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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER X THE PAPAL POWER IN THE CHURCH

The Church And The Empire by D. J. Medley

CHAPTER X THE PAPAL POWER IN THE CHURCH

[Sidenote: The basis of papal claims.]

The interest of the period with which we are dealing is largely concerned with the attempted definition of the relations between Church and State. The peculiar form of mediaeval thought resolved this into a struggle of the papal power to make itself supreme over all temporal rulers. But scarcely less important or interesting is the concomitant effort of the Papacy to gather up into itself the whole immediate authority of the Church.

This effort was very materially helped by the fact that various national churches which had retained their own customs were gradually brought into communion with Rome. William the Conqueror put an end to the schism which had cut off the Anglo-Saxon Church from Rome, and drew the Church in England into closer contact with Rome than she had enjoyed since the days of Archbishop Theodore. Through Queen Margaret, the Anglo-Saxon wife of Malcolm Canmore, Roman customs superseded those of the Celtic Church in Scotland. Gregory VII prevailed on the Spanish churches to accept the Roman for the Mozarabic liturgy. Alexander III attracted to Rome the long-isolated Church in Ireland, and Innocent II reconciled the Milanese at last to the papal supremacy. The foundation for the high claims on the part of the Papacy rested on what are known as the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. Decretals are answers to questions referred to the Bishop of Rome from other churches. The earliest of these was of date 385. Compilations of the Canons of the Church, in which these answers were included, were put out in the sixth and the seventh centuries, the latter under the name of Bishop Isidore of Seville. In the middle of the ninth century appeared a third compilation, also published under the name of Isidore, and containing fifty-nine additional letters and decrees of earlier date than 385. Inasmuch as the Latin edition of the Bible, which St. Jerome did not translate until about the year 400, is quoted in some of these, this compilation has not unnaturally been styled the False or Forged or Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. The object of this forgery was the exaltation of the Papacy as |the supreme lord, lawgiver, and judge of the Church,| since all previous claims were brought together and were referred back to the foundation of Christianity. Two centuries later another document of doubtful authenticity, called Dictatus Papae, sets forth in a sufficiently true spirit the principles proclaimed by Gregory VII. This states, among other things, that the Roman pontiff can alone be called Universal, that his name is unique in the world, that he ought to be judged by none; and it ascribes to him, without the intervention of any intermediary, the supreme and immediate power in all executive, legislative, and judicial matters.

[Sidenote: The Pope: the sole authority in the Church.]

The history of the Church during the two succeeding centuries is merely an exemplification of these claims. It was in the spirit of this document that Innocent II, in the speech with which he opened the Second Lateran Council in 1139, reminded his hearers that Rome was the head of the world, and that the highest ecclesiastical offices were derived from the Roman pontiff as by a kind of feudal right, and could not he lawfully held without his permission. Innocent III, we have seen, describes himself as the Vicar of God or of Jesus Christ. Thus, although the Pope is potentially present everywhere in the Church, he cannot exercise the great power belonging to the office personally, so that he has called in his brethren, the co-bishops, to share in the care of the burden entrusted to himself; but in doing so he has subtracted in no whit from the fulness of power which enables him to enquire into individual cases and to assume the office of judge at will. Others, then, may be admitted to a share in the care of the Church (pars solicitudinis); but to the Pope has been given the fulness of power (plenitudo potestatis). Thomas Aquinas shows how bishop and archbishop equally derive their authority from the Pope, and finds parallels to the relationship between the Pope and the other officers of the Church in the dependence of all things created upon God and the subordination of the proconsul to the Emperor. This deliberate policy on the part of the Papacy to absorb into itself the whole spiritual authority of the Church may be traced in its attempts to set itself up as supreme administrator, supreme lawgiver, and supreme judge.

Before the Pope could claim to be supreme administrator within the Church it was necessary to deprive all other ecclesiastical officers of their independence. The custom of the gift of the pall to archbishops who exercised the office of Metropolitans had already made these highest officers of all into little more than delegates of the Papacy. Gregory VII failed in his attempt to force them to come in person to Rome in order to receive the pall. He succeeded, however, in imposing upon them an oath which, founded upon the oath of fealty, made their position analogous to that of a feudal vassal. By this a Metropolitan swore to be faithful to St. Peter and the Pope and his successors who should have been canonically elected; that he would be no party to violence against the Pope; that he would attend in person or by representatives at every synod to which the Pope summoned him; that, saving the rights of his Order, he would help to defend the Papacy and all its possessions and honours; that he would not betray any trust reposed in him by the Pope; that he would honourably treat the papal legate; that he would not knowingly communicate with excommunicates; that when asked he would faithfully help the Roman Church with a force of soldiers. To this was often added an undertaking that he would appear at Rome himself or by a representative at stated intervals; that he would cause his suffragans at their consecration to take an oath of obedience to the Roman pontiff; that he would not part with anything belonging to his official position without the knowledge of the Roman See.

[Sidenote: Claim over bishoprics.]

Gregory's successors imposed this oath by degrees on all bishops, and thus gradually substituted the Pope for the Metropolitan. The Dictatus Papae claimed for the Pope the right of deposing or reinstating bishops without reference to a synod; of transferring a bishop from one see to another; of dividing a wealthy see or joining together poor bishoprics. It was the papal policy to champion the suffragans against the Metropolitans until the original metropolitical power of confirming the elections of their newly elected suffragans and consecrating them to the episcopal office was entirely superseded by the growing authority of the Pope. The right of confirmation implied the power of quashing an election, and this could easily grow into a power of direct appointment. This last power was only exercised habitually in certain cases -- after a vacancy had lasted for a certain time; if the bishop had died at Rome; if the bishop had been transferred from one see to another. From the end of the eleventh century cases are found of bishops designated to be such, not only, according to the ancient formula, |by the grace of God,| but also by that |of the Apostolic See,| and such description becomes fairly common in the thirteenth century.

[Sidenote: Claim over benefices.]

And as the Popes passed over Metropolitans in order to obtain a direct hold on the suffragans, so they went on in course of time to pass over the bishop in every diocese by claiming the disposition of individual benefices. Such a claim began in the first half of the twelfth century in letters of recommendation and petitions for the appointment of papal favourites to prebends or benefices. But so quickly did this system develop that where Hadrian IV recommended Alexander III commanded, and the mandates of Innocent III were enforced by specially appointed officers. Clement IV lays it down that ancient custom has specially reserved to the Roman pontiff the collation of churches and offices which become vacant through the death of the holder at Rome, but that this is only part of the greater right which is known to belong to Rome and gives to the Pontiff the full disposal (plenaria dispositio) of all offices and benefices both at the time of vacancy and by provision beforehand. But so flagrant was the abuse of this power of appointment that it roused the indignant remonstrance of the most ardent supporters of the papal authority in the Church. England under Henry III was so much exploited by its papal guardian as to gain the name of the |Milch-cow of the Papacy|; but there were many protests.

Robert Grossteste, Bishop of Lincoln, the most revered English Churchman of the thirteenth century, was bidden by Innocent IV to find a canonry in his cathedral for a nominee of the Pope, who, moreover, was still a child. He answered in a rebuke of such severity and dignity as can have rarely been addressed to Rome by one devoted to its service. |Next to the sin of Lucifer,| he tells the Pope, |there is not, there cannot be, any kind of sin so adverse and contrary to the evangelical doctrine of the Apostles as the destruction of souls by defrauding them of the duty and service of a pastor.| He adds that the most holy Apostolic See cannot command anything that tends to a sin of such a kind except by some defect or abuse of its plenary power: that no faithful servant of the Papacy would comply with a command of that kind |even if it issued from the highest order of angels|; and he therefore, filialiter et obedienter, flatly refuses to obey. Scarcely less severe were the strictures of Louis IX's ambassadors, who laid the grievances of the French bishops and barons before the same Pope. They tell Innocent IV that the devotion which the French people have hitherto felt towards the Roman Church is now not only extinguished, but is turned into vehement hate and rancour, and that the claim for subsidies and tribute for every necessity of Rome -- a claim which was enforced by the threat of excommunication -- was unheard of in previous ages.

[Sidenote: The Pope as supreme legislator.]

The Pope also gradually established his authority as supreme and sole lawgiver within the Church. The Dictatus Papae asserts that for him alone it is lawful to frame new laws to meet the needs of the time. Meanwhile the Forged Decretals had found their place in the various collections of the Canons made in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. In the middle of the twelfth century Gratian, a Benedictine monk of Bologna, put out his Concordantia discordantium Canonum, commonly known as the Decretum Gratiani, which combined a theoretical disquisition with illustrations drawn from the documents which had appeared in previous collections. This became the standard mediaeval treatise in ecclesiastical law, and its appearance much encouraged the systematic study of the Canon law. The Popes of the succeeding century and a half made great additions to the law of the Church, partly through the decrees issued by the General Lateran Councils, partly by their own edicts. Such new matter was embodied from time to time. Thus in 1234 the Dominican Raymund de Pennaforte gathered five books of Decretals at the command of Gregory IX; Boniface VIII was responsible for a sixth book in 1298, while other additions were made by Clement V (1308) and John XXII (1317). All these, together with the earlier compilations and some later additions, formed the Corpus Juris Canonici. This enormous body of law was full of contradictions and not devoid of falsification and forgery. The growing study of it caused the foundation of Chairs at the universities, and the Popes found it a most convenient method to publish their new decrees through the lecture-rooms. The old Canon Law was entirely superseded by the later Papal Law.

[Sidenote: Power over Councils.]

The Popes made no pretence of hiding their claims to the legislative power. Urban II strongly affirms that it has always been in the power of the Roman Pontiff to frame new laws; and two centuries later Boniface VIII embodies in his addition to the Canon Law the words of an earlier writer, that the Roman Pontiff is considered to hold all laws in the repository of his breast. There was no room in such a theory for any effective co-operation of ecclesiastical Councils, however representative. The Dictatus Papae declares that no General Council can be held without the papal command. Pascal II points out that no Council can dictate the law of the Church, because every Council comes into existence and receives its power by authority of Rome, and in its statutes the authority of the Pope is clearly not interfered with. But the Popes often found it convenient to obtain the sanction of a General Council for their legislation, and the four Lateran Councils (1123, 1139, 1179, 1215) were the occasions for great and important additions to the Canon Law. But from the time of the third Lateran Council, at all events, all ordinances of a General Council were issued in the name of the Pope, although the approval or the fact of the Council was likewise expressed. Thomas Aquinas merely expresses the recognised law of the Church when he says that the Holy Fathers gathered together in Councils can make no laws except by the intervention of the authority of the Roman Pontiff, for without that authority a Council cannot even meet.

[Sidenote: Popes above law.]

It followed from this assumption of the supreme legislative power that, in the first place, the Pope himself claimed not to be bound by the laws which he made. Thus in the thirteenth century papal writers denied that the Roman Church could commit simony. Certain acts are simoniacal because they have been prohibited as such by Canon Law; but inasmuch as it is the Pope who had forbidden them, the prohibition does not bind him. And in virtue of this power, from the time of Innocent IV the Popes added to their bulls a non obstante clause whereby they suspended in a particular instance all laws or rights which might otherwise stand in the way of their grant.

[Sidenote: Papal dispensation.]

It followed, further, that the Pope claimed also the power of granting dispensations from existing laws and absolution for their infringement. Every papal bishop was armed with the power of granting pardon in God's name for breaches of the law which had already been committed. The Pope, however, claimed not only this power concurrently with all other bishops, but he even developed a right of granting dispensations beforehand, so that the tendency was to ignore the bishop of the diocese and to apply directly to the Pope or his representatives, who thus were willing to permit infractions of the law. Thomas Aquinas declares that any bishop can grant dispensation in the case of a promise about which there is any doubt; but that to the Pope alone, as having the care of the Church Universal, belongs the higher power of giving unconditional relaxation from an oath of perfectly clear meaning in the interests of the general good.

But even papal writers sometimes complain of the irresponsibility of the papal acts, and Popes themselves had to allow that there were spheres outside their legislative interference. Thus Urban II acknowledges that in matters on which our Lord, His Apostles, and the Fathers have given definite decisions, the duty of the Pope is to confirm the law. Thomas Aquinas, while holding that the Pope can alter the decisions of the Fathers and even of the Apostles in so far as they come under the head of positive law, yet excepts from the possibility of papal interference all that concerns the law of nature, the Articles of Faith (which, he says elsewhere, have been determined by Councils), or the sacraments of the new law.

[Sidenote: The Pope as supreme judge.]

The third wide sphere of action within the Church in which the Pope established his supremacy was that of justice. The Dictatus Papae asserts not only that the Pope should be judged by no one, but that the |greater causes| of every Church should be referred to him, that none should dare to condemn any one who appealed to Rome, and that no one except the Pope himself can interfere with a papal sentence. Litigants of all kinds were only too ready to appeal against the local tribunal, and the Pope gave them every encouragement. St. Bernard indignantly pointed out to Innocent II that every evil-doer and cantankerous person, whether lay or cleric or even from the monasteries, when he is worsted runs to Home and boasts on his return of the protection which he has obtained. It is true, Gregory VIII (1187) tried to check the practice of appeals; but his short reign gave no time for any real result. Bishops and archdeacons tried sometimes to stop appeals by excommunication, which prevented the victim from appearing in an ecclesiastical court; but the third Lateran Council (1179) forbade this method of defence. Alexander III definitely laid it down that appeals could be made to the Pope in the smallest no less than in the greatest matters, and at every possible stage, before and after trial, at the pronouncement of the sentence and after it has been awarded; and this, he points out, is not the case in civil law, where an appeal is only admitted after judgment. Indeed, the most serious matter with regard to papal appeals was the reservation by the Pope to his own decision of cases which were regarded as too serious for the local courts. The bishops had themselves largely to thank for the development of this direct papal jurisdiction; for they began the custom of referring to Rome the cases of great criminals and of serious crimes. But these |greater causes,| claimed for the Pope as early as the time of Gregory VII, included not only grave moral crimes such as murder, sacrilege, and gross immorality, but also cases of dispensation beforehand, of absolution after excommunication for certain offences. Under the same head would come the right of canonisation exercised by archbishops until Alexander III claimed it exclusively for the Pope, and the right of translating a bishop from one see to another, which involved a dissolution of the metaphorical marriage between the bishop and his see and therefore needed a special dispensation.

[Sidenote: The papal Curia.]

These extensive powers could only be put in practice by an elaborate machinery for their enforcement. In the first place the Pope was surrounded by a numerous body of officials to whom is applied from the middle of the eleventh century the title Curia. Gerhoh of Reichersberg, an ardent papal supporter writing about a century later, objects to the substitution for the word |Ecclesia| of this term |Curia,| which would not be found in any old letters of the Roman pontiffs. The rapacity of the officials became a byword throughout Christendom. John of Salisbury told Hadrian IV, with whom he was on terms of intimacy, that many people said that the Roman Church, which is the mother of all the churches, shows herself to the others not so much a mother as a stepmother. |The Scribes and Pharisees sit in it, laying intolerable burdens on the shoulders of men, which they do not touch with a finger.... They render justice not so much for truth's sake as for a price.... The Roman pontiff himself becomes burdensome to all, and almost intolerable.| Honorius III in 1226 acknowledged to the English bishops that this greed was a long-standing scandal and disgrace, but he ascribed it to the poverty of Rome, and proposed that in order to remove the difficulty two stalls should be given to him for nomination in every cathedral and collegiate chapter. The magnates considered the remedy, if possible, worse than the disease. The popular songs of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries contain many references to the fact that nothing was to be had at Rome except for money, and that success in a cause went to the richest suitor. And yet Rome had many sources of wealth. She drew regular revenues from estates which had been given to the papal see; from monasteries which were subject to visitation of papal officers alone; from kingdoms, such as England, whose kings had made themselves feudal vassals of the Pope. Several nations, moreover, paid special taxes, such as Peter's Pence, a kind of hearth tax, which went from England. The Papacy also exacted a number of dues on various pretexts which increased with the growth of papal power. Such were the Annates or Firstfruits and analogous payments, which amounted to the value of the first year's income, and were claimed from newly appointed bishops and abbots as an acknowledgment of the papal right of confirmation. Nor did Metropolitans get their pall, which was necessary for the exercise of their special authority, without the payment of considerable sums. Over and above these regular and occasional sources, the Popes exacted on especial occasions, such as the Crusades, a tax amounting to a tenth on all ecclesiastical property, and even allowed kings to take it with their leave. But these formed a small portion of the money which found its way to Rome. When the papal legate found fault with Ivo of Chartres because simony was still prevalent in his diocese, the bishop retorted that those who practised it excused their action from the example of Rome, where not even a pen and paper were to be had free. Dante addresses the shade of Pope Nicholas III in the Inferno (xix.): --

|Your gods ye make of silver and of gold;
And wherein differ from idolaters,
Save that their God is one -- yours manifold?|

And he ascribes the evil which he is condemning to the so-called Donation of Constantine.

[Sidenote: Papal Legates.]

The most manifest agents and organs of papal authority throughout Christendom were the legates. The Pope had appointed permanent representatives called Apocrisiaries at Constantinople, and had sent emissaries to General Councils and for other special matters. But from the time of Leo IX legates began to be appointed with a general commission to visit the churches; and Gregory VII developed this method of interference with the local authorities into a regular system. In some cases local hostility was disarmed by the appointment of the Metropolitan as ordinary legate, and the position was accepted with the object of retaining the chief authority upon the spot. Such the Archbishop of Canterbury became after 1135. But the existence of this official did not prevent the despatch from time to time of legates a latere, as they were called. The ordinary legate exercised the concurrent jurisdiction claimed by the Pope, that is, the right of interference in every diocese; these legates coming from the side of the Pope were armed with the power of exercising most of the rights specially reserved for the personal authority of the Pope. The Dictatus Papae asserts that the Pope's legates take precedence of all bishops in a council even though they may be of inferior rank, and Gregory VII applies to their authority the text |He that heareth you heareth me.| In 1125 John of Crema, a legate sent to England, presided at a Council at Westminster, where were present ecclesiastics from the archbishops downwards and a number of nobility; and |on Easterday he celebrated the office of the day in the mother church in place of the supreme pontiff, and although he was not a bishop, but merely a Cardinal Priest, he used pontifical insignia.| A Metropolitan in his oath of loyalty to the Pope was made to swear that he would treat with all honour the Roman legates in their coming and going, and would help them in their needs; and the procuration or maintenance from all countries which they not only visited, but merely passed through, was arbitrarily assessed. Innocent III enforces it by directing against ecclesiastics who were contumacious a sentence of distraint of goods without any right of appeal. The burden was no light one. Wichmann, Archbishop of Magdeburg, writing on behalf of Frederick I, tells the Pope that the whole Church of the Empire is subject to such heavy exactions at the hands of the papal officials, that both churches and monasteries, which have not enough to supply their own daily wants, are yet compelled |beyond their utmost possibility| to find money for the use of these legates, sustenance for their train of attendants, and accommodation for their horses. In more picturesque language John of Salisbury describes the legates of the Apostolic See as |sometimes raging in the provinces as if Satan had gone forth from the presence of the Lord in order to scourge the Church.| It is true that Alexander IV commanded an enquiry into the amount which his legates had demanded under pretext of procuration, and which he heard they had enforced by the sacrilegious use of the powers of excommunication, suspension, and interdict. But the parallel which Clement IV drew between the ordinary legates and the proconsuls and provincial presidents of the early Empire showed how little likelihood there was of redress being got from the Papacy itself.

[Sidenote: Increase of papal ceremony.]

The effect of this absorption of power by the Papacy is to be traced in many directions. Here we may take notice of two of the most remarkable. In the first place, he who had grown from the Vicar of St. Peter to be directly the Vicar of God naturally surrounded himself with an increasing amount of ceremony. The Dictatus Papae claims that the Pope alone can use imperial insignia, and that it is his feet alone that all princes should kiss. We have noticed the disputes which arose when the Pope demanded from Lothair and from Frederick I that the Emperor should perform the office of groom to the Pope -- hold his stirrup as he mounted and walk by the side of the mule. St. Bernard rightly points out that in thus appearing in public adorned in jewels and silks, covered with gold, riding a white horse, and surrounded with guards, the Pope was the successor not of Peter, but of Constantine. And if he required so much state outside the Church, much more did he insist upon a special ceremony in the services. Thus at the Mass the Pope received the elements not kneeling at the altar, but seated and on his throne; while the Host was carried before him in procession whenever the Pope went outside his palace.

[Sidenote: Papal infallibility.]

A far more important result of the supreme position accorded to the Papacy was the gradual emergence of the doctrine of papal infallibility. |The Church of Rome,| says Gregory VII, |through St. Peter, as it were by some privilege, is from the very beginnings of the faith reckoned by the Holy Fathers the Mother of all the Churches and will so be considered to the very end; for in her no heretic is discerned to have had the rule, and we believe that none such will ever be set over her according to the Lord's special promise. For the Lord Jesus says, 'I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.'| And in accordance with this principle the Dictatus Papae lays it down that |the Roman Church has never erred, nor, as Scripture testifies, will it ever err.| Innocent III pertinently asks how he could confirm others in the faith, which is recognised as a special duty of his office, unless he himself were firm in the faith. But many writers, including Innocent himself, believed that it was possible for a Pope to err in some individual point, and that it was the duty of the Church to convert him. Thomas Aquinas, while holding it certain that the judgment of the Church Universal cannot err in these matters which belong to the faith, gives to the Pope alone, as the authority by whom synods are summoned, the final determination of those things which are of faith. Yet even he allows that in matters of fact, such as questions of ownership and criminal charges, false witnesses may lead the judgment of the Church astray.

[Sidenote: Kings and papal claims.]

We have seen that the Papacy did not attain its supremacy without encountering much opposition. But the protests on the part of bishops were unavailing, and they were themselves largely to blame for the height to which the papal power had grown. Such effective remonstrance as there was came from the Kings, though even they were often ready to invoke the papal aid to obtain an advantage against their own ecclesiastics or even their own subjects. Thus in England William II agreed with Urban II that no legate should be sent to the country unless the King was willing to receive him; while Henry II, in the Constitutions of Clarendon, lays it down that no one should appeal to Rome without permission of the King. But Henry's submission after Becket's murder nullified the Constitutions, and John's humiliating surrender made it difficult to object to the exercise of any papal power in England. During the minority of Henry III the papal legate was the most important member of the Council of Regency; and at a later stage, when Henry had quarrelled with his barons, he was glad to obtain the papal support against them. In Germany Hadrian IV complained that Frederick I used force in order to prevent any of his subjects from carrying their causes to Rome; and Otto IV was obliged to swear in 1209 that no hindrance should be placed to ecclesiastical appeals to Rome, a promise subsequently exacted also from Frederick II and from Rudolf.

Not dissimilar was the submission of Alfonso X of Castile, who set his seal to the papal encroachments; but his object was to obtain the support of Rome in his campaign against the local liberties in his kingdom. In his code of law known as |Siete Partidas| power was given to the Pope to deal as he liked with bishops and with benefices and to receive all appeals. On the other hand, St. Louis was not above a bargain with Rome. He refused to the Pope the tithes of the French Church for three years for the object of carrying on the war against Frederick II; but in 1267 he himself obtained the papal consent to take these tithes for the purpose of crusade.

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