Life was by no means a humdrum, monotonous existence to the people who lived in the age of the Crusades and Innocent III. On the contrary it was full of surprises and attractive movements, from every turn of the papacy and empire, to the expeditions of the Crusaders and the travels of Marco Polo and Rubruquis.
A historical period is measured by the judgment passed upon it by its contemporaries and by the judgment of succeeding generations. What did the period from 1050 to 1294 offer that seemed notable to those who were living then and what contribution did it make to the progress and well-being of mankind? The first of these questions can be answered by the generation which then lived; the second, best by the generations which have come since.
It is the persuasion of a school of mediaeval enthusiasts that this period was a golden age of faith and morals and tenable systems of belief, an age when the laws of God were obeyed as they have not been since, an age when proper attention was given to the things of religion, an age of high ideals and spiritual repose. Is this judgment justified or is the older Protestant view the right one that the Middle Ages handed down nothing distinctive—which has been of permanent value; but, on the contrary, many of the superstitions and false doctrines now prevailing in the Church are an inheritance from the Middle Ages, and it would have been better if the Church had passed directly from the patristic age and skipped the mediaeval. 2152
Neither judgment is right. A more just opinion is beginning to prevail, and upon a modification of the extreme views of Protestants and Roman Catholics on the subject depends to a considerable extent the closer fellowship between the ecclesiastical communions of the West. Much chaff will be found there mixed with the wheat. On the other hand, in this mediaeval period were also sown the seeds of religious ideas and institutions which are now in their period of bloom or awaiting the time of full fruitage.
The achievement of absolute power by the papacy, magnificent as it was, represents an ideal utterly at fault, whether we consider the teaching of Scripture or the prevailing judgment of the present time. Ambition, pride, avarice, were mingled in popes with a sincere belief that the Roman see inherited from the Apostle plenitude of authority in all realms. Europe, more enlightened, cannot accept such a claim and the moral degeneracy and spiritual incompetency of the popes, in the period following this, were an experimental proof that the theory was wrong.
As for the priesthood and hierarchy, evidence enough has been adduced to show that ordination did not insure devotion to office and personal purity. Dante’s hell contains more than one pontiff of this period. The nearer we approach Rome, the more numerous the scandals are. The term "the Romans" was synonymous with unscrupulous greed. Gregory X. in 1274 declared that "the prelates were the ruin of Christendom." Frederick II., though pronounced a poor churchman, was a keen observer and no doubt indicated a widespread discontent with the lives the clergy were leading when he declared that, if they would change their mode of living, the world might again see miracles as in the days of old.3
The distinctively mediaeval ideal of a religious life has little attraction to-day. The seclusion of the monastery presents a striking contrast to the active career demanded of a Christian profession in this age. The example of St. Bernard and his praise of monasticism, as the praise of other writers, are so weighty that one cannot deny that the best men saw in monastic solitude the highest advantage. Monastic institutions had a most useful part to play as a leavening force in the wild and unsettled society of that time. But the discipline and ardor of monastic orders quickly passed away, in spite of the devotion of Francis d’Assisi and other monastic founders. Simplicity yielded to luxury, and spiritual devotion to sloth and pride. It was the ardent Franciscan, Bonaventura, who instances the vices which had crept into his order and Jacques de Vitry, cardinal-bishop, d. 1240, who said that a girl’s virtue was safe under no Rule except the Cistercian. What can be said of the ideal of human life as it is set forth in the tale of St. Brandon, not to speak of innumerable similar tales told by Jacob de Voragine, archbishop of Genoa, d. 1298! What shall be thought of the example of the Blessed St. Angela of Foligno, admired and praised by so many Franciscan writers, who on her "conversion" prayed to be relieved of the impediments of obedience to husband, respect to mother and the care of children and rejoiced to have her request granted by their deaths!
If we desire priestly rule, there was enough of it to satisfy any one. But with the rule of the priesthood came the loss of individual freedom and the right of the soul to determine its own destiny in the sight of the Creator. De Voragine4speaks of Thomas à Becket, by great abstinence making his body lean and his soul fat. He had a right to do as he pleased. But it was the same prelate who expressed the hierarchical pride of the age when he exclaimed to an English king that priests are the fathers and masters of kings. The laity, according to Caesar of Heisterbach, as already quoted, were compared to the night, the clergy to the day, The preacher Werner of St. Blasius called the peasants the feet whose toil was appointed to maintain the more worthy parts of the body,—bishops, priests, and monks. 2155 The thinkers of this period had no vision of the Reformation.
The Middle Ages have been praised as a period of religious contentment and freedom from sectarian strife. The very contrary was the case. The strife between the friars and the secular clergy and, in cases, within the monastic orders themselves equals in bitterness any strife that has been maintained between branches of the Protestant Church. It was a question not whether there was religious unrest but, from the days of Arnold of Brescia on, how the established Church might crush out heretical revolt. There was also religious doubt among the monks, and there were women who denied that Eve had been tempted by an apple, as Caesar of Heisterbach assures us.
The superstitions which prevailed were largely inherited from preceding ages. The worship of Mary clouded the merits of Christ. What can be said when Thomas of Chantimpré, d. about 1263, relates in all seriousness that a robber, whose head had been cut off, kept calling upon the Virgin, as the body rolled down a hill, until the parts were put together by a priest. The criminal then told how, as a boy, he had devoted Saturdays and Wednesdays to Mary and she had promised he should not die till opportunity was given him to make confession. So he made confession and died again, and, as the reader is left to believe, went into the other world rejoicing.
The gruesome tales of demoniacal presence and influence indicate a condition of mind from which we do well to be thankful we are delivered. John of St. Giles, the admirable English Dominican, used to say, as he retired to his cell in the evening, "Now I await my martyrdom," meaning the buffetings of the devil. The awful story of how Ludwig the Iron, 1100–1172, was welcomed to hell and shown all its compartments and then pitched mercilessly into quenchless flames is no worse than the visions of Dante, but too revolting in the apparent callousness of it to the suffering of others not to call forth a shudder to-day. 2156
Such representations, however, do not warrant the conclusion that human charity was dead. St. Francis and Hugh of Lincoln kissed the hands of lepers. The Knights of St. Lazarus were intrusted by Louis IX. with the care of this class of sufferers. Houses for lepers were established in England by Lanfranc, Mathilda, queen of Henry, King Stephen at Burton, and others. Mathilda washed their feet, believing that, in so doing, she was washing the feet of Christ.7 The oldest of the military orders and the Teutonic Knights, as well as other orders, were organized to care for the sick and distressed.
On the other hand the period sets, in some respects, an example of great devotion, and has handed down to us the universities and the cathedrals, some of the most tender hymns and imposing theological systems which, if they cannot be accepted in important particulars, are yet remarkable constructions of thought and piety. And, above all, it has handed down to us a group of notable men who may well serve as a stimulus to all generations which are interested in the extension of Christ’s kingdom.
But in the judgment of these very men, the period was not an ideal one either in morals or faith. If we go to preachers, like Berthold of Regensburg, we find evidence of the prevalence of vice and irreligion among all classes. If we go to popes and Schoolmen, we hear bitter complaints of the evils of the age and of human lot which would fit in with the most pessimistic philosophy of our times. Innocent III., in his Disdain of the World,—De contemptu mundi,—poured out a lamentation, lugubrious enough for the most desolate and forsaken. Anselm dilates under the same title, and Hugo of St. Victor 2158carries on the plaint in his Vanity of the World—De vanitate mundi. Walter Map wrote on the world’s misery—de mundi miseria, declaring that the world was near its destruction, that justice was exiled from society and the worship of Christ was coming to an end.
Exulat justitia, cessat Christi cultus. The most famous of the longer poems of the period repeats Innocent’s title, and its author, Bernard of Cluny, is most severe upon the corruption in church and society. The poem starts in the minor key.
The last times, the worst times are here, watch.
Behold the Judge, supreme, is at hand with His wrath.
He is here, He is here. He will terminate the evils. He will reward the just.
Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt, vigilemus
Ecce minaciter, imminet arbiter ille supremus.
Imminet, imminet, et mala terminet, aequa coronet. The greater Bernard of Clairvaux exclaimed, "Oh! that I might, before dying, see the Church of God led back to the ideal of her early days. Then the nets were cast, not to catch gold and silver, but to save souls. The perilous times are not impending. They are here. Violence prevails on the earth." 2159 The Englishman, Adam Marsh, writing to Grosseteste, spoke of "these most damnable times," his diebus damnatissimis. 2160 Edmund of Abingdon, archbishop of Canterbury, dying in exile at Potigny, exclaimed, "I have lived too long, for I see all things going to ruin; Lord God receive my soul." 2161 Roger Bacon found rottenness and decay everywhere, and he agreed with other moralists of his day, in making the clergy chiefly responsible for the prevailing corruption. The whole clergy, he says, "is given to pride, avarice, and self-indulgence. Where clergymen are gathered together, as at Paris and Oxford, their quarrels and strife, and their vices are a scandal to laymen." 2162
With a similar lament Hildebrand, at the opening of the period, took up the duties of the papacy.
The prophet Joachim looked for a new dispensation as the only relief.
The real greatness of this period lies not in its relative moral and religious perfection, as compared with our own, but in a certain imposing grandeur of conception and of faith, as shown in the Crusades, the cathedrals, the Scholastic systems, and even the mistaken ideal of papal supremacy. Its institutions were not in a settled condition, and its religious life was not characterized by repose. A tremendous struggle was going on. The surface was troubled, and there was a mighty undercurrent of restlessness. It would be an ungracious and a foolish thing for this generation, the heir of twice as many centuries of Christian schooling as were the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to boast as though Christian charity and morality and devotion to high aims had waited until now to manifest themselves. The Middle Ages, from 1050 to 1300, offer a spectacle of stirring devotion to religious aims in thought and conduct.
* Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. The material has been carefully compared and corrected according to the Eerdmans reproduction of the 1907 edition by Charles Scribner's sons, with emendations by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.
1 Dean Stanley, Sermons and Addresses in America, p. 220, speaks of the "grace of the Middle Ages and their hideous atrocities."
2 The ideas are expressed by the German words Weltentsagung and Weltbeherrschung
3 Vol. IV. § 66, pp. 299 sqq.
4 The contemporary spellings are: Yldibrandus, Heldebrandus, Ildebrandus, Oldeprandus. William of Malmesbury calls him homuncio exilis staturae.
5 Giesebrecht (III. 12 sq.): "Das Marienkloster auf dem Aventin, jetzt unter dem Namen des Priorats von Malta bekannt, bietet eine entzückende Aussicht ... ein hochbegabter Knabe, der hier erwuchs, musste die verschiedensten und mächtigsten Eindrücke erhalten, die sich kaum in einem anderen Gedanken zusammenschliessen konnten, als in dem der unvergleichlichen Hoheit des ewigen Roms."
6 So Martens, etc. Gregory speaks of having been brought up from childhood a pueritia by the prince of the apostles and "in the Roman palace."
7 The German historian, Otto von Freisingen, aptly applies this verse of Luican to the relation of the two popes, thus comparing Hildebrand to Cato.-
8 See vol. IV. 787 sqq.
9 See E. Martin, St. Leon IX., Paris, 1904, pp. 216; Mirbt art. in Herzog,
010 In deposing at the Synod of Rheims the abp. of St. Iago, who had assumed the title apostolicus, Leo asserted in the strongest terms the primacy of the Roman see, quod solus Romanae sedis pontifex universalis, ecclesiae primas esset et apostolicus, Mansi, XIX. 738.
11 The controversy of Berengar is treated in vol. IV. 554 sqq.; the Greek controversy, ibid. p. 318 sqq. On the synods during the pontificate of Leo IX., see Jaffé, Reg., 529-549, Hefele, IV. 716-777, and Mirbt, Quellen, 95 sq.
212 His epigrams on Hildebrand (Opera, II. 961, 967):—
"Vivere vis Romae, clara depromito voce:
Plus domino Papae, quam domino parea Papae"
"Papam rite colo, sed te prostratus adoro:
Tu facis hunc Dominum; te facit iste Deum."
313 Ep. 1:16.
414 See vol. IV. 557 sq.
515 The canons are given in Mirbt, Quellen, 97 sqq. The two classes of cardinals are called cardinales episcopi and cardinales clerici. Langen makes the attempt to identify the latter with "the clergy of Rome," but without sufficient reason. The clergy, clerus, as a special body, are distinctly mentioned in the canons.
616 The canons have come down to us in two forms. The second form, falsified in the interest of the emperors, was current at least thirty years after Nicolas’s death. The fourth canon bearing on the emperor ran in its original form thus: salvo debito honore et reverentia dilecti filii nostri Henrici, qui inpresentiarum rex habetur et futurus imperator deo concedente speratur, sicut jam sibi concessimus et successoribus illius qui ab hac apostolica sede personaliter hoc jus impetraverint. See Scheffer-Boichorst, Die Neuordnung der Papstwahl durch Nikolas II., Strass., 1879, who made a thorough investigation of the subject, Hefele, IV. 800 sqq.; Hergenröther-Kirsch, Kirchengesch., II. 342 sqq.; Mirbt, Nikolas II., in Herzog, XIV. 73 sq.; Hauck, Kirchengesch. III. 683 sqq. Hergenröther, p. 344 note, interprets the canon as conceding notification and nothing more, in the light of the words of the contemporary Anselm of Lucca (Alexander II.): ut obeunte Apost. pontifice successor eligeretur et electio ejus regi notificaretur, facta vero electione, etc., regi notificata, ita demum pontifex consecraretur. The imperial bishops of Germany fought against the limitation of the election to clerical circles in Rome. Under Henry III. and IV. the view prevailed among them that no one could be a legitimate pope without the consent of the emperor. See Scheffer-Boichorst, Zu den Anfängen des Kirchenstreites unter Heinrich IV., Innsbruck, 1892, p. 122 sq.
717 Stubbs, ed. of Rich. de Hoveden, II. pp. lxxiii. sqq.
818 Bonizo, a friend of Hildebrand, calls Wido, who was elected bishop of Milan in 1045, a "vir illiteratus et concubinarius et absque ulla verecundia Simoniacus." Migne, Tom. CL. 825; Jaffé, Mon. Greg., 639. But Hefele, IV. 793, doubts the charge of concubinage, and also Mirbt, Publizistik, 249.
919 Lea, l.c., p. 210.
020 Muratori and Du Cange (sub Pataria and Paterinus) derive pataria from pate, which in the Milanese dialect means a huckster or pedler. So also Hefele, IV. 796. Giesebrecht(III. 31) renders PatarinaLumpengesindel. The contemporary, Bonizo, interprets the term to mean "ragged,"patarinos id est pannosos vocabant. See Mirbt, art. Patara, in Herzog, XIV. 761 sqq.
121 The earliest account is given by Gregory himself in two letters written April 24, 1073, and a third written April 26 to Wibert of Ravenna (Reg., I. 1-3). It is confirmed by Bonizo. Gregory frequently referred to his election as having been against his will. (See Mirbt, Wahl, etc., pp. 2, 42.) The anti-Gregorian party made the slanderous accusation that he secured his office by force and bribery, but not till the struggle between him and Henry IV. had begun. The subject is thoroughly discussed by Mirbt in his Wahl Gregors VII. p. 56. In his later work, Die Publizistik, p. 582, he again pronounces Gregory’s own account as "the most credible."
22 The clauses, "the husband of one wife," as well as "having his children in subjection," are omitted in the quotation from Paul’s letter to Timothy. They would be fatal to the papal theory of clerical celibacy. See the Latin text in the Acta Sanctorum for May 25, Tom. VI. 117, from the "Acta Romae 10 Kalend. Maji." The cardinals concluded the declaration with the questions: "Placet vobis? Placet. Vultis eum? Volumus. Laudatis eum? Laudamus."
323 From Bonizo’s account it would seem that the cardinals gave him that name; but they probably ascertained his wishes beforehand, or anticipated them. Wattenbach (p. 130) regards the assumption of the name Gregory as an open insult to the empire and the Synod of Sutri, where Henry III. had deposed three popes, including Gregory VI.
424 This is Mirbt’s view. The anti-Gregorian writers, reflecting the policy of Henry IV., insisted that Gregory had not received the royal assent. The imperial theory was laid down at Brixen, 1080, that any one assuming to be pope without such assent, was an apostate, si quis sine assensu romani principis papari praesumeret, non papa sed apostata ab omnibus haberetur. See Mirbt, Die Wahl, etc., pp. 29-38.
525 Jaffé, Mon. Greg. (1885), pp. 9 sqq.
626 Abridged from Ep., II. 49; Jaffé, p. 163; Migne, 148, 400
727 Reg., I. 70.
828 Pope Leo XIII., in his encyclical concerning the Christian constitution of States (Immortale Dei, Nov. 1, 1885), defends the mediaeval theory of Church and State, and refers to the authority of St. Augustine, as having in his De Civitate Dei clearly set forth the true principles on this subject for all time to come. See Schaff’s edition of St. Augustine’s Works, pref. to vol. II. (New York, 1887). Comp. also Reuter, Augustinische Studien (Gotha, 1887), pp. 106-152, and Mirbt., l.c., who has industriously collected the quotations from Augustine by the friends and opponents of Gregory VII.
929 The influence of Augustine’s theory upon Wyclif, Hus, and the Reformers is shown in this Church History, vol. VI. 522 sqq.
030 Gregory again and again expressed his feeling of personal unworthiness in such expressions as cui licet indigni et nolentes praesidemus, Reg., I. 18, 70, etc.; Migne, 300, 344, etc.
131 Dictatus Papae, Migne, 148, 407 sq.; Mirbt, Quellen, p. 113. Comp: the note of Gieseler, II. B. 7 (Germ. ed.). I quote a few: 12. Quod illi liceat imperatores deponere. 22. Quod Romana Ecclesia numquam erravit, nec in perpetuum, Scriptura testante, errabit. 26. Quod catholicus non habeatur, qui non concordat Ecclesiae Romanae. 27. Quod a fidelitate iniquorum subjectos potest absolvere
232 See Mirbt, Publizistik, 572-579.
33 Letter of May 8, 1080, to William of England. Jaffé, 419 sq.; Migne, 148, 569. Gregory also compared the priesthood to gold and royalty to lead, Reg., IV. 2.
434 In a letter to Bishop Hermann of Metz, March 15, 1081 (Reg., VIII. 21). "Quis nesciat reges et duces ab illis habuisse principium, qui, Deum ignorantes, superbia, rapinis, perfidia, homicidiis, postremo universis pene sceleribus, mundi principe Diabolo videlicet agitante, super pares scilicet homines, dominari caeca cupidine etintolerabili presumptione affectaverunt," St. Augustine likewise combines the two views of the origin of the State, and calls it both a divine ordinance and a "grande latrocinium," an enslavement of men in consequence of sin. See Reuter,August. Studien, l.c., 135 sq. The letter to Hermann is also given in Mirbt, Quellen, 105-112.
535 Petrum dominus Jesus Christus, rex gloriae, principem super regna mundi constituit, Reg., I. 63; Migne, 148, 339.