SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Looking for free sermon messages?
Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER V CANONS AND MONKS

The Church And The Empire by D. J. Medley


[Sidenote: Secular canons.]

So far, in speaking of the attempted purification of the Church in the eleventh century, we have dealt merely with the bishops and the parochial clergy. But a movement which emanated from the monasteries had a message also for those ecclesiastics who were gathered into corporate bodies, and whom we have learnt to distinguish respectively as canons and monks. Of these the canons were reckoned among the secular clergy; for although they were supposed to live a common life according to a certain rule, their duties were parochial, and they were not bound for life to the community of which they were members. The body of canons was called a chapter, and of chapters there were two kinds -- the cathedral chapter, whose members served the Mother Church of the diocese, and, as we have seen, ultimately obtained the nominal right of electing the bishop; and the collegiate chapter, generally, though not always, to be found in towns which had no cathedral, the members of which, like those of a modern clergy-house, served the church or churches of the town. In the eighth century these communities were subjected to a rule drawn up by Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, in accordance with which they were required to sleep in a common dormitory, feed at a common table, and assimilate themselves as far as possible to monks. But in the two succeeding centuries there was no class of clergy which fell so far from the ideal as the capitular clergy. They were important and they were wealthy, for the cathedral chapters claimed to share with the bishop in the administration of the diocese, and both kinds of chapters owned extensive lands. In some of the more important chapters great feudal nobles had obtained for themselves the titular offices; in nearly all such bodies some, if not most or even all, of the canonries came to be reserved for younger members of the noble families. The common property was divided into shares, between the bishop and the body of the canons and between the individual canons: many of the canons employed vicars to do their clerical duty, and some even lived on the estates of the capitular body, leading the existence of a lay noble. Even those who remained on the spot had houses of their own round the cloister, where they lived with their wives and children, using the common refectory only for an occasional festival.

[Sidenote: Canons Regular.]

Thus no body of ecclesiastics stood in need of thorough reform more than the capitular clergy, and no class proved so hard to deal with. Attempts to substitute Cluniac monks for canons roused the opposition of the whole body of secular clergy. More successful to a small degree was the plan of Bishop Ivo of Chartres and others to revive among the capitular bodies the rule of common life. But it was difficult to pour new wine into old bottles, and the reformers found it more profitable to leave the old capitular bodies severely alone, and to devote their efforts to the foundation of new communities. To these were applied from the very first a new rule for which its advocates claimed the authority of St. Augustine. It laid upon the members vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and placed them under an abbot elected by the community of canons. Such was the origin of the Augustinian or Austin Canons, who came to be distinguished as Regular Canons, and are to be reckoned with monastic bodies, in comparison with the old cathedral and collegiate chapters, who were henceforth known as Secular Canons. These bodies of clergy, who combined parochial duties with what was practically a monastic life, became exceedingly popular; and by degrees not only were Secular Canons of collegiate churches, and even of some cathedrals, transformed into Regular Canons, but even some monastic houses were handed over to them. Instead of existing as isolated bodies, like the old Benedictines, they took the Cluniac model of organisation and formed congregations of houses grouped round some one or other of those which formed models for the rest. Of these congregations of Regular Canons the most celebrated were those of the Victorines and the Premonstratensians.

[Sidenote: Victorines.]

The abbey of St. Victor at Paris was founded in 1113 by William of Champeaux, afterwards Bishop of Chalons. The Order came to consist of about forty houses, and its members strove to keep the Augustinian ideal of a parochial and monastic life. But the chief fame of the abbey itself comes from its scholastic work, and it became known both as the stronghold of a somewhat rigid orthodoxy and as the home of a mystical theology which was developed among its own teachers.

[Sidenote: Premonstratensians.]

But by far the most important congregation of Canons Regular was that of the Premonstratensians. Their founder, Norbert, a German of noble birth, in response to a sudden conversion, gave up several canonries of the older kind with which he was endowed; but finding that a prophet has no honour in his own country, he preached in France with astonishing success, and ultimately, under the patronage of the Bishop of Laon in 1120, he settled with a few companions in a waste place in a forest, where he established a community of Regular Canons and gave to the spot the name of Premontre -- pratum monstratum -- the meadow which had been pointed out to him by an angel. Almost from its foundation the Premonstratensian Order admitted women as well as men, and at first the two sexes lived in separate houses planted side by side. The Order also began the idea of affiliating to itself, under the form of a third class, influential laymen who would help in its work. The Premonstratensian houses assimilated themselves to monastic communities more than did the Victorines: their work was missionary rather than parochial. The Order spread with great rapidity not only in Western Europe, but, even in its founder's lifetime, to Syria and Palestine, and for purposes of administration it came to be divided into thirty provinces.

[Sidenote: St. Norbert in Germany.]

Meanwhile Norbert had come under the notice of the Emperor Lothair II, who forced him into the archbishopric of Magdeburg. Here he substituted Premonstratensians in a collegiate chapter for canons of the older kind, and he eagerly backed up Lothair's policy of extending German influence upon the north-eastern frontier by planting Premonstratensian houses as missionary centres and by founding new bishoprics. Norbert, in fact became Lothair's chief adviser and was an European influence second only to that of St. Bernard in all the questions of the day.

[Sidenote: Knights Templars.]

It was upon the model of the Canons Regular that the great military Orders of the religious were organised. In the year 1118 a Burgundian knight, Hugh de Payens, with eight other knights, founded at Jerusalem an association for the protection of distressed pilgrims in Palestine. From their residence near Solomon's Temple they came to be known as the Knights of the Temple. They remained a small and poor body until St. Bernard who was nephew to one of the knights, took them under his patronage and drew up for them a code of regulations which obtained the sanction of Honorius II at the Council of Troyes in 1128. From that moment the prosperity of the Templars was assured. Their numbers increased, and lands and other endowments were showered upon them in all parts of Europe. As monks they were under the triple vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and the regulations of the Order which governed their daily life were among the most severe. As knights it was their duty to maintain war against the Saracens. For administrative purposes the possessions of the Order were grouped in ten provinces, each province being further subdivided into preceptories or commanderies, and each of these into still smaller units. Each division and subdivision had its own periodical chapter of members for settling its concerns, and at the head of the whole Order stood the Grand Master with a staff of officers who formed the general chapter and acted as a restraint upon the conduct of their head. In addition to the knights the Order contained chaplains for the ecclesiastical duties, and serving brethren of humble birth to help the knights in warfare. Their possessions in Western Europe were used as recruiting-grounds for their forces in the East; but it was only in towns of some importance that they erected churches on the model of the Holy Sepulchre in connection with their houses.

[Sidenote: Knights Hospitallers.]

The Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem was a reorganisation of a hospital dedicated to St. John the Baptist. This had been erected for poor pilgrims by the merchants of Amalfi before the Crusades began. But it remained merely a charitable brotherhood living under a monastic rule and attracting both men and endowments, until the example of the Templars caused the then master, Raymond du Puy, to obtain papal sanction some time before 1130 for a rule which added military duties without superseding the original object of the Order. Their possessions were divided into eight provinces with subdivisions of grand priories and commanderies, and the other administrative arrangements differed in little, except occasionally in name, from those of the Templars.

[Sidenote: Privileges of the military Orders.]

Both these Orders obtained not only extensive possessions from the pious, but wide privileges from the Pope. They were subject to the spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope alone; they could consecrate churches and cemeteries on their own lands without any interference of the local clergy; they could hold divine service everywhere. Interdicts and excommunications had no terrors or even inconveniences for them. They were free from payment of tithes and other imposts levied on the clergy. There is no doubt that but for these Orders the Crusaders would have fared far worse than they did. The Templars and Hospitallers were the one really reliable element in the crusading forces. This is no very high praise, and their effectiveness was largely discounted by their bitter quarrels with each other and with the local authorities, both secular and ecclesiastical, alike in the east and the west. They scandalously abused the extensive privileges accorded to them, by such acts as the administration of the Sacrament to excommunicated persons, to whom they would also give Christian burial. In 1179, at the second Lateran Council, Alexander III was moved by the universal complaints to denounce their irresponsible defiance of all ecclesiastical law, and subsequent Popes were obliged to speak with equal vigour. After the destruction of the Latin power in Palestine (1291) the Hospitallers transferred their head-quarters to Cyprus till 1309, then to Rhodes, and finally to Malta. The Templars abandoned their raison d'etre, retired to their possessions in the west, and placed their head-quarters at Paris, where they acted as the bankers of the French King. Their wealth provoked jealousy: they were accused of numberless and nameless crimes, and their enemies brought about their fall, first in France, then in England, and finally the abolition of the Order by papal decree in 1313. Such of their wealth as escaped the hands of the lay authorities went to swell the possessions of the Hospitallers.

[Sidenote: Teutonic Knights.]

There were many other Orders of soldier-monks besides these two. The best known are the Teutonic Knights, who originated during the Third Crusade at the siege of Acre (1190) in an association of North German Crusaders for the care of the sick and wounded. The Knights of the German Hospital of St. Mary the Virgin at Jerusalem -- for such was their full title -- gained powerful influence in Palestine; their Order was confirmed by Pope Celestine III (1191-8), and in 1220 Honorius III gave them the same privileges as were enjoyed by the Hospitallers and Templars. Their organisation was similar to that of the older Orders. Their prosperity was chiefly due to the third Grand Master, Herman von Salza, the good genius of the Emperor Frederick II, and a great power in Europe. Under him the Order transferred itself to the shores of the Baltic, where it carried on a crusade against the heathen Prussians, and here it united in 1237 with another knightly Order, the Brethren of the Sword, which had been founded in 1202 by the Bishop of Livonia for similar work against the heathen inhabitants of that country.

[Sidenote: Other military Orders.]

The Knights of the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acre was a small English Order named after Thomas Becket and founded in the thirteenth century. They, together with those already mentioned as founded for work in Palestine, belonged to the Canons Regular. For convenience, however, mention should be made here of the great Spanish Orders which were affiliated to the Cistercian monks. These were founded in imitation of the Templars and Hospitallers for similar work against the Saracens of the Peninsula. The Order of Calatrava, founded by a Cistercian abbot when that city was threatened by the Saracens in 1158, and the Order of St. Julian, founded about the same time, which ultimately took its name from the captured fortress of Alcantara, were amenable to the complete monastic rule; while the Portuguese Order of Evora or Avisa, founded a few years later, was assimilated rather to the lay brethren of the Cistercians, and its members could marry and hold property. There was one of the Spanish Orders, however, which was not connected with the Cistercians. The Knights of St. James of Compostella originated in 1161 for the protection of pilgrims to the shrine of Compostella. Their rule was confirmed by Alexander III in 1175, and the Order of Santiago became the most famous of the military Orders in the Peninsula.

[Sidenote: New Monastic Orders.]

The revival and reorganisation of the common life among cathedral and collegiate bodies roused the jealousy of the monastic houses. The absolute superiority of the monastic life over any other was an article of faith to which the obvious interests of the monks could allow no qualification; and the close imitation of the monastic model adopted by the Regular Canons was sufficient proof that the Church generally acquiesced in this view. The great reform movement of the eleventh century had emanated from the monks of Cluny; but just as the degradation of the monastic ideal by the Benedictines had called into existence the Order of Cluny with its reformed Benedictine rule, so now the failure of the Cluniacs to live up to the expectations and to minister to the needs of the most fervent religious spirits caused the foundation of a number of new Orders. In each such case the founder and his first followers strove, by the austerities of their personal lives and by the severity of the rule which they enjoined, to embody and to maintain at the highest level that ideal of contemplative asceticism which was the object of the monastic life. Such was the origin of the Order of Grammont (1074) and of Fontevraud (1094) and of the better known Orders of the Carthusians (1084) and the Cistercians (1098).

[Sidenote: Grammont.]

Thus Stephen, the founder of the Order of Grammont, was the son of a noble of Auvergne, who, in the course of a journey in Calabria, was so impressed by the life or the hermits with which the mountainous districts abounded, that he resolved to reproduce it, and lived for fifty years near Limoges, subjecting himself to such rigorous devotional exercises that his knees became quite hard and his nose permanently bent! Gregory VII sanctioned the formation of an Order, but Stephen and his first followers called themselves simply boni homines. After his death the monastery was removed to Grammont close by, and a severe rule continued to be practised; but the management of the concerns of the house was in the hands, not of the monks, but of lay brethren, who began even to interfere in spiritual matters, and the Order ceased to spread.

[Sidenote: Carthusians.]

The founder of the Carthusians, Bruno, a native of Koln, but master of the Cathedral school at Rheims, also took the eremitic life as his model for the individual. To this end he planted his monastery near Grenoble, in the wild solitude of the Chartreuse, which gave its name to the whole Order and to each individual house. In addition to a very rigorous form of asceticism his rule imposed on the members an almost perpetual silence. The centre of the life of the Carthusian monk was not the cloister, but the cell which to each individual was, except on Sundays and festivals, at the same time chapel, dormitory, refectory, and study. The Carthusian rule has been described as |Cenobitism reduced to its simplest expression|; but despite the growing wealth of the Order, the rigour of the life was well maintained, and of all the monastic bodies it was the least subjected to criticism and satire.

[Sidenote: Fontevraud.]

A different type of founder is represented by Robert of Arbrissel, in Brittany, who, although he attracted disciples by the severity of his life as a hermit, was really a great popular preacher, whose words soon came to be attested by miracles. He was especially effective in dealing with fallen women, and the monastery which he established at Fontevraud, in the diocese of Poitiers, was a double house, men and women living in two adjacent cloisters; but the monks were little more than the chaplains and the managers of the monastic revenues, and at the head of the whole house and Order the founder placed an Abbess as his successor. The rule of this Order imposed on the female members absolute silence except in the chapter-house.

[Sidenote: Cluniac Congregation.]

The foundation of these Orders, greater or less, did not exhaust the impetus in favour of monasticism. Single houses and smaller Orders were founded during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, of which many attained a merely local importance. The common feature of the great Orders was that each of them formed a Congregation, that is to say, an aggregate of numerous houses scattered over many lands, but following the same rule and acknowledging some sort of allegiance to the original home of the Order. The invention of this model was due to Cluny, although even among the Cluniacs the organisation of the Congregation, with its system of visiting inspectors who reported on the condition of the monasteries to an annual Chapter-General meeting at Cluny, was not completed until the thirteenth century. From the first, however, the Abbot of Cluny was a despot; with the exception of the heads of some monasteries which became affiliated to the Order he was the only abbot, the ruler of the Cluniac house being merely a prior. All the early abbots were men of mark, who were afterwards canonised by the Church. The fourth abbot refused the Papacy; but Gregory VII, Urban II, and Pascal II were all Cluniac monks. The real greatness of the Order was due to its fifth and sixth abbots, Odilo who ruled from 994 to 1049, and Hugh who held the reins of office for an even longer period (1049-1109); while the fame of the Order culminated under Peter the Venerable, the contemporary of St. Bernard.

[Sidenote: Its decay.]

But the history of the abbot who came between Hugh and Peter shows the strange vicissitudes to which even the greatest monasteries might be subjected. Pontius was godson of Pope Pascal II, who sent to the newly elected abbot his own dalmatic. Calixtus II visited Cluny, and while reaffirming the privileges granted by his predecessors, such as the freedom of Cluniac houses from visitation by the local bishop, he made the Abbot of Cluny ex officio a Cardinal of the Roman Church, and allowed that when the rest of the land was under an interdict the monks of Cluny might celebrate Mass within the closed doors of their chapels. But as a consequence of these distinctions Pontius' conduct became so unbearable as to cause loud complaints from ecclesiastics of every rank. Ultimately the Pope intervened and persuaded Pontius to resign the abbacy and to make a pilgrimage to Palestine. Meanwhile another abbot was appointed. But Pontius returned, gathered an armed band, and got forcible possession of Cluny, which he proceeded to despoil. Again the Pope, Honorius II, interfered, and Pontius was disposed of.

[Sidenote: Criticism of St. Bernard.]

But such an episode was only too characteristic of the decay which seemed inevitably to fall on each of the monastic Orders. The wealth and privileges of Cluny made its failure all the more conspicuous. A few years after the expulsion of Pontius, St. Bernard wrote to the Abbot of the Cluniac house of St. Thierry a so-called apology, which, while professing a great regard for the Cluniacs Order and pretending to criticise the deficiencies of his own Cistercians, is in reality a scathing attack upon the lapse of the former from the Benedictine rule. He attacks their neglect of manual work and of the rule of silence; their elaborate cookery and nice taste in wines; their interest in the cut and material of their clothes and the luxury of their bed coverlets: the extravagance of the furniture in their chapels, and even the grotesque architecture of their buildings. He especially censures the magnificent state in which the abbots live and with which they travel about, and he declares himself emphatically against that exemption of monasteries from episcopal control which was one of the most prized privileges of the Cluniac Order. Something may perhaps be allowed for exaggeration in this attack; but that there was no serious overstatement is clear from the letters written some years later by Peter the Venerable to St. Bernard, in answer to the accusations made by the Cistercians in general. He justifies the departure from the strict Benedictine rule partly on the ground of its severity, partly because of its unsuitability to the climate; but his defence clearly shows how far, even under so admirable a ruler, the Cluniacs had fallen away from the monastic ideal.

[Sidenote: Cistercians.]

The Cistercian Order, no less than the Orders already mentioned, owed its origin to the desire to revive the primitive monastic rule from which the Cluniacs had fallen away. The wonderful success which it met with made it the chief rival of that Order. The parent monastery of Citeaux, near Dijon, was founded by Robert of Molesme in 1098 under the patronage of the Duke of Burgundy. But the monks kept the rule of St. Benedict in the strictest manner, and their numbers remained small. In 1113, however, they were joined by the youthful Bernard, the son of a Burgundian knight, together with about thirty friends of like mind, whom he had already collected with a view to the cloister life. At once expansion became not only possible but necessary, and the abbot of the day, Stephen Harding, by birth an Englishman from Sherborne in Dorsetshire, sent out four colonies in succession, which founded the abbeys of La Ferte (1113), Pontigny (1114), Clairvaux and Morimond (1115). The first general chapter of the Order was held in 1116: the scheme of organisation drawn up by Stephen Harding was embodied in Carta Caritatis, the Charter of Love, and received the papal sanction in 1119. By the middle of the century (1151) more than five hundred monasteries were represented at the general chapter, and despite the resolution to admit no more houses, the number continued to increase until the whole Order must have contained upwards of two thousand.

[Sidenote: Mode of life.]

The entire organisation of the Cistercian Order made it a strong contrast to the Cluniacs, both in the mode of life of its members and in the method of government. The Cluniacs had become wealthy and luxurious: their black dress, the symbol of humility, had become rather a mark of hypocrisy. In order to guard against these snares the Cistercians, to the wrath of the other monastic Orders, adopted a white habit indicative of the joy which should attend devotion to God's service. Their monasteries, all dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, were built in lonely places, where they would have no opportunity to engage in parochial work. This indeed was strictly forbidden them as detracting from the contemplative life which should be the ideal of the Cistercian. For the same reason they were forbidden to accept gifts of churches or tithes. The monastic buildings, including the chapel, were to be of the simplest description, without paintings, sculpture, or stained glass; and the ritual used at the services was in keeping with this bareness. The arrangements of the refectory and the dormitory were equally meagre. Hard manual work, strict silence, and one daily meal gave the inmates every opportunity of conquering their bodily appetites.

[Sidenote: Organisation.]

The method of government adopted for the Cistercian Order is also a contrast by imitation of the Cluniac arrangements. It was an essential point that a Cistercian house should be subject to the bishop of the diocese in which it was situated. The episcopal leave was asked before a house was founded, and a Cistercian abbot took an oath of obedience to the local bishop. The actual organisation of the whole Order may be described as aristocratic in contrast with the despotism of the Abbot of Cluny. The Abbot of Citeaux was subject to the visitation and correction of the abbots of the four daughter houses mentioned above, while he in turn visited them; and each of them kept a similar surveillance over the houses which had sprung from their houses. In addition to this scheme of inspection, an annual general chapter met at Citeaux. The abbots of all the houses in France, Germany, and Italy were expected to appear every year; but from remoter lands attendance was demanded only once in three, four, five, or even seven years.

[Sidenote: Decay.]

The Cistercians certainly wrested the lead of the monastic world from Cluny, and until the advent of the Friars no other Order rivalled them in popularity. But no more than any other Order were they exempt from the evils of popularity. The very deserts in which they placed themselves for protection, and the agricultural work with which they occupied their hands, brought them the corrupting wealth; in England they were the owners of the largest flocks of sheep which produced the raw material for the staple trade of the country. They accepted ecclesiastical dignities; they became luxurious and magnificent in their manner of life; they strove for independence of the ecclesiastical authorities, until in the middle of the thirteenth century one of their own abbots quotes against them the saying that |among the monks of the Cistercian Order whatever is pleasing is lawful, whatever is lawful is possible, whatever is possible is done.|

[Sidenote: Grant of privileges.]

This degeneracy of the monastic Orders was due in no small measure to the policy of the Papacy. The monasteries, in their desire to shake themselves free from the jurisdiction of the bishop of the diocese, appealed to Rome; and the Pope, in pursuit of his policy of superseding the local authorities, encouraged the monks to regard themselves as a kind of papal militia. Thus from the time of Gregory VII, at all events, all kinds of exemptions and privileges were granted to the monastic communities in general and to the abbots of the greater houses in particular. Exemption from the visitation of the local bishop was one of the most frequent grants, until the great Orders became too powerful to be afraid of any interference. This carried with it the right of jurisdiction by the abbot and general chapter over all churches to which the monastic body had the right of presentation. This was an increasingly serious matter, for pious donors were constantly bequeathing churches and tithes to favourite Orders and popular houses, and the abbot attempted with considerable success to usurp the definitely episcopal authority by instituting the parish priest. Nor was this the only matter in which the abbot substituted himself for the bishop. The monastic community might build a church without any reference to the local ecclesiastical authority, and the abbot might consecrate it and any altar in it. It is true that if any monk of the house or secular clergyman serving one of the churches in the gift of the house desired ordination to any step in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the abbot was limited to choosing a bishop who might be asked to perform the duty; but in the course of the thirteenth century, in some cases at least, the Popes gave to certain abbots the privilege of advancing candidates to the minor Orders. Probably Gregory VII began the grants of insignia which marked the episcopal office to abbots of important houses. The Abbot of St. Maximin in Trier certainly obtained from him permission to wear a mitre and episcopal gloves. Urban II granted to the Abbot of Cluny the right to appear in a dalmatic with a mitre and episcopal sandals and gloves.

[Sidenote: Forged claims.]

What could be gained by favour could also be obtained by payment or claimed by forgery. The expenses of the Roman Curia increased; the monastic Orders were wealthy. Moreover, the critical faculty was slightly developed. Certain monasteries became notorious for the manufacture of documents in their own favour, St. Augustine's at Canterbury being especially bad offenders; and certain individuals from time to time supplied such material to all monasteries which would pay for them; while, finally, in return for well-bestowed gifts, the Roman Curia was often willing to recognise the authenticity of a spurious claim.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Privacy Policy