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§ 126. The Lower Clergy.


The cure of souls—regimen animarum — was pronounced by the Fourth Lateran, following Gregory the Great, to be the art of arts, and bishops were admonished to see to it that men capable in knowledge and of fit morals be appointed to benefices. The people were taught to respect the priest for the sake of his holy office and the fifth commandment was adduced as divine authority for submission to him.19361936    Innocent III. Ep., II. 142. "Hundreds of times," says Harter, III. 388, does this pope insist upon obedience from the priest to his superior and says ’the evil of disobedience is the crime of idolatry,’ inobedientiae malum est scelus idolatriae.

The old rule was repeated, making the canonical age for consecration to the priesthood twenty-five. Councils and popes laid constant stress upon the priest’s moral obligations, such as integrity, temperance in the use of strong drink,19371937    Fourth Lateran, can. 15.19381938    The practice of usury so frequently forbidden to priests was also forbidden to the laity, laicis usura dampnabilis est. Gratiani Decr. causa, XIV. 4, 9, Friedberg’s ed., I. 737. yards.

The old rules were renewed, debarring from the sacerdotal office persons afflicted with bodily defects, and Innocent III. complained of the bishop of Angoulême for ordaining a priest who had lost a thumb.19391939    Ep., I. 231.

Beginning with the twelfth century, the number of parishes increased with great rapidity both in the rural districts and in the towns. In German cities the division of the old parishes was encouraged by the citizens, as in Freiburg, Mainz, Worms, and Lübeck, and they insisted upon the right of choosing their pastor.19401940    Hauck, IV. 29 sqq.19411941    The Gregorian Decretals discuss chapels controlled by monks. Friedberg’s ed., II. 607 sqq.

What occurred in Germany occurred also in England. But here the endowment of churches and chapels by devout and wealthy laymen was more frequent. Such parishes, it is true, often fell to the charge of the orders, but also a large share of them to the charge of the cathedral chapters and bishops.

Clerical incomes varied fully as much in those days as they do now, if not more. The poorer German priests received from one-tenth to one-twentieth of the incomes of more fortunate rectors and canons.19421942    Hauck, IV. 47 sq. In some dioceses priests were said to receive only one-sixteenth of the tithes due them, the rest being appropriated by the lay patron or bishop. So the synod of Mainz, Hefele, VI. 75.ran made small salaries responsible for a poorly trained ministry.

The clergy depended for their maintenance chiefly upon the income from lands and the tithe. The theory was that the tenth belonged to the Church, "for the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof." The principle was extended to include the tithe of the fish-catch, the product of the chase, and the product of commerce.19431943    The last claim, made by the archbishop of Bergen, was rejected by Innocent III. Ep., I. 217. after death. Such fees became general after the twelfth century, but not without vigorous protests against them. The Second Lateran and other synods19441944    Piacenza, 1095; London, 1138, 1175; Oxford, 1222; Treves, 1227, etc. Caesar of Heisterbach, Dial., II. 7, tells of priests who for bribes gave burial to unchurched persons. rites, and for sepulture. The ground was taken by Innocent III. that, while gifts for such services were proper, they should be spontaneous and not forced. The Fourth Lateran bade laymen see they were not overlooked.

Priests receiving their benefices from laymen were likened to thieves who came not in by the door but climbed in some other way. The lay patron had the right of nomination—presentatio. To the bishop belonged the right of confirmation—concessio. Laymen venturing to confer a living without the consent of the ecclesiastical authority exposed themselves to the sentence of excommunication.19451945    First Lat., can. 9; Second Lat., can. 10; Third Lat., can. 17; synods of Nismes, 1096, Troyes, 1107, Rheims, 1119, etc. The Gregorian Decretals are full on the subject of patrons and their rights. Friedberg’s ed., II. 609-622. Innocent III. laid down the rule, quod beneficia non possint conferri per saeculares. Ep., I. 64, IX. 234, quoted by Hurter, III. 381.19461946    Hurter, III. 395. of pluralities was practised in spite of the decrees of oecumenical and local synods.19471947    Third Lat., can. 13; Fourth Lat., can. 29; Paris, 1212, etc.

The ideal of a faithful priest was not a preacher but one who administered the sacraments and other solemn rites upon the living and the dead. Restricted as the education of the priest was, it greatly surpassed that of his lay brother, and it was not so meagre as it has often been represented. There were writers who held up the ignorance of the clergy to scorn, but it is dangerous to base wide generalizations on such statements. Statements of another kind can be adduced to show that a class of priests had literary interests as wide as the age was familiar with. The schools that existed were for the training of the clergy. Synods assumed that clerics could read and prescribed that they should read their breviaries even while travelling on journeys. Peter of Blois urged them to read the Scriptures, which he called David’s harp, a plough working up the fallow field of the heart, and which he compared to drink, medicine, balsam, and a weapon. He also warned priests against allowing themselves "to be enticed away by the puerilities of heathen literature and the inventions of philosophers." When the universities arose, a large opportunity was offered for culture and the students who attended them were clerics or men who were looking forward to holy orders. The synod of Cologne, 1260, probably struck the medium in regard to the culture of the clergy, when it declared that it did not demand eminent learning of clerics but that they know how to read and properly sing the church service.

The function of parish-preaching was not altogether neglected. Bishops were enjoined by the Fourth Lateran to appoint men capable of preaching in all cathedral and conventual churches. In the eleventh century there was scarcely a German parish in which there was not some preaching during the year, and subsequent to that time, sermons were delivered regularly.19481948    Hauck, IV. 40. Cruel, Deutsche Predigt, etc., expresses a less favorable judgment and estimates that one-half of the German clergy in the 13th century were uneducated and unable to preach. Coulton, p. 277, referring more especially to Italy, speaks "of the abyss of ignorance among the clergy at which we may well stagger."bound in stories and practical lessons and show more dependence upon the Fathers than upon the Scriptures. In England and other parts of Europe sermonizing was a less common practice. English priests were required to give expositions of the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the evangelical precepts, the seven works of mercy, the seven cardinal virtues, and the seven sacraments, and to cover these subjects once a quarter. Grosseteste called upon them to be diligent in visiting the sick night and day, to preach, and to carefully read the Scriptures that they might be able to give a reason for the hope that was in them.19491949    The Constitutions of Otho, 1237. Grosseteste, Letters, LII., Luard’s ed., p. 154 sqq.ant monks started out as preachers and supplied a popular demand. The ignorance of the priesthood at times called for inhibitions of preaching, as by the synod of Oxford, 1281.

Not the least important among the priest’s functions was the supervision of wills that the Church might come in for seemly remembrance. State laws in conflict with this custom were set aside. Abuses were recognized by synods, and the synod of Paris, 1212, ordered that laymen should not be compelled to make provision in their wills for the payment of thirty mortuary masses. The priest’s signature insured the validity of a will, and some synods made the failure to call in a priest to attest the last testament a ground of excommunication.19501950    So the synods of Cashel, 1171, Narbonne, 1127, Rouen, 1231, etc.

Turning to the priest as a member of society, the Church, with unwavering emphasis, insisted upon his independence of the secular tribunal. In the seventh century, Heraclius had granted to the clergy, even in the case of criminal offences, the right of trial in ecclesiastical courts. The Isidorian fiction fully stated this theory. These and other privileges led many to enter the minor clerical orders who had no intention of performing ecclesiastical functions. Council after council pronounced the priest’s person inviolate and upon no other matter was Innocent III. more insistent.19511951    Ep., VI. 199, etc. Writing to the abp. of Pisa, he expressed amazement that the abp. should have declared a cleric, receiving injury from a layman, might submit his case to a lay tribunal. Ep., IX. 63.19521952    Clermont, 1095, 1130; Rheims, 1131, 1148; Second Lat., Third Lat., can. 12, etc.rom injury or exempt church property from spoliation. In England, Thomas à Becket is the most noteworthy example. A bishop of Caithness had his tongue cut out. A Spanish bishop received the same treatment at the hands of a king of Aragon. In Germany, Bishop Dietrich of Naumburg, a learned man, was murdered, 1123; as were also Conrad, bishop of Utrecht, 1099; Arnold bishop of Merseburg, 1126, and other bishops. Lawrence, archdeacon of York, was murdered in the vestibule of his church by a knight. The life of Norbert of Magdeburg was attempted twice.19531953    Innocent III. Ep., V. 79; M. Paris, IV. 578; Hauck, IV. 83 sqq.; M. Paris, IV. 496; vita Norberti, 18. Salembene(sic) reports the murder of a bishop of Mantua in a political quarrel. Coulton’s ed., p. 35.iest persisted in committing offences, he was excommunicated and, at last, turned over to the state for punishment.19541954    Greg., Decret., II.1, 10, Friedberg’s ed., II. 242.udy in Bologna. He declared its study was obliterating the distinction between the clerical and lay professions. The doctors of law called themselves clerks though they had not the tonsure and took to themselves wives. He demanded that, if clergymen and laymen were to be subjected to the same law, it should be the law of England for Englishmen, and of France for Frenchmen and not the law of Lombardy.

Clerical manners were a constant subject of conciliar action. Ordination afforded no immunity from vanity and love of ostentation. The extravagance of bishops and other clergy in dress and ornaments gave rise to much scandal. The Third Lateran sought to check vain display by forbidding a retinue of more than 40 or 50 horse to archbishops, 25 to cardinals, and 20 or 30 to bishops. Archdeacons were reduced to the paltry number of 5 or 7 and deans to 2. There was some excuse for retinues in an age of violence with no provision for public police. The chase had its peculiar fascination and bishops were forbidden to take hounds or falcons with them on their journeys of visitation. Dogs and hunting were in localities denied to clergymen altogether.19551955    Third Lat., etc.

The fondness of the clergy for gay apparel was often rebuked. In Southern France, clergymen ventured to wear red and green colors and to substitute for the close-fitting garment the graceful and flowing open robe. They followed the fashions of the times in ornamenting themselves with buckles and belts of gold and silver and hid the tonsure by wearing their hair long. They affected the latest styles of shoes and paraded about in silk gloves and gilded spurs, with gilded breastbands on their horses and on gilded saddles.19561956    Fourth Lat., can. 16; Soissons, 1079, London, 1102, 1175; Rheims, 1171; Paris, 1212; Montpellier, 1215, etc. Innocent III.’s letters also make reference to the worldly garb of the priests. See Hurter, III. 391.

Full as the atmosphere of the age was of war-clamor, and many warring prelates as there were, the legislation of the Church was against a fighting clergy. The wearing of swords and dirks and of a military dress was repeatedly forbidden to them. Wars for the extermination of heresy were in a different category from feuds among Catholic Christians. It was in regard to the former that Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, said, "As for the enemies of Christ, we shall slay them and purify the face of the earth, that the whole world may be subject to one Catholic Church and become one fold and one shepherd."19571957    M. Paris, an. 1238. Priests were prohibited from attending executions, and also tournaments and duels, on the ground that these contests presented the possibility of untimely death to the contestants. In case a combatant received a mortal wound he was entitled to the sacrament but was denied ecclesiastical burial.19581958    Rouen, 1083; Soissons, 1079; Clermont, 1095; Fourth Lateran; Treves, 1227; Rouen, 1231. The Constitutions of Otho, 1237, etc.bdeacons as well as to priests.

The period opens with the dark picture of clerical morals by Peter Damiani who likened them to the morals of the Cities of the Plain. Bernard, a hundred years later, in condemning clergymen for the use of military dress, declared they had neither the courage of the soldier nor the virtues of the clergyman.19591959    De consid., III. 5. habitu milites, quaestu clericos, actu neutrum exhibent.

Dice were played even on the altars of Notre Dame, Paris,19601960    Chart. univ. Paris, I. No. 470.19611961    Coulton’s ed., 272 sqq. According to Caesar of Heisterbach, wine often flowed at the dedication of churches. A Devonshire priest was accustomed to brew his beer in the church-building.

The most famous passage of all is the passage in which Jacob de Vitry describes conditions in Paris. Fornication among clergymen, he says, was considered no sin. Loose women paraded the streets and, as it were by force, drew them to their lodgings. And if they refused, the women pointed the finger at them, crying "Sodomites." Things were so bad and the leprosy so incurable that it was considered honorable to have one or more concubines. In the same building, school was held upstairs and prostitutes lived below. In the upper story masters read and in the lower story loose women plied their trade. In one part of the building women and their procurors disputed and in another part the clergy held forth in their disputations.19621962    See text; Rashdall, Universities, II. 690.

The Fourth Lateran arraigned bishops for spending the nights in revelry and wantonness. The archbishopric of Rouen was occupied for 113 years by three prelates of scandalous fame. Two of them were bastards of the ducal house and all rivalled or excelled the barons round about in turbulence and license. A notorious case in high places was that of the papal legate, Cardinal John of Crema. He held a council which forbade priests and the lower clergy to have wives or concubines; but, sent to the bishop of Durham to remonstrate with him over the debauchery which ruled in his palace, the cardinal himself yielded to a woman whom the bishop provided. The bishop regarded it as a jest when he pointed out the cardinal in the act of fornication.

Marriage and concubinage continued to be practised by the clergy in spite of the Hildebrandian legislation. Innocent III. agreed with Hildebrand that a priest with a family is divided in his affections and cannot give to God and the Church his full allegiance in time and thought.19631963    Ep., I. 469, VI. 103, etc., Migne, 214. 436; 215. 110.hops not only violated the canons of the Church themselves by committing the "crime of the flesh," as Gregory VII. called it, but winked at their violation by priests for a money-compensation. A common saying among priests was, si non caste, caute; that is, "if not chaste, at least cautious." In this way Paul’s words were misinterpreted when he said, "If they cannot contain, let them marry." Bonaventura, who knew the facts, declared "that very many of the clergy are notoriously unchaste, keeping concubines in their houses and elsewhere or notoriously sinning here and there with many persons."19641964    Libellus apologet. and Quare fratres Minores praedicant.

Conditions must have been bad indeed, if they equalled the priestly customs of the fourteenth century and the example set by the popes in the latter half of the fifteenth. Who will forget the example and mistresses of the first and only Scotch cardinal, Archbishop Beaton, who condemned Patrick Hamilton and Wishart to death! Were not the Swiss Reformers Bullinger and Leo Jud sons of priests, and was not Zwingli, in spite of his offence against the law of continence, in good standing so long as he remained in the papal communion!

The violation of the ecclesiastical law of celibacy was, however, by no means in all cases a violation of the moral law. Without the ceremony of marriage, many a priest lived honorably with the woman he had chosen, and cared for and protected his family. The Roman pontiff’s ordinance, setting aside an appointment of the Almighty, was one of the most offensive pieces of papal legislation and did unspeakable injury to the Church.



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