History of the christian church



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The warm controversy between the Thomists and Scotists over the immaculate conception has been referred to in another place. Saints also joined in it. St. Brigitta of Sweden learned through a vision that Mary was conceived immaculate. On the other hand the Dominican, St. Catherine of Siena, prophesied Mary had not been sanctified till the third hour after her conception. The synod of Paris, 1387, decided in favor of the Scotist position, but Sixtus IV., 1483, threatened with excommunication either party denouncing the other. Finally, Duns Scotus triumphed, and in 1854, Pius IX. made it a dogma of the Church that Mary in the very instant of her conception was kept immune from all stain of original sin.6

The festival of the immaculate conception, observed Dec. 8, was taken up by the Franciscans at their general chapter, held in Pisa, 1263, and its celebration made obligatory in their churches.

One more possible glorification of Mary, the humble mother of our Lord, has not yet been turned into dogma by the Roman Church, her assumption into heaven, her body not having seen corruption. This is held as a pious opinion and preachers like St. Bernard, Honorius of Autun, Gottfried of Admont, and Werner of St. Blasius preached sermon after sermon on Mary’s assumption. The belief is based upon the story, told by Juvenal of Jerusalem to the emperor Marcian at the council of Chalcedon, 451, that three days after Mary’s burial in Jerusalem, her coffin but not her body was found by the Apostles. Juvenal afterwards sent the coffin to the emperor.7 Even Augustine had shunned to believe that the body of the mother of our Lord saw corruption. The festival of the Assumption was celebrated in Rome as early as the middle of the eleventh century. 2038 The synod of Toulouse, 1229, included the festival among the other church festivals at the side of Christmas and Easter. Thomas Aquinas spoke of it as being tolerated by the Church, not commanded.

The Ave Maria, "Hail Mary, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" made up of the words of the angelic salutation and the words of Elizabeth, Luke i:28, 42, was used as a prayer in the time of Peter Damiani, 2039and was specially expounded by Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas. The petitionary clause, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of death" appears in the sixteenth century and was introduced into the Roman breviary 1568. 2040 The so-called Ave, or Angelus, bell was ordered rung by John XXII. (d. 1334) three times a day. When it peals, the woman in the home and the workman in the field are expected to bow their heads in prayer to Mary.



In few respects are the worship and teaching of the Middle Ages so different from those of the Protestant churches as in the claims made for Mary and the regard paid to her. If we are to judge by the utterances and example of Pius IX. and Leo XIII., the mediaeval cult still goes on in the Roman communion. And more recently Pius X. shows that he follows his predecessors closely. In his encyclical of Jan. 15, 1907, addressed to the French bishops, he says, "In full confidence that the Virgin Immaculate, daughter of our Father, mother of the Word, spouse of the Holy Ghost, will obtain for you from the most holy and adorable Trinity better days, we give you our Apostolic Benediction." It was the misfortune of the mediaeval theologians to fall heir to the eulogies passed upon Mary by Jerome and other early Fathers of the early Church and the veneration in which she was held. They blindly followed having inherited also the allegorical mode of interpretation from the past. In part they were actuated by a sincere purpose to exalt the glory and divinity of Christ when they ascribed to Mary exemption from sin. On the other hand it was a Pagan, though chivalric, superstition to exalt her to a position of a goddess who stands between Christ and the sinner and mitigates by her intercession the austerity which marks his attitude towards them. This was the response the mediaeval Church gave to the exclamation of St. Bernard, "Who is this virgin so worthy of honor as to be saluted by the angel and so lowly as to have been espoused to a carpenter?" 2041 The tenderest piety of the Middle Ages went out to her and is expressed in such hymns as the Mater dolorosa and the companion piece, Mater speciosa. But this piety, while it no doubt contributed to the exaltation of womanhood, also involved a relaxation of penitence, for in the worship of Mary tears of sympathy are substituted for resolutions of repentance.
§ 131. The Worship of Relics.
Literature: See Lit., p. 268 sq. Guibert of Nogent, d. 1124: de pignoribus sanctorum, Migne, vol. 156, 607–679.—Guntherus: Hist. Constantinopol., Migne, vol. 212.—Peter the Venerable: de miraculis, Migne, vol. 189.—Caesar of Heisterbach, Jacob of Voragine, Salimbene, etc.—P. Vignon: The Shroud of Christ, Engl. trans., N. Y., 1903.
The worship of relics was based by Thomas Aquinas upon the regard nature prompts us to pay to the bodies of our deceased friends and the things they held most sacred. The bodies of the saints are to be reverenced because they were in a special manner the temples of the Holy Ghost. The worship to be paid to them is the lowest form of worship, dulia. Hyperdulia, a higher form of worship, is to be rendered to the true cross on which Christ hung. In this case the worship is rendered not to the wood but to him who hung upon the cross. Latreia, the highest form of worship, belongs to God alone. 2042 Following the seventh oecumenical council, the Schoolmen denied that when adoration is paid to images, say the image of Peter, worship is given to the image itself. It is rendered to the prototype, or that for which the image stands. 2043

In the earlier years of the Middle Ages, Italy was the most prolific source of relics. With the opening of the Crusades the eyes of the Church were turned to the East, and the search of relic-hunters was abundantly rewarded. With open-mouthed credulity the West received the holy objects which Crusaders allowed to be imposed upon them. The rich mine opened up at the sack of Constantinople has already been referred to. Theft was sanctified which recovered a fragment from a saint’s body or belongings. The monk, Gunther, does not hesitate to enumerate the articles which the abbot, Martin, and his accomplices stole from the reliquary in one of the churches of the Byzantine city. Salimbene4mentions a present made to him from one of the churches of Ravenna of the bones of Elisha, all except the head, which had been stolen by the Austin friars.

The Holy Lance was disclosed at a critical moment in the siege of Antioch. The Holy Grail was found in Caesarea in 1101. The bones of the three kings, Caspar, Melchior, and Belthazar, reputed to have been the magi who presented their gifts at the manger, were removed from Milan to Cologne, where they still repose. In the same city of Cologne were found, in 1156, the remains of Ursula and the virgin martyrs, put to death by the Huns, the genuineness of the discovery being attested by a vision to Elizabeth of Schönau. Among the endless number of objects transmitted to Western Europe from the East were Noah’s beard, the horns of Moses, the stone on which Jacob slept at Bethel, the branch from which Absalom hung, our Lord’s foreskin, his navel cord, his coat, tears he shed at the grave of Lazarus, milk from Mary’s breasts, the table on which the Last Supper was eaten, the stone of Christ’s sepulchre, Paul’s stake in the flesh, a tooth belonging to St. Lawrence. Christ’s tooth, which the monks of St. Medard professed to have in their possession, was attacked by Guibert of Nogent on the ground that when Christ rose from the dead he was in possession of all the parts of his body. He also attacked the genuineness of the umbilical cord. 2045 The prioress of Fretelsheim claimed to be in possession of two relics of the ass which bore Christ to Jerusalem.

The holy coat, the blood of Christ, and his cross have perhaps played the largest part in the literature of relics. Christ’s holy coat is claimed by Treves and Argenteuil as well as other localities. It was the seamless garment—tunica inconsutilis woven by Mary, which grew as Christ grew was worn on the cross. 2046 A notice in the Gesta Trevirorum (1105–1124) carries it back to the empress Helena who is said to have taken it to Treves. In the time of Frederick Barbarossa it was one of the glories of the city. On the eve of the Reformation it was solemnly shown to Maximilian I. and assembled German princes. At different dates, vast bodies of pilgrims have gone to look at it; the largest number in 1891, when 1,925,130 people passed through the cathedral for this purpose. Many miracles were believed to have been performed. 2047

The arrival of some of Christ’s blood in England, Oct. 13, 1247, was solemnized by royalty and furnishes one of the strange and picturesque religious scenes of English mediaeval history. The detailed description of Matthew Paris speaks of it as "a holy benefit from heaven."8 Its genuineness was vouched for by the Masters of the Templars and the Hospitallers, and by the seals of the patriarch of Jerusalem, and the archbishops and other prelates of the Holy Land. After fasting and keeping watch the night before, the king, Henry III., accompanied by the priests of London in full canonicals and with tapers burning, carried the vase containing the holy liquid from St. Paul’s to Westminster, and made a circuit of the church, the palace, and the king’s own apartments. The king proceeded on foot, holding the sacred vessel above his head. The bishop of Norwich preached a sermon on the occasion and, at a later date, Robert Grosseteste preached another in which he defended the genuineness of the relic, giving a memorable exhibition of scholastic ingenuity. 2049

The true cross was found more than once and fragments of it were numerous, so numerous that the fiction had to be invented that the true cross had the singular property of multiplying itself indefinitely. A choice must be made between the stories. The first Crusaders beheld the cross in Jerusalem. Richard I., during the Third Crusade, was directed to a piece of it by an aged man, the abbot of St. Elie, who had buried it in the ground and refused to deliver it up to Saladin, even though that prince put him in bonds to force him to do so. Richard and the army kissed it with pious devotion.0 Among the objects which the abbot, Martin, secured in Constantinople were a piece of the true cross and a drop of the Lord’s blood. The true cross, however, was still entire, and in 1241 it reached Paris. It had originally been bought by the Venetians from the king of Jerusalem for £20,000 and was purchased from the Emperor Baldwin by Louis IX. The relic was received with great ceremony and carried into the French capital by the king, with feet and head bare, and accompanied by his mother, Blanche, the queen, the king’s brothers, and a great concourse of nobles and clergy. 2051 The crown of thorns was carried in the same procession. At a later time these relics were placed in the new and beautiful chapel which Louis built, a supposed holy coat of Christ, the iron head of the lance which pierced his side, and the sponge offered to him on the cross, together with other relics.

The English chronicler’s enthusiasm for this event seems not to have been in the least dampened by the fact that the English abbey of Bromholm also possessed the true cross. It reached England in 1247, through a monk who had found it among the effects of the Emperor Baldwin, after he had fallen in battle. The monk appeared at the convent door with his two children, and carrying the sacred relic under his cloak. Heed was given to his story and he was taken in. Miracles at once began to be performed, even to the cleansing of lepers and the raising of the dead. 2052

Some idea of the popular estimate of the value of relics may be had from the story which Caesar of Heisterbach relates of a certain Bernard who belonged to Caesar’s convent.3 Bernard was in the habit of carrying about with him a box containing the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul. Happening to give way to sensual thoughts, the two saints gave him a punch in the side. On Bernard’s assuming a proper mental state, the thumping stopped, but as soon as he renewed the unseemly thoughts the thumping began again. Bernard took the hint and finally desisted altogether. Caesar had the satisfaction of knowing that when Bernard had these experiences, he was not yet a monk.

The resentment of relics at being mistreated frequently came within the range of Caesar’s experience. One of St. Nicolas’ teeth, kept at Brauweiler, on one occasion jumped out of the glass box which contained it, to show the saint’s disgust at the irreverence of the people who were looking at it. Another case was of the relics of two virgins which had been hid in time of war and were left behind when other relics were restored to the reliquary. They were not willing to be neglected and struck so hard against the chest which held them that the noise was heard all through the convent, and continued to be heard till they were released. 2054

An organized traffic in relics was carried on by unscrupulous venders who imposed them upon the credulity of the pious. The Fourth Lateran sought to put a stop to it by forbidding the veneration of novelties without the papal sanction. According to Guibert of Nogent,5the worshipper who made the mistake of associating spurious relics with a saint whom he wished to worship, did not thereby lose any benefit that might accrue from such worship. All the saints, he said, are one body in Christ (John 17:22), and in worshipping one reverence is done to the whole corporation.

The devil, on occasion, had a hand in attesting the genuineness of relics. By his courtesy a nail in the reliquiary of Cologne, of whose origin no one knew anything, was discovered to be nothing less than one of the nails of the cross. 2056 Such kind services, no doubt, were rare. The court-preacher of Weimar, Irenaeus, 1566–1570, visiting Treves in company with the Duchess of Weimar, found one of the devil’s claws in one of the churches. The story ran, that at the erection of a new altar, the devil was more than usually enraged, and kicked so hard against the altar that he left a claw sticking in the wood. 2057

The attitude of the Protestant churches to relics was expressed by Luther in his Larger Catechism when he said, "es ist alles tot Ding das niemand heiligen kann." They are lifeless, dead things, that can make no man holy.


§ 132. The Sermon.
Literature: A. Nebe: Charakterbilder d. bedeutendsten Kanzelredner, Vol. I. Origen to Tauler, 1879. —J. M. Neale: Med. Preachers, Lond., 1853, new ed., 1873. —J. A. Broadus: The Hist. of Preaching, N. Y., 1876. A bare sketch.—H. Hering: Gesch. d. Predigt. (pp. 55–68), Berlin, 1905. —E. C. Dargan: Hist. of Preaching, from 70 to 1570, N. Y., 1906.

For the French Pulpit: *Lecoy de la Marche: La chaire franc. au moyen âge speciallement au XIIIe siècle, Paris, 1868, new ed., 1886.—L. Bourgain: La chaire franc. au XIIme siècle d’après les Mss., Paris, 1879. —J. von Walter: D. ersten Wanderprediger Frankreichs, 2 parts, Leip., 1903, 1906.

For the German Pulpit: W. Wackernagel: Altdeutsche Predigten und Gebete, Basel, 1876.—*R Cruel: Gesch. d. Deutschen Predigt im MtA., Detmold, 1879.—*A. Linsenmayer (Rom. Cath.): Gesch. der Predigt in Deutschland von Karl dem Grossen bis zum Ausgange d. 14ten Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1886.—Hauck: Kirchengesch.—Collections of med. Ger. sermons.—H. Leyser: Deutsche Predigten d. 13ten und 14ten Jahrhunderts, 1838.—K. Roth: Deutsche Predigten des XlI. und XIII. Jahrhunderts, 1839.—F. E. Grieshaber: Deutsche Predigt. d. XIII. Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. Stuttg., 1844.—*A. E. Schönbach: Altdeutsche Predigten, 3 vols. Graz, 1886–1891; Studien zur Gesch. d. Altdeutschen Predigt. (on Berthold of Regensburg), 3 parts, Vienna, 1904–1906. —A. Franz: Drei Minoritenprediger aus d. XIII. u. XIV. Jahrh., Freib., 1907.

For the English Pulpit: R. Morris: Old Engl. Homilies of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, 2 vols. Lond., 1868–1873.—See T. F. Crane: Introd. to the Exempla of Jacob de Vitry, Folklore Soc., Lond., 1890.—Richardson: Voragine as a Preacher, Presb. Rev., July, 1904.


Although the office of the preacher in the Middle Ages was overshadowed by the function of the priest, the art of preaching was not altogether neglected. The twelfth and the thirteenth centuries have each contributed at least one pulpit orator of the first magnitude: St. Bernard, whom we think of as the preacher in the convent and the preacher of the Crusades, and Berthold of Regensburg, the Whitefield of his age, who moved vast popular assemblies with practical discourses.

Two movements aroused the dormant energies of the pulpit: the Crusades, in the twelfth century, and the rise of the Mendicant orders in the thirteenth century. The example of the heretical sects preaching on the street and the roadside also acted as a powerful spur upon the established Church.

Ambrose had pronounced the bishop’s chief function to be preaching. The nearest approach made to that definition by a formal pronouncement of these centuries is found in the tenth canon of the Fourth Lateran. After emphasizing the paramount necessity of knowing the Word of God, the council commended the practice whereby bishops, in case of their incapacity, appointed apt men to take their place in preaching. Pope Innocent III. himself preached, and fifty-eight of his sermons are preserved.8 The references to preaching in the acts of councils are rare. Now and then we hear an admonition from a writer on homiletics or a preacher in favor of frequent preaching. So Honorius of Autun, in an address to priests, declared that, if they lived a good life and did not publicly teach or preach, they were like the "watchmen without knowledge" and as dumb dogs (Isa. 56:9), and, if they preached and lived ill, they were as blind leaders of the blind. 2059 Etienne de Bourbon speaks with commendation of a novice of the Dominican order who, on being urged to go into another order, replied: "I do not read that Jesus Christ was either a black or a white monk, but that he was a poor preacher. I will follow in his steps."

It is impossible to determine with precision the frequency with which sermons were preached in parishes. Probably one-half of the priests in Germany in the twelfth century did not preach. 2060 The synod of Treves, 1227, forbade illiterate priests preaching. A sermon in England was a rarity before the arrival of the friars. A parson might have held a benefice fifty years without ever having preached a sermon. There were few pulpits in those days in English churches. 2061

In the thirteenth century a notable change took place, through the example of the friars. They were preachers and went among the people. Vast audiences gathered in the fields and streets to listen to an occasional popular orator, like Anthony of Padua and Berthold of Regensburg. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Franciscans received formal permission from Clement V., "to preach on the streets the Word of God."

Nor was the preaching confined to men in orders. Laymen among the heretics and also among the orthodox groups and the Flagellants exercised their gifts.2 Innocent III., in his letter to the bishop of Metz, 1199, and Gregory IX., 1235, condemned the unauthorized preaching of laymen. There were also boy preachers in those days. 2063

The vernacular was used at the side of the Latin.4 Samson, abbot of Bury St. Edmunds, preached in English, and Grosseteste in the later years of his life followed his example. Bishop Hermann of Prague, d. 1122, preached in Bohemian. 2065 Of Berthold’s sermons which are preserved, five hundred are in Latin and seventy-one in German.

Congregations were affected much as congregations are to-day. Caesar of Heisterbach, who himself was a preacher, tells of a congregation that went to sleep and snored during a sermon. The preacher, suddenly turning from the line of his discourse, exclaimed: "Hear, my brethren, I will tell you something new and strange. There was once a king called Artus." The sleepers awoke and the preacher continued, "See, brethren, when I spoke about God, you slept, but when I began to tell a trivial story, you pricked up your ears to hear." 2066 Caesar was himself present on this occasion.

The accounts of contemporaries leave no room to doubt that extraordinary impressions were made upon great audiences. 2067 The sermons that have come down to us are almost invariably based upon a text or paragraph of Scripture and are full of biblical instruction, doctrinal inference, and moral application. It was well understood that the personality of the preacher has much to do with the effectiveness of a discourse. Although the people along the Rhine did not understand the language of St. Bernard, they were moved to the very depths by his sermons. When his language was interpreted, they lost their power.

Four treatises have come down to us from this period on homiletics and the pulpit, by Guibert of Nogent, Alanus ab Insulis, Humbert de Romanis, and Hugo de St. Cher. 2068 Their counsels do not vary much from the counsels given by writers on these subjects to-day. Guibert, in his What Order a Sermon should Follow, 2069insists upon the priest keeping up his studies, preparing his sermons with prayer, and cultivating the habit of turning everything he sees into a symbol of religious truth. He sets forth the different motives by which preachers were actuated, from a desire of display by ventriloquism to an honest purpose to instruct and make plain the Scriptures.

In his Art of Preaching, 2070Alanus counsels preachers to court the good-will of their audiences by cultivating humility of manner and by setting forth useful instruction. He must so impress them that they will think not of who is talking, but of what is being talked about. He advises the use of quotations from Gentile authors, following Paul’s example. After giving other counsels, Alanus in forty-seven chapters presents illustrations of the treatment of different themes, such as the contempt of the world, luxury, gluttony, godly sorrow, joy, patience, faith. He then furnishes specimens of exhortations to different classes of hearers: princes, lawyers, monks, the married, widows, virgins, the somnolent.

Humbert de Romanis, general of the order of the Dominicans, d. 1277, in a much more elaborate work, 2071pronounced preaching the most excellent of a monk’s occupations and set it above the liturgical service which, being in Latin, the people did not understand. Preaching is even better than the mass, for Christ celebrated the mass only once, but was constantly engaged in preaching. He urged the necessity of study, and counselled high thought rather than graceful and well-turned sentences, comparing the former to food and the latter to the dishes on which it is served.

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