Our Place in Christendom
Lectures delivered at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, in the Autumn of 1915.
with a Preface by the Right Rev. Lord Bishop of London
Longmans, Green, 1916.
[Footnotes have been moved into the places or following the paragraphs in which they are cited. Bible citations are in all Arabic numerals.]
Preface (through Lecture V, this page below)
Unity and Authority in the Primitive Church
by the Rev. A. J. Mason, D.D., Canon of Canterbury
East and West
by the Rev. W. H. Frere, D.D., the community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.
The Mediaeval Church in the West
by the Rev. J. P. Whitney, B.C., Professor of Ecclesiastical History, King’s College, London
Councils and Unity
by the Rev. J. Neville Figgis, D.D., the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.
The Papacy and the Reformation (this through Lecture IX)
by the Rev. J. P. Whitney, B.D.
by the Rev. J. Neville Figgis, D.D.
The Nineteenth Century
by the Rev. H. S. Holland, D.D., Canon of Christ Church
Intellectual and Moral Liberty in the Church
By the Right Rev. C. Gore, D.D., Lord Bishop of Oxford.
The Vocation of the Church of England
by the Rev. A. W. Robinson, D.D., Vicar of Allhallows, Barking by the Tower.
Index (omitted for web)
I feel very grateful to the distinguished men, qualified to speak with weight as historians and theologians, who at my request delivered these lectures in my diocese at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields during the autumn of 1915.
Though the range of the subjects is wide, and the seven lecturers could not expect to achieve such a unity of treatment as could have been given by a single writer, I believe that the book will be found to be a coherent and fair-minded restatement of our position.*
*I should like to recommend at the same time the reprint of Mr. Holden’s book (The Special basis of the Anglican Faith, re-edited with notes by the Rev. F. C. N. Hicks, Mowbrays, 1916), which is a shorter and more popular statement of the same case.
In the main the line taken is this: early Church history shows the real vitality and expansive power which the Church can have without any centralised and autocratic authority. Further, all Church history, and particularly that of the East, shows that the Latin claim to a unique and divinely given jurisdiction has never received anything like the unanimous assent of Christendom. We can watch that claim in its growth; i.e. that it did grow, and took new shapes in each age; that it was of real service in moulding the barbarian races as they swarmed into Europe; and yet that, in order to maintain it, recourse was had to all sorts of distortions of historical truth, until it came to rest on an amazing mass of figments. Then we see how the Papacy came to suppress the living voice of the Church, and practically to extinguish the possibility of conciliar action, as in later days it has practically suppressed the Episcopate.
Then comes the epoch of nationality, and the re-emergence of ideals long lost; the conviction that a nation has a spiritual unity which demands self-expression in a national Christianity; and this new factor has not ceased to dominate the situation with us.
Here we are, needing indeed to learn more of the place of discipline in religion: in danger, therefore, of making insufficient demands on the individual moral life, and so of cheapening Churchmanship; not yet alive to the enormous problems which the industrial revolution has set the Faith to solve, and only just recovering our breath after a tough struggle between Victorian religion and modern science; and yet holding on, curiously like the British Empire, to an ideal of unity based on free cooperation, and still convinced that Catholicism and Apostolicity are impossible without real liberty. We do not want Christianity to be Anglican; we want Anglicanism to be far bigger and more Catholic in spirit that it is: but we believe that God has given us a place which He has given to no one else, and a witness without which Christendom would be incomplete.
It is in the hope that this book will enable us more worthily and thankfully to fill ‘our place in Christendom’ that we send it forth.
A. F. London.
Feast of St. Matthias, 1916
I – Unity and Authority in the Primitive Church
The subject of my lecture is ‘Unity and Authority in the Primitive Church’; and I will take as a kind of text a few sentences from Harnack’s ‘History of Dogma’:
One special difficulty [he says] in ascertaining the genesis of the Catholic rules is that the Churches, though on terms of close connection and mutual intercourse, had no real forum publicum, though indeed, in a certain sense, each Bishop was in foro publico. ... The genesis of a harmonious Church, firmly welded together in doctrine and constitution, can no more have been the natural unpremeditated product of the conditions of the time than were the genesis and adoption of the New Testament Canon of Scripture. But we have no direct evidence as to what communities had a special share in the development, although we know that the Roman Church played a leading part? [History of Dogma (E.T.), ii. 15.]
Harnack is speaking, of course, of the formative period of the church – say the period between the apostolic age and the middle of the third century. It was the period in which took place what he describes as ‘the fixing and gradual secularising of Christianity as a Church.’ From our catholic point of view we shall not admit the impeachment contained in the word ‘secularising; but there will be little fault to find with his description of the ‘fixing’ process, as contained in the sentences which I have read. It was no ‘natural, unpremeditated product of the conditions of the time,’ but partly, like other growths, the secret working of the Divine Spirit of life, and partly the result of deliberate action on the part of men who believed themselves to be under the guidance of that Spirit. And there was no forum publicum for Christendom – that is, there was no central authority to lay down the law for all particular churches; no one for them to appeal to for a final decision in matters of dispute; no one whose acknowledged office it was to call them to order when they failed of their duty. And we agree with Harnack that, when such an authority was to some extent evolved, Rome had a great part in evolving it; but it was not all Rome’s doing.
What, then, took the place of such a forum publicum in the formation of the catholic system? What was there to look to for guidance, both in practice and in doctrine? How came it about that the churches did not drift away into different kinds of gnosticism or other heresies? How came they ultimately to arrive at the same sort of internal arrangements and constitution? On what principle of mutual accommodation were they able to recognise one another as holding the same religion and belonging to the same universal fellowship ?
The answer is necessarily complex, as all vital processes are complex. For one thing, the prophetic gift continued for a long time in the church, and in regard to one department of church growth, namely that of organisation, it does not surprise us to find that the prophets were active in promoting the hierarchical movement. When the hierarchy was in danger of becoming too rigid and stereotyped, the later prophets, whom we associate with the names of Montanus and Tertullian, raised their protest against it – unfortunately a one-sided and at length a schismatical protest – but at an earlier period prophets threw themselves with ardour into establishing the Catholic organisation. ‘The Spirit is not misled,’ cries the prophet Ignatius to the Philadelphians; ‘when I was in the midst of you I spake with a mighty voice, the voice of God, saying, “Pay heed to the Bishop, and to the presbytery and the deacons.” ... It was the Spirit that preached, saying thus, “Do nothing without the Bishop.”’ [Ign. Philad. 7.] No doubt other prophets took a similar line.
Other influences told in the same direction, which I will not attempt to enumerate; but the one guiding principle throughout was the sense of obligation to the past. The great body of Christians were determined to stand by what they had received from the earliest teachers of their religion. Even men possessed of prophetic gifts might err and seduce. They might invent new theories and devise fresh systems out of their own heads. They were to be judged – everything needed to be judged – by their agreement or disagreement with the original Gospel. That was the true court of appeal. The Christian religion was not to be altered.
I need hardly say that in following this principle the primitive church was not acting upon mere conservatism, refusing to listen to novelties through a blind, if honourable, religious prejudice. The principle had been impressed upon the churches by the founders themselves. It is most remarkable how constantly in their extant writings these founders insist upon it. St. Paul does so even in his earliest Epistles. ‘Stand fast,’ he writes to the Thessalonians, ‘and hold, the traditions which ye have been taught.’ ‘Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.’ [2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6.] It would take us too long to examine at length the passages of similar import which recur in every group of St. Paul’s Epistles. They find their climax in the famous injunctions of the Pastoral Epistles, which I believe to be the genuine work of St. Paul: ‘O Timothy, keep the deposit.’ ‘Keep the deposit by the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us.’ [1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14] The same anxiety is plainly seen in St. Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, as recorded by St. Luke. The First Epistle of St. Peter, as I read it, consists of an exhortation to be loyal to the teaching of St. Paul: ‘I have written briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God, wherein stand ye.’ [1 Peter 5:12.] The Epistle of St. Jude makes its object clear from the outset: ‘Beloved, in giving all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, I am compelled to write unto you exhorting you to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.’ [Jude 3.] His tone, as Dr. Bigg says, ‘is that of a Bishop of the fourth century.’ The tone of the Epistles of St. John (I believe them to be his) is not different: ‘Look to yourselves, that ye destroy not what we wrought. ... Every one that pusheth forward, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. ... If any cometh unto you and bringeth not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.’ [2 John 8 foll.] Nothing is clearer than that the Apostles and first founders were determined not to allow future generations of Christians to develop their religion according to the dictates of their own hearts and reasonings and fancied inspirations, but to bind them to fidelity to what they called ‘the traditions.’
It must be remembered, however, that the writings of the apostles and of the evangelists were not in everybody’s hands at the beginning. The collecting of them into a New Testament was a work of time. They only gradually found their way into general use. And they had competitors. Gnostic teachers professed to have received information, unknown to the general Christian public, from this Apostle or that, through a Theodas, or a Glaucias, their interpreters. [Clem. Al., Strom. vii. 17.] In these circumstances perplexed Christians asked which way they were to turn, in order to know what was genuine Christian tradition and what was not. The answer of the great guides of opinion at the time was plain and sensible. They would not hear of the truth having been handed down in some hole-and-corner fashion by a succession of teachers whose names could not be traced. They appealed to the successions of the bishops of the churches, publicly and regularly appointed to their office as men well qualified to teach the Christian religion. Each bishop had received his teaching from his predecessor, and that not in some secret school, but openly among his fellow Christians, who were able to judge whether he was teaching the same things as his predecessor. The bishops, acting in full view of their respective churches, were the true arbiters of what was Christian.
This, as is well known, is the original connotation of the ‘Apostolical Succession.’ It is not at first concerned with the method of appointment or consecration, though there is no reason to think that this was considered a matter of indifference. The Apostolical Succession was the series of accredited, authoritative exponents of true Christianity. This was the interest which led Hegesippus to investigate the history of the episcopate in the churches which he visited near the middle of the second century. He wished to ascertain whether the churches of his time were all in agreement in their witness to the apostolic faith. [Eus., H. E., iv. 22.] He found that they were. A few years later a greater teacher than Hegesippus urged this argument of the Succession with cogent force. ‘The tradition of the Apostles,’ wrote Iremeus, ‘is made manifest all over the world, and in every Church all who wish to see what is true are able to examine it. We can reckon up those who were appointed Bishops by the Apostles, and their successors down to our own days. [Haer., III, iii. 1.] Again, ‘Obedience is due to the elders in the Church who have succession from the Apostles – who, along with the episcopal succession, have received the sure gift of the truth (charisma veritatis certum). ... Where the Lord’s gifts,’ such as apostles, prophets, and teachers, ‘are set, there is the place to learn the truth – among whom is the ecclesiastical succession from the Apostles.’ [Ibid. IV. xxvi. 2, 5.]
But there was a further development of the argument. Among all the churches of Christendom there were some which stood out as conspicuous examples of that which characterised them all. They were the apostolic sees par excellence. Irenaeus mentions two as instances:
Since it would be very long ... to enumerate the successions of all the Churches, we take the greatest, the oldest, the one known to all men, the Church of Rome, founded and established by two glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, and by displaying the tradition which it has from the Apostles and the faith which they preached to men, which cones down to our times through the successive Bishops, we confound all those who ... gather unauthorised congregations.
Then follows a sentence which in its Latin translation – the original Greek is here lost – is somewhat ambiguous and has been much disputed. It contains the author’s reason for singling out this particular church in the first instance:
For to this Church the rest of the Churches – that is, believers from all quarters – cannot help coming together, because of its powerful pre-eminence; and in it the tradition which springs from the Apostles has always been preserved by these believers from all quarters.*
*Ibid. III, iii. 2. The best and fullest examination of the meaning of the passage will be found in Mr. Fuller’s Primitive Saints and the See of Rome, ed. 3, pp. 20 foll., 439 foll. The only point in which I am inclined to differ from Mr. Puller is in thinking that probably less stress is to be laid than he lays on the comparative ‘potentiorem.’ Alike in Latin and in Greek the comparative is often used where in English we more naturally use the positive. I do not think that Irenaeus necessarily implies that the other churches had a ‘principalitas’ of their own.
Irenaeus proceeds to speak of the church of Smyrna, to which he himself belonged in his youth, as another instance of a church founded by apostles, in which the apostolic doctrine was preserved by the Apostolic Succession.
The passage in which Tertullian takes up this part of the teaching of Irenaeus is known to every student:
Let [the heretics] display the origins of their Churches; let them unroll the list of their Bishops, in unbroken succession from the beginning, showing that their first Bishop was created and preceded by one of the Apostles or of the Apostolic men who continued with the Apostles. That is the way in which the Apostolic Churches rehearse their lists – as the Church of Smyrna tells of the appointment of Polycarp by John, and the Church of Rome the ordination of Clement by Peter. [De Praescr. 32.] Go the round of the Apostolic Churches, where the actual Chairs of the Apostles still preside in their respective places, and where their original letters are read and echo their voices and reflect their very looks. Achaia is nearest to you; you have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi. If you can get to Asia, you have Ephesus. If, on the other hand, you are near Italy, you have Rome, from whence we also [at Carthage] derive our authority. How happy is that Church, upon which Apostles lavished all their teaching and their blood as well; where Peter was matched with the Lord’s own Passion ; where Paul was crowned with John [the Baptist’s] end; where the Apostle John, after being plunged in burning oil without harm, was banished to the island. [Ibid. 36. It is not easy to state shortly the views of Cyprian on the See of Peter, because the question is complicated by supposed interpolations in his text. But his theory was that all bishops are equally and jointly responsible for the undivided flock of Christ. His own action showed what he felt about duty towards Rome.]
This view of the Succession and its meaning long continued in the church, and in the western church, longer than is sometimes remembered. Optatus, in the fourth century, was no minimiser of the claims of the great see of the West; but this is how he argues in one place against the Donatists. He asks rhetorically why they treat the Catholics as polluted:
Is it because we ... are in communion with all the world, in fellowship with those of the East, where Christ was born according to the flesh, where His holy footsteps trod, where His adorable feet walked, where so many great miracles were wrought by the Son of God Himself, where so many Apostles bore Him company, where is the sevenfold Church? ... You call us polluted, because we agree and communicate with the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Thessalonians. ... How dare you read the Epistles to the Corinthians, when you will not communicate with the Corinthians? Why do you recite what was written to the Galatians and the Thessalonians, in whose communion you are not? [De Schism. Don. vi. 3; cp. ii. 6]
The same argument is repeated and enlarged against the same adversaries many times over by St. Augustine. [Ep. li, lii, liii; c Litt. Petil. ii. 51; c. Donat. Epist. 31; ad Donat. post Coll. 4.] Fulgentius in the sixth century could still write:
This faith is to this day preached through the chain of succession, in the Chair of the Apostle Peter at Rome and in Antioch, in the Chair of the Evangelist Mark at Alexandria, in the Chair of the Evangelist John at Ephesus, in the Chair of James at Jerusalem, by the Bishops of those cities. [De Trin. I.]
Late in the sixth century a bishop of Rome, Pelagius I, more than once commends St. Augustine for using this argument:
Whosoever is separated from the Apostolic Sees [he writes to an imperial officer] is clearly in schism, and endeavours to set up his Altar against the Universal Church. ... What shall I say of the Bishops of Liguria, Venetia, and Istria? Your Excellency is in a position to suppress them both by argument and by force, and you permit them to boast of their own provincialism in defiance of the Apostolic Sees. [Ep. ii. (Minge, P.L. 69).] This is the very definition of schism according to Austin, who says, ‘The man who is rash enough to believe against the authority of those Churches to which it was given to receive the Chairs and the Epistles of the Apostles, cannot escape the dreadful charge of schism.’ [Minge, P.L. 69, p. 412. Pelatius II quotes Austin to the same purpose; see Denzinger, Ench. Symb. (ed. 1913), p. 106.]
The conception was still alive and active at the end of the century, and present to the mind of Gregory the Great, though in him it takes, as you will be aware, a curious form. The three great sees of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch together form, in Gregory’s view, the see of Peter:
Your kind Holiness [he writes to Eulogius of Alexandria] has said much in your letter about the Chair of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, saying that he still sits in it in the persons of his successors. ... I cordially accept what is said, because what is spoken of the Chair of Peter is spoken by an occupant of the Chair. ... Who does not know that Holy Church is established upon the firmness of the Prince of the Apostles, ... to whom it is said by the voice of the Truth, ... ‘Feed My sheep’? There were many Apostles, but only one Prince of the Apostles, and therefore only one See of the Prince of the Apostles has grown strong in authority; but that See is in three places, though still the See of one. He exalted the See in which he vouchsafed to fall asleep and to end his earthly life. He adorned the See in which he set the Evangelist, his disciple. He established the See in which he sat for seven years, though he was to leave it. [Ep. 40, lib. vii; cp. lib. vi, Ep. 60; lib. viii, Ep. 2; lib. x, Ep. 39.]
By the time of Gregory, however, the idea of the importance of communion with the apostolic sees because of their orthodox tradition had become entangled with the notion of canonical jurisdiction. This was a wholly different notion from that with which we started. The apostolic sees, as such, had no jurisdiction over other sees. At least one of the sees which came to exercise a very wide jurisdiction laid no claim to be apostolic. When canonical jurisdictions came to be mapped out, the see of Jerusalem, though no one could deny its apostolic character, was a suffragan see to the metropolitan of Csarea, who was himself under the patriarchal throne of Antioch. Constantinople, on the other hand, in spite of the opposition of Rome, made good its claim to rank as second of the patriarchal sees of Christendom, though no Apostle ever came near it, that we know of. The OEcumenical Council of 381 resolved that ‘the bishop of Constantinople has the prerogative of honour next after the bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is a New Rome.’ [Canon III. See Bright, Canons of the First Four General Councils, xxii. and 106.] The fourth ecumenical Council in 451 reaffirmed this resolution, and added substantially to it. [Bright, xlvii. and 179 foll.] It was implied – incorrectly, no doubt, but quite clearly – that the primacy of the Old Rome was accorded on the ground of its being the ancient capital of the Empire. As a matter of fact, ecclesiastical jurisdictions almost invariably went along with secular boundaries, though the Council of Chalcedon ruled that the division of a secular province into two did not ipso facto make a corresponding change in the ecclesiastical province. The very words Province, Diocese, Parish are derived from Roman secular organisation. There was no pretence of any divine charter for these arrangements. They were purely consensual, and alterable at the will of the church.
I need hardly prove to you that the OEcumenical Councils were wrong in suggesting that the primacy of Rome came to it solely for imperial reasons. A great variety of circumstances combined to make Rome the first see of the world. The destruction of Jerusalem in the earliest days of Christianity removed its only possible rival. If the Clementine romance had had its way, the see of James would have taken precedence of the see of Peter. But Aelia could never recover the ground that Jerusalem had lost. The city where the disciples were first called Christians might perhaps have taken the primacy if religious history alone were to be considered. But here the imperial reasons came in. Antioch could never be to the world what Rome was. Rome was Rome; and it was for that reason that the great master builders of the church first sought it. The planting of Christianity there on an assured foundation was the culmination of the Acts of the Apostles. Its sovereign position, its central situation, its greatness, its wealth all contributed to give the church there an unapproachable importance. And then, from quite an early period, it began to be recognised as of all apostolic churches the most apostolic.
It was looked upon as the see of Peter, as the chief of the Apostles; but it was even more. The see was the joint foundation of Peter and Paul. Paul’s connection with it was by and by overshadowed. The time came, though not till 1647, when a bishop of Rome pronounced it heretical to say that St. Peter and St. Paul were the two princes of the church, forming a single authority, [Mirbt, Quellen zur Gesch. des Papsttums, p. 206.] or to make them in any way equals. But that was not the view of the early church. St. Clement joined the two names together without a hint of difference. [Clem. Rom. 5] ‘Not as Peter and Paul do I enjoin you,’ Ignatius wrote significantly to the Romans [Rom. 4.] ‘You have united the planting of Peter and Paul at Rome with their planting at Corinth,’ writes Denys of Corinth to Soter of Rome. [Ap. Eus., H.E., ii. 25.] I have already quoted one passage of Irenaeus to the same effect. I will quote another. Matthew, he says, wrote his Gospel ‘while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the Church at Rome.’ [Haer., iii. i.] Yet another. ‘The blessed Apostles, having founded and built up the Church, committed the ministry of the bishopric to Linus.’ [Haer., iii. 3.] Let me give you a later instance, which is, I think, particularly interesting and perhaps less well known. Ambrose might almost be considered a pillar of the papacy; but in his hymn for the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, after three times repeating the equality of the two Apostles, he ends with an apostrophe to Rome:
Electa gentium caput,
Sedes magistri gentium!
(‘Elect lady, the capital of the nations, the see of the teacher of the Gentiles.’) Biraghi, the Italian editor of the hymns of Ambrose, assumes, naturally, that the teacher of the Gentiles is St. Peter; but ‘Magister gentium’ is as characteristic a title of St. Paul as ‘Vas etectionis.’ Historically Rome owes a large part of her supreme position in early Christendom to the fact that St. Paul cooperated with St. Peter in the foundation of the church of the capital. But, however that may be, the Roman Church combined the advantages of holding the capital city and of being the most apostolic of foundations.
I will not now attempt to trace how the primacy of the church of Rome gradually became the primacy of its bishop, and how the thought of the bishop as the successor of St. Peter superseded the thought of the whole church of Rome being the privileged recipient of the doctrine of its apostolic founders. The transition was not unnatural, but it was a transition. The two conceptions are not the same. I will go back to the point from which we started, and ask why so much was made of the apostolic sees, and of Rome, above all, in its character of an apostolic see. Canonical jurisdiction was of course an aftergrowth, unknown to what we have called the formative period of Catholicism. Why, before canonical jurisdictions were regulated, was so much deference shown to these sees, and to Rome in particular? Why was it felt to be so important to be in communion with them, and with it? Why were they the centres of unity?
It was, I repeat, because in the formative period the apostolic sees were in a position to say with more certainty than others what that original deposit was which the Apostles had entrusted to them. When the writings of the New Testament came into everybody’s hands, and the genuineness of them was sufficiently attested – a work in which the apostolic sees had naturally the chief hand – then the first reason for the importance of those sees passed away. They had fulfilled their primary task. The great outlines of the Catholic system had been unmistakably drawn, and one church could judge as well as another what was and what was not in accordance with it.
In this sense Tertullian claims an ‘Apostolic’ character for other churches besides those which the Apostles visited. The Apostles, he says, ‘founded churches in the various cities, from which other churches borrowed the layers and seeds of faith and doctrine, and still constantly borrow, and thus become churches. By this means they are themselves esteemed apostolic, as the offspring of the apostolic churches.’ [Praescr. 20.] This is what Tertullian means when he speaks of the ‘authority’ of the church of Carthage as derived from Rome. He does not, of course, mean that the bishop of Carthage was what he was, like the occupant of some modern see, by divine permission and the favour of Rome. He means that the see of Carthage shares the auctoritas of its parent church, knows how to judge of religious questions, and is qualified to deal with the Marcionites, or other pretenders, with the same certainty as the church from which it took its origin.
A famous passage of Irenaeus, which I have already quoted, shows how important a function the lesser churches were felt to perform. They reacted powerfully upon the greater ones. Irenaeus considered that at any rate one main reason why the church of Rome might be relied upon as a sure witness to genuine primitive Christianity was that Christians from all parts of the world inevitably resorted to it and so secured to it a healthy criticism, a freedom from self-centred peculiarities. He recognised indeed that all catholic bishops received, by virtue of their office, a divine grace to enable them to discern the truth, and assuredly he believed the bishops of Rome to have at least as much of this gift as others. But it was not to such a gift bestowed upon its bishops that he traced the orthodoxy of the Roman church, but to the fact that ‘in it the tradition which springs from the Apostles has always been preserved by believers from all quarters.’ [Haer., III, iii. 2.] Her advantage lay in her unequalled opportunities for the exchange of thought. In proportion as Rome succeeded in silencing other churches, and imposing her own views as infallible and irreformable, in that proportion her real authority – that is, her trustworthiness as a witness to the truth – began to decline. As a central church among many, as ‘the co-elect in Babylon,’ corresponding freely with many other elect ones, [1 Peter 5:13; cp. 2 John 1.] her position was exceedingly strong; but when she became the only one, upon whose voice the rest must wait and receive her judgments without questioning, she incurred at least the danger of sinking into what Pelagius I means by rusticitas, or provincialism, – into being a local community, no better informed than others, and often much worse informed.
The upshot of all that we have been saying is that ‘the genesis of a harmonious church, firmly welded together in doctrine and constitution,’ of which Harnack speaks, is not to be found in submission to the decrees of central churches. The bond of union lay in common fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles – teaching at first orally received, and stored up for age-long study in unalterable form in the apostolic writings. Men were much more concerned to preserve the identity of the Christian religion than to hold connection with even the most influential local churches. When anything that seemed to them novel was presented to them, they resisted it, when they discerned it, on the ground of its novelty, from whatever quarter it proceeded. There was what Tertullian in his legal language called a praescriptio against it. If a doctrine or a practice could not prove itself to be a part of what was received from the Apostles, it had no claim upon the Christian conscience. Catholicism consisted in holding all that was primitive, and rejecting the obligation of all that was not.
If this assertion should seem to be too unqualified, we have only to look at the book which beyond all others sums up the views of the patristic age. The ‘Commonitorium’ of Vincent has for its express object to guide Catholics to a truly catholic decision on matters in controversy. It is too often forgotten that Vincent’s first rule is to be guided by the Bible, and that where the Bible teaching is ascertained the Catholic needs nothing more. [In exactly the same spirit his contemporary Leo the Great finds fault with Eutyches not for having failed to consult ecclesiastical superiors, but (as Leo assumes) for not seeking the teaching of Scripture.] Where Scripture is quoted on behalf of some hazardous theory, the Catholic falls back upon tradition. But when Vincent’s famous canon of tradition is closely examined, a manifest gradation of importance is seen between the three members of it. Quod ubique and quod ab omnibus are quite subordinate to quod semper. The age of Vincent had seen error widespread enough to claim to be held ubique; the world had groaned to find itself Arian; but there lay an appeal from universal modern heresy to antiquity which was beyond the reach of contamination. No corresponding appeal enters into Vincent’s imagination from a defective primitive teaching to a consent of modern and better instructed times. True, a voice here and there in antiquity might have spoken faultily, and this is the point of his clause quod ab omnibus; but such isolated mistakes could be corrected by the right teaching of other ancient doctors, and probably by Scripture itself. The Christianity of the first days was certain to be right.
This is the rule by which Vincent is guided, even when it comes to the utterances of General Councils and of the most authoritative Chairs. He has no theory that General Councils are always right. He knows nothing of sees that are guaranteed never to speak amiss. The history of the previous hundred years would have dashed any such theories. Safety lay in looking back to the beginning. The Council of Ephesus was, in Vincent’s opinion, a model Council, because it gave as its reason for condemning the teaching of Nestorius that it was modern. Pope Celestine and Pope Xystus were model representatives of their apostolic see, because they refused to approve of novel doctrines, and insisted upon the ‘perspicua maiorum fides.’ The conclusion of the whole matter to Vincent is this: ‘All Catholics, who desire to show themselves law-abiding children of Mother Church, must of necessity cleave fast to the holy faith of the holy fathers even to the death, and detest, abhor, expose, and chase away the profane novelties of profane men.’ [Commonitorium xxxiii.]
It is on Catholic principle that we at this day resist any attempt to force upon us doctrines or practices which are proved not to be part of the apostolical deposit. If we priests of the Ecclesia Anglicana vow at our ordination that we will ‘teach nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation but that which [we] shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture,’ it is not as sons of the Reformation that we take that vow, but, in Vincent’s language, as ‘Catholics who desire to show ourselves law-abiding children of Mother Church.’ The form of the vow, of course, dates from the sixteenth century, but the spirit of it is the spirit of all the Fathers. The Catholic, as such, is bound to be zealous for the purity of the Gospel religion, as well as for its fullness – for the liberties of Christian people, as well as for the discipline of the church; and if we are told, for instance, that it is an integral part of Catholicism to esteem one see as of divine right above another, and that union with it is essential – and the same observation holds true of many other points of teaching – then, even if we do not altogether condemn such opinions in others as heretical, yet, in view of the history, we are constrained to protest against such a restriction of the name of Catholic, and to say that nothing is binding upon the Catholic conscience which is foreign to the tradition of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John, of St. Ignatius, St. Irenaeus, and St. Cyprian, and the great teachers of the formative period of the church.
II – East And West
It is little more than twenty years since Pope Leo XIII., on the occasion of his Episcopal Jubilee, issued an Apostolical Letter, Praeclara gratulationis, addressed to all princes and peoples (June 20, 1894), and dealing with the subject of Christian reunion. Two years later it was followed by a larger encyclical on the same subject, the Satis cognitum of June 29, 1896. [Acta Leonis Papae XIII, vols. v. and vi.] In the interval there appeared a reply in the form of a Patriarchal and Synodical Encyclical Letter addressed by the Great Church of Constantinople to the metropolitans, bishops, clergy, and laity of the patriarchate (August, 1895). The object of the reply was to safeguard the Orthodox faith and piety against the renewed outbreak of Roman proselytising in the East which followed upon the appearance of the former papal encyclical. [Printed 1896, with an English translation by E. Metallinos for the Orthodox Greek Community in Manchester, as Answer of the Great Church of Constantinople, &c.]
In these documents there is a restatement of the old divergence between the East and the West on the subject of the doctrine of the church, the divinely appointed plan of church government, and the practical solution of problems connected with doctrine and discipline alike.
There is no need to describe at any length the papal view of the case, for in its main outline it is familiar to us all. Moreover, the later of the two encyclicals not only was met at the time by some sharp criticism from our Anglican point of view, [See Church Hist. Soc., Tract XIV. (1896).] but it has since formed the basis of one of the most comprehensive and thorough replies that have ever been made among us to the papal claims. [E. Denny, Papalism (1912).] It is enough to note such familiar phrases as these used by Pope Leo in the former letter:
We are the Vicegerent on earth of God Almighty.
Until man put asunder what God had joined, ... East and West alike agreed unhesitatingly in obedience to the Roman Pontiff, as the legitimate successor of St. Peter, and therefore the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth.
Such phrases give but little idea of the warmth of charity and the elevation of piety which are shewn in the letter; but they bring into relief the Western and Roman conception as contrasted with the Eastern view.
That view is less familiar to us, and therefore more time must be spent in making it clear. It is more congenial, and yet strangely less well known. Indeed our Anglican conceptions of the nature of the church and its government are, not infrequently, more negative than positive, more controversial than constructive; and consequently a deeper appreciation of the Eastern standpoint has all the more value for us.
The Greek encyclical remarks how the pope—
Invites our orthodox catholic and apostolical Church of Christ to union with the papal throne, thinking that such union can only be obtained by acknowledging him as Supreme Pontiff and the highest spiritual and temporal ruler of the Universal Church, as the only representative of Christ upon earth and the dispenser of all grace. [Answer, p. 15.]
After an expression of no less eagerness for reunion it continues:
Our Orthodox Church of Christ is always ready to accept any proposal of union, if only the Bishop of Rome would shake off once for all the whole series of the many and divers anti-evangelical novelties that have been privily brought into his Church, and have provoked the sad division of the Churches of the East and West, and would return to the basis of the seven holy OEcumenical Councils. [Answer, p. 17.]
Some of the ‘innovations’ are then discussed, and many of the old bones of contention are reviewed. We are now concerned only with one of these – namely, the question of the church and its government. This, as Pope Leo truly said, is the main ground of difference between the East and the West; and thereupon he challenged the Greeks to look back to the origins, and see what views on the subject were held in the early ages.
The Greeks took up the challenge and replied thus:
Having recourse to the Fathers and the ecumenical Councils of the Church of the first nine centuries, we are fully persuaded that the Bishop of Rome was never considered as the supreme authority and infallible Head of the Church, and that every bishop is head and president of his own particular Church, subject only to the synodical ordinances and the Church universal as being alone infallible, the Bishop of Rome being in no wise excepted from this rule, as church history shows.
A discussion of the biblical evidence follows, and is continued thus:
Such, then, being the divinely inspired teaching of the apostles respecting the foundation and prince of the Church of God, of course the sacred Fathers, who held firmly to the apostolic traditions, could not have, or conceive any idea of, an absolute primacy of the Apostle Peter and the Bishops of Rome. Nor could they give any other interpretation, totally unknown to the Church, to that passage of the Gospel, but that which was true and right.... [Answer, p. 39.]
After some further appeal to history the theory is thus expounded:
Each particular self-governing Church, both in the East and West, was totally independent and self-administered in the times of the Seven OEcumenical Councils. And just as the bishops of the self-governing Churches of the East, so also those of Africa, Spain, Gaul, Germany, and Britain, managed the affairs of their own Churches, each by their local synods, the Bishop of Rome having no right to interfere; and he himself also was equally subject and obedient to the decrees of synods. But on important questions which needed the sanction of the Universal Church an appeal was made to an OEcumenical Council, which alone was, and is, the supreme tribunal in the Universal Church. [Answer, p. 43.]
This brief statement of theory may with advantage be enlarged; and we can profitably turn to a modern Russian source for a fuller exposition of the matter. An excellent statement of Golubinsky, the latest historian of the Russian church, may be summarised thus: [Исторія Русской деркви. (Istoria Russkoi Tserkvi), I. i. 257–260. (Moscow, 1901.)]
All church government is composed of two elements, the one being of divine institution, the other being customary and human. The former demands that every separate Christian community, large or small, should have its own hierarchy, consisting of bishop, priests, and deacons; but beyond this all else belongs to the second category. Originally every church community, however small, if it had its own bishop, was a completely independent church and a self-sufficient unit. The Universal Church had ideally to bind these countless independent units into some association simply by the bonds of brotherly love. But in practice, and through human frailty, it was necessary that the divine requirement should be supplemented by a human organisation. This took the form of the establishment of a system of subordination and administrative centralisation, corresponding with the system of civil government. At the base of each of these systems alike there lie two main foundation principles – (1) that no community may force another into subjection to itself, and (2) that each may govern itself independently. In actual fact the Graeco-Roman church of the Empire developed, on its administrative side, as a human institution, a system of centralisation, which in its higher stages culminated in five Patriarchates. These corresponded with the ‘Dioceses’ of the civil administration of the Empire, and covered only the same imperial area.
On these principles, as we clearly see, the whole church can only find expression by something greater than any patriarch, or any concurrence of all the patriarchs. As the encyclical says:
On important questions which needed the sanction of the Universal Church an appeal was made to an OEcumenical Council, which alone was and is the supreme tribunal in the Universal Church. [Answer, p. 43.]
Such is the Eastern theory, and it concerns both doctrine and, discipline. It may be viewed either historically or dogmatically; and since the pope raised his challenge on the ground of history, and the East replied mainly upon that ground, we will deal with that side of the matter first.
There are many occurrences in the long history, and many phrases in the documents concerned, which will necessarily be differently interpreted according to the presuppositions existing in the mind of the interpreter. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that these are claimed by each of the rival parties as evidence supporting his side. But the decision between the two rival contentions is not to be made by merely balancing the evidence on one side against the evidence on the other. For the two contentions are fundamentally different in character from one another. The papal contention is all-inclusive, and admits of no exception. It is claimed, that East and West alike, unhesitatingly, and always until the schism, obeyed the Roman Pontiff, as successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Christ. The Eastern contention does not involve any such universal statement. The contention is, that there have emerged two views of church government – one ancient and federal, the other innovating and papal; and that the former is right and the second wrong. In other words, the papalist has to prove a universal negative; if his opponent can produce even a single convincing instance against him, the papal case breaks down.
From this point of view many of the commonplaces of the controversy are merely irrelevant, while others only prove what neither party denies. For example, there is plenty of evidence of the early appearance of that system of administrative subordination, of which the Eastern contention makes much. In the first century the respect for the Church of Jerusalem gave it a unique position, which in some degree survived its local transplantation after the destruction of Jerusalem. The precedence there given to St. James and his immediate successors seems to have rested on two kinds of respect, partly a reverence for the see and partly for the bishops as kinsmen of our Lord. Hence Jerusalem, and the church gathered there, had to make the earliest recorded formal decisions of the whole church; and St. James presided and gave sentence.
A similar respect for other sees elsewhere than Jerusalem led, to the establishment of other rules of precedence. In one case it was the civil pre-eminence of some city that gave it this position; in another case it might be its Christian history, and especially its connexion with apostolic labours and martyrdom.
On both these grounds Rome acquired in the earliest days a unique position. But that fact does not necessarily imply that its position, or the position of its bishop, differed from that of others except in degree. The metropolitan sees soon acquired a similar precedence over the lesser sees within the same province, following generally the lines of the civil organisation, [Barrow, Treatise on the Pope’s Supremacy, Suppos. V. iii, 3.] but not uninfluenced by Christian history. It is no part of the Eastern contention to refuse such a precedence to Rome or its bishop. But, on the other hand, if the papalist is to prove his contention, he must be able to prove a title for the Bishop of Rome wholly different in nature and in origin from that of any other privileged metropolitan.
We are at present directly concerned only with examining into the rightness of the Eastern contention; and there is nothing discordant with it in the stock passages of Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and others in the second century, which are habitually cited in support of the Roman claims. They are obiter dicta, not a little ambiguous in themselves, and pre-eminently belonging to the category of passages which may be differently interpreted by different people according to their presuppositions. If it was merely a question of balancing evidence for and against the papal theory, they would be pre-eminently inconclusive, if not irrelevant. To the Eastern, anyhow, they present no difficulty.
The Roman church writes corporately, probably by the hand of Clement, a letter of reproof, with strong moral authority behind it, to its erring sister church in Corinth. Certainly it was in all ways justified in doing so. No Petrine authority was needed for this; St. Paul had done much more. Irenaeus speaks with great respect of Rome, both because of its Christian history and its civil pre-eminence, and also because of the central position that it held in the West as the place to which people resorted from all sides.* What is more natural?
*Irenaeus, Haeres, iii. 3, 2. Ad hanc enim ecclesiam propter potentiorem (potiorem) principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam, hoc est eos qui sunt undique fideles. The Council of Antioch in 341 used similar language about other metropolitan sees. See Canon ix: δια το εν τη μητροπόλει πανταχόθεν συντρέχειν πάντας τους τα πράγματα έχοντας.
When we pass from these obiter dicta to action and fact, the independence of local churches, which the Eastern contention asserts, is seen in the action of that same Irenaeus. For when Victor of Rome excommunicated the Quartodecimans of Asia (as he was perfectly at liberty to do, if he thought wise), Irenaeus told him plainly that he was unwise in doing so; and neither he, nor the church at large, followed Victor’s lead in this matter. On the contrary, under pressure from Irenaeus and other bishops, whom he rallied to his side, Victor very prudently gave way. [Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. v. 24.] In these early days there is no clear sign of any rival view to that which is still held by the Eastern church. To say the least, these texts and the events are as easily to be reconciled with it as with the rival papal contention; and there are many others which tell more directly in its favour.
The next century saw further development in the system of administrative subordination of which the Easterns speak. The position of metropolitans and their provinces became more clearly defined ; and some steps were taken in the direction of the patriarchs and patriarchates of later days. The stages of progress in this development are not very clear. In the West, while some naturally look up to Rome and turn to it for guidance, others look towards Carthage, especially when so illustrious a chief as St. Cyprian presides there; and both Spanish and Gallic bishops on occasion resort to Carthage rather than to Rome. [Cyprian, Epist. lviii, lxvii.] There is no difficulty in all this – from the Eastern point of view at least. Nor again is there any difficulty when some Egyptians, dissatisfied about the orthodoxy of Dionysius of Alexandria, have recourse to Rome; and Dionysius in consequence justifies himself before his brother of Rome and a synod held there. [Dionysius of Alexandria, Letters, &c. (ed. Feltoe), pp. 165 and ff.] The Egyptians were as free to call upon Rome as the Spaniards were to call upon Carthage.
In another far more serious case of trouble, connected with the position of Paul of Samosata, the occupant of the great see of Antioch, the matter was settled in the East; and when it was settled, and another bishop had been appointed in his place, notification was sent round in a letter addressed by the synod ‘to Dionysius (of Rome), Maximus (of Alexandria), and to all our fellow ministers throughout the world, bishops, presbyters, and deacons, and to the whole Catholic Church under heaven.’ In order to be able to dispossess the deposed bishop from his official house, recourse was had to the Emperor Aurelian at Rome, who decided that ‘the building should be given to those to whom the Bishops of Italy and the see of Rome should adjudge it.’ [Euseb., H. E. vii. 30.]
A later appeal to the emperor, in the case of the African Donatists, produced a very similar result, for Constantine ordered the matter to be decided by three Gallic bishops, in conjunction with the pope and the bishops of Italy. When the Donatists appealed against their decision, the matter was referred to the Council at Arles. [Ibid. x. 5.] Here again are events and documents which present no difficulty – at any rate from the point of view of the Eastern contention.
We have reached the age of the Councils; and thereupon two things connected with the subject begin to become clearer. First, we see more plainly the stages of the development in organisation; and, secondly, we notice a growing dissatisfaction in Rome with the existing state of things, and the beginning of a systematic series of attempts to alter them for its own advantage. With regard to the first point – the principle of utilising the civil system as a model for the ecclesiastical is now still more definitely accepted. Diocletian had lately improved the civil system by his division of the Empire into thirteen ‘dioceses,’ comprising ninety-six eparchies, or provinces. The ecclesiastical metropolitan then more closely than before corresponded with the civil proconsul, or other officer, as presiding over a province; and in the East, at any rate, in each of the five ‘dioceses,’ the occupant of the see of the chief city corresponded with the civil vicar of the diocese. There was at first no title for this office, but later the term Exarch was used.
In 381 the Council of Constantinople recognised these five areas, and mentioned by name two of the metropolitan sees, Alexandria as administering Egypt, and Antioch, which was the head of the diocese called Oriens. [Canon 2.] Already, perhaps, Constantinople, as the new imperial city, had taken the place of Heraclea, which till then had been counted chief city of the diocese of Thrace. It soon went on to exercise ecclesiastical powers, not only over that diocese, but also over those of Asia and Pontus; while the capital cities of those two dioceses, Ephesus and Caesarea, descended into a secondary position, in spite of their ecclesiastical pre-eminence. This pre-eminence and jurisdiction of Constantinople grew up at first by custom; but in 451 the submission of all three dioceses to Constantinople was formally legalised by the famous twenty-eighth Canon of Chalcedon.
The admission of Jerusalem to the dignity of the patriarchate side by side with Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople was largely honorific. In the Nicene Council (325) the cradle of Christianity was given a precedence of honour, while as yet the jurisdiction was still reserved to the metropolitan of the province at Caesarea; [Canon 7.] but at the Council of Chalcedon (451) a jurisdiction also was given to Jerusalem, so that thenceforward, though its sphere was small, it ranked as a patriarchate. [Actio Septima in Harduin, Conc. ii. 491.]
In this way the Eastern patriarchates grew into existence, though the name patriarch was not yet stereotyped; indeed it was only at that Council beginning for the first time to make its appearance as a technical term.
We must go a little more fully into the case of Constantinople; and we may observe there also the like advance from a position of precedence and honour to one of jurisdiction. The sixth Nicene Canon was dealing with jurisdiction, when, approving the existing customs, it recognised a certain definite area as being subject to Alexandria, just as another was subject to Rome, and so forth. Later on, when the time came for dealing with the new city of Constantinople, there were no such ancient customs to be recognised in this case; nor was there any question at first of jurisdiction. The Council of Nicaea had not been called upon to deal with Constantinople, for the reason that the city was, as yet, scarcely founded. But the Council that met there upon the spot in 381 was obliged to do so, and did so. It did not, however, go into any matter of jurisdiction. It merely assigned a precedence to Constantinople next after Rome – a precedence agreeable to the civil status of the two cities. Subsequently, in the seventy years that intervened before the Council of Chalcedon, mere precedence grew into definite authority and jurisdiction. We have already observed the steady rise which took place in the middle of the fourth century with regard to the claims made on the part of the new capital. [For details see Dictionnaire de Théol. Cath. iii. 1326 and ff.] This tendency was for a time resisted in the East; but its result was ultimately established as custom, and finally legalised by the definite action of this Council.
The 28th Canon, which ratified those claims, was strongly opposed. at the time by the Roman legates; and it has since only been accepted in spite of continual protests from Rome. Opposition from that quarter is intelligible enough and needs no explanation. But one must ask, Why did the East agree? and in particular, Why did those dioceses and their ecclesiastical heads, who suffered detriment by the canon, agree to its being passed? The reason is probably to be found in the fact, that they had watched a parallel process of aggrandisement going on in the West, far more serious and wide-reaching in itself, and indeed actually subversive of all the old church organisation. The new canon undermined this, while it established and condoned the large, but not radical, aggrandisement of Constantinople. The East, therefore, was apparently willing that Constantinople should be exalted, if by the same process the more dangerous aggression of Rome could be counteracted.
We turn then to see what has been happening in the West. The course of events which we have noted in the East amply bears out, as historically sound, the contention still maintained by the Eastern church as to the nature of ecclesiastical organisation and authority. What light will Western events throw upon the matter?
In the West the further development of church organisation had gone on much more slowly. The church had much less readily or fully adopted the provincial system; and the reorganisation of the Empire by Diocletian had borne less fruit in the delimitation of church areas and jurisdictions. The city of Rome had from the first been excluded from the scheme of Diocletian. The ‘diocese’ of Italy had Milan for its capital. That of Africa had Carthage. But though Carthage had a definite ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the province of Africa, its relation was much less definite to other provinces in the diocese – to Numidia and Mauretania. The central European dioceses of Macedonia, Dacia, and Pannonia had no out standing church centres; and the like was the case with the three Western dioceses of Gaul, Spain, and Britain.
Rome exercised authority over its own surroundings, and a more than metropolitan jurisdiction. This, as we have seen, had been recognised in somewhat vague terms by the Council of Nicea; and the fact had been used as a ground for assuring to Alexandria a similar authority. The limits of the Roman jurisdiction were understood in the West to extend to the ‘suburbicarian churches’; the phrase, in its larger interpretation, comprehended the ten provinces of Central and Southern Italy and the islands, as contrasted with the seven provinces of the North which depended upon Milan. [Bright, Canons of the First Four General Councils, 22.] This was the position so far as jurisdiction was concerned. Besides, there was the question of precedence; and in this respect undoubtedly Rome had a pre-eminence over the whole of the West.
In the early part of the fourth century this position seems to be unquestioned. When the matter was handled at Nicaea, the two presbyters who represented Pope Silvester, and signed next to the President, raised no objection to what was said or done. The West was as yet of one mind with the East on the matter of church organisation.
But the existing state of things could hardly continue. The Western organisation, as contrasted with that in the East, was still very incomplete and insufficient. The greater number of the Western dioceses had no satisfactory ecclesiastical administration. It was bound to come, in one form or another. The development might take place, as in the East, along the lines of the civil dioceses. In that case, if Africa and Northern Italy were to develop on their own lines, the sees of Carthage and Milan must develop larger authority. This they were capable of doing, being great sees; and to some extent they actually did, before they were ultimately emmeshed in the net of Roman primacy. But there was no such possibility apparent for the other Western dioceses.
The need of further organisation soon became evident in Central Europe, where there were no such commanding metropolitan sees. The Council that met at Sardica in 343, to consult about the affairs of Athanasius, took the opportunity of making provision for appeals which could not be settled in the provinces. It arranged that they should be sent, under certain restrictions, to Julius, Bishop of Rome, out of respect for the memory of St. Peter. [Canons 3–6.]
Thus began an appellate jurisdiction which led on to great things, although at first it was very limited in extent, and although it was expressly declined in some parts of the West – e.g. in Africa. [The African bishops to Pope Boniface in 419. Cod. Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae cxxxv. in Harduin, Conc. i. 943.] If at first it was personal to Julius, it was soon taken as general, and rapidly extended very much further. There is no sign that this recourse to Rome in appeals from other dioceses was anything but a natural and necessary development.
It is difficult to trace in detail the course of the further growth. Unfortunately the actions and decisions of the Latin Councils of this period have almost uniformly disappeared; the reason will perhaps emerge later. Therefore it is only by occasional bits of sparse evidence that the development of Roman jurisdiction which ensues can be traced. Thirty years later, when Pope Damasus was embroiled in troubles with his rival Ursinus, Rome appealed to the emperors for the enlargement of this jurisdiction. Gratian in his rescript [Apparently there was already an earlier move in this direction made by Valentinian, the details of which are lost.] provided for it even more amply than he had been asked to do; for he substantially gave (so far as the emperor could do such a thing) supreme appellate jurisdiction to the pope over all the Western Empire. [Ibid. i. 839.] In practice such authority had probably been gradually and naturally growing, exactly as in the parallel and almost contemporary case at Constantinople. In that event, the emperor did no more than endorse what the Western church was coming to recognise – viz., that Rome was to be the only church in the West of patriarchal rank.
The crown was set to this legal edifice nearly seventy years later (445), when Valentinian III assigned ampler powers still to Pope Leo, basing the matter on the double ground of the primacy of Peter and the apostolic see, and the dignity of the city of Rome. [Leo, Epist. xi; Minge, Patr. Lat. LIV, 636.] The language which is used at this date is very different from that of the earlier legal documents; and the last 120 years have witnessed a great shifting of the ground as regards the claims made by, or on behalf of, Rome.
We turn to other sorts of evidence, in order to trace the growing dissatisfaction in the West with the old conception of church organisation, and the gradual introduction there of this new point of view, and of the new language in which it is expressed. The early claims had been bound up with the memory of the two great apostles and martyrs who were joint founders of the Roman church. But in time St. Paul’s name tends to disappear from this connexion; and all the main insistence rests upon St. Peter’s. This change is probably bound up with other circumstances – (1) the rise and diffusion of the Petrine Romances in the course of the third and fourth centuries; and (2) a new disposition, which begins to show itself, to rest the claims not on history, but on scriptural texts, and especially upon Tu es Peteus and Pasce oves meas. In themselves these passages do not stand apart. They are no more convincing, as to the privileges of St. Peter or the position of the Bishop of Rome, than, let us say, St. Paul’s phrase, ‘I resisted him to the face because he stood condemned,’ or our Lord’s severer condemnation, ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan.’ [Matt. 16:18; John 21:15; Gal. 2:11; Matt. 16:23.] The ancient church had not isolated them or laid any special stress upon. It had interpreted them in their context and having due regard to the whole complex of relevant passages. But before the new aspirations the traditional interpretations of the laudatory Petrine passages went out of favour at Rome. [Denny, Papalism, chapters ii–iv.] The new school was no longer content to explain the Tu es Petrus section as a personal tribute to St. Peter, nor again as a general commendation of the rock of faith; nor would it now expound the Pasce oves meas as a charge given equally to all the Apostles; though these had been the chief among the many and various recognised interpretations of the earlier days. Rome was dissatisfied, and began a new exegesis, which penetrated the West, but found very little foothold in the East.
These two changes are not the only signs of dissatisfaction and innovation at Rome in this matter during the fourth century. The Sixth Canon of Nicaea had witnessed to the old view; and it therefore now caused misgivings. The similar Third, Canon of Constantinople, when it came to the West, caused the like; and, though no protests were made at the time, they were raised subsequently. Simultaneously Damasus, as we have seen, was pushing things ahead; and if the ‘Decree of Damasus’ is a genuine document emanating from a Roman Council in 382, as is now thought to be quite possible, [Journ. Theol. Stud. i. 554.] the new theory had been greatly developed in the previous half century. The primacy of Rome is claimed there, as not being of conciliar origin, but due to the appointment of our Lord, and warranted by the Tu es Petrus text. At the same time two Eastern sees are allowed a mere precedence, and that on the ground of Petrine origin – Antioch because of St. Peter’s sojourn there, and Alexandria because of its connexion with the Apostle through St. Mark. Of Constantinople nothing is said.
This decree, if genuine, may well be accounted the foundation charter of the papacy. No doubt many forces had been for some time converging to make it possible, but this is the earliest clear statement; and the popes of the fourth and fifth century, even St. Leo himself, really added nothing further to it.
It is at this period also that we note the beginning of papal decretals. These letters in themselves testify to the recourse made to Rome, at least from those parts of the West where there was no commanding see – as, for example, from Dalmatia, Gaul, and Spain; while the increasing authority which was gradually ascribed to them, especially when some of them began to be issued in collected form, testifies to the continued growth of the papal idea. [A list of the early genuine ones is in Duchesne’s Histoire, iii, 294[?].]
The new doctrine made its way less easily in North Italy and Africa. The methods adopted, in order to make legal justification for it, were not always very secure. The Sardican decrees were quoted to Africa as Nicene, and maintained as such by the popes of the early part of the fifth century; until the mistake was shown up by recourse to Eastern archives. Moreover, Nicaea itself had now become unpopular at Rome. There was therefore prefixed to some of the Latin translations of the unpalatable sixth canon, a statement that ‘the Roman Church had always had the Primacy’. This interpolation was even regarded as so trustworthy, that the Roman legates did not hesitate to produce it in support of their protest in full council at Chalcedon. [Actio xvi. Harduin, Conc. ii. 638.] It was, of course, at once shown up. Such things might pass muster in the West, but not in the East.
Thirty-five years went by, and then a Roman Council claimed that the Nicene Fathers had referred all their work to the Roman see for confirmation. [Ad clericos et monachos o ientales, Harduin, Conc. ii. 856.] It was another fable, which in its origin had been meant for home consumption. Later on, in due course, documents were forged to support the fable. [Ibid. i. 343.] Finally it was desirable to obscure the fact that Hosius had presided at Nicaea as the representative of the emperor; so, after other expedients to disguise the truth had been tried without success, it was boldly maintained that Silvester himself presided; and to this day the argument may occasionally be found in the lower strata of the controversy.
In spite of this dislike of the Nicene Council, it is remarkable how, outside its own immediate area at least, the Roman church liked to pose as the upholder of the canons and the Fathers; and when the new claims to divine authority were not likely to be acceptable, the old claim to jurisdiction, resting upon conciliar and patristic authority, was the one put forward. [E.g. Innocent to Victricius, P.L, xx. 471.]
There is no sign of the new claims in the East until 431, when Philip, the papal legate, blurted them out in the synod of Ephesus. [Actio iii, Harduin, Conc. i. 1478.] Thenceforward these claims became the dominant feature of Roman policy; though even Leo, their ablest and most consistent expounder, could lapse back, upon occasion, to the older claims, as he did when he opposed the 28th Canon of Chalcedon, not on the ground that it infringed a divinely conferred privilege of the see of Peter, but on the ground that it was contrary to the canons of the Fathers and the decree of Nicaea. [Leo, Epist. civ.]
But in order to get such claims universally accepted in the West – there was no prospect of this in the East – a double need arose. It was necessary that the documents which witnessed to the older state of things should either disappear or be doctored; and it was desirable to have fresh documents, purporting to have ancient authority, available to be quoted in support of the claims. The dissatisfaction of Rome with its past thus issued in a policy of suppression, falsification, and forgery. As to the first of these there is, of course, only indirect evidence. But when the wide activity of the Roman Church in the period previous to the middle of the fourth century is remembered, and the number of Roman synods held is taken into account, the lack of documents – as evidenced, for example, in the Dionysian Collection of Canons – can hardly fail to provoke comment and arouse suspicion.
Of the falsification of documents we have already observed one flagrant instance – that of the Sixth Canon of Nicaea. It seems as if some falsification (if not forgery) was practised as regards the documents of the Sardican Council, though this is not so certain. [See the Latin letter of the synod to Julius: Harduin, Conc. i. 653. Hefele-Leclercq, Histoire des Conciles, i. 810.] The falsification of the writings of St. Cyprian is notorious; the only uncertainty is how early it began and how far it went. No one had so conspicuously maintained, or so clearly defined, as he, the old doctrine, of the fundamental equality of all bishops and church units, and the joint authority of the episcopate. No one in the West had so capably withstood Rome. So his writings had to be altered before they were fit for papal use. How much they were doctored is a matter of dispute; but at least Pelagius II (579–590) inserted a passage about the Petrine primacy in the quotation from St. Cyprian’s ‘De Unitate,’ which he incorporated in his letter to the Istrian bishops; [Mansi, Concilia, ix. 898.] and this tampering with St. Cyprian’s writing does not stand alone. [Denny, Papalism, p. 274; Benson, Cyprian, pp. 200 and ff., 544 and ff.]
The sixth century was full of such manipulations of the earlier Roman history, and for three hundred years the work went steadily on. The Petrine Romances, and especially the apocryphal letter of Clement to James of Jerusalem, had exercised a great influence already in the fifth century; [Doellinger-Friedrich, Das Papsthum, note 98, p. 363 (1892).] and while some of the later documents merely re-echoed the earlier ones, others developed their contents to a still further point. There is a gradual growth in papal claims, to be traced, for example, in the series of apocryphal documents connected with the relations of Silvester and Constantine, from the early life of Silvester, which probably belongs to the fifth or sixth century, down to the full-blown fable of the Donation of Constantine as it figured in the eighth and ninth centuries. [Ibid. 365.] Biography was a favourite medium for the emender of history, and the lives of popes and saints afforded him great opportunities. [Liberius was whitewashed in the Gesta Liberii.]
More venturesome were the forgeries of quasi-legal documents. The early years of the sixth century saw the appearance of two legends intended to support the view that no one could judge the pope. Both were partly biographical and partly juridical. The former told of a Council at Sinuessa in 303 in connexion with Pope Marcellinus; [Hard. Conc,, i. 217.] and the latter of a Council at Rome in 321, held by Silvester. [Ibid. i. 291.] The same point was made in like manner in the fabricated Acts of Sixtus III. [Ibid. i, 1737.] It was a still bolder venture to put forward, in connexion with that pope, the romance of Polychronius, Bishop of Jerusalem, who was said to be judged by Rome, and to have made touching amends. [Ibid. i, 1741.] It is not easy to say at what point the romancers cease to glorify the papacy by design, and begin to glorify it quite innocently, merely because it had become habitual with their craft to do so.
Another production which, whether innocently or not, distorted systematically the perspective of history, belongs to the middle of the same century. The Liber Pontificalis in its earlier recension is partly occupied with backing up the already prevalent falsifications; and it also adulterates its own true and historical statements by mingling with them a number of others, representing the early popes as legislating for the whole Church, and ascribing to their legislation many prevailing liturgical customs, and the like. This book, in both the earlier and the later recensions, had a very wide vogue.
This particular type of tampering with history led very naturally to further developments, till the climax of such forgeries is reached in the Isidorian decretals, wherein the same characteristics are developed with greater boldness and thoroughness. Some five hundred documents, largely new, are provided, mainly in the form of decretals. St. Clement heads the list with eighty-five and Anacletus follows with forty-one. No later popes were credited with such activity as these first two; but, with numbers varying between three and thirty, the succeeding pontiffs are made to bear their part, down to Damasus (366–384). The forger was well advised to stop there; for it is with Damasus (as we have seen) that the series of genuine documents claiming a Petrine primacy probably begins.
It is not the material contained in the individual decretals that matters. They deal with many topics, and most of them do no more than provide a spurious early authority for things that were in current vogue. It is the series that matters. No more subtly convincing argument could be provided for the Petrine primacy than this array of popes, all exhibited as exercising it, right down from St. Clement himself. The moment also was opportune. Nicholas I (858–867) was taking advantage of the circumstances of his time to increase the despotic character of the papal authority in many directions. Moreover, he was embroiled in a new quarrel with the East; and now, after a considerable period of estrangement and aloofness, the two conflicting contentions were once again brought face to face through the contest between Ignatius and Photius, the rival occupants of the throne of Constantinople. Nicholas had just made an attempt to maintain that the Ninth Canon of Chalcedon, which established an appeal in the East to the primate of the diocese or to Constantinople, really established an appeal to Rome. Failing in this attempt, he found the Isidorian decretals ready to his hand, and lent the weight of his authority to them. When the Frankish bishops expressed doubts as to the genuineness of those, which had been cited against them in the case with which they were concerned, the pope, with a fine show of indignation, told them that they had been from ancient times preserved in the archives of the Roman church. [Epist. lxxv. in Migne, P.L. CXIX, 901.]
With these audacious proceedings we must close our survey of the attempts made in the West to remodel early history, because it was at variance with the Roman claims. The point is brought forward not as a point of morals, but purely as one of historical significance. Such methods were not regarded in those days as they would be now. It was held no disgrace to a man, if he supported by falsified or doctored evidence a claim, which on other grounds he felt justified in maintaining. These methods were, besides, not peculiar to Rome or the West. The East also used them, and must share whatever blame attaches to them on the moral ground. But so far as history is concerned, the creation of this false catena is a sign of the absence of any real historical grounds for the claims: and on that ground the discussion of the matter bears directly on our present discussion.
The Easterns looked on while this was being done with more patience than protest. They knew very little of the details of such remodelling, and cared less. But when they were brought up against it, as at Chalcedon in 451 or Constantinople in 864, the East knew well enough that such methods only condemned the contention which they were meant to justify; and it more securely than ever maintained the old ecclesiastical organisation of the church against the Western innovations.
History, then, we conclude, justifies the Eastern contention. We may briefly indicate the lines on which dogmatic theology does the like, before drawing this lecture to a close with some pacific suggestions and hopes. To the theologian the two alternatives present themselves as rival theories of church unity, the one being federal and the other monarchical. The Pauline conception of the church as the Body of Christ inclines him to the former view. If there is question of headship, in any supreme sense of the word, the Head, says the theologian, must be Christ, and no one less. If there is question of autocracy or monarchy, the rule is in God’s hands. For the Church Militant is not the whole church – it is but the earthly organization of a certain small group of the members, who form part of a great body that reaches into heaven. The East is therefore justified when it says, that the earthly members have not, and cannot have, an earthly Head; but are bound together by bonds of love in the whole Body of Christ.
But viewed even on the terrestrial level, the papal theory is, as Khomiakov has shown, [A. S. Khomiakov, L’Eglise Latine et le Protestantisme au point de vue de l’Eglise d’Orient (1872), pp. 36 and ff.] a displacement. Authority so asserted is something which no longer belongs to the body as a whole, nor even to any function of the body as representing the whole. It is claimed as a divine privilege conferred upon one particular person. Now authority, if it is allowed to take up such a position, becomes also external to the body – it works not ab intra, but ab extra.
Again, the theologian cannot but observe another effect of the Western contention upon the general doctrine of the church. It has clericalised it. For on the papal theory, all ecclesiastical authority in general also becomes external; and so it comes to be located in the clergy, as distinct from the church as a whole. The Western middle ages show this outcome very clearly; and it is only when Christians have broken away from the papacy, that the laity recover their place and their rights as effective members, and not merely drones, or subjects, of the church.
This shifting of the place of authority from the whole church to a particular church, and from within the church to without, and from the church in general to the clergy, has introduced both rationalism and legalism. Christian dogma, being no longer attested by the self-consciousness of a divine body, but resting upon an external authority, had to be supported by such forces as could be operated upon the body from without. Therefore it came to rest upon merely logical proof and merely legal enactment. Khomiakov, the great Eastern theologian, points to the theory of Purgatory and the doctrine of Merits as representing the first; and to the imposition of Latin as the ecclesiastical language, and the adoption of temporal power and mundane expedients as examples of the second. The church was no longer an inspired body, but a governing state.
The antagonism thus revealed between East and West is a very deep one. We have studied it mainly in a single particular – viz., the question of church organisation. But this is obviously only one out of many points that make up the whole antagonism between the two. We have said nothing of doctrinal differences as such; but it is evident that these are closely connected with the difference in organisation. We Anglicans hold with the East as regards organisation; but in some of the doctrinal differences our traditional place is on the side of the West as against the East – with the Latins and against the Greeks. These parts of the antagonism are therefore of necessity more blurred to us. It is well, therefore, that we should realise how to the Eastern churchman the whole question is summed up in the charge, which he brings against the West, of innovation. Not only the papal claims, but the Filioque, the custom of baptism by affusion, the withdrawal of the chalice, the loss of the Epiklesis, the unleavened Hosts, Purgatory, and the Immaculate Conception are all equally innovations. [Answer, pp. 27–35.] The pope is the first of Protestants, the chief representative of the error of setting up individual and sectional judgments against the judgment of the church as a whole. All the multiform divisions in the West are small things as compared with the schism by which the papal church cut itself off from orthodoxy; and they are but the natural corollaries of that supreme act of Protestantism or schism. These are the Eastern views; and we, as Westerners, must ponder on such unfamiliar statements of the case, if we are to get to understand the Eastern contention.
What are we to say in conclusion? Is, then, the case hopeless? We will not believe that. Are the contentions irreconcileable? We dare not say so. There has been development in East and West; and if those developments have hitherto widened the breach, future developments may yet close it. The Eastern Church has not been so unchanging as it would fain think. We have already observed Constantinople aggrandising* while Rome aggrandised, though not radically as Rome did. Rome went on to claim divine sanction for what was in its origin a human arrangement; Constantinople, on occasion, did something similar. It has sometimes tried to exalt the patriarchal system into being regarded as of divine origin;** at other times it has tried to claim a right to rule over churches outside its own area. On the whole, however, wiser counsels have prevailed, as, for example, in the history of the Russian church, and especially the setting up of the patriarchate of Moscow.
*Compare further the quarrel about adoption of the title OEcumenical patriarch by Constantinople in the sixth century, Dictionnaire de Théol. Cath., sub voce Constantinople, col. 1333.
**This view was stated, for example, at the Council of Constantinople in 869 (Harduin, v. 779, &c.), but perhaps provoked by the Petrine claim set out by the Roman delegates (ib. 778). It was, however, a common legal view – e.g., in Balsamon.
The East is in these days beginning to recognise in Anglicanism a Western system of belief and practice which in some respects is akin to itself; and it is more ready now to hear and accept from Anglican theologians a justification of some of the Western peculiarities – such as the Filioque – than it ever was to tolerate the defence of them made by Latin theologians at Constantinople or at Florence. We in our turn, too, are more ready now to understand and learn from the East, than ever was the case in past generations; and we are beginning to foresee with trembling, that Anglicanism, please God, may have an important part to play in a future reconciliation.
Even in the matter of church authority – the point at which Rome and the East are most directly at variance – there are signs that modern developments are making some mutual understanding more possible. We are not now as convinced as we were, that a clear line can be drawn between what is of divine and what is of human origin, in such a matter as the hierarchy and constitution of the church. We see the marks of divine appointment not so exclusively as men once did, in the words of our Lord or in the scriptural precepts; but increasingly in the operation of the Holy Spirit working through the continuous life of the church. The advocate of the papacy appeals less confidently nowadays to texts, and more confidently to ecclesiastical development; and the advocate of episcopacy does the same. The way is thus opening for a new situation, in which the sharpness of the antagonism between East and West in these matters is much reduced, and each party can more easily recognise in the rival theory the signs of divine guidance.
Theologically speaking, our hopes of a coming reconciliation all seem to centre round a deeper appreciation of the work of God the Holy Spirit. If we follow His guidance we cannot go wrong; for is He not the Spirit of Truth? If we follow faithfully, penitently, and fearlessly, we cannot but be led back into unity; for ‘in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body,’ and we are all ‘builded together for an habitation of God in the Spirit.’ [1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:22.]
III – The Mediaeval Church in the West
I have to speak today of the mediaeval church in the West. As we pass from primitive days to the Middle Ages we have to reckon with some new and outstanding facts. In the first place, the Four Great Councils had met. They were in themselves striking expressions of the unity of the church, and they had, out of the collective testimony of the bishops, defined the teaching originally delivered to their local churches. There were now definite standards of doctrine to which appeal could be made. We all know the intense reverence paid, for instance, to the decisions of Nicaea. From the fifth century onwards church history in the West is less concerned with the definition of fundamental doctrine; it is, until the twelfth century, more concerned with the growth and organisation and discipline of the Christian Society.
With organisation, therefore, and discipline I deal for the most part. I guard myself, however, against the supposition that this was a change, that the growth of organisation and of discipline was an innovation or a sign of decay. This is an assumption often, but surely erroneously, made. To make it one has to wave aside the abundant legislation of local Councils in the fourth and fifth centuries; one has to overlook, further, the fundamental idea of life in the Society which underlies the Acts and all the Epistles. All we can assert is a relatively greater stress laid upon organisation, since fundamental doctrines had been defined by the Councils.
Moreover, from the days of Constantine onward, the connexion between the Empire and the Church affected everything; if it did not affect doctrine it was not from lack of imperial attempts to make it do so. But henceforward the Empire felt that disturbances in the church threatened its own stability. Not only did the bishops, especially the bishops of the leading cities, naturally gain political importance and power; the emperors also became protectors of the church, and their protection tended easily to become interference, and even sometimes dictation. In the East this growth was continuous. In the West events interfered with the continuity. But the alliance with the Empire was henceforth, for good or for evil, a governing fact of church life and growth. It had its dangers, it had its advantages. In the fifth and following centuries the inroads of Teutonic races into the Western Empire threatened to destroy all civilisation. The majesty of Rome and the strong organisation of the Christian church were the two things that survived. But the separation between the ordered East, with its continued life and traditions, and the tumultuous West, with its rough energy, its great promise but its early disorder, was absolutely complete. The power of the emperor over the West dwindled to a small strip of Italian coast. The East and West had long shown differing tendencies; the complete ignorance of Greek, at Rome under Gregory the Great,* for instance, shows how learning was almost confined to the East, and how the disturbed condition of the West was likely to affect its theological knowledge. The appeal to primitive times, and to the accumulated learning of the church, was still possible for the East: it was almost impossible for the West. Even Rome, able to give so much, could not give guidance here. We are thus brought to a development of the church, mainly Western in its outlines, although it never could shake off its Eastern affiliation, and made frequent appeal, for instance, to Eastern canons.**
*Reg. VIII., ep. 29 (Migne and Paris ed.). See Gregorovius, Hist. of City of Rome, ii. 88, and Dudden, Greg. Gt., i. 284 seq. The Roman libraries were poor.
**The frequent appeals to Eastern canons in regard to the Chorepiscopi in the West are an illustration of this. So Pope Zacharias (c. A.D. 747), in a letter to the Franks, quotes the Tenth Canon of Antioch (A.D. 341) at length. See Dammler, M.G.H. iii. 481.
As the power of the emperors at Constantinople became nominal in the West, the city of Rome gained a new importance. It was the old seat of Empire. After the foundation of Constantinople as the new capital, when, moreover, Milan or Ravenna was a more convenient base for Western politics, the Bishop of Rome had no one to overshadow him in his own city as the emperor overshadowed the patriarch in the new Rome to the East. When Visigoths, Huns, Ostrogoths, and, lastly, Lombards invaded Italy, new responsibilities of defence and rule were forced upon the pontiffs. Manfully did they rise to the task. Leo the Great before Attila, Gregory the Great against the Lombards did much to preserve not only Christianity but civilisation. Nor was this all. Just as formerly Rome, the centre of early missions in the West, had, according to St. Cyprian,* given to the West ‘sacerdotal unity’, so now Rome became the missionary centre for all the new incoming races. This responsibility, placed upon her by her past history and her position in the West, was fully met by Gregory the Great and by later popes. We of the English church can never forget our spiritual debt. But we can claim at least the freedom which St. Cyprian claimed, even while acknowledging this debt. It was a spiritual relation, and not a legal tie.
*St. Cyprian, Ep. 59 (Hartel’s numbering). On the interpretation see Puller, Primitive Saints and the See of Rome, p. 51. Rome had done for them what she did for England afterwards: she was the mother church of both.
This missionary zeal, with its results in the conversion of whole races, gave a new turn to the relations of church and Empire. Under the Roman Empire the Council of Sardica (A.D. 343)1 – the modern Sofia – had given a right of appeal to Rome in the case of bishops deposed by a local synod. Later on, some time after A.D. 367, Valentinian I, the words of whose law is lost, set up an appeal to Rome for accused bishops. His son Gratian was asked by a Roman synod (A.D. 380)2 to give state help to the church in enforcing its decisions. His reply was a rescript. By this rescript if a bishop were deposed by Damasus acting with other bishops, or by a Council, he was to be forced by civil officers to appear before the Episcopal Court which had tried him either at Rome or locally; bishops in more distant regions were to appear before their metropolitans, while metropolitans were to be tried at Rome or before judges appointed by the pope; if unfairness on the part of a metropolitan or other bishops was suspected, then an appeal was to lie either to the pope or a council of neighbouring bishops. It is needless to enter into details.3 But it is necessary to notice the distinction between the nearer or the ‘suburbicarian’ dioceses, an undefined authority over which the Council of Nicaea had recognised as belonging by ancient custom to the Bishop of Rome. This authority, parallel to that exercised elsewhere by the sees of Alexandria and Antioch in their own neighbourhood, extended over South Italy, Sardinia, and Corsica. But with the growing importance, missionary and otherwise, of Rome, the natural influence of the Bishop of Rome in the more distant parts of the West tended to become confused with this more local and at the same time more primitive authority.4
1See Puller, op. cit., p. 141 seq. Duchesne, Histoire Ancienne de l’Eglise, ii. 215 seq. (Eng. trans. ii. 171 seq.). Hefele’s History of Councils, in the new French translation by Leclercq, with its admirable new Notes and Bibliographies, i. 737 seq.: on the oecumenicity of the Council, see p. 819 seq. It may be assumed the Council was not oecumenical. The disciplinary canons, with their right of appeal, were an innovation due to the disturbances of the time. Of supposed previous appeals Dom Leclercq says: ‘Ces démarches prouvent le prestige dont jouissait généralement l’Eglise romaine dans les communantés même éloignées, ils ne prouvent ni l’existence ni l’exercice d’un droit d’appel’ (note, pp. 819–820). For the genuineness of the canons see C. H. Turner in Journal of Theolog. Studies, 1902, pp. 970–997. A later reference than those given in Hefele-Leclercq, note, p. 804, is Hankiewicz, ‘Die Canones von Sardika’ in Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte (Kanonistische), Abteilung II, 1912, p. 44 seq. It should be noted that the Bishop of Rome was to appoint judges to try the case locally. Duchesne remarks (Eng. trans. p. 180) that the decrees were placed on the papal register, and there they remained dormant until revived by Zosimus a century later. Nor did succeeding popes follow the canon exactly; they heard the appeals themselves.
2The date is disputed. The older authorities give the date A.D. 378; later authorities give A.D. 380; Fr. Puller, op. cit. pp. 510–528, would give A.D. 382. On the Pontificate of Damasus (A.D. 366–384), with its disputed election and a rival bishop, see Duchesne, Hist. Ancienne de l’Eglise (and Eng. Trans.), ii. chapter xiii: (‘Quant à Damase, sa victoire avait coûté trop cher; il y avait, dans sa promotion, trop de police, trop de rescrits impériaux, trop de cadavres,’ p. 460), and C. H. Turner, Cambridge Mediaeval History, i. pp. 171 seq. (‘the period of the first definite self-expression of the papacy’). This was the time when, in opposition to the Constantinopolitan principle of civil position and division as the cause of ecclesiastical power, Damasus and the Roman see asserted the principle of apostolic primacy, especially the primacy of St. Peter, a germ which grew into the fuller mediaeval Petrine claim. The peculiar history of the Pontificate of Damasus – disturbed by faction and worldly in its aims – should not be forgotten.
3For the details see Puller, op. cit. p. 146 seq.
4For the territory to which this Nicene canon applied, see Hefele-Leclercq, i. p. 563 seq. ; Bright, Notes on the Canons of the First Four General Councils, p. 20.
But there were some new rights conferred upon the Bishop of Rome by Valentinian I and Gratian; metropolitans in the West were placed under his jurisdiction; a right of appeal lay to him from all the bishops of the West. It must be emphasised that this extension of powers, which may have been exercised before in the suburbicarian districts, to the whole of the West, was due to the Empire. It means that the foundation of the Western patriarchate, as distinct from the local authority of Rome, was laid by the Empire.1 The process by which this outline of imperial theory was worked out into ecclesiastical fact was a long one, and covers the time up to the eleventh century, if not later. Nor was this growth of ecclesiastical jurisdiction much retarded by the breakup of the Western Empire. In two directions of special importance, in Gaul and in Eastern Illyricum, papal action soon followed. Damasus made the Bishop of Thessalonica (Salonika) his vicar in Eastern Illyricum.2 Gratian had expressly mentioned Gaul in his rescript, and Pope Zosimus (A.D. 417–418) appointed Patroclus, Bishop of Arles, his vicar for the Gallican provinces.3 Local circumstances and differences favoured the attempt, but nothing very decisive came of it, beyond the setting up of more regular communication and connexions between Rome and Southern Gaul. Later on Leo the Great got from Valentinian III (445) a rescript4 by which nothing ‘should be attempted against the ancient custom, either by the Gallic bishops or by the bishops of other provinces, without the leave of the venerable man, the pope of the Eternal City, but whatever the authority of the apostolic see has sanctioned, or shall sanction, let that be held by them and by all for a law; so that if any of the bishops shall neglect, when summoned to appear before the Court of the Roman prelate, let him be forced to come by the moderator of the province.’ This was an innovation in ecclesiastical affairs; it was made by the imperial power, it was made at the very time when the Western Empire was breaking up before the Teutonic barbarians. In spite of its novelty it seemed to them, as they did not know primitive practice, to sum up the opinion and practice of the Western church. The new races took the papacy at its own, or shall I say, at the imperial valuation, and no one who knows the respect felt for the emperor and his majesty by the new races, and the permanent effect of Roman law, can wonder that the papal power was made by this action immeasurably stronger, and that too at a time when everything else was immeasurably weaker in a day of trial and of wrath.
1‘The Roman Patriarchate was really created by the Emperors’ (Puller, p. 155).
2Duchesne, Christian Worship (Eng. trans.), p. 42; Puller, p. 157.
3Duchesne, Christian Worship, p. 38 seg., and Fastes Episcopaux de l’ancienne Gaule, p. 84 seq.; Puller, p. 196.
4Puller, p. 200 seq. See Mirbt, Quellen stir Geschichte des Papsttums (second edition, pp. 65–66).
By a long string of events into which I need not enter, an alliance of the closest kind was formed between the papacy, with its old traditions, with its stewardship of Western unity, and the Frankish kingdom with its growing power and its new civilisation. That alliance was a new starting point for later medieval history. And just as there is a startling difference in theory and in expression between the Roman claims of the second and the fifth century, so there is a startling difference between those claims in the fifth and the thirteenth century or later. Two comparisons will make the point clear.
Gregory the Great, writing to his prayerful friend Eulogius of Alexandria, begs him to take the words which he had used, ‘you have ordered,’ out of his hearing, ‘for I know,’ he says, ‘who I am, and who you are; in position you are a brother to me; in behaviour you are a father.’1 And he will hear nothing of the title Universal Bishop given to himself. But Innocent III – that great pope of the thirteenth century – claimed a power quite unrestricted. ‘So far does the power of the Apostolic See reach that nothing without its authority is done in all matters of the Churches.’ And again he says:
The Apostolic See has so dispensed among our brethren and fellow Bishops the weight of the pastoral burden, so taken them into a portion of the charge placed in his trust, as not to subtract from itself anything of the plenitude of power nor lessen its ability to investigate and, should it wish, to decide every ecclesiastical case.2
1Reg. VIII., 30 (Migne, vol. 77 and Paris ed. of 1705): ‘Quia scio qui sum, qui estis. Loco enim mihi fratres esti, moribus patres’ (quoted also by Mirbt, p. 75). But Innocent III., Reg. II. (Migne, vol. 214), 278: ‘In tantum Apostolicae sedis extenditur auctoritas ut nihil praeter eius auctoritatem in cunctis ecclesiarum negotiis rationabiliter disponitur.’
2‘Sic Apostolica sedes inter fratres et co-episcopos nostros pastoralis dispensavit oneris gravitatem, sic eos in creditae sibi solicitudinis partem assumpsit, ut nihil sibi subtraheret de plenitudine potestatis, quominus de singulis causis ecclesiasticis inquirere possit et cum voluerit iudicare’ (Reg. I. 350).
He claimed ‘the plenitude of Apostolic power’ as a special prerogative of his office, [Reg. I. 495.] while bishops are merely his assistants.
Again, the growing stress laid upon the use of Latin alone in public worship illustrates the growing supremacy of Rome, the organisation and – to use a term of today – mobilisation of all possible means of enforcing it; it also illustrates the mingled causes – some of general historical movements, others of special and individual direction – which made that supremacy possible. How came it that while the language of Christianity was originally Greek, and even at Rome itself and throughout the West the Christian church was Greek until about A.D. 250 or so, Latin became the liturgic language of the West? The explanation is to be found in the fact that the West was Latinised before Christianity came to it, while the East had never been thoroughly Hellenised. Hence in the East vernacular tongues had a continued life; Liturgies appeared in them; the Scriptures were translated into them. In the West, however, nothing of this happened, for Latin civil organisation, and with it the Latin language, had overpowered the native tongues before Christianity came to them; vernacular Liturgies, vernacular Scriptures are not found in the West. ‘Here Latin was the one Biblical and Liturgical language for a thousand years and more.’1 This fact ‘conditioned the whole growth of Western Christianity,’ and as one result ‘this community of language’ in the West ‘helped greatly to the realisation of the unitas ecclesiae.’2 Along with language went, although at first not to the sane degree, unity of liturgic use. The outstanding fact is that this prevalence of Latin was due to historic causes; it came about from natural causes. But the natural tendency was to enforce this everywhere, and in enforcing it to draw no distinction between the suburbicarian region in which the Roman use and the Latin language might claim ecclesiastical sanction, and further regions such as Africa, Gaul, and our own country into which Christianity penetrated later. There was a tendency (we need not call it ‘lust of power’ or sacerdotal despotism)3 to group all the West together, to make unity vital in small matters as well as in great, and to base all these forms of unity upon the authority of the Roman see and its alleged divinely given authority.
1Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, ii. 313 (in Appendix); see also Bury, St. Patrick, p. 218, and note, p. 321; also Duchesne, Christian Worship, p. 86 seq.
2So Bury, loc. cit. p. 218 – with other excellent remarks on the way in which diversity of language would have hindered unity. The Slav church language and literature under Cyril give an ecclesiastical illustration. The question of English and local languages in our own Empire gives a political illustration.
3Harnack, Mission and Expansion, ii. 314.
There was also a tendency, appearing first about A.D. 400 and gradually getting stronger, to make this Roman usage, Roman tradition, rest upon alleged apostolic command. An argument which ought to be historical, a sequence which is purely one of historic cause and effect, is thus made one of theological principle, and, in the end, of divine command. The disorder and the ignorance in the West generally, even at Rome itself, made this result peculiarly easy. Learning which might have known the facts telling against this process, criticism which could have discriminated between facts of differing importance, between vital principles and popular assumptions, both were lacking. Saint as he was, statesman as he was, Gregory the Great did not know Greek, or much about Greek writers.* About A.D. 1100 a cardinal of Rome lamented the ignorance prevalent there – an ignorance due, he said, partly to the climate, which prevented teachers coming there, and partly to the poverty of the inhabitants, which made them too poor to travel in search of education.**
*See note, p. 46. On the study of Greek, see Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, pp. 416–417. The Greek connexions of Gaul gave it importance.
**Atto; quoted by Saltet, Réordinations, p. 205.
This long process, which turned a gradual growth into a vital principle, had its ups and downs. Innocent I, writing to Decentius of Eugubium (Gubbio), a city ‘in the Metropolitan Diocese of the Pope,’ [Duchesne, Christian Worship, p. 87.] could say (A.D. 416):
For who does not know or does not see that what has been handed down to the Roman Church by Peter the Prince of the Apostles, and has been kept up to this day, ought to be observed by all, and nothing which has not authority or which seems to take a model from elsewhere ought to be added or introduced. And this especially because manifestly in all Italy, Gaul, Spain, Africa, Sicily and the adjacent islands no one has founded Churches, except those whom the venerable Apostle Peter or his successors have made Bishops. Or let them read if in these Provinces another of the Apostles is found or said to have taught. And if they do not read this, because they find it nowhere, they ought to follow what the Roman Church observes, from which Church without doubt they have had their origin. [Ep. 25; (Migne, 20) quoted by Duchesne, Christian Worship, p, 87; in Mirbt, Quellen, p. 55. See Langen, i. 716.]
Innocent is speaking here of liturgic custom. The significant thing for us is not the matter with which he deals, but the infant principle he asserts. That principle, convenient as it might be for Western circumstances, justified as it might seem to be by Western history, did not agree with primitive teaching; it raised to the height of a fundamental doctrine something which was merely a result of Western history and conditions. And yet some traces might be found, even at Rome itself and in Roman thought, of the earlier state of things. Thus John VIII writes to the Duke of Moravia about the use of the Slav tongue in worship, rejoicing in the spread of Christianity there.
In truth [he said] nothing of doctrine or of faith prevents saying Mass in the Slav tongue, or reading in it the Holy Gospel or the Divine Lections of the Old and New Testament well translated and interpreted, or chanting all the Hours: since He Who made three principal languages, to wit, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, created all others to His praise and glory. [Quoted by Mirbt, Quellen, pp. 86–87. See Langen, iii. 250 seq. In Migne, vol. 126.]
Then he goes on to say that the Gospel should be read in Latin, to do it most honour, and then translated. But this liberty for the use of a language other than Latin was in contradiction to the same pope’s earlier prohibition of it. And in something the same strain Gregory the Great had answered questions made to him from England by St. Augustine. Among them was this:
The Faith being one, are there different customs in different Churches, and is one custom observed in the Masses of the Holy Roman Church and in another in the Church of Gaul?’
The pope’s reply was: [The Latin original in Ep. xi. 64 (Paris ed.), also in Haddan and Stubbs, iii. 19. An English translation in Mason’s Coming of St. Augustine, p. 71: I assume the genuineness of the letter.]
I should like you carefully to select whatever you have found either in the Church of Rome, or in that of Gaul, or in any other, which may better please Almighty God, and to introduce by an excellent arrangement, into the Church of the English, which is still new to the Faith, what you have been able to gather together from many Churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. From all the several Churches, therefore, select the things which are pious, and religious, and right, and gather them as it were into a bundle and store them in the minds of the English to form a custom.
But at the Council of Trent,* when the Middle Ages were over, it did not seem ‘expedient to the Fathers that Mass should be indiscriminately (passim) celebrated in the vulgar tongue. Wherefore the ancient usage of every Church, and the rite approved of by the Holy Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all Churches, being in each place retained,’ frequent exposition should be given during the celebration of Mass. Between the attitude of Gregory the Great followed by John VIII, and the decision of Trent there is all the difference in the world. But a reference to some letters of Gregory VII to the kings of Aragon, Leon, and Castile helps to fill the gap:** the King of Aragon he praises because he has received the officium of the Roman church; Alfonso VI of Leon and Sancho II of Castile he exhorts to receive the ordo et officium of the Roman church, not that of Toledo or of any other, but that founded on a rock by Christ through Peter and Paul – that against which the gates of hell – that is, the tongues of heretics – shall never be able to prevail. And if under Gregory VII we catch a glimpse of the process by which this startling change was made in regard to the use of the vernacular tongue and local uses, we find other changes which we have noted also explained by his Pontificate.
*Session XXII., chap. viii. The accompanying anathema was: ‘If any one shall have said, “That the Mass ought only to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue, let him be anathema.”’ The heading of the chapter is ‘Mass not to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue.’
**Monumesnta Gregoriana, Reg. I, 63, 64, and 83. I. 64 reads: ‘vos adhortor et moneo ... Romanae ecclesiae ordinem et officium recipiatis non Toletanae vel cuiuslibet aliae sed istius quae a Petro et Paulo supra firmam petram per Christum fundata est et sanguine consecrate, cui portae infernae, id est linguae hereticorum, numquam praevalere poterat.’ St. Paul owes this mention of his name to his intention to visit Spain. Innocent’s letter to Decentius of Gubbio mentioned above is alluded to by Gregory here.
The papacy was driven, partly by fear of the Lombards in Italy, partly by other causes, to seek the help of the Frankish rulers. Indeed the orthodoxy of the Franks marked them out against the Arian Teutons as friends of the church. The baptism of Clovis at Rheims, that city of present suffering (Christmas Day, A.D. 496), was the beginning of a new age. But for some time the church among the Franks and in Gaul seemed likely to become a national church without any special connexion with Rome, the centre of Christian civilisation in the West, built up on the ruins of the Christian community in Gaul, and built up, above all, on the abiding strength of the episcopate within it. English missionaries with Christian enthusiasm and the training of organisation came to further the work. They had felt the benefit of fellowship with Rome, and knew what help came to a new world by keeping touch with the old. Theodore of Tarsus had completed the work of St. Augustine of Canterbury. The scheme laid down for England by Gregory the Great was not followed precisely, as it would have been followed to the letter five centuries later; Canterbury, not London, was taken as metropolitan see for the south: the province of York was never organised as Gregory had wished. Theodore of Tarsus worked independently, and organised England efficiently with an independence that savoured of the East.
Winfrid, who took the name of Bonifatius at Rome (A.D. 719), became the great missionary of Germany. Long controversies have arisen around his name; and his connexion with the papacy has brought attacks upon him. He went to Rome at the outset of his mission work to get, as Willibrord before had done, the approval of the pope; at Rome he obtained episcopal consecration. He did this because Rome was the central Christian see of the West, the great centre of missionary enterprise; it stood for unity as no other place could. But at his consecration (A.D. 722) he took an oath to the pope – an oath which became the model for later oaths of the kind. This oath certainly marks a new departure in relations of bishops to the pope, and its terms are therefore worthy of notice:
I, Boniface, do promise to thee, blessed Peter, and to thy Vicar, blessed Pope Gregory, and his successors ... that I show the Catholic faith in all fidelity and purity, and persist by God’s help in the unity of the same faith, that in no way will I consent by the persuasion of anybody to anything contrary to the unity of the common and universal Church, but, as I have said, I will show forth in all things my fidelity, purity, and help, to thee and to the profit of thy holy Church, to whom has been given by the Lord God the power of binding and loosing, and to thy aforesaid Vicar and his successors. And if I shall find out that Bishops walk contrary to the ancient institutes of the holy Fathers, with them I shall have no communion or fellowship, and even more, if I am strong enough to forbid them I will forbid them, if not I shall at once faithfully report it to my Apostolic Lord. [The oath in Mirbt, Quellen, p. 78; in English in Browne’s Boniface of Crediton and his Companions, p. 39]
This oath was nearly the same in words as that taken by the suburbicarian bishops, but in place of promising to avoid communion with disorderly bishops, they had promised to report anything contrary to the commonwealth or their most pious prince.
The work of St. Boniface – the greatest of our English missionaries – I have described elsewhere. [Camb. Med. Hist., ii. 532 seq.] Here it is enough to note that he, ‘with his strong wish for missionary work, reached Rome when the papacy was turning towards plans of organisation,’ for the as yet unconquered West. Organisation, too, was what was needed above everything at the time by the new races. There were thus three causes working together to extend the papal power into these new fields. 1. Papal plans of general organisation somewhat on the lines followed by Gregory the Great. [The interest of the papacy at this time in Bavaria is an illustration of this.] 2. Missionary zeal gathering itself naturally around old Christian centres. 3. The tendency of the times towards organisation, which was naturally found at its best in places where the old Roman imperial influence lived on. How much Rome – and the papacy as heir of Rome’s past glories – owed to the continuity of its municipal life it would be very hard to say. [See Halphen: Études sur l’Administration de Rome au Moyen Age (751–1252). On this continuity see especially chap. iii. on the Prefect. The continuity is illustrated by many points in Duchesne’s great work on the Liber Pontificalis.]
It is tempting to ask the question: How much did Rome owe to the business side of its ecclesiastical organisation? The early history of the Roman Chancery is, for instance, a fascinating study, and while we wait Dr. R. L. Poole’s forthcoming work we can meanwhile remember the conclusion reached by Bresslau,* that probably as soon as the popes began to exercise jurisdiction they copied Roman officials in their registering of documents. In the middle of the fourth century we hear of a papal register of documents at Rome. In the fifth and sixth centuries we have further traces of it. The letters of Gregory the Great and Gregory VII need only be mentioned. Then from Innocent III in the thirteenth century, and for later popes, we have abundant information. The popes who most impressed themselves upon the world were among other things excellent men of business. Just when there was a path open for organisation, when what would be called in the United States ‘a central bureau for ecclesiastical business’ was needed, Rome was able to supply the need. Throughout the Middle Ages the organisation grows, and the officials multiply, while at the same time business is less quickly done, and by the end of the Middle Ages the central organisation is unable to cope with the vast burden, administrative, judicial, and not least financial. But these are the commonplaces of organisation. In the earlier ages of which we speak Rome was able to teach the world something, to do something for the world. And this, I think, is one side, and a side often forgotten, in the growth of the papacy in the mediaeval West.
*Handbuch der Urkundenlehre für Deutschland and Italien (second edition, i. 104–5). Dr. R. L. Poole’s book has appeared since this lecture was delivered. See p. 29 onwards.
One other thing may be noted about Boniface and his oath to obey the pope. It was sworn over the body of St. Peter; to St. Peter it was addressed. With the eighth century we come to a time when the Petrine tradition took a fuller form. Siricius, the pope who is commonly said to have issued the first decretal, says in that very letter (A.D. 398), ‘We bear the burden of all who are heavily laden, or rather the blessed Apostle Peter bears them in us.’ Gregory VII almost regards himself as an incarnation of St. Peter.* The idea had its legal and juristic side; the pope was the universal successor to St. Peter. It is impossible to give within small limit any picture of the way in which henceforth every papal utterance is based upon St. Peter and the Petrine succession; how the doctrine grows in rotundity, in coherence, in solidity. What had before been merely a passing mention – I speak with the memory of such passages – what had been a matter of traditional respect – has now taken a very different form. When in 755 Stephen II sent a letter from himself and one from the Romans to Pippin and the Franks asking help against the advancing Lombards, a third letter from St. Peter himself accompanied and enforced the others. He called them to come and defend the home in which after the flesh he now lay, and if they came he promised them tabernacles most bright and glorious, and the joys of Paradise itself. Many scholars suppose the letter was meant to be taken as having come down from heaven – it is certain many people at the time would not have found this hard to believe.**
*See Monumenta Gregoriana, Reg. IV, 2: ‘De aliis autem rebus, super quibus me interrogasti, utinam beatus Petrus per me respondeat; qui saepe in me, qualicunque suo famulo, honoratur vel incuriam patitur.’ See Martens, Gregor. VII. ii. 9 seq.
**See on this letter the criticisms of Professor Burr in Cambridge Mediaeval History, ii. 590, note. Among the clerical impostors St. Boniface encountered was one who relied upon a letter which had come from heaven.
And there is a side of this growth of the Petrine tradition which is well worth notice. In days when the work of St. Paul in helping to found the Roman church was not forgotten, visits to Rome were described as visits to the sacred places, and often to the threshold of the Apostles (Limina Apostolorum). [Limina – of a temple – see Ducange sub voce.] But these were succeeded by the phrase ‘Limina Sancti Petri’. We are able to fix not the moment but the century of the change. In the letters of St. Boniface [See Monumenta Germaniae Historica, iii. (Epp. Merowing).] and his fellow worker Lul the expression ‘limina Apostolorum’ is used ten times. Of these it is used three times by a pope and once by a Roman synod. Boniface himself uses, on the other hand, the phrase ‘Limina St. Petri’ twice. But the fluctuating usage is interesting. Symmachus (pope) used in 513 Limina St. Petri, so does Stephen II in 753; Paul I in 763–764, however, uses Limina Apostolorum; Adrian’s use varies. Hence we can say that the usage – significant in itself – fluctuates during the eighth century. The tendency is more and more to rest the Roman claims upon St. Peter. But even after St. Paul has been dropped out of sight traces of the earlier usage are found, and, oddly enough, the phrase ‘thresholds of the Apostles’ occurs in some forms of the oaths taken by bishops to the pope.
To this same eighth century belong some of the forgeries which have had so great an effect and have in some ways altered the history of the world. The Donation of Constantine* is a dramatic story of the conversion of the emperor, a persecutor of Christians, and smitten with leprosy in vengeance for his sin, then healed by Pope Sylvester, and in gratitude putting all bishops in subjection to his healer, building and endowing St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, and the Lateran, finally giving him Rome, all the provinces, places, and cities of Italy (seu = et) and the western regions, and then to leave a clear room for the realisation of all this grandeur, betaking himself to a new capital at Byzantium. These gifts the emperor confirmed by oath over the body of St. Peter, as people in the eighth century did.
*Quoted conveniently in Mirbt, Quellen, No. 86, p. 35, and in Haller, Die Quellen zur Geschichte der Entstehung des Kirchenstaates, p. 241 seq. For some criticisms see Burr, loc. cit.
The later Donations – in the main genuine – need not concern us here. They were restitutions, in one way or another, of lands yet to be conquered from the Lombards. They may have been patrimonies, ordinary estates, or territorial gifts. In any case, the papacy profited out of them, building up its temporal power – that is, those papal states upon which popes of a later day lavished labours better kept for spiritual ends. But they rested, in the main, upon the forged Donation of Constantine as their foundation. In it, although St. Peter and St. Paul more than once appear together, the Petrine claims are stated clearly. The position of the pope as a doctrine and as a fact of territorial sovereignty are so clearly stated that it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that to the forger of this document, and to those who accepted it as true, the papal claims, doctrinal and territorial, were one and indivisible. The period was one in which states and small principalities were growing up. Here you have the legend upon which the power of the medieval papacy was based, and you have it in a form characteristic of the century in which it appeared, sovereignty and local power. The only possible conclusion is that the Petrine claims upon which the medieval papacy rested arose not from the teaching of the primitive church, did not indeed arise as a doctrine or religious principle at all, but were an outcome of the history, the conditions, and the aspirations of the eighth century itself. Then later on facts of history were turned into doctrines and projected upon the primitive background. It is well to remember that the Donation of Constantine was always accepted as true history in the Middle Ages, until in the fifteenth century Lorenzo Valla exposed the forgery. That is the statement – the true statement – always made. But English people with their characteristic modesty nearly always forget that our own Bishop Pecock, in ‘The Repressor of Overmuch Blaming of the Clergy,’ showed quite independently the falsehood of the document.
Another result of the friendship between pope and Franks, which finally issued in the Empire of Charles the Great, was to bring unduly forward the question of church and state, though, of course, in its mediaeval, not in its modern, form. Roman and Christian thought had permeated the early medieval West in the form St. Augustine gave it.
Now St. Augustine, like St. John, saw a new city coming down from heaven. The old Roman world was saved by Christianity, which leavened it and gave it new life. The kingdom – the city – of God was on earth. The marks of the kingdom were justice or righteousness (seen in the working of the church), obedience and peace. The opposites of these were the notes of the kingdom of the devil. A man, whether king or serf, took his place (or tended to take his place) in the one kingdom or the other just as he showed in his life the notes of the one or the other. The Middle Ages assumed an underlying unity in the world, but in this one Christian Society with its civil officers, and its ecclesiastical officers, if fellowship between the different parts was to any extent difficult or impossible, then one part or another must rule or lead. Moral guidance was needed, and the clergy were the fittest officers to give it. To guide aright a world needing guidance, above all, a world ignorant and willful, with immense possibilities, with energies untutored and ready for good or evil, was a noble ambition. But it was an ambition which could be reached in different ways. Charles the Great, greeted as a new Constantine, a new David, a new Solomon, had called the bishops to help him in his task of ordering the world; he made them strong, rich, and important; in return they were to help in the work, the police work on a large scale, of the church. Under his weaker successors the Frankish bishops claimed to guide, to judge, and even to depose kings. In the ninth century bishops were the leaders and rulers of society. The ideal machinery for Christianising the world seemed to be kings working for the peace of Christendom under the guidance and rule of bishops joined in synods. Logically the scheme seemed perfect: in practice it made the monarch a slave, it gave the officers of the church a work and responsibility for which they were not suited.* The Frankish bishops felt both the greatness of their task – Hincmar of Rheims, for instance, had farsighted views and a clear theory – and also the unity of the church. At the same time, as we have seen, the popes were moving out from Rome on broader lines and in larger fields. If popes and bishops worked together, then the world might be won for Christ. The sense of church unity, the needs of the time, and the policy of the papacy here again were in accord. There was a general tendency among ecclesiastics of the day to group themselves round Rome. The traditions of imperial Rome contributed something, but new elements contributed as well. Centralisation of the Western church under the pope opened up the easiest road to a moral victory over the new Western world. It led to the later medieval papacy; it led also to the long and disastrous struggle between church and state. But most of all the papacy, after the ninth century had begun, wears a different aspect.
*I have had the advantage of reading a masterly sketch of the church in the ninth and tenth centuries by Prof. L. Halphen, one of the ablest scholars among our French allies, and one of the leaders in the French historical school, now the foremost in the world. It is to appear in vol. iii. of the Camb. Med. Hist., delayed by the war. See Duchesne, Les premières temps de l’état Pontifical (754–1073).
That great pope Nicholas I comes in the middle of the century (858–867). He was a strong ruler, a masterful statesman, who wrought into a compact and coherent theory principles that were, we may say, floating in the air; and, like all the rulers of his day, utilised to the full every scrap of power he could claim by any sort of prescription, any circumstance that favoured the consolidation of his power. In many ways, as we should expect indeed from a Christian bishop, his power was used for righteousness – to oppose a lustful king was good. ‘He issued his commands,’ a mediaeval chronicler tells us, ‘as if he were lord of the whole earth.’ Some innovations in the way of papal power belong to his pontificate and need notice. On his own authority he deposed bishops. This was an invasion of the rights of local councils. When he restored Rothad, Bishop of Soissons, whom Hincmar in a synod had deposed (865), he claimed to be above all laws. Hence when the papal claims were first stated in something like their modern form, it meant arbitrary interference with the rights – the immemorial rights – of local Councils, and with metropolitan authority.
At this very period we come to the false (the pseudo-Isidorian) decretals.* This work welds together, with quotations and scraps from current writings, a series of forged letters of popes from St. Clement downwards to A.D. 314; the Donation of Constantine and some other early forgeries already current; some genuine and some spurious papal letters from A.D. 314 down to 715, and some acts of Councils. The home of this forgery has been much discussed, but the best opinion assigns it to the province of Tours, possibly to the diocese of Le Mans in Brittany, and dates the compilation about A.D. 850. The aim of the writer is to maintain the power of bishops against their metropolitan, and while doing this he exalts the power of the pope. Papal assent is made necessary, for instance, for the holding of a Council and for the validity of its canons. Bishops can only be judged by the pope himself. It is the affirmation of full papal power in the interests of episcopal power. It is a bold attempt to recast all ecclesiastical law, and in the process all law is made to depend upon the utterances of popes. This is the great development now made. It expressed by forgery what Nicholas was doing by force. It is fairly certain that Nicholas I had these forgeries, or at any rate extracts from them, before him in the latter part of his pontificate (864 onwards). It possibly cannot be proved that he used them extensively, or that his views and actions were modified or inspired by them. The Donation of Constantine is in itself sufficient basis for nearly all he did; Nicholas I, at any rate a bold and energetic ruler filled with the dynastic ideas that had been gradually growing at Rome, could find in the Donation and in the tentative and occasional acts of some few energetic popes, some argument for such a policy. Then the terrible degradation into which the papacy fell during the tenth and early eleventh centuries, and the increasing care spent upon the consolidation of the patrimony, let the bold and far-reaching policy of Nicholas fall into neglect. He with his strength had attempted what his successors – attacked by Saracens and other foes – intent upon local cares, could not carry out He had at any rate concerned himself with moral and religious ends, which he tried to reach by enlarging his own power and using it energetically. Men in those days could act with a decision we may admire and wonder at today. These moral and religious ends did not appeal to all his successors. But his action and the false decretals had formulated the papal theory more precisely, and impressed it further upon a very plastic world.
*Hinschius, Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianae; P. Fournier, Études sur les fausses décrétales. (Four articles in the Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique for 1906, and one article in 1907.)
Thus we pass to the much-needed revival of the eleventh century, which is sometimes summed up as the Hildebrandine movement. Once more we come to men bent on righteousness, filled with the idea of reforming a world which had fallen into disorder. The alliance with the civil power, its patronage and protection, had grown into something worse. The church, with its spiritual power and its spiritual work, was in danger of being secularised; bishops had become officials of the Crown, and lived like laymen; parish priests on the lower scale followed their example; monarchs and landowners appointed to benefices men of low standards and little spirituality. Above all, when feudalism was claiming the world for its own, the pest of simony threatened to destroy the church. If bishops, when they had the chance, had claimed to rule monarchs and guide the state; if a masterful pope like Nicholas I had ruled as master of the Western world, now, there could be no question that things were reversed, and the world had its foot on the prostrate and slumbering church. A religious revival was needed; the church, with a sufficiently high ideal, must be free to do its spiritual work. Fortunately, at the very time of need a religious revival had begun; it radiated out, not, I think, solely from Clugny, but at any rate from the monastic ideal. When the disgraceful papacy of Benedict IX was ended at the synod of Sutri, the tide of spiritual reform reached the degraded papacy. Henry III, the great and pious emperor, set up a new line of popes, coming from, and inspired from, Germany, where religion at that time was a living force.
But the religious revival had not only turned to the religious idea for inspiration, it had tried to find in the study and application of canon law an instrument for reforming and quickening the church organisation. In the district of the Rhine, in the great city of Liege, where Wazo, an early leader in canonical progress, was bishop, the canon law was studied and applied. Burchard,* Bishop of Worms, whose writings cover the years 1008–1025, studied earlier writers, and had brought their influence to bear on coming generations. It is needless to say that the false decretals were to him genuine decisions. It was the attitude of men in those days to take the written word as decisive, and not to go behind it. Hence we find a deep respect for precedent, a deep respect for maxims. Each ruler, civil or ecclesiastical, insisted upon his own rights as handed down. It is the period in which rights are rigorously enforced, and by their enforcement power grows. It is the age of feudalism** – that age which, as F. W. Maitland has taught us, preserved, under a rigid organisation suited to the time, principles of earlier and Roman law which were all-important for the future of mankind. Now Burchard of Worms codified with some laxity and some confusion of thought the earlier constitution of the church. The power of the bishops, the power of the pope, appeared in clearer outlines after him. But we may notice that he shows none of that unfriendliness towards the civil power which later ecclesiastics show so freely. After Burchard, and more especially at Rome under the inspiration of Gregory VII, canon law was studied and amplified. The freedom of the church to govern itself, its dependence upon existing customs and traditions, were the principles underlying the canonical movement. But the leadership, the monarchy, of the pope was the form that it took. Spiritual freedom, regard to the traditions of the church, were eternal principles. But that they were expressed in the form of papal monarchy was a result of Western history, a result of the forces of the day. The papal monarchy as it left the hands of Gregory VII was an application within the sphere of the Western church of the principles which gave us feudal monarchies, and the feudal organisation generally. If it guarded for us eternal principles and religious freedom, it guarded them by the temporary protection of feudal organisation and feudal thought. The principle might be eternal, but the manner of its expression was earthly. I pass over the reigns of the popes just before Gregory VII; they raised the religious ideal; they enforced church discipline; they revived the freedom of the church in her councils; they were religious men of lofty ideal placed on a lofty place.
*P. Fournier, Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique, xii. 451 seq. In one or two ways Burchard shows less deference to popes than do later canonists: he favours the bishop in cases of Absolution, and he does not mention monastic exemption.
*I may refer to an article of mine in the Church Quarterly Review, July 1910, in which I tried to exhibit the Hildebrandine ideal in its relation to its age. There is no adequate existing English treatment of Gregory VII.
It was difficult to secure the freedom of the church. There was one school of thought, of reformers, who sought the fellowship of the state for the work of the church: they belonged to the old school, and the old school were to pass away in the stress of a stern struggle between strong men. Peter Damiani, cardinal and hermit, theologian and reformer, was a leader of that school, and the last of his type. A younger school, who insisted upon the absolute supremacy of the church, led the new age, and – after he had mounted the papal throne – captured Gregory VII, who in earlier years had striven for reform, for the enforcement of the canons, for the freedom of the church, but not for its absolute supremacy over the civil power. The so-called Investiture Struggle threw the whole power of the church into the contest with the Empire. In all contests leadership is needed, and that leadership was now found in the papacy.
In Gregory VII I do not see a man ruled by ambition, personal or ecclesiastical. He was not a theologian; like many men of his day – and indeed like men of our own day – he depended a good deal upon little textbooks, and he probably only knew St. Augustine in a book of extracts.* He was mainly a man of action, trained in the Roman Chancery, influenced by the ideas of church reform current in the Germany where he spent an exile with Gregory VI. But he was devoted to righteousness, and he used to the utmost the power possible for the papacy in his day. He seems to gather up into a semi-feudal and monarchic conception the idea of the papacy as it existed before him.
*Mirbt, Die Stellung Augustins in der Publizistik des Gregorianischen Kirchen treites; E. Ber heim, Politische Begriffe des Mittelalters im Lich e der Auschauungen Augustins: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft: 1896–7, p. 19 seq.
Of the vast controversial literature of his day I do not speak; it profoundly influenced the time, and is of profound interest for us today. But I turn to the ‘Dictatus Papae’,1 in which, after the investigations of Peitz, we may see a collection of maxims or principles begun by Gregory or under his influence. Its purpose and origin may be a little obscure, but it embodies the Gregorian idea of the papacy, its place in the world and in the church. It claims that the Roman church was founded by God alone; that to the pope alone belongs the title Universal (Pontiff). That he alone is able to depose bishops and to reconcile them. His legate precedes all bishops in council, whatever his rank, and is able to depose them. The Pope can depose emperors. He alone can call General Councils; he is judged by none. In various clauses, supreme sacerdotal and judicial authority is claimed for him. The merits of St. Peter make him holy. And the pope never has erred, nor ever will err. Nor is he a Catholic who is not in accord with the Roman church. It would be impossible to imagine a more complete programme for the development of the papacy. It was not at once carried out, largely because of the struggles of the time. But the scheme was left for other popes to work out. And how did Gregory himself carry it out? He enforced upon metropolitans frequent visits to Rome; he treated all bishops as his bailiffs,2 as Liemar of Bremen complained. Councils at Rome were regularly called twice a year, and all bishops were to attend. The oath of metropolitan3 to the pope gains a new importance, and, incidentally, it is feudal in type.4 If canonical election of bishops, no longer indeed by clergy and laity, but by the cathedral chapter, was enforced, there were also cases in which the popes interfered.5 The episcopal office is to him that of a mere papal vicar.6 There is here more than the germ of the later papacy. And it is needless to labour the assertion that under Gregory VII the False Decretals were freely and oecumenically used. Indeed, Gregory’s celebrated letter to Hermann of Metz7 is fortified mainly from the False Decretals. And, once more I may repeat, the organisation of the Western church, as shown to us in the writings of Gregory VII, is tinged by feudalism. Its words are the words of the False Decretals; its breath is the spirit of feudalism. We are miles away from the primitive church. And future popes stray something, but it may be little, further. It was kept for Innocent III, a greater man and as great a pope, to work out the sovereignty that Gregory had claimed. But the theory – which marked a definite advance – was well nigh completed under Gregory VII. After his days canon law was elaborated.
1In Monumenta Greg., Reg. II. 55a. And see Peitz, Das Original Register Gregors. VII: Vienna, 1911.
2See Bernheim, Quellen zur Geschichte des Investiturstreites, i., No. 25.
3See Funk, Manual of Church History, i. 360.
4Greg. IX. made this oath general (Martin V extended it to bishops). See Mon. Greg. vi. 17a for an example of the oath. That taken by S. Boniface was modelled on the oath sworn by subject bishops: this is modelled on oaths of vassalage.
5See Mon. Greg. viii. 19, and ix. 2. Also see Imbart de la Tour, Les élections épiscopales dans l’Eglise de France. Bishops who do not obey the pope are not to be obeyed. Mon. Greg. iv. 11.
6Mon. Greg. i. 12. 7Mon. Greg. viii. 21. Mirbt, p. 305.
It was left for later popes to carry the Hildebrandine model into practice. But the united forces of the canon law, the papal headship, and church organisation built up an ecclesiastical feudal system partly such as the men of the day demanded, partly such as they produced. The papacy was as much the product of the Middle Ages as it was a force helping to mould those ages. And yet traces of earlier usage and earlier thought survived. If there was a tendency to make bishops, for instance, merely the servants of the pope, traces of the earlier episcopal freedom, and also of episcopal control of the church, survived. And again, because the kings representing the state had their own struggles with the papacy, which claimed supremacy over them, they kept alive some antipapal traditions. Schools of thought which seem to be vanquished have a way of arising to battle again. And this was the case with much of medieval thought and medieval controversy.
For the most part what I have said so far has referred to the Continent and not to England and the English church. But the English church was, on the whole, although with some slight differences, moved by the same forces, inspired by the same feelings as its brethren on the Continent. That Christianity came to England in an enduring form and with an abiding system was due to the missionary spirit of Rome. The time and the manner of the conversion, moreover, saved the English church from much of the evil which appears in the history of early Frankish Christianity. And the bishops did not become political. [See Stubbs’ Const. Hist. i. chap. viii. Camb. Med. Hist. ii. chap. xvi, 113, and xvii.] At the same time the church was in closer touch with the national life than was perhaps the case abroad. Partly because of its local strength, partly because of the isolation due to the Danish attacks, the English church was up to the Norman Conquest less affected by the growth of the papal power than was the case elsewhere. With the Norman Conquest comes a change. But William and Lanfranc were of the older school; they kept church and state in harmony much as in the early Frankish Empire and in Germany under Henry III. It was not until Anselm came back from his exile that the spirit and the machinery of the Hildebrandine revival reached England. Up to that time the position of England was peculiar; so much so that Anselm was hailed at Rome by the pope as the pope of another world. It may be noted, too, that England escaped much of the strife between church and crown in its continental form. But the papal control over metropolitans, and then over all bishops, ran much the same course in England as elsewhere.* And frequent arrangements between king and pope made the papal interference in England a source of hurt to the interests of the church. The reign of Innocent III marks the time when bishops lost their voice in the election of primates, and then after that the chapters lost their elective rights. Thus evils and abuses grew up which are amply illustrated by the papal registers for England. But of the later Middle Ages I do not speak. I think, then, that we may say that the Middle Ages made and saw the growth of the papal power; we have traced its development, and seen how it was the result of historic causes and historic forces. But that is a different thing from being part of the divine plan, an integral and essential part of Christianity. Purely Western, mainly medieval, based upon imperial decisions, supported by medieval forgeries, its strength lay in its adaptation to the times, in the services which, under masterful and righteous leaders, it did to the world. But it is, I conclude, as a Western and medieval development that it has to be treated, and this its history illustrates.
*See Stubbs’ Const. Hist. iii. 19. For the background of general thought see Gierke, Political Theories of the Middle Ages, and Figgis, Respublica Christiana (Trans. R. Hist. Soc., 1911; reprinted in Churches in the Modern State).
A historical development, however, may be natural and right. In the case of the Christian church the appeal to primitive times comes in as a test. That is a test which the medieval papacy as an institution for all time cannot stand. There is another test which may, I think, be also applied. A proper development of an institution should keep the utmost freedom and the greatest vigour in all its parts. The growth of the medieval papacy meant ultimately the destruction of the primitive episcopate, the loss of its controlling power over the national life. The papacy did magnificent service to the world; it bore witness to unity and it fostered religion. In the Middle Ages it did all this. But in basing its claim to do it upon its own power alone it destroyed the freedom, the growth, of much that lay beneath its power. Feudalism was to pass into tyranny, and tyranny foreshadowed revolution.
IV – Councils and Unity
‘If we consider the root of all the troubles which the Church has suffered on many sides, we shall see that it all arose from the omission of Councils.’ So wrote the great canonist Cardinal Francesco Zabarella early in the fifteenth century.* This plaint was evoked by the spectacle of the great schism which had lasted (when he wrote) over thirty years. On the one hand were rival popes, each supported by strong parties; on the other the abuses of papal autocracy had increased, and the outcry grew against first-fruits, reservations, and every other kind of exaction, accompanied as they were by deplorable slackness and luxury. A very few years later the Council of Constance asserted its superiority over every other power and personage in the church, not excluding the pope. Nor was it content with theory, but boldly deposed the three contending popes, and elected Oddo Colonna, who took the name of Martin V.
*De Schismate, 694. Cf. also Gerson, De Juribus Ecclesiae et Concilii in von der Hardt, Concilium Constantiense, vi. 100. Concludimus tandem ex dato Mosi consilio et praecepto legis Deut. 17, et ex institutione Christi, Matt. 18, quod nulla fuit hactenus nec erit in posterum perniciosior pestis in Ecclesia quam omissio generalium conciliorum et provincialium vel in re ipsa vel in auctoritate.
To understand the rise, the development, and the failure of the conciliar movement of the fifteenth century it is necessary to go back a little. The pontificate of Boniface VIII, the great canonist (1294–1303), marked the culminating point of the mediaeval papacy in theory, and witnessed its breakdown in practice. The ideal of Gregory VII had been developed into a definite system of law by a long line of canonists, some of whom became popes, the third and fourth Innocent. The doctrine of the plenitude potestatis vested in the pope was designed to place him in precisely the same position as the emperor as the source of the civil law, except that the pope’s authority was divine – at least in the ultramontane view – while the emperor owed his to the Lex regia, by which the Roman people had, or were supposed to have, transferred their rights to him. The practical exercise of this claim to be ‘king of kings and lord of lords’ was seen in its most impressive form in the reign of Innocent III. But the work of the canonists was not yet over, and Boniface VIII was able to go a step farther. In the second title of the Sext, he asserted definitely that he held all law in scrinio pectoris, and in the Bull Unam sanctam* he claimed both the spiritual and the temporal sword for the church, and asserted that it was necessary for every human being, as he valued his eternal salvation, to be subject to the Roman pontiff. Nor were there wanting writers like Augustinus Triumphus in the Summa de Ecclesiastica Potestate, who could assert that all secular rulers were the pope’s delegates, and that their kingdoms were merely the wages of good service. The claims of Boniface, however, were met with a flat refusal. It had been easy, or at least had been feasible, for the papacy to win triumphs over the emperors. The divisions of Germany, together with the damnosa hereditas of the claim to the Italian kingdom, prevented the emperor from ever being entirely national, while the beginnings of the national consciousness in other peoples equally prevented him being a real supranational authority. Through these and other causes the popes were able to bring to ground even the Hohenstauffen, probably the most gifted race that ever wore the imperial crown. This happened towards the close of the thirteenth century. Only a few years after the battle of Tagliacozzo (1268), and the execution of Conradin, the last of the Hohenstauffen, Boniface VIII might well suppose that he could assert claims of a like nature against the kings of France and England. But he failed. Our own Edward I outlawed the clergy rather than submit to the Bull Clericis Laicos (1296), which forbade the clergy to pay taxes to any secular power. Philip the Fair summoned the States-General for the first time. The French nation repudiated with indignation the papal claims. This was followed up by the harrying of the pope at Anagni, and his death a month later.
*The Unam sanctam is in the Johannine Extravagants in the Corpus Juris. (Extrav. Comm., I. viii. 1.) That, however, does not make it authoritative. There is nothing authoritative in the Corpus Juris after the Sext. The Bull should be read at length, for it shows the use of nearly all the mediaeval arguments: ‘Feed My sheep’; ‘No power but of God.’ The two swords, enough and not too much, &c., &c. It is printed also in Mirbt’s Quellen, p. 148.
Worse was to come. The French king persuaded his successor, Clement V, to come and live at Avignon. Avignon was so near to France as to be virtually French, although it was nominally in the Empire. Thus began the ‘Babylonish Captivity’ which lasted seventy years. The papacy in the fourteenth century lost the respect of Europe, because it had ceased to be an independent power. Much of Wyclif’s bitterness is due to this feeling. Many felt at the time of Crecy and Poitiers that the pope was merely a French agent. Moreover, the luxury and avarice of the popes increased, and their general influence was deplorable. In the conflict between the canonist John XXII and the imperial claimant Lewis of Bavaria, theoretical claims were set higher than ever. The pope even claimed to administer the Empire during an interregnum. This controversy has not the lurid splendour of the earlier conflicts, but it is memorable for some great political literature. Marsilius of Padua in his ‘Defensor Pacis’ laid down many modern principles, such as toleration, representative government, and the sovereignty of the people. Other writers, such as William of Ockham on the one side and Augustinus Triumphus on the other, developed diverse theories of the spiritual and temporal authority. Marsilius had a powerful influence. Partly due to this is the strong hold which the notion of communal sovereignty possessed over the leaders of the conciliar party.
At last, however, the entreaties of Catharine of Siena and the wishes of all devout Christians were heard; and the pope went back to Rome. But Avignon was not really abandoned. The French cardinals always hankered after it. In 1378, on the death of Gregory XI, the conclave elected Bartolomeo Prignano, Archbishop of Bari, who took the name of Urban VI. But the French cardinals were not so easily baulked, and in two months they elected an antipope, Robert of Geneva, who took the name Clement VII. This is the beginning of the great schism. It lasted nearly forty years – from the beginning of the reign of our Richard II until the beginning of the reign of Henry V and the battle of Agincourt. From the very first it evoked loud protest. So early as 1381 we find Conrad of Gelnhausen writing an impressive letter to the French king, and suggesting the summons of a General Council.* Other methods, however, were thought of. The policy of mutual cession by the popes, and also sometimes that of subtraction of obedience by various peoples, was considered and nearly carried through. But though each pope was ready for the other to resign, neither would begin. It soon became evident that there was no sincerity in all their protestations, since each body of cardinals proceeded to elect a new pope when its own pope died. At last a Council, or what passed for such, did meet in Pisa in 1409. Its effect was disastrous. Neither of the popes would resign, and each carried off a small body of cardinals. The Council proceeded to elect its own pope. So now there were three. The scandal grew greater every day, since each line of popes went on. Even a papal decease did not bring the surviving cardinals to unity.
*The letter of Conrad of Gelnhausen is printed in Martene et Durandus Thesaurus Anecdoteus, ii. col. 1200–1226. Many other documents anent this movement are given in that collection.
At last, then, supported by the Emperor Sigismund, the Council met at Constance (1414), and the Pope John XXIII, the second of the Pisa line, presided at first. Pope John soon discovered that he was not to be allowed to continue – small wonder, considering his character. He fled to Schaffhausen and was deposed. Ultimately he consented to his own deposition. So, after long struggles, did the popes of the other two lines. This was not the only purpose of the meeting of the Council. Besides the restoration of unity, there lay before it the suppression of heresy and the reformation of the church in head and members. The latter would have had more chance had not the Italians managed to persuade the other nations to elect the new pope first. After the election of Martin V unity was restored, and there was less eagerness about reforms, since nobody knew what they might lead to. The universities in particular were afraid of restoring too much of the rights of patrons and ordinary chapters, for fear that their own share in the patronage would be lost. It was through the pope that they got what they did get. Heresy in the persons of John Huss and Jerome of Prague was duly burnt. But the Council’s interpretation of the right of safe conduct did not add to its reputation. The most hopeful sign had been the voting by nations; all, however, were persuaded to unite at the conclave, thus Italian predominance was secured. The Council did not separate without passing the decree Frequens. [Printed in Mirbt’s Quellen, 155.] This asserted the need of frequent assembling of councils as a regular part of the machinery of the church. In accordance with the desire for reform, Martin V made concessions to the several nations. These were embodied in separate concordats, and the policy of the modern papacy began. The next Council was duly summoned at Pavia in 1423 by the reluctant pope. It was moved to Siena, where the excuse of the plague enabled him early to dissolve it. When the next interval had elapsed, the pope summoned a Council at Basle and then died. His successor, Eugenius IV, tried to dissolve it. The Council refused to be dissolved without its own consent. The pope was forced to yield. The Council suffered from its own triumph. It became more and more arrogant, proceeded to depose the pope – without effect. Its antipope, Amadeo of Savoy, Felix V, was not a success. He found it did not pay. The more influential spirits left the Council and adhered to Eugenius IV. AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini, that pupil of circumstance, had begun as its secretary; but he perceived that the Council where it was not purely academic was Savoyard, and he left Basle for Germany. The pope scored by holding a Council at Florence (1438), in which union with the Greeks was theoretically secured. At last the Council sank into impotence. Its one great man, Louis d’Allemand, Cardinal Archbishop of Arles, was forced to give way, and in 1449 it made its peace and dissolved itself, and elected Nicholas V pope. The final coup de grâce was the Bull Execrabilis, 1459. AEneas Sylvius, now pope, as Pius II, announced in this Bull that any one who appealed to a future Council was ipso facto excommunicate, for to appeal to a Council was to appeal to something that did not exist, and might never exist, and he hoped never would.
Having thus briefly outlined the course of the movement, I proceed to consider the governing ideas that directed it.1 This is the more necessary on account of the part which was played by the University of Paris. Practical need gave the leverage essential for success. But the movement itself was a movement of ideas. The work of Constance is the crowning work of the mediaeval university. Jean Charlier de Gerson, the Chancellor of Paris, is the greatest figure at Constance. Other important influences are those of Pierre d’Ailly, Cardinal Archbishop of Cambrai, no less famous in his day and more fortunate than another occupant of the same see three centuries later. Among the earliest writings are those by Conrad of Gelnhausen and Henry of Hesse. Zabarella, whom I cited at the outset, is of importance, for he was a cardinal and a canonist, and, like most of these writers, felt bound to consider the texts which set high the papal authority.1 Later on, during the Council of Basle, we have among other pieces the De Concordantia Catholica of Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa. Nicolas of Cusa is known otherwise as a philosopher, but this work is interesting as the last and most complete expression of the mediaeval ideal of freedom, but freedom under authority. Moreover, in this work, earlier than the refutation by Valla, the cardinal expresses his disbelief in the authenticity of the Donation of Constantine, and gives many grounds for his scepticism. The governing idea which runs through these writings is the same – it is the sense of the church, the communal idea. The church is greater than any single individual, or even than any one community like the local church of Rome. Satisfied with a church monarchically administered, they are resolved to maintain that the pope is no more than administrator, he is not dominus. The church was not created serva, as a later papalist declared. The gift of the Spirit was promised perpetually to the church, but to the church as a whole. It is doubtful, some say, whether even a General Council is infallible, whether that prerogative does not attach only to the whole church.3 Therefore the Council is superior to the pope. This is evident from our Lord’s words, ‘Where two or three are in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.’ It is evident also from the nature of things. Christ is the True Head of the church; the pope is, in the strict sense, only His vicar, and has not the like powers. He is the managing director of the company. Orbis maior urbe is the legal tag, which justifies the conclusion. But there are others.
1The first two volumes of Creighton’s Papacy are admirable accounts. Salembier’s Great Schism of the West is good, despite its ultra-montane tone. Pastor and Gregorovius will be familiar to the reader. Hübler, Die Constanzer Reformation und die Concordate gives a good account of the theoretic side. Dr. Poole’s Wycliffe and Movements of Reform tells much in small compass.
2The following passage gives a good instance of his method. It is printed in Schard’s Syntagina, p. 703. ‘Potestatis plenitudo est in Papa, ita tamers quod non errat, sed cum errat, habet corrigere Concilium. Apuud quod, ut praedixi, est plenitudo potestatis tanquam in fundamento. Neque in hoc potest Papa per suas constitutiones vel alio modo facere resistentiam, quia hoc esset subvertere Ecclesiam de quo supra quia ut ibi dixi, Papa non potest mutare universalem tastum Ecclesiae. Nam neque potest Papa dispensare in eo per quod decoloratur status universalis Ecclesiae.’ He cites laws, and goes on: ‘Quae jura sunt notanda, quia male considerate sunt per multos assentatores, qui voluerunt placere Pontificibus per multa retro tempora, et usque ad hodierna suaserunt eis quod omnia possent, sic quod facerent quicquid liberet etiam illicita, et sic plus quam Deus. Ex hoc enim infiniti secuti suet errores, quia Papa occupavit omnia iura inferiorum Ecclesiarum. Ita quod inferiores praelati sunt pro nihilo. Et nisi Deus suc currat statui Ecclesiae universalis, Ecclesia periclitatur, sed favente Deo, speratur de reformatione, si ut dicitur constitutum congregabitur in Ecclesia concilium. In qua congregatione icon oportebit solum schismati praesenti sed etiam futuris consulere, et ita determinare potestatem Papae, ut non subvertantur inferiores potestates et ut Papa deinceps posset non quod libet sed quod licebit. ... Et si dicatur quod hoc est imponere legem principi, qui est solutus legibus, dic quod est solutus legibus suis, non Dei, quales sunt leges concilii, quae Spiritu Sancto suggerente promulgantur.’ Nicholas Judeschi, better known as Panormitanus, makes great play with this passage in his defence of the Council of Basel.
3‘Secundum quosdam magnos Doctores generale concilium potest errare non solum in facto, sed etiam in iure, et quod magis est in fide. Quia sola universalis Ecclesia hoc habet privilegium quod in fide errare non potest iuxta illud Christi dictum Petro, non pro se, nec personali sua fide, sed pro fide universae Ecclesiae – “Petre, non deficiet fides tua”.’ – Pierre d’Ailly, ‘Conclusiones,’ in Von der Hardt, Concilium Constantiense, ii. 201. These words were written because d’Ailly objected to what was done at Pisa.
Popes receive their power in aedificationem, they cannot be allowed to use it in destructionem. Kings may, and ought to, be resisted if they attempt to ruin the commonwealth. How much more may popes who drive men to damnation!1 The church as a whole cannot fall into heresy; but that is not true of the pope or the cardinals.2 In the case of the schism the whole church was affected. Therefore the legal maxim applied – ‘Quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus approbetur.’3 The maxim, familiar to all students of English constitutional history, is made use of repeatedly as a ground for representative government and in the councils. Sometimes it is used also as a ground for allowing the laity a voice in the Council, especially on matters of faith which concern them. If legal maxims of this sort made for the Council, others made against it. It was the custom to apply to the pope the prerogatives attributed to the emperor in the civil law – thus he was solutus legibus; and quod principi placuit legis habet vigorem. He was the sole convener of the Council; he could judge all, and be judged by none. Since the whole system of the canon law had been developed mainly in the interests of the papacy, it was not easy to profess lip-service to it while claiming that the pope was not in reality ‘sovereign’ in the legal sense. The difficulty was got over as follows. First, there is the general principle of necessity. Necessity justified David in breaking the ceremonial law and eating the shewbread; how much more does the necessity of the whole church justify the assembling of a Council even if the pope be reluctant to convene it. Laws prescribe what is normal in normal conditions.4 But in strange conjunctures they do not apply. We must go back to the pristine ius. Moreover, by the law of Nature, which even the pope cannot dispense with, any corporate body must have the means of defending itself; the church, therefore, must have the means of settling the difficulty, since it is the most perfect society in the world. The pope is like the prince, he is legibus solutus. But that either applies only to his own laws, and not to those divine and natural, or else, like the prince, bound in honour by the digna vox,5 he must submit to the laws for the general benefit. The object of all law is the common good – this is the intention of the legislator. If by the rigid application of the letter of the law the common good would be imperiled or enhanced, we must go back to the origin of all law and conform to the mind of the legislator, even when we disobey the letter of his precepts. As to the prima sedes which judges all and is to be judged by none, that absolves the pope from judgment by a single person or any other body.6 It does not affect the right of the church as a whole. That right is inherent and inalienable. No positive enactment can abrogate it. The church is unable to transfer all powers to the pope, in such a way that there is no residual element in the community. (The same was held true of the sovereign people in regard to the empire – the ultimate authority lies in the community.)7
1‘Et si rex vel princeps vellet rempublicam et civium unitatem destruere et vertere ad cuius conservationem et custodiam est deputatus, subditi possent, immo tenerentur efficaciter sibi resistere. Nec se tunc opponerent regi, sed poenis, hosti, et regni persecutori.’ – So in regard to the Pope. Conrad of Gelnhausen, Marténe, ii. 1222.
2The church as a whole cannot fall into heresy. ‘Hoc autem de collegio Papae et cardinalium intelligi non potest. Ecclesia vero quae est Papae et cardinalium ut multi arbitrantur, deviare et errare, et mortaliter peccare potest. De Papa quidem non est dubitandum.’ – Ibid. 1209.
3Acta Domini Toletani, 1381, printed in Marténe and Durand, ii. 1117. ‘Ista causa totam universalem Ecclesiam tangit. Igitur per regulas iuris ab omnibus decidi debet quod omnes tangit.’
4‘Si ergo necessitas imminens privatae forsitan et peccatrici solvit vincula legis, quis ambigit quod in tali ac tanta necessitate sanctae Catholicae Ecclesiae Sponsae Christi, nostraque matris communis, nulla lex humana edita super congregatione concilii generalis nonnisi auctoritate Papae fienda possit obsistere quominus languor curetur in capite, ne morbus inficiat totum corpus.’ – Conrad of Gelnhausen, in Marténe, ii. 1216.
5‘Digna vox est majestate regnantis legibus alligatum se principem profiteri.’ – Code, i. 14, 4.
6Item, nec concilium Constantiense dicitur addidisse, quando specificavit praedictas tres casus et pertinentia ad eos, cum tune contenta capitula in iure communi non videantur excipere, ut communitur asseritur, nisi in casu fidei. Quamdiu enim mundus durabit, cum Christa sit concessa potestas Ecclesiae docere omnes gentes, ‘secundum difficultates insurgentes sicut potest nova statuta ita et facere novas declarationes. Quae de novo fiunt, oportet intelligere secundum iura communia, et sanctorum ac sacrae Scripturae auctoritates.’ He goes on ‘nemo iudicet primam sedem’ must be referred only to individuals – ‘non autem pro concilio aut ipsa Ecclesia, quae est corpus, quae non videtur contineri sub praedicto nomine distributivo singulorum, Nemo.’ – John of Segovia in Von der Hardt, Prolegomena, vi. 13.
7The following passages are a few among many which illustrate these points:
‘Ex quibus satis lucide patet, opinionem antiquorum non fuisse Papam per universalia Concilia ligari non posse; sed potius quod ipse inter ores tanquam caput regulis traditis per universale Concilium, usus semper fuit, ac etiam ut oportere confessi sunt.’ – Nicolas Cusanus, De Concordantia Catholica, ii. 20.
‘Fundatur in hac radice stabilitas Legum, quod consuetudo est optima Legum positivarum interpres.’ – Ibid.
‘Oportet quod eius iudicium canonibus stringatur quibus subest, et per quos examinatur sententia an, secundum eos sit iusta nec ne. Praeterea canones radices habent in naturali iure, contra quod etiam princeps potestatem non habet.’ – Ibid. ii. 14.
‘Papa qui instituitur per electionem Ecclesiae, vel eius vices gerentium recipit summam potestatem ab Ecclesia ministerialiter, quamvis illa potestas sicut omnis alia potestas sit a Deo principaliter.’ ...
‘Potestas Papalis quae est in Papa actualiter semper sit in universali Ecclesia habitualiter seu virtualiter. Alioquin sede vacante aliquando. ... Sponsa Christi erit imperfecta.’ – Conclusiones Parisiensium, in Hardt, ii. 277.
The whole of this document will repay study.
‘Nihil enim tam firmum est quam quod omnium consensu statutum est. Aliter leges condere est fructus in arbore privata radicibus reperire. Quia leges instituuntur atque promulgantur; sed confirmantur, cum assensu utentium adprobantur. Omnia suis debent convenire temporibus.’ – Anglorum Vindiciae pro jure Nationis in Concilio, printed in Hardt, v. 99.
‘Quis autem hoc veritate innitatur, scilicet quod vigor legis ex concordantia subjectionali eorum qui per eam ligantur subsistat, facile quisque apprehendit, qui vires consuetudines ex usu tantum introductae advertit. ... Canonum statuendorum auctoritas non solum dependit a Papa, sed a communi consensu. Et contra hanc conclusionem nulla praescriptio vel consuetudo valere protest, sicut nec contra ius divinum et naturale, a quo ista conclusio dependet.’ – De Concordantia Catholica, ii. 12.
‘Et non obstat si dicatur quod potestas Papae est de iure divino et a Deo immediate ... et quod non potest ab homine tolli. Ad quod respondeo quod quando Concilium privat Papam, potestas non dicatur sibi auferri ab homine sed a Deo. ... Cessat in universitate totius ecclesiae quae superiorem non habet nisi Deum, et Papam cum bene administrat. Et de hoc an bene vel male habet ipsa universitas decernere. Neque unquam ita potuit transferre potestatem in Papam, ut desineret esse penes ipsam quia hoc esset contra ius divinum et contra exempla Apostolorum.’ – Zabarella, in Schard, 708.
Sicud omnia carnalia in necessitate sunt posita, spiritualia vero in voluntate, sic et qui principes sunt spirituales, scilicet ecclesiastici prelati, principatus eorum in dilectione debet esse positus in timore. ...
Primatum igitur ecclesie concupiscere neque justum neque utile est. Quis enim sapiens vult ultro se subicere servituti et periculotali, ut det racionem pro omni ecclesia nisi forte, qui non timet dei judicium abutendo primatu suo ecclesiastico seculariter, ita quod convertat in secularem. – Dietrich of Niem in Finke, Forschungen und Quellen, 277.
Onnis potestas quae principaliter a Deo est, sicut et ipse homo, tunc divina censeatur, quando per concordantiam communem a subjectis exoritur. – Nicolas Cusanus, De Concordantia Catholica, iii. 3.
Above all things, the church has inherent right to deal with a novel situation. If the claim to depose and to annul the papacy is a new one, that does not matter. History does not repeat itself. The church is assured of the perpetual guidance of the Holy Spirit, enabling it to deal with circumstances as they arise.1 Historical arguments were also employed. It was admitted in later times that the sole right of summoning a Council had belonged to the pope. Not so in earlier. In the Acts of the Apostles there are four Councils. St. Peter even did not preside over that aroused by the action of St. Paul. It was the decision of the whole body that was announced – not the fiat of a despot. This might be if his power was immediately from God, but it is not any more than is that of a king. It is the church, and the Council as representing the church, whose power is immediately from God.2 The sense of communal authority is deeper than it is in Rousseau. In some writers there is the sense also that every individual community, every diocese, shares in this to some degree, and more especially the nations. Von der Hardt, who made his great collection of documents at the beginning of the seventeenth century, extols ‘the admirable order and constitution’ of the Council in deliberating by five nations – Italian, French, German, Spanish, and English. When the Spaniards adhered to the Council and sent representatives, the French were anxious that the English should deliberate with the Germans, and be treated only as an item in the German nation. The English protested, and ultimately made good their protest in a very interesting document, which asserts the inherent rights of groups.3 The fundamental point was that of the authority of the church – that is, of the communal consciousness against individualism – and it is seen by some to lie in the view we hold of the character of God. I think it was M. Loisy who said that ultramontanism was really the extreme of individualism. Complaint is made that some papalist flatterers permit the pope to do even illicit things, which God Himself cannot do. Thus it is already made clear that the ultramontane doctrine of authority is bound up with a false theory of the divine omnipotence. The claim that the pope is sole legislator is countered in many ways. The pope is bound by natural law and divine. He cannot sanction what they prohibit. Also, a large part of the authority of law rests on acceptance. Consent, according to Nicolas of Cusa, is of the essence of all rightful government, since by nature all are free.4 Consequently, the authority of the law rests only very partially on papal enactment, but more largely on general obedience and custom, which is the best interpreter of laws.
1‘Ecclesia habet potestatem seu facultatem ex vivifico germine sibi insito per Spiritum Sanctum quod seipsam potest continuare in integritate. ... Ecclesia vel generale Concilium quamvis non potest tollere plenitudinem potestatis Papalis, a Christo supernaturaliter et misericorditer collatae potest tamen usum eius limitare sub certis regulis ac legibus in ae ificationem Ecclesiae, propter quam Papalis auctoritas et alterius hominis collata est.’ – Gerson, Sermon, in Von der Hardt, ii. 271, 272.
2Zabarella, De Schismate, 688: ‘Cum autem vacat Ecclesia, potestas universalis Ecclesiae videtur residere in ipsa tota Ecclesia quae est fidelium congregatio (de Consec di. 1.c. Ecclesia de bigamis c. debitum et de elec. c fundamenta, Lib. 6). Sic etiam dicunt philosophi quod vel ipsius congregationis partem valentiorem quae sententia colligitur ab Aristotele tertio Politicorum cap. 8 et conformiter dicendum est, quod regimen orbis penes congregationem hominum totius orbis vel ipsius partem valentiorem consistat. Ita ergo et regimen universalis Ecclesiae vacante Papatu consistit penes ipsam Ecclesiam universalem, quae representat r per Concilium generalem.’
‘Petrus in concilio tanquam onus in congregatione corregnavit. ... Ex hoc apparet, quod id quod dicitur quod Papa habet plenitudinem potestatis debet intelligi non solus, sed tanquam spud universitatem, ita quod ipsa potestas est in ipsa universitate tanquam in fundamento et in Papa tanquam in principali ministro.’ Ibid. 702.
3Von der Hardt, vi. 77–101.
4‘Cum natura omnes sint liberi, tune omnis principatus, sive consistat in lege scripta sive viva aped principem ... est a sola concordantia et consensu subjectivo. Nam si natura aeque potentes et aeque liberi homines sunt, vera et ordinata potestas, unius communis aeque potentis naturaliter non nisi electione et consensu aliorum constitere potest.’ – Nicolas Cusanus, op, cit, ii, 14.
One citation which I will translate from Dietrich of Niem will serve to illustrate the strength of feeling and definite conviction:
Is such a Council, in which the Pope does not preside, superior to the Pope? Certainly it is –superior in authority, superior in dignity, superior in office. The Pope himself is bound to obey such a Council in everything. Such a Council can limit the power of the Pope, the keys of binding and loosening are granted to such a Council, as representing the Universal Church. This body can take away the Papal rights. No one can appeal from it. It can elect, deprive, and depose Popes. It can make new laws and repeal old ones already in existence. The Constitutions, statements, and rules of such a Council are immutable and cannot be dispensed from by any person inferior to the Council. Neither can the Pope, nor ever could he, issue dispensations against Canons made in general councils, unless the Council has in set terms and for strong reasons granted him such a power. Nor can the pope change the acts of the Council, or interpret them, or dispense from them, since they are like the Gospels, which admit of no dispensation and over which the pope has no jurisdiction. Thus, therefore, will there be kept the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; thus shall we bear one another’s burdens; thus shall we live in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit. [Dietrich of Niem, De Modis Uniendi in Dupin’s Gerson, ii. 172.]
We may compare also the statement of John of Segovia that after the Council has been legitimately assembled (as was declared at Constance), it has its power immediately from Christ, and that the power of the universal church is transferred to the Council. [John of Segovia in Von der Hardt, ii; Prolegomena, 8.]
The doctrine of the superiority of the Council to the pope rests on a combination of several arguments. If we take the standpoint of divine right, our Lord founded the church. To her he gave the keys. Popes exist in aedificationem, non in destructionem.
Secondly, there is the standpoint of natural right. Every society, if perfect, must have the means of purging itself of evils. Salus populi suprema lex. The idea of the community precedes that of its president. It has this inherent and inalienable right.
This principle is valid even when we ascribe to the pope all the authority of the sovereign Imperator of the Civil Law. That authority admittedly rested on the Lex Regia. It is argued, that even the transference of the whole power of the community to a single individual is subject to a reservation. No society can so entirely delegate its power that it may not, in case of extreme need, recall it, and even dismiss the officer. Gerson declares that the Pope’s life may be taken. In the developed canon law and the full theory of the papacy, it is the imperial rather than the feudal character of the pope that is important. But if the pope be placed in a position analogous to that of a feudal monarch, it is even easier to argue for the right of deposition. In feudal theory the monarch has no divine sanctity sui generis. Magna Charta in its last clause allowed a right of rebellion. The droit de défiance enjoined the contractual value of the feudal tie, which is essentially bilateral. Indeed, it was out of the feudal theory that the doctrine of the original contract was developed. Recent events, such as the deposition of Edward II and still more Richard II of England, were alone evidence, that the king is less than the kingdom, and is minister rather than dominus. It is easy to exaggerate the part played by feudal ideas in the papal development, and I think that it is sometimes exaggerated, but so far as that part was real, it would make for, not against, Gerson and his friends.
Having thus established by one means or other the supreme authority of General Councils, the conciliar writers proceed to consider expedients for limiting the papal monarchy. They do not deny the plenitido potestatis, only they assert that the Council must subject it to such limiting rules as will hinder abuses. Here the question comes up, ‘What is the best form of government?’ The influence of Aristotle’s ‘Politics,’ of St. Thomas, and of the developed constitutional systems of the later Middle Ages is here apparent. Obviously the church has the best form of government, for Christ could not have meant His community to be conducted in a second-rate fashion, but its end being different, its government need not be that of an earthly monarchy.* Now, it is clear that this best is a mixed or limited monarchy, with a single person as supreme officer, a governing Council, and an advisory assembly. Thus we have a constitution for the church on the lines of what is later known as the Whig theory. Space is left for the federal elements, at least the theory of national units in the church, in the proposal of Nicolas of Cusa, who was not alone, that cardinals should be chosen in definite proportions to represent the several nations. The complaint of Zabarella is that the ultramontane – they did not call it ultramontane at that time – theory has enabled the pope to eviscerate of their strength all the inferior powers of the church. The effort of the conciliar party is to restore these, and to guard against the abuses of an absolutist theory of government. This doctrine, whether it vests power in sovereigns, ‘one’ or ‘numbers,’ is equally dangerous to the free development of individuals and communities inside the great society. Wherever and whenever it is encountered it needs to be fought. It is the πρωτον ψεωυος alike in church or state. The statesman who starts from it has some excuse. The churchman who believes it has none at all. No compromise with Rome is possible so long as she stands committed to it. It is doubtful whether she is committed to the doctrine in theory. Infallibility is capable of an interpretation which excludes it, just as the legal doctrine ‘the king can do no wrong’ can be interpreted in a way favourable to freedom. It does not mean absolutism. In practice, however, Rome has done nothing but tighten its autocracy, ever since the Renaissance popes succeeded in riding upon the storm of the conciliar movement. This tightening is inside the church; the claim to temporal dominion over states is different. Here the opposite has occurred. The Reformation has made the exercise of that claim impossible even in Roman Catholic countries. In theory the doctrine of the indirect papal power partially abandons the old claim. Still further, the modern doctrine of the papacy expressed in the encyclical ‘Immortale Dei,’ recognises that both church and state are each societies genere et iure perfecta, and abandons the commonly received interpretation of the Unam Sanctam.
*Gersonis Opera, ii. 149. Sermo coram Rege de Pace et Unione Graecorum. Nihil magis turbat totius Christianitatis politiam, quam velle eodem modo gubernare hominum spiritualitem et temporalitatem, et existimare quod temporalis proprie sit spiritualitas et Iurisdictio proprie spiritualis.
To return, other questions came before the conciliar writers. Who was to be summoned to the Council? No attempt seems to have been made to confine it to bishops. Not only bishops, but mitred abbots, doctors, and other literate persons were to go. No one who was concerned but had a right to be heard. The laity were represented by the emperor and by other ambassadors for other people. In the later stages the question arose whether laymen could vote. Apparently it was decided that they could. AEneas Sylvius, in his later and more respectable years, describes the scorn with which he saw coachmen and cooks sitting as members of the Council. In those later times the Council also became surprisingly Presbyterian in its views. Even Nicolas of Cusa makes very little distinction between priest and bishop, except as to administrative power.* But the later days of the Council of Basle must not be taken as a norm. Its real authority had ceased with the departure of Cardinal Cesarini in 1438; and it became more and more an assembly of cranks and hangers-on of Louis d’Allemand. Even the celibacy of the clergy came in for acute criticism at the Council of Basle. AEneas Sylvius relates an interesting debate on this topic.
*Quia ab ills potestate ligandi et solvendi est divinae iurisdictionis potestas, patet omnes episcopos et forte etiam presbyteros, aequalis potestatis esse quoad iurisdictionem, licet non executionis. ... Quod enim dioeceses sunt distinctae, et unus episcopus super presbyteros ad unitatem conservandam constitutus, hoc est de positivo iure, Deo tamen inspirante.’ – Nicolas of Cusa, De Concordantia Catholica, ii. 13.
The conciliar movement failed. The forces making for absolutism were too strong. The triumph of the Renaissance popes over the Council is the beginning of the strictly modern period in history, when everywhere except in England and Holland autocracy triumphed over the free institutions of the latter Middle Ages and uniformity replaced diversity in law and political ideals. Although the movement failed, its influence was not over. With its strictly political importance in stimulating doctrines of freedom and a balanced constitution as against despotism within the state, we cannot here deal. Suffice it to say that one of the more violent supporters of the divine right of kings in the seventeenth century regarded the opposite doctrine as having its origin in the doctors of the Sorbonne, who invented the theory of popular rights as a counterpoise to the papacy. Yet even in the church the power of the Council did not wholly die. It can hardly be said that Trent did anything to further it. But the Gallican church never ceased to honour the names of Gerson and D’Ailly. Paris refused to dissociate itself from its hereditary attitude. The ‘Vindiciae Doctrinae Maiorum’ (1611) of Edmond Richer is an attempt to restate the conciliar ideas as against the growing power of the counter-Reformation. In the seventeenth century the quarrel between Louis XIV and the pope led to the promulgation of the famous Four Articles of 1682, which were drawn up and afterwards defended by Bossuet. In these the superiority of Councils to popes was reasserted, and the decrees of Constance and Basle were reaffirmed. The French church remained very largely Gallican until the Revolution. With the reaction against the intolerant infidelity of Jacobinism ultramontanism became once more dominant. All the ablest leaders of the reaction, Châteaubriand, De Maistre, Bonald, and later on Lacordaire and Lamennais were ultramontanes, or at any rate strongly papalist. Finally the conciliar idea received its coup de grâce in the Vatican Council. The separation of church and state in France has led, it is said, to a still further strengthening of the autocratic and papalist influence.
The failure of the conciliar movement in the Western church is a tragedy. On the one hand, it meant the strengthening of all the forces that made for autocracy, and for an external and oracular notion of religious authority. On the other hand, since conservative reform had failed, a revolution became inevitable. As Cesarini had said, the state of Germany was such that there was danger of a much worse schism than that then proceeding between Eugenius IV and Felix V. The collapse of the ancient church and the rise of Protestant sectarianism through a large part of Western Europe was the result.
We in England have much to learn from the conciliar movement. Nor was the part played at Constance by Englishmen such as Bishop Hallam of Salisbury to be despiscd. [Mr. Wylie’s Ford Lectures are directed to show what was the English activity at Constance.] What, then, does Constance stand for? It stands for the doctrine of a living, developing church respectful of precedent, but not bound in a legal system; for reform on conservative lines, upsetting ancient landmarks as little as may be; for the power of the church to deal with circumstances as they arise, and the discovery of new expedients; for a respect for the rights of the laity, as against the most dangerous of all doctrines proclaimed in the encyclical ‘Pascendi Gregis’, that the position of the laity in the church is purely passive, a doctrine destructive of civil and religious freedom. It stands for an inchoate federalism and the rights of national groups, as against a centralising bureaucracy. Above all, perhaps, for the influence of the universities was paramount, it stands for the recognition of sound learning in the councils of the church – that principle which Creighton used to say was the distinctive quality of the English Communion. Those who wish to see in the church of the days to come the development of all the riches of the past towards a future even richer in power, will do well to study the principles proclaimed at Constance and Basic. They are the safeguard against the all-devouring autocracy of Rome, which has taken over the ancient legal notions of the sovereign emperor and applied them to the pope. No less are they preservative against mere individualism, and the disorganised anarchy of a Christendom divided into warring sects.
The final lesson from the conciliar movement is that the church is nothing less than the whole of it; and that there must be inherent in the body of Christ the power to set aside any or all particular laws, in order that the great end, Love, may be attained. It is a pity, that some of those who have most sense of the church as an organisation, appear to forget that no system of law can be worked without some power either to abrogate or dispense, because no law can provide for all cases without injustice. In regard to the main issue, men like Gerson felt that the mystical body of Christ could not have less right and power to secure its own union than has any other civil body, whether mystical (i.e. corporate) or natural.1 Dietrich of Niem declares that against the weal and utility and cleansing of the Universal Church, no laws, no decrees, no rights of any person can bind us:2 if the emperor will not summon the former, the power reverts to citizens, even to peasants, or to the poorest old woman. The doctrine of epieikeia (similar to the English doctrine of equity) enabled them to assert that charity is above rubrics;3 and Gerson in his work, ‘De auferibilitate Papae,’ states the conclusion of the whole matter. The end of all laws, human and divine, is love, which produces unity. If, therefore, there be any case where the observation may grant and would militate against unity and injure the common weal, what sane man would say that we are compelled to observe the letter of the law.4 These things are written for our learning.
1‘Non enim habet corpus Ecclesiae mysticum a Christo perfectissime stabilitum minus Jus et robur ad procurationem suae unionis, quam corpus aliud civile, mysticum vel naturale verum.’ – Gerson ii. 114.
2‘Contra bonum et utilitatem ac sanationem Universalis Ecclesiae nulla Iura, nulla Decreta, nullam alicujus justitiam secundum Deum et rectae scietiae dictamen possumus acceptae.’ – Printed in Dupin’s Gerson, ii. 188.
3‘Summarie et de bona grossaque aequitate potest procedere Concilium istud generale, in quo residebit sufficiens auctoritas judicialis utendi epikeia, idest interpretandi omnia jura positiva et ad finem celeriorem et salubriorem habendae unionis eadem adaptandi auti si opus fuerit relinquendi; quod enim pro Ecclesiastica pace et salute institutum est, si rite, non tyrannica malignitate fuerit institutum, non debet contra eam militare, ne potestas data videatur Constitutionibus humanis, in destructionem Ecclesiae, non in ejus aedificationem. Autoritas vero doctrinaliter utendi epikeia, residet principaliter apud peritos in Theologia, quae est architectoria respectu aliarum, et consequenter apud peritos in scientia Iuris Canonici et civilis, prout ex principis Iuris divini et naturalis habeant accipere fundamenta. – Pope may be deprived even of life.’ – De Unitae Ecclesiae in Gerson’s Works, ii. 115.
4‘Finis autem Legum omnium nedum humanarum sed divinarum est dilectio, quae unitatem operatur. Sit ergo casus ubi Legis alicujus observatio dissiparet unitatem et obesset publicae saluti, quis ratione utens, diceret eam tenere oportere.’ – De auferibilitate Papae, ii. 215.
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