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§ 24. Nicolas of Clamanges, the Moralist.

The third of the great luminaries who gave fame to the University of Paris in this period, Nicolas Poillevillain de Clamanges, was born at Clamengis,407407    The spelling given by Denifle in the Chartularium. Champagne, about 1367 and died in Paris about 1437. Shy by nature, he took a less prominent part in the settlement of the great questions of the age than his contemporaries, D’Ailly and Gerson. Like them, he was identified with the discussions called forth by the schism, and is distinguished for the high value he put on the study of the Scriptures and his sharp exposition of the corruption of the clergy. He entered the College of Navarre at twelve, and had D’Ailly and Gerson for his teachers. In theology he did not go beyond the baccalaureate. It is probable he was chosen rector of the university 1393. With Peter of Monsterolio, he was the chief classical scholar of the university and was able to write that in Paris, Virgil, Terence and Cicero were often read in public and in private.408408    Chartul. III. pp. 5, xi. In the Chartularium Clamanges always appears as a member of the faculty of the arts, III. 606, etc.

In 1394, Clamanges took a prominent part in preparing the paper, setting forth the conclusions of the university in regard to the healing of the schism.409409    Chartul., III 617-624. It was addressed to the "most Christian king, Charles VI., most zealous of religious orthodoxy by his daughter, the university." This, the famous document suggesting the three ways of healing the schism,—by abdication, arbitration and by a general council,—is characterized by firmness and moderation, two of the elements prominent in Clamanges’ character. It pronounced the schism pestiferous, and in answer to the question who would give the council its authority, it answered: "The communion of all the faithful will give it; Christ will give it, who said: ’Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.’ "

The Paris professor was one of the men whom the keen-eyed Peter de Luna picked out, and when he was elected pope, Clamanges supported him and wrote appealing to him, as the one who no longer occupied the position of one boatman among others, but stood at the rudder of the ship, to act in the interest of all Christendom. He was called as secretary to the Avignon court, but became weary of the commotion and the vices of the palace and the town.410410    Taedebat me vehementer curiae, taedebat turbae, taedebat tumultus, taedebat ambitionis et morum in plerisque vitiosorum, he wrote. Quoted by Knöpfler. In 1406, he seems to have withdrawn from Benedict at Genoa and retired to Langres, where he held a canon’s stall. He did not, however, break with the pope, and, when Benedict in 1408 issued the bull threatening the French court with excommunication, Clamanges was charged with being its author. He denied the charge, but the accusation of want of patriotism had made a strong impression, and he withdrew to the Carthusian convent, Valprofonds, and later to Fontaine du Bosc. His seclusion he employed in writing letters and treatises and in the study of the Bible which he now expressed regret for having neglected in former years for classical studies.

To D’Ailly he wrote on the advantages of a secluded life.—De fructu eremi. In another tract—De fructu rerum adversarum — he presented the advantages of adversity. One of more importance complained of the abuse of the Lord’s Day and of the multiplication of festivals as taking the workman from his work while the interests of piety were not advanced. In still another tract—De studio theologico — addressed to a theologian at Paris who had inquired whether it was better for him to continue where he was or to retire to a pastorate, he emphasized the importance and delicacy of caring for souls, but advised the inquirer to remain at the university and to concern himself chiefly with the study of the Scriptures. He ascribed the Church’s decline to their neglect, and pronounced the mass, processionals and festivals as of no account unless the heart be purified by faith.

During the sessions of the Council of Constance, which he did not attend, Clamanges sent a letter to that body urging unity of thought and action. He expressed doubt whether general councils were always led by the Holy Spirit. The Church, which he defined as infallible, is only there where the Holy Spirit is, and where the Church is, can be only known to God Himself. In 1425 he returned to Paris and lectured on rhetoric and theology.

Clamanges’ reputation rests chiefly upon his sharp criticism of the corrupt morals of the clergy. His residence in Avignon gave him a good opportunity for observation. His tract on the prelates who were practising simony—De praesulibus simoniacis — is a commentary on the words, "But ye have made it a den of thieves," Matt. 21:13. A second tract on the downfall of the Church—De ruina ecclesiae — is one of the most noted writings of the age. Here are set forth the simony and private vices practised at Avignon where all things holy were prostituted for gold and luxury. Here is described the corruption of the clergy from the pope down to the lowest class of priests. The author found ideal conditions in the first century, when the minds of the clergy were wholly set on heavenly things. With possessions and power came avarice and ambition, pride and luxury. The popes themselves were guilty of pride in exalting their authority above that of the empire and by asserting for themselves the right of appointing all prelates, yea of filling all the benefices of Christendom. The evils arising from annates and expectances surpass the power of statement. The cardinals followed the popes in their greed and pride, single cardinals having as many as 500 livings. In order to perpetuate their "tyranny," pope and curia had entered into league with princes, which Clamanges pronounces an abominable fornication. Many of the bishops drew large incomes from their sees which they administered through others, never visiting them themselves. Canons and vicars followed the same course and divided their time between idleness and sensual pleasure. The mendicant monks corresponded to the Pharisees of the synagogue. Scarcely one cleric out of a thousand did what his profession demanded. They were steeped in ignorance and given to brawling, drinking, playing with dice and fornication. Priests bought the privilege of keeping concubines. As for the nuns, Clamanges said, he dared not speak of them. Nunneries were not the sanctuaries of God, but shameful brothels of Venus, resorts of unchaste and wanton youth for the sating of their passions, and for a girl to put on the veil was virtually to submit herself to prostitution.411411    Quid aliud sunt hoc tempore puellarum monasteria, nisi quaedam, non dico Dei sanctuaria sed execranda prostibula Veneris ... ut idem hodie sit puellam velare quod ad publice scortandum exponere, Hardt, I. 38. The Church was drunken with the lust of power, glory and pleasures. Judgment was sure to come, and men should bow humbly before God who alone could rectify the evils and put an end to the schism. Descriptions such as these must be used with discrimination, and it would be wrong to deduce from them that the entire clerical body was corrupt. The diseases, however, must have been deep-seated to call forth such a lament from a man of Clamanges’ position.

The author did not call to open battle like the German Reformer at a later time, but suggested as a remedy prayers, processions and fasts. His watchword was that the Church must humble itself before it can be rebuilt.412412    Eccles. prius humilianda quam erigenda. The authorship of the De ruina has been made a matter of dispute. Müntz denied it to Clamanges chiefly on the ground of its poor Latin and Knöpfler is inclined to follow him. On the other hand Schuberth and Schwab, followed somewhat hesitatingly by Bess, accept the traditional view, Schwab brings out the similarity between the De ruina and Clamanges’ other writings and takes the view that, while the tract was written in 1401 or 1402, it was not published till 1409. It was, however, a bold utterance and forms an important part of that body of literature which so powerfully moulded opinion at the time of the Reformatory councils.

The loud complaints against the state of morals at the papal court and beyond during the Avignon period increased, if possible, in strength during the time of the schism. The list of abuses to be corrected which the Council of Constance issued, Oct. 30, 1417, includes the official offences of the curia, such as reservations, annates, the sale of indulgences and the unrestricted right of appeals to the papal court. The subject of chastity it remained for individual writers to press. In describing the third Babylon, Petrarch was even more severe than Clamanges who wrote of conditions as they existed nearly a century later and accused the papal household of practising adultery, rape and all manners of fornication.413413    Mitto stuprum, raptus, incestus, adulteria, qui jam pontificalis lasciviae ludi sunt, quoted by Lea. Sacerd. Celibacy, I. 426. Gillis li Muisis, abbot of St. Martin di Tournai, d. 1352, in the Recollections of his Life written a year before his death, speaks of good wines, a good table, fine attire and above all holidays as in his day the chief occupations of monks. Curés and chaplains had girls and women as valets, a troublesome habit over which there was murmuring, and it had to be kept quiet. See C. V. Langois, La vie en France au moyen âge d’après quelques moralistes du temps, Paris, 1908, pp. 320, 336, etc. Clamanges declared that many parishes insisted upon the priests keeping concubines as a precaution in defence of their own families. Against all canonical rules John XXIII. gave a dispensation to the illegitimate son of Henry IV. of England, who was only ten years old, to enter orders.414414    Jan. 16, 1412. Under the name of E. Leboorde. For the document, see English Historical Review, 1904, p. 96 sq. The case of John XXIII. was an extreme one, but it must be remembered, that in Bologna where he was sent as cardinal-legate, his biographer, Dietrich of Nieheim, says that two hundred matrons and maidens, including some nuns, fell victims to the future pontiff’s amours. Dietrich Vrie in his History of the Council of Constance said: "The supreme pontiffs, as I know, are elected through avarice and simony and likewise the other bishops are ordained for gold. The old proverb; ’Freely give, for freely ye have received’ is now most vilely perverted and runs ’Freely I have not received and freely I will not give, for I have bought my bishopric with a great price and must indemnify myself impiously for my outlay.’ ... If Simon Magus were now alive he might buy with money not only the Holy Ghost but God the Father and Me, God the Son."415415    Hardt, I. 104 sqq. The lament is put into the mouth of Christ. But bad as was the moral condition of the hierarchy and papacy at the time of the schism, it was not so bad as during the last half century of the Middle Ages. The Reformatory councils are the best, though by no means the only, proof that a deep moral vitality existed in the Church. Their very summons and assembling were a protest against clerical corruption and hypocrisy "in head and members,"—from the pope down to the most obscure priest,—and at the same time a most hopeful sign of future betterment.


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