. They
both became high-churchmen, and defended the prerogatives of the
clergy. But Ambrose was superior to Becket in his zeal to defend
the doctrines of the Church. It does not appear that Becket took
much interest in doctrines. In his age there was no dissent.
Everybody, outwardly at least, was orthodox. In England, certainly,
there were no heretics. Had Becket remained chancellor, in all
probability he would not have quarrelled with Henry. As archbishop
he knew what was expected of him; and he knew also the infamy in
store for him should he betray his cause. I do not believe he was a
hypocrite. Every subsequent act of his life shows his sincerity and
his devotion to his Church against his own interests.

Becket was no sooner ordained priest and consecrated as archbishop
than he changed his habits. He became as austere as Lanfranc. He
laid aside his former ostentation. He clothed himself in
sackcloth; he mortified his body with fasts and laceration; he
associated only with the pious and the learned; he frequented the
cloisters and places of meditation; he received into his palace the
needy and the miserable; he washed the feet of thirteen beggars
every day; he conformed to the standard of piety in his age; he
called forth the admiration of his attendants by his devotion to
clerical duties. "He was," says James Stephen, "a second Moses
entering the tabernacle at the accepted time for the contemplation
of his God, and going out from it in order to perform some work of
piety to his neighbor. He was like one of God's angels on the
ladder, whose top reached the heavens, now descending to lighten
the wants of men, now ascending to behold the divine majesty and
the splendor of the Heavenly One. His prime councillor was reason,
which ruled his passions as a mistress guides her servants. Under
her guidance he was conducted to virtue, which, wrapped up in
itself, and embracing everything within itself, never looks forward
for anything additional."

This is the testimony of his biographer, and has not been explained
away or denied, although it is probably true that Becket did not
purge the corruptions of the Church, or punish the disorders and
vices of the clergy, as Hildebrand did. But I only speak of his
private character. I admit that he was no reformer. He was simply
the high-churchman aiming to secure the ascendency of the spiritual
power. Becket is not immortal for his reforms, or his theological
attainments, but for his intrepidity, his courage, his devotion to
his cause,--a hero, and not a man of progress; a man who fought a
fight. It should be the aim of an historian to show for what he
was distinguished; to describe his warfare, not to abuse him
because he was not a philosopher and reformer. He lived in the
twelfth century.

One of the first things which opened the eyes of the King was the
resignation of the Chancellor. The King doubtless made him primate
of the English hierarchy in order that he might combine both
offices. But they were incompatible, unless Becket was willing to
be the unscrupulous tool of the King in everything. Of course
Henry could not long remain the friend of the man who he thought
had duped him. Before a year had passed, his friendship was turned
to secret but bitter enmity. Nor was it long before an event
occurred,--a small matter,--which brought the King and the Prelate
into open collision.

The matter was this: A young nobleman, who held a clerical office,
committed a murder. As an ecclesiastic, he was brought before the
court of the Bishop of Lincoln, and was sentenced to pay a small
fine. But public justice was not satisfied, and the sheriff
summoned the canon, who refused to plead before him. The matter
was referred to the King, who insisted that the murderer should be
tried in the civil court,--that a sacred profession should not
screen a man who had committed a crime against society. While the
King had, as we think, justice on his side, yet in this matter he
interfered with the jurisdiction of the spiritual courts, which had
been in force since Constantine. Theodosius and Justinian had
confirmed the privilege of the Church, on the ground that the
irregularities of a body of men devoted to the offices of religion
should be veiled from the common eye; so that ecclesiastics were
sometimes protected when they should be punished. But if the
ecclesiastical courts had abuses, they were generally presided over
by good and wise men,--more learned than the officers of the civil
courts, and very popular in the Middle Ages; and justice in them
was generally administered. So much were they valued in a dark
age, when the clergy were the most learned men of their times, that
much business came gradually to be transacted in them which
previously had been settled in the civil courts,--as tithes,
testaments, breaches of contract, perjuries, and questions
pertaining to marriage. But Henry did not like these courts, and
was determined to weaken their jurisdiction, and transfer their
power to his own courts, in order to strengthen the royal
authority. Enlightened jurists and historians in our times here
sympathize with Henry. High-Church ecclesiastics defend the
jurisdiction of the spiritual courts, since they upheld the power
of the Church, so useful in the Middle Ages. The King began the
attack where the spiritual courts were weakest,--protection
afforded to clergymen accused of crime. So he assembled a council
of bishops and barons to meet him at Westminster. The bishops at
first were inclined to yield to the King, but Becket gained them
over, and would make no concession. He stood up for the privileges
of his order. In this he was contending for justice and he
defended his Church, at all hazards,--not her doctrines, but her
prerogatives. He would present a barrier against royal
encroachments, even if they were for the welfare of the realm. He
would defend the independence of the clergy, and their power,--
perhaps as an offset to royal power. In his rigid defence of the
privileges of the clergy we see the churchman, not the statesman;
we see the antagonist, not the ally, of the King. Henry was of
course enraged. Who can wonder? He was bearded by his former
favorite,--by one of his subjects.

If Becket was narrow, he no doubt was conscientious. He may have
been ambitious of wielding unlimited spiritual authority. But it
should be noted that, had he not quarrelled with the King, he could
have been both archbishop and chancellor, and in that double
capacity wielded more power; and had he been disposed to serve his
royal master, had he been more gentle, the King might not have
pushed out his policy of crippling the spiritual courts,--might
have waived, delayed, or made concessions. But now these two great
potentates were in open opposition, and a deadly warfare was at
hand. It is this fight which gives to Becket all his historical
importance. It is not for me to settle the merits of the case, if
I could, only to describe the battle. The lawyers would probably
take one side, and Catholic priests would take the other, and
perhaps all high-churchmen. Even men like Mr. Froude and Mr.
Freeman, both very learned and able, are totally at issue, not
merely as to the merits of the case, but even as to the facts. Mr.
Froude seems to hate Becket and all other churchmen as much as Mr.
Freeman loves them. I think one reason why Mr. Froude exalts so
highly Henry VIII. is because he put his foot on the clergy and
took away their revenues. But with the war of partisans I have
nothing to do, except the war between Henry II. and Thomas Becket.

This war waxed hot when a second council of bishops and barons was
assembled at Clarendon, near Winchester, to give their assent to
certain resolutions which the King's judges had prepared in
reference to the questions at issue, and other things tending to
increase the royal authority. They are called in history "The
Constitutions of Clarendon." The gist and substance of them were,
that during the vacancy of any bishopric or abbey of royal
foundation, the estates were to be in the custody of the Crown;
that all disputes between laymen and clergymen should be tried in
the civil courts; that clergymen accused of crime should, if the
judges decided, be tried in the King's court, and, if found guilty,
be handed over to the secular arm for punishment; that no officer
or tenant of the King should be excommunicated without the King's
consent; that no peasant's son should be ordained without
permission of his feudal lord; that great ecclesiastical personages
should not leave the kingdom without the King's consent.

"Anybody must see that these articles were nothing more nor less
than the surrender of the most important and vital privileges of
the Church into the hands of the King: not merely her properties,
but her liberties; even a surrender of the only weapon with which
she defended herself in extreme cases,--that of excommunication."
It was the virtual confiscation of the Church in favor of an
aggressive and unscrupulous monarch. Could we expect Becket to
sign such an agreement, to part with his powers, to betray the
Church of which he was the first dignitary in England? When have
men parted with their privileges, except upon compulsion? He never
would have given up his prerogatives; he never meant for a moment
to do so. He was not the man for such a base submission. Yet he
was so worried and threatened by the King, who had taken away from
him the government of the Prince, his son, and the custody of
certain castles; he was so importuned by the bishops themselves,
for fear that the peace of the country would be endangered,--that
in a weak moment he promised to sign the articles, reserving this
phrase: "Saving the honor of his order." With this reservation, he
thought he could sign the agreement, for he could include under
such a phrase whatever he pleased.

But when really called to fulfil his promise and sign with his own
hand those constitutions, he wavered. He burst out in passionate
self-reproaches for having made a promise so fatal to his position.
"Never, never!" he said; "I will never do it so long as breath is
in my body." In his repentance he mortified himself with new self-
expiations. He suspended himself from the service of the altar.
He was overwhelmed with grief, shame, rage, and penitence. He
resolved he would not yield up the privileges of his order, come
what might,--not even if the Pope gave him authority to sign.

The dejected and humbled metropolitan advanced to the royal throne
with downcast eye but unfaltering voice; accused himself of
weakness and folly, and firmly refused to sign the articles.
"Miserable wretch that I am," cried he, with bitter tears coursing
down his cheeks, "I see the English Church enslaved, in punishment
for my sins. But it is all right. I was taken from the court, not
the cloister, to fill this station; from the palace of Caesar, not
the school of the Saviour. I was a feeder of birds, but suddenly
made a feeder of men; a patron of stage-players, a follower of
hounds, and I became a shepherd over so many souls. Surely I am
rightly abandoned by God."

He then took his departure for Canterbury, but was soon summoned to
a grand council at Northampton, to answer serious charges. He was
called to account for the sums he had spent as chancellor, and for
various alleged injustices. He was found guilty by a court
controlled by the King, and sentenced to pay a heavy fine, which he
paid. The next day new charges were preferred, and he was
condemned to a still heavier fine, which he was unable to pay; but
he found sureties. On the next day still heavier charges were
made, and new fines inflicted, which would have embarrassed the
temporalities of his See. He now perceived that the King was bent
on his ruin; that the more he yielded the more he would be expected
to yield. He therefore resolved to yield no further, but to stand
on his rights.

But before he made his final resistance he armed himself with his
crozier, and sought counsel from the bishops assembled in another
chamber of the royal castle. The bishops were divided: some for
him, some against him. Gilbert Foliot of London put him in mind of
the benefits he had received from Henry, and the humble condition
from which he was raised, and advised him to resign for sake of
peace. Henry of Winchester, a relative of the King, bade him
resign. Roger of Worcester was non-committal. "If I advise to
resist the King, I shall be put out of the synagogue" said he. "I
counsel nothing." The Bishop of Chichester declared that Becket
was primate no longer, as he had gone against the laws of the
realm. In the midst of this conference the Earl of Leicester
entered, and announced the sentence of the peers. Then gathering
himself up to his full height, the Primate, with austere dignity,
addressed the Earl and the Bishops: "My brethren, our enemies are
pressing hard upon us, and the whole world is against us; but I now
enjoin you, in virtue of your obedience, and in peril of your
orders, not to be present in any cause which may be made against my
person; and I appeal to that refuge of the distressed, the Holy
See. And I command you as your Primate, and in the name of the
Pope, to put forth the censures of the Church in behalf of your
Archbishop, should the secular arm lay violent hands upon me; for,
be assured, though this frail body may yield to persecution,--since
all flesh is weak,--yet shall my spirit never yield."

Then pushing his way, he swept through the chamber, reached the
quadrangle of the palace, mounted his horse, reached his lodgings,
gave a banquet to some beggars, stole away in disguise and fled,
reaching the coast in safety, and succeeding in crossing over to
Flanders. He was now out of the King's power, who doubtless would
have imprisoned him and perhaps killed him, for he hated him with
the intensest hatred. Becket had deceived him, having trifled with
him by taking an oath to sign the Constitutions of Clarendon, and
then broken his oath and defied his authority, appealing to the
Pope, and perhaps involving the King in a quarrel with the supreme
spiritual power of Christendom. Finally he had deserted his post
and fled the kingdom. He had defeated the King in his most darling

But although Becket was an exile, a fugitive, and a wanderer, he
was still Archbishop of Canterbury. He was the head of the English
Church, and all the clergy of the kingdom owed him spiritual
obedience. He still had the power of excommunicating the King, and
the sole right of crowning his successor. If the Pope should take
his side, and the King of France, and other temporal powers, Becket
would be no unequal match for the King. It was a grand crisis
which Henry comprehended, and he therefore sent some of his most
powerful barons and prelates to the Continent to advance his cause
and secure the papal interposition.

Becket did not remain long in Flanders, since the Count was cold
and did not take his side. He escaped, and sought shelter and aid
from the King of France.

Louis VII. was a feeble monarch, but he hated Henry II. and admired
Becket. He took him under his protection, and wrote a letter to
the Pope in his behalf.

That Pope was Alexander III.,--himself an exile, living in Sens,
and placed in a situation of great difficulty, struggling as he was
with an anti-pope, and the great Frederic Barbarossa; Emperor of
Germany. Moreover he was a personal friend of Henry, to whom he
had been indebted for his elevation to the papal throne. His
course, therefore, was non-committal and dilatory and vacillating,
although he doubtless was on the side of the prelate who exalted
ecclesiastical authority. But he was obliged from policy to be
prudent and conciliatory. He patiently heard both sides, but
decided nothing. All he consented to do was to send cardinal
legates to England, but intrusted to none but himself the
prerogatives of final judgment.

After Henry's ambassadors had left, Becket appeared with a splendid
train of three hundred horsemen, the Archbishop of Rheims, the
brothers of the King of France, and a long array of bishops. The
Pope dared not receive him with the warmth he felt, but was
courteous, more so than his cardinals; and Becket unfolded and
discussed the Constitutions of Clarendon, which of course found no
favor with the Pope. He rebuked Becket for his weakness in
promising to sign a paper which curtailed so fundamentally the
privileges of the Church. Some historians affirm he did not extend
to him the protection he deserved, although he confirmed him in his
office. He sent him to the hospitable care of the Abbot of
Pontigny. "Go now," he said, "and learn what privation is; and in
the company of Christ's humblest servants subdue the flesh to the

In this Cistercian abbey it would seem that Becket lived in great
austerity, tearing his flesh with his nails, and inflicting on
himself severe flagellations; so that his health suffered, and his
dreams haunted him. He was protected, but he could not escape
annoyances and persecutions. Henry, in his wrath, sequestrated the
estates of the archbishopric; the incumbents of his benefices were
expelled; all his relatives and dependents were banished,--some
four hundred people; men, women, and children. The bishops sent
him ironical letters, and hoped his fasts would benefit his soul.

The quarrel now was of great interest to all Europe. It was
nothing less than a battle between the spiritual and temporal
powers, like that, a century before, between Hildebrand and the
Emperor of Germany. Although the Pope was obliged from motives of
policy,--for fear of being deposed,--to seem neutral and attempt to
conciliate, still the war really was carried on in his behalf.
"The great, the terrible, the magnificent in the fate of Becket,"
says Michelet, "arises from his being charged, weak and unassisted,
with the interests of the Church Universal,--a post which belonged
to the Pope himself." He was still Archbishop; but his revenues
were cut off, and had it not been for the bounty of Louis the King
of France, who admired him and respected his cause, he might have
fared as a simple monk. The Pope allowed him to excommunicate the
persons who occupied his estates, but not the King himself. He
feared a revolt of the English Church from papal authority, since
Henry was supreme in England, and had won over to his cause the
English bishops. The whole question became complicated and
interesting. It was the common topic of discourse in all the
castles and convents of Europe. The Pope, timid and calculating,
began to fear he had supported Becket too far, and pressed upon him
a reconciliation with Henry, much to the disgust of Becket, who
seemed to comprehend the issue better than did the Pope; for the
Pope had, in his desire to patch up the quarrel, permitted the son
of Henry to be crowned by the Archbishop of York, which was not
only an infringement of the privileges of the Primate, but was a
blow against the spiritual power. So long as the Archbishop of
Canterbury had the exclusive privilege of crowning a king, the King
was dependent in a measure on the Primate, and, through him, on the
Pope. At this suicidal act on the part of Alexander, Becket lost
all patience, and wrote to him a letter of blended indignation and
reproach. "Why," said he, "lay in my path a stumbling-block? How
can you blind yourself to the wrong which Christ suffers in me and
yourself? And yet you call on me, like a hireling, to be silent.
I might flourish in power and riches and pleasures, and be feared
and honored of all; but since the Lord hath called me, weak and
unworthy as I am, to the oversight of the English Church, I prefer
proscription, exile, poverty, misery, and death, rather than
traffic with the liberties of the Church."

What language to a Pope! What a reproof from a subordinate! How
grandly the character of Becket looms up here! I say nothing of
his cause. It may have been a right or a wrong one. Who shall
settle whether spiritual or temporal power should have the
ascendency in the Middle Ages? I speak only of his heroism, his
fidelity to his cause, his undoubted sincerity. Men do not become
exiles and martyrs voluntarily, unless they are backed by a great
cause. Becket may have been haughty, irascible, ambitious. Very
likely. But what then? The more personal faults he had, the
greater does his devotion to the interests of the Church appear,
fighting as it were alone and unassisted. Undaunted, against the
advice of his friends, unsupported by the Pope, he now hurls his
anathemas from his retreat in France. He excommunicates the Bishop
of Salisbury, and John of Oxford, and the Arch deacon of Ilchester,
and the Lord Chief-Justice de Luci, and everybody who adhered to
the Constitutions of Clarendon. The bishops of England remonstrate
with him, and remind him of his plebeian origin and his obligations
to the King. To whom he replies: "I am not indeed sprung from
noble ancestors, but I would rather be the man to whom nobility of
mind gives the advantages of birth than to be the degenerate issue
of an illustrious family. David was taken from the sheep-fold to
be a ruler of God's people, and Peter was taken from fishing to be
the head of the Church. I was born under a humble roof, yet,
nevertheless, God has intrusted me with the liberties of the
Church, which I will guard with my latest breath."

Henry now threatens to confiscate the property of all the
Cistercian convents in England; and the Abbot of Pontigny, at the
command of his general, is forced to drive Becket away from his
sanctuary. Becket retires to Sens, sad at heart and grieved that
the excommunications which he had inflicted should have been
removed by the Pope. Then Louis, the King of France, made war on


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