SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Access over 100,000+ Sermons from Ancient to Modern : Christian Books : CHAPTER XI DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE OF THE CHURCH

The Church And The Empire by D. J. Medley


[Sidenote: Number of the Sacraments.]

It was during the period covered by this volume that some of the most characteristic doctrines of the Roman Church were developed. In this development the whole sacramental system of the Church comes under consideration. The word |sacramentum| in the sense of a holy mark or sign (sacrum signum) was used with a very wide meaning as denoting anything |by which under the cover of corporeal things the divine wisdom secretly works salvation.| Hugh of St. Victor, writing in the first half of the twelfth century, distinguishes three kinds of sacraments -- those necessary for salvation, namely, baptism and the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ; those for sanctification, such as holy water, ashes, and such-like; and those instituted for the purpose of preparing the means of the necessary sacraments, that is, holy orders and the dedication of churches. Elsewhere he chooses out rather more definitely seven remedies against original or actual sin, namely, baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, extreme unction, marriage, and holy orders; and after the twelfth century the Church gradually restricted the use of the word Sacrament to these seven. There was much disputing among the schoolmen on the need of institution by Christ Himself. Peter Lombard, and after him Bonaventura, denied this necessity; Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas asserted it. But how account for extreme unction and confirmation? This is St. Thomas' explanation. |Some sacraments which are of greater difficulty for belief Christ himself made known; but others He reserved to be made known by the Apostles. For sacraments belong to the fundamentals of the law and so their institution belongs to the law-giver. Christ made known only such sacraments as He Himself could partake. But He could not receive either penance or extreme unction because he was sinless. The institution of a new sacrament belongs to the power of excellence which is competent for Christ alone: so that it must be said that Christ instituted such a sacrament as confirmation not by making it known, but by promising it.|

[Sidenote: The Eucharist.]

Of these seven sacraments the one round which the whole doctrine and discipline of the Church increasingly centred was, of course, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist. The view generally held in the Church was that of St. Augustine, which finds a place in the homilies of Aelfric and in the controversial work of Ratramnus of Corbie (died 868). According to this view, Christ is present in the consecrated elements of the sacrament really but spiritually. |The body of Christ,| says Ratramnus, |which died and rose again and has become immortal, does not now die: it is eternal and cannot suffer.| But the tendency of the Middle Ages was to materialise all conceptions however spiritual; and Ratramnus had written to controvert Paschasius Radbertus, Abbot of New Corbie, who had applied these materialistic views to the Eucharist. |Although,| he asserts, |the form of bread and wine may remain, yet after consecration it is nothing else but the flesh and blood of Christ, none other than the flesh which was born of Mary and suffered on the cross and rose from the sepulchre.| During the two succeeding centuries this theory of the corporeal presence gained so much vogue in the Church that when Berengar of Tours taught in the cathedral school of his native city the doctrine of Ratramnus, he was condemned unheard at a Synod at Rome in 1050. But he gained the favour of Hildebrand, who was then at Tours in 1054 as papal legate, and was content with the admission |panem atque vinum altaris post consecrationem esse corpus et sanguis Christi|; and relying on his protection Berengar went to Rome (1059). Here, however, his opponents forced him to sign a confession in conformity with the materialistic view. His repudiation of this as soon as he got away from Rome began a long controversy, the champion on the materialistic side being Lanfranc, then a monk of Bee in Normandy, to whom Berengar had originally addressed himself. Lanfranc held the position that the consecrated elements are |ineffably, incomprehensibly, wonderfully by the operation of power from on high, turned into the essence of the Lord's Body.| In 1075 the matter was discussed at the Synod of Poictiers, and Berengar was in danger of his life. Again Pope Gregory, as he had now become, tried to stand his friend, and at a Synod at Rome in 1078 to get from Berengar a confession of faith in general terms. But the violence of Berengar's enemies made compromise or ambiguity impossible. Again Berengar repudiated the forced confession; and Gregory only obtained peace for him until his death in 1088, by threatening with anathema any who molested him. Berengar's objections to the doctrine of Paschasius were shared by all the mystics, who held a more spiritual belief. Thus, St. Bernard distinguishes between the visible sign and the invisible grace which God attaches to the sign; and Rupert of Deutz declares that for him who has no faith there is nothing of the sacrifice, nothing except the visible form of the bread and wine.

[Sidenote: Transubstantiation.]

But apart from these writers the trend of opinion and inclination told entirely in favour of the materialistic school of thought. To the ordinary folk the miraculous aspect of the doctrine was a positive recommendation to acceptance. And the word Transubstantiation, even though it did not necessarily imply a materialistic change, undoubtedly became associated in men's minds with that idea. As early as the middle of the ninth century Haimo of Halberstadt had said that the substance of the bread and wine (that is, the nature of bread and wine) is changed substantially into another substance (that is, into flesh and blood). But the word |transubstantiate| is used first by Stephen, Bishop of Autun (1113-29), who explains |This is My Body| as |The bread which I have received I have transubstantiated into My Body.| Sanction was first given for the use of the word in the Lateran Council of 1215. In the confession of faith drawn up by that Council it is asserted that |there is one Universal Church of the Faithful, outside of which no one at all has salvation: in which Jesus Himself is at once priest and sacrifice, whose Body and Blood are truly received in the sacrament of the altar under the form of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated by the divine power into the Body and the wine into the Blood, in order that for the accomplishment of the mystery of the unity we may receive of His what He has received of ours. And this as being a sacrament no one can perform except a priest who shall have been duly ordained according to the Keys of the Church, which Jesus Christ Himself granted to the Apostles and their successors.|

[Sidenote: Resulting Changes.]

This |mystery of the unity| became, on the one side, the subject of a long and intricate controversy on the method by which the change in the elements was effected, while on the other side it lent itself to much mystical meditation. Of neither of these is there space to give illustration; but the hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas, which is familiar to English readers under the form of |Now, my tongue, the mystery telling,| blends the two sides with astonishing success. It is a mistake to describe the view of the sacrament thus sanctioned by the Church as either more |advanced| or |higher| than the older view. It was merely more elaborate, and as being such it led on to certain definite results or changes in custom.

Thus, in the first place, hitherto children had partaken of the sacrament. This had come partly from the teaching of the need of the sacrament for salvation, partly from the early custom of administering communion directly after baptism. The fear of profanation now caused the gradual discontinuance of children's communions, and in the middle of the thirteenth century they were definitely forbidden.

[Sidenote: Refusal of cup to laity.]

A far more important change, and for a similar reason, was the refusal of the cup to the laity. St. Anselm is responsible for the dictum (afterwards accepted by the whole Church) that |Christ is consumed entire in either element|; from this came the inference that there was no need for the administration of both. The heaviness of a single chalice made the danger of spilling its contents so great that several chalices were used. This, however, only increased the chances, and various methods were adopted with a view to minimising the difficulty. Sometimes a reed was used; later on, bread dipped in wine was administered, as was already usual in the case of sick persons or children; or even unconsecrated wine was given. Some of these methods came under papal condemnation; and the withdrawal of the cup found powerful apologists in Alexander of Hales and Thomas Aquinas. But the administration of both elements continued to be fairly common until far on into the thirteenth century.

[Sidenote: Adoration of the sacrament.]

A third result of the new views is to be seen in the extension of the doctrine and practice of adoration of the sacrament. The rite of elevation existed in the Greek Church at least as early as the seventh century, but was not adopted by the Latins until four centuries later. In either case, however, it was only regarded as an act symbolical of the exaltation of Christ. But following on the sanction of the doctrine of transubstantiation by the Lateran Council, Honorius III in 1217 decreed that |every priest should frequently instruct his people that when in the celebration of the Mass the saving Host is elevated every one should bend reverently, doing the same thing when the priest carries it to the sick.| A logical outcome of this was the foundation of the festival of Corpus Christi for the special celebration of the sacramental mystery. This was first introduced in the bishopric of Liege in response to the vision of a certain nun. Urban IV, who had been a canon of Liege, adopted it for the whole Church in 1264, but it only became general after Clement V had incorporated Urban's ordinance as part of the Canon Law in the Clementines (1311).

While there was a growing elaboration of the sacramental rite, the laity in many parts of Europe came from slackness less frequently to receive communion. As early as Bede, in England, though not in Rome, communions were very infrequent. English and French Synods tried to insist on communion three times a year, but could not enforce the rule. Innocent III, in the fourth Lateran Council, with a view to compel confession, prescribes once a year. |Every one of the faithful,| runs the canon of the Council, |of either sex, after he has come to years of discretion, is to confess faithfully by himself all his sins at least once a year to his own priest, and is to be careful to fulfil according to his power the penance enjoined on him, receiving with reverence the sacrament of the Eucharist at least at Easter.|

Finally, the discussion of this theory of transubstantiation led to the development of a special view of the doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas call the sacrament a representation of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. But to Albertus Magnus it is not merely a Representation, but a True Sacrifice, that is, |an Oblation of the thing offered by the hands of the priests,| and St. Thomas elsewhere declares that the perfection of the sacrament consists not in its use by the faithful, but in the consecration of the element, that is to say, that the main point was the act of the priest. The prevalence of this view appears to have encouraged the idea in the laity that a mere attendance at the service was in itself so meritorious as almost to dispense with the need of communion, except once a year and on the death-bed. Similarly, private Masses for the dead were instituted, chantry chapels were founded for the celebration of them, and priests were appointed for the sole purpose of serving the altar of the chapel.

[Sidenote: Confession.]

Nor was the development of this sacramental system the only method by which the importance of the priesthood became enhanced. The whole penitential system of the Church was gradually perverted. Originally those convicted of open sin who submitted to penance were publicly readmitted to the Church after confessing their sin and making some form of atonement. People were encouraged to confess their sins to their bishop or priest even when their sins were not open and notorious. This was especially enjoined in the case of mortal sin. But it was for a long time a matter of discussion whether this confession to a priest was an indispensable preliminary to forgiveness. Peter Lombard marks another view. God alone remits or retains sins, but to the priests he assigns the power, not of forgiveness, but of declaring men to be bound or loosed from their sins. He adds that even though sinners have been forgiven by God, yet they must be loosed by the priest's judgment in the face of the Church. In this ambiguous position of the priest laymen were even entrusted with the power of hearing a confession if no priest was available. But in the twelfth century, as we have seen, confession was often reckoned among the sacraments; and at the Lateran Council Innocent III enjoined an annual confession to the parish priest. Before long the precatory form of absolution is replaced by the indicative form by which the priest declared the sinner absolved. Thomas Aquinas lays it down that |the grace which is given in the sacraments descends from the head to the members: and so he alone is minister of the sacraments in which grace is given who has a true ministry over Christ's body; and this belongs to the priest alone who can consecrate the Eucharist. And so when grace is conferred in the sacrament of penance, the priest alone is the minister of this sacrament; and so to him alone is to be made the sacramental confession which ought to be made to a minister of the Church.| There was no room here for confession to laymen, although Thomas himself allows that in cases of necessity such confession has a kind of sacramental character which would be supplemented by Christ Himself as the high priest.

[Sidenote: Indulgences.]

The increasing stress laid upon private confession not only led to the decay of the public procedure, but also brought about some dangerous developments in the penitential system of the Church. This had already become very largely a matter of fixed pecuniary compensations for moral offences; so that the new system of compulsory confession was able to recommend itself to the people through the adaptation of the old mechanical standards by the confessors to each individual case. Far more important was the extension given to the system of indulgences. These had their origin in the remission of part of an imposed penance on condition of attendance at particular churches on certain anniversaries, it being understood that the penitent would present offerings to the Church. Abailard complains that on ceremonial occasions when large offerings are expected, bishops issue such indulgences for a third or fourth part of the penance as if they had done it out of love instead of from the utmost greed. And they boast of it, claiming that it is done by the power of St. Peter and the Apostles, when it is God who said to them |Whosesoever sins ye remit,| etc. Thus all bishops took it upon themselves to issue indulgences for the furtherance of particular objects. But in its claim to subordinate the episcopal power to its own, the Papacy began to grant indulgences which were not limited to time or circumstance. Gregory VI in 1044 made promises to all who helped in the restoration of Roman churches; but Gregory VII promised absolution to all who fought for Rudolf of Suabia against Henry IV; while Urban II in the widest manner offered plenary indulgence, that is, remission of all penances imposed, in the case of any who would take part in the Crusade. This offer in whole or in part was constantly renewed in order to raise an army for the East.

[Sidenote: Effect on populace.]

It was of course presupposed by those in authority in the cases of these indulgences that, confession having been made, the temporal penalties to be undergone either here or in purgatory were thus remitted. But preachers in their eagerness to raise troops asserted that those guilty of the foulest crimes obtained pardon from the moment when they assumed the cross, and were assured of salvation in the event of death. Consequently the people in their ignorance overlooked the conditions attached and regarded these indulgences as promises of eternal pardon. It is not wonderful that men released from social restraints of a more or less stable society should have developed in their new abode the licence which made crusaders a byword in the West.

[Sidenote: Papal indulgences.]

So far the Popes had endeavoured to supersede the bishops in the issue of indulgences by entering into rivalry with them. But the power was used by the bishops in such detailed ways as perhaps seriously to interfere with the offerings which should reach the Papacy or be applied to important projects. Innocent III, therefore, at the great Lateran Council limited the episcopal power to the grant of an indulgence for one year at the consecration of a church and for forty days at the anniversary. Unfortunately this did not mean the suppression of trifling reasons for the multiplication of indulgence. The whole system was a convenient method of adding to the revenues of Rome, and no occasion seemed too small for the exercise of the papal power of dispensation. Urban IV granted an indulgence to all who should listen to the same sermon as the King of France. The Crusades were the great occasion and excuse for the development of this system, and it certainly reached its nadir when Gregory IX showed himself ready in return for a pecuniary penance to absolve men from the vows which they had perhaps been unwillingly forced to take by his own agents for going on crusade. Equally disgraceful was the establishment of the year of Jubilee in 1300 by Boniface VIII, when plenary indulgence of the most comprehensive kind was offered to all who within the year should in the proper spirit visit the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome.

[Sidenote: Treasury of merits.]

But how came the Pope to be in possession of this power of remitting the penalties for sin? The schoolmen of the thirteenth century supply the answer. Alexander of Hales and Albert the Great invented the theory and Thomas Aquinas completed it. According to their teaching, the saints, by their works of penance and by their unmerited sufferings patiently borne, have done in this world more than was necessary for their own salvation. These superabundant merits, together with those of Christ, which are infinite, are far more than enough to fulfil all the penalties due for their evil deeds from the living. The idea of unity in the mystical body enables the shortcomings of one man to be atoned for by the merits of another. The superabundant merits of the saints are a treasury for use by the whole Church, and are distributed by the head of the Church, that is, the Pope. Furthermore, to St. Thomas is due the idea that the contents of this treasury were equally available for the benefit of souls in purgatory, for whom the Church was already accustomed to make intercession.

[Sidenote: Canonisation of saints.]

It was to our Lord Himself that the theologians attributed all merit; but in the popular mind the merits of the saints took an ever more important place, since the Church seemed to make the priesthood a barrier against, rather than a channel for, the flow of God's mercy to man; but popular feeling sought to find intercessors before the throne of grace in the holy men and women of the faith. For a long time it was the bishops who decided the title to saintship. But in 993 Pope John XV, in a Council at Rome and in response to a request of the Bishop of Augsburg, ordered that a former bishop of that see should be venerated as a saint. This was the process afterwards called Canonisation, which involved the insertion of a name in the Canon or list, and gave it currency not merely in a single diocese, but throughout western Christendom. In 1170 Alexander III claimed such recognition as the exclusive right of Rome. But despite this assumption of authority, popular feeling very often dictated to the Pope whom he should admit into the list. Death followed by miracles at the tomb, and sometimes the building of an elaborate shrine with an altar, forced the Pope to grant the claims of a popular favourite.

[Sidenote: Miracles and relics.]

A rapid increase in the number of applications for such official recognition would be the result of any widely popular movement. Such was the effect of the Crusades in the twelfth century, and of the foundation of the Mendicant Orders in the thirteenth. And the multiplication of saints meant an increase in the number of relics and an ever-growing belief in the miraculous. Miracles frequently took place in connection with living persons of saintly life. Abailard scornfully pointed out that some of the attempts made by Norbert or Bernard to work miraculous cures were quite unsuccessful, while in successful cases medicine as well as prayers had been employed. But such rationalism was beyond the grasp of an ignorant age, and collections of stories of miracles, such as remain to us in the |Golden Legends| of Jacob de Voragine, a Dominican of the thirteenth century, fed the popular belief. Miracles so commemorated often occurred in connection with relics; and the traffic in relics and so styled |pious| frauds, not to say the forcible means used to procure reputed relics of authentic or supposititious saints, forms a curious if a discreditable feature in mediaval history. An occasional protest was uttered against the manner in which credit was often obtained for relics of more than doubtful authenticity; but the manufacture of them was easy and profitable, and pilgrims returning from Palestine could palm off anything upon the credulity of a willing and ignorant populace. The growth of a legend in connection with relics is fitly illustrated by the history of the eleven thousand Virgins of Koln. Martyrologies of the ninth century celebrate the martyrdom of eleven virgins in the city of Koln. Perhaps these were described as XI. M. Virgines, and the letter which denoted martyrs was mistaken for the Roman numeral for one thousand, and so the number of virgins was ultimately swollen to eleven thousand. A legend, possibly working on an old one, was invented by a writer of the twelfth century that these virgins were martyred by the Huns in the fifth century. In the middle of that century, when heresy was rife at Koln, a number of bones of persons of both sexes were found near Koln, and the authenticity of the relics was put beyond dispute by the revelations vouchsafed to Saint Elizabeth, Abbess of Schonau, to whom the matter was referred. Even though she did give a date for the event which was historically impossible, the confirmatory evidence of the Premonstratensian Abbot Richard nearly thirty years later put the matter beyond the doubt of any pious Christian. But the interest of these unsavoury remains of anonymous men and women, however saintly, pales before certain relics of our Lord's life on earth which gained currency. Of these the most famous were the Veronica, a cloth on which Christ, on His way to Calvary, was supposed to have left the impress of His face, and a vessel of a green colour which was identified with the holy grail, the cup which our Lord used at the Last Supper. Of garments purporting to be the seamless coat of Christ there were a considerable number shown in different places; but the most famous to this day remains the Holy Coat of Treves, which, in Dr. Robertson's caustic words, |the Empress Helena (the mother of Constantine) was said to have presented to an imaginary archbishop of her pretended birthplace, Treves.| During the First Crusade the army before Antioch was only spurred on to the efforts which resulted in the capture of the city, by the opportune discovery of the Holy Lance with which the Roman soldier had pierced Christ's side while He hung upon the cross.

[Sidenote: Adoration of the Virgin.]

The great increase in the whole intercessory machinery of the Church culminated in the adoration of the Virgin Mary. The extravagant expression of this devotion was widespread. For the many it found vent in the language of popular hymns. Among the monks the Cistercians were under her special protection, and all their churches were dedicated to her. Of the learned men Peter Damiani in the eleventh century, St. Bernard and St. Bonaventura in the two succeeding centuries respectively, especially helped in various ways to crystallise her position in the Church. As a result of the efforts of her devotees Saturdays and the vigils of all feast days came to be kept in her honour; the salutation |Ave Maria gratia plena| with certain additions was prescribed to be taught to the people, together with the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. In the thirteenth century its frequent repetition resulted in the invention of the Rosary, a string of beads by which the number of repetitions could be counted. The religion of Mary soon showed signs of development as a parallel religion to that of Christ. She is styled the Queen of Heaven; her office, composed by Peter Damiani, was ordered by Urban II to be recited on Saturday; and a Marian Psalter and a Marian Bible were actually composed; while in place of the didia or reverence offered to the saints, there was claimed for the Virgin a higher step, a hyperdulia, which St. Thomas places between dulia and the latria or adoration paid to Christ.

[Sidenote: The immaculate conception.]

A final stage in possible developments was reached in the twelfth century in the institution of a feast in honour of the conception of the Blessed Virgin. Hitherto it had been supposed by Christian writers, notably by St. Anselm, that the Mother of the Lord had been conceived as others. Towards the middle of the twelfth century some Canons of Lyons evolved the theory that she was conceived already sinless in her mother's womb. St. Bernard strenuously opposed this notion of her immaculate conception, pointing out that the supposition involved in the theory could not logically stop with the Virgin herself, but must be applied to her parents and so to each of their ancestors in turn in an endless series. Nor was St. Bernard alone in his objection: indeed, nearly all the chief theologians of the thirteenth century, including Thomas Aquinas, declared that there was no warrant of Scripture for the theory. But notwithstanding this criticism, the festival won its way to recognition. Those who kept it, however, declared that it was merely the conception which they celebrated; and St. Thomas interpreting this to denote the sanctification, was of opinion that such a celebration was not to be entirely reprobated. It was Duns Scotus who first among the schoolmen defended the theory of the immaculate conception, but in moderate language; and his Franciscan followers, who at a General Council of the Order in 1263 had admitted the festival among some other new occasions to be observed, in the course of the fourteenth century adopted it as a distinctive doctrine.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy