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There is one aspect of the twelfth century--the darkest crimes and the most real superstition side by side coexisting in the same character.
Turn from Chinon to Oxford, and go back seventeen years. Men who had so little picy on themselves were as pitiless to others. We quote from Stowe. The story is authenticated by contemporary chroniclers.
1166. There came into England thirty Germans, as well men as women, who called themselves Publicans. Their head and ruler, named Gerardus, was somewhat learned ; the residue very rude. They denied matrimony and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, with other articles. They being apprehended, the king caused a council to be called at Oxford, where the said Gerard answered for all his fellows, who being pressed with Scripture answered concerning their faith as they had been taught, and would not dispute thereof. After they could by no means be brought from their errours, the bishopgave sentence against them, and the king commanded that they should be marked with a hot iron in the forehead and whipped, and that no man should succour them with house-room or otherwise. They took their punishment gladly, their captain going before them singing, • Blessed are ye when men hate you. They were marked both in the forehead and the chin. Thus being whipped and thrust out in winter, they died with cold, no man relieving them.
To the bishops of Normandy Henry Plantagenet handed the rope to drag him to his death-bed of ashes. Under sentence from the bishops of England these German heretics were left to a fate more piteous than the stake. The privilege and autbority of bishops and clergy was Becket's plea for convulsiog Europe. What were the bishops and clergy like themselves? We will look at the bishops assembled at the Council of Westminster in the year 1176. Cardinal Hugezun had come as legate from Rome. The council was attended by the two archbishops, each accompanied by his suffragans, the abbots, priors, and clergy of his province. Before business began, there arose dira lis et contentio, a dreadful strife and contention between these bigh personages as to which archbishop should sit on the cardinal's right hand. Richard of Canterbury said the right was with him. Roger of York said the right was with him. Words turned to blows. The monks of Canterbury, zealous for their master, rushed upon the Archbishop of York, flung him down, kicked him, and danced
him till he was almost dead. The cardinal wrung his hands, and charged the Archbishop of Canterbury with having set them on. The Archbishop of York made his way, bruised and bleeding, to the king. Both parties in the first heat appealed to the pope. Canterbury on second thoughts repented, went privately to the cardinal, and bribed him into silence. The appeal was withdrawn, the affair dropped, and the council went on with its work.
So much for the bishops. We may add that Becket's friend John of Salisbury accuses the Archbishop of York, on common notoriety, of having committed the most infamous of crimes, and of having murdered the partners of his guilt to conceal it.?
As to the inferior clergy, it might be enough to quote the language used about them at the conference at Montmiraux in 1169, where their general character was said to be atrocious, a great number of them being church-robbers, adulterers, highwaymen, thieves, ravishers of virgins, incendiaries, and murderers.3 For special illustration we take a visitation of St. Augustine's Abbey at Canterbury in the year 1173, undertaken by the pope's order. The visitors reported not only that the abbot was corrupt, extravagant, and tyrannical, but that he had more children than the patriarchs, in one village as many as ten or twelve bastards. •Velut equus hinnit in fæminas,' they said, 'adeo impudens ut libidinem nisi quam publicaverit voluptuosam esse non reputet. Matres et earundem filias incestat pariter. Fornicationis abusum comparat necessitati.' This precious abbot was the host and entertainer of the four knights when they came to Canterbury.
From separate pictures we pass to a sketch of the condition of the Church of England written by a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury, a contemporary of Becket, when the impression of the martyrdom was fresh, and miracles were worked by his relies every day under the writer's eyes. The monk's name was Nigellus. He was precentor of the cathedral. His opinion of the wonders of which he was the witness may be inferred from the shrug of the shoulders with which, after describing the disorders of the times, he says that they were but natural, for the age of miracles was past. In reading him we feel that we are looking on the old England through an extremely keen pair of eyes. We discern too, perhaps, that he was a clever fellow, constitutionally a satirist, and disappointed of promotion, and we make the necessary allowances. Two of his works survive, one in verse, the other in serious prose.
The poem, which is called Speculum Stultorum (" The LookingGlass of Fools'), contains the adventures of a monk who leaves his cloister to better his fortunes. The monk is introduced under the symbolic disguise of an ass.
His ambition is to grow a longer tail, and he wanders unsuccessfully over Europe, meeting as many misfortunes as Don Quixote, in pursuit of his object. Finally he arrives at Paris, where he resolves to remain and study, that at all events he may write after his name magister artium. The seven years' course being finished, he speculates on his future career. He decides on the whole that he will be a bishop, and pictures to himself the delight of his mother when she sees him in his pontificals. Sadly, however, he soon remembers that bishops were not made of such stuff as learned members of the universities. Bishops were born in barons' castles, and named as children to the sees which they were to occupy. · Little Bobby' and little Willy' were carried to Rome in their nurses' arms before they could speak or walk, to have the keys of heaven committed to them. So young were they sometimes that a wit said once that it could not be told whether the bishop elect was a boy or a girl.* An abbey might suit better, he thought, and he ran over the various attractions of the different orders. All of them were more or less loose
2 John of Salisbury to the Archbishop of Sens, 1171. The Archbishop of York is spoken of under the name of Caiaphas.
* «Quum tamen clerici immundissimi et atrocissimi sunt, utpote qui ex magna parte sacrilegi, adulteri, prædones, fures, raptores virginum, incendiarii et homicidæ sunt,'-John of Salisbury to the Bishop of Exeter. Letters, 1169.
rogues, some worse, some better. On the whole the monkass concluded that he would found a new order, the rules of which should be compounded of the indulgences allowed to each of the rest. The pope would consent if approached with the proper temptations ; and he was picturing to himself the delightful life which he was thenceforth to lead, when his master found him and cudgelled him back to the stable.
More instructive, if less amusing, is the prose treatise Contra Curiales et Officiales clericos (“ Against Clerical Courtiers and Officials'), dedicated to De Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, Cour de Lion's chancellor, who was left in charge of the realm when Richard went to Palestine. De Longchamp's rule was brief and stormy. It lasted long enough, however, to induce Nigellus to appeal to him for a reform of the Church, and to draw a picture of it which admirers of the ages of faith may profitably study.
At whatever period we get a clear view of the Church of England, it was always in terrible need of reform. In the twelfth century it
4. Ante prius patrem primum matremque vocare
Quam sciat, aut possit stare vel ire pedes, Suscipit ecclesiæ claves animasque regendas.
In cunis positus dummodo vagit adhuc Cum nutrice sua, Romam Robekinus adibit,
Quem nova sive vetus sportula tecta feret ; Missus et in peram veniet Wilekinus in urbem,
Curia Romana tota videbit eum. Impuberes pueros pastores ecclesiarum
Vidimus effectos pontificesque sacros. Sic dixit quidam de quodam pontificando,
Cum princeps regni solicitaret eum: “ Est puer, et nondum discernere possumus utrum Femina vel mas est, et modo præsul erit." '
Satirical Poems of the Trelfth Century, vol. i. r. 106.
5 . Omnes sunt fares, quocunque charactere sacro
Fignati veniant magnifcentque Deum.'
has been held to have been at its best. Let us look then at the actual condition of it.
According to Nigellus, the Church benefices in England, almost without exception, were either sold by the patrons to the highest bidders, or were given by them to their near relations. The presentees entered into possession more generally even than the bishops when children.
Infants in cradles (says Nigellus) are made archdeacons, that out of the mouths of babes and sucklings praise may be perfected. The child is still at the breast and he is a priest of the Church. He can bind and loose before le can speak, and has the keys of heaven before he has the use of his understanding. At al are when an apple is more to him than a dozen churches, he is set to dispense the sacraments, and the only anxiety about him is a fear that he may die. He is gent to no school. He is idle and is never whipped. He goes to Paris to be polished, where he learns “the essentials of a gentleman's education,' dice and dominoes et cætera quæ sequuntur. He returns to England to hawk and hunt, and would that this were the worst ! but he has the forehead of a harlot, and knows not to be ashamed. To such persons as these a bishop without scruple commits the charge of souls--to men who are given over to the flesh, who rise in the morning to eat, and sit down at evening to drink, who spend on loose women the offerings of the faithful, who do things which make their people blush to speak of them, while they themselves look for the Jordan to flow into their mouths, and expect each day to hear a voice say to them, “Friend, go up higher.'
Those who had no money to buy their way with, and no friends to help them, were obliged to study something. Having done with Paris they would go on to Bologna, and come back knowing medicine and law and speaking pure French and Italian. Clever fellows, so furnished, contrived to rise by pushing themselves into the service of bishop or baron, to whom they were as eyes to the blind and as feet to the lame. They managed the great man's business; they took care of his health. They went to Rome with his appeals, undertook negotiations for him in foreign courts, and were repaid in time by prebends and rectories. Others, in spite of laws of celibacy, married a patron's daughter, and got a benefice along with her. It was illegal, but the bishops winked at it. Others made interest at Rome with the cardinals, and by them were recommended home. Others contrived to be of use to the king. Once on the road to preferment the ascent was easy. The lucky ones, not content with a church or two, would have a benefice in every diocese in England, and would lie, cheat, • forget God, and not remember man.' Their first gains were spent in bribes to purchase more, and nothing could satisfy them. Fifteen or twenty rectories were not enough without a stall in each cathedral. Next must come a deanery, and then an archdeaconry, and then 'peradventure God will yet add unto me something more.'
The something more’ was of course a bishopric, and Nigellus proceeds to describe the methods by which such of these high offices were reached as had not been already assigned to favourites. The prelates espectant hung about the court, making presents, giving dinners, or offering their services for difficult foreign embassies. Their friends meanwhile were on the watch for sees likely to be vacant, and inquiring into their values. The age and health of the present occupants were diligently watched; the state of their teeth, their eyes, their stomachs, and reported disorders. If the accounts were conflicting, the aspirant would go himself to the spot under pretence of a pilgrimage. If the wretched bishop was found inconveniently vigorous, rumours were spread that he was shamming youth, that he was as old as Nestor, and was in his dotage ; if he was infirm, it was said that men ought not to remain in positions of which they could not discharge the duties; they should go into a cloister. The king and the primate should see to it.
If intrigue failed, another road was tried. The man of the world became a saint. He retired to one or other of his churches. He was weary of the earth and its vanities, and desired to spend his remaining days in meditating upon heaven. The court dress was laid aside. The wolf clothed himself in a sheepskin, and the talk was only of prayers and ostentatious charities. Beggars were fed in the streets, the naked were covered, the sick were visited, the dead were buried. The rosy face grew pale, the plump cheeks became thin, and the admiring public exclaimed, “Who was like unto this man to keep the law of the Most High ?' Finally some religious order was entered in such a manner that it should be heard of everywhere. Vows were taken with an affectation of special austerities. The worthy person (who cannot see and hear him?) would then bewail the desolations of the Church, speak in a low sad voice, sigh, walk slowly, and droop his eyelids; kings were charged with tyranny, and priests with incontinency, and all this that it might be spoken of in high places, that, when a see was vacant at last, it might be said to him, “Friend, go up higher; "he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." ;
Such,' said Nigellus, "are the steps in our days by which men go up into the house of the Lord. By one or other of these courses success was at last attained; the recommendation of the Crown was secured, and the nomination was sent to the chapter. But the congé d'élire was not yet peremptory. The forms of liberty still retained some shadow of life in them, and fresh efforts were required to obtain the consent of the electors. The religious orders were the persons used on these occasions to produce the required effect; and Alights of Templars, Cistercians, Carthusians, hurried to the cathedral city to persuade the canons that the pastor whom they had never seen or never heard of, except by rumour, had more virtues than existed together in any other human being. Nigellus humorously describes the language in which these spiritual jackals portrayed their patron's merits.