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§ 88. Legislation.


Mediaeval Christianity is not a direct continuation of the ante-Nicene Christianity in hostile conflict with the heathen state, but of the post-Nicene Christianity in friendly union with a nominally Christian state. The missionaries aimed first at the conversion of the rulers of the barbarian races of Western and Northern Europe. Augustin, with his thirty monks, was provided by Pope Gregory with letters to princes, and approached first King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha in Kent. Boniface leaned on the pope and Charles Martel. The conversion of Clovis decided the religion of the Franks. The Christian rulers became at once the patrons of the church planted among their subjects, and took Constantine and Theodosius for their models. They submitted to the spiritual authority of the Catholic church, but aspired to its temporal government by the appointment of bishops, abbots, and the control over church-property. Hence the frequent collisions of the two powers, which culminated in the long conflict between the pope and the emperor.

The civil and ecclesiastical relations of the middle ages are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to study or understand the one without the other. In Spain, for instance, the synods of Toledo were both ecclesiastical councils and royal parliaments; after the affairs of the church were disposed of, the bishops and nobles met together for the enactment of civil laws, which were sanctioned by the king. The synods and diets held under Charlemagne had likewise a double character. In England the bishops were, and are still, members of the House of Lords, and often occupied seats in the cabinet down to the time of Cardinal Wolsey, who was Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England. The religious persecutions of the middle ages were the joint work of church and state.

This union has a bright and a dark side. It was a wholesome training-school for barbarous races, it humanized and ennobled the state; but it secularized the church and the clergy, and hindered the development of freedom by repressing all efforts to emancipate the mind from the yoke of despotic power. The church gained a victory over the world, but the world gained also a victory over the church. St. Jerome, who witnessed the first effects of the marriage of the church with the Roman empire, anticipated the experience of later ages, when he said: “The church by its connection with Christian princes gained in power and riches, but lost in virtues.”411411    “Ecclesia postquam ad Christianos principes venit, potentia quidem et divitiis, major, sed virtutibus minor facta.” Dante, who lived in the golden age of the mediaeval hierarchy, and believed the fable of the donation of Constantine to Sylvester, traced the ills of the church to “that marriage-dower” which the first wealthy pope received from the first Christian emperor.

The connection of the ecclesiastical and civil powers is embodied in the legislation which regulates the conduct of man in his relations to his fellow-men, and secures social order and national welfare. It is an index of public morals as far as it presupposes and fixes existing customs; and where it is in advance of popular sentiment, it expresses a moral ideal in the mind of the lawgivers to be realized by the educational power of legal enactments.

During the middle ages there were three systems of jurisprudence: the Roman law, the Barbaric law, and the Canon law. The first two proceeded from civil, the third from ecclesiastical authority. The civil law embodies the records and edicts of emperors and kings, the enactments of diets and parliaments, the decisions of courts and judges. The ecclesiastical law embodies the canons of councils and decretals of popes. The former is heathen in origin, but improved and modified by Christianity; the latter is the direct production of the church, yet as influenced by the state of mediaeval society. Both rest on the union of church and state, and mutually support each other, but it was difficult to draw the precise line of difference, and to prevent occasional collisions of jurisdiction.



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