The Total Society and its Enemies (1054-1500)
'Antiquity relates that laymen show a spirit of hostility towards the clergy,' wrote Pope Boniface VIII in 1296, 'and it is clearly proved by the experience of the present time.' Having uttered this melancholy reflection, in his bull Clericis laicos, Boniface went on to make a number of pronouncements calculated to ensure that the warfare continued. Clerics were not to pay taxes; those who did so, and secular officials who collected the money from them, were to be excommunicated. Universities who defended the practice of clerical taxation were to be placed under interdict; and those under sentence of excommunication or interdict were not be absolved, except at the moment of death, without the express authority of the papacy. Four years after this bellicose pronouncement, he issued a further one, Unam Sanctam, which attempted to define the claims of his caste. Christianity, he wrote, provides for two swords, the spiritual and the temporal:
'Both are in the power of the church, the spiritual sword and the material. But the latter is to be used for the church, the former by her; the former by the priest, the latter by kings and captains but at the will and by the permission of the priest. The one sword, therefore, should be under the other, and temporal authority subject to spiritual. ... If, therefore, the earthly power err, it shall be judged by the spiritual power. ... But if the spiritual power err, it can only be judged by God, not by man. ... For this authority, though given to a man and exercised by a man, is not human, but rather divine. ... Furthermore, we declare, state, define and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff.'
One of the great tragedies of human history - and the central tragedy of Christianity - is the break-up of the harmonious world-order which had evolved, in the Dark Ages, on a Christian basis. Men had agreed, or at least had appeared to agree, on an all-enveloping theory of society which not only aligned virtue with law and practice, but allotted to everyone in it precise, Christian-orientated tasks. There need be no arguments or divisions because everyone endorsed the principles on which the system was run. They had to. Membership of the society, and acceptance of its rules, was ensured by baptism, which was compulsory and irrevocable. The unbaptized, that is the Jews, were not members of the society at all; their lives were spared but otherwise they had no rights. Those who, in effect, renounced their baptism by infidelity or heresy, were killed. For the remainder, there was total agreement and total commitment. The points on which men argued were slender, compared to the huge areas of complete acquiescence which embraced almost every aspect of their lives.
Yet these slender points of difference were important, and they tended to enlarge themselves. There were flaws in the theory of society, reflected in its imagery. If society was a body, what made up its directing head? Was it Christ, who thus personally directed both arms, one - the secular rulers - wielding the temporal sword, the other - the Church - handling the spiritual one? But if Christ directed, who was his earthly vicar?
There was no real agreement on this issue. The popes had been claiming to be vicars of St Peter since very early times. Later, they tended to raise this claim, and call themselves vicars of Christ. But kings, too, and a fortiori emperors, claimed a divine vicariate derived from their coronation; sometimes it was of God the Father, sometimes of Christ; when it was the former, the Christ-vicariate, being in some way inferior, was relegated to the Church. Now none of this should have mattered in the slightest. Since the vicarial direction, in all cases, was coming from the same source - Heaven - and since, presumably, there was no disagreement between the Father and the Son and St Peter, it should have made no difference who was vicar of whom. The direction would be the same, and all would obey. Alas, experience showed that this did not always happen. So Christian theory had an answer to this point.
There could be wicked emperors, kings, popes, bishops. They represented the work of the Devil, who might well contrive, from time to time, to get one of his own elected to such offices. But this would soon become manifest; God would then arrange that they would be detected, judged and deprived. But such a process implied a court. Whose court? Therein lay the difficulty. In the Dark Ages and Middle Ages everyone of any importance had his own court, where he judged subordinates. A man could not really be described as free unless he had his court. Indeed, he could not be fully free unless his court was supreme. As the German emperor Henry III put it, rather crudely, in the mid-eleventh century: 'For those who govern laws are not governed by laws, since the law, as they commonly say, has a nose of wax, and the King has an iron hand, and a long one, and he can bend the law in whatever way it pleases him.' Who had the supreme court - king and emperor, or pope? Who could judge and depose whom? It was the same as asking who was the head of the body: the argument was circular. And since it could not be resolved by argument it was, in practice, determined by the balance of force.
Until the latter part of the eleventh century, the balance lay heavily with the secular arm. Charlemagne had sat in judgment on the Pope, Leo HI, and confirmed him in office after trial. In a letter to Leo, which has survived, he treats him, quite unambiguously, as merely the chief of his bishops. And bishops were royal functionaries. They helped to run the government; they sat as judges; they collected taxes; they acted as royal emissaries to distant parts of the domains; they took up station in royal fleets and armies, where they had definite roles to perform; and, perhaps most important of all, they helped the king or emperor to legislate. They were enormously well endowed in land to enable them to discharge these tasks. As such they buttressed the throne; they held lands and castles in trust to ensure the well-being of monarch and commonwealth. Naturally, then, the king, or emperor, appointed them; and he did so at a ceremony which emphasized their dependence on him. Indeed, he controlled and supervised the Church. More than half of the Carolingian legislation deals with church matters, ranging from the shape of bishop's beards to the fate of the bastard children of clergy.
This system persisted long after the Carolingian empire fell into decay, and long after the imperial title, in 963, was vested in the new Salian line from Saxony. The German emperors, like their Frankish predecessors, ran their territories through state bishops, archbishops and abbots, whom they appointed and judged. The system was essentially the same in Spain, England and France. The ruler was, in effect, the head of the Church. The ambiguity appeared to have been resolved in his favour. Of course, he did not actually confer the sacraments. But in every other respect he was pontiff, a priest. That was one of the meanings of his coronation. The kings and bishops we see enthroned in the Beauvais Tapestry, from the late eleventh century, are almost interchangeable. For ceremonial occasions they dressed alike. In
1022, the Emperor Henry II presented the Abbey of Monte Cassino with a gospel codex; one of the illustrations shows him sitting in judgment: he is wearing a tippet, like the popes and the patriarchs - the same garment which Rome despatched to archbishops in the West, as a symbol of their authority. The order of the royal coronations was strikingly similar to that used for the consecration of a bishop. Both began with a ritual procession of the elect to the church, preceded by relics; there was an identical formal interrogation to ensure the orthodoxy of the bishop/king. There then followed the unction of the head, breast, shoulders, both upper arms and hand (in the case of the king) and of head and arms (in the case of the bishop). Both were then invested with ring and staff, the king getting, in addition, the sword of state, pallium, bracelets and sceptre. Both ceremonies concluded with the kiss of peace and high mass. Vestments and sandals worn were almost exactly the same; and the ring received by the Salian emperors, for instance, is variously described as 'episcopal' or 'pontifical'. The emperor was like a bishop, only he had many more duties; the ceremony was expanded accordingly. A famous and influential eleventh-century sermon, usually attributed to the reformist Peter Damian, describes the regal coronation as the Church's fifth sacrament, the episcopal consecration as the fourth.
The king, then, was an ecclesiastic - the kingship was a clerical office. He might hold others. From Henry II onwards the Salians served as canons in various cathedral churches - Henry II at Bamberg, Magdeberg and Strasburg, Conrad II at Worms, Neuhausen and Eichstatt, Henry in at Cologne, Basel, Freising; and Henry V at Lieges; Henry iv was a canon of Spier and a suffragan of Echternach. These offices were performed by deputies as a rule, but if the emperor were present he did the duties himself. Indeed, the ecclesiastical function of the ruler was not just symbolic but actual, particularly as an ecclesiastical judge. Wipo, chaplain to Conrad II, writes in his biography of his master: 'Although he was ignorant of letters, nevertheless he prudently gave instruction to every cleric, not only lovingly and courteously in public, but also with fitting discipline in secret.' He presided over synods, either by himself or jointly, on one occasion, with the Pope. He punished bishops and bestowed privileges on religious establishments. His son, Henry in, showed himself zealous in reforming the Church and seems to have set no limit to his powers in ecclesiastical matters. As 'head of the Church', he presided in 1046 at Sutri over a synod which deposed two popes, secured the abdication of a third, and elected yet another. Three years later he, and the outstanding reforming pope, Leo IX, presided jointly over the innovatory Council of Mainz and again at the Council of Constance, where he is described as 'ascending the steps of the altar together' with Leo.
Yet within a few decades the harmony which ruled Church and State, based on papal acceptance of the wider and superior status of the monarch, had been completely shattered. It was never restored. The pontifical king, Henry iv, found himself challenged by a regal pontiff, in the shape of Pope Gregory VII. The dispute began in the 1070s when Henry, who had succeeded as a minor, began to redress the erosion of the power which had taken place during his minority, and in particular to assert his full right to appoint bishops in imperial Italy. The Pope hotly denied his power to invest bishops with ring and staff, and the dispute quickly became a confrontation over the whole range of Church and State authority, culminating in the excommunication of Henry, his election of an anti-pope, open warfare, the king's submission at Canossa, and then a long, inconclusive period of attrition.
How did this come about? Why did the papacy abruptly attempt to reverse a situation which had at least
the merit of tradition and feasibility? There can be little doubt that Gregory VII was the aggressor, in that Henry iv was merely doing what all his predecessors had done. Henry seems to have been a pious and earnest man - Ebo, the biographer of Otto, Bishop of Bamberg, says that Henry used his psalter so much that it became 'wrinkled and almost unreadable'. But this was irrelevant: or, rather, it could be said that a pious emperor might be storing up trouble for his successors. The efforts of Conrad II, and especially Henry in, to improve standards in the Church, in Rome and elsewhere - their conscientious discharge of their pontifical duties - did a great deal to create a reformed body of clergy which promptly denied Henry iv the right to exercise such duties. The mid-eleventh century was a springtime for Europe. The worst phase of the Viking raids from the north, and the Saracens from the south, was over; western Christendom was no longer a sandwich about to be devoured between barbarous and infidel fangs, but an expanding society. The production of food was growing; so was population, and trade; new ideas were circulating in the Mediterranean. There was an increase in books and in learning, and also in literacy, which meant an expansion of the clergy. Old records, and claims, were being re-examined, and forgotten texts brought back into use. Many documents in the papal archives were incompatible with the idea of a pontifical king, and the Pope as a mere sacerdotal functionary of the empire. The Donation of Constantine had been joined by a succession of elaborate forgeries, especially the so-called 'pseudo- Isidorian decretals', which served to enhance clerical claims in all directions. And there were perfectly genuine papal pronouncements, by Gelasius, Gregory the Great, Nicholas I, and so forth, which could be cited as precedents for almost anything the papacy chose to advance.
There had also been a real shift in the relative positions of power. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the power of the crown vis-d-vis other elements in society - lay and ecclesiastical magnates - slowly declined throughout western Europe. The process was very marked in tenth century France, and in eleventh century Germany and Italy. Power rested essentially on the amount of land the crown held in relation to subjects. The ratio dropped everywhere. It dropped, for instance, in England, until it was violently arrested and reversed by William I's conquest, which gave him one fifth of all the land in the country. Elsewhere, the crown continued to lose ground. Thus kings, for instance, had less control over local officials, who established their rights as hereditary. Kings could not always protect the Church. They were too poor to reward military services, or to endow Church foundations. In fact, they often had to raid Church revenues to survive; and they tended to enforce hospitality from bishops and abbeys on their progresses without making expensive presents in return - they seemed, and were, an increasing burden. Thus in France, Germany and Italy, bishops were increasingly made by dukes and other local potentates, rather than kings. This made simony inevitable and widespread.
The emperors were strong enough in the 1040s to restore order in Rome, and make the launching of a reform movement possible. It soon rocketed right out of their control. Perhaps this was inevitable. The quality of the higher clergy could not be improved unless its personnel were more clearly distinguished from the brutal and materialist secular magnates. In 1057, Cardinal Humbert, the leading light of the Roman reformers, asserted in his Adversus Simoniacos Libri Tres, that bishops were elected by the clergy, and on request by the people, and that they were consecrated by the bishops of the province on the authority of the metropolitan: no mention of royal appointment or consent. Again, the papal election decree of 1059 made the choice depend firstly on the cardinal-bishops, then on the other cardinals; the participation of clergy and people was reduced to ratification. The idea was to differentiate sharply between clergy and laymen and, among clergy, between the various grades; above all, to make clergy independent of secular control. If the emperor replied: yes, but bishops perform secular tasks, as part of the State, the answer was St Paul's 'No one in God's service involves himself in secular business.' But if the emperor again replied: in that case, why should bishops enjoy fiefs like secular magnates, the answer was that their lands had been freely given to the Church, and had thus become God's property. A bishop was bound to protect his patrimony - as St Anselm put it: 'I would not dare to appear before the judgment seat of God with the rights of my see diminished.' The Church, in short, was insisting that it wanted the rights and privileges of the material world, without submitting to its criteria or assuming its burdens. Gregory VII brought the issue right out into the open by flatly denying the emperor's power to appoint or invest bishops, however important their temporal possessions might be to the running of the empire. He dismissed the idea of the emperor as a priest-king. There was, he insisted, an ancient and absolute distinction between clerics and lay people. And he denied the right of 'emperors, kings and other lay persons, whether men or women' to presume 'contrary to the statutes of the holy fathers' to appoint to bishoprics and abbacies. Such actions were void, and the perpetrators excommunicate.
The papal policy made the traditional empire unworkable. If the emperor could not dispose of bishoprics and abbacies, and their resources, in the pursuit of administrative order, authority would in practice fall into the hands of the imperial princes, and the realm would dissolve. Gregory was unmoved by this argument; or rather, he accepted the consequence and drew some radical conclusions from it. The State without the Church was nothing. Just as the spirit animated the body, so the Church ultimately determined the motions of the State. Indeed, the State, in carrying out its temporary functions, was merely exercising the authority delegated to it by the Church. Having dismissed the idea of a pontifical king he replaced it by the regal pontiff, thus turning the old imperial theory of government upside down. He looked right back into the past for inspiration. Above all he turned to the era of Constantine. It is fascinating to observe how, during the Gregorian reform period, pictorial comments on the Donation of Constantine appear in Italian mosaics and wall-decorations carried out under papal orders or inspiration. Some of these frescoes have disappeared, but we know them from sixteenth-century drawings. Thus the Secret Council Chamber of the Lateran Palace the very room where Charlemagne once sat in judgment over a wily but frightened Leo in - was now covered with paintings of various popes, Gregory included, shown seated in triumph, with their feet resting on the prostrate bodies of their vanquished secular enemies.
As a matter of fact, Gregory was not entirely happy with the Donation: it was presented as the gift of Constantine, and therefore was capable of an imperialist interpretation. In his view, the primacy, and all that followed from it, came from Christ himself. Some time in the late 1070s, he caused to be inserted in his letter-book a statement of papal claims which he seems to have dictated to his secretary. It amounted to a theory of papal world-government. It is significant that it began with a statement that the Pope could be judged by no one. He was, in fact, the only truly free man because, while his own jurisdiction was universal and unqualified, the only court in which he was obliged to sue was that of Heaven. From this proposition world theocracy inevitably followed. The Roman Church, continued Gregory, has never erred and never can err. It was founded by Christ alone. The Pope, and only the Pope, can depose and restore bishops, make new laws, create new bishoprics and divide old ones, translate bishops, call general councils, revise his own judgments, use the imperial insignia, depose emperors and absolve subjects from their allegiance. All princes should kiss his feet, and his legates took precedence over bishops. Appeals to the papal court automatically inhibited judgments from any other court. Finally, a duly ordained pope was made a saint ex officio by the merits of St Peter. Gregory was a colossal innovator in terms of papal theory but in this one respect he was old-fashioned: he still believed in the almost physical presence of St Peter brooding over the papal fortunes. Thus, when he excommunicated Henry iv he wrote: 'Blessed Peter ... it is your good pleasure that the Christian people, who have been committed to you, should specially obey me, because you have given me your authority.' Papal claims had a natural tendency to inflate themselves, and soon the Petrine vicariate, on which Gregory insisted so hotly, did not seem impressive enough. By the 1150s, the popes had stolen the old imperial title of Vicar of Christ; and by the 1200s, Innocent in was insisting: 'We are the successors of the Prince of the Apostles, but we are not his vicar, nor the vicar or any man or apostle, but the Vicar of Jesus Christ himself.'
The aggressive presentation of the new papal theory of world government amounted to a physical assault on the office of the emperor, and of the politico-religious structure on which it was based. The structure was a flimsy affair; it was crumbling anyway. It could not, and in the end did not, withstand a determined papal war of destruction. There did not exist any real ground for compromise. Either the Pope was the emperor's chief bishop; or the emperor was the Pope's nominee and puppet. The first arrangement was workable; had, in fact, worked. The second was not: a puppet-emperor could not acquire the financial and military means to maintain the imperial system of government. It was a war of attrition one or other institution, as an effective instrument, had to go.
Uncommitted contemporaries watched the contest with dismay. It fitted into pessimistic theories of the universe, based on the traditions of Jewish prophecy, which circulated in various forms, and were incorporated into works of historical analysis. Around the mid-twelfth century, for instance, the most learned German of the day, Otto, Bishop of Freising, wrote a huge chronicle of world history, The Two Cities. As the name implies, the thought behind the book was Augustinian, and Otto accepted Augustine's view that history was a series of phases, reflecting God's plan for man's destiny, culminating in an apocalypse and the final judgment. Otto thought the long period between Constantine and the reign of Henry in had been one of godliness and harmony because empire and papacy had been able to work together. Then Gregory VII and Henry iv had destroyed the unitary structure; heresy and schism had followed; and Otto detected other portents of impending dissolution. Obviously the power of evil was increasing, the world was in its death-throes, and the last trump would soon sound: 'We are here,' he wrote, 'set down as it were at the end of time.'
Otto, however, was open to conviction. In 1152, his young nephew, Frederick Barbarossa, head of the house of Staufen, became emperor. A few years later he and his advisers confided to Otto their grand design for the reinvigoration of the Germanic empire, based on the creation of a new series of territorial fiefs directly administered by imperial agents, which would give the emperor the economic and political power to make him completely independent of papal support. As a result, Frederick and his court persuaded Otto to revise his gloomy prognostication. He not only altered the text of his Chronicle but, more important, set to work to write a biography of Frederick, the Gesta Frederica Imperatoris, in which he described the beginning of a new renaissance in the life of mankind, made possible by the glorious emergence of the Staufen family. In total contrast to his Chronicle, he wrote in his preface: 'I consider those who write at this time as in a certain manner blessed, because after the turbulence of the past, there has dawned the unheard calm of peace'.
The progress of Otto of Freising's historical and political thought indicates the importance men attached to the idea of harmony in the regulation of the Christian world. Nor is this surprising. If there was something wrong in the top direction of the total Christian society, how could the organism as a whole function? Must not breakdown impinge on every aspect of human life? That would be the prelude to total dissolution, the end of the world. But Otto was foolishly optimistic in assuming a new royal house could reconstruct world order on a permanent basis. The Staufen were immensely gifted. But they were human, and therefore vulnerable. Their flesh and blood was no match for the impersonal institution of the papacy. Accident, death, minorities: these fatal weaknesses of medieval secular power did not hold the same terrors for the elderly tiara-men. It is no accident that the contest began as the result of an imperial minority; or that the papacy pursued a personal vendetta against members of the Staufen clan, on at least two occasions stooping to plans for assassination. Frederick Barbarossa died by drowning, his even more magisterial son, Henry VI, of that relentless Mediterranean killer, dysentery. The popes were not always willing to wait for God to strike. Unspeakable ferocity was throughout the hallmark of these death-struggles between popes and emperors. In 1197 the Pope engaged in a conspiracy to murder Henry VI, in conjunction with his estranged wife Constance of Sicily; the plot was detected and some of its agents arrested: Henry forced Constance to watch their deaths - Jordanus of Sicily had a red-hot crown placed on his head and fixed to his skull with nails; others were burnt at the stake, flayed alive or covered in tar and ignited.
But Henry VI himself died the same year; and the minority of his son, Frederick II, coincided with the pontificate of Innocent HI, the most formidable of all the medieval lawyer-popes. He took the final steps in the subtle evolutionary process which stretched back to late Roman times, and progressed through Gelasius I, Nicholas I and Gregory VII. After Innocent in, the triumphalist pontification of Boniface VIII and others were mere hyperbole. Innocent in placed the papacy in the centre of the world's motions. He quoted Nicholas I: 'The world is an ecclesia.' The Pope had not merely a right but an obligation to examine the person chosen as king of the Romans and emperor-elect. The Roman Church enunciated the fundamental law for the whole of Christendom. He, not the emperor, was Melchisadech, who 'with the Lord at his right hand doth crush kings in the day of his wrath'. Italy, by divine dispensation, was preeminent over all other regions. The authority of the central government of Rome extended over all the Societas Christiana, whose subordinate rulers, in their conflicts with one another, must submit to the judgments of the Pope. The universal Church, he wrote in his Deliberatio, exercised plenary powers in all aspects of government, since temporal matters were of necessity subservient to the spiritual: 'By me kings reign and princes decree justice.' In the realization of these goals, the papacy was entitled to use all the spiritual weapons at its command, especially excommunication and interdict, and to employ all the resources of spiritual privilege. Thus the world tended to be divided not into good and bad men, but into papalists and anti-papalists. Markward of Anweiler, loyally trying to uphold Staufen claims in Italy and Sicily during the minority of his royal master, was excommunicated by Innocent as follows:
'We excommunicate, anathematize, curse and damn him, as oath breaker, blasphemer, incendiary, as
faithless and as a criminal and usurper, in the name of God the almighty Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by the authority of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own. We order that henceforth anyone who gives him help or favour, or supplies him and his troops with food, clothing, ships, arms or anything else which he can benefit from, shall be bound by the same sentence; any cleric, moreover, of whatever order or dignity, who shall presume to say the divine service for him, may know he has incurred the penalty due to one of his rank and order.'
Such sentences could still inspire terror. In the thirteenth century, medieval men, fighting for the great prizes, often oscillated unpredictably between gross, barbarous impiety and violence, and the most craven superstition. We have a picture of the wretched Emperor Otto iv, created as a papal puppet, then a renegade and papal victim, dying of dysentery; in his horror of Hell flames, he caused his weak and emaciated body to be 'vigorously scourged'; but he still clung, gibbering, to the imperial insignia which were also potent relics, radiating spiritual forces - the crucifix-standard presented to Henry II, the crown, the Holy Lance, which had a nail of the True Cross embedded in it, and which had been mended with a silver band by Henry iv, and the gold-encased tooth of John the Baptist. But the net effect of the excommunications and counter-excommunications, the hurling of spiritual power into the mundane battle, was to produce a certain confusion in the participants, especially the minor agents or the innocent, who did not know which to fear most - an armed imperialist or a cursing papalist cleric. And then, legitimate spiritual power so often appeared to fail. Thus the anti-imperialist troops of Milan, mysteriously beaten at Cortenuovo by the excommunicate troops of Frederick II, 'raised their heels against God' in consequence; they turned the crucifixes upside down in their churches, hurled sewage on the altars, threw out the clergy, and gorged themselves on meat throughout Lent.
In an increasing number of ways, the contest appeared to be subversive of the whole natural and moral order. Thus, to devalue the emperor, Innocent in built up the power of the German princes, especially the ecclesiastical ones; they ceased to be one of the chief supports of the central authority and looked, instead, to the selfish advancement of their principalities. Again, other monarchs and powers were brought into papal coalitions, the humbling of the imperial authority being considered to justify any arrangement, however artificial. But then, the theory of papal plenary power meant that all moral or written laws were suspended, inoperative, in the Pope's case, since he was subject only to heavenly judgment. Thus Gregory IX, who became Pope in 1227, and persecuted heretics, antinomians and deviants with relentless ferocity, said that the moral law did not apply to his anti-imperial campaign: his conduct towards Frederick II could not be judged as immoral or unethical, his methods being unrelated to the standards of conduct common to mankind since they were subject only to God's estimation of their acceptability. To emphasize the point, in 1239 he produced the relics of the two unassailable guardians of the papal city: 'the heads of the apostles Peter and Paul' were carried 'in solemn procession' through Rome, and in front of a huge crowd Gregory removed his tiara and placed it on the head of St Peter. * The Pope was acting on Peter's instructions - and how could Peter do wrong?
* Although Peter was supposed to be buried beneath the high altar of St Peter's, his head,
together with St Paul's, encased in magnificent reliquaries, were kept in the Lateran
basilica, along with the Ark of the Covenant, the Tablets of Moses, the Rod of Aaron, an urn of manna, the Virgin's tunic, John the Baptist's hair shirt, the five loaves and two fishes from the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the dining-table used at the Last Supper The nearby chapel of St Lawrence in the Lateran Palace boasted the foreskin and umbilical cord of Christ, preserved in a gold and jeweled crucifix filled with oil.
A few years later, in 1246, Gregory's successor, Innocent iv, was almost certainly a party to the attempted murder of the Lord's Anointed, Frederick ii; the plot misfired - the conspirators were blinded, mutilated and burned alive - but there was no let-up in the papal campaign. Observers, participants indeed, saw it as an eschatological conflict, as in the apocalyptic books of the Old Testament; Antichrist was loose on the earth; here was no question of nuance, of political tactic, of give or take, compromise and manoeuvre, but a final conflict between absolute good and absolute evil. In creedal terms, Frederick was strictly orthodox, though his wide reading, knowledge of the world - especially the East and Islam - had bred in him a spirit of speculative tolerance. But papal propaganda, concocted not by hack clerical scribes but by the popes personally, presented the head of the earthly society as incarnate wickedness. Frederick, the Pope claimed, had turned a holy altar in an Apulian church into a public latrine, he had used churches as brothels and had practiced sodomy openly; blasphemed by calling Christ, Moses and Mohammed 'three impostors'; denied the Virgin Birth; and said of the Eucharist: 'How long will this hocus-pocus continue?' He was 'a beast filled with blasphemous words ... with the feet of a bear, the mouth of an outraged lion, the rest of the body shaped like a panther ... the creator of lies, oblivious of modesty, untouched by the blush of shame ... a wolf in sheep's clothing ... a scorpion with a sting in its tail ... A dragon formed to deceive us ... the hammer of the earth.' He wanted to turn the whole world into a desert, and rejoiced when he was called Antichrist. He denied the faith, and his aim was to smash up Christian doctrine. He was 'the master of cruelty ... the Corrupter of the whole world ... a poisonous serpent ... the fourth beast in the book of Daniel, whose teeth are of iron and whose nails are of brass'.
From the twelfth century we can date the beginnings of anti-papal literature, inspired by the deepening gulf between the claim to spiritual (and therefore material) power, and the spiritual poverty of so many of its own actions. If the Church had a monopoly of education, it had never really possessed a monopoly of literature. Or, to put it another way, the secular element in society found expression even if the hand was strictly a cleric's. A long line of thought and half-memory stretched back to the imperial Roman concept of earthly authority before the total impress of Christianity was received. In a way, reversion to imperial Rome was one line of escape from an all-enclosing, compulsory Christian society. In the tenth century, shortly after the revival of the imperial title by Otto I at Rome in 962, a nun from the royal monastery of Gandersheim, Hrotswitha, produced a number of ideological verse-histories, and six 'dramas' in metrical prose, supposedly to provide a Christian alternative to Terence, which included Gallicanus, set in the court of Constantine. In the latter part of the twelfth century, we have an imperial Staufen propaganda play, the Ludus de Antichristo, written for Frederick Barbarossa - Otto of Freising may have had a hand in it - which is not merely pro-German (and anti-French and anti-Greek accordingly) but distinctly anti-papal. Reflecting on the way in which the papacy switched from one emperor to an anti-emperor and back again, under Innocent in, the poet Walther von der Vogelweide denounced papal duplicity: 'Two tongues fit badly into one mouth.'
Frederick II fought back against the ferocious assaults of Gregory IX and Innocent iv with his own propaganda: a materialist papacy, a 'temporal' Church was against reason, contrary to nature. Writing of the German ecclesiastical princes, he denounced priests 'who grasp the spear instead of the crozier ... one calls himself duke, another margrave, and another count. One of them organizes phalanxes, another cohorts, another incites men to war— Such today are the pastors of Israel: not priests of the church of Christ, but rapacious wolves, wild beasts, who devour Christian folk.' As for the Pope: 'From him in whom all men hope to find consolation of body and soul comes evil example, deceit and wrongdoing.' In Frederick's propaganda we find, for the first time, the assertion that the monstrous growth of papal power made a fundamental reform of the Church necessary. He appealed to the cardinals (1239) as 'successors of the apostles', on an equality with the Pope, to demand 'equal participation in whatever he who presides over the see of Peter proposes as law or promulgates officially'.
Frederick thus anticipated the attempts to revert to the conciliar system as a counterweight to the regal pontiff. He also argued, especially in his letters to other princes, that the papal claims were not directed at the emperor alone but were an assault on the whole concept of secular authority and the freehold monarch. Excommunicated, he wrote to the kings of Europe, warning them that the papacy threatened them all: 'Has not the King of England seen his father, King John, held in excommunication until both he and his kingdom were made tributary?' The clergy were 'insatiable leeches'. Innocent in had used the barons against King John, then deserted them and helped to crush them. 'Disguised in sheep's clothing, these ravenous wolves send legates hither and thither to excommunicate, to suspend, to punish - not as sowers of seed, that is the word of God, but to extort money, to harvest and reap that which they did not sow.' He appealed to the idea of primitive Christianity: 'No man can erect a church other than on the foundation laid down by the Lord Jesus himself; and he warned the princes to unite: 'Look to your own house when your neighbour's has been set on fire.' To Richard of Cornwall, his brother-in-law, he wrote: 'True, it begins with Us [the empire], but it will end with all the other kings and princes ... kings, therefore, defend the justice of your own cause in ours.' Frederick's arguments directly foreshadowed the development of secularist theory in the next century by Marsilio of Padua, in which, as he argued in his Defensor Pads, the ambitions of the papacy had become the prime cause of war and the dissolvent of Christian social unity: 'The singular cause which in the past has produced civil discord in princedoms and communities, and which will soon spread to other states unless checked, is the belief, the desire and the effort by means of which the Roman bishop and his clerical associates, in particular, aim to seize each secular sovereignty and so gain possession of its temporal wealth.'
But Frederick II was before his time in his almost desperate efforts to erect defences, ecclesiastical and secular, against the papal exploitation of spiritual power to conjure up divisive forces within society. The papal victory over the Staufen was total. Frederick II died still at liberty, but thereafter the 'viper's brood' as the popes called it, was exterminated. His son Manfred had been defeated and killed at the battle of Benevento, 1266, and buried without religious ceremony; on the orders of the Pope, Clement iv, what he referred to as 'the putrid corpse of that pestilential man' was dug up again, and reburied outside the borders of the Sicilian kingdom, now a papal fief. Conradin, the last emperor, aged sixteen, fell into the Pope's hand two years later, and (according to one account) Clement remarked, when ordering his death: 'Vita Conradini, mors Caroli [Charles of Anjou, the papal agent]. Vita Caroli, mors Conradini.' The boy was executed in Naples. The end of the Staufen was pitiless. Manfred's daughter Beatrice was kept in prison for eighteen years; his three bastard sons never emerged - one was still alive in 1309, having been in papal custody forty-five years. Of Frederick's children and grandchildren, ten died by papal violence or in papal dungeons.
We must not imagine that the battle between Church and State took place only at the highest level. The popes fought the Staufen not merely as rival claimants to supreme rule, but as the heads of a caste. The clerical challenge to the layman ran right down through society. It is no accident that Gregory VII spoke, and wrote, of laymen with peculiar bitterness. Of course there had been tension between the clerical and secular elements in Christianity since very early times. The exaltation of the clerical caste had always been connected with the development of authority in Church discipline, and orthodoxy in dogma. Montanism, in the second century, had been a protest against all three, and Tertullian, in embracing it in the third, became the first articulate Christian anti-clerical. In Dark Age Europe the antagonism appears to have subsided almost completely. The clergy were playing a salient role in the reconstruction of society, as we have seen; their attitudes were integrated with those of society, economically, legally, constitutionally. Yet signs of strain were beginning to appear. One of the healthiest characteristics of Carolingian society was the attempt, using the resources of the Church, to produce the educated layman - Charlemagne himself trying to set the example. Not long after his death we hear of complaints from monasteries that it was not their job to educate men unless they intended to be monks. But monastic and cathedral schools were virtually the only ones available. The failure of lay education to develop at the same pace as clerical was, perhaps, the prime cause of the cleavage. What increasingly differentiated clerics and laity was the use of Latin. In the East, where similar clerical-secular tensions never developed, the social, and the liturgical, languages were the same, and developed together. In the West they diverged. By the eighth century, nobody learned Latin as his vernacular language; but no learned, devotional or liturgical work was written in any other. Latin became the clerical language. Thus proof of ability to speak or write it became the usual test of a claim to clerical status (and privilege). It became the mark of civilization, and so the badge of arrogance. In the eyes of the self-conscious clericalist, the laity were either labouring louts or armed thugs. It was galling for clergy who could read Augustine to find their affairs ordered, at the highest level, by Conrad II, an illiterate. Of course by 'illiterate' they meant having no knowledge of Latin. Thus, Henry I of England, who knew Latin, was known as 'beauclerc' - a fine priest. Behind the clericalist movement was a terrific amount of cultural snobbery and also, in a more realistic way, a sense of superiority: clerics carried out the whole administrative side of government, running chanceries and exchequers and keeping accounts and records of every kind.
The last point, in one respect, is the most important of all: the Church had the literate manpower and the techniques to produce more sophisticated forms of government than any available to the secular world. In the Dark Ages these had been placed at the disposal of the barbarian tribal states: the Church, for instance, gave them written legal codes. But all the time the Church retained its old traditions of separate canonical legislation, dating back to the fourth century. The papacy had the oldest legal and administrative machine in western Europe. The essence of the Carolingian renaissance, and of the Ottonian empire which followed it, had been the identity of aim of Church and State, expressed in legal codes, and conciliar legislation, which dealt with both. Within this system the Church had always enjoyed a privileged position. Indeed, the laws had first been put in writing to provide specifically for the protection of clerks and their property. In England, for instance, clerks had never been thrown
completely on the tender mercies of the secular courts Though every kind of charge could be brought against them in the ordinary courts, special penalties were provided for clerical offenders; and, when accused of capital crimes, they were always judged by a bishop. Bishops often presided in the shire- courts; not until after the Norman Conquest were bishops and archdeacons forbidden to hear cases in the (lower) hundred courts. Moreover, royal legislation made ecclesiastical offences into secular offences; and canon law, as well as secular law, was admitted in the shire courts. Thus in Anglo-Saxon England the clergy were already, in a legal sense. a privileged class; the same was true, with variations, elsewhere in Europe.
This system of privilege, however, was still under royal, that is secular. control. The effect of the mid- eleventh-century church reforms, and of the Gregorian revolution which followed, was to drive a wedge into the joint legal system, and split it into two distinct streams of law. In the 1050s, the papal administration underwent a formidable expansion. A primitive Parkinson's Law began to operate. More clerks were available to do the Pope's bidding work, therefore, expanded to occupy the time available. More clerics were learned in canon law: compilations of canon law were made, therefore, and sent all over the Christian world; they were used locally, and appeals made to Rome; and canon law was added to by an increased use of clerical legislative machinery. As canon law expanded, and became more subtle and sophisticated, and as it evolved into a uniform international system, with the papacy as its supreme court of appeal, it was bound to diverge more and more from the national secular system. Different systems meant different courts; and if clerical courts tried ecclesiastical offences, should they not also deal with clerics who committed any offence whatever? The clerical affirmative was delivered with all the more conviction in that canon law was, in their eyes, clearly a superior system; it went back to Roman times, was, indeed, based on Roman principles of jurisprudence. Here the cultural snobbery came in again. One reason why Gregory VII treated the Donation of Constantine with reserve was that it was incorporated in a secular document, and it was a principle of the canonist reformers that the Church could not entertain any legal proposition that was based on secular documentation alone: there must be confirmation in clerical archives.
There was, also, a sense of exhilaration among the clerical revolutionaries. They were bringing mankind out of the dark past, into a brave new world of administrative efficiency. Away with government by illiterates and barbarous folk-laws! This was a view shared by many, especially, of course, clerics. The growth of an efficient papal court and chancery not only made the exercise of papal-clerical authority easier, it also attracted litigants and business. From the late eleventh century, every index of papal and central church activity began to show a sharp increase. 'Big' government and papal claims went hand in hand: the demand for power expanded pan passu with the administrative capacity to exercise it. In England, for instance, there had been no legislative councils until 1070 (except one in 786); in the period 1070-1312 there were between twenty and thirty. The West had played little part in the early general councils; then, between 1123-1311 there were seven. Papal correspondence increased accordingly (making allowance for a higher survival rate the later the period), from an average of one a year under Benedict IX, 1033-46, to thirty-five up to 1130,179 under Alexander HI, 1159-81,280 by the turn of the thirteenth century and 3646 by the beginning of the fourteenth. Virtually all this business was legal. Of course, the twelfth century was an age of legal discovery and expansion generally. Every other kind of court, especially the royal court, was expanding fast. But canon law, radiating from Rome, set the pace
and kept the lead by far.
The run-up to the canonical explosion took about seventy years, from 1070-1140; then, in a mere decade, it suddenly became a universal fact of life. We saw how the notions of Christianity penetrated deep into every crevice of society in the Carolingian period; now, a papally-controlled legal system suddenly moved into the forefront of every individual's experience. It began to settle vast areas of ordinary life in great and expensive legal detail: the administration of the sacraments and all other aspects of the strictly religious side of existence; the rights, duties, payments and obligations of the humblest parish priest and his congregation; the dress, education, ordination, status, crimes, punishments of clerics; charity, alms, usury, wills, graveyards, churches, prayers, masses for the dead, burials, marriage, inheritance, legitimacy, sex and morals. Until the 1040s, the popes had only a vague idea of what was going on at the highest level in places like England, north Germany or Spain; a hundred years later, in 1144, we find Lucius II writing to the bishops of Hereford and Worcester ordering them jointly to settle a dispute about a parish church in the diocese of Lichfield.
The legal revolution enormously strengthened the hands of the papacy because to be able to dispense justice effectively was, to medieval man, a chief sign of power. The growth of papal law was both a cause of the papacy's claim to total sovereignty, and the means whereby successive emperors were humbled or smashed. On the other hand, it gradually turned the papacy, and so the Church as a whole, into a totally different kind of institution. It became not so much a divine society, as a legal one; and a legal society increasingly divorced from the total society surrounding it. Its verbal integuments were no longer the scriptures, but canon law. About 1140 appeared the great Concordia Discordantium Canonum, known as the Decreta, compiled by Gratian. This was, in a sense, the last of a long line of more primitive canonical collections; it provided a systematic exposition of a vast corpus of ancient church law and did it so thoroughly that further efforts to codify the past were superfluous. It distinguished between necessary law, as laid down in scripture; and convenient law, formulated by the Church in the interests of discipline and the cure of souls. The first was immutable, the second might be relaxed, in a variety of ways and for many different purposes; and this dispensory power was an inherent function of the papal office.
The theory of Gratian, and the practice of the papal court, was thus the culmination of a long process, beginning in the second century, whereby the Church interposed itself between the code of conduct divinely ordained in the scriptures, and the obligations and prescriptions actually enforced on Christianity. The tendency, therefore, was to replace pastoral theology with legal interpretation and administration, as the chief preoccupation of the Church. From the time of Gregory VII onwards, all the outstanding popes were lawyers; the papal court, or curia, became primarily a legal organization, with over a hundred experts employed there by the thirteenth century, plus other lawyers who looked after the interests of kings, princes and leading ecclesiastics. Most of the popes' advisers were canonists. As Roger Bacon bitterly remarked, for every theologian in Innocent IV's entourage there were twenty lawyers. Popes tended to get bogged down in legal business. St Bernard, a papalist and a clericalist, but a man who kept the prime pastoral function of the Church constantly before his eyes, thought the papacy's concern with the legal nexus was obsessive: 'Why do you sit from morning until evening,' he wrote to Eugenius III in 1150, 'listening to litigants? What fruit is there in these things? They can only create cobwebs.' His warnings were ignored. The litigious habit gradually permeated the whole Church Ecclesiastical institutions tended to see their relationship with the lay world. and with each other, primarily in legal terms. The most bitterly fought and enduring cases were inter-clerical battles. One such medieval Jarndyce V Jarndyce between the monks of St Augustine, Canterbury, and their archbishop, was hotly contested for fifteen years, successive popes being obliged to write seventy letters. Innocent in, exasperated, wrote: 'I blush to hear of this mouldy business.' But when had the law not generated mould?
St Bernard's cobwebs continued to spread. For, when he asked what fruit there was in legalism, the answer, of course, was money and power. A successful court - and the papal court was the outstanding legal success of the Middle Ages - generated income, and the need of great and small to solicit its verdicts. The Pope's legal relations with a king, a duke or an archbishop, might involve a dozen or more cases going on at one time, some momentous, many trivial, all of which had to be weighed by both sides in considering total policy. Much of the Pope's practical ability to get his way sprang from the power of his court to deliver. So it was impossible for the Pope to avoid the details. And to think chiefly in legal, was to think chiefly in secular, terms. The popes became progressively more entangled in legal- diplomatic considerations, and in the effort to hold together their estates in central Italy as a secure base for their ramifying international activities. In short, they became like any other rulers. The Gregorian reform, which sought to improve moral standards in the Church by disengaging the clergy from their role as supporters of the State, ended, by a kind of helpless logic, in thrusting the Church far more deeply and completely into the secular world. Indeed, the Church became a secular world of its own.
As such - as a separate, rival institution - it was bound to come into conflict with the State at every level. Of course clerics and seculars were both Christians and shared not only major assumptions but most minor ones. But they were locked in a conflict of laws, and this could be brutally aggravated by a conflict of personalities. The outstanding case was Henry if s tragic dispute with Thomas a Becket. Henry was only twenty-nine when he appointed Becket, his chancellor, to be chief ecclesiastical officer of his kingdom in 1162. He hoped that this combination of duties would help to smooth out difficulties which inevitably arose from the conflict of the two legal systems. After all, 'when business was over the King and he would sport together like boys of the same age; in hall or in church they sat together; together they went riding In fact this contemporary description fails to note that Becket was sixteen years older than the king, and already set in his ways. He was probably a bad influence over the young monarch: an obstinate insistence on the unequivocal acknowledgment of rights, and a fondness for extravagant gestures, marked Henry's policies when Becket was his chief adviser. In the 1160s, Henry, maturing, gradually adopted a much more conciliatory attitude to the world, and sought to woo opponents rather than shout them down, or smash them. He changed, and became a master of real politik. Becket remained the same: an obstinate and at times hysterical man, with an actor's passion for noisy drama. It was against this personal background that Henry's England felt the first full impact of the papal revolution. In the Conqueror's time, wrote Eadmer, 'all things, spiritual and temporal alike, waited upon the nod of the King'; a council of bishops could not 'lay down any ordinance or prohibition unless they were agreeable to the King's wishes, and had first been approved by him'; and a bishop could not, without the king's agreement, 'take action against or excommunicate one of his barons or officials for incest or adultery or any other cardinal offence or even when guilt was notorious, lay upon him any
penalty of ecclesiastical discipline.' That was still the world of the Dark Ages. Under William II, and Henry I, there had been a growing sense of antagonism between king and senior clerics; and during the disturbed period of Stephen's reign a progressive encroachment by the Church on royal legal territory. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that compromise was possible. The papal curia was not a monolithic organization; the curia was often divided itself, or sometimes imposed a restraining collective leadership on an impetuous pontiff. John of Salisbury, noting that Eugenius II's decisions were often subsequently revoked, explains this by saying 'he was too ready to rely upon his personal opinion in imposing sentences'. At a local level, ecclesiastical authorities had their own motives for trying to avoid a showdown. Becket's predecessor, Archbishop Theodore, for instance, disliked appeals to Rome unless litigants 'are in the grip of some necessity from which they cannot free themselves by their own efforts'. He thought that 'the transgressions of malicious persons are best punished by those who have intimate knowledge of the merits of the parties concerned'; he rebuked the Bishop of Chichester for appealing to Canterbury: 'That disputes within your jurisdiction find their way to us is a sign of weakness or negligence.'
Everything depended, in fact, on whether the people concerned placed the creation of a harmonious society above the logical pursuit of rights. This was particularly true in the case of criminous clerks, over which the king and Becket came to grief. Everyone in positions of authority in society had an interest in the preservation of law and order - the Church, perhaps, most of all, since it was most vulnerable to a general increase in lawlessness, of the kind which confronted Henry II in the first few years of his reign. The clerical profession, if so it can be called, had expanded enormously in the previous century. Perhaps one in fifty people could make some claim to be considered in orders. And of these about one in six could expect to get into trouble with the law. Many were not clergy in any but a legal sense. Often they took minor orders to get an education, and then entered the service of lay masters; they never intended to be ordained priest. Many clerks in secular service lived like laymen, and then married. And the parish priests, even, often lived like peasants - 'their houses and hovels', as Giraldus Cambrensis put it, 'filled with bossy mistresses, creaking cradles, newborn babes and squawking brats'. Parsons often did week- work for the local lord, in exchange for their crofts; they usually had a double share in the communal holding, and maintained the parish boar, bull, ram and stallion.
At this level, a good deal of crime among clerics was inevitable. Why should they have the right to trial by a separate and much less severe legal system? It was a fact that the Church had been much more successful in asserting the rights claimed by the reformers, than in imposing the higher standards and discipline on the clergy. Indeed, the more ardent for the first, the more they tended to ignore the latter. Becket was a case in point. As archbishop he took no interest in pastoral work, and never showed much enthusiasm for the creation of a godly clergy. Efforts to force clerks to wear clerical dress, or to forswear marriage and concubines, were unsuccessful. The church courts worked badly in many ways, especially in serious cases, owing to what Archbishop Theodore called 'the subtlety of the laws and the canons'. Henry II reluctantly allowed the Church to deal, for instance, with the case of Archdeacon Osbert of York, accused of poisoning his archbishop. He regretted it both in principle and in practice. After a year of delays and argument, no verdict was reached and the case was appealed to Rome. The archdeacon was eventually deprived and unfrocked, but otherwise unpunished and twenty years later he was still claiming the judgement was improper. So far as we can judge he was almost certainly guilty.
The Becket episode really began when Henry arrived back in England in 1163 and was told that more than a hundred murders had been committed by clerks since his coronation on 1157. There were, too, vast numbers of cases of clerical theft and robbery with violence. Henry might have had more sympathy with Becket's absolutist claims if Becket had shown better sense in running the church courts. But often their verdicts seemed intolerable to a king dedicated to stamping out lawlessness. A canon of Bedford had killed a knight and then, in open court, furiously abused the judge, a local sheriff: the offence was doubly capital, yet Becket merely had the man banished. Again, a Worcestershire clerk had seduced a girl, then murdered her father; Becket had the clerk branded. This was open to four objections: it was inadequate; it was a sentence unknown to canon law; it was, indeed, a usurpation of royal authority; and it flatly contradicted Becket's own argument that clerks should not suffer mutilation, normal in royal courts, 'lest in man the image of God be deformed'. At a conference with the king to discuss the whole problem of bringing justice to bear on clerical offenders, Becket argued that degradation, deprivation of orders and loss of privileged status was enough. He put the case for a separate caste: 'The clergy, by reason of their orders and distinctive office, have Christ alone as King. ... And since they are not under secular kings, but under their own king, the King of Heaven, they should be ruled by their own law; and if they are transgressors they should be punished by their own law, which had its own means of coercion.' When the conflict became open, Becket took up a still more 'Gregorian' position: 'Christian kings ought to submit their administration to ecclesiastics, not impose it upon them. ... Christian princes should be obedient to the dictates of the church, rather than prefer their own authority, and princes should bow their heads to bishops rather than judge them.'
Most of the English bishops disapproved of Becket's attitude, and of his tactics throughout the dispute. Becket's own election had been improper; the forms had been observed, but he had in fact been forced on the Church in 1162 by pressure from the royal justiciar, Richard de Lucy. There was a feeling that, because of the nature of his appointment, Becket was anxious to impress the monks of his own chapter that he was independent of the royal will. Running through the vast number of clerical letters which surround the Becket drama there is a perceptible mood of resentment among many of his nominal allies, at his posturings and intransigence. His murder was the most celebrated state crime of the entire Middle Ages; it brought him almost instant canonization; and his shrine became, after Rome itself and St James's at Compostella, the most celebrated in Europe. Until the Reformation, St Thomas was the most frequently portrayed of all English saints, at home and abroad, and more English boys were called after him than any other namesake. Yet he did no service to Christianity. Henry II often used words he later regretted: he cannot have intended his angry words to his knights to be taken seriously. As John of Salisbury, a friend of Becket's points out, he had used a similar expression on at least one earlier occasion, in 1166: 'They were all traitors who could not summon up the zeal and loyalty to rid him of the harassment of one man.' Asa matter of fact, the expression 'one man' is significant; Henry felt he was fighting not so much the system as one outrageous individual who prevented any sincere attempt to work it on a basis of compromise. By the time the climax of the dispute came, Becket was virtually isolated: martyrdom was a spectacular, and theatrical, way out from the impasse into which he had driven himself. The actions of the four knights were a series of confused blunders. Their object in going to Canterbury was not clear: it was Becket who forced them to decide between killing him, or returning to court looking like fools. One of Becket's biographical eulogists, Edward Grim, virtually conceded this point: 'He who had long yearned for martyrdom now saw that the occasion to embrace it had arrived.' Another, William Fitz Stephen, adds: 'Had he so wished, the Archbishop might easily have turned aside and saved himself by flight, for both time and place offered an opportunity to escape without being discovered.'
Becket's episcopal colleagues must have viewed his canonization, and the wild and immediate popularity of his relics, with a good deal of cynicism. One such, well-disposed to Becket personally, was John aux Bellesmains, Bishop of Poitiers. John regarded the archbishop as 'always a follower of his own will and opinion ... it was a great misfortune and an immense hurt and danger to the Church that he had ever been made a ruler of it.' He himself had opposed Henry II'S Constitutions of Clarendon as going too far in upholding royal rights; and he had successfully protected a clerk, accused of treason, from trial in a royal court; yet he remained on excellent terms with Henry (as well as the curia), was promoted Archbishop of Lyons, and lived in harmony with Church and State until his eighties, long enough to receive a respectful visit from Innocent in. In the eyes of men like John, the real danger of Becket was not just that he antagonized decent kings like Henry, who were perfectly well disposed to the Church, but that Becket-style gestures, rewarded with the martyr's palm, tended to create a climate of clerical opinion which forced other prelates to insist on church rights more than they thought prudent.
It says a lot for the practical sagacity of Henry and Pope Alexander in that the cleavage in society opened by the murder was so soon healed. In practical terms Becket achieved nothing by his death. Alexander endorsed Henry's choices for vacant bishoprics - faithful royal supporters, variously denounced by Becket as 'archdiabolus' 'that offspring of fornication', and 'that notorious schismatic'. At Canterbury, Henry got the sort of man he wanted, Richard, Prior of Dover, who gave first place to the reform of the clergy and cooperation with the State. Alexander warmly supported Henry's policy of conquering Ireland, and threatened excommunication to anyone who declined to aid 'this catholic and most Christian king'. On the question of appeals to Rome, it was evident that Henry did not oppose them in principle; he merely wished to control them. When Cardinal Vivian, papal legate, arrived in England in 1176, 'without the King's license', Henry, according to the chronicler Roger of Howden, sent two bishops to warn him that 'unless he was ready to abide by the will of the King he would not be allowed to proceed further'. The cardinal swore 'that he would do nothing on his legation hostile to [Henry] or to his kingdom'; Henry then treated him with great honour, and the next legate took good care to obtain the king's permission to land in advance. Henry liked upright and spiritual-minded churchmen; he disliked those whom, he said, 'embraced the world with both arms'. He often promoted men who might have been expected to give him trouble, such as Baldwin of Ford, whom he first made Bishop of Worcester, then Canterbury. Henry II was one of those medieval sovereigns, by no means uncommon, who genuinely wanted to make the Christian society work; who thought that an active, vigorous, even militant church and higher clergy were necessary for the material, as well as the spiritual, well-being of the commonwealth. Such rulers, in the Carolingian tradition, were willing to work with the Church even after it had robbed them of much of their theoretical status and power as anointed servants of the Lord. But of course none of them, however well disposed, could conceivably have accepted the line of thinking illustrated by Boniface VIII's bulls cited at the beginning of this section. The result was that, after the twelfth century, it was rare even for the more serious-minded and hardworking monarchs to devote much of their energies to reforming the Church and improving its pastoral performance - objects
which had been central to the policies even of mediocre Dark Age Christian monarchs. On the contrary, the ruler's interest now centered on blocking and controlling the Church, and diverting as much as possible of its resources in money and personnel to secular purposes.
This might not have mattered so much if the bishops had preserved their status. In western and northern Europe they conserved much of their wealth, but in other respects they became the principal victims of the papal contest with secular power. Ever since the emergence of the monarchical bishop in the second century, episcopacy had been the key institution of Christianity. The quality and drive of the clergy, and therefore the level of Christian conduct, depended above all on able, holy and vigorous bishops. Without good bishops, the papacy could not in practice have any real influence on society. After the capitulation of King John of England to the papacy for instance, Innocent in, in theory at least, had virtual charge of the English church. But he did, or could do, virtually nothing to promote reform. He possessed neither the machinery nor the administrative manpower for detailed supervision. So his advice to his legates was nearly always to do what the king wanted. Again, in theory, by the beginning of the thirteenth century the papacy had won the battle to appoint bishops. The object of the campaign had been to improve the quality of episcopal personnel. In fact if anything the quality went down. In practice, local rulers and the Pope engaged in a carve-up of appointments. Both were motivated by considerations other than provision of the best kind of man. Kings did not particularly like having clergy as ministers of state, since they could not be brought to book in royal courts for peculation, treason, and so forth; on the other hand, they could not afford to pay laymen, and clerical ministers could be rewarded with bishoprics and other benefices. The financial argument nearly always won. Hence about half the bishoprics went to royal officials, courtiers and so forth. The Pope, too, needed to reward his clerks and supporters. His share of the jobs varied, but might be as much as a third. The division of the episcopal spoils was not conducted by any formal system, but in man-to-man bargains between the papacy and the royal representative.
Royal appointments could be very bad. The Black Prince got his illiterate friend Robert Stretton the bishopric of Coventry and Lichfield, despite the fact that his profession of canonical obedience had to be read out on his behalf; the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury made a fuss, but had to give way in the end. On the other hand, some papal appointments were just as bad, or worse. In 1246, with the object of 'liberating' the Church from the Hohenstaufen, Innocent iv forbade any episcopal elections on the Lower Rhine without permission of the Holy See. The next year he appointed to Liege Henry, brother of the Count of Gueldre, who was only nineteen and illiterate. He was sent to Liege purely for the papacy's political and military purposes. As bishop, he was an imperial elector, and one of his first acts waste help elect the Count of Holland as the anti-Staufen king of Germany. He was allowed to remain in minor orders 'in order to engage more freely in the affairs of the church in Germany' - that is, lead troops in battle. He was also given dispensations to grant tithes to papal supporters, to keep benefices vacant and appropriate the proceeds to raise troops. He had expert clerks and a full-time deputy to carry out the essential work of the diocese while, for twenty-five years, he carried out his political and military duties. From his episcopal registers, he appears a model diocesan. In fact he was a scoundrel, and eventually, when the Staufen were smashed, he lost his usefulness: in 1273, Gregory x accused him of sleeping with abbesses and nuns, fathering fourteen bastards in twenty-two months, and providing all of them with benefices. Disgraced, he reverted to his natural bent, and became a brigand.
Such men were exceptions. The trouble with most bishops, under the royal-papal carve-up, was that they were worldly and mediocre. Often they were absentees, on royal or papal business. But even if they were not officials, they were rarely active diocesans. This was not always their fault. Bishops were expected to move in great state. An episcopal visitation thus became a serious financial burden for the inferior clergy. Odo Rigaud, the Archbishop of Rouen 1247-76, was an exemplary prelate by the standards of his time. But he travelled with a mounted retinue of eighty, and in 1251 this led to a joint protest to the Pope from all the bishops of Normandy. William of Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, was another notorious offender on this score, though the chief complaint about him was the number of his hounds and hawks (hawks had a specially expensive diet). The visitations could be carried out by vicars- general or archdeacons; but they were liable to offend just as grievously. Innocent in was told the Archdeacon of Richmond took with him ninety-seven horses, twenty-one hounds and three hawks. Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, laid down a maximum scale: an archbishop could not have more than fifty men and horses; bishops thirty; archdeacons seven -and no hounds or hawks for any of them. The scale was never adhered to. Things were just as bad 200 years later. When Archbishop Kempe of York was criticized for visiting his diocese for only two or three weeks at a time, at intervals of ten to twelve years - this was in the mid fifteenth century - he replied that he tried to enter one archdeaconry, which none of his predecessors had visited for 150 years, but was told it was too poor - would he accept a composition instead?
As a matter of fact, it is not at all clear that medieval man wanted a really devoted episcopate. The Carolingian idea that Church and State should combine to enforce Christian morals lingered on; attempts to bring it to life were not popular with any element in society. Strictly speaking, the bishop had the right to carry out episcopal visitations among the laity as well as the clergy. He could enter the house of a lord and hold court there about the owner's morals; or subject an entire village to a sexual and financial inquisition. Robert Grosseteste, the devoted and courageous mid thirteenth-century Bishop of Lincoln - perhaps the most admirable of all the medieval diocesans - actually took the Christian society, and his duties to it, seriously. In 1246-8, he carried out a thorough visitation. Among the questions he put to local panels was: 'Whether any layman is notoriously proud or envious or avaricious or liable to the sin of slothful depression, or rancorous or gluttonous or lecherous.' This seems to have been the most thoroughgoing effort to raise and enforce moral standards of which we have record; and so unusual as to seem intolerable. The reaction of the secular authorities was characteristic. In 1249 the bishop was summoned to appear in person before the king, to 'show cause for his forcing unwilling men and women, under pain of excommunication, to come before him to give evidence on oath to the grievous prejudice of the crown'. The king complained that such gatherings interrupted the lawful activities of his subjects and prevented them from performing their duties. The bishop got no support from the Pope, who deplored his moral enthusiasm, and once had a dream in which Grosseteste upbraided him and 'smote him a tremendous blow with his staff.
Most bishops would not soil their hands with lay visitations. For the enforcement of the moral law they developed the office of rural dean. He dealt with local cases of fornication, slander, non-payment of tithes, perjury, breach of faith, usury, witchcraft, heresy, proving of wills and blasphemy. The deans hated doing these jobs, which were unpaid. They hired apparitors or summoners to deliver episcopal warnings. These men were paid by results, but often engaged in blackmail and were generally hated. The bishops therefore turned to the churchwardens. In any case, it was really only the poor and humble who were in practice forced to conform to the Christian ideal, or rather punished when they did not. Powerful men would not have their morals controlled by bishops, let alone rural deans. When, around 1310, the Dean of Crewkerne served an episcopal admonition on Sir Alan Ploknet, he found himself seized by the throat and forced to eat the bishop's letter, seal and all. The same principle applied to disciplining the clergy. The actual working clergy, living on stipends, were poor, and could be brought to book without too much trouble. Senior clergy, or Pluralists - the two were often synonymous - who were more likely than most to break canon law or set a bad example, could fight the bishops in the courts. As the bishops had to pay the costs of such actions, which might well go to Rome, they left offenders alone. Thus the development of canon law, in theory designed to improve the morals of the clergy, in fact made improvement more difficult.
The devaluation of the bishop was, for the clergy as a whole, perhaps the most baleful consequence of the reform programme of the papacy. From the late eleventh century onwards they lost their power and independence in such matters as the liturgy, canonization, inspection of abbeys and convents, and definitions of law and doctrine. They were merely lines of communication to the Pope. Hence men who aspired to change and improve society, to carry through a Christian revolution, no longer, on the whole, sought bishoprics. These went, instead, to the younger sons of great territorial magnates, and to successful civil servants. They kept their wealth and their nominal status. Many of the 500 bishops of the Latin church could claim to occupy thrones which went back to the second century, or at any rate were older than any secular royal house. Thus the episcopate had to be treated as one of the key institutions of western society. When attempts were made to reform the Church in the fifteenth century, beginning with the papacy, it was natural to turn to the bishops, and to a revival of the conciliar system, to do the job. But they proved incapable of performing it. Crown and papacy, between them, had destroyed the once- powerful tradition of episcopal initiative and leadership. At the fifteenth-century councils, the bishops tended to vote either by nationalities, in response to royal instructions, or in the supposed Roman interest. The idea of acting independently as an international college had been lost. The spring had broken in an institution which had had its origins in New Testament times.
The destruction of episcopal independence obviously enhanced papal authority within the Church; but the main beneficiary was the State. The Ambrosian bishop was a real check to royal power, as well as the Pope's. With the bishop reduced to a dignified functionary, the Pope was left on a lonely eminence, face to face with the secular world. Indeed, it could be said that papal policy had created this secular spirit, and turned it into an enemy. The Christian society of the ninth century, say, had been an entity. There was then no such thing as a 'clerical world' and a 'secular world'. The Gregorian reforms had brought the idea of the secular state into existence by stripping the ruler of his sacerdotal functions. For a time this enhanced the Church's power, or appeared to. The superiority of the priestly element in society was emphasized, and the lay element was demoted along with the monarchy. There was a tendency to equate the clergy with 'the Church'. In the long run this was fatal to the whole concept of the Christian society. The lay element was initially put on the defensive but it eventually responded by developing its own modes of thought outside the assumptions of the Christian-clerical world. These modes were alien to Christianity, and ultimately hostile to it. Again, the idea of a militant clerical caste, with all the advantages of superior learning and sophisticated legal and administrative techniques, initially carried all before it. It was the first great trades union. But the secular world learnt from its methods. In the twelfth century, royal justice was a generation or two behind canon law, but it soon caught up. The old empire was destroyed, but kings took its place. They learnt to manipulate papal legal and administrative techniques, and copy them. The militancy of the clerical interest produced, in the end, the response of the secular interest, represented by the crown. Thus anti-clericalism was born.
Take the case of England. It had always had a peculiar, and fond, relationship with the papacy. The English thought they owed their faith and civilization to Gregory the Great's mission, and were grateful. The award of the pallium to English archbishops was regarded as a signal favour. Many English churches were called after SS Peter and Paul, a tribute to Rome; and from very early times there was an English church, St Mary's in the eternal city, supported by a special English tax, 'Peter's Pence'. No other country paid such a tax. It was originally a free-will gift by English kings, then in the tenth century became an obligation, provided by the people. The first sour note crept in under Gregory VII, when he wrote to William I pointing out that the tax was in arrears. William conceded that it had to be paid, but thereafter the English treated it as a burden. Far more was collected than was actually transferred to Rome, the crown taking its cut. In the twelfth century it was standardized at 299 silver marks annually, but it was paid sporadically, when the opportunity arose, was often withheld, to annoy the Pope, and in general was treated as a diplomatic manoeuvring device. When, in the mid fourteenth century, the papacy peremptorily demanded its payment, Edward HI appealed to Parliament, which promptly declared the tax illegal and unconstitutional, and it was never paid again.
Provided a crown, and the royal line which held it, was itself secure, it had little to fear from an out-and- out war with the papacy. The Pope could impose an interdict, but it was hard to make it work. When Innocent in quarrelled with King John, some English bishops remained at their posts; the Cistercians, claiming exemption, 'rang their bells, shouted their chants and celebrated the divine office with open door'. John carried on with his normal ecclesiastical duties, and continued to pay his charities - 3 marks to the Templars, £15 to the canons of Trentham, and so on. The interdict went on for six years, and the king seems to have received general support. It is true that the excommunication of John in 1209 embittered things. But the main loser was the English Church. The sums from ecclesiastical lands paid into the exchequer rose from £400 in 1209 to £24,000 in 1211, and these do not include Cistercian losses, which came to over £16,000. In all John got over £100,000, which went to finance successful campaigns in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. If John had not, over quite separate issues, antagonized a large section of the baronage, his submission to the Pope would have been quite unnecessary. Indeed, in general, a king who handled his domestic front prudently could always fight the papacy to a stalemate, even at its zenith under Innocent in.
Thus, though papal claims expanded, what the popes actually gained scarcely justified the increasing odium which their demands aroused. This was particularly true of papal provisions to foreign benefices. In England, for instance, between 1216-72, there were six direct papal provisions to bishoprics ; under Edward II, thirteen out of twenty-eight; and after 1342 it became the norm - John Trilleck, made Bishop of Hereford in 1344, was the last English bishop not appointed by papal provision until the Reformation. But this did not mean the Pope's power was increasing. On the contrary. The system was simply
employed as the crown wished. There was a regular formula - for example for the institution of the Bishop of Norwich in 1446:
'Since the Lord Pope has recently provided to the church of Norwich .. Walter Lyhert, the elect of Norwich, bachelor in theology, and has appointed him bishop and pastor in that place, as we are informed by the bulls of the Lord Pope, directed to us. ... And whereas the bishop has renounced before us openly and expressly all words and every word contained in the bulls, which are prejudicial to us and to our crown, and has submitted himself humbly to our grace; wishing to act in this matter graciously with him, we have taken the fealty of the bishop, and we have restored to him the temporalities of the bishopric. ... '
In this case, as in virtually all others, the king nominated and the Pope provided, but the bishop was nevertheless forced to renounce everything prejudicial in the provision. Again, clergy going to Rome were forced to take a standard oath, of which that sworn by the Abbot of St Augustine's, Canterbury in 1468 is typical: ' ... that you shall sue, or procure to be sued, in the court of Rome, or in any other place beyond the sea, nothing that may be hurtful or prejudicial to the king our sovereign lord, or his crown, or any of his subjects; nor do anything or attempt anything that is or may be contrary to the laws of this land.' There was a mass of very severe statutes to back up the royal position that any decisions of the Pope, or anything done on his behalf in the English church, must first be filtered through the royal machinery. In all except doctrine, the king was the effective head of the English church long before Henry VIII assumed it by parliamentary statute.
This was the position in virtually all western countries. In some it is difficult to identify any period in which the papacy made successful inroads into royal control of the national church. In Spain, for instance, the crown had had the whip hand since Visigothic times. The sixth century councils, the earliest examples of Church-State cooperation in Christian-barbarian Europe, show the Church acting virtually as a department of the State, and as essentially subordinate to it. It was the kings, not the bishops, who governed Spain and with it the Spanish church. The position did not change in any essential throughout the Middle Ages. Thus, an examination of the synods and councils held in Castile and Aragon in the thirteenth century, at a time when we might expect to find the papacy on top, in fact shows an almost total subservience of the clergy to state and royal policy. The Church was protected, even cosseted, by the State: but it was a captive Church. In the fifteenth century, and still more in the sixteenth, the grip of the crown was tightened, as it was elsewhere in Europe, by formal concordats and agreements, which spelt out the respective rights of crown and papacy in such a way as to make it clear that the state interest remained paramount. The fact that Spanish-Habsburg diplomatic and political policy might be, as a rule, in general alignment with papal aims, or that the Spanish crown might be in full agreement with papal doctrinal positions, and enforce them in its territories, does not alter the absolute determination of the Spanish State to control the ecclesiastical scene -to the total exclusion of independent papal action. The Spanish Inquisition was essentially an organ of royal power, one of whose functions was to 'protect' the Spanish Church from influence by outside agencies, including the papacy. Hence the domination of the Church by the crown was perhaps more comprehensive in Spain during the sixteenth century than in any other Europe state, including those with a Protestant, Erastian system.
France, too, ceased to be an effective field for papal penetration, once the monarchy began to establish itself as the dominant force, from the beginning of the thirteenth century. The popes repeatedly used French power to smash the Staufen. It could be said that they thus replaced a potential master with an actual one. The papacy, which had helped to create the western empire as a protective force in the eighth century, destroyed it in the thirteenth without making any long-term arrangements to provide an alternative source of assistance. Yet the papacy still needed protection; and faut de mieux, it had to look to one or other of the emergent nation-states. The choice was usually France until, in the sixteenth century, it shifted to Spain and Austria. And the French kings, like the more exigent emperors before them, tended to treat the Pope as their chief bishop, rather than as an independent power. Thus, as the thirteenth century progressed, there was a yawning gap between the inflation of the papal claims, and the deflation of its real authority. In 1298, for instance, Boniface VIII was asked to arbitrate between Edward I of England and Philip the Fair of France over their Gascon disputes. Proctors were appointed, and the Pope issued a series of bulls; but at the last minute, under pressure from France, he was obliged to admit that he acted, as he put it, 'simply as a private person, as Lord Benedict Gaetani',
The career of Lord Benedict Gaetani, indeed, may be said to have led to the calling of the papal bluff. Before him, there was still a certain mysterious potency to the papal claims, a lingering possibility that they might be established. After him, it was evident that the institution had reached its maximum development as a physical force in European politics, and could only decline. Boniface published Clericis laicos in France in 1296, and in England the following year. Edward I retaliated by ordering judges to withdraw the protection of the courts from clergymen who declined to pay taxes, and at the same time he instructed sheriffs to seize and hold church lands. In France, Philip the Fair banned the export of currency. Thus the secular world responded with material measures to the spiritual threats of the clerical: it was a reminder that clergy needed royal justice as much as kings needed clerical absolution, and that the papacy could no more survive without French and English bullion shipped to Rome, than the crowns of England and France could govern without taxing the clergy. Boniface did not heed these warnings, and the contest with France came to a head. The Pope issued a series of bulls in France - Ausculta fili, addressed directly to the king; Super Petri solio, threatening excommunication; Salvator mundi, withdrawing all previous papal grants and favours; and Ante promotionem, ordering all French prelates to come to Rome for a council to preserve the liberties of the Church In 1302, Philip got unanimous support for his anti-papal policy from the French Estates-General. In April 1303, Boniface issued an ultimatum threatening excommunication and an interdict by September. In June, Philip had Boniface charged at the court of the Louvre with illegal election, simony, immorality, violence, irreligion and heresy, and the court gave the crown authority for the Pope to be seized. William of Nogaret, who had pressed the charges on Philip's behalf, arrested the Pope at Anagni on 7 September, the day before the ultimatum expired, using men drawn from the Pope's enemies in Rome and its neighbourhood. Boniface was soon released, but died in October. It was the end of the papal afflatus. The papacy had discovered, again, that secular power, however inferior, was necessary to the protection of the Holy See. Two years later, the papacy moved from the disorders of Rome to the tranquility and comfort of Avignon, under the umbrella of French power. There followed the 'Babylonian captivity', the Great Schism, the conciliar epoch and, in due course, the restoration of an independent papacy. But in the meantime the national, secular state had emerged, and the total Christian society had ceased to exist.
It may be asked: after the decisive defeat of papal pretensions by the secular monarchs, why did the clerical system, radiating from the papacy, continue to survive for so long? The answer is not simple. Of course, the system was inherently strong and ramifying. It was the only international system in Europe, with a centralized direction and a tentacle in every village. Its roots were very deep, and it dominated a huge area of human behaviour. By Boniface's time, the canonical system had already reached its full development -only details remained to be added - and it would have been exceedingly hard to dig out. It handled a lot of matters which the secular law and authority did not touch. The machinery to replace it was not then available, and would have had to be improvised. For this, and for a variety of other reasons, the kings were against change. So long as the papacy was prepared, in practice, to do a deal with them, they were content to leave the theoretical debate unresolved and unargued. On the whole, it was simpler and cheaper to deal direct with the papacy, than with an uncontrolled national clergy. On clerical taxation, which was what the kings cared about most, pope and king agreed to share the spoils, as they had over the appointment of bishops; and they came to the same agreement about lesser benefices. Of course the crown, increasingly, got the lion's share; but this would probably have happened anyway. The maintenance of the papal-dominated system of canon law enabled such transactions to be conducted with dignity and legality, in outward appearance at least. There was nothing Christian, or indeed religious, about such arrangements. It was in every respect morally and socially inferior to the Carolingian ideal of clerics and laymen, each in their allotted roles, working together to build an Augustinian earthly city on scriptural precepts. With the new system, in effect, the leading clerics and laymen conspired together to milk the Church largely for worldly purposes. All the possessing classes benefited, in one way or another. So long as the various crowns found it desirable to uphold the institutions and doctrines of the Church, and defend its property and privileges, there was not much possibility of change. In due course, and in certain areas, rulers were persuaded by reformers that it was their religious duty to amend matters; that was a different story.
Nevertheless, though the system endured, it lost its appeal to the popular imagination. In the Dark Ages, the Church had stood for everything that was progressive, enlightened and humane in Europe; it had made, as we have seen, an enormous material contribution to the resurrection of civilization from the ashes and the raising of standards. It had created a continent in (with all its imperfections) a benign image. In the eleventh century, even in the twelfth, the Church - by which we now mean essentially the clergy - still preserved its identification with ameliorative change. At certain levels, the Gregorian reforms were undoubtedly popular. Many different categories of people, fora variety of reasons, welcomed an alternative power to the crown or (more usually) a clerical counterpoise to the local secular lord. Then, between 1150 and 1250, a fundamental change took place. Royal justice improved and manorial courts slipped into the background. Clerical sources of income came to be seen as exactions, and clerical privileges as abuses. The Church, as a hierarchical institution, ceased to be regarded with affection and respect; as a powerful phenomenon, it continued to inspire awe and fear, but the obedience it received was tinged with a growing element of hostility.
Above all, the official Church began to be associated with financial exactions. We have hints of this even in the late twelfth century. Then, in the opening decades of the thirteenth, we have the first real evidence, at the lowest level, of resistance of payment of tithes; and, in more educated circles, of downright anti-clericalism. One such episode occurred in 1238, during the visit of a papal legate to
Oxford. It began amicably, with the student-clerks paying what was intended to be a courtesy-call at the legate's lodging. But there was a linguistic misunderstanding, and they were rudely refused admittance by the legate's Italian butler. Immediately, the atmosphere changed and latent hostility came to the surface. The students pushed their way in. A poor Irish chaplain, who happened to be begging at the back door, had a basin of scalding water flung in his face by the legate's brother. General fighting broke out, the clerks shouting: 'Where is that usurer, that simoniac, robber of revenues and insatiate of money who, perverting our king and subverting our kingdom, plunders us to fill strangers' coffers?' The legate had to flee for his life, and there were long and complicated legal consequences.
This kind of incident was unusual in the thirteenth century. The big change came in the next hundred years. Even around 1300 hardly anyone questioned either the spiritual supremacy of the Pope, or the validity of his legislative acts and appointments. By 1400 the papal plenitudo potestatis, and the whole medieval ecclesiastical system was being openly and repeatedly challenged. Of course the intensity and the subject matter of criticism varied from place to place. England, for instance, came of age linguistically and culturally in the fourteenth century, and an emergent xenophobia, force-fed by the war with France, identified the papacy and thus the Church as an international institution with the French cause. It was a commonplace to say: 'The Pope is French, but Jesus Christ is English.' On the other hand, the fourteenth century identification of the papacy with France did not make it any more popular with Frenchmen; on the contrary. The papacy never really recovered from the move to Avignon. It lost the magic of the imperial connection. Much more important, it was no longer associated with the radiating power of the dead apostle Peter. It is true that, by the fourteenth century, the cult of relics was very much on the decline - by the time the popes moved back to Rome it was virtually dead - or perhaps one should say that relics no longer inspired total belief and real fear, but rather appealed to the residual superstition of all. On the other hand, the popes in Rome were a metaphysical fact, on top of everything else; in Avignon, they were simply an institution.
In 1300, 200,000 people had come to Rome for the jubilee; Christians did not come to Avignon except on business. It worked far more efficiently than the old Roman curia. It was more centralized. Avignon generated more missionary activity than Rome, and a great deal more diplomacy. It was a brilliant court, with up to thirty cardinals in residence, each with his palace. But it was totally without a spiritual atmosphere. The English parliament officially termed it 'the sinful city of Avignon'. Its concerns were power, law and money. Petrarch wrote:
'Here reign the successors of the poor fishermen of Galilee. They have quite forgotten their origins ... Babylon, the home of all vices and misery ... there is no piety, no charity, no faith, no reverence, no fear of God, nothing holy, nothing just, nothing sacred. All you have ever heard or read of perfidy, deceit, hardness of pride, shamelessness and unrestrained debauch - in short every example of impiety and evil the world has to show you are collected here. ... Here one loses all good things, first liberty, then successively repose, happiness, faith, hope and charity.'
During the Avignon regime, the central machinery of the Church turned itself primarily into a money- raising organization. In France alone, there were twenty-three papal collectors, and their staffs, distributed through the thirteen archbishoprics; and in the Vatican Library today there survive twenty- two huge manuscript volumes containing petitions and letters concerning appointments settled by papal provisions, the principal source of papal wealth. The sources are really too fragmentary to make accurate estimates of what the Church as a whole, and the papacy in particular, received. In England, the clergy, with one per cent of the population, disposed of about twenty-five per cent of the gross national product. This was about average. In some parts of France and Germany the Church was wealthier and owned one- third to a half of all real estate. The papacy creamed off about ten per cent of the Church's income, in the form of annates; and it received huge sums direct from the public. In the popular mind, the Church was thought to be even wealthier than it actually was. In 1376, for instance, a House of Commons petition stated that sums received from the English clergy by the papacy in the form of annates amounted to five times the revenues of the English crown. This was manifestly absurd. What is clear is that by the beginning of the fifteenth century, the image of the Church was financial rather than spiritual. Adam of Usk, a case-hardened ecclesiastical lawyer from Wales, was nevertheless shocked by his first visit to Rome in c. 1415: 'At Rome everything is bought and sold. Benefices are given not for desert, but to the highest bidder. Everyone with money keeps it in the merchant's bank, to further his advancement. ... As, therefore, under the old dispensation, miracles ceased when the priests were corrupted by venality, so I fear it will come to pass under the new; the danger standeth daily knocking at the very doors of the church.'
On the whole, this type of criticism tended to come from the clergy. Laymen did not care how clerics got their appointments, provided they were decent men who attended to their duties. But there were certain exactions which affected all classes, and were deeply and increasingly resented. Most of these became obtrusive, and so came to be regarded as abuses, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Perhaps the worst was the mortuary, a clerical byproduct of the feudal heriot or death-duty. It may have been voluntary in origin, as so many of the payments to the Church were; or it may have been based on the presumption that the dead man had failed to pay all his tithes, so his second-best possession should go to the Church as compensation. It had no foundation in secular law. Indeed, it varied enormously. One common form was for the dead man's family to hand over his bed, or bedding, to the parish priest. This was causing resentment even by the beginning of the thirteenth century. Innocent in wrote to his French legates in 1204: 'Warn the clergy that they use no burdensome exaction and dishonourable importunity with regard to the bedding which is brought with the corpses to their churches; on the other hand, take care to induce the laity by diligent warning to maintain in these matters that laudable custom.' Why was it laudable? It would be hard to think of anything more calculated to scandalize than such a compulsory exaction from a bereaved family. What made it so odious was that it was applied to the very poor. The Abbot of Schwanheim could claim a heriot 'from any who had only so much land on his domain as he could set a three-legged stool upon'. On the Continent, certain abbeys could claim up to one-third of the goods of the dead man. There was nothing like this in England But the Vicar of Morstow claimed 'the best day-garment of each parishioner that dieth in the said parish'; and the Rector of Silverton 'the second-best possession or best'. Sometimes clerical landowners got a double death-duty, as lord and as rector; thus the Abbot of Gloucester Abbey got his tenants' 'best-beast as lord, and another as rector'. Mortuaries were taken on a wife's death, as well as a husband's; and if a husband died away from home, his estate was sometimes charged in two parishes. Sometimes, in one parish, both the rector and the vicar claimed.
Mortuaries were so much hated, and led to so much trouble, that secular authorities tried to ban them. But by the latter part of the medieval period the Church, as an organization, had become totally insensitive to this type of appeal; and it was imbued with the philosophy of canon law which tended to insist that to abandon a customary right might actually be sinful. Pierre Albert, Grand-Prior of Cluny, defending them at the Council of Basle, 1431-43, could not produce any intrinsic, scriptural or natural law justification, and fell back entirely on custom: 'And so this custom began as a lion-cub, which cometh forth at first as an abortion, and is afterwards quickened by his mother's licking ... this is quickened by an unbroken course of time and by consent, whether tacit or by the mere rendering and payment of the thing.' In fact, mortuaries were often refused; then the clergy might have taken them by force. This led to riots, as we know from reports to the authorities. Or a man might make transfers of property before death; but these were often invalidated by law (the Church had charge of wills). In Zurich, a man had to be able to walk without staff, crutches or help seven feet from his house to make a valid transfer. The most usual method of enforcement, however, was simply to refuse burial until the goods were handed over. Pierre Albert admitted this could be called simony, but added: 'In these cases, let the corpse first be buried, and then let an action be brought against the heirs'. The big-wigs of the Church were anxious to defend the custom not least because it was an important part of the income of the underpaid working clergy, who had no access to the pluralities system. As one sixteenth-century lawyer put it: 'Curates loved mortuaries better than their lives'; and 'therefore in many places there arose great division and grudge between [clergy and laity].' The abuse continued, even increased, right up to the Reformation. In 1515 Parliament petitioned Henry VIII that priests 'daily refuse to fetch and receive the corpses of such deceased persons ... but if some best jewel, garment, cloth or other best thing as aforesaid be given them'. Following a major scandal, 21 Henry VIII c.6( 1529) regulated mortuaries, and abolished them altogether for people dying with less than ten marks in movable goods; but trouble did not end until it was scrapped completely -There were few things within this realm that caused more variance', wrote an Elizabethan, 'among the people, than they did when [mortuaries] were suffered.'
Mortuaries led to rows with the clergy at every level of society. On the whole, townsmen were more likely to give trouble than peasants. It was the refusal of a Londoner to hand over his child's burial-robe, as mortuary, which led to the notorious 'murder in the Lollard's Tower' in 1515, a real harbinger of the English Reformation. Yet townsmen in the later Middle Ages were not exactly anti-Church, as such. They supported an enormous number of clergy -about twenty times as many, per head of population, as today. Most of these were paid by voluntary contributions or out of endowments. A survey of urban wills shows that wealthier townsmen, at least, left a huge percentage of their property for religious purposes or charities. And the sums they contributed to the building or rebuilding of their parish churches, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, were enormous. The great majority of extant English medieval churches, for instance, were rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, from about 1320 onwards - usually the naves, in contrast to the chancels, which were the responsibility of the rector. Nor did they spend their money simply on the stone fabric: parishioners installed glorious tie-beams, arch-beams, waggon-beams, coffered ceilings, angel-and-hammer beams, chancel and parclose screens, carved oak pulpits, lecterns, font-covers and pews, and reredoses and effigies of alabaster; and they presented pattens, chalices, vestments, altar-cloths, bells, crucifixes, lamps and censers in prodigious quantities, to judge only from those that have survived. It would be true to say that laymen in the towns and large villages spent more on building and adorning churches, in the later part of the Middle Ages, than the clergy. But the money was spent essentially on aspects of religion directly related to their own lives, and within a stone's throw of their houses and workshops: on the parish church or, even more, on thousands of chantry chapels and religious guilds to which they belonged (Norwich alone had 164 guilds in 1389). It could be called a selfish form of religion; indeed, the whole trend of Christianity in these centuries - led by the clergy as a caste - was in the direction of the pursuit of eternal self-interest. Clergy used their privileges, and laity used their money (when they had it) to buy the mechanical means to salvation. The idea of the anonymous Christian community, so very powerful in earlier times, was pushed into the background.
One outstanding example of this tendency was the construction, maintenance and functioning of the medieval cathedrals. There are a good many common illusions about these institutions. In the first place, they were not built by the clergy, or by the community, but by professional workmen, on a strict cash basis. This is made quite clear by surviving fabric-rolls and other documents. Where clergymen played a part, it was a matter of note: thus the Gloucester Chartulary records: 'In 1242 was completed the new vault over the nave of the church, not by the extraneous aid of professional workmen, as before, but by the vigorous hands of the monks who resided on the spot.' During the construction of the new choir at Lincoln, 1191-1200, the work of the lay master-mason, Geoffrey de Noiers, the Bishop, Hugh the Burgundian, 'oftentimes bore the hod-load of hewn stone or of building lime'. But these were exceptional cases. The bishop or chapter, or both, promoted the building scheme, and a member of the chapter was appointed custos operis or warden, but his duties were purely administrative. Elyas de Derham, who had been a master-mason, designer and Keeper of the Works for Henry in at Winchester, was later made canon of Salisbury and put in charge of the cathedral building there - the only case of a cathedral being built as a piece, in the space of one lifetime (twenty-five years); but even so, the cementarius, or master-mason, during most of the construction period was a professional layman, one Robertus. The master-mason was, in effect, the designer, builder and controller. Master Robert built St Albans, in the period following 1077; Master Andrew the nave of Old St Paul's, from 1127; William of Sens the choir of Canterbury, from 1174; William Ramsey worked on Canterbury and Lichfield in the second quarter of the fourteenth century; William of Colchester built the central tower of York, from 1410, and Thomas Mapilton worked on Westminster Abbey, 1423-34, and so on. Sometimes master- carpenters played key roles - the outstanding example being William Hurley, who built the famous Octagon at Ely in the 1320s. But the master-masons, who can be identified in about 300 cases, were almost always the men who mattered. They were grand figures. They travelled in style with a retinue, as we know from their expenses, and were sometimes granted manors, or exempted from jury-service or other irksome duties. It was not uncommon for them to own stone-quarries, and to serve as consultant- architects to a number of cathedrals and important ecclesiastical (and secular) fabrics. Such great figures, summoned from afar, might arouse local resentment: when Henry iv lent his royal master-mason to York about 1410, the locals 'conspired together to kill him and his assistant' - the assistant was actually slain.
Building was purely a secular operation. Especially at Exeter and York, the fabric-rolls furnish details over long periods (though there are important gaps). In England, except during the Norman period, when Saxon labour was conscripted (for instance at Durham), the workmen were all professionals, and had to join lodges. In many parts of central Europe and Spain conscript labour was used; and in England, too, craftsmen were conscripted, but only for work on royal foundations, and fortresses. There is no evidence that compulsion was applied to non-royal ecclesiastical buildings. And of course there was no question of voluntary unskilled labour- the guilds would not have allowed it. The cathedral chapters, or the monks, had to pay the going rates. It was not a labour of love. Indeed, constant and strenuous efforts were made to lay down rules and hours of work, and enforce them. This is attested by the survival - especially at Ely, Winchester and Gloucester - of thousands of 'banker-marks' on individual stones, which allowed masons to be identified and their work counted and checked. The 1370 fabric roll of York notes: 'All their times and hours shall be revealed by a bill, ordained therefore'; they were to be at work 'as early as they may see skillfully by daylight and they shall stand there truly working all day, as long as they may see skillfully for the work.' They got an hour at noon for a meal, and 'all their times and hours shall be revealed by a bell ordained therefore'; a slacker was 'chastised by abaiting of his payment'. This brief was laid down in 1344 after a report to the chapter revealed negligence, idleness and indiscipline, in which everyone from the master-mason and master-carpenter down was involved. The master admitted he had lost control; the men were unruly and insubordinate; there had been strikes among the labourers; timber, stone, lime and cement had been stolen; and much expensive damage had been caused by carelessness and incompetence.
The major cost items were wages, and the purchase and transportation of stone and timber. All this had to be paid for at market-prices. True, the crown sometimes helped by allowing bulk goods to travel without paying tolls. William I, a generous benefactor of the Church, gave Bishop Walkeleyn of Winchester permission to cut as much timber in the Forest of Hempage as his men could remove in four days and nights; he was furious when the bishop brought 'an innumerable troop' and denuded a large part of the forest. Such generosity became almost unknown in the later Middle Ages. Royal cash and resources went exclusively to foundations in the king's name - another example of the growing religious self-centredness. To build cathedrals meant raising enormous quantities of hard cash. Wealthy court bishops, like Stapleton of Exeter, or Wykeham of Winchester, provided large sums themselves. But most of the money was raised by the sale of spiritual privileges. The thirteenth century choir-arm of St Paul's was financed by forty-day indulgences, sold all over the country, and even in Wales. The 1349-50 fabric roll of Exeter itemized a payment of eight shillings for a scribe to write out 800 indulgences for sale to contributors to the building fund. Money could also be raised by financial penances; the system was critically examined in a book published in 1450 by Thomas Gascoigne, the fiercely orthodox but reformist Chancellor of Oxford. He says that in the desperate efforts to raise funds for York, largest and most expensive of all the English cathedrals, parishes were being 'farmed out' to professional fundraisers, who were taking a large cut of the proceeds. There were also straightforward begging-missions, run by quaestores, much used by York, and also open to abuse; and there were guilds of benefactors formed to raise regular sums - the members being compensated by privileges, exemptions, and so forth. The privileges, right to issue indulgences, and other spiritual knick-knacks had to be obtained in Rome (or Avignon) and likewise paid for. So the wheels of the Church went round. Nothing was for nothing. Even so, money to build often ran out; it is the chief reason why the cathedrals took so long to complete: a century for the nave of Old St Paul's, 150 years for the nave of Westminster Abbey; major construction was going on at York from 1220-1475, over 250 years, and at Lichfield from 1195-1350.
Anyway, what were cathedrals for? Originally they had been the only church of the diocese, or at any
rate the only one where all the sacraments could be administered. Then they tended to become, in addition, shrines for valuable (and money-raising) relics. Thomas Becket posthumously paid for much of the rebuilding of Canterbury in the later Middle Ages. The body of Edward II, brutally murdered, and in the eyes of many martyred, paid for the marvellous perpendicular choir at Gloucester Abbey. Among the most popular were Cuthbert at Durham, Etheldreda at Ely, William of Perth at Rochester, Swithun at Winchester and Wulfstan and Oswald at Worcester. A cathedral without a well-known saint was missing an important source of revenue; and for this reason efforts were made to secure from Rome the canonization of people buried within the fabric; but Rome had to be cajoled, and paid. Even so, there were shrines of many unofficial saints whose status had never been regularized by Rome - Bishop Button at Wells, for instance, who cured toothache, and in York Archibishop Richard Scrope, executed as a rebel. Almost any royal or princely person who came to a tragic end was liable to be venerated, irrespective of his actual merits: thus Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, executed by Edward II in 1322, attracted an enthusiastic cult in St Paul's until the king angrily had his remains removed.
These shrines were nearly always in the choir or sanctuary, which were barred from the rest of the cathedral by massive iron gates. They were only opened at stated times, when the public was admitted in groups on payment of a fee. Otherwise they never got beyond the nave. Indeed, it is hard to see the cathedrals as serving Christians as a whole. They were built essentially for the clergy and the upper classes, and to some extent for well-to-do townsmen. The choir-arm was a chapel reserved exclusively for the canons in a secular cathedral, or the convent in a monastic one. The laity had no part in the services, and indeed when they stood in the nave (which had no benches or chairs), the high altar would be obscured by the screen or pulpitum. Sometimes no nave was built at all, as at Beauvais. Usually, it formed a vast vestibule for the choir, used for professional purposes. It was not intended for lay worship except where, as in a few cathedrals, building it had involved knocking down a parish church. Then an altar would be set up and function. But most naves were big, empty and dirty places, not elaborately decorated like the 'clerical' part of the building. Often they were used for trade. In 1554, under 'Bloody' Mary, the City of London corporation forbade anyone to use the nave of St Paul's as a short cut to carry casks of beer, or loads of fruit and fish, from the river to the markets.
In some cases the public could get into the transepts. More often these and other parts of the cathedral were filled up by chantry chapels, paid for from the wills of wealthy people for the saying of daily masses for their souls, and to which only the donors' families were admitted. Chapels gradually occupied all the empty space, together with extra altars for the saying of masses for the dead - these, too, had to be paid for. From the fourteenth century, in fact, the cathedrals became an accumulation of chapels and altars under one roof for the endless round of soul-masses for lay and ecclesiastical benefactors. Even by the beginning of the thirteenth century, before commemorative masses became popular, Durham had accumulated over 7,000 a year; later they were reckoned in tens of thousands. From the thirteenth century, too, dates the practice of burying wealthy laymen and ecclesiastics within the fabric. Hitherto it had been rare, except for founders; even the early kings and queens of Kent were buried outside in the grounds of St Augustine's, Canterbury. Then, in 740, the papacy decreed that archbishops might be buried within their cathedral, and thereafter the rule was broadened until from about 1250 it was a matter of cash - thus the rich and well-born cluttered up the interior. Over this ocular assertion of the fact that money might count in the next world, as well as in this, soared the dramatic battlements of the edifice, the needs of stone architecture - stone progressively replaced timber - to a large extent dictating shape, while size became, as it were, an arrogant assertion of the power and distinctiveness of the clerical class, and of their lay benefactors whose bones were housed below. Vain gloriousness led to length in England (the nave of St Paul's was 585 feet long; Winchester 526), and height in France (beginning with Notre Dame, c. 1165, at 110 feet, then leaping up with each successive cathedral in the Isle de France - Chartres 114, Reims 125, Amiens 140, and culminating in Beauvais, 154). When, in the sixteenth century, relics were discredited and masses for the dead forbidden in northern Europe, the cathedrals lost much of their purpose; the radical reformers were puzzled what to do with them. No wonder; an analysis of the building, growth and functioning of the cathedrals explains many of the reasons why the Reformation occurred.
'Mechanical Christianity' as we may call it, was accordingly conducted, in the towns, primarily for the 'respectable' citizen, and more particularly for the well-to-do benefactor. What about the country? The overwhelming majority of parish churches, as such documents as Domesday Book indicate, were privately owned and expected to make a profit. Whether the peasantry were well served by priests depended very largely on the fertility of the soil and the general level of prosperity. Priests tended to concentrate in the towns or the wealthier country districts. In theory, every adult was expected to know the basic elements of the faith. An early Carolingian decree laid down: 'Let all men be compelled to learn the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, or profession of faith.' The sanctions for males were 'to be beaten or abstain from all drink except water', and for females 'stripes or fasting'. These orders could not be carried out, since the trained clergy were lacking or unwilling to live in country districts. Most country priests were ignorant men themselves, though in theory they had to be literate. This is a ground of bitter complaint by visiting and other dignitaries in every country throughout the Middle Ages. In 1222, out of seventeen priests serving livings held by the dean and chapter at Salisbury, five could not construe the first sentence of the first collect of the canon. Such examples are endless. Guillaume le Maire, Bishop of Angers in the early fourteenth century, complained that his priests included 'innumerable contemptible persons of abject life, utterly unworthy in learning and morals ... from whose execrable lives and pernicious ignorance infinite scandals arise, the church sacraments are despised by the laity, and in many districts the layfolk hold the priests as viler and more despicable than Jews.' This was a problem of poverty and education. The bishops might well complain: why did they not do anything? Selection and training of clergy was the bishop's responsibility; yet not one built a seminary throughout the Middle Ages - there was no such thing until the sixteenth century. Nor did any bishop, so far as we know, institute diocesian funds to raise the stipends of the poorer priests and so improve their 'abject life' - though such equalization funds had been used in the earliest Church.
The truth is that the Church tended to be hostile to the peasants. There were very few peasant saints. Medieval clerical writers emphasize the bestiality, violence and avarice of the peasant. We get few genuine glimpses of peasant life in the documents; most clerical critics dealt with popular stereotypes. Clericalism was increasingly an urban phenomenon in the later Middle Ages. It was rare to see a priest in the country districts. Joan of Arc came from a pious family; but it is interesting to observe in her deposition how infrequently the clergy impinged on her life. What the Church and peasant had most in common was devotion to relics. In the villages they were used for oath-taking and all kinds of purposes. And the peasants valued the church for its efforts to avert natural disasters. * Parish priests exorcized and cursed storms, and they tried to drive away swarms of locusts by excommunications and processions. In a monastic formulary dating from 1526-31, we find a service for banishing caterpillars and 'palmer worms' from the diocese of Troyes, on condition the peasants paid their tithes. Documents often refer to the excommunication (and hanging) of animals for antisocial offences. In 1531, a French canon lawyer, Chassenee, defended the practice in his De Excommunicatione Animalium Insectorum. He claimed it had often worked, citing eels expelled from lakes, sparrows from churches, and so on. Caterpillars and similar pests would laugh if proceeded against in a secular court; therefore they should be struck 'with the pain of anathema, which they fear more, as creatures obedient to the God who made them'. However, he added, the law should be observed, and an advocate appointed to plead their defence. In some cases, pieces of waste ground, to which they were sentenced to remove themselves, were provided.
* Peasants also benefited from feast-days, which grew more numerous throughout the Middle Ages. Alfred's law-code, c. 890, listed twelve days at Christmas, fourteen at Easter, a week in mid August, and three other days. These were 'to be given to all free men but not to slaves or unfree labourers'. By the twelfth century all agricultural workers were included, and got thirty-forty free days; manorial records show that the system was gradually enforced, though certain days were more holy than others, and more holy for some people than for others. The tendency was for the number of days to increase - first vigils were demanded, then octaves; and after the Black Death, when labour became scarcer, 'servants', who hitherto had not been paid on most or all of the holy-days, now had to be paid for some and eventually for almost all. The system was enormously complicated and bore little or no relation to the needs of agriculture: so much for the theory that Christian feasts merely reproduced immemorial pagan ones. See Barbara Harvey, 'Works and Festa Ferianda in Medieval England', Journal of Ecclesiastical History (1972). The idea of workers' holy-days persisted after the Reformation and re- emerged in the form of the 'Grand National Holiday', on which the Quaker William Benbow, in 1832, based the first theory of the General Strike. See Patrick Renshaw, The General Strike (London, 1975).
Above all, however, what the peasant wanted from the Church was some hope of salvation. This was the overwhelming reason why Christianity replaced paganism: it had a very clear-cut theory of what happened after death, and of how eternal happiness could be gained. The appeal was to all classes: it was the one thing which enabled the Church to hold society together. Yet this aspect of Christianity, too, was subtly changed over the centuries, and balanced in favour of the possessing classes: indeed, it became the central feature of mechanical religion. As we have seen, baptism was originally regarded as the prelude to an imminent parousia. Only gradually, as the parousia receded, did the Church have to grapple with the problem of sin after baptism, and the second (or third and subsequent) repentance.
Moreover, it is fair to say that the problem was never satisfactorily resolved. It was agreed that a postbaptismal sin had to be confessed in some form. Ambrose thought it might be done publicly, to a priest, or privately to oneself. If confession took place to a priest, he would try to intercede with God; but the confessors (here Ambrose quoted Origen) had no power to do anything except pray and advise. The Church's actual formularies were framed only for public confession, and penance. But an exception was introduced in the case of adulteresses, who might risk their lives if they confessed publicly; and these exceptions, or concessions, multiplied. In 459, Leo I forbade reading confessions in public; he said it sufficed to confess to God, and then to a priest or bishop, who would pray for the sinner. By the time of Gregory the Great it was accepted that confession was necessary for the remission of sin, and that it was in sacerdotal hands; but it was apparently accompanied by a public ceremony. Auricular confession, in its mature form, was probably a byproduct of the conversion of the Germanic tribes; it was established much more slowly in southern Europe. Of course most people preferred it to public humiliation; the chief brake on its expansion was the shortage of priests. The Council of Chalons, 813, laid down that confessions in private to God or to a priest were equally effective; and delayed, or death-bed, confessions were popular - as baptism had once been. Auricular confession as a standard, and as a sacrament, developed pari passu with papal and clericalist theory in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, and was clearly connected with them. The first formulation of the sacramental basis was by the Paris schoolmen, especially by Peter Lombard, who relied on a forged Augustinian tract (Augustine did not in fact deal with the problem). Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries played a major role in the evolution of the related 'Power of the Keys' theory. The salient forgery was in the Capitularies of Benedict the Levite, a supposed document of Clement I, reciting his ordination as Bishop of Rome, in which Peter formally transmitted to him the power of the keys; Peter was made to say that bishops were the keys of the Church since they have the power to open and close the gates of Heaven. Hence, in the twelfth century, confession to a priest in private was the only form still used in the West, except in certain monasteries where the earlier tradition of public confession lingered on for a time. The Council of Paris, 1198, published the first Synodical code of instructions for confessors; and at the Lateran Council in 1216 Innocent in made auricular confession compulsory for all adult Christians. There remained an unresolved argument throughout the Middle Ages whether confession was a human or divine institution; then, in the sixteenth century, the denial of the Reformers that it was a sacrament at all hardened opinion among the papalists, and the Council of Trent declared it divine.
Innocent ill's insistence on confession to a priest, in private, undoubtedly sprang from his resolve to fight deviation and heresy by all means available. It enabled the Church to be far more flexible in its tactics, and to adapt them to particular problems, places and men. And, whereas public confession was a form of rude democracy, the carefully selected confessor underpinned the hierarchy of society. Confessing a king, a duke or an archbishop was a highly skilled clerical trade, as many manuals survive to testify - they give us, among other things, revealing insights into medieval political theory. The development of the 'private confessor' was yet one more indication that, in the eyes of the Church, Christians were not necessarily equal even in spiritual matters.
The principle tended to be extended to penance also; or, more particularly, to the methods of performing it. The Christian promise of salvation, so hugely attractive to the Mediterranean world and, later, to the northern barbarians, was balanced by a horrifying theory of the alternative for sinners. The existence of Hell, as some of the early Fathers had argued, helped to justify Heaven; at any rate, it seemed to unsophisticated minds to make salvation seem more credible. There was never absolute agreement about how many would be saved. Origen had thought it possible all might, in the end, be redeemed; but this opinion was condemned by a sixth-century council and the tendency in the Dark Ages was to reduce the possibilities sharply. By the thirteenth century, official opinion had stabilized: 'few', thought Aquinas, would be saved, and 'very many' damned; most later medieval preachers put the saved as one in 1,000 or even one in 10,000. Hence, with the development of Hell-theory and the paucity of the saved, the difficulty of obtaining full remission for sin naturally increased. Dark Age penances were almost incredibly arduous. Like secular crimes, they were based on the principle of compensation - not to the victim, however, but to God. And how could an outraged God be compensated in full? The only way to do it was to inflate the idea of self-denial. Thus most early penances centered on endless periods of fasting. Wulfstan of York refers to one man who was sentenced to fast, barefoot, on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, for the rest of his life, to wear only a woolen garment, and to have only three haircuts a year. Fasting was often accompanied by compulsory pilgrimages, or visits to large numbers of shrines. Thus parricide - quite a common crime in the Dark Ages - was punished by exile: the penitent, bound in chains, had to go on pilgrimage until the chains were so worn that they fell off.
There were many practical problems connected with penance. Custom varied enormously. Written penitentiaries disagreed wildly, and rival experts heaped abuse on each other. Peter Damian was particularly violent in his criticism of confessors who took sodomy lightly; he thought the eighth-century penitentiary of Archbishop Egbert of York, standard in England, composed of 'theatrical ravings', 'the incantations of the devil', and 'a monster created by man, with the head of a horse and hooves of a goat'. Then, too, many penances were almost impossible to perform. The more sincere the repentance, the more seriously the penitent would take the task imposed on him; often a man might spend the rest of his life in terror at failure. And what if he died before the penance was over? The Church only slowly adopted the theory of purgatory to meet this difficulty.
The harsh, even cruel, Dark Age practice of inordinate penance not only gave credibility to the idea of salvation; in a way, it gave credibility to the whole of Christian society. The brutal scourging of a naked king or archbishop was exciting evidence of spiritual equality before God, and man. But once the clerical experts found mechanical means to erode the full penitential rigours, a yawning hole began to appear in the fabric of Christian conviction. Such means were all too easily discovered: the real evil of canon law was that it constantly chipped away - rather like modern tax-lawyers - at the egalitarian provisions in Christianity. It rebuilt hierarchies and pyramids on democratic spiritual foundations, and introduced the cash nexus into the supposed world to come. The canon lawyer was always engaged in a struggle with Death the Leveller, and always beat him - at least to the satisfaction of the papal curia.
It is in the seventh century that we first hear of men undertaking to perform the penances of others, in return for payment. This was forbidden; indeed, at first the Church opposed any form of commutation. The first loop-hole allowed was vicarious penance without pay. A man might perform another's penance from motives of love (or fear; or hope of future favour). Thus we find an early case where a powerful man got through a seven-year fasting penance in three days with the help of 840 followers. And once vicarial penance in any form was admitted, it proved impossible to keep money out of it. Was not almsgiving a form of penance? There, it was argued, the payment was to God, or to God's servants to perform God's purposes, and could not, therefore, be reprehensible. The Church at first opposed penitential alms-giving, too, as an easy way to Heaven for the rich man. But it soon found justificatory texts: The ransom of a man's life are his riches' (Proverbs, 13:8); and 'Make unto yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.' This last passage was particularly useful; it might almost have been framed by an ingenious canon lawyer for his professional purposes. Thus the penitential system was quite quickly transformed into a means whereby the wealth of the sinful rich could be diverted into ecclesiastical endowments. An early case was that of the Anglo-Saxon Wulfin, who slew six priests; he went on a penitential trip to Rome, and was there told to endow a foundation for seven monks to pray for him for ever. Another case, from the tenth century, was Eadwulf, King Edgar's Chancellor. He loved his little son so much that he had him sleep between himself and his wife; one night, both were drunk and the son was suffocated. Eadwulf proposed to walk to Rome as a barefoot pilgrim; but he was told to repair a church instead.
The idea of ecclesiastical foundations as atonement for grievous sin became a striking feature of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries. It explains why so many abbeys and priories were endowed by wicked men. Thus a period of pillage and lawlessness might also be characterized by a luxuriant crop of new monasteries, like the England of Stephen's reign. The Cistercians were outstanding beneficiaries of this syndrome. A robber-baron might also, it is true, have to perform a physical penance himself; but we hear less and less of such after the twelfth century. The mechanical process had taken over. And, of course, its forms proliferated. In 1095, Urban II, propagating the First Crusade, laid it down that a crusade to the Holy Land was a substitute for any other penance, and entailed complete remission of sin. This, of course, involved an actual and hazardous crusade, and the privilege, or indulgence, was hedged about with careful qualifications and terrific penalties if a man reneged. Throughout the twelfth century, crusading was the only source of indulgences, except in rare individual cases. But of course it was always these rare individual cases (that is, the rich, the well placed, the smart cleric) which shipwrecked the principle. Early in the thirteenth century, Innocent in extended crusader indulgences to those who helped merely with money and advice. Fifty years later, Innocent iv awarded indulgences without any conditions of crusader service, naturally only in special circumstances. By the end of the thirteenth century, indulgences were being granted to secular princes for political reasons. Soon after, individuals were allowed to buy plenary indulgences from their confessors on their death-beds; this meant they could enter Heaven immediately, provided they died in a state of grace, immediately after full confession. In the first six months of 1344, Clement vi granted this privilege to two hundred people in England alone; it cost them less than ten shillings each. The Pope justified this by saying: 'A pontiff should make his subjects happy.' By this time, the idea had already been extended to boost the pilgrimage trade to Rome. Boniface VIII gave a plenary indulgence to all confessed sinners who, in the course of the jubilee year 1300, and every hundredth year in future, visited the churches of the Holy Apostles in Rome. In 1343, Clement vi reduced the period to every fifty years, remarking: 'One drop of Christ's blood would have sufficed for the redemption of the whole human race. Out of the abundant superfluity of Christ's sacrifice, there has come a treasure which is not to be hidden in a napkin or buried in a field, but to be used. This treasure has been committed by God to his vicars on earth.' The period was reduced to a third of a century in 1389, to a quarter in 1470, and, from about 1400, extended to many local churches on special occasions.
At this point the dam burst, and indulgences were sold on almost any ecclesiastical occasion for quite trivial sums; or, indeed, given away by indulgent or emotional popes. We have an eye-witness account
of an occasion in 1476, when Sixtus iv, on the spur of the moment, gave plenaries to the Franciscan nuns of Foligno every time they confessed their sins. This, of course, was to destroy the idea of physical penance absolutely, and for ever. The cardinals who were with the Pope clamoured for the privilege too; and he generously awarded it. By this time, inflation was bringing the system into disrepute. It had already completely devalued the Roman jubilees. It is significant that rich men continued to endow expensive chantries, thus ensuring that prayers and masses were said perpetually for their souls, although the easy availability of plenary indulgences should have made such largesse unnecessary. Here, of course, the class-wealth factor came in again. Indulgences lost their value once they became generally available to the poor; a man's road to salvation became more sure if he paid for hundreds, or thousands of masses, or better still if he invested his wealth to enable faithful monks to pray for him as long as the world should last. Thus the mechanical system of religion projected into eternity all the materialist divisions of the transient world.
Yet it would be wrong to categorize the medieval centuries as a slow descent into purely automatic forms of religious life. Christianity retained an astonishing dynamic, and great powers of spontaneous expression; the theological wisdom of Christ, in providing a whole series of matrices for future experiment, was demonstrated again and again as new varieties of Christian action came into existence, flourished and declined. But as always there was tension between such innovations and the existing order; indeed, as the claims of the clerical caste expanded, and as canon law, which underwrote them, became more magisterial, containing the religious impulse within the ecclesiastical system became progressively more difficult. Certainly the Church tried, creating new institutions to give orthodox vent to every form of religious experience. The traditional way had been through the monastic life, the retreat from the world. We have seen how the Benedictine system had changed this impulse into a vast and highly productive social instrument, which became one of the pillars of the Dark Age culture and economy: monasticism and the Church were almost coextensive. So successful was the Benedictine rule that all other forms of monasticism were absorbed into it; by 1050 it was the norm.
Thereafter, however, and in conjunction with the expansion of the clerical class, literacy, population, wealth, towns and social complexity, new forms of the regular religious life came into existence. The Cistercians, as we have seen, were in part a return to primitive Benedictine severity, in part a development of monastic economic techniques. About the same time emerged the regular canons of St Augustine, who operated in the new suburbs which had grown up around the walled cities of the Dark Ages: they lived in small, modest houses, on endowments a third the size of a Benedictine - it cost £3 a year to maintain an Austin canon, £10 at least for a Benedictine. They ran urban schools, leper-houses, hospitals, infirmaries and burial grounds. They served as confessors, chaplains and routine preachers; they baptized and said masses for the dead. They were ubiquitous and masters of all clerical trades, and flourished in enormous numbers; by the thirteenth century there were probably more Augustinian houses, albeit most of them small, than those of any other order. Early in the thirteenth century they were joined by the two chief orders of friars, the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Both took vows of poverty and both, especially the Franciscans, claimed to live off what they could beg. But the Dominicans, like the Austin canons, were middle class (sometimes upper class) and highly literate; their main function was to provide efficient and orthodox preachers, who could be rapidly deployed in an area infected with heresy. The Franciscans were the only religious order recruited predominantly from the lower classes, and for a long time they had a high proportion of laymen (and illiterates). The friars were essentially urban; they were most prolific in southern France, Spain and Italy; but there were friaries wherever towns existed. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Dominicans had 600 houses, with a total of 12,000 friars, and the Franciscans 1,400 houses and 28,000 friars.
Altogether, by this date, there were eight chief types of religious order, and about a score of sub-types. Most of them had corresponding organizations for women. About one-fifth of all the wealth of society passed through their hands. Much of it, of course, went back into society. They performed a wide variety of services, many of them free. And collectively they provided pious Christians with the chance to pursue almost every kind of religious life. They should have been an essential element in the strength of Christianity as the established, compulsory religion, and in the reputation of the clergy as a privileged class. In fact by the fourteenth century they were neither. On the contrary: at best they were a negative quantity, at worst an embarrassment, even a scandal. Why?
In theory, discipline in all the religious houses, even the least rigorous, was very strict. The gospel of work was paramount; the time of the inmates was provided for in great detail; and there was ample provision for inspection and visitation. If anything, most rules were neurotically oppressive. There was a convention that monks, even in private, should not do anything to offend the sensitive tastes of the angels, believed to be very elegant beings. Hugh of St Victor, in his Rules for Novices, forbids listening with the mouth open, moving the tongue round the lips while working, gesturing, raising the eyebrows while speaking, rolling eyeballs, tossing the head, shaking the hair, smoothing garments, moving the feet unnecessarily, twisting the neck, pulling faces, grinning, wrinkling the nostrils and 'all contortions of the lips which disfigure the comeliness of a man's face and the decency of discipline'. Again, for nuns, their bodily posture, for almost any activity, was laid down in detail. Both monks and nuns were scourged for comparatively minor faults, especially for murmuring at correction. For the Brigittine nuns of Syon in Middlesex, corporal punishment was mandatory for any fault, however venial, which a nun failed to report herself, and which was later noted. Five lashes was the norm, 'but if the default be of the more grievous kind, or she or they show any token of rebellion, the discipliners shall not cease till the abbess chargeth them to cease'. From Syon, too, we have a table of signs for both the sisters and brothers (who lived in separate establishments) which indicates that the rules of silence were enforced. But when the rules multiplied, spirit tended to fly out of the cloister; medieval man was superbly gifted at imposing rules on himself and then defeating their purpose. Giraldus Cambrensis noted, c. 1180, that the Canterbury monks were 'so profuse in their gesticulations of fingers and hands and arms, and in the whisperings whereby they avoided open speech, wherein all showed a most unedifying levity and license', that they looked like 'a company of actors and buffoons'. He thought it would have been better 'to speak modestly in plain human speech than to use such a dumb garrulity of frivolous signs and hissings'.
This is but a tiny example of the contempt which familiarity with the sacred inevitably breeds, and which is inseparable from the religious life. But the root causes of the monastic failure went deeper, and were economic and social. In northern and central Europe, where the Benedictines were strongest and wealthiest, and where the monks' economic role was most important, they were fully integrated into the tenurial system. The abbot was, and had to behave as, a pillar of feudal society. The big abbeys were nearly always on royal progress-routes, and had to entertain the kings and their courts; later, parliaments or estates-general. Abbots nearly always came from the higher social classes. By the twelfth century they already had their separate establishments, staff and buildings (especially kitchen), from which they dispensed large-scale hospitality to the rich. They were, in fact, in charge of something which was a combination of a luxury hotel and a cultural centre. Of course this role was not, initially, of their choosing. But use by governments of Benedictine abbeys (especially royal foundations) for state purposes goes back to a very early date. Nor did the reformed papacy make any attempt to change the system; on the contrary, the papacy developed its own forms of exploitation, chiefly by forcing the abbots-elect to come to Rome for confirmation. Thomas of Walsingham complains of 'horrible expenses', 'lavish presents' and 'greasing the palm of the examiners' - that is, papal officials who scrutinized the abbot's credentials. Many detailed lists of curial exactions survive. The new Abbot of St Albans in 1302, John iv, paid 'to the Lord Pope, for a private visitation, 3,000 florins, or 1,250 marks sterling; fora public visitation 1,008 marks sterling. .., Item, by the hand of Corsini in the matter of obtaining the bulls, and for writing the bulls for the first time, 63 gros tournois; to Master Blondino, who corrected the annulled letter, 2 florins; to the scribe, for the second time, 60 gros tournois; to Master P., that they might be sooner enregistered, 4 gros tournois; for three supplicatory letters, 65 gros tournois; to the clerks who sealed the bulls, 12 florins and 2 gros tournois - ' And so on. The total came to over £1,700; and just over seven years later John died, and his successor had to produce another £1,000, plus the first-fruits. In due course, St Albans took out an insurance-policy with Rome, paying twenty marks a year instead; and in the fifteenth century they composed with a capital sum. However, the exactions of Rome did not prevent newly elected heads of houses from celebrating themselves. All the higher clergy (especially bishops) had monstrous installation feasts in the later Middle Ages. When the Prior of Canterbury was installed in 1309, there were 6,000 guests, who consumed 53 quarters of wheat, 58 of malt, 11 tuns of wine, 36 oxen, 100 hogs, 200 piglets, 200 sheep, 1,000 geese, 793 capons, hens and pullets, 24 swans, 600 rabbits, 16 shields of brawn, 9,600 eggs and so on, at a cost of £287. From the twelfth century abbots were under fire for living like great territorial magnates. In particular, critics objected to their hunting, which was, above any other activity, the hallmark of upper-class status and behaviour. At the Fourth Lateran Council, in Canon 15, Innocent in laid down: 'We forbid hunting to the whole clergy. Therefore let them not presume to keep hounds or hawks.' This injunction, often repeated, was totally ineffective. Abbots argued that, if they had to entertain the great, they had to keep up the hunting. William Clown, Augustinian abbot of Leicester, was Edward III's favourite hunting companion (and the model for Chaucer's sporting monk); Edward visited him once a year in what is now the Quorn country where he ran a superlative pack of greyhounds for harrying. When criticized, Clown replied that he owed it to his house to keep in with the mighty. Abbot Littlington of Westminster also kept greyhounds, and in 1368 offered the waxen image of a falcon at the altar for the recovery of his best hawk. Bishops charged with visiting monastic houses made little attempt to correct this abuse. Indeed, if the abbey was in good country, they took the opportunity to hunt themselves. Some bishops and abbots conscientiously refrained from hunting; virtually all, as members of the possessing class, upheld the hunting laws, paradigms of the social system, in all their severity. In 1376, for instance, we find Thomas Hatfield, Bishop of Durham, on behalf of his friend Sir Philip Neville, ordering all clergy in his diocese to pronounce sentences of excommunication against those who had stolen Sir Philip's favourite hawk; and two years later he excommunicated the 'sons of iniquity, name unknown,' who 'to the grievous peril of their souls ... have stealthily abstracted from our forest of Weardale certain birds called Merlin-hawks in the vulgar tongue'. If the bishops would not enforce the canons, who would?
By the thirteenth century, Benedictine abbeys had virtually ceased to be spiritual institutions. They had become collegiate sinecures reserved very largely for members of the upper classes. The abbot and his expenses took up about half the revenue; sometimes much more - at St Gallen in 1275 he took 900 marks out of 1042. New endowments had contracted sharply in the twelfth century. The abbeys, by and large, had now lost their pioneering economic role, and their incomes remained static. Hence there was a contraction in the numbers of monks. Christ Church, Canterbury, which had 120 monks in 1120, had less than 80 in 1207. The big German abbeys fell even more steeply, Fulda from 200 in the tenth century to 20-30 in the thirteenth and fourteenth; St Gallen and Reichenau from 100 to 10, or less. At the last, Benedict xii complained that 'none are received as monks unless they are of noble birth on both sides of the family'. Of course such aspirants brought 'dowries' with them. A place in a 'good' Benedictine monastery became very hard to get. For anyone outside the nobility it needed contacts, push and money. Full Benedictine monks were hardly ever working-class, and rarely middle-class, in the later Middle Ages. Numbers were kept low deliberately.
Besides Canterbury, at least three other Benedictine houses had over 100 monks in the early twelfth century; by around 1500, Canterbury was still the largest with 70, but the six next largest had 60 or less - three under 50. Evesham, which had 67 in 1086, fell to 38 in 1416, and had 33 at the Dissolution.
These monks had their own rooms, offices and servants. They lived like university dons or estate administrators. They hardly ever did manual work, and by the thirteenth century they found it increasingly difficult to keep up the full routine of services: there were not enough monks, and they had more mundane things to do. Attempts at reform, sometimes vigorous, came to grief on the fact that the Benedictine monastery had changed completely as an economic and social (and therefore spiritual) institution. There is a very full account of Mont St Michel, part of a survey of monastic property undertaken by Benedict xii in 1338. By this time the monks had moved out of highly concentrated domanial farming and were merely administering properties as rentiers. They might be busy, but they had lost their role. Of the ninety monks, fifty were scattered, usually in twos, to look after twenty-two priory estates. They lived like celibate country gentry, though comparatively cheaply, costing £40 a year each. The bulk of the monastic income, totaling £9,000 a year, went on the splendour and hospitality of the main house - including £1,700 on food, £500 on clothing, £460 on repairs, £500 on taxes, £300 on lawsuits and £120 on fuel. The largest single item was wine: £2,200.
By this time, the Benedictine ideal had disappeared almost entirely. Monks had private rooms, the dormitories having been partitioned. They took their meals in their rooms, the food being brought from the kitchens by the abbey servants. They entertained. They were paid stipends. Rules about silence and diet had virtually disappeared. They took holidays with pay at one of the abbot's country houses; or they went to stay with families and friends. Most of them were unenterprising, upper-class parasites. It was almost impossible to reform them effectively. As Benedict xii had noted, 'because of the power of their relatives, these monks cannot be restrained from unlawful acts, nor can they be compelled to observe the rules of the order'. In fact some very determined people did try and impose reforms. In 1421 Henry V proposed to end separate establishments for abbots, all excessive display, bright or rich clothes, long holidays, meat-eating and extravagant meals, private rooms for eating and sleeping, and all contact with women; and he laid down strict limits on money payments and visits to relatives and friends. Nothing came of this reform. The bishops lacked the power to impose radical changes, and were scared of getting involved in expensive lawsuits. The abbots had long since lost the authority needed to effect internal reform. We have a revealing glimpse of what happened at Thornton, in 1440, following a visitation by the reforming Bishop of Lincoln, Williams Alnwick: 'A discussion was held in chapter among them all concerning defaults that should be reformed ... but when some complained of certain things they were immediately met by others with terrible retorts, and the abbot said, clasping his hands, "Woe to me! What shall I do? I am undone"; and had he not been hindered and kept back by force, he would have rushed away from the chapter-house like a madman.'
Nunneries presented an even bigger problem in some ways. Many of them were very strict. But the most lax were also the most aristocratic. Widows and virgins from the upper classes were put there for a variety of non-religious reasons, and did not see why they should sacrifice any of the comforts to which they were accustomed. This could not be prevented, in practice, provided the endowment would stand it; more serious, from the authorities' point of view, was the habit of well-born nuns of breaking bounds. English bishops, for instance, spent over two hundred years trying in vain to keep nuns within their cloisters; they were still hard at it when Henry VIII dissolved the lot. Celibate upper-class women, living communally, and with too little to occupy them, tended to become eccentric and very difficult to control. There is a note of exasperation in the letter the great William of Wykeham addressed to the Abbess of Romsey in 1387: ' ... we strictly forbid you all and several ... that ye presume henceforth to bring to church no birds, hounds, rabbits or other frivolous things that promote indiscipline ... through hunting dogs and other hounds abiding within your monastic precincts, the alms that should be given the poor are devoured and the church and cloisters ... foully defiled ... and through their inordinate noises divine service is frequently troubled ... we strictly command and enjoin you, Lady Abbess, to remove the dogs altogether.'
Nuns, however, often defied bishops, even bishops backed up by the secular authorities. When a bishop of Lincoln deposited a papal disciplinary bull at one of the nunneries in his diocese, the nuns ran after him to the gate, threw it at his head, and said they would never observe it. Johann Busch, the great Augustinian reformer, who held a commission from the Council of Basle to tackle recalcitrant nuns and monks, left a graphic description of his battle with the nuns of Wennigsen, near Hanover, in the mid fifteenth century. He says they had abandoned poverty, chastity and obedience, apparently with the connivance of the Bishop of Minden; but when, accompanied by armed local officials, he read out his disciplinary charge to them 'the nuns laid forthwith with one accord flat on the choir pavement, with arms and legs outstretched in the form of a cross and chanted at the top of their voices, from beginning to end, the antiphon In the Midst of Life We are in Death.' The object of this performance of part of the burial service was to invoke an evil death on the intruders. Busch had to use physical violence before the nuns submitted; and he came across similar opposition to reform in seven out of twenty-four nunneries in this diocese.
Of the new types of religious organization developed in the central Middle Ages, few were making a positive contribution to Christian standards and morale by the fifteenth century. The Cistercians had abandoned their pioneering agricultural role by the end of the thirteenth century. Their numbers declined; those that remained were mostly administrators and rent-collectors. The barriers they had erected against the luxuries which inevitably crept into the lives of monks who belonged to a well- endowed order were progressively dismantled. Wine was administered first to the sick; then to all on special feast-days; then on Sundays; then on Tuesdays and Thursday as well; then daily; then the ration was increased to a pint. And so on. The Cistercians were even more aristocratic than the Benedictines. Such 'country' orders were disliked by middle-class townsmen. But then the townsmen grew to view the urban orders, too, with suspicion. The Franciscans, in theory at least, clung to their vows of poverty. But the laymen in their ranks were soon eliminated. In 1239, the last lay general, Brother Elias, was deposed, accused of promoting laymen to positions of authority; three years later a new constitution was adopted which made the order a bastion of clericalism. The Dominicans, for their part, took over the routine conduct of the Church's anti-heretical machinery, especially the inquisition. They also invaded the universities, which in the thirteenth century replaced monasteries as the centres of western culture. The Franciscans followed suit. Soon the two were bitter rivals for dominance of the university scene, supplying between ten and fifteen per cent of the total university population at Paris and Oxford, for instance. They changed the universities from training-grounds for lawyers and financial administrators into centres of theology and philosophy. Both the orders were prepared to finance the university careers of clever recruits. Hence many scholars found it convenient to abandon the clerical rat-race for benefices, and join the friars - the scientist Roger Bacon, and the theologian Alexander of Hales being cases in point. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries most of the great university names were friars - Albertus Magnus. Aquinas and Eckhart among the Dominicans, Bonaventura, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham among the Franciscans. None of this was relevant to the original purpose of the founders. But it cost a great deal of money. Hence both orders, but especially the Franciscans, acquired reputations for sharp-dealing. Friars were supposed to be quite unscrupulous in matters of wills and legacies and in persuading the gullible sons of the rich to join them. One might say that the late-medieval layman tended to regard monks as idle and friars as con-men.
There were exceptions. The Brigittine nuns retained a high reputation. The Carthusians, one of the strictest enclosed orders, were rarely criticized for laxity. It is significant that such groups were the only ones to resist dissolution during the Protestant Reformation. The rest settled, often gratefully, for liberty and pensions. The truth is, the system of regular clergy had grown almost beyond reform, except of the most drastic nature. Far too many men and women took vows for non-spiritual reasons, or without forethought of the consequences. And vows, once taken, were extraordinarily difficult to get out of, unless one had high contacts or great wealth. Thus a high proportion of the late medieval regulars were reluctant saints whose chief object was to make their lives as comfortable as possible. One cannot reform men (or women) into piety against their will. Without the voluntary principle, the monastic movement was bound to become an embarrassment to Christianity. And then there were far too many houses, some too poor, others too rich. Rationalizing them would have involved prodigies of litigation; only the papacy could have done it without using force. The popes should have dissolved the main orders in the fourteenth century and reallocated their resources to new purposes. Instead, they milked them financially - always a temptation. They did point the way, however. Early in the fourteenth century the papacy, at the behest of the French crown, dissolved the Knights Templars. The lesson was not forgotten. During the Hundred Years' War the English crown seized the so-called alien priories - offshoots in England of French abbeys - on patriotic grounds. Legal devices were also developed within the Church for winding up groups of ecclesiastical foundations to form new and more promising ones. Cardinal Wolsey, for instance, was an adept at this type of canonical operation; and one of the legal experts he employed on it was Thomas Cromwell, who provided similar services, though on a much more extensive scale, to Henry VIII. Thus monastic dissolutions during the sixteenth-century Reformation evolved from established procedures within the Church, and were later employed by Catholic monarchs (in Austria for instance) in the eighteenth century. The monastic system, and its urban adaptations, had played an enormously important role from the sixth to the twelfth centuries; but it never recovered its pristine spirit until after radical reformation, which in some Catholic countries was delayed until the nineteenth century; and even then it survived only on a much reduced scale, as a small minority movement within the more conservative Christian communities. As a major element in western society and economy it had had its day, like, for instance, domaine farming and chain-mail armour.
What must strike the historian as curious is that neither western nor eastern Christianity developed missionary orders. Until the sixteenth century, Christian enthusiasm, which took so many other forms, was never institutionally directed into this channel. Christianity remained a Universalist religion. But its proselytizing spirit expressed itself throughout the Middle Ages in various forms of violence. The crusades were not missionary ventures but wars of conquest and primitive experiments in colonization; and the only specific Christian institutions they produced, the three knightly orders, were military.
This stress on violence was particularly marked in the West. Eastern Christians tended to follow the teachings of St Basil, who regarded war as shameful. This was in the original Christian tradition: violence was abhorrent to the early Christians, who preferred death to resistance; and Paul, attempting to interpret Christ, did not even try to construct a case for the legitimate use of force. Again, it was St Augustine who gave western Christianity the fatal twist in this direction. As always, in his deep pessimism, he was concerned to take society as he found it and attempt to reconcile its vices with Christian endeavour. Men fought; had always fought; therefore war had a place in the Christian pattern of behaviour, to be determined by the moral theologians. In Augustine's view, war might always be waged, provided it was done so by the command of God. This formulation of the problem was doubly dangerous. Not only did it allow the existence of the 'just' war, which became a commonplace of Christian moral theology; but it discredited the pacifist, whose refusal to fight a war defined as 'just' by the ecclesiastical authorities became a defiance of divine commands. Thus the modern imprisonment of the conscientious objector is deeply rooted in standard Christian dogma. So is the anomaly of two Christian states each fighting a 'just' war against each other. What made the Augustinian teaching even more corrupting was the association in his mind between 'war by divine command' and the related effort to convert the heathen and destroy the heretic - his 'compel them to come in' syndrome. Not only could violence be justified: it was particularly meritorious when directed against those who held other religious beliefs (or none).
The Dark Age church merely developed Augustine's teaching. Leo iv said that anyone dying in battle for the defence of the Church would receive a heavenly reward; John vai thought that such a person would even rank as a martyr. Nicholas I added that even those under sentence of excommunication, or other church punishment, could bear arms if they did so against the infidel. There was, it is true, a pacifist movement within the Church as well. But this, paradoxically, was canalized to reinforce the idea of sanctified violence. The motive behind it was to protect innocent peasants from the aimless brutality of competing lords. The bishops of Aquitaine, meeting in 898, said it was the duty of the Church to guarantee immunity for such poor folk. In 1000, William the Great, Duke of Guienne, summed a peace council at Poitiers, which threatened excommunication for anyone who sought to resolve disputes by force of arms. Various oaths were taken by landowners at public assemblies, while the priests and congregations shouted 'Peace, peace, peace'. Leagues of peace were organized, and every male of fifteen or over asked to swear to take up arms against peace-breakers. But mobs of peasants interpreted the campaign as a license to smash castles, and after one such incident were massacred, 700 clerics with them. Throughout the eleventh century the Church tried to keep the peace movement alive, but the popes eventually surrendered to the temptation to divert what they regarded as the incorrigible bellicosity of western society into crusades against the infidel.
The idea of Catholic Christians exercising mass-violence against the infidel hardly squared with scripture. Nor did it make much sense in practical terms. The success of Islam sprang essentially from the failure of Christian theologians to solve the problem of the Trinity and Christ's nature. In Arab territories, Christianity had penetrated heathenism, but usually in Monophysite form - and neither eastern nor western Catholicism could find a compromise with the Monophysites in the sixth and seventh centuries. The Arabs, driven by drought, would almost certainly have used force to expand anyway. As it was, Mohammed, a Monophysite, conflated the theological and economic problems to evolve a form of Monophysite religion which was simple, remarkably impervious to heresy, and included the doctrine of the sword to accommodate the Arab's practical needs. It appealed strongly to a huge element within the Christian community. The first big Islamic victory, at the River Yarmuk in 636, was achieved because 12,000 Christian Arabs went over to the enemy. The Christian Monophysites - Copts, Jacobites and so forth - nearly always preferred Moslems to Catholics. Five centuries after the Islamic conquest, the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, Michael the Syrian, faithfully produced the tradition of his people when he wrote: 'The God of Vengeance, who alone is the Almighty ... raised from the south the children of Ishmael to deliver us by them from the hands of the Romans.' And at the time a Nestorian chronicler wrote: 'The hearts of the Christians rejoiced at the domination of the Arabs - may God strengthen it and prosper it.' The Monophysite Moslems and the Monophysite Christians never fused theologically. But, unlike the Jews, they did not remain racially and culturally distinct. The religious pattern froze: the Arab Moslems tolerated all Children of the Book, but would not allow their rivals to expand. Christians were in the majority only in Alexandria and certain Syrian cities. Generally, they preferred Arab-Moslem to Greek-Christian rule, though there were periods of difficulty and persecution. There was never, at any stage, a mass-demand from the Christians under Moslem rule to be 'liberated'.
Three factors combined together to produce the militant crusades. The first was the development of small-scale 'holy wars' against Moslems in the Spanish theatre. In 1063, Ramiro I, King of Aragon, was murdered by a Moslem; and Alexander II promised an indulgence for all who fought for the cross to revenge the atrocity; the idea was developed in 1073 by Gregory VII who helped an international army to assemble for Spanish campaigning, guaranteeing canonically that any Christian knight could keep the lands he conquered, provided he acknowledged that the Spanish kingdom belonged to the see of St
Peter. Papal expansionism, linked to the colonial appetite for acquiring land, thus supplied strong political and economic motives. There was, secondly, a Frankish tradition, dating from around 800, that the Carolingian monarchs had a right and a duty to protect the Holy Places in Jerusalem, and the western pilgrims who went there. This was acknowledged by the Moslem caliphs, who until the late eleventh century preferred Frankish interference to what they regarded as the far more dangerous penetration by Byzantium. From the tenth century, western pilgrimages grew in frequency and size. They were highly organized by the Cluniac monks, who built abbeys to provide hospitality on the way. There were three well-marked land-routes through the Balkans and Asia, as well as the more expensive sea-route; and elaborate hospices in Jerusalem itself. Powerful lords were allowed by the Moslems to bring armed escorts; other pilgrims joined them; so western Christians moved in large, armed contingents - in 10646, for instance, 7,000 Germans, many armed, travelled together to Jerusalem. There was not all that much physical difference between a big pilgrimage and a crusade.
What really created the crusade, however, was the almost unconscious decision, at the end of the eleventh century, to marry the Spanish idea of conquering land from the infidel with the practice of the mass, armed pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And this sprang from the third factor - the vast increase in western population in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and the consequent land hunger. Cistercian pioneer-farming at the frontiers was one solution. Crusading was another - the first great wave of the European colonial migrations. It was, in fact, deeply rooted in Christian cosmology. The Ptolemaic conception of a circumambient ocean had been accepted by the Fathers and reconciled with the bible in Isidore's encyclopaedia. The three continents were allocated to the sons of Noah after the Flood - Shem stood for the Jews, Japhet for the Gentiles, and Ham for the Africans, or blacks. Alcuin's commentary on Genesis reads:' "How was the world divided by the sons and grandsons of Noah?" "Shem is considered to have acquired Asia, Ham Africa and Japhet Europe."' The passage then went on to prove from the scriptures that Japhet-Europe was by its name and nature divinely appointed to be expansionist. Within a generation of Alcuin, early in the ninth century, we first hear of 'Christendom', an entity judged to be coextensive with Europe, but with special privileges and rights, including the right to expand. Phrases like the 'defence of Christendom' against the Saracens were used (ninth century) and in the eleventh century Gregory VII referred to the 'boundaries of Christendom' and the Church being 'mistress of the whole of Christendom'.
The idea that Europe was a Christian entity, which had acquired certain inherent rights over the rest of the world by virtue of its faith, and its duty to spread it, married perfectly with the need to find some outlet both for its addiction to violence and its surplus population. The famous sermon at Clermont with which Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade in 1095 survives in a variety of conflicting texts. William of Malmesbury's text, for instance, should not be regarded as Urban's actual words, but more an expression of the mood which generated the crusading movement. It contains some striking phrases, the real adumbration of European expansion and colonialism: 'Can anyone tolerate that we [Europeans] do not even share equally with the Moslems the inhabited earth? They have made Asia, which is a third of the world, their homeland. ... They have also forcibly held Africa, the second portion of the world, for over 200 years. There remains Europe, the third continent. How small a portion of it is inhabited by us Christians.' Of course, he added, 'in one sense the whole world is exile for the Christian' but in another 'the whole world is his country'. In any case, he concluded, 'in this land' - meaning Christian Europe - 'you can scarcely feed the inhabitants. That is why you use up its goods and excite endless wars among yourselves.'
The crusades were thus to some extent a weird half-way house between the tribal movements of the fourth and fifth centuries and the mass trans-Atlantic migration of the poor in the nineteenth. According to Anna Comnena, the Byzantine court was alarmed to hear that 'all the West and all the barbarian tribes from beyond the Adriatic as far as the Pillars of Hercules were moving in a body through Europe towards Asia, bringing whole families with them.' This was not true. But the numbers were large, particularly in the first two generations of the crusading movement. Peter the Hermit led a mob of 20,000 men, women and children, including, one presumes, many families carrying all their worldly goods with them. Most of these people were very poor; they had been unable to obtain land on any lease, or agricultural work during an acute and prolonged labour surplus; they intended to settle. So, of course, did the most determined of the knights. Most of them had no money or lands. Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, who emerged as the leader of the First Crusade, claimed descent from Charlemagne, but he held his duchy as an office not a fief, and may have been in danger of dismissal: hence his crusade. Apart from Raymond of Toulouse, all the crusaders who settled in the Holy Land were poor men; the rich, like Stephen of Blois, or the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne, returned to Europe as quickly as they honourably could.
From the start, then, the crusades were marked by depredations and violence which were as much racial as religious in origin. Mass-gatherings of Christians for any purpose invariably constituted a danger to Jewish communities in European cities. Local rulers nearly always tried to protect them, for their own selfish financial reasons; but they were powerless to control the vast crusading bands. To Christian crusaders, in particular, the Jews were hateful: they were believed to have helped the Roman pagans to persecute the early Christians, and they had assisted the Islamic conquests. * Men like Godfrey de Bouillon terrorized Jewish communities into providing considerable sums to finance crusading transport; the mobs, in 1096, turned to outright massacre - 12 Jews were murdered at Speier, 500 at Worms, 1,000 at Mainz, 22 at Metz, and so forth. Some groups dispersed after attacking the Jews. But the great majority pressed on through the Balkans and Anatolia. They do not seem to have discriminated between Christians and Moslems.
* The theory of anti-semitism began to emerge in the second century, when theologians first foretold that Antichrist would be a Jew from the tribe of Dan. At the same time, the body of ritual developed during the diaspora prevented Jews from mixing with gentiles and thus increased the mystery. In Christian literature and art, Satan was given Jewish features; it was believed Jews held secret tournament as soldiers of Antichrist, during which they committed ritual murders. Money-lending came later. It was open to Jews under the negative provisions of the canon law, but the Jewish money-lender was a comparatively brief phenomenon; after the twelfth century Jews operated only on a small scale, chiefly as pawnbrokers. At the Lateran Council in 1215 they were barred from owning land and all military and civil functions. There were innumerable anti-semitic
dramas, ceremonies and games. We know about one Holy Week ceremony in eleventh- century Toulouse, called 'Striking the Jew', because a leading member of the community was so badly beaten during it that he was taken out of the cathedral dying. See D. A. Bullogh, 'Games People Played: drama and ritual as propaganda in Medieval Europe', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1974).
Thus, in the villages attacked around Nicea by Peter the Hermit's band, non-Latin Christians were slaughtered in great numbers, and it was said their babies were roasted on spits. When cities fell, even to regular crusader forces, it was customary to kill some at least of the non-Latin inhabitants, irrespective of their religion. Dark-skinned people, or even those who simply wore conspicuously different garments, were at risk. The fall of Jerusalem was followed by a prolonged and hideous massacre of Moslems and Jews, men, women and children. This episode had a crucial effect in hardening Islamic attitudes to the crusaders. Unfortunately, it was not the only one. When Caesarea was taken in 1101, the troops were given permission to sack it as they pleased, and all the Moslem inhabitants were killed in the Great Mosque; there was a similar massacre at Beirut. Such episodes punctuated the crusades from start to finish. In 1168, during the Frankish campaign in Egypt, there were systematic massacres; those killed included many Christian Copts, and the effect was to unite Egyptians of all religions (and races) against the crusaders.
Of course, the crusading animus was chiefly directed against the Moslems -in 1182 there were even raids on the Moslem Red Sea pilgrim routes, in which, to the horror of Islam, a crowed pilgrim ship was sunk with all aboard. But from the start the crusaders learnt to hate the Byzantines almost as much, and in 1204 they finally attacked and took Constantinople, 'to the honour of God, the Pope and the empire'. The soldiers were told they could pillage for three days. In St Sophia, the hangings were torn down, and the great silver iconostasis was wrenched into pieces and pocketed. A prostitute was put upon the Patriarch's throne and sang a rude French song. Sacred books and ikons were trampled under foot, nuns were raped and the soldiers drank the altar wine out of the chalices. The last of the great international crusades, in 1365, spent itself on a pointless sacking of the predominantly Christian city of Alexandria: native Christians were killed as well as Jews and Moslems, and even the Latin traders had their houses and stores looted. The racialism of the crusaders vented itself particularly against any sign of alien culture. When Tripoli fell to them, in 1109, the Genoese sailors destroyed the Banu Ammar library, the finest in the Moslem world. In general, the effect of the crusades was to undermine the intellectual content of Islam, to destroy the chances of peaceful adjustment to Christianity, and to make the Moslems far less tolerant: crusading fossilized Islam into a fanatic posture.
They also did incalculable damage to the eastern churches, whether Orthodox or Monophysite. One of the first acts of the crusaders after the taking of Jerusalem was to expel the Orthodox and members of other non-Latin Christian sects, and Orthodox priests were tortured to force them to reveal the fragments of the True Cross. No attempt was made to reach an accommodation with Christians who did not acknowledge Rome fully. They lost their churches and their property, they were displaced from their bishoprics and patriarchates, and at best they were tolerated; even the Maronite Christians, who were in communion with Rome, were treated as second-class citizens in the states the Latins created in the twelfth century. All the Christians clergy of any importance were recruited direct from the West. Even among the Latins, native birth was a bar to clerical promotion, chiefly because none except elementary schools were established, and schools run by non-Latin sects were not acknowledged. The only exception was William, Bishop of Tyre, the historian. He got a bishopric despite the fact he was born in Outremer, as the crusader states were called; but this was because he had studied in France and Italy for twenty years.
Above all, no attempt was made to convert the Moslems. The Latin Christians governed a conquered population like a colonialist elite. In one sense, the experiment disproves the theory that medieval Christianity was ruined by clericalism. For the Latin states, which were projections of the total Christian society across the seas, were run by laymen. There were, at any one time, about 300 Latin clerks there, but though well-endowed they had little power and were completely under the control of the lay lords. The great mistakes were all made by laymen. But the attitude of the Church did not help to establish a viable Latin society out in the East. Laymen were far more willing than clerics to adopt eastern customs and dress, to learn the language, and to integrate themselves with the natives. It was the popes who forbade Christian knights to marry Moslems, even if the children were brought up Latin Christians. This was fatal in the end. The chief reason why the crusaders failed to expand in the twelfth century, and had their kingdom reduced to an insignificant rump in the thirteenth, was that there were too few of them. In the first decade of the crusades, 1095-1105, about 100,000 people of all ages, classes and sexes went to the Holy Land; ten years later nearly all of them were dead. They left very few children. There is some evidence that childbirth was less risky in Outremer than in western Europe. But Frankish children did not live long, and the death-rate among males was particularly heavy. Many Frankish couples seem to have proved completely sterile. Thus Frankish settler-families tended to die out after a generation or two. In the twelfth century there was a second, then a third, wave of settlers. These, too, were decimated. There was no continuous process of reinforcing emigration, as the West learned to develop in the seventeenth century when populating America. Most of the intending emigrants were too poor. They could just about afford the land-route, where they could live off charity, but it was never made secure. The sea-route, run by Venice, Genoa and other Italian city-states, was too expensive for most. Those going by sea had to sleep on their chests, which also served as their coffins if they died. Each had a space six feet by two, marked in chalk. The conditions were horrific; even so, few could afford the fare. Why did not the maritime states develop cheaper forms of mass-transport? The answer is that they preferred to engage in highly lucrative trading, thus adumbrating the colonial merchant adventurer companies which developed in the late sixteenth century. They made huge profits shipping arms to the Moslems: in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries weapons were the Christians's chief exports to their ideological enemies. They also ran the Egyptian slave-trade on behalf of the Moslems. By comparison, ferrying Christian emigrants to make the colonies viable brought a poor yield. Of course the Church itself, out of its huge resources, should have financed emigration. But the idea does not seem to have occurred to it, any more than the idea of creating missionary orders, to achieve by the word what the knights were manifestly failing to achieve by the sword. The whole crusading movement was dogged by intellectual bankruptcy. Among the Outremer barons and their docile clergy there was nothing which could conceivably be called an intellectual elite. Nor had they any economic contribution to make. They made no attempt to introduce a Cistercian-style pioneer farming order. Most of the land continued to be farmed by Moslems, whose surpluses were then milked by the Latin baronage. Thus Outremer was chronically short of cash; it ran at a huge deficit, which had to be supplied by the West. This evoked
growing criticism. Matthew Paris, for instance, claimed that the Hospitallers alone possessed 19,000 manors in Europe. This was untrue, but it is clear that it took a large landed investment in the West to keep even one knight in action in the Holy Land. Despite their wealth, the two main military orders could never maintain more than 600 knights together. A roughly similar number of knights was provided by Outremer's feudal levy of the barons. These 1,200 knights (at maximum) were backed up by a total, at any one time, of about 10,000 sergeants. None of these men could be replaced at short notice. There were no reserves. The crusaders built huge castles, which were exceedingly difficult to take when fully manned and supplied. But if they manned the castles, they could not field an army. If they fielded an army, the castles had to be stripped; and if the army was heavily defeated, there was nothing to replace it, the castles fell, and the Latin kingdoms became untenable. This, in the end, is more or less what happened.
After the twelfth century, the crusading idea lost its appeal in the West. Population was no longer rising at the same rate, and the surplus, in France, tended to drift instead to the towns; in Germany, led by the Teutonic knights who had transferred their activities to Prussia and Poland, it pushed to the east. After about 1310 population actually fell, and from the mid fourteenth century there was an acute labour shortage in Europe. Population did not begin to expand again significantly until the sixteenth century, when emigration was resumed, but in a westerly direction. But the decline of the crusade was due to more than demographic factors. By the end of the twelfth century some Europeans, at least, rejected the crude popular theology of the crusading movement. Wolframe von Eschenbach, the lay author of Parsifal, also produced, about 1210, the Willehalm, which deals with crusading but differs markedly in tone from the Rolandslied, from the mid twelfth century, which accepted the crusading ethic uncritically and happily rejoiced at heathen being slaughtered like cattle. In the Willehalm, the hero's wife is a converted Saracen, and argues that the infidel are God's children, urging: 'Hear the counsel of a simple woman and spare God's handiwork.' Here the emphasis is anti-Augustinian. The author stresses that everyone has a soul to be saved, and that the Church has a Universalist mission; the poem is Universalist in another sense - perhaps everyone can be saved, who knows? Much of the theology is close to Pelagianism, the layman's heresy par excellence. It is curious how the old fifth-century battles continue to be refought throughout Christian history. In the later Middle Ages, the western crusading effort was as much literary as military. To Raymond Lull, for instance, a crusade was a missionary enterprise; a belief he tried to practise, being stoned to death at Bougie in North Africa in 1315. Lull came from Majorca, an early harbinger of the Iberian maritime crusade against heathenism all over the globe. By this time, of course, the papacy had long since devalued the crusading ideal by adapting it for internal political and financial purposes. The legal mechanism of crusading was too tempting to escape abuse. A man who took the cross enjoyed the protection of the courts. He might evade his debts and taxes. On the other hand, careful investigations were made after a crusade had been preached to ensure that people had fulfilled their vows. Reneging was punished canonically. The papacy was quick to use the procedure against the Hohenstaufen. Frederick II was first excommunicated for not going on crusade, then for going without the Pope's permission; and he was denounced as an infidel for showing that, with the Saracens, more could be obtained by negotiation than by force. Later the weapon was turned against Henry in of England, who could not fulfil his vow to go on crusade by midsummer 1256: Alexander iv commuted it, but Henry in return had to provide troops for the Pope's anti-Hohenstaufen campaign in Italy, and pay in addition 13 5,541 marks, with excommunication and interdict in default. England could not pay and the result was a constitutional crisis and the famous Oxford Parliament of 1259, the episode forming an important landmark in the progressive breakdown of Rome's relations with England.
It is, in fact, a misleading over-simplification to see the crusade simply as a confrontation between Christian Europe and the Moslem East. The central problem of the institutional church was always how to control the manifestations of religious enthusiasm, and divert them into orthodox and constructive channels. The problem was enormously intensified when large numbers of people were involved. At what point did mass-piety become unmanageable, and therefore heresy? It was a matter of fine judgment, a dilemma as old as the Montanists. A crusade was in essence nothing more than a mob of armed and fanatical Christians. Once its numbers rose to over about 10,000 it could no longer be controlled, only guided. It might be used to attack the Moslems, or unleashed against Jews, or heretics; or it might become heretical and antinomian itself, and smash the structures of established society. This fear was always at the back of the minds of the clerical and secular authorities. In the Dark Ages, the West had been comparatively free of heresy. The Church was cocooned within the authoritarian tradition of Augustine. But occasionally strange figures popped up: nearly always lay-folk, spontaneously reenacting the Montanist tradition. Gregory of Tours tells of a freelance preacher from Bourges, who called himself Christ, collected an army of followers and amassed booty in the name of God. He and his men finally presented themselves to the Bishop of Le Puy, stark naked, leaping and somersaulting. The leader was killed on the spot, his female companion, Mary, tortured until she revealed 'their diabolical devices'. This type of incident became more common with the development of long-distance pilgrimages. Pilgrims brought back weird religious ideas and cults from the East, where dualist or gnostic heresies had always flourished, and indeed antedated Christianity. And then, the man from Bourges was an example of the low-born charismatic leader who often led mass pilgrimages, which in the eleventh century developed into popular crusades: Peter the Hermit was an archetype. The phenomenon took on huge and dangerous dimensions in the eleventh century, with the rapid growth of population, the increase in travel and the spread of ideas, and the impact of the Gregorian reforms. Gregory's vision of a pure, undefiled church aroused more expectations than it could fulfil. The clergy, in particular, simply could not produce the results, in terms of piety and pastoral enthusiasm, which Gregory had seemed to promise. Hence, as with the original Montanists, Christian activists tended to turn against the clergy, and take the religious reform, or revival, into their own hands.
Here was a mortal threat to the Church. We mistakenly think of medieval institutional Christianity as an immensely solid and stable structure. But in some ways it was much more vulnerable than the civil power, itself a fragile vessel. Like civil government, the regular routine of organized Christianity could easily collapse; the two often disintegrated together, under pressure. The Christian system was complex and disorganized with comparative ease; an accidental conjunction of two or more of a huge number of forces could bring about de-Christianization over quite a large area very suddenly. Thus St Bernard of Clairvaux on a preaching tour of southern France in 1145 reported that a number of heresies were common and that in large areas Catholicism, as he understood it, had disappeared. Naturally, where antinomian mobs were liable to sweep away church institutions, established authority was anxious to get them out of Christendom - preferably to the East, whence few would return. These mass crusades or armed pilgrimages were usually led by unauthorized prophetae or Montanists, and were a form of popular millenarianism, highly unorthodox but to some extent controlled or canalized b) authority.
Sometimes they attacked the Jews, regarded as devils like the Moslems, but more accessible. But if no Jews or Moslems were available, they nearly always, sooner or later, turned on the Christian clergy. Hence the anxiety to dispatch them to Jerusalem.
Yet returned crusaders undoubtedly brought back heresy with them. The dualism of the Balkan Bogomils, which had links stretching right back to the Gnostics, reached Italy and the Rhineland in the early twelfth century, and thence spread to France. Once long-distance movement became routine, the spread of a variety of heresies was inevitable, and crusades provided means of communication among precisely the sort of people who took religious ideas seriously and were emotionally prone. Dualism was always attractive because it explained the role of devils, who were everywhere. It was also easy to portray the visible Church as evil because of the evident failure of its theodicy, that is the vindication of divine justice in respect of the existence of suffering. The Bogomils denied that Christ had established an organized Church; therefore Catholic teaching on images, saints, infant baptism and virgin birth, plus many other matters, was false. These ideas spread very rapidly in the West in the mid twelfth century; and once belief in the Church's system of confession, repentance, penance and redemption was undermined - no great problem -the only spiritual warrants were the outward signs of chastity, poverty, ascetism and humility, which the official Church, as a rule, clearly did not possess. These the heretics supplied.
'Cathar' was first applied to heretics in northern Europe about 1160. They were also called Publicans, Paterines (in Italy), Bougres or Bulgars in France, or Arians, Manichaeans or Marcionites. Around Albi the Cathars were termed Albigensians. The confusion over names reveals a confusion over ideas. But basically all these heresies were the same. They aimed to substitute a perfect elite for the corrupt clergy. Where they were numerous enough, as in southern France, they organized churches and bishoprics, and constituted an alternative Church. Very few of the sect were 'perfected' - perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 in the whole of Languedoc in c. 1200. The majority were 'believers', who married, led normal lives, and 'received the consolamentum' only on their deathbeds, thus dying 'in the hands of the Good Men'.
The Cathars were well-organized and orderly people. They elected bishops, collected funds and distributed them; led admirable lives. Unlike most Charismatics, they could not be broken up by a sharp cavalry charge. They got on well with the local authorities. The only effective evangelizing against them came from equally poor groups, like the Poor of Lyons, founded by a former Lyonnais merchant, Waldo, around 1173-6. These men were strictly orthodox in their beliefs, but they took apostolic poverty literally and were outside the Church's organizational structure. The clergy thus regarded the Waldensians as a threat. As Walter Map put it, when he saw some in Rome in 1179: 'They go about two by two, barefoot, clad in woolen garments, owning nothing, holding all things in common like the Apostles ... if we admit them, we shall be driven out.' They were excommunicated three years later. There was, indeed, no shortage of men prepared to defend orthodoxy. But they set standards which exposed the existing structures and personnel of the church, and thus formed a remedy more serious than the disease. Innocent in, despite his many limitations, did grasp the essence of this problem very clearly, and was the only pope to make a systematic attempt to solve it. His creation of the Franciscan and Dominican orders - the first to beat the heretics at their own game of apostolic poverty, the second to preach orthodox concepts in popular terms - sought to harness volcanic Christian forces to institutional objectives. But the dilemma could not be solved by a once-and-for-all operation. It was permanent; it was endemic in Christianity. If the Franciscans, for instance, were allowed to pursue their idealism, they got out of control; if they were controlled, they promptly lost their idealism and became corrupt. Within two generations, the whole friar experiment was a failure; within three it was a liability.
There remained the Augustinian solution: force. It was, in a way, a recapitulation of the fourth and fifth centuries. The Church was terrified by the rapid disintegration of Christianity in southern France. There was no question of peaceful coexistence of orthodoxy and heresy: orthodox bishops could not function and there was imminent danger that the collapse would soon be extended to other areas. It is notable that where there was strong, centralized royal power, to back up the organized Church, heresy was weak or even non-existent (as, for instance, in England at this time). Heresy took root in areas where the ultimate source of secular authority was obscure, and where secular power was divided or remote. Thus the Church, in its fear, tended to appeal to secular power outside the infected area. Suppressing a heresy became a crusade, promising tangible benefits, and bringing into play differences of language and culture, the forces of racism and the spur of greed for land. The Albigensian crusades, organized from 1208 onwards, the precursors of many other 'internal' papal crusades, were preached by upper-class Cistercians, the great disciplinarians of peasants. Heretics were either rabble or, if not, forfeited their privileged class status. Conversely, a crusade was an opportunity to rise in the social scale, for younger sons, would-be knights, and any kind of professional soldier with genteel aspirations. These crusaders got a plenary indulgence for forty days service, plus a moratorium on their debts and any interest payable; if they had lands, they could tax both their vassals and clergy. The Church reserved to itself the right to redistribute among the more faithful crusaders the confiscated lands of the defeated heretics. Thus the crusade attracted the most disreputable elements in northern France, and the result was horror. In 1209, Arnold Aimery exulted to the Pope that the capture of Beziers had been 'miraculous'; and that the crusaders had killed 15,000, 'showing mercy neither to order, nor age nor sex'. Prisoners were mutilated, blinded, dragged at the hooves of horses and used for target practice. Such outrages provoked despairing resistance and so prolonged the conflict. It was a watershed in Christian history. Of course it aroused much criticism even at the time. Peter Cantor asked:
'How doth the church presume to examine by this foreign judgment the hearts of men? Or how is it that the Cathari are given no legitimate respite for deliberation but are burned immediately? ... Certain honest matrons, refusing to consent to the lust of priests ... were written in the book of death and accused as Cathari ... while certain rich Cathari had their purses squeezed and were let go. One man alone, because he was poor and pale, and confessed the faith of Christ faithfully on all points, and put that forward as his hope, was burned, since he said to the assembled bishops that he would refuse to submit to the ordeal of hot iron unless they could first prove to him that he could do this without tempting the Lord and committing mortal sin.'
A few years later, Innocent in abolished the ordeal on precisely these grounds. More generally, it was the type of criticism voiced by Cantor which led to the organization of a regular inquisition system, which would be effective yet less open to the abuses developed under the haphazard methods hitherto employed. Ever since the eleventh century, secular rulers had been burning those who obstinately refused to fit in with established Christian arrangements; the Church had opposed capital punishment, successive councils decreeing confiscation of property, excommunication, imprisonment or whipping, branding and exile. But in the 1180s, the Church began to panic at the spread of heresy, and thereafter it took the lead from the State, though it maintained the legal fiction that convicted and unrepentant heretics were merely 'deprived of the protection of the Church', which was (as they termed it) 'relaxed', the civil power then being free to burn them without committing mortal sin. Relaxation was accompanied by a formal plea for mercy; in fact this was meaningless, and the individual civil officer (sheriffs and so forth) had no choice but to burn, since otherwise he was denounced as a 'defender of heretics', and plunged into the perils of the system himself.
The codification of legislation against heresy took place over half a century, roughly 1180-1230, when it culminated in the creation of a permanent tribunal, staffed by Dominican friars, who worked from a fixed base in conjunction with the episcopate, and were endowed with generous authority. The permanent system was designed as a reform; in fact it incorporated all the abuses of earlier practice and added new ones. It had a certain vicious logic. Since a heretic was denied burial in consecrated ground, the corpses of those posthumously convicted (a very frequent occurrence) had to be disinterred, dragged through the streets and burnt on the refuse pit. The houses in which they lived had to be knocked down and turned into sewers or rubbish-dumps. Convictions of thought-crimes being difficult to secure, the Inquisition used procedures banned in other courts, and so contravened town charters, written and customary laws, and virtually every aspect of established jurisprudence. The names of hostile witnesses were withheld, anonymous informers were used, the accusations of personal enemies were allowed, the accused were denied the right of defence, or of defending counsel; and there was no appeal. The object, quite simply, was to produce convictions at any cost; only thus, it was thought, could heresy be quenched. Hence depositors were not named; all a suspect could do was to produce a list of his enemies, and he was allowed to bring forward witnesses to testify that such enemies existed, but for no other purpose. On the other hand, the prosecution could use the evidence of criminals, heretics, children and accomplices, usually forbidden in other courts.
Once an area became infected by heresy, and the system moved in, large numbers of people became entangled in its toils. Children of heretics could not inherit, as the stain was vicarial; grandchildren could not hold ecclesiastical benefices unless they successfully denounced someone. Everyone from the age of fourteen (girls from twelve) were required to take public oaths every two years to remain good Catholics and denounce heretics. Failure to confess or receive communion at least three times a year aroused automatic suspicion; possession of the scriptures in any language, or of breviaries, hour-books and psalters in the vernacular, was forbidden. Torture was not employed regularly until near the end of the thirteenth century (except by secular officials without reference to the Inquisition) but suspects could be held in prison and summoned again and again until they yielded, the object of the operation being to obtain admissions or denunciations. When torture was adopted it was subjected to canonical restraints - if it produced nothing on the first occasion it was forbidden to repeat it. But such regulations were open to glosses; Francis Pegna, the leading Inquisition commentator, wrote:
'But if, having been tortured reasonably (decenter), he will not confess the truth, set other sorts of torments before him, saying that he must pass through all these unless he will confess the truth. If even this fails, a second or third day may be appointed to him, either in terrorem or even in truth, for the continuation (not repetition) of torture; for tortures may not be repeated unless fresh evidence emerges against him; then, indeed, they may, for against continuation there is no prohibition.'
Pegna said that pregnant women might not be tortured, for fear of abortions: 'we must wait until she is delivered of her child'; and children below the age of puberty, and old folk, were to be less severely tortured. The methods used were, on the whole, less horrific than those employed by various secular governments - though it should be added that English common lawyers, for instance, flatly denied that torture was legal, except in case of refusal to plead. Once a victim was accused, escape from some kind of punishment was virtually impossible: the system would not allow it. But comparatively few were executed: less than ten per cent of those liable. Life-imprisonment was usual for those 'converted' by fear of death; this could be shortened by denunciations. Acts of sympathy or favour for heretics were punished by imprisonment or pilgrimage; there were also fines or floggings, and penance in some form was required of all those who came into contact with the infected, even though unknowingly and innocently. The smallest punishment was to wear yellow cloth crosses - an unpopular penalty since it prevented a man from getting employment; on the other hand, to cease to wear it was treated as a relapse into heresy. A spell in prison was virtually inevitable. Of course there was a shortage of prison-space, since solitary confinement was the rule. Once the Inquisition moved into an area, the bishop's prison was soon full; then the king's; then old buildings had to be converted, or new ones built. Food was the prisoner's own responsibility, though the bishop was supposed to provide bread and water in the case of poverty. The secular authorities did not like these crowded prisons, being terrified of gaol fever and plague, and thus burned many more people than the Church authorized. The system was saved from utter horror only by the usual medieval frailties: corruption, inertia, and sheer administrative incompetence.
Where the system was employed against an entire community, as in Languedoc, it evoked resistance. There were riots, murders, the destruction of records. Many countries would not admit the Inquisition at all. In Spain, however, it became a state instrument, almost a national institution, like bullfighting, a mystery to foreigners but popular among the natives. It is surprising how often admirable, if eccentric, individuals were burned, not only without public protest but with general approval. Thus the fourteenth- century breakaway movement of Franciscans, the fraticelli, who opposed clerical property and reasserted the apostolic practices of their founder, were hunted and burned all over Europe but especially in their native Umbria and the Mark of Ancona; the crowds who watched them destroyed were apathetic or inclined to believe antinomianism was rightly punished. In the Middle Ages, the ruthless and confident exercise of authority could nearly always swing a majority behind it. And the victims of the flames usually died screaming in pain and terror, thus appearing to confirm the justice of the proceedings.
The total Christian society of the Middle Ages was based on an intense belief in the supernatural. It tended to live on its nerves. Lacking any kind of system for determining the truth scientifically and objectively, society was often bewildered. Today's heterodoxy might become tomorrow's orthodoxy; and vice versa. The enthusiasm of faith so easily toppled over into hysteria, and so became violently destructive. Inside every saint there appeared a heretic struggling to get out; and the converse. One man's Christ was another man's Antichrist. The official Church was conventional, orderly, hierarchical, committed to defend Society as it existed, with all its disparities and grievances. But there was also, as it were, an anti-Church, rebellious, egalitarian, revolutionary, which rejected society and its values and threatened to smash it to bits. It had its own tradition of revolutionary prophecy, inherited from the Jews, and continued into Christianity through the Book of Revelation, which acquired its place in the canon because it was believed to have been written by St John. Millenarianism had been, in the earliest days, almost the official political theory of the Church. But the eschatological moment had receded, and when Christianity became the state religion of the empire, millenarianism was frowned upon. Augustine, the ideologist of the official church, presented Revelation in his City of God as a mere spiritual allegory; the millenium had already begun with Christ and had been realized in the shape of the Church itself. But this did not end the argument, as he had hoped. Christians continued to believe in the millenium, the coming of Antichrist, cosmic battles, giant dragons, total upheavals of society - and endless series of signs which would presage these events. For better or for worse, the notion of the apocalypse was part of the canon, linked to bedrock articles of Christian belief it was too late to suppress. Moreover, the eschatological corpus was gradually added to by various sibylline texts: they had no canonical status but they were popular, and much used by preachers, writers and theologians. All stressed the coming battle between Christ and Antichrist. The idea could be reinterpreted to fit almost any political situation, and identified with kings and emperors, even popes, whether good or bad. All the signs could be made to fit.
This tradition confronted the official Church with an almost insoluble problem. If it played things quietly, the millenarians would demand reform. But if the Church tried to initiate reform, as under Gregory VII, this also was calculated to stir up the latent millenarian forces. The tradition of lay preaching had never been completely buried; laymen responded joyfully to efforts to improve the priesthood and tried to take the movement into their own hands. Much of the heterodox effervescence of the twelfth century was the indirect result of the Gregorian campaign. There were areas in the lower Rhineland, for instance, where forms of unorthodox revivalism coexisted with the official Church more or less throughout the Middle Ages. It is a mistake to believe everyone had his or her place in society. On the contrary: between the orderly guilds of the towns and the feudal hierarchy of the countryside there was an immense chaos teeming with the displaced, the dispossessed, the chronic sick or crippled, beggars, lepers, runaway serfs. Perhaps a third of the population did not fit into official categories, but formed the raw materials of huge crowds which formed and dispersed mysteriously and rapidly. Runaway monks or priests who had fallen out with the Church existed in plenty to provide leadership and half-knowledge. Once such a mob was on the march it was difficult to stop. In 1251, for instance, in response to the failure of the Fourth Crusade, a renegade Hungarian monk called Jakob preached an anticlerical crusade and taught that the murderer of a priest gained merit. He gathered an army of thousands and rampaged through northern French towns. He was able to occupy places like Paris, Orleans and Amiens virtually without opposition, and loot the convents of the friars; in Tours he rounded up the Dominicans and Franciscans and had them whipped through the streets. Then he was murdered and his mob dispersed as quickly as it had collected. Almost any notable event could produce such outbreaks - the preaching of a crusade, a bad harvest, famine, industrial distress, defeat in battle, the failure of a promised miracle to occur. The authorities could do very little once a mass-movement got started. Then they had to wait until the mob's excesses produced a popular reaction, at any rate among the bourgeoisie, or until a regular army could be collected. Hence the Inquisition served as an early-warning device; it probed and checked and winkled out trouble-makers before they could collect and unleash a mob. If it
failed, then there might be no alternative but to launch an internal crusade. Thus hateful devices like the Inquisition, or the crusade against 'heretics', were seen by many-not just the rich, but anyone who liked stability - as indispensable defences against social breakdown and mass terrorism.
The Church and the secular establishment could not, however, tackle such phenomena at the root by destroying their basis of credulity. Was not the Church itself based on credulity? Kill belief, and where was the total Christian society? In any case, popes and kings could not escape from the intellectual environment they shared with every wild-eyed fanatic and millenarian fakir. Prophecy, on which such movements were based, was not only Scripturally orthodox but scientifically respectable. Prophetical analysts were among the most learned men of their day, part of a tradition of wisdom which stretched from the Magi to Newton, and included virtually all the intellectuals in western society until the mid seventeenth century. It is no accident that the most influential of all the medieval inventors of prophetic systems, Joachim of Flora (died 1202), was also the most learned, systematic and 'scientific'. He was not a rebel but a fashionable Calabrian abbot, patronized by three popes, whose conversation delighted Richard the Lionheart on his way to the Third Crusade. He brought together all the various prophetic sources, pagan, Christian, biblical and astronomical, and examined them far more carefully than anyone else had done before, deducing from them his own future projections. The method was basically the same as Marxist historical determinism and had the same mesmeric fascination. Joachim calculated that Antichrist would arise within the Church and hold high office a new and riveting idea. On the basis of historical analysis and projection, he deduced that the 'last age' would be enacted within history (not, that is, after the Four Last Things) and would be marked by universal peace, in which the institutions necessary for a turbulent world would wither away. For Marxists the parallels are disturbingly close.
Men read Joachim with the same care and excitement with which they read the more imaginative historians like Otto of Freising. They thought that God intended the future to be discoverable and that it was the duty of society to prepare for it. Roger Bacon, perhaps the best true scientist of the Middle Ages, wrote to the Pope (c. 1267):
'If only the church would examine the prophecies of the bible, the sayings of the saints, the sentences of the Sibyl and Merlin and other pagan prophets, and would add thereto astrological considerations and experimental knowledge, it would without doubt be able to provide usefully against the coming of Antichrist. ... For not all prophecies are irrevocable and many things are said in the prophets about the coming of antichrist which will come to pass only through the negligence of Christians. They would be changed if Christians would strenuously inquire when he will come, and seek all the knowledge which he will use when he comes.' *
* Prophecy influenced the Italian expedition of Charles VIII, who saw himself as a 'second Charlemagne' Luther identified his protector, Frederick of Saxony, as 'the good Third Frederick' Charles V was seen as 'the good King who will chastise the church'. Columbus compiled a collection of prophesies about the restoration of the Age of Gold, a
common humanist preoccupation. New geographical discoveries, and inventions like printing, were quickly fitted into the old prophetic systems- See Marjorie Reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages a Study in Joachimism (Oxford, 1969).
This passage, representing the higher conventional wisdom of the thirteenth century, implies a degree of possible control over the universe, present and future, which fits in with the theory of limitless papal monarchy, then nearing its zenith. It springs from the same assumptions as the wild triumphalism of Boniface VIII, quoted at the beginning of this section. But neither the papacy nor the Church as a whole had a firm grip on the total Christian society even in the thirteenth century. Thereafter what grip it had slackened. From about this time, the unified Christian society began to dissolve, and forms of heterodoxy became endemic, their detection and punishment being part of the routine operations of the Church and State. Every form of religious manifestation filled the authorities with disquiet; none could be trusted not to slip out of control. And for much of the time there was not one pope, to act as invigilator and monitor, but two; sometimes three. Joan of Arc, for instance, was not a victim of English nationalism: only eight of the 131 judges, assessors and other clergy connected with her trial were Englishmen. She was, rather, the casualty of a French civil war which had a wide theological dimension. One of the things which aroused suspicion about her was that she headed her letters 'Jhesus Maria' - evidence of a Jesus-cult which did not have the sanction of Pope Martin V but of the anti-Pope Calixtus. We are not surprised to learn that one of the judges who originally condemned her, Jean le Fevre, was also a judge at her rehabilitation; or that Thomas de Courcelles, who advised that she be tortured during her interrogation, was promoted to be Dean of Notre Dame the year she was cleared and lived to preach the funeral panygyric on her hero-Dauphin, Charles VII.
Because the Christian society was total it had to be compulsory; and because it was compulsory it had no alternative but to declare war on its dissentients. Thus in the later Middle Ages it was weighed down by the multiplicity of its enemies. If Joachim was an 'acceptable' prophet, he was soon saddled with a mass of interpretations and commentaries which became the small-change of rustic millenarians and village Charismatics. It was a feature of medieval prophecy that 'sleeping' kings or emperors would awake, and either restore harmony or rampage, depending on whether you believed the Pope was the vicar of Christ or Antichrist himself. Men claiming to be Arthur or Charlemagne or the first Latin emperor of Constantinople, or the Emperor Frederick II, appeared, raised a following, were hunted down, then hanged or burned. Disproof by events seems to have done nothing to shake men's belief in prophecy; crucial years came and went - 1260, 1290, 1305, 1335, 1350, 1360, 1400, 1415, 1500, 1535; nothing happened as foretold, but still men believed. Many of these pretenders produced elaborate social manifestos, with an egalitarian or distributive object. Most began, or ended, in anti-clericalism.
Religious hysteria expressed itself in almost every imaginable form of outrageous behaviour. Self- flagellation, for instance, had been a feature of certain sophisticated pagan sects absorbed into Christianity in the fourth century. We hear of it breaking out in eleventh-century Italy, then, on a huge scale, in the second half of the thirteenth century, after which it spread all over Europe and became endemic. The flagellants marched in procession, led by priests, with banners and candles, and moved from town to town, parading before the parish church, and lashing themselves for hours on end. The German flagellants, with their rituals, hymns and uniforms, were particularly ferocious: they used leather scourges with iron spikes; if a woman or a priest appeared, the ritual was spoiled and had to be started again; it culminated in the reading of a 'heavenly letter', after which spectators dipped pieces of cloth in the blood and treasured them as relics. The Church was ambivalent towards flagellants. In 1384 Clement vi had encouraged public flagellation in Avignon: hundreds of both sexes took part. And the pillar of Spanish orthodoxy, the Dominican anti-Semite and rabble-rouser, Saint Vincent Ferrer, led a party of flagellants through Spain, France and Italy, following the instructions of a vision in 1396. Thus there was orthodox flagellation, heretical flagellation, and apparently secret flagellation too. Generally speaking, if both sexes took part, it was permitted. Nearly all unofficial male flagellant movements ended in anti-clericalism, heresy or violence. Then the Inquisition was called in, and executions followed.
Christianity also had its orthodox tradition of apostolic poverty, and its theory that the world, in its pristine state, was egalitarian and just, before the irruption of sin produced the rule of the strong and the degradation of the weak. In the later Middle Ages, many millenarian movements launched themselves on crazy careers from these propositions. They took two main forms, some combining both. The first group, usually termed 'Free Spirits', were antinomians, of a type St Paul had had to deal with in Greece. They believed themselves to be perfect and above moral norms. The Abbot of St Victor, a fourteenth- century orthodox mystic, wrote of them indignantly: They committed rapes and adulteries and other acts which gave bodily pleasure; and to the women with whom they sinned, and the simple people they deceived, they promised that such sins would not be punished.' Some taught that women were created to be used by the brothers of the Holy Spirit; a matron, by having intercourse with one of the brethren, could regain her lost virginity; this was linked to their belief that they had rediscovered the precise way in which Adam and Eve had made love. They were often arrested for attempting to seduce respectable middle-class wives; or for eating in taverns and then refusing to pay. They believe that all things are common,' noted the Bishop of Strasbourg in 1317, 'whence they conclude that theft is lawful to them.' These men were often executed, sometimes with hideous cruelty. But many free spirits were not fraudulent or antisocial. In Flanders and the Rhine valley, the orthodox Brethren of the Free Spirit formed one of the largest and most admirable religious movements of the later Middle Ages, running schools and hospitals for the poor, and engaging in a variety of welfare work. Female free spirits, of Beguines, though not exactly nuns since they did not live in convents, worked among the poor in the Rhineland cities - at one time there were 2,000 of them just in Cologne - and were models of piety and orthodoxy. Rome did not like these patterns of religious behaviour, since they did not fit into established categories. So the bishops and the Inquisition kept a close watch, and frequently acted to break up groups of brethren or beguines who looked like toppling over into heterodoxy.
The second broad category combined millenarian egality with an overt assault on clericalism and the established Church. The belief that the millenium was imminent was the signal for an attack on the rich - they were to be dragged to the ground in an earthly apocalypse before being committed to eternal flames in the next world. Such ideas were expressed in the sermons of John Ball during the Peasants' Revolt in England; they recur constantly in France and Germany during the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In Bohemia, the only part of Latin Christendom where heterodoxy successfully established itself before the sixteenth century, egalitarians formed the radical wing of the Hussites after 1419; they had communal chests and kibbutz-type communities. These movements were the obverse side of the
Augustinian coin: they were the 'alternative society' to the total Christian society of which Augustine had been the ideologist and which had been successfully brought into existence in the West during the Carolingian period. But, of course, so the argument ran, the orthodox Christian society had in every respect betrayed its origins and accepted the norms of the world; it was thus the society not of Christ, but of Antichrist, and to overthrow it would be the prelude to the parousia.
As Latin Christianity began to crack up under the growing weight of the enemies it harboured, the possibility of these alternative societies establishing themselves, if only briefly, became far stronger. There were egalitarian outbreaks in Germany in the 1470s, and again in 1502, 1513 and 1517. While Luther was conducting his theological debate with Rome, and while various brands of Protestantism were establishing themselves as official Christian religions, mirroring social needs as Catholicism had done since the fourth century, efforts to overthrow society completely, and replace it by a new social- Christian dispensation, were vigorously pursued by religious fringe-men. These men and their movements tell us a great deal about Christianity and its distortions. Their inspiration was often early Christian; sometimes pre-Christian. They spoke with the authentic voice of the Montanists or the Donatists, whom orthodox Christianity and the Roman empire had joined forces to persecute; indeed, they echoed the moral rigorism of the Essenes, likewise victims of a combination of official priests and the established secular order. They were an indisputable part of the Christian tradition, shaped by one of the matrices which Christ had implanted in human minds in the first century. But they lacked the balance of the whole Christian vision. Outraged by the wickedness of official Christian society, anxious to replace it, they ended simply by trying to smash it, even caricature it. They embraced violence, denied culture, devalued human life and adopted purely arbitrary - and volatile - systems of morality. One such case was Thomas Muntzer, born in Thuringia (an area where illicit flagellation was rife) around 1488, a well-educated priest who read Greek and Hebrew. His beliefs were a combination of Hussite radicalism. Free Spirit libertinism, and orthodox eschatology. To him, Lutheranism was simply a betrayal of the attempt to reform the Church, just another compromise with godless Mammon. In July 1524 he preached before John, Duke of Saxony, and other German nobles perhaps the most remarkable sermon of the whole Reformation era, to a text from the Book of Daniel, the keystone of the millenarian arch. 'Deliver us from evil' he interpreted as 'deliver us from the anti-Christian government of the godless'. Society, he told his princely congregation, was being pulverized between Church and State in the hateful earthly kingdom of feudal-papal Christendom. But the royal priesthood of the common man would smash it - and the princes should join the covenanted people in overthrowing Antichrist.
Here we have the crowned ikons of the Dark Ages, the anointed priest-kings, replaced by the sovereign people. While Gregory VII, Innocent in or Boniface VIII had seen the contest for world power as between pope and emperor, or pope and king, there was now a new candidate for the post of Vicar of Christ - the proletariat. The bid for power was made as arrogantly as Gregory VII's had been; and accompanied by a heedless acceptance of violence as necessary and divinely commanded. Muntzer had the mark of the Zealot who had brought Jerusalem down in ruins. Indeed, he signed his letters with the Sword of Gideon and the phrase 'Thomas Muntzer the Hammer'. He was a biblical warrior-priest. 'Let not the sword of the saint get cold' was his motto; and his heraldic sign was a red cross and a naked sword - an early example of the use of an inflammatory political emblem. Luther was the mere propagandist of the ruling classes, 'the spiritless, soft-living flesh in Wittenberg', Dr Liar, the Dragon, the Archeathen. The rich were robbers; property was theft; 'the people will become free and God alone means to be Lord over them'. Muntzer saw the class-war being won only by a tremendous and bloody convulsion, a sort of premonitory apocalypse before the true one when, as Joachim had prophesied, human institutions would wither away and the parousia would mark the beginning of eternal and perfect government. Violence was thus necessary to his eschatology. It is a case, once again, of abuse of the text 'compel them to come in' - the text graven on every inquisitor's heart. Exactly like Augustine, Muntzer used the parable of the wheat and the tares to justify destruction and persecution: 'The living God is sharpening his scythe in me,' he said ominously, 'so that later I can cut down the red poppies and the blue cornflowers.' When either the Augustinian or the millenarian takes over, the patient, reasonable man, the reformist, the Pelagian-minded liberal, learns to tremble.
Muntzer detonated a peasants' revolt, as had so many millenarians in the past; but he was executed before he could found his post-apocalyptic society. A decade later, in 1534, millenarians seized the German town of Munster, which they held until the following summer. This was by no means the first time Christian fanatics had seized a city in the West; there are many examples, especially in northern France and Flanders, from the twelfth century onwards. But Munster is the first case in which we have a proper documentation, and thus know what it was like to live under a medieval egalitarian terror. The episode began on 25 February 1534, when the religious radicals captured the municipal council and their leader, John Mathijs, announced a Christian popular dictatorship. The 'godless' were identified: one, a critical blacksmith, was killed by Mathijs on the spot, the rest expelled - 'Get out, you Godless ones, and never come back.' At the same time a number of radical refugees were admitted, to form a police-force and bodyguard for the leadership.
The entire population was then re-baptized, the city fortified, all food, money, gold and valuables impounded and communized, and housing reallocated on a basis of need. Mathijs was killed in a sortie, and his replacement, John Beukels, the actor-son of an unmarried female serf, reconstructed the regime on a more formal basis. He ran naked through the town, lapsed into prayer, and then announced a new constitution: himself as messianic king, or 'John of Leyden', assisted by twelve elders or judges, as a committee of public safety. There was to be a new moral code. All books, except the Bible, were to be burnt. A long list of offences, including blasphemy, swearing, adultery, backbiting, complaining, and any form of disobedience, were to be punished by instant execution. There was to be control of labour, and compulsory polygamy. The regime was violently anti-women.
A man sexually dependent on one wife, thought Beukels, was led about 'like a bear on a rope'; women 'have everywhere been getting the upper hand' and it was high time they submitted to men. Hence any women who resisted polygamy were to be executed; and unmarried women had to accept the first man to ask them. Beukels instituted competitions to see who could collect himself the most wives. His histrionic talents, and the fact that Munster contained a large number of skilled craftsmen, enabled him to conduct his court as 'king of righteousness' and 'ruler of the New Zion' with considerable style. He had clerical vestments remade into royal robes, and designed for himself a golden apple, or orb; a new gold coinage was issued, stamped 'The word has become flesh and dwells amongst us.' His harem of wives, all under twenty, and his courtiers, were all beautifully dressed; and the 'king' staged dramatic performances and universal banquets, at one of which he distributed communion and then personally
carried out an execution, being inspired to do it. This gaudy terror was particularly hard on women, forty- nine of whom were killed for infringing the polygamy decree alone; and it was maintained by dividing the city into twelve sections, each controlled by a 'duke' and twenty-four guards, who carried out daily executions and quarterings.
The 'king' hoped, by despatching apostolic missionaries armed with propaganda printed on his press, to raise a confederacy of Christian-communist towns. But after a few brief successes, the scheme was crushed; Munster itself was betrayed and retaken by the bishop, and Beukels was led about like a performing animal until January 1536, when he was publicly tortured to death with red-hot tongs. The atrocities perpetrated by both millenarians and orthodox Christians on this occasion were roughly equal, each side being anxious to 'compel them to come in'. During the later stages of the Munster commune, the Christian element became minimal, indeed virtually disappeared; but then it was not prominent on the other side of the barricades either. Attempts to realize perfect Christian societies in this world, whether conducted by popes or revolutionaries, have tended to degenerate into red terrors, or white ones. Pontifical theocracies and dictatorships of the proletariat both employ compulsive procedures involving suspension of the rule of law, torture, judicial murder, the suppression of truth and the exaltation of falsehood. Thus the 'alternative society' often developed similar, and distressing, features to the one it sought to replace. Yet millenarians, seeking to escape from what they regarded as the debased enactment of the original Christian vision, were not discouraged, or warned, by past failures. They emerged again in England, in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Stuart tyranny, in the 1650s. The puritan divine, Richard Baxter, wrote:
They made it their business to set up the light of nature, under the name of Christ in Men, and to dishonour and cry down the Church, the Scriptures, the present Ministry, and our Worship and Ordinances; and called men to hearken to Christ within them. But withal, they conjoined a Cursed Doctrine of Libertinism, which brought them to an abominable filthiness of Life. They taught ... that God regardeth not the Actions of the Outward Man, but of the Heart, and that to the Pure all things are Pure (even things forbidden). And so as allowed by God, they spoke most hideous Words of Blasphemy, and many of them committed whoredoms commonly. Insomuch that a Matron of great Note for Godliness and Sobriety, being perverted by them, turned so shameless a Whore, that she was Carted in the streets of London.'
These extremists were prophets or Ranters, who had much in common with the Joachimites or, for that matter, Tertullian. Such elements have always seized the opportunity of a crisis or breakdown in society to promote apocalyptic or extraordinary solutions, whether moral or politico-economic. The English Civil War was just such an occasion. As one orthodox critic put it (1651): 'It is no new work of Satan to sow Heresies, and breed Heretics, but they never came up so thick as in these latter times. They were wont to peep up by one and one, but now they sprout out by huddles and clusters (like locusts out of the bottomless pit) ... thronging upon us in swarmes, as the Caterpillars of Aegypt.' More recently, the specifically Christian element, always the first victim when millenarianism lurches into terror, had tended to recede into the background or disappear altogether. Yet millenarians, from Tertullian on, had nearly always been anti-clerical - a characteristic they share with modern non-Christian prophets and apocalyptics, like Marx, the Pans communards of 1870, Trotskyites, Maoists and other seekers for an
illusory perfection in this world. The secular Daniels of the twentieth century have scriptural credentials and their lineage is Christian.
This analysis of medieval Christianity thus presents two types of social experiment in moulding society around moral principles - an orthodox experiment and the radical alternative it provoked. Both tend to fail because both, in different ways, are too ambitious; and in the process of trying to fend off failure each type of experiment is liable to betray its Christian principles. One of the great, but perhaps inevitable, tragedies of history was the transformation of the Gregorian reform into an institutional obsession with power; and one of the perpetual, but equally fated, tragedies of history is the progression from millenarianism to the total abandonment of moral values But Christianity, fortunately, contains more than these two imperfect matrices; in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we see the emergence and the struggle for survival of a third force: Christian humanism.