|« Prev||The Clergy||Next »|
§ 73. The Clergy.
Both in respect of morals and education the clergy, during the period following the year 1450, showed improvement over the age of the Avignon captivity and the papal schism. Clerical practice in that former age was so lo that it was impossible for it to go lower and any appearance of true religion remain. One of the healthy signs of this latter period was that, in a spirit of genuine religious devotion, Savonarola in Italy and such men in Germany as Busch, Thomas Murner, Geiler of Strassburg, Sebastian Brant and the Benedictine abbot, Trithemius, held up to condemnation, or ridicule, priestly incompetency and worldliness. The pictures, which they joined Erasmus in drawing, were dark enough. Nevertheless, the clergy both of the higher and lower grades included in its ranks many men who truly sought the well-being of the people and set an example of purity of conduct.
The first cause of the low condition, for low it continued to be, was the impossible requirement of celibacy. The infraction of this rule weakened the whole moral fibre of the clerical order. A second cause is to be looked for in the seizure of the rich ecclesiastical endowments by the aristocracy as its peculiar prize and securing them for the sons of noble parentage without regard to their moral and intellectual fitness. To the evils arising from these two causes must be added the evils arising from the unblushing practice of pluralism. No help came from Rome. The episcopal residences of Toledo, Constance, Paris, Mainz, Cologne and Canterbury could not be expected to be models of domestic and religious order when the tales of Boccaccio were being paralleled in the lives of the supreme functionaries of Christendom at its centre.
The grave discussions of clerical manners, carried on at the Councils of Constance and Basel, revealed the disease without providing a cure. The proposition was even made by Cardinal Zabarella and Gerson, in case further attempts to check priestly concubinage failed, to concede to the clergy the privilege of marriage.11301130 Lea: Cler. Celibacy, II. 25. Gerson: Dial. naturae et sophiae de castitate ecclesiasticorum. Du Pin’s ed., II. 617-636. In the programme for a reformation of the Church, offered by Sigismund at Basel, the concession was included and Pius II., one of the attendants on that synod, declared the reasons for restoring the right of matrimony to priests to be stronger in that day than were the reasons in a former age for forbidding it. The need of a relaxation of the rigid rule found recognition in the decrees of Eugenius IV., 1441, and Alexander VI., 1496, releasing some of the military orders from the vow of chastity. Here and there, priests like Lallier of Paris at the close of the 15th century, dared to propose openly, as Wyclif had done a century before, its full abolition. But, for making the proposal, the Sorbonne denied to Lallier the doctorate.
In Spain, the efforts of synods and prelates to put a check upon clerical immorality accomplished little. Finally, the secular power intervened and repeated edicts were issued by Ferdinand and Isabella against priestly concubinage, 1480, 1491, 1502, 1503. So energetic was the attempt at enforcement that, in districts, clerics complained that the secular officials made forcible entrance into their houses and carried off their women companions.11311131 Lea: Inq. of Spain, I. 15 sqq. In his History of the Spanish Inquisition, Dr. Lea devotes a special chapter to clerical solicitation at the confessional. Episcopal deliverances show that the priests were often illiterate and without even a knowledge of Latin. The prelates were given to worldliness and the practice of pluralism. The revenues of the see of Toledo were estimated at from 80,000 to 100,000 ducats, with patronage at the disposal of its incumbent amounting to a like sum. A single instance must suffice to show the extent to which pluralism in Spain was carried. Gonzalez de Mendoza, while yet a child, held the curacy of Hita, at twelve was archdeacon of Guadalajara, one of the richest benefices of Spain, and retained the bishopric of Seguenza during his successive administrations of the archbishoprics of Seville and Toledo. Gonzalez was a gallant knight and, in 1484, when he led the army which invaded Granada, he took with him his bastard son, Rodrigo, who was subsequently married in great state in the presence of Ferdinand and Isabella to Ferdinand’s niece. In 1476, when the archbishopric of Saragossa became vacant, king Juan II. applied to Sixtus IV. to appoint his son, Alfonzo, a child of six, to the place. Sixtus declined, but after a spirited controversy preserved the king’s good-will by appointing the boy perpetual administrator of the see.
In France, the bishop of Angers, in an official address to Charles VIII., 1484, declared that the religious orders had fallen below the level of the laity in their morals.11321132 For further testimonies, see Lea: Cler. Celibacy, II. 8 sqq. To give a case of extravagant pluralism, John, son of the duke of Lorraine, 1498–1550, was appointed bishop-coadjutor of Metz, 1501, entering into full possession seven years later, and, one after the other, he united with this preferment the bishoprics of Toul, 1517, and Térouanne, 1518, Valence and Die, 1521, Verdun, 1523, Alby, 1536, Macon soon after, Agen, 1541 and Nantes, 1542. To these were added the archbishoprics of Narbonne, 1524, Rheims, 1533, and Lyons, 1537. He also held at least nine abbeys, including Cluny. He resigned the sees of Verdun and Metz to a nephew, but resumed them in 1548 when this nephew married Marguerite d’Egmont.11331133 See Lea in Cambr. Mod. Hist., I. 660. In 1518, he received the red hat. During the 15th century one boy of 10 and another of 17 filled the bishopric of Geneva. A loyal Romanist, Soeur Jeanne de Jussie, writing after the beginning of the 16th century, testifies to the dissoluteness of the bishops and clergy of the Swiss city and charged them with living in adultery.11341134 Quoted by Lindsay: The Reformation, II. 90. Of the Italian convents, Savonarola declared that the nuns had become worse than harlots.
In Germany, although as a result of the labors of the Mystics the ecclesiastical condition was much better, the moral and intellectual unfitness was such that it calls forth severe criticism from Catholic as well as Protestant historians. The Catholic, Janssen, says that "the profligacy of the clergy at German cathedrals, as well as their rudeness and ignorance, was proverbial. The complaints which have come down to us from the 15th century of the bad morals of the German clergy are exceedingly numerous." Ficker, a Protestant, speaks of "the extraordinary immorality to which priests and monks yielded themselves." And Bezold, likewise a Protestant, says that "in the 15th century the worldliness of the clergy reached a height not possible to surpass."11351135 Janssen, I. 681, 687, 708; Ficker, p. 27; Bezold, pp. 79, 83. The contemporary Jacob Wimpheling, set forth probably the true state of the case. He was severe upon the clergy and yet spoke of many excellent prelates, canons and vicars, known for their piety and good works. He knew of a German cleric who held at one time 20 livings, including 8 canonries. To the archbishopric of Mainz, Albrecht of Hohenzollern added the see of Halberstadt and the archbishopric of Magdeburg. For his promotion to the see of Mainz he paid 30,000 gulden, money he borrowed from the Fuggers.
The bishops were charged with affecting the latest fashions in dress and wearing the finest textures, keeping horses and huntings dogs, surrounding themselves with servants and pages, allowing their beards and hair to grow long, and going about in green- and red-colored shoes and shoes punctured with holes through which ribbons were drawn. They were often seen in coats of mail, and accoutred with helmets and swords, and the tournament often witnessed them entered in the lists.11361136 See Hefele-Hergenröther: Conciliengesch., VIII., under Kleidung, and Butzbach: Satirae elegiacae quoted by Janssen, I. 685 sqq.
The custom of reserving the higher offices of the Church for the aristocracy was widely sanctioned by law. As early as 1281 in Worms and 1294 in Osnabruck, no one could be dean who was not of noble lineage. The office of bishop and prebend stalls were limited to men of noble birth by Basel, 1474, Augsburg, 1475, Münster and Paderborn, 1480, and Osnabruck, 1517. The same rule prevailed in Mainz, Halberstadt, Meissen, Merseburg and other dioceses. At the beginning of the 16th century, it was the established custom in Germany that no one should be admitted to a cathedral chapter who could not show 16 ancestors who had joined in the tournament and, as early as 1474, the condition of admission to the chapter of Cologne was that the candidate should show 32 members of his family of noble birth. Of the 228 bishops who successively occupied the 32 German sees from 1400–1517, all but 13 were noblemen. The eight occupants of the see of Münster, 1424–1508, were all counts or dukes. So it was with 10 archbishops of Mainz, 1419–1514, the 7 bishops of Halberstadt, 1407–1513, and the 5 archbishops of Cologne, 1414–1515.11371137 Janssen, I. 689-696, gives a full list of these bishops. This custom of keeping the high places for men of noble birth was smartly condemned by Geiler of Strassburg and other contemporaries. Geiler declared that Germany was soaked with the folly that to the bishoprics, not the more pious and learned should be promoted but only those who, "as they say, belong to good families." It remained for the Protestant Reformation to reassert the democratic character of the ministry.
A high standard could not be expected of the lower ranks of the clergy where the incumbents of the high positions held them, not by reason of piety or intellectual attainments but as the prize of birth and favoritism. The wonder is, that there was any genuine devotion left among the lower priesthood. Its ranks were greatly overstocked. Every family with several sons expected to find a clerical position for one of them and often the member of the family, least fitted by physical qualifications to make his way in the world, was set apart for religion. Here again Geiler of Strassburg applied his lash of indignation, declaring that, as people set apart for St. Velten the chicken that had the pox and for St. Anthony the pig that was affected with disease, so they devoted the least likely of their children to the holy office.
The German village clergy of the period were as a rule not university bred. The chronicler, Felix Faber of Ulm, in 1490 declared that out of 1000 priests scarcely one had ever seen a university town and a baccalaureate or master was a rarity seldom met with. With a sigh, people of that age spoke of the well-equipped priest of, the good old times."
From the Alps to Scandinavia, concubinage was widely practised and in parts of Germany, such as Saxony, Bavaria, Austria and the Tirol, it was general. The region, where there was the least of it, was the country along the Rhine. In parts of Switzerland and other localities, parishes, as a measure of self-defence, forced their young pastors to take concubines. Two of the Swiss Reformers, Leo Jud and Bullinger, were sons of priests and Zwingli, a prominent priest, was given to incontinence before starting on his reformatory career. It was a common saying that the Turk of clerical sensualism within was harder to drive out than the Turk from the East.
How far the conscientious effort, made in Germany in the last years of the Middle Ages to reform the convents, was attended with success is a matter of doubt. John Busch labored most energetically in that direction for nearly fifty years in Westphalia, Thuringia and other parts. The things that he records seem almost past belief. Nunneries, here and there, were no better than brothels. In cases, they were habitually visited by noblemen. The experience is told of one nobleman who was travelling with his servant and stopped over night at a convent. After the evening meal, the nuns cleared the main room and, dressed in fine apparel, amused their visitor by exhibitions of dancing.11381138 Janssen, I. 726. Bezold, p. 83, certainly goes far, when he makes the unmodified statement, that the convents were high schools of the most shameful immorality—Hochschulen der gräuelichsten Unsittlichkeit Thomas Murner went so far as to say that convents for women had all been turned into refuges for people of noble birth.11391139 Sind jetzt allgemein Edelleute Spital, Janssen, I. 724. The dancing during the sessions of the Diet of Cologne, 1505, was opened by the archbishop and an abbess, and nuns from St. Ursula’s and St. Mary’s, the king Maximilian looking on. Preachers, like Geiler of Strassburg, cried out against the moral dangers which beset persons taking the monastic vow.11401140 Die jungen Mönchlein, he said, und Nönnlein die du machest, die werden Huren und Buben. The young monks and nuns will become harlots and rascals. I have not spoken of that custom of mediaeval lust, the jus primae noctis or droit de marquette as it was called, whereby the feudal lord had the privilege of spending the first night with all brides. Spiritual lords in Southern France, having domains, did not shrink, in cases, from demanding the same privilege. Lea: Celibacy, I. 441. The cloistral life came to be known as "the compulsory vocation." As the time of the Reformation approached, there was no lessening of the outcry against the immorality of the clergy and convents, as appears from the writings of Ulrich von Hutten and Erasmus.
The practice of priestly concubinage, uncanonical though it was, bishops were quite ready to turn into a means of gain, levying a tax upon it. In the diocese of Bamberg, a toll of 5 gulden was exacted for every child born to a priest and, in a single year, the tax is said to have brought in the considerable sum of 1,500 gulden. In 1522, a similar tax of 4 gulden brought into the treasury of the bishop of Constance, 7,500 gulden. The same year, complaint was made to the pope by the Diet of Nürnberg of the reckless lawlessness of young priests in corrupting women and of the annual tax levied in most dioceses upon all the clergy without distinction whether they kept concubines or not.11411141 Lea, II. 59. It is not surprising, in view of these facts, that Luther called upon monks and nuns unable to avoid incontinence of thought, to come forth from the monasteries and marry. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that no plausible charge of incontinence was made against the Reformer.
If we turn to England, we are struck with the great dearth of contemporary religious literature, 1450–1517, as compared with Germany.11421142 Gee and Hardy: in Documents, etc., gives only two ecclesiastical acts between 1402-1532. Few writings have come down to us from which to form a judgment of the condition of the clergy. Our deductions must be drawn in part from the testimonies of the English Humanists and Reformers and from the records of the visitations of monasteries and also their suppression under Henry VIII. In a document, drawn up at the request of Henry V. by the University of Oxford, 1414, setting forth the need of a reformation of the Church, one of the articles pronounced the "undisguised profligacy of the clergy to be the scandal of the Church."11431143 Wilkins: Concil., III. 360-365. In the middle of the century, 1455, Archbishop Bourchier’s Commission for Reforming the Clergy spoke of the marriage and concubinage of the secular clergy and the gross ignorance which, in quarters, marked them. In the latter part of the century, 1489, the investigation of the convents, undertaken by Archbishop Morton, uncovered an unsavory state of affairs. The old abbey of St. Albans, for example, had degenerated till it was little better than a house of prostitution for monks. In two priories under the abbey’s jurisdiction, the nuns had been turned out to give place to avowed courtesans. The Lollards demanded the privilege of wedlock for priests. When, in 1494, 30 of their number were arraigned by Robert Blacater, archbishop of Glasgow, one of the charges against them was their assertion that priests had wives in the primitive Church.11441144 Capes: Engl. Ch. in the 14th and 15th Centt., p. 259, says that many of the clergy were actually married. Writing at the very close of the 15th century, Colet exclaimed, "Oh, the abominable impiety of those miserable priests, of whom this age of ours contains a great multitude, who fear not to rush from the arms of some foul harlot into the temple of the Church, to the altar of Christ, to the mysteries of God."11451145 Seebohm, p. 76. For Hutton’s summary of the Norwich visitation, see Traill: Social Engl., II. 467 sqq. He concludes that "if the religious did little good, they did no harm." But see same volume, p. 565, for the charge against the priests of Gloucester. The famous tract, the Beggars’ Petition, written on the eve of the British Reformation, accused the clergy of having no other serious occupation than the destruction of the peace of family life and the corruption of women.11461146 Froude puts the composition of this tract in 1528. The 16th complaint runs: "Who is she that will set her hands to work to get 3 pence a day and may have at least 20 pence a day to sleep an hour with a friar, a monk or a priest. Who is she that would labor for a groat a day and may have at least 12 pence a day to be a bawd to a priest, monk or friar?"
As for the practice of plural livings, it was perhaps as much in vogue in England as in Germany. Dr. Sherbourne, Colet’s predecessor as dean of St. Paul’s, was a notable example of a pluralist, but in this respect was exceeded by Morton and Wolsey. As for the ignorance of the English clergy, it is sufficient to refer to the testimony of Bishop Hooper who, during his visitation in Gloucester, 1551, found 168 of 811 clergymen unable to repeat the Ten Commandments, 40 who could not tell where the Lord’s Prayer was to be found and 31 unable to give the author.11471147 See James Gairdner in Engl. Hist. Rev., Jan., 1905.
In Scotland, the state of the clergy in pre-Reformation times was probably as low as in any other part of Western Europe.11481148 Dr. Tulloch says in his Luther and other Leaders of the Reformation, "Nowhere else had the clergy reached such a pitch of flagrant and disgraceful iniquity and the Roman Catholic religion such an utter corruption of all that is good as in Scotland." John IV.’s bastard son was appointed bishop of St. Andrews at 16 and the illegitimate sons of James V., 1513–1542, held the five abbeys of Holyrood, Kelso, St. Andrews, Melrose and Coldingham. Bishops lived openly in concubinage and married their daughters into the ranks of the nobility. In the marriage document, certifying the nuptials of Cardinal Beaton’s eldest daughter to the Earl of Crawford, 1546, the cardinal called her his child. On the night of his murder, he is said to have been with his favorite mistress, Marion Ogilvie.
Side by side with the decline of the monastic institutions, there prevailed among the monks of the 15th century a most exaggerated notion of the sanctifying influence of the monastic vow. According to Luther, the monks of his day recognized two grades of Christians, the perfect and the imperfect. To the former the monastics belonged. Their vow was regarded as a second baptism which cleared those who received it from all stain, restored them to the divine image and put them in a class with the angels. Luther was encouraged by his superiors to feel, after he had taken the vow, that he was as pure as a child. This second regeneration had been taught by St. Bernard and Thomas Aquinas. Thomas said that it may with reason be affirmed that any one "entering religion," that is, taking the monastic vow, thereby received remission of sins.11491149 Bernard in Migne, 182:889, Th. Aq. Summa, II. 2, q. 189. Denifle, Luther und Lutherthum, I. 208, makes the monstrous charge of deliberate lying and knavery against Luther for his treatment of monkish baptism. Kolde: Denifle’s Beschimpfung M. Luthers, Leipz., 1904, pp. 33-49, shows the justice of Luther’s representations. Their truth is not affected by the statement of Joseph Ries: Das geistiche Leben nach der Lehre d. hl. Bernard, p. 86, namely that Bernard and the Church held that outside the convents there may be some who are in the state of perfection while inside cloistral walls there maybe those who are in the imperfect state.
|« Prev||The Clergy||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version