§ 73. Literature.


I. The chief and almost only sources for this chapter are the acts of Synods, the lives of saints and missionaries, and the chronicles of monasteries. The Acta Sanctorum mix facts and legends in inextricable confusion. The most important are the biographies of the Irish, Scotch, and Anglo-Saxon missionaries, and the letters of Boniface. For the history, of France during the sixth and seventh centuries we have the Historia Francorum by Gregory of Tours, the Herodotus of France (d. 594), first printed in Paris, 1511, better by Ruinart, 1699; best by Giesebrecht (in German), Berlin 1851, 9th ed. 1873, 2 vols.; and Gregorii Historiae Epitomata by his continuator, Fredegar, a clergyman of Burgundy (d. about 660), ed. by Ruinart, Paris 1699, and by Abel (in German), Berlin 1849. For the age of Charlemagne we have the Capitularies of the emperor, and the historical works of Einhard or Eginard (d. 840). See Ouvres complètes d’ Eginard, réunies pour la première fois et traduites en français, par A. Teulet, Paris 1840–’43, 2 vols. For an estimate of these and other writers of our period comp. part of the first, and the second vol. of Ad. Ebert’s Allgem. Gesch. der Lit. des Mittelalters im Abendlande, Leipz. 1874 and 1880.

II. Hefele: Conciliengesch. vols. III. and IV. (from a.d. 560–1073), revised ed. 1877 and 1879.

Neander: Denkwördigkeiten aus der Geschichte des christl. Lebens. 3d ed. Hamburg, 1845, ’46, 2 vols.

Aug. Thierry: Recits des temps merovingiens. Paris 1855 (based on Gregory of Tours).

Loebell: Gregor von Tours und seine Zeit. Leipz. 1839, second ed. 1868.

Monod: Études critiques sur les sources de l’histoire mérovingienne. Paris 1872.

Lecky: History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, fifth ed. Lond. 1882, 2 vols. (part of the second vol.).

Brace: Gesta Christi, N. York, third ed. 1883, p. 107 sqq.

Comp. Guizot (Protest., d. 1874): Histoire générale de la civilisation en Europe et en Prance depuis la chute de l’empire romain jusqu à la révolution française, Paris 1830; seventh ed. 1860, 5 vols. (one vol. on Europe in general).

Balmez, (a Spanish philosopher and apologist of the Roman church, d. 1848): El Protatantismo comparado con el Catolicismo en sus relaciones con la civilisacion europea. Barcelona, 1842–44, 4 vols. The same in French, German, and English translations. A Roman Catholic counterpart to Guizot.


 § 74. General Character of Mediaeval Morals.


The middle age of Western Christendom resembles the period of the Judges in the history of Israel when "the highways were unoccupied, and the travelers walked through by-ways," and when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes."326  It was a time of civil and political commotions and upheavings, of domestic wars and foreign invasions. Society was in a chaotic state and bordering on the brink of anarchy. Might was right. It was the golden age of border-ruffians, filibusters, pirates and bold adventurers, but also of gallant knights, genuine heroes and judges, like Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and Samuel of old. It presents, in striking contrasts, Christian virtues and heathen vices, ascetic self-denial and gross sensuality. Nor were there wanting idyllic episodes of domestic virtue and happiness which call to mind the charming story of Ruth from the period of the Judges.

Upon the whole the people were more religious than moral. Piety was often made a substitute or atonement for virtue. Belief in the supernatural and miraculous was universal; scepticism and unbelief were almost unknown. Men feared purgatory and hell, and made great sacrifices to gain heaven by founding churches, convents, and charitable institutions. And yet there was a frightful amount of immorality among the rulers and the people. In the East the church had to contend with the vices of an effete civilization and a corrupt court. In Italy, France and Spain the old Roman vices continued and were even invigorated by the infusion of fresh and barbaric blood. The history of the Merovingian rulers, as we learn from Bishop Gregory of Tours, is a tragedy of murder, adultery, and incest, and ends in destruction.327

The church was unfavorably affected by the state of surrounding society, and often drawn into the current of prevailing immorality. Yet, upon the whole, she was a powerful barrier against vice, and the chief, if not the only promoter of education, virtue and piety in the dark ages. From barbaric and semi-barbaric material she had to build up the temple of a Christian civilization. She taught the new converts the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments the best popular summaries of faith, piety, and duty. She taught them also the occupations of peaceful life. She restrained vice and encouraged virtue. The synodical legislation was nearly always in the right direction. Great stress was laid on prayer and fasting, on acts of hospitality, charity, and benevolence, and on pilgrimages to sacred places. The rewards of heaven entered largely as an inducement for leading a virtuous and holy life; but it is far better that people should be good from fear of hell and love of heaven than ruin themselves by immorality and vice.

A vast amount of private virtue and piety is never recorded on the pages of histor y, and is spent in modest retirement. So the wild flowers in the woods and on the mountains bloom and fade away unseen by human eyes. Every now and then incidental allusion is made to unknown saints. Pope Gregory mentions a certain Servulus in Rome who was a poor cripple from childhood, but found rich comfort and peace in the Bible, although he could not read himself, and had to ask pious friends to read it to him while he was lying on his couch; he never complained, but was full of gratitude and praise; when death drew near he requested his friends to sing psalms with him; then stopped suddenly and expired with the words: "Peace, hear ye not the praises of God sounding from heaven?"  This man’s life of patient suffering was not in vain, but a benediction to many who came in contact with it. "Those also serve who only stand and wait."

The moral condition of the middle age varied considerably. The migration of nations was most unfavorable to the peaceful work of the church. Then came the bright reign of Charlemagne with his noble efforts for education and religion, but it was soon followed, under his weak successors, by another period of darkness which grew worse and worse till a moral reformation began in the convent of Cluny, and reached the papal chair under the lead of Hildebrand.

Yet if we judge by the number of saints in the Roman Calendar, the seventh century, which is among the, darkest, was more pious than any of the preceding and succeeding centuries, except the third and fourth (which are enriched by the martyrs).




The following is the table of saints in the Roman Calendar (according to Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints): Saints.



 First Century



 Second Century



 Third Century



 Fourth Century



 Fifth Century



 Sixth Century



 Seventh Century



 Eighth Century



 Ninth Century



 Tenth Century



 Eleventh Century



 Twelfth Century



 Thirteenth Century



 Fourteenth Century



 Fifteenth Century



 Sixteenth Century



 Seventeenth Century



 Eighteenth Century




In the first centuries the numerous but nameless martyrs of the Neronian and other persecutions are not separately counted. The Holy Innocents, the Seven Sleepers (in the third century), the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (fourth century,) and other groups of martyrs are counted only one each. Lecky asserts too confidently that the seventh century was the most prolific in saints, and yet the most immoral. It is strange that the number of saints should have declined from the seventh century, while the church increased, and that the eighteenth century of infidelity should have produced five more saints than the seventeenth century. It would therefore be very unsafe to make this table the basis for


 § 75. Clerical Morals.


1. Social Position. The clergy stood, during the middle ages, at the head of society, and shared with kings and nobles the rule of the people. They had the guardianship of the souls and consciences of men, and handled the keys of the kingdom of heaven. They possessed nearly all the learning, but it was generally very limited, and confined to a little Latin without any Greek. Some priests descended from noble and even royal blood, others from slaves who belonged to monasteries. They enjoyed many immunities from public burdens, as military duty and taxation. Charlemagne and his successors granted to them all the privileges which the Eastern emperors from the time of Constantine had bestowed upon them. They could not be sued before a civil court, and had their own episcopal tribunals. No lay judge could apprehend or punish an ecclesiastic without the permission of his bishop.

They were supported by the income from landed estates, cathedral funds, and the annual tithes which were enacted after the precedent of the Mosaic law. Pepin, by a decree of 764, imposed the payment of tithes upon all the royal possessions. Charlemagne extended it to all lands, and made the obligation general by a capitulary in 779. The tithes were regarded as the minimum contribution for the maintenance of religion and the support of the poor. They were generally paid to the bishop, as the administrator of all ecclesiastical goods. Many nobles had their own domestic chaplains who depended on their lords, and were often employed in degrading offices, as waiting at table and attending to horses and hounds.

2. Morals. The priests were expected to excel in virtue as well as in education, and to commend their profession by an exemplary life. Upon the whole they were superior to their flock, but not unfrequently they disgraced their profession by scandalous immorality. According to ancient discipline every priest at his ordination was connected with a particular church except missionaries to heathen lands. But many priests defied the laws, and led an irregular wandering life as clerical tramps. They were forbidden to wear the sword, but many a bishop lost his life on the battle field and even some popes engaged in warfare. Drunkenness and licentiousness were common vices. Gregory of Tours mentions a bishop named Cautinus who, when intoxicated, had to be carried by four men from the table. Boniface gives a very unfavorable but partizan account of the French and German clergymen who acted independently of Rome. The acts of Synods are full of censures and punishments of clerical sins and vices. They legislated against fornication, intemperance, avarice, the habits of hunting, of visiting horse-races and theatres, and enjoined even corporal punishments.328

Clerical immorality reached the lowest depth in the tenth and eleventh centuries, when Rome was a sink of iniquity, and the popes themselves set the worst example. But a new reform began with the Hildebrandian popes.

3. Canonical Life. Chrodegang, bishop of Metz (a.d. 760), reformed the clergy by introducing, or reviving, after the example of St. Augustin, the "canonical" or semi-monastic life. The bishop and lower clergymen lived in the same house, near the cathedral, ate at the same table, prayed and studied together, like a family of monks, only differing from them in dress and the right of holding property or receiving fees for official services. Such an establishment was called Chapter,329 and the members of it were called Canons.330

The example was imitated in other places. Charlemagne made the canonical life obligatory on all bishops as far as possible. Many chapters were liberally endowed. But during the civil commotions of the Carolingians the canonical life degenerated or was broken up.

 4. Celibacy. In the East the lower clergy were always allowed to marry, and only a second marriage is forbidden. In the West celibacy was the prescribed rule, but most clergymen lived either with lawful wives or with concubines. In Milan all the priests and deacons were married in the middle of the eleventh century, but to the disgust of the severe moralists of the time.331  Hadrian II. was married before he became pope, and had a daughter, who was murdered by her husband, together with the pope’s wife, Stephania (868).332  The wicked pope Benedict IX. sued for the daughter of his cousin, who consented on condition that he resign the papacy (1033).333  The Hildebrandian popes, Leo IX. and Nicolas II., made attempts to enforce clerical celibacy all over the West. They identified the interests of clerical morality and influence with clerical celibacy, and endeavored to destroy natural immorality by enforcing unnatural morality. How far Gregory VII. succeeded in this part of his reform, will be seen in the next period.


 § 76. Domestic Life.


The purity and happiness of home-life depend on the position of woman, who is the beating heart of the household. Female degradation was one of the weakest spots in the old Greek and Roman civilization. The church, in counteracting the prevailing evil, ran into the opposite extreme of ascetic excess as a radical cure. Instead of concentrating her strength on the purification and elevation of the family, she recommended lonely celibacy as a higher degree of holiness and a safer way to heaven.

Among the Western and Northern barbarians she found a more favorable soil for the cultivation of Christian family life. The contrast which the heathen historian Tacitus and the Christian monk Salvian draw between the chastity of the Teutonic barbarians and the licentiousness of the Latin races is overdrawn for effect, but not without foundation. The German and Scandinavian tribes had an instinctive reverence for the female sex, as being inspired by a divinity, possessed of the prophetic gift, and endowed with secret charms. Their women shared the labors and dangers of men, emboldened them in their fierce battles, and would rather commit suicide than submit to dishonor. Yet the wife was entirely in the power of her husband, and could be bought, sold, beaten, and killed.

The Christian religion preserved and strengthened the noble traits, and developed them into the virtues of chivalry; while it diminished or abolished evil customs and practices. The Synods often deal with marriage and divorce. Polygamy, concubinage, secret marriages, marriages with near relatives, mixed marriages with heathens or Jews or heretics were forbidden; the marriage tie was declared sacred and indissoluble (except by adultery); sexual intemperance restrained and forbidden on Sundays and during Lent; the personal independence of woman and her rights of property were advanced. The Virgin Mary was constantly held up to the imagination as the incarnation of female parity and devotion. Not unfrequently, however, marriages were dissolved by mutual consent from mistaken ascetic piety. When a married layman entered the priesthood or a convent, he usually forsook his wife. In a Roman Synod of 827 such separation was made subject to the approval of the bishop. A Synod of Rouen, 1072, forbade husbands whose wives had taken the veil, to marry another. Wives whose husbands had disappeared were forbidden by the same Synod to marry until the fact of death was made certain.334

Upon the whole, the synodical legislation on the subject of marriage was wise, timely, restraining, purifying, and ennobling in its effect. The purest and brightest chapter in the history of Pope Nicolas I. is his protection of injured innocence in the person of the divorced wife of King Lothair of Lorraine.335


 § 77. Slavery.


See the Lit. in vol. I. § 48 (p. 444), and in vol. II. § 97 (p. 347). Comp. also Balmes (R.C.): Protestantism and Catholicism compared in their effects on the Civilization of Europe. Transl. from the spanish. Baltimore 1851, Chs. xv.-xix. Brace: Gesta Christi, Ch. xxi.


History is a slow but steady progress of emancipation from the chains which sin has forged. The institution of slavery was universal in Europe during the middle ages among barbarians as well as among civilized nations. It was kept up by natural increase, by war, and by the slave-trade which was carried on in Europe more or less till the fifteenth century, and in America till the eighteenth. Not a few freemen sold themselves into slavery for debt, or from poverty. The slaves were completely under the power of their masters, and had no claim beyond the satisfaction of their physical wants. They could not bear witness in courts of justice. They could be bought and sold with their children like other property. The marriage tie was disregarded, and marriages between freemen and slaves were null and void. In the course of time slavery was moderated into serfdom, which was attached to the soil. Small farmers often preferred that condition to freedom, as it secured them the protection of a powerful nobleman against robbers and invaders. The condition of the serfs, however, during the middle ages was little better than that of slaves, and gave rise to occasional outbursts in the Peasant Wars, which occurred mostly in connection with the free preaching of the Gospel (as by Wiclif and the Lollards in England, and by Luther in Germany), but which were suppressed by force, and in their immediate effects increased the burdens of the dependent classes. The same struggle between capital and labor is still going on in different forms.

The mediaeval church inherited the patristic views of slavery. She regarded it as a necessary evil, as a legal right based on moral wrong, as a consequence of sin and a just punishment for it. She put it in the same category with war, violence, pestilence, famine, and other evils. St. Augustin, the greatest theological authority of the Latin church, treats slavery as disturbance of the normal condition and relation. God did not, he says, establish the dominion of man over man, but only over the brute. He derives the word servus, as usual, from servare (to save the life of captives of war doomed to death), but cannot find it in the Bible till the time of the righteous Noah, who gave it as a punishment to his guilty son Ham; whence it follows that the word came "from sin, not from nature."  He also holds that the institution will finally be abolished when all iniquity shall disappear, and God shall be all in all.336

The church exerted her great moral power not so much towards the abolition of slavery as the amelioration and removal of the evils connected with it. Many provincial Synods dealt with the subject, at least incidentally. The legal right of holding slaves was never called in question, and slaveholders were in good and regular standing. Even convents held slaves, though in glaring inconsistency with their professed principle of equality and brotherhood. Pope Gregory the Great, one of the most humane of the popes, presented bondservants from his own estates to convents, and exerted all his influence to recover a fugitive slave of his brother.337  A reform Synod of Pavia, over which Pope Benedict VIII., one of the forerunners of Hildebrand, presided (a.d. 1018), enacted that sons and daughters of clergymen, whether from free-women or slaves, whether from legal wives or concubines, are the property of the church, and should never be emancipated.338  No pope has ever declared slavery incompatible with Christianity. The church was strongly conservative, and never encouraged a revolutionary or radical movement looking towards universal emancipation.

But, on the other hand, the Christian spirit worked silently, steadily and irresistibly in the direction of emancipation. The church, as the organ of that spirit, proclaimed ideas and principles which, in their legitimate working, must root out ultimately both slavery and tyranny, and bring in a reign of freedom, love, and peace. She humbled the master and elevated the slave, and reminded both of their common origin and destiny. She enjoined in all her teaching the gentle and humane treatment of slaves, and enforced it by the all-powerful motives derived from the love of Christ, the common redemption and moral brotherhood of men. She opened her houses of worship as asylums to fugitive slaves, and surrendered them to their masters only on promise of pardon.339  She protected the freedmen in the enjoyment of their liberty. She educated sons of slaves for the priesthood, with the permission of their masters, but required emancipation before ordination.340  Marriages of freemen with slaves were declared valid if concluded with the knowledge of the condition of the latter.341  Slaves could not be forced to labor on Sundays. This was a most important and humane protection of the right to rest and worship.342  No Christian was permitted by the laws of the church to sell a slave to foreign lands, or to a Jew or heathen. Gregory I. prohibited the Jews within the papal jurisdiction to keep Christian slaves, which he considered an outrage upon the Christian name. Nevertheless even clergymen sometimes sold Christian slaves to Jews. The tenth Council of Toledo (656 or 657) complains of this practice, protests against it with Bible passages, and reminds the Christians that "the slaves were redeemed by the blood of Christ, and that Christians should rather buy than sell them."343  Individual emancipation was constantly encouraged as a meritorious work of charity well pleasing to God, and was made a solemn act. The master led the slave with a torch around the altar, and with his hands on the altar pronounced the act of liberation in such words as these: "For fear of Almighty God, and for the care of my soul I liberate thee;" or: "In the name and for the love of God I do free this slave from the bonds of slavery."

Occasionally a feeble voice was raised against the institution itself, especially from monks who were opposed to all worldly possession, and felt the great inconsistency of convents holding slave-property. Theodore of the Studium forbade his convent to do this, but on the ground that secular possessions and marriage were proper only for laymen.344  A Synod of Chalons, held between 644 and 650, at which thirty-eight bishops and six episcopal representatives were present, prohibited the selling of Christian slaves outside of the kingdom of Clovis, from fear that they might fall into the power of pagans or Jews, and he introduces this decree with the significant words: "The highest piety and religion demand that Christians should be redeemed entirely from the bond of servitude."345  By limiting the power of sale, slave-property was raised above ordinary property, and this was a step towards abolishing this property itself by legitimate means.

Under the combined influences of Christianity, civilization, and oeconomic and political considerations, the slave trade was forbidden, and slavery gradually changed into serfdom, and finally abolished all over Europe and North America. Where the spirit of Christ is there is liberty.




In Europe serfdom continued till the eighteenth century, in Russia even till 1861, when it was abolished by the Czar Alexander II. In the United States, the freest country in the world, strange to say, negro slavery flourished and waxed fat under the powerful protection of the federal constitution, the fugitive slave-law, the Southern state-laws, and "King Cotton," until it went out in blood (1861–65) at a cost far exceeding the most liberal compensation which Congress might and ought to have made for a peaceful emancipation. But passion ruled over reason, self-interest over justice, and politics over morals and religion. Slavery still lingers in nominally Christian countries of South America, and is kept up with the accursed slave-trade under Mohammedan rule in Africa, but is doomed to disappear from the bounds of civilization.


 § 78. Feuds and Private Wars. The Truce of God.


A. Kluckhohn: Geschichte des Gottesfriedens. Leipzig 1857.

Henry C. Lea: Superstition and Force. Essays on the Wager of Law—the Wager of Battle—the Ordeal—Torture. Phila. 1866 (407 pages).


Among all barbarians, individual injury is at once revenged on the person of the enemy; and the family or tribe to which the parties belong identify themselves with the quarrel till the thirst for blood is satiated. Hence the feuds346 and private wars, or deadly quarrels between families and clans. The same custom of self-help and unbridled passion prevails among the Mohammedan Arabs to this day.

The influence of Christianity was to confine the responsibility for a crime to its author, and to substitute orderly legal process for summary private vengeance. The sixteenth Synod of Toledo (693) forbade duels and private feuds.347  The Synod of Poitiers, a.d. 1000, resolved that all controversies should hereafter be adjusted by law and not by force.348  The belligerent individuals or tribes were exhorted to reconciliation by a sealed agreement, and the party which broke the peace was excommunicated. A Synod of Limoges in 1031 used even the more terrible punishment of the interdict against the bloody feuds.

These sporadic efforts prepared the way for one of the most benevolent institutions of the middle ages, the so-called "Peace" or "Truce of God."349  It arose in Aquitania in France during or soon after a terrible famine in 1033, which increased the number of murders (even for the satisfaction of hunger) and inflicted untold misery upon the people. Then the bishops and abbots, as if moved by divine inspiration (hence "the Peace of God"), united in the resolution that all feuds should cease from Wednesday evening till Monday morning (a feriae quartae vespera usque ad secundam feriam, incipiente luce) on pain of excommunication.350  In 1041 the archbishop Raimbald of Arles, the bishops Benedict of Avignon and Nitard of Nice, and the abbot Odilo of Clugny issued in their name and in the name of the French episcopate an encyclical letter to the Italian bishops and clergy, in which they solemnly implore them to keep the heaven-sent Treuga Dei, already introduced in Gaul, namely, to observe peace between neighbors, friends or foes on four days of the week, namely, on Thursday, on account of Christ’s ascension, on Friday on account of his crucifixion, on Saturday in memory of his burial, on Sunday in memory of his resurrection. They add: "All who love this Treuga Dei we bless and absolve; but those who oppose it we anathematize and exclude from the church. He who punishes a disturber of the Peace of God shall be acquitted of guilt and blessed by all Christians as a champion of the cause of God."

The peace-movement spread through all Burgundy and France, and was sanctioned by the Synods of Narbonne (1054), Gerundum in Spain (1068), Toulouse (1068), Troyes (1093), Rouen (1096), Rheims (1136), the Lateran (1139 and 1179), etc. The Synod of Clermont (1095), under the lead of Pope Urban II., made the Truce of God the general law of the church. The time of the Truce was extended to the whole period from the first of Advent to Epiphany, from Ashwednesday to the close of the Easter week, and from Ascension to the close of the week of Pentecost; also to the various festivals and their vigils. The Truce was announced by the ringing of bells.351


 § 79. The Ordeal.


Grimm: Deutsche Rechtsalterthömer, Göttingen 1828, p. 908 sqq. Hildenbrand: Die Purgatio canonica et vulgaris, Mönchen 1841. Unger: Der gerichtliche Zweikampf, Göttingen 1847. Philipps: Ueber die Ordalien, Mönchen 1847. Dahn: Studien zur Gesch. der Germ. Gottesurtheile, Mönchen 1867. Pfalz: Die german. Ordalien, Leipz. 1865. Henry C. Lea: Superstition and Force, Philad. 1866, p. 175–280. (I have especially used Lea, who gives ample authorities for his statements.)  For synodical legislation on ordeals see Hefele, Vols. III. and IV.


Another heathen custom with which the church had to deal, is the so-called Judgment of God or Ordeal, that is, a trial of guilt or innocence by a direct appeal to God through nature.352  It prevailed in China, Japan, India,  Egypt (to a less extent in Greece and Rome), and among the barbaric races throughout Europe.353

The ordeal reverses the correct principle that a man must be held to be innocent until he is proved to be guilty, and throws the burden of proof upon the accused instead of the accuser. It is based on the superstitious and presumptuous belief that the divine Ruler of the universe will at any time work a miracle for the vindication of justice when man in his weakness cannot decide, and chooses to relieve himself of responsibility by calling heaven to his aid. In the Carlovingian Capitularies the following passage occurs: "Let doubtful cases be determined by the judgment of God. The judges may decide that which they clearly know, but that which they cannot know shall be reserved for the divine judgment. He whom God has reserved for his own judgment may not be condemned by human means."

The customary ordeals in the middle ages were water-ordeals and fire-ordeals; the former were deemed plebeian, the latter (as well as the duel), patrician. The one called to mind the punishment of the deluge and of Pharaoh in the Red Sea; the other, the future punishment of hell. The  water-ordeals were either by hot water,354  or by cold water;355 the fire-ordeals were either by hot iron,356 or by pure fire.357  The person accused or suspected of a crime was exposed to the danger of death or serious injury by one of these elements: if he escaped unhurt—if he plunged his arm to the elbow into boiling water, or walked barefoot upon heated plough-shares, or held a burning ball of iron in his hand, without injury, he was supposed to be declared innocent by a miraculous interposition of God, and discharged; otherwise he was punished.

To the ordeals belongs also the judicial duel or battle ordeal. It was based on the old superstition that God always gives victory to the innocent.358  It was usually allowed only to freemen. Aged and sick persons, women, children, and ecclesiastics could furnish substitutes, but not always. Mediaeval panegyrists trace the judicial duel back to Cain and Abel. It prevailed among the ancient Danes, Irish, Burgundians, Franks, and Lombards, but was unknown among the Anglo-Saxons before William the Conqueror, who introduced it into England. It was used also in international litigation. The custom died out in the sixteenth century.359

The mediaeval church, with her strong belief in the miraculous, could not and did not generally oppose the ordeal, but she baptized it and made it a powerful means to enforce her authority over the ignorant and superstitious people she had to deal with. Several councils at Mainz in 880, at Tribur on the Rhine in 895, at Tours in 925, at Mainz in 1065, at Auch in 1068, at Grau in 1099, recognized and recommended it; the clergy, bishops, and archbishops, as Hincmar of Rheims, and Burckhardt of Worms, and even popes like Gregory VII. and Calixtus II. lent it their influence. St. Bernard approved of the cold-water process for the conviction of heretics, and St. Ivo of Chartres admitted that the incredulity of mankind sometimes required an appeal to the verdict of Heaven, though such appeals were not commanded by, the law of God. As late as 1215 the ferocious inquisitor Conrad of Marburg freely used the hot iron against eighty persons in Strassburg alone who were suspected of the Albigensian heresy. The clergy prepared the combatants by fasting and prayer, and special liturgical formula; they presided over the trial and pronounced the sentence. Sometimes fraud was practiced, and bribes offered and taken to divert the course of justice. Gregory of Tours mentions the case of a deacon who, in a conflict with an Arian priest, anointed his arm before he stretched it into the boiling caldron; the Arian discovered the trick, charged him with using magic arts, and declared the trial null and void; but a Catholic priest, Jacintus from Ravenna, stepped forward, and by catching the ring from the bubbling caldron, triumphantly vindicated the orthodox faith to the admiring multitude, declaring that the water felt cold at the bottom and agreeably warm at the top. When the Arian boldly repeated the experiment, his flesh was boiled off the bones up to the elbow.360

The Church even invented and substituted new ordeals, which were less painful and cruel than the old heathen forms, but shockingly profane according to our notions. Profanity and superstition are closely allied. These new methods are the ordeal of the cross, and the ordeal of the eucharist. They were especially used by ecclesiastics.

The ordeal of the cross361 is simply a trial of physical strength. The plaintiff and the defendant, after appropriate religious ceremonies, stood with uplifted arm before a cross while divine service was performed, and victory depended on the length of endurance. Pepin first prescribed this trial, by a Capitulary of 752, in cases of application by a wife for divorce. Charlemagne prescribed it in cases of territorial disputes which might arise between his sons (806). But Louis-le-Débonnaire, soon after the death of Charlemagne, forbade its continuance at a Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 816, because this abuse of the cross tended to bring the Christian symbol into contempt. His son, the Emperor Lothair, renewed the prohibition. A trace of this ordeal is left in the proverbial allusion to an experimentum crucis.

A still worse profanation was the ordeal of consecrated bread in the eucharist with the awful adjuration: "May this body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be a judgment to thee this day."362  It was enjoined by a Synod of Worms, in 868, upon bishops and priests who were accused of a capital crime, such as murder, adultery, theft, sorcery. It was employed by Cautinus, bishop of Auvergne, at the close of the sixth century, who administered the sacrament to a Count Eulalius, accused of patricide, and acquitted him after he had partaken of it without harm. King Lothair and his nobles took the sacrament in proof of his separation from Walrada, his mistress, but died soon afterwards at Piacenza of a sudden epidemic, and this was regarded by Pope Hadrian II. as a divine punishment. Rudolfus Glaber records the case of a monk who boldly received the consecrated host, but forthwith confessed his crime when the host slipped out of his navel, white and pure as before. Sibicho, bishop of Speier, underwent the trial to clear himself of the charge of adultery (1049). Even Pope Hildebrand made use of it in self-defense against Emperor Henry IV. at Canossa, in 1077. "Lest I should seem," he said "to rely rather on human than divine testimony, and that I may remove from the minds of all, by immediate satisfaction, every scruple, behold this body of our Lord which I am about to take. Let it be to me this day a test of my innocence, and may the Omnipotent God this day by his judgment absolve me of the accusations if I am innocent, or let me perish by sudden death, if guilty."  Then the pope calmly took the wafer, and called upon the trembling emperor to do the same, but Henry evaded it on the ground of the absence of both his friends and his enemies, and promised instead to submit to a trial by the imperial diet.

The purgatorial oath, when administered by wonder-working relics, was also a kind of ordeal of ecclesiastical origin. A false oath on the black cross in the convent of Abington, made from the nails of the crucifixion, and derived from the Emperor Constantine, was fatal to the malefactor. In many cases these relics were the means of eliciting confessions which could not have been obtained by legal devices.

The genuine spirit of Christianity, however, urged towards an abolition rather than improvement of all these ordeals. Occasionally such voices of protest were raised, though for a long time without effect. Avitus, bishop of Vienne, in the beginning of the sixth century, remonstrated with Gundobald for giving prominence to the battle-ordeal in the Burgundian code. St. Agobard, archbishop of Lyons, before the middle of the ninth century (he died about 840) attacked the duel and the ordeal in two special treatises, which breathe the gospel spirit of humanity, fraternity and peace in advance of his age.363  He says that the ordeals are falsely called judgments of God; for God never prescribed them, never approved them, never willed them; but on the contrary, he commands us, in the law and the gospel, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and has appointed judges for the settlement of controversies among men. He warns against a presumptuous interpretation of providence whose counsels are secret and not to be revealed by water and fire. Several popes, Leo IV. (847–855), Nicolas I. (858–867), Stephen VI. (885–891), Sylvester II. (999–1003), Alexander II. (1061–1073), Alexander III. (1159–1181), Coelestin III. (1191–1198), Honorius III. (1222), and the fourth Lateran Council (1215), condemned more or less clearly the superstitious and frivolous provocation of miracles.364  It was by their influence, aided by secular legislation, that these God-tempting ordeals gradually disappeared during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but the underlying idea survived in the torture which for a long time took the place of the ordeal.


 § 80. The Torture.


Henry C. Lea: Superstition and Force (Philad. 1866), p. 281–391.  Paul Lacroix: Manners, Customs, and Dress of the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance Period (transl. from the French, N. York 1874), p. 407–434. Brace. Gesta Christi, ch. XV.


The torture rests on the same idea as the ordeal.365  It is an attempt to prove innocence or guilt by imposing a physical pain which no man can bear without special aid from God. When the ordeal had fulfilled its mission, the torture was substituted as a more convenient mode and better fitted for an age less superstitious and more sceptical, but quite as despotic and intolerant. It forms one of the darkest chapters in history. For centuries this atrocious system, opposed to the Mosaic legislation and utterly revolting to every Christian and humane feeling, was employed in civilized Christian countries, and sacrificed thousands of human beings, innocent as well as guilty, to torments worse than death.

The torture was unknown among the Hindoos and the Semitic nations, but recognized by the ancient Greeks and Romans, as a regular legal proceeding. It was originally confined to slaves who were deemed unfit to bear voluntary testimony, and to require force to tell the truth.366  Despotic emperors extended it to freemen, first in cases of crimen laesae majestatis. Pontius Pilate employed the scourge and the crown of thorns in the trial of our Saviour. Tiberius exhausted his ingenuity in inventing tortures for persons suspected of conspiracy, and took delight in their agony. The half-insane Caligula enjoyed the cruel spectacle at his dinner-table. Nero resorted to this cruelty to extort from the Christians the confession of the crime of incendiarism, as a pretext of his persecution, which he intensified by the diabolical invention of covering the innocent victims with pitch and burning them as torches in his gardens. The younger Pliny employed the torture against the Christians in Bithynia as imperial governor. Diocletian, in a formal edict, submitted all professors of the hated religion to this degrading test. The torture was gradually developed into a regular system and embodied in the Justinian Code. Certain rules were prescribed, and exemptions made in favor of the learned professions, especially the clergy, nobles, children below fourteen, women during pregnancy, etc. The system was thus sanctioned by the highest legal authorities. But opinions as to its efficiency differed. Augustus pronounced the torture the best form of proof. Cicero alternately praises and discredits it. Ulpian, with more wisdom, thought it unsafe, dangerous, and deceitful.

Among the Northern barbarians the torture was at first unknown except for slaves. The common law of England does not recognize it. Crimes were regarded only as injuries to individuals, not to society, and the chief resource for punishment was the private vengeance of the injured party. But if a slave, who was a mere piece of property, was suspected of a theft, his master would flog him till he confessed. All doubtful questions among freemen were decided by sacramental purgation and the various forms of ordeal. But in Southern Europe, where the Roman population gave laws to the conquering barbarians, the old practice continued, or revived with the study of the Roman law. In Southern France and in Spain the torture was an unbroken ancestral custom. Alfonso the Wise, in the thirteenth century, in his revision of Spanish jurisprudence, known as Las Siete Partidas, retained the torture, but declared the person of man to be the noblest thing on earth,367 and required a voluntary confession to make the forced confession valid. Consequently the prisoner after torture was brought before the judge and again interrogated; if be recanted, he was tortured a second, in grave cases, a third time; if he persisted in his confession, he was condemned. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the system of torture, was generally introduced in Europe, and took the place of the ordeal.

The church, true to her humanizing instincts, was at first hostile to the whole system of forcing evidence. A Synod of Auxerre (585 or 578) prohibited the clergy to witness a torture.368  Pope Gregory I. denounced as worthless a confession extorted by incarceration and hunger.369  Nicolas I. forbade the new converts in Bulgaria to extort confession by stripes and by pricking with a pointed iron, as contrary to all law, human and divine (866)370 Gratian lays down the general rule that "confessio cruciatibus extorquenda non est."

But at a later period, in dealing with heretics, the Roman church unfortunately gave the sanction of her highest authority to the use of the torture, and thus betrayed her noblest instincts and holiest mission. The fourth Lateran Council (1215) inspired the horrible crusades against the Albigenses and Waldenses, and the establishment of the infamous ecclesiastico-political courts of Inquisition. These courts found the torture the most effective means of punishing and exterminating heresy, and invented new forms of refined cruelty worse than those of the persecutors of heathen Rome. Pope Innocent IV., in his instruction for the guidance of the Inquisition in Tuscany and Lombardy, ordered the civil magistrates to extort from all heretics by torture a confession of their own guilt and a betrayal of all their accomplices (1252).371  This was an ominous precedent, which did more harm to the reputation of the papacy than the extermination of any number of heretics could possibly do it good. In Italy, owing to the restriction of the ecclesiastical power by the emperor, the inquisition could not fully display its murderous character. In Germany its introduction was resisted by the people and the bishops, and Conrad of Marburg, the appointed Inquisitor, was murdered (1233). But in Spain it had every assistance from the crown and the people, which to this day take delight in the bloody spectacles of bullfights. The Spanish Inquisition was established in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella by papal sanction (1478), reached its fearful height under the terrible General Inquisitor Torquemada (since 1483), and in its zeal to exterminate Moors, Jews, and heretics, committed such fearful excesses that even popes protested against the abuse of power, although with little effect. The Inquisition carried the system of torture to its utmost limits. After the Reformation it was still employed in trials of sorcery and witchcraft until the revolution of opinion in the eighteenth century swept it out of existence, together with cruel forms of punishment. This victory is due to the combined influence of justice, humanity, and tolerance.




I. "The whole system of the Inquisition," says Lea (p. 331), "was such as to render the resort to torture inevitable. Its proceedings were secret; the prisoner was carefully kept in ignorance of the exact charges against him, and of the evidence upon which they were based. He was presumed to be guilty, and his judges bent all their energies to force him to confess. To accomplish this, no means were too base or too cruel. Pretended sympathizers were to be let into his dungeon, whose affected friendship might entrap him into an unwary admission; officials armed with fictitious evidence were directed to frighten him with assertions of the testimony obtained against him from supposititious witnesses; and no resources of fraud or guile were to be spared in overcoming the caution and resolution of the poor wretch whose mind had been carefully weakened by solitude, suffering, hunger, and terror. From this to the rack and estrapade the step was easily taken, and was not long delayed."  For details see the works on the Inquisition. Llorente (Hist. crit. de l’Inquisition d’Espagne IV. 252, quoted by Gieseler III. 409 note 11) states that from 1478 to the end of the administration of Torquemada in 1498, when he resigned, "8800 persons were burned alive, 6500 in effigy, and 90,004 punished with different kinds of penance. Under the second general-inquisitor, the Dominican, Diego Deza, from 1499 to 1506, 1664 persons were burned alive, 832 in effigy, 32,456 punished. Under the third general-inquisitor, the Cardinal and Archbishop of Toledo, Francis Ximenes de Cisneros, from 1507 to 1517, 2536 were burned alive, 1368 in effigy, 47,263 reconciled."  Llorente was a Spanish priest and general secretary of the Inquisition at Madrid (from 1789–1791), and had access to all the archives, but his figures, as he himself admits, are based upon probable calculations, and have in some instances been disproved. He states, e.g. that in the first year of Torquemada’s administration 2000 persons were burned, and refers to the Jesuit Mariana (History of Spain), but Mariana means that during the whole administration of Torquemada "duo millia crematos igne."  See Hefele, Cardinal Ximenes, p. 346. The sum total of persons condemned to death by the Spanish Inquisition during the 330 years of its existence, is stated to be 30,000. Hefele (Kirchenlexikon, v. 656) thinks this sum exaggerated, yet not surprising when compared with the number of witches that were burnt in Germany alone. The Spanish Inquisition pronounced its last sentence of death in the year 1781, was abolished under the French rule of Joseph Napoleon, Dec. 4, 1808, restored by Ferdinand VII. 1814, again abolished 1820, and (after another attempt to restore it) in 1834. Catholic writers, like Balmez (I.c. chs. xxxvi. and xxxvii.) and Hefele (Cardinal Ximenes, p. 257–389, and in Wetzer and Welte’s Kirchen-Lexicon, vol. V. 648–659), charge Llorente with inaccuracy in his figures, and defend the Catholic church against the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition, as this was a political rather than ecclesiastical institution, and had at least the good effect of preventing religious wars. But the Inquisition was instituted with the express sanction of Pope Sixtus IV. (Nov. 1, 1478), was controlled by the Dominican order and by Cardinals, and as to the benefit, the peace of the grave-yard is worse than war. Hefele adds, however (V. 657): "Nach all’ diesen Bemerkungen sind wir öbrigens weit entfernt, der Spanichen Inquisition an sich das Wort reden zu wollen, vielmehr bestreiten wir der weltlichen Gewalt durchaus die Befugniss, das Gewissen zu knebeln, und sind von Herzensgrund aus jedem staatlichen Religionszwang abhold, mag er von einem Torquemada in der Dominikanerkutte, oder von einem Bureaucraten in der Staatsuniform ansgehen. Aber das wollten wir zeigen, dass die Inquisition das schaendliche Ungeheuer nicht war, wozu es Parteileidenschaft und Unwissenheit häufig stempeln wollten."

II. The torture was abolished in England after 1640, in Prussia 1740, in Tuscany 1786, in France 1789, in Russia 1801, in various German states partly earlier, partly later (between 1740 and 1831), in Japan 1873. Thomasius, Hommel, Voltaire, Howard, used their influence against it. Exceptional cases of judicial torture occurred in the nineteenth century in Naples, Palermo, Roumania (1868), and Zug (1869). See Lea, p. 389 sqq., and the chapter on Witchcraft in Lecky’s History of Rationalism (vol. I. 27–154). The extreme difficulty of proof in trials of witchcraft seemed to make a resort to the torture inevitable. English witchcraft reached its climax during the seventeenth century, and was defended by King James I., and even such wise men as Sir Matthew Hale, Sir Thomas Browne, and Richard Baxter. When it was on the decline in England it broke out afresh in Puritan New England, created a perfect panic, and led to the execution of twenty-seven persons. In Scotland it lingered still longer, and as late as 1727 a woman was burnt there for witchcraft. In the Canton Glarus a witch was executed in 1782, and another near Danzig in Prussia in 1836. Lecky concludes his chapter with an eloquent tribute to those poor women, who died alone, hated, and unpitied, with the prospect of exchanging their torments on earth with eternal torments in hell.

I add a noble passage on torture from Brace’s Gesta Christi, p. 274 sq. "Had the ’Son of Man’ been in body upon the earth during the Middle Ages, hardly one wrong and injustice would have wounded his pure soul like the system of torture. To see human beings, with the consciousness of innocence, or professing and believing the purest truths, condemned without proof to the most harrowing agonies, every groan or admission under pain used against them, their confessions distorted, their nerves so racked that they pleaded their guilt in order to end their tortures, their last hours tormented by false ministers of justice or religion, who threaten eternal as well as temporal damnation, and all this going on for ages, until scarce any innocent felt themselves safe under this mockery of justice and religion—all this would have seemed to the Founder of Christianity as the worst travesty of his faith and the most cruel wound to humanity. It need not be repeated that his spirit in each century struggled with this tremendous evil, and inspired the great friends of humanity who labored against it. The main forces in mediaeval society, even those which tended towards its improvement, did not touch this abuse. Roman law supported it. Stoicism was indifferent to it; Greek literature did not affect it; feudalism and arbitrary power encouraged a practice which they could use for their own ends; and even the hierarchy and a State Church so far forgot the truths they professed as to employ torture to support the ’Religion of Love.’  But against all these powers were the words of Jesus, bidding men ’Love your enemies’ ’Do good to them that despitefully use you!’ and the like commands. working everywhere on individual souls, heard from pulpits and in monasteries, read over by humble believers, and slowly making their way against barbaric passion and hierarchic cruelty. Gradually, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the books containing the message of Jesus circulated among all classes, and produced that state of mind and heart in which torture could not be used on a fellow-being, and in which such an abuse and enormity as the Inquisition was hurled to the earth."


 § 81. Christian Charity.


See the Lit. in vol. II. § 88, p. 311 sq. Chastel: Études historiques sur l’influence de la charité (Paris 1853, English transl., Philad. 1857—for the first three centuries). Häser: Geschichte der christl. Krankenpflege und Pflegerschaften (Berlin 1857). Ratzinger: Gesch. der christl. Armenpflege (Freib. 1869, a new ed. announced 1884). Morin: Histoire critique de la pauvreté (in the "Mémoirs de l’ Académie des inscript." IV). Lecky: Hist. of Europ. Morals, ch. 4th (II. 62 sqq.). Uhlhorn: Christian Charity in the Ancient Church (Stuttgart, 1881; Engl. transl. Lond. and N. York 1883), Book III., and his Die Christliche Liebesthätigkeit im Mittelalter. Stuttgart, 1884. (See also his art. in Brieger’s "Zeitschrift för K. G." IV. 1). B. Riggenbach: Das Armenwesen der Reformation (Basel 1883). Also the articles Armenpflege in Herzog’s "Encycl."2  vol. I. 648–663; in Wetzer and Welte’s "Kirchenlex."2 vol. I. 1354–1375; Paupérisme in Lichtenberger X. 305–312; and Hospitals in Smith and Cheetham I. 785–789.


From the cruelties of superstition and bigotry we gladly turn to the queen of Christian graces, that "most excellent gift of charity," which never ceased to be exercised wherever the story of Christ’s love for sinners was told and his golden rule repeated. It is a "bond of’ perfectness" that binds together all ages and sections of Christendom. It comforted the Roman empire in its hoary age and agonies of death; and it tamed the ferocity of the barbarian invaders. It is impossible to overestimate the moral effect of the teaching and example of Christ, and of St. Paul’s seraphic praise of charity upon the development of this cardinal virtue in all ages and countries. We bow with reverence before the truly apostolic succession of those missionaries, bishops, monks, nuns, kings, nobles, and plain men and women, rich or poor, known and unknown, who, from gratitude to Christ and pure love to their fellow-men, sacrificed home, health, wealth, life itself, to humanize and Christianize savages, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to entertain the stranger, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to call on the prisoner, to comfort the dying. We admire and honor also those exceptional saints who, in literal fulfillment or misunderstanding of the Saviour’s advice to the rich youth, and in imitation of the first disciples at Jerusalem, sold all their possessions and gave them to the poor that they might become perfect. The admiration is indeed diminished, but not destroyed, if in many cases a large measure of refined selfishness was mixed with self-denial, and when the riches of heaven were the sole or chief inducement for choosing voluntary poverty on earth.

The supreme duty of Christian charity was inculcated by all faithful pastors and teachers of the gospel from the beginning. In the apostolic and ante-Nicene ages it was exercised by regular contributions on the Lord’s day, and especially at the communion and the agape connected with it. Every congregation was a charitable society, and took care of its widows and orphans, of strangers and prisoners, and sent help to distant congregations in need.372

After Constantine, when the masses of the people flocked into the church, charity assumed an institutional form, and built hospitals and houses of refuge for the strangers, the poor, the sick, the aged, the orphans.373  They appear first in the East, but soon afterwards also in the West. Fabiola founded a hospital in Rome, Pammachius one in the Portus Romanus, Paulinus one in Nola. At the time of Gregory I. there were several hospitals in Rome; he mentions also hospitals in Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. These institutions were necessary in the greatly enlarged sphere of the church, and the increase of poverty, distress, and disaster which at last overwhelmed the Roman empire. They may in many cases have served purposes of ostentation, superseded or excused private charity, encouraged idleness, and thus increased rather than diminished pauperism. But these were abuses to which the best human institutions are subject.

Private charity continued to be exercised in proportion to the degree of vitality in the church. The great fathers and bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries set an illustrious example of plain living and high thinking, of self-denial and liberality, and were never weary in their sermons and writings in enjoining the duty of charity. St. Basil himself superintended his extensive hospital at Caesarea, and did not shrink from contact with lepers; St. Gregory Nazianzen exhorted the brethren to be "a god to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God," for there is "nothing so divine as beneficence;" St. Chrysostom founded several hospitals in Constantinople, incessantly appealed to the rich in behalf of the poor, and directed the boundless charities of the noble widow Olympias. St. Ambrose, at once a proud Roman and an humble Christian, comforted the paupers in Milan, while he rebuked an emperor for his cruelty; Paulinus of Nola lived in a small house with his wife, Theresiâ and used his princely wealth for the building of a monastery, the relief of the needy, the ransoming of prisoners, and when his means were exhausted, he exchanged himself with the son of a widow to be carried away into Africa; the great Augustin declined to accept as a present a better coat than he might give in turn to a brother in need; St. Jerome founded a hospice in Bethlehem from the proceeds of his property, and induced Roman ladies of proud ancestry to sell their jewels, silk dresses, and palaces, for the poor, and to exchange a life of luxurious ease for a life of ascetic self-denial. Those examples shone like brilliant stars through the darkness of the middle ages.

But the same fathers, it must be added, handed to the middle ages also the disturbing doctrine of the meritorious nature and atoning efficacy of charity, as "covering a multitude of sins," and its influence even upon the dead in purgatory. These errors greatly stimulated and largely vitiated that virtue, and do it to this day.374

The Latin word caritas, which originally denotes dearness or costliness (from carus, dear), then esteem, affection, assumed in the church the more significant meaning of benevolence and beneficence, or love in active exercise, especially to the poor and suffering among our fellow-men. The sentiment and the deed must not be separated, and the gift of the hand derives its value from the love of the heart. Though the gifts are unequal, the benevolent love should be the same, and the widow’s mite is as much blessed by God as the princely donation of the rich. Ambrose compares benevolence in the intercourse of men with men to the sun in its relation to the earth. "Let the gifts of the wealthy," says another father, "be more abundant, but let not the poor be behind him in love."  Very often, however, charity was contracted into mere almsgiving. Praying, fasting, and almsgiving were regarded (as also among the Jews and Mohammedans) as the chief works of piety; the last was put highest. For the sake of charity it is right to break the fast or to interrupt devotion.

Pope Gregory the Great best represents the mediaeval charity with its ascetic self-denial, its pious superstitions and utilitarian ingredients. He lived in that miserable transition period when the old Roman civilization was crumbling to pieces and the new civilization was not yet built up on its ruins. "We see nothing but sorrow," he says, "we hear nothing but complaints. Ah, Rome! once the mistress of the world, where is the senate? where the people?  The buildings are in ruins, the walls are falling. Everywhere the sword!  Everywhere death!  I am weary of life!  "But charity remained as an angel of comfort. It could not prevent the general collapse, but it dried the tears and soothed the sorrows of individuals. Gregory was a father to the poor. He distributed every month cart-loads of corn, oil, wine, and meat among them. What the Roman emperors did from policy to keep down insurrection, this pope did from love to Christ and the poor. He felt personally guilty when a man died of starvation in Rome. He set careful and conscientious men over the Roman hospitals, and required them to submit regular accounts of the management of funds. He furnished the means for the founding of a Xenodochium in Jerusalem. He was the chief promoter of the custom of dividing the income of the church into four equal parts, one for the bishop, one for the rest of the clergy, one for the church buildings, one for the poor. At the same time he was a strong believer in the meritorious efficacy of almsgiving for the living and the dead. He popularized Augustin’s notion of purgatory, supported it by monkish fables, and introduced masses for the departed (without the so-called thirties, i.e. thirty days after death). He held that God remits the guilt and eternal punishment, but not the temporal punishment of sin, which must be atoned for in this life, or in purgatory. Thus be explained the passage about the fire (1 Cor. 3:11) which consumes wood, hay, and stubble, i.e. light and trifling sins such as useless talk, immoderate laughter, mismanagement of property. Hence, the more alms the better, both for our own salvation and for the relief of our departed relatives and friends. Almsgiving is the wing of repentance, and paves the way to heaven. This idea ruled supreme during the middle ages.

Among the barbarians in the West charitable institutions were introduced by missionaries in connection with convents, which were expected to exercise hospitality to strangers and give help to the poor. The Irish missionaries cared for the bodies as well as for the souls of the heathen to whom they preached the gospel, and founded "Hospitalia Scotorum."  The Council of Orleans, 549, shows acquaintance with Xenodochia in the towns. There was a large one at Lyons. Chrodegang of Metz and Alcuin exhort the bishops to found institutions of charity, or at least to keep a guest-room for the care of the sick and the stranger. A Synod at Aix in 815 ordered that an infirmary should be built near the church and in every convent. The Capitularies of Charlemagne extend to charitable institutions the same privileges as to churches and monasteries, and order that "strangers, pilgrims, and paupers" be duly entertained according to the canons.

The hospitals were under the immediate supervision of the bishop or a superintendent appointed by him. They were usually dedicated to the Holy Spirit, who was represented in the form of a dove in some conspicuous place of the building. They received donations and legacies, and were made the trustees of landed estates. The church of the middle ages was the largest property-holder, but her very wealth and prosperity became a source of temptation and corruption, which in the course of time loudly called for a reformation.

After we have made all reasonable deduction for a large amount of selfish charity which looked to the donor rather than the recipient, and for an injudicious profusion of alms which encouraged pauperism instead of enabling the poor to help themselves by honest work, we still have left one of the noblest chapters in the history of morals to which no other religion can furnish a parallel. For the regular gratuitous distribution of grain to the poor heathen of Rome, who under Augustus rose to 200,000, and under the Antonines to 500,000, was made from the public treasury and dictated by selfish motives of state policy; it called forth no gratitude; it failed of its object, and proved, together with slavery and the gladiatorial shows for the amusement of the people, one of the chief demoralizing influences of the empire.375

Finally, we must not forget that the history of true Christian charity remains to a large part unwritten. Its power is indeed felt everywhere and every day; but it loves to do its work silently without a thought of the merit of reward. It follows human misery into all its lonely griefs with personal sympathy as well as material aid, and finds its own happiness in promoting the happiness of others. There is luxury in doing good for its own sake. "When thou doest alms," says the Lord, "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall reward thee."376




Uhlhorn closes his first work with this judgment of mediaeval charity (p. 396 sq. of the English translation): "No period has done so much for the poor as the middle ages. What wholesale distribution of alms, what an abundance of institutions of the most various kinds, what numbers of hospitals for all manner of sufferers, what a series of ministrant orders, male and female, knightly and civil, what self-sacrifice and devotedness!  In the mediaeval period all that we have observed germinating in the ancient Church, first attains its maturity. The middle ages, however, also appropriated whatever tendencies existed toward a one-sided and unsound development. Church care of the poor entirely perished, and all charity became institutional; monks and nuns, or members of the ministrant orders, took the place of the deacons—the diaconate died out. Charity became one-sidedly institutional and one-sidedly ecclesiastical. The church was the mediatrix of every exercise of charity, she became in fact the sole recipient, the sole bestower; for the main object of every work of mercy, of every distribution of alms, of every endowment, of all self-sacrifice in the service of the needy, was the giver’s own salvation. The transformation was complete. Men gave and ministered no longer for the sake of helping and serving the poor in Christ, but to obtain for themselves and theirs, merit, release from purgatory, a high degree of eternal happiness. The consequence was, that poverty was not contended with, but fostered, and beggary brought to maturity; so that notwithstanding the abundant donations, the various foundations, the well-endowed institutions, distress was after all not mastered. Nor is it mastered yet. "The poor ye have always with you" (John 12:8). Riggenbach (l.c.) maintains that in the middle ages hospitals were mere provision-houses (Versorgungshäuser), and that the Reformation first asserted the principle that they should be also houses of moral reform (Rettungshäuser and Heilanstalten).

Lecky, who devotes a part of the fourth chapter of his impartial humanitarian History of European Morals to this subject, comes to the following conclusion (II. 79, 85): "Christianity for the first time made charity a rudimentary virtue, giving it a leading place in the moral type, and in the exhortations of its teachers. Besides its general influence in stimulating the affections, it effected a complete revolution in this sphere, by regarding the poor as the special representatives of the Christian Founder, and thus making the love of Christ, rather than the love of man, the principle of charity .... The greatest things are often those which are most imperfectly realized; and surely no achievements of the Christian Church are more truly great than those which it has effected in the sphere of charity. For the first time in the history of mankind, it has inspired many thousands of men and women, at the sacrifice of all worldly interests, and often under circumstances of extreme discomfort or danger, to devote their entire lives to the single object of assuaging the sufferings of humanity. It has covered the globe with countless institutions of mercy, absolutely unknown to the whole Pagan world. It has indissolubly united, in the minds of men, the idea of supreme goodness with that of active and constant benevolence. It has placed in every parish a religious minister who, whatever may be his other functions, has at least been officially charged with the superintendence of an organization of charity, and who finds in this office one of the most important as well as one of the most legitimate sources of his power."



* Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.

326  Comp, Judges 5:6; 17:6.

327  "It would be difficult," says Gibbon of this period, "to find anywhere more vice or less virtue." The judgments of Hallam, Milman, and Lecky are to the same effect. Compare also the description of Montalembert, quoted above, p. 82 sq.

328  It seems incredible that there should have been an occasion for legislation against clergymen keeping houses of prostitution; and yet the Quinisexta or Trullan Synod of 692 enacted the canon: "He who keeps a brothel, if a clergyman, shall be deposed and excommunicated; if a layman, excommunicated." Hefele III. 341.

329  Capitulum, from the chapter of the Bible or of the monastic rules which were read in common every day. The name was applied both to the clerical brotherhood and to their habitation (chapter-house). The plural, Capitula or Capitularia designates codes of law ecclesiastical or civil, digested under chapters. See Martene, De Antiqu. Eccl. Ritibus, 1, IV. c. VI. § 4, and Haddan In Smith and Cheetham, I. 347.

330  Canonici, either because they were bound by canons, or enrolled on the lists of ecclesiastical officers. They occupied an intermediate position between the secular clergy and the monks. See Du Cange, and Smith and Cheetham, sub Canonici.

331  Hefele IV. 794.

332  Ibid. p. 373.

333  Ibid. p. 707.

334  For all these details see the scattered notices in vols, III. and IV. of Hefele.

335  See § 61, p. 275 sq.

336  De Civit. Dei, 1. XIX. c. 15. "Nomen [servus] culpa meruit, non natura … Prima servitutis causa peccatum est, ut homo homini conditionis vinculo subderetur quod non fuit nisi Deo judicante, apud quem non est iniquitas." He thinks it will continue with the duties prescribed by the apostles, donec transeat iniquitas, et evacuetur omnis principatus, et potestas humana, et sit Deus omnia in omnibus.." Chrysostom taught substantially the same views, and derived from the sin of Adam a threefold servitude and a threefold tyranny, that of the husband over the wife, the master over the slave, and the state over the subjects. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the schoolmen, " did not see in slavery either difference of race or imaginary inferiority or means of government, but only a scourge inflicted on humanity by the sins of the first man" (Balmes, p. 112). But none of these great men seems to have had an idea that slavery would ever disappear from the earth except with sin itself. Cessante causa, cessat effectus. See vol. III. 115-121.

337  Epist. X. 66; IX. 102. See these and other passages in Overbeck, Verhältniss der alten Kirche zur Sklaverei, in his "Studien zur Gesch. der alten Kirche" (1875) p. 211 sq. Overbeck, however, dwells too much on the proslavery sentiments of the fathers, and underrates the merits of the church for the final abolition of slavery.

338  Hefele IV. 670.

339  Synod of Clermont, a.d. 549. Hefele III. 5; comp. II. 662.

340  Fifth Synod of Orleans, 549; Synod of Aachen, 789; Synod of Francfurt, 794. See Hefele III. 3, 666, 691. If ordination took place without the master’s consent, he could reclaim the slave from the ranks of the clergy. Hefele IV. 26.

341  Hefele III. 574, 575, 611. The first example was set by Pope Callistus (218-223), who was himself formerly a slave, and gave the sanction of the Roman church to marriages between free Christian ladies and slaves or lowborn men. Hippolytus, Philosoph. IX. 12 (p. 460 ed. Duncker and Schneidewin). This was contrary to Roman law, and disapproved even by Hippolytus.

342  The 16th Synod of Toledo, 693, passed the following canon: "If a slave works on Sunday by command of his master, the slave becomes free, and the master is punished to pay 30 solidi. If the slave works on Sunday without command of his master, he is whipped or must pay fine for his skin. If a freeman works on Sunday, he loses his liberty or must pay 60 solidi; a priest has to pay double the amount." Hefele II. 349; comp. p. 355.

343  Hefele III. 103; comp. IV. 70. Balmes, p. 108.

344  Overbeck, l.c., p. 219.

345  Conc. Cabilonense, can. 9: "Pietatis est maximae et religionis intuitus, ut captivitatis vinculum omnino a Christianis redimatur." The date of the Council is uncertain, see Mansi, Conc. X. 1198; Hefele, III. 92.

346  Saxon Faehth, or Faeght, Danish feide, Dutch veede, German Fehde, low Latin faida or faidia. Compare the German Feind, the English fiend. Du Cange defines faida: "Gravis et aperta inimicitia ob caedem aliquam suscepta, and refers to his dissertation De Privatis Bellis.

347  Hefele III. 349.

348  IV. 655, 689.

349  Treuga Dei, Gottesfriede. See Du Cange sub. "Treva, Treuga, seu Trevia Dei." The word occurs in several languages (treuga, tregoa, trauva, treva, trêve). It comes from the same root as the German treu, Treue, and the English true troth, truce, and signifies a pledge of faith, given for a time to an enemy for keeping peace.

350  Rodull Glaber, a monk of Cluny, gives a graphic account of this famine and the origin of the Peace movement, in his Historia sui Temporis, lib. IV. c.4 and 5 (in Migne’s Patrol. Tom. 142, fol. 675-679). Hefele, IV. 698, traces the movement to Provence and to the year 1040 with a "perhaps," but Rodulf Glaber makes it begin "in Aquitaniae partibus anno incarnati Christi millesimo tricesimo tertio," from whence it spread rapidly "per Arelatensem provinciam, atque Lugdunensem, sicque per universam Burgundiam, atque in ultimas Franciae partes " (Migne, l. c. fol. 678). Comp. lib. V. 1 (fol. 693): "primitus inpartibus Aquitanicis, deinde paulatim per universum Galliarum territorium," etc. He also reports that the introduction of the Peace was blessed by innumerable cures and a bountiful harvest. "Erat instar illius antiqui Mosaici magni Jubilaei." Balderich, in his Chronicle of the Bishops of Cambray, reports that in one of the French synods a bishop showed a letter which fell from heaven and exhorted to peace. The bishop of Cambray, however, dissented because he thought the resolution could not be carried out.

351  See further details in Mansi XIX. 549 sq.; Kluckhohn; Hefele (IV. 696-702, 780); and Mejer in Herzog2 V. 319 sqq.

352  From the Anglo-Saxon ordael or ordela (from or=ur, and dael=theil): German: Urtheil or Gottesurtheil; Dutch: oordeel; French: ordéal; L. Lat.; ordalium, ordale, ordela. See Du Cange sub. ordela, aquae frigidae judicium, Duellum, Ferrum candens; Skeat (Etymol. Dict. of the Engl. Lang.) sub. Deal.

353  See the proof in Lea, who finds in the wide prevalence of this custom a confirmation of the common origin of the Aryan or Indo-germanic races.

354  Judicium aquae ferventis, aeneum, cacabus, caldaria. This is probably the oldest form in Europe. See Lea, p. 196. It is usually referred to in the most ancient texts of law, and especially recommended by Hincmar of Rheims, as combining the elements of water—the judgment of the deluge—and of fire—the judgment of the last day. The accused was obliged, with his naked arm, to find a small stone or ring in a boiling caldron of water (this was called in German the Kesselfang), or simply to throw the hand to the wrist or to the elbow into boiling water. See Lea, p. 196 sqq.

355  Judicium aquae frigidae. It was not known in Europe before Pope Eugenius II. (824-827), who seems to have introduced it. The accused was bound with cords, and lowered with a rope into a reservoir or pond, with the prayer (St., Dunstan’s formula): "Let not the water receive the body of him who, released from the weight of goodness, is upborne by the wind of iniquity." It was supposed that the pure element would not receive a criminal into its bosom. It required therefore in this case a miracle to convict the accused, as in the natural order of things he would escape. Lea (p. 221) relates this instance from a MS. in the British Museum In 1083, during the deadly struggle between the Empire and the Papacy, as personified in Henry IV. and Hildebrand, the imperialists related with great delight that some of the leading prelates of the papal court submitted the cause of their chief to this ordeal. After a three days’ fast, and proper benediction of the water, they placed in it a boy to represent the Emperor, when to their horror he sank like a stone. On referring the result to Hildebrand, he ordered a repetition of the experiment, which was attended with the same result. Then, throwing him in, as a representative of the Pope, he obstinately floated during two trials, in spite of all efforts to force him under the surface, and an oath was exacted from them to maintain inviolable secrecy as to the unexpected result." James I. of England was a strict believer in this ordeal, and thought that the pure element would never receive those who had desecrated the privileges of holy baptism. Even as late as 1836, an old woman, reputed to be a witch, was twice plunged into the sea at Hela, near Danzig, and as she persisted in rising to the surface, she was pronounced guilty and beaten to death. See Lea, p. 228 and 229.

356  Judicium ferri or ferri candentis. A favorite mode, administered in two different forms, the one by six or twelve red-hot plough-shares (vomeres igniti), over which the person had to walk bare-footed; the other by a piece of red-hot iron, which he had to carry for a distance of nine feet or more. See Lea, p. 201 sq.

357  The accused had to stretch his hand into a fire; hence the French proverbial expression: "J’en mettrais la main au feu," as an affirmation of positive belief. Sometimes he had to walk bare-legged and bare-footed through the flames of huge pyres. Petrus Igneus gained his reputation and surname by an exploit of this kind. See examples in Lea, p. 209 sqq. Savonarola proposed this ordeal in 1498 to his enemies in proof of his assertion that the church needed a thorough reformation, and that his excommunication by Pope Alexander VI. was null and void, but he shrunk from the trial, lost his cause, and was hanged and burned after undergoing frightful tortures. He had not the courage of Hus at Constance, or Luther at Worms, and his attempted reformation left nothing but a tragic memory.

358  Tacitus (German, cap. 7) reports of the heathen Germans: "[Deum] adesse, bellantibus credunt."

359  See Lea, p. 75-174. The wager of battle, as a judicial institution, must not be confounded with the private duel which has been more or less customary among all races and in all ages, and still survives as a relic of barbarism, though misnamed "the satisfaction of a gentleman." The judicial duel aims at the discovery of truth and the impartial administration of justice, while the object of the private duel is personal vengeance and reparation of honor.

360  De Gloria Martyrum I. 81. Lea, p. 198.

361  Judicium crucis, orstare ad crucem, Kreuzesprobe. A modification of it was the trial of standing with the arms extended in the form of a cross. In this way St. Lioba, abbess of Bischoffsheim, vindicated the honor of her convent against the charge of impurity when a new-born child was drowned in the neighborhood. Lea, p. 231.

362  Judicium offae, panis conjuratio, corsnaed, Abendmahlsprobe. Comp. Hefele IV. 370, 552, 735.

363  Liber adversus Legem Gundobadi (i.e. Leg. Burgundionum) et impia certarmina quae per eam geruntur; and Liber Contra Judicium Dei. See his Opera ed. Baluzius, Paris 1666, T. I. 107 sqq., 300 sqq., and in Migne’s Patrologia, Tom. CIV. f 113-126, and f. 250-258 (with the notes of Baluzius).

364  "At length, when the Papal authority reached its culminating point, a vigorous and sustained effort to abolish the whole system was made by the Popes who occupied the pontifical throne from 1159-1227. Nothing can be more peremptory than the prohibition uttered by Alexander III. In 1181, Lucius III. pronounced null and void the acquittal of a priest charged with homicide, who had undergone the water-ordeal, and ordered him to prove his innocence with compurgators, and the blow was followed up by his successors. Under Innocent III., the Fourth Council of Lateran, in 1215, formally forbade the employment of any ecclesiastical ceremonies in such trials; and as the moral influence of the ordeal depended entirely upon its religious associations, a strict observance of this canon must speedily have swept the whole system into oblivion. Yet at this very time the inquisitor Conrad of Marburg was employing in Germany the red-hot iron as a means of condemning his unfortunate victims by wholesale, and the chronicler relates that, whether innocent or guilty, few escaped the test. The canon of Lateran, however, was actively followed up by the Papal legates, and the effect was soon discernible." Lea, p. 272.

365  Tortura from torqueo, to twist, to torment. Ital. and Spanish: tortura; French: torture; Germ.: Folter.

366  "Their evidence was inadmissible, except when given under torture, and then by a singular confusion of logic, it was estimated as the most convincing kind of testimony." Lea, 283. "The modes of torture sanctioned by the Greeks were the wheel (trovco"), the ladder or rack (klivmax), the comb with sharp teeth (kuavfo"), the low vault (kuvfwn) in which the unfortunate witness was thrust and bent double, the burning tiles (plivnqoi) the heavy hog-skin whip (uJstriciv"),nd the injection of vinegar into the nostrils." Lea, p. 284. The Romans used chiefly the scourge. The instruments of torture employed during the middle ages were the rack, the thumbscrew, the Spanish boot, iron gauntlets, heated iron stools, fire, the wheel, the strappado, enforced sleeplessness, and various mutilations. Brace says (p. 182) that " nine hundred(?) different instruments for inflicting pain were invented and used." One tenth of the number would be bad enough. Collections of these devilish instruments may be seen in the London Tower, and in antiquarian museums on the Continent.

367  "La persona del home es la mas noble cosa del mundo."

368  Can. 33: "Non licet presbytero nec diacono ad trepalium ubi rei torquentur, stare." See Hefele III. 46.

369  Epist. VIII. 30.

370  Responsa ad Consulta Bulgarorum, c. 86. Hefele IV. 350. Lea, p. 305.

371  In the bull Ad extirpanda: "Teneatur potestas seu rector, omnes haereticos … cogere citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum, tamquam vere latrones et homicidas animarum … errores suos expresse fateri et accusare alios haereticos quos sciunt, et bona eorum." … Innoc. IV. Leg. et Const. contra Haeret. § 26. (Bullar. Magn. in Innoc. IV. No. 9). Comp. Gieseler II. 564-569.

372  See vol. II. § 100.

373  They are called Xenodochium and Xenodochia (xenodocei'on) for strangers; ptochium or ptochotrophium (ptwcei'on, ptwcotrofei'on) for the poor; orphanotrophium (ojrfanoqrofei'on) for orphans; brephotrophium (brefotrofei'on) for foundlings house for the sick (nosokomei'a, valetudinaria); for the aged (gerontokomei'a); and for widows (chrotrofei'a); in Latin hospitium, hospitals, hospitalium (corresponding to the Greek xenodocei'on). See Du Cange. Such institutions were unknown among the heathen; for the houses near the temples of Aeculapius were only intended for temporary shelter, not for care and attendance. The Emperor Julian’s involuntary eulogy of the charity of the "Galilaeans " as he contemptuously called the Christians, and his abortive attempt to force the heathen to imitate it, are well known. See vol. III. 50.

374  See the numerous quotations from the fathers in Uhlhorn, p. 278 sqq. "Countless times is the thought expressed that almsgiving is a safe investment of money at good interest with God in heaven." He thinks that "the doctrine of purgatory, and of the influence which almsgiving exercises even upon souls in purgatory, determined more than anything else the charity of the entire mediaeval period" (p. 287). The notion that alms have an atoning efficacy is expressed again and again in every variety of form as the motive of almsgiving which is predominant above all others. Even Augustin, the most evangelical among the fathers, teaches "that alms have power to extinguish and expiate sin," although he qualifies the maxim and confines the benefit to those who amend their lives. No one had greater influence upon the Latin church than the author of the City of God, in which, as Uhlhorn says, "he unconsciously wrote the programme of the middle ages."

375  "There can be," says Lecky, (II. 78), "no question that either in practice nor in theory, neither in the institution, that were founded nor in the place that was assigned to it in the scale of duties, did charity in antiquity occupy a position at all comparable to that which it has obtained by Christianity. Nearly all the relief was a State measure, dictated much more by policy than by benevolence; and the habit of selling young children, the innumerable expositions, the readiness of the poor to enroll themselves as gladiators, and the frequent famines, show how large was the measure of unrelieved distress. A very few pagan examples of charity have, indeed, descended to us."

376  Matt. 6:3, 4. The word "openly" (ejn tw'/ fanerw'/) is omitted in the best MSS. and critical editions, and in the E. Revision.