The Church in the British Isles
I. Normans and Plantagenets
Between 1066 and 1071 was accomplished about the most momentous event in English history—the conquest of the Saxon island and its people by William the Norman. In Church and State, in home life, and in public administration everything underwent a change; for minster and town, lands and castles, power and wealth passed from Saxon into Norman hands. Thus England was launched on a new phase of her existence as a conquered country under a race of alien kings. One thing alone remained untouched—the Catholic faith—for the conquerors were of the same belief as the conquered. The history of these changes belongs to a more detailed account than this, but the results to the Church must be briefly summed up.
There is little doubt that the Saxon Church had lost a great deal of its ancient glory when the crisis came, and it was not only with a view to consolidating his power that William, in 1070, during a pause in the last great struggle of the Saxons for independence, turned his eyes towards the affairs of the Church, and begged Pope Alexander II. to send his Legate to England. At the Council of Winchester, held the same year, the Legate deposed Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other prelates accused of having entered on their office by unlawful means. Lanfranc was appointed to the archiepiscopal See, and lent his aid to the Conqueror in his work of reform. Numbers of monasteries were built, monks of the Cluniac reform came over to England at William's request, and all were placed under Norman superiors. The existing religious houses, as well as the dioceses, were also given to Norman abbots and bishops whenever vacancies occurred by the death or the deposition of their occupants. As all these new superiors were men selected for their virtue, there is no doubt that a great deal of good was done, though it took the Saxons some time to get reconciled to the rule of men who did not know how to speak to them in their own tongue.
It will not have been forgotten that Saxon England and her bishops and kings had shown marked and devoted loyalty to the Holy See. The Norman Sovereigns, at least, were not as zealous upholders of the authority of the Popes as their predecessors had been, and occasionally they induced some of their bishops to side with them. So we find that William, who, by great grants of land to his followers, had raised up a number of feudal vassals who might be a danger to his own supremacy, sought to strengthen his position by tightening his hold on churchmen. First, he exacted homage and fealty from bishops and abbots as well as from the lords, and, until the Pope put a stop to the practice, prelates were just as much the king's "men" as the lay lords were. Then he established certain customs further limiting the independence of the bishops. "No royal vassal could be excommunicated without the king's licence, no synod could legislate without his previous assent and subsequent confirmation of its decrees. No Papal letters should be received within the realm save by his permission." It must be noted that these were not old customs which William wanted to keep up, but new decrees which he wished to see grow into "customs," according to the ordinary use of the word.
He next withdrew from the bishops all share in the work of the civil courts. In Saxon times, the bishop, the sheriff, and the ealdorman had sat together as judges in the Shire Mote, and all cases were tried by them, the ecclesiastical causes first, and then the civil. But henceforward clergy were to be tried by clergy, and lay folk by lay folk; a priest, however, had still to preside when ordeal was used. It is probable that William had no intention of putting power out of his own hands into those of the bishops, and did not foresee that this arrangement could be used against the king, yet we shall see that this is what happened later on. And yet with all this, and in spite of his many faults, William was a Catholic, and in his own fashion a practical one. It was not that he wanted to be spiritual lord over his new subjects; he had resolved to be absolute master in England, and having had some experience of governing unruly barons in his duchy of Normandy, he struck unscrupulously at everything that could foster independence in England whether in Church or in State.
When spiritual matters had to be settled, we have seen that he sent for papal Legates to do it, and that it was Archbishop Lanfranc who carried out the reforms. When Pope Gregory VII. called on him for the arrears of Peter's Pence owing to Rome, he agreed to pay them all, though he would not do the homage for his crown, which the Pope also asked for. The payment of the Peter's Pence was regarded in Saxon times as an acknowledgment of the dedication of England to the Prince of the Apostles, and William was too religious to oppose this custom; but the homage paid to the Pope was a temporal matter by which a kingdom was placed under the protection of the Sovereign Pontiff. William did not find that he needed protection, so he refused to perform this ceremony, and Pope Gregory admitted that he had the right to refuse.
The changes which we have seen that William made in the relation between Church and State continued to be matter of contest for many years to come, but the influence of the reforms, which were also set on foot during the reign, bore fruit even before the Norman period came to a close, and resulted in a marked renewal of religious fervour, which extended far into Plantagenet times. Connected with the movement, and probably largely helping it, was the number of monasteries and convents which sprang up at this time. We must look to what was going on abroad to understand how this came about. Then we shall notice that it was part of the great revival of monasticism which marked the period. Cluniacs, Cistercians, Praemonstratensians, Carthusians, all had numerous establishments in England, and played a very important part in the prosperity of the Church. The great reforms of Pope St. Gregory VII. were also carried out in England, but not without considerable suffering, borne with heroic fortitude by the upholders of the liberties of the Church. The question of the celibacy of the clergy was warmly taken up in Norman times. The matter was one of the points brought forward by the Legate and Lanfranc at the Council of Winchester, in 1077, and the Pope wrote to thank them and William the Conqueror for their zeal in carrying out his decrees. St. Anselm repeated the papal injunctions, and was so vigorous in seeing them observed, that when Henry I., in. want of money, imposed a fine on all ecclesiastics who had disobeyed the decrees, the sum gathered was so small as to disappoint Henry's expectations. To make up for the deficiency, he taxed all the clergy indiscriminately, and when a number of priests earnestly besought him to lighten their burdens his refusal was haughty and disdainful.
Simony and investitures brought too much profit to the sovereigns to be easily relinquished. No trouble on this score occurred in the Conqueror's days; but under the other Norman kings, the struggle between the king and the Church was long and bitter. Simony, with a new feature added—namely, delaying nomination as long as he could, so as to enjoy the revenues of the vacant benefice—was the Red King's favourite form of oppressing the Church. Backed up by the pretended rights which his father's "customs" gave him, he not only sought to get as much money as he could from the clergy, but tried to prevent the free exercise of their duties by the bishops. It will be remembered that they were king's men, and thus they ranked among the barons of the realm. Now, the barons formed the king's council, and might not quit the country without leave. This feudal duty Rufus strove to force on St. Anselm, who urged that his duty to the Church, and his obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff, ought to rank higher than that to the king. The question arose when St. Anselm, who had been forcibly placed in the See of Canterbury while the king was in mortal dread of imminent death, asked leave to go for his pallium. The excuse of Rufus for refusing was that he had not decided who was lawful Pope, and that Anselm could not go till he had done so. Some six years before, Henry IV. of Germany had set up a creature of his own, whom he called Pope Clement V., and the Red King pretended to doubt which of the two, this man or Urban II., was the rightful Pope. At last, William sent to Urban secretly to acknowledge him, and begged that the pallium might be sent to England. A Legate brought it, but he would not give it up to the king, neither would Anselm consent to receive it from the king, who then had to yield. The pallium was laid on the altar, whence Anselm took it as from God Himself. And then he obtained his wish, and went to Rome. While there, he assisted at the Synod in Rome in 1099, when investiture by and homage to laymen was forbidden under pain of anathema. Meanwhile, Rufus met with his awful fate. St. Anselm wept at the thought of the soul of his king suddenly called away in the midst of his career of shocking crimes, unrepentant and unshriven.
Next came the great Investiture Dispute. Henry had implored St. Anselm to return with speed, for he had need of all the support he could command in his attempt to seize the crown. The prompt action of the archbishop had much to do with securing a peaceful accession for Henry. No doubt the young sovereign's promises of fair government to the Church, the barons, and the people were largely due to St. Anselm's advice. But in spite of this hopeful beginning, Henry clung as firmly to his power as his father had done, and when the barons took their oath of fealty to the king, St. Anselm was called on to do the same. This he could not do, as the recent Council had forbidden it. Henry would not yield his point, neither would the Saint. So messengers were sent to Rome to beg that just this once the Pope would give leave for Anselm to swear the oath. But the Pope would not grant the dispensation. Henry had been nominating bishops all this time on his own authority, but Anselm would not consecrate them. One or two consented to receive investiture at Henry's hands, but others, supported by their archbishop, refused. At last St. Anselm was sent to Rome and told not to return without the dispensation. Then the Pope threatened Henry with excommunication. This was too serious a danger to be faced, so Henry offered a compromise. Bishops should be elected by the chapters, but he asked that this might be done in his court. He would give up the right of investing with ring and crosier, if fealty and homage might be sworn in return for the temporalities. To this the Pope agreed, provided the freedom of the elections was not controlled by the king, either in person or by his officials. In iro6 St. Anselm returned to England, and at once Henry handed him the temporalities kept back so long. The archbishop immediately consecrated the seven bishops who had been nominated during the dispute which was thus terminated.
Stephen's action towards the Church was that of a despot. His civil war, however, kept him too much occupied to allow him to indulge his tyranny very freely. Never has England seen such appalling misery as marked the reign of this sovereign. Green says: "England was rescued from this chaos by the efforts of the Church," the great moral leader in the restoration of order being Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury.
Under the early Plantagenets the Church had to fight her way by inches. A long succession of noble bishops, not only contended against the attempts of the sovereign to unduly control her action, but they won for Englishmen much of the freedom of which they are to this day so proud. The first great champion of the Church's liberty was St. Thomas Becket. He had already done signal service to the king as chancellery when, against his wish, Henry II. raised him to the archiepiscopal throne. Sudden as appears the change in his outward manner of life, and in his bearing towards the king, there is no doubt that he had always been thoroughly upright in his conduct. His tastes were magnificent and he freely indulged them, for, as Chancellor, his position gave him the right to do so. His was too honest a nature to do things by halves. If he were the king's minister, his household, his acts must be in keeping, and he would give himself up wholly to his sovereign's interest, as far as conscience would allow: if the king forced upon him an ecclesiastical office, no duty of that state should be shirked, cost what it might. And it cost him much: a life of cruelly hard penance, the loss of the king's friendship, exile from his native land, and a martyr's death.
William the Conqueror's Ecclesiastical Courts had withdrawn clerics from the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts. Henry, whose strong hand was moulding English law into a firmer shape, objected to a large section of his subjects being thus exempted from his rule. Thomas withstood him in this matter because, first, it would be depriving the clergy of a privilege which the usage of a hundred years had made a right; and, secondly, it would bring the Church anew under the domination of the State, just the point that Popes and prelates were striving with such devoted persistence to avoid. The story of the struggle is well known. How Becket, urged by bishops and barons, deceived into supposing that the Pope wished him to give in, and half led to believe that all Henry wished was the appearance of victory, and that if Becket yielded, the king, on his side, would give up the point at issue, promised to abide by the "customs of the realm," for it must be remembered that the Constitutions were not drawn up till next day.
Thus Becket agreed to he knew not what, and when, on the morrow, at Clarendon, the Constitutions were presented for his signature, he realized both how he had been deceived, and what was his imprudence in falling into such a trap. He refused to sign the document, and in bitter penitence abstained from saying Mass till he had received the Pope's absolution. At the Council of Northampton, held the same year (1164), Henry took his revenge. A series of accusations was brought against the Archbishop, and, unsupported by the bishops in his hour of need, though they refused to take part in pronouncing sentence upon him, he was declared guilty of high treason. That night he fled from Northampton, crossed into France, and went at once to Pope Alexander III., who at that moment was in Sens. The Pope upheld St. Thomas in his refusal to sign the Constitutions, in spite of all Henry could do to injure Becket in the Pope's eyes. Six years of fruitless negotiations passed, during which everything was tried to bring about a reconciliation between Henry and the Primate. It seemed, at times, as though Alexander would abandon Becket's cause; but this was not because the Pope did not approve of his conduct. But with such a terrible prospect before him as that of the whole of the vast domains of Henry being dragged into schism, he would yield as far as possible provided he could prevent sin. In such cases there will always be bitter suffering for the champion of right who sees his cause apparently ruined and his enemy triumphant. But suffering and failure are, since the Sacrifice of Calvary, the surest road to victory.
At last, in 1170, largely by the influence of Louis VII. of France, a reconciliation was effected, hearty and sincere on Becket's side, and probably meant at the time by Henry. But the peace was not of long duration. The Pope urged St. Thomas to return to his diocese as soon as possible, and, knowing he was going to death, Becket started.
The poor and the clergy received him with the greatest joy. The ride to Canterbury was a triumphal procession. Fear of the terrible king had cowed the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of London and Salisbury into submission to his will, and the Pope had suspended the former and excommunicated the two latter. At their demand, St. Thomas promised to try to get the sentences removed, but the prelates endeavoured to poison the mind of the young king against him. Moreover, other evil tongues were at work, and many an exaggerated tale was carried to the old king in France. In less than a month from his landing, at the foot of Our Lady's statue in his own cathedral, St. Thomas met, with the heroism of a warrior and a saint, the death to which Henry's secret wish had consigned him, and which his unguarded words had brought about. So wonderful were the signs of Becket's sanctity which followed, that before his vacant See was filled he had been canonized.
Henry was struck with remorse, but his penitence was not lasting. However, in 1172, when the king was absolved by the Pope, the Constitutions of Clarendon were partially withdrawn, and the clergy continued to be amenable only to the Ecclesiastical Courts. Richard's reign brings the third Crusade, the story of which has already been told. The effect on the Church in England was chiefly to increase taxation of ecclesiastics.
Under John we have the famous dispute respecting freedom of election to Church benefices. John's share in the matter is pretty well known to English readers. The Pope's side of the question needs telling again. In the interest of the Church in England Innocent III. rejected the sub-prior of Canterbury, whose consecration would have brought a species of schism into the community because he had been chosen by a section only of the monks, The Pope also rejected John de Grey, the unworthy nominee of the king, and selected Stephen Langton, one of the holiest and most learned of the English prelates of the day, a man who for his worth was already a cardinal, and himself consecrated him Archbishop of Canterbury. The mad rage of John at being opposed was met by the measure which ordinarily proved sufficient to secure submission in those days, the threat of an interdict. But John was of no ordinary type of wickedness, and Innocent had to take extreme steps before the king yielded. Excommunication and threat of deposition produced no effect. The barons appealed to the Pope against their sovereign, and the King of France was offered the chance of the English crown. John had no one on whom to rely. He had alienated every class in his kingdom by the fierce boldness of his villainy, and in his distress he sought the only help left him.
He determined to throw himself on the mercy of the Pope, and, with the consent of the whole body of clergy and barons, who saw some hope of redress in the project, he placed himself and his kingdom under the protection of the Holy See, swearing fealty to the Pope as his man, and making England a fief of Rome, 1213. This, of course, brought into action the whole of the feudal duties usual between suzerain and vassal. The Pope was bound to support John, and John undertook to obey the Pope, though he was clever enough to turn these relations to his own advantage. Instantly the threatened invasion of France was stopped, an interference on the part of the Pope which Louis submitted to with deep indignation. With some such idea as this, "I am the Pope's man, and no one can touch me," John broke every law and every oath with insolent effrontery. The barons could no longer endure his wickedness, and, guided by Langton, who had by this time taken possession of his See, forced the king to sign at Runnymede the famous Charter, whose first and last provisions gave freedom of elections to the Church.
But John appealed to the Pope. Innocent III. condemned the action of the Archbishop and the barons, suspending the one and excommunicating the others, but the Charter itself, though annulled for a moment, was not disapproved of. The Pope acted thus because the barons ought to have taken their Charter to the overlord before forcing a vassal lord to agree to it. In feudal days such a course was illegal. That Innocent did not condemn the Charter itself is proved from the fact that the next year he blamed John for not keeping one of the clauses in it as he had promised. St. Louis of France, one of the justest kings that ever reigned, also decided on exactly the same grounds when the question was put to him—that Henry III. was not bound to observe the provisions of Oxford. And no sooner was John dead and his little son crowned than the Legate and the Earl Marshal put forward the very same Charter in the king's name. Of course, this was done with full concurrence of the Pope.
Strangely enough, it was during the last years of John's reign, but no thanks to him, that Oxford began to rise in repute as a great school. Its fame was due to the teaching of Edmund Rich, the first master of arts, who taught on the scene of the still future University. All through Henry's reign its prosperity increased, but the great master was removed to another and far less peaceful scene of action. He was made Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Gregory IX. as next but one in succession to Stephen Langton. Before this he had been treasurer at Salisbury during the erection of the magnificent cathedral by Bishop Richard Poor, and had preached the sixth Crusade. At first St. Edmund had some influence over the young king, whose disposition had been marred by the favourites and evil counsellors who had surrounded him during the year of his education. But when Henry began to govern himself, these men, whose position depended on the favour of the king, induced him to revoke his charters. Edmund, on the other hand, threatened to ex-communicate all who should violate them. Henry, after some opposition, yielded, and a solemn absolution was pronounced over him and his lords—Henry promising with renewed oaths to keep the Charter inviolate. Foreseeing that the firmness of Edmund would be a check to his freedom, especially where nomination to Sees and right of taxation were concerned, Henry asked the Pope to send a Legate to England to aid him in his government. He hoped thus to be able to control the Archbishop's freedom of action. St. Edmund, understanding the king's motive, begged the Pope not to send one, but the Legate Otho, a man of sterling virtue, was sent with orders to keep peace between the king and the Church by the best means in his power. And this was how he did it. Whenever it was possible to grant what the king wanted, the Legate granted it, while the wishes of the patient and saintly prelate, whose submission could be counted on, were as often put aside unnoticed. So when the Canterbury monks, or, rather, some worldly spirits amongst them, opposed the reforms which St. Edmund, whose standard of virtue was high, tried to introduce, they were certainly not condemned by either king or Legate. So, too, when the Canterbury lands were alienated, or when the Canterbury dues were seized, Edmund could obtain no redress.
At this time another question had to be met. The Popes were in a very difficult position. It was in the reign of the impious Frederick II. of Germany. He had seized Rome, and Pope Gregory IX. was in exile at Lyons. Thither all unfortunate clergy who were deprived of the means of livelihood resorted to beseech the Pope to help them. The knights opposing the Tartar invasions had also to be supported, and no money was being drawn from the papal estates. The aged Pope, close on his hundredth year, turned to England, his rich fief, for help. The Legate begged for subsidies, and the Pope asked that benefices might be found for the starving ecclesiastics. The unworldly men among the prelates resolved to make any sacrifice for the Pope, but the rest—those who saw in the diocese but a source of revenue—objected. King Henry would not support the bishops in their proposed appeal against the action of the Pope. At the Council of Northampton, in 1240, Edmund won over the other bishops to join him in paying their share of the subsidy, but they all opposed the proposition about filling benefices with foreigners, as detrimental to the spiritual welfare of the people.
The Archbishop's troubles continued to increase, and feeling himself powerless to do good, he determined, as his predecessors Becket and Langton had done, to take refuge in Pontigny. Worn out with his labours, and already stricken by the malady which brought him to the grave, the saintly Archbishop spent but a few months in the peaceful cloister. He died at Loisy, November, 1240, whither he had been taken in hopes that a fresher climate would revive his failing strength, but was buried at Pontigny, where his body still reposes.
Another prelate famous in the history of the time was Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln. A more sturdy defender of the Church than he could hardly be named. So determined was his action that he succeeded in every point which he undertook to carry out, and, needless to say, he made many an enemy, though all respected his sterling qualities. Henry never got the better of him. When the Pope said the first year's revenues of all benefices which became vacant during seven years must be used to defray the expenses of the canonization and translation of St. Thomas Becket, Henry objected, but Grosseteste helped the Pope to carry the measure. When, on one occasion, Gregory imposed a tallage, Henry forbade its being paid; but Grosseteste's brave and filial devotedness to the Holy See made the king yield. So, again, when Henry himself asked subsidies, pretending to want to go to the Crusades, Grosseteste withstood the demand, and Henry withdrew it. Grosseteste was just as thorough in putting his diocese in order, and his vigorous measures won him the title of the "terrible bishop." His defence of the Pope's authority and jurisdiction is as forcible as anything that has ever been written.
Yet, on one occasion, he withstood Innocent IV. himself. It was when the Pope wanted to place one of his nephews in a benefice in the Lincolnshire diocese. Grosseteste knew that the particular appointment would be a disastrous one, and he opposed it on the ground that an order which would tend to the destruction of souls could not be Apostolic, since the power of the Keys was granted for the good of souls. The letter he wrote on the occasion was addressed to the Pope's notary, who happened to be also named Innocent. This has led some careless historians to state that the strong language of Grosseteste was addressed to the Pope himself, and not to the man who was endeavouring to bring about the obnoxious appointment. The notary sent the letter to the Pope, who had it read to the assembled cardinals. The result was that the Pope's nephew was not placed in the Lincolnshire benefice; and it is not true that Grosseteste was excommunicated in consequence, as when he died, not long after, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Blessed Boniface of Savoy, and other bishops assisted at his funeral, and a petition was signed asking for his canonization.
We know comparatively little of the religious condition of the English people during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was not a time of stirring events, so history finds little to record. England shared all the great features of the Middle Ages: she had her guilds, her towns rose in importance, she joined in the Crusades, and the friars preached over the length and breadth of the land. The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries saw the rise and the establishment of Oxford and Cambridge among the great Universities of Europe. These centuries, too, gave us nearly all the magnificent old cathedrals and churches, whose grand beauty still speaks of the Ages of Faith. We know that our ancestors had a most tender devotion to Our Blessed Lady, and that as early as the days of Edward III. our land was consecrated specially to her, and known as "Our Lady's Dowry." Shrines of Mary were among the most famous pilgrimages, and in every church the first Mass said daily was the Mary Mass, celebrated in the Lady Chapel. During these years, when kings were leading their feudal armies to Scotland, Wales, and France, English Catholics were living quietly at home. Probably now and then news of the levy of troops or of the imposition of some new tax would disturb their peaceful existence. But of all this we know little, and it is not unlikely that many of the ideas current respecting the ignorance and want of culture of these times would be greatly modified if the period were closely studied. Such, at least, seems to be the testimony of such lives as those of Wykeham and Waynfleet, the building bishops of the Edwards; and much more so the evidence recently collected regarding the state of religious instruction in these centuries.
It has been often said that preaching to the people in English was begun by Wyclif and the Lollards. But it is clear that priests were accustomed thoroughly to instruct their parishioners in the truths and practices of the faith. Not only are there regulations for such courses to be given four times a year, but great numbers of manuals of such courses exist, as well as collections of sermons arranged for all the Sundays and principal feasts of the year. One religious congregation, and not by any means the most numerous, the Carmelites, produced two hundred of such works. As many of these sermons are careful expositions of Scripture, there cannot have been such ignorance of the Bible as is imagined. It is recorded that Fitz-Ralph, Archbishop of Armagh, 1340, used to read the Gospel in English before he began to expound it. There is a knowledge of Scripture quite remarkable in the letters written by the clergy in these days—e.g., Grosseteste's letter to his Chapter. Mysteries and miracle plays brought the whole sequence of Scripture history before the people, and it is noteworthy what a large proportion of the early literature of England is scriptural or religious. For instance, under Henry II., the old Southern English Gospels of King Ethelred's time were modernized after two hundred years or less of use. In 1250, a Biblical poem, "Genesis and Exodus," was written in English. There is a Northumberland psalter of the same date, and another appeared in 1327. About the same date the "Cursor Mundi" was written. It contained the Old and New Testament in verse, and was thought the best book of all.
Under the Edwards some laws hostile to the action of the Pope were passed—"No credit to the men who drew them up, considering they were Catholics," says Rivington. These were the Statutes of "Provisors" and "Praemunire," carried in the teeth of episcopal opposition in 1351 and 1353. The former threatened with imprisonment those accepting a benefice in England from the Holy See; the latter forbade the introduction, not of Papal Bulls in general, but of such as dealt with Provisions. These Statutes were rarely observed, and when for a time the Popes abstained from nominating to benefices, complaints were loud that deserving and learned poor candidates were set aside for men who had bought the benefices or were relatives of the patrons.
In 1349 a terrible scourge appeared. During five months of that year, the Black Death, a plague which had been desolating Europe, raged in England. How devoted the clergy must have been can be seen from the fact that, when it ceased, hundreds of parishes were without priests, and nine-tenths of the monks were gone. From that time their places were never filled. Many of the old abbeys were left almost desolate, the small handful of monks hardly sufficing for the needs of the parishes around, and being wholly insufficient to keep up the Divine Office. Edward's long war with France had begun—a contest which proved almost as great a curse to victorious England as to vanquished France, such was the misery it entailed on the land. The plague and the war, with the attendant want and rise in prices, bred a sense of misery and discontent which made the English a ready prey to the seditious teaching which began at this time to be spread among them.
II. Heresy in England
It is doubtful whether any one man has done more to change the condition of religious belief in England than Wyclif, for it was his action that made that of the sixteenth-century heretics possible, even if it did not sow the seed which was then reaped. Wyclif was a man of considerable intellectual gifts, a priest who had held several important posts at the University of Oxford, the last being the wardenship of the newly founded Canterbury Hall. The appointment was not for life, and when Archbishop Langham wished to change him, Wyclif brought an action against him first in the English and then in the Roman court. In both suits he was worsted. It is said that he then aspired to the Bishopric of Worcester, and was again foiled. His credit being gone at Oxford on account of his litigation, he went to London, where shortly after he was to be found in the service of the anticlerical party in Parliament, "by whom," says Father Stevenson "he was to be henceforth employed in directing the attacks they were making upon the Pope, the bishops, and the clergy, towards all of whom he entertained strong feelings of personal hostility." One of his early documents (1366) was drawn up for the use of the king, Edward III., refusing Pope Urban VI.'s request for the arrears of tribute agreed on by John. The succeeding years were all marked by determined opposition on the part of Parliament towards the Holy See, then on the verge of the Great Schism. Edward III. tried to allay the spirit of animosity which had been roused, but with only partial success. In 1374 the rich living of Lutterworth, in Leicester, was given to Wyclif, who in the same year formed one of a deputation to meet the Pope's Legate at Bruges. He was probably chosen because of his known antagonism to papal claims. The Pope made many concessions, so that it was hoped all would henceforth go on more smoothly. Wyclif also strongly supported the movement originated by John of Gaunt to exclude the clergy from all offices of State, a point which was carried in 1376.
About this time attention was drawn to the nature of Wyclif's preaching, and he was called before Convocation to answer a charge of heresy. When he obeyed the summons, he came accompanied by John of Gaunt, whose insolent behaviour towards the Primate and the Bishop of London so angered the citizens present that it was impossible to continue the proceedings of the court. Later in the same year, at the investigation of Pope Gregory XI., Wyclif was again called before Convocation. Meanwhile the king died, and some months later the Pope also, and the Western Schism broke out. So that it was only in the beginning of 1378 that Wyclif once more appeared before the Ecclesiastical Court. This time the Princess of Wales, mother of the young king, Richard II., interfered, so that Wyclif again went away uncondemned. The moment was favourable to the development of heresy. The unsettled state of things in Church and in State prevented much attention being paid to Wyclif's doings. During six years, first at Oxford and then at Lutterworth, he continued to preach, write treatises and tracts, the former in Latin, the latter in strong, bold English, and to form a band of disciples. In 1380 he openly attacked the doctrine of Transubstantiation, and was again called on to answer for his opinions, but he refused to attend the summons, and appealed to the king. Twenty-four propositions drawn from Wyclif's writings were condemned, some as heretical, the others as erroneous, but, probably on account of his failing health, Wyclif himself was unmolested. From this time he did not leave Lutterworth, but continued to multiply his popular tracts and to work at the formation of his disciples till his death from apoplexy in 1384.
It is unquestionable that Wyclif drew most of his erroneous tenets from Waldensian and Albigensian sources, though on the subject of the Blessed Eucharist, Berengarius was his principal authority. His doctrines, taken from his own writings, are here briefly summarized. He taught that God had created some men for salvation and others for damnation, and that, as nothing that they could do would alter their fate, repentance and change of life were useless. For the fore-doomed, every sin was mortal; the fortunate elect could sin but venially. Though Wyclif could never shake off his English love of our Blessed Lady, he objected to her being venerated, and he wholly condemned the invocation of saints. God, he said, had established no authority on earth but the Bible, which each might interpret at will; therefore to say that the Church of Rome was God's witness on earth was a folly and a sin. He contended that there were only two orders in the Church, the diaconate and the priesthood (for episcopacy was identical with priesthood); that a man was a bishop or priest by predestination and not by orders, for all Sacraments were only empty symbols. Bishops hitherto, he said, had kept the office of ordaining and confirming, etc., in their own hands only for the sake of drawing fees. He went further when speaking of the Popes, and said that their election by Cardinals was a trick of the devil; he spoke of the Pope as antichrist, and denied him all power to teach, to govern, and to punish. Wyclif was especially bitter in his condemnation of monastic orders, and the Mendicant Friars fared no better. He stated that they had no right to hold any property, and that it was lawful for the sovereign or the people to deprive them of any they might have. He taught that mortal sin deprived a man of all right to govern, were he civil ruler or ecclesiastic. It was thus only necessary to assume that a given person was in a state of sin to render it justifiable to oppose his authority. The king, he declared, was supreme over Church and State, but he held his authority from the people, and could be deprived of it if necessary. These teachings he spread by means of his "poor priests," whom he sent to preach everywhere—without episcopal licence, it is needless to say.
Wyclif had probably begun to gather followers around him as early as 1377. But by 1380 they had become numerous, and were already engaged in preaching. Several were priests, and in exterior forms of life they much resembled the Mendicant Friars, dressing and feeding poorly, and spending their time in going about among the people. The "Poor Priests" boldly taught what Wyclif insinuated in vaguer terms, and they carried into practice conclusions which their leader more covertly suggested. Thus, they declared that all men were equal, that law and rank were but a form of tyranny invented for their own ends by the wealthy, that God did not mean anyone to be serfs or villeins, that wealth was a form of robbery, and that the owners should be made to give up their ill-gotten goods by force.
The consequences of such teaching are not far to seek. The people, whose impoverished condition laid them specially open to suggestions of discontent and rebellion, eagerly took up these pernicious doctrines, and the hostile attitude of the king and the nobles towards the clergy, themselves unsupported in their authority through the disputes about the Papacy, made any vigorous opposition extremely difficult. The results were soon apparent. Absence from Holy Mass and neglect of Sacraments became more frequent, and at last the laity, even women, took it upon them to officiate. Then came a more open attack. Meetings were held, and a series of risings of the peasantry was organised, principally by two men, Ball and Straw, both immediate disciples of Wyclif. The men of Essex rose first, then those of Kent, headed by Wat the Tyler.
They advanced on the capital with some idea of getting the power into their own hands, and setting up new laws. As a preliminary, everything relating to the existing law was destroyed. Charters, rolls, title-deeds were all burned, and any judges or jurors unlucky enough to fall into their hands were slain. Ball had meanwhile got himself imprisoned, but when the insurgents entered London they liberated him, and he speedily roused the more tranquil Kentish men to deeds of violence. John of Gaunt's fine palace of the Savoy was wrecked. This was an act of vengeance wreaked on rank. Next the Church was attacked in the person of Simon Sudbury, the Primate, who was dragged from Lambeth Palace and beheaded on Tower Hill. Then law was to have its victim, and Sir Robert Hales, the Treasurer, was slain. After this, rioting went on at the will of the mob; attacks were made at random, and massacres occurred at intervals. All this time no attempt was made to defend either the city or the sovereign. The sequel of the story is too well known to need repeating. Though the extravagances of its devotees disgusted people for the moment with Lollardy, as it was now called, the sect spread.
In 1395 Pope Boniface IX. urged the king to assist the bishops in rooting out the heresy, and some ineffectual measures were taken. The Lancastrian sovereigns who succeeded in 1399) ?> opposed the heresy more vigorously than their Plantagenet predecessors, and supported the action of the clergy, who, it must be admitted, were somewhat half-hearted in their efforts to stay the evil. In 1401 the Statute De Haeretico Comburendo was passed. and Sawtre, a noted Lollard priest, was the first to suffer. Adherents rapidly fell off during the reign of Henry IV., and we do not hear of any executions before 1410, when a man called Badley was put to death. The heresy was still formidable at the accession of Henry V. In 1414 a form of insurrection took place under the leadership of Oldcastle, and many executions followed. Old-castle himself suffered three years later. During the early years of Henry VI. strong measures were set on foot against Lollardy, especially in London and Norwich. Courts of inquiry were instituted, and several executions again took place. The details of these trials are known to us principally through Foxe's "Book of Martyrs," a book not too highly prized for veracity by careful critics, no matter of what faith.
The Wars of the Roses necessarily caused a diversion of attention from the Lollards, and when this most sad and disastrous contest was over they were still in existence. By this time they had formed a secret society, "Known-men" or "Just-fast-men" as they were called. They married only in their own sect, and were congregated in special localities. Itinerant ministers kept up their instruction in the tenets of their creed. Needless to say, when Protestantism appeared in the land, the Lollards made common cause with the innovators, and formed the nucleus of the Church of England as by law "reformed."
Wyclif's doctrines were not accepted in Great Britain alone. His works were carried into Bohemia, where John Huss, who adopted them, translated Wyclif's treatises into Bohemian. As he was a professor in the University of Prague, he had every opportunity of teaching others the new tenets. But he was strongly opposed by what was called the German side of this University, and Wyclif's doctrine was condemned. The Archbishop of Prague, having procured from Pope Alexander V. a bull for the suppression of the doctrines of Wyclif, burned the books of the heresiarch and excommunicated Huss, who appealed to a General Council. In the meantime, in spite of every prohibition, Huss continued to teach and to instigate his partisans to deeds of great violence. One very vehement disciple was Jerome of Prague, who spread Wyclifism throughout Poland and Moravia.
In 1414 the Council of Constance was convened. Pope John XXIII. granted Huss, who had been induced to appear, every liberty except that of saying Mass and preaching. As he did not respect this prohibition, he was placed under custody while his cause was being tried. He was allowed to defend his doctrines in the Council, but when he found that they were condemned, he would not retract. Then he was formally pronounced a heretic, handed over to the civil authorities, and according to the law of the empire, he was burned.
His disciple Jerome met a similar fate the next year. The adherents of the two teachers then took up arms, and a desolating civil war continued during thirteen years. The Albigensian scenes were reproduced. The emperor's troops could do nothing against them until the death of their terrible leader Ziska. St. John Capistran converted great numbers in the middle of the fifteenth century. The others are said to have formed a sect known as the Moravian Brethren, though they themselves claim an independent origin.
III. The Church in Scotland
The history of the Church in Scotland during these five hundred years is not very full of incident, and much of what did happen has been lost to us from the general destruction of records at the hands of the Danes at the beginning, and of the Protestants at the close, of the period. Everything had to be once more set on foot when the Danish incursions were over, and the restoration of the Church in Scotland to a prosperous condition was largely due to the sainted Queen Margaret Atheling and her noble husband, King Malcolm. St. Margaret was granddaughter of the English sovereign, Edmund Ironside, whose son, known as Edward the Exile, married Princess Agatha of Hungary. They had three children, Edgar Atheling, Margaret, and Christina.
When Edward the Confessor was king, he sent for Edward the Exile and recognized him as his heir. But the prince died shortly after, and Agatha, foreseeing the danger that threatened her children, took shipping for the Continent. Contrary winds drove them to Scottish shores, where the exiles were hospitably entertained. King Malcolm was won by the charm of the beautiful and virtuous Margaret, and made her his wife. She quickly gained not only the deep respect of her husband, but of all the nobles, and her gentle influence made itself felt by all around her. Her wifely virtues, her intelligent training of her numerous children, were an eloquent lesson that was speedily followed. The court became thoroughly Christian, and the queen's influence spread far and wide. Supported by Malcolm, who took the queen's advice in everything, the Church was enabled to hold Synods and to make wise and necessary regulations respecting sundry evil customs which had sprung up during the days of disorder attendant on the Danish invasion. Laws concerning marriage, the observance of the Sunday, and of the Lenten fasts, were laid down and the sovereigns saw them carried out. Such wise co-operation bore the happiest fruit, and the condition of things vastly improved in Scotland. All the while the queen was practising the most heroic virtues, as well as winning for herself a love that has never died out in Scottish hearts. Her virtuous daughter, the "Good Queen Maud," of English fame, and four of her sons, have a noble place in history, the most noted being David I., who succeeded his father, Malcolm, on the throne in 1093. Malcolm and his eldest son had fallen in battle against the English at Alnwick, and Queen Margaret survived them only a few days. During David's long reign numerous magnificent churches and monasteries were erected, Melrose being the most famous. Scotland was mapped out into dioceses, and the work of his father and mother was carried to completion.
But Scotland had no Metropolitan See. This arose partly from lack of a regular hierarchy in the earlier days—for the bishops had been monks, and the monasteries the centre of episcopal government—and partly from a claim raised, first by Canterbury and then by York, to hold jurisdiction over Scotland. Pope Innocent II., in 1131, ratified the claims of York; but sixty years later, at the request of William the Lion, Pope
Celestine made the Scottish Sees depend directly on Rome. However, towards the end of the fifteenth century St. Andrews was made an Archiepiscopal See, and somewhat later Glasgow was raised to the same dignity. Four bishops were attached to the latter and eleven to the former as suffragans.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the newly-founded monastic Orders made their way into Scotland. Cluniacs, Cistercians, and Carthusians all found a home and many fervent subjects in the far north. The Crusades, too, drew numerous bold spirits to join the ranks of the combatants. But it was rather late when Scotland founded her Universities. The fifteenth century saw St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen founded; but the spread of monastic schools had long preceded them.
During the struggle of England for supremacy in Scotland, the patriotic party was staunchly supported by the clergy, and the Popes warned Edward I. from attempting to lay hands on a papal fief. It was largely due to the assistance given to Bruce by the bishops that Scotland eventually triumphed. Unlike what often happened in England, w here the nobles and the clergy joined in opposing the king, in Scotland the clergy were almost always on the side of the king against the barons, who were often rather turbulent subjects. In spite of the records being rather few, there is not wanting evidence to prove that the work of the Church in promoting the civilization and instruction of the people was steadily carried on.
Wyclif's miserable heresy found its way into Scotland early in the fifteenth century. The Scotch clergy seem to have been very zealous in opposing the innovators. Resby was executed in 1407 at Perth. He had come from England to spread Lollardy, which must have already taken considerable hold on the people, since all the Masters of Arts in the University of St. Andrews, when they took their oath on commencing office, swore to defend the Church against Lollards. Bohemia contributed to the dissemination of heresy by sending one Paul Crawe to teach Wyclifism in Scotland. He had come over disguised as a Doctor of Medicine. A large body of the new heretics congregated in Kyle, the central district of Ayrshire. They were hence named the Lollards of Kyle.
IV. The Church in Ireland
After Brian Boru's famous battle at Clontarf the power of the Danes in Ireland was broken. But the usual consequences of barbarian invasion followed, much aggravated by want of union among the Celtic sovereigns or chiefs of septs. It would be difficult to say how many independent governments existed at this time, and the petty warfare constantly on foot between them, which had made Ireland an easy prey to the Danes, kept her in a state far removed from prosperity and order. Morals were at a very low ebb, especially in the Danish settlements, when the Norman Conquest of England occurred. Though more than a hundred years were to elapse before Ireland was conquered by Norman arms, she was in close connection with Norman prelates. Lanfranc and St. Anselm, as Papal Legates, had jurisdiction over Ireland as well as England, and both were zealous in promoting regular ecclesiastical discipline. St. Anselm proposed Gilbert, the virtuous Bishop of Limerick, to the Pope as Papal Legate for Ireland, and the appointment was made with great benefit to the people. The chief obstacles in the way of reform were, first, the very great number of dioceses into which the country was divided, and, secondly, the prevailing practice of always choosing bishops from the same family, which had resulted in the diocese being regarded almost as a hereditary possession. The first difficulty was modified by a National Council held at Aengus, when the sixty dioceses were reduced to twenty-four under two archbishops, those of Armagh and Cashel, each having twelve suffragans. The first blow was aimed at the second abuse when Celsus, the noble-hearted Primate of Armagh, induced his clergy to elect as his successor Malachy, Bishop of Connor, instead of the man who would have been nominated in continuance of the tribal system.
Though it was five years after his election before St. Malachy could take possession of his archdiocese, his administration began a new era of things for Ireland. After six years he retired to the See of Down, and shortly after went to Rome to beg Pope Innocent II. to send pallia to the archbishops. On his journey to Rome, St. Malachy called at Clairvaux, where St. Bernard was then abbot. "The pilgrim strangers received a brotherly welcome, and the visit was felt to be one of no common interest. Great was the edification which the pious guests received in witnessing the holy and laborious life of Bernard's spiritual sons; while the monks, on their part, regarded it as a heavenly dispensation that the saintly bishop from the Western Isle tarried with them for a while, and blessed them with effusion as he said farewell and set his face once more towards Rome. This meeting of Bernard and Malachy was the beginning of one of those exquisitely holy and tender friendships that we read of in the lives of saints." St. Malachy felt an intense longing to return and end his days in the holy solitude under the guidance of St. Bernard. After many interviews with the Pope, in which affairs of great importance were arranged with regard to the Church in Ireland, Malachy prepared to depart. "In the last audience the Pope took the mitre from his own head and placed it on Malachy's, bestowed on him the stole and maniple which he was himself accustomed to use in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice, gave him the kiss of peace, and with the Apostolic Benediction, sent him back, not to Bernard and Clairvaux, but to his distracted native country in the capacity of Papal Legate." The Pope deferred granting the petitioned pallia till a National Synod should apply for them, probably to give the bishops the opportunity of testifying to their readiness to submit to the full primatial jurisdiction.
St. Malachy could not pass through France without turning aside once more to visit St. Bernard. Since St. Malachy could not remain at Clairvaux, he would at least have Cistercians in Ireland. It was settled that four of Malachy's companions should stay with Bernard to learn the discipline of the monastery, take the Cistercian habit in due course, and await the moment when the brethren might be able to establish a colony in the "Western Isle." Other postulants were sent to Clairvaux by St. Malachy, and two years later, when their novitiate was over, they returned with a number of French monks to found their first home in Ireland at Mellifont, which Devorgilla, the captured wife of the Prince of Breffny, probably helped to found.
The Cistercians brought with them and taught the people a thorough system of agriculture. Moreover, they introduced a good style of church architecture, for the Celtic monks, though great scholars, had not been great builders like the Latins, and the ancient Irish churches and monasteries were of exceedingly simple construction. The Cistercians multiplied rapidly not only by recruiting subjects in Ireland, but, after the Norman Conquest of Ireland, few barons settled in the land without bringing over a colony of monks. In 1148 St. Malachy again went to France. He wished to bear to the Pope the request of the Synod that the two Primates might have the pallium. He had been told that he should meet the Pope at Clairvaux—for Eugenius III. was about to go thither to meet his former superior, St. Bernard. St. Malachy was delayed on his journey, and the Pope had started homewards. Several illustrious monastic superiors who had gathered to meet His Holiness were still there, among them St. Gilbert of Sempringham. St. Malachy's wish of dying in a Cistercian home under the care of St. Bernard was to be fulfilled. He sickened and died, surrounded by the prayerful monks. "On the shoulders of abbots the body of the saint was borne to the church; Bernard offered the Holy Sacrifice for the departed, and when the sacred functions had been brought to a conclusion, the Cistercians buried their beloved guest in a favourite place in the Oratory of the Blessed Virgin, where five years later (1153) they laid their abbot and founder beside him."
Not twenty years after the death of St. Malachy the Normans arrived. Henry II. had coveted the fair island, and was glad of the pretext afforded by the appeal of the King of Leinster against the Prince of Breffny to get a footing in the land.
It was the Norman Conquest of England played over again in Ireland with a different sequel; for whereas, after three hundred years, Norman and Saxon blended to form one people—the English—such a fusion never took place in Ireland. Norman and Irish remained at feud, a state of things which was most unhappily kept up by unwise laws, such as the Statute of Kilkenny (1365). The animosity between the two races found its way into ecclesiastical regulations. In spite of the most absolute identity of faith, both Anglo-Normans and Celts kept among themselves, and neither party would attempt to effect a union with the other. Anglo-Norman monasteries refused to receive Irish subjects, and later on the Irish ecclesiastics passed similar resolutions with regard to the Anglo-Normans. Pope Honorius III. strove to put a stop to this spirit of national antagonism, but without result. Very many of the Sees were in the hands of Anglo-Norman prelates. The last Irish Archbishop of Dublin before the so-called Reformation was St. Laurence O'Toole. He was a determined opponent of the attempt to add Ireland to the dominions of Henry II., but could not secure sufficient union amongst the native princes to carry out his patriotic views.
During the papal residence at Avignon, the Dublin University was founded. Pope Clement V. by brief authorized John de Lecke, the archbishop of the city, to set it on foot. It was not till John XXII. was on the papal throne that a beginning could be made; but want of funds caused the attempt to fall through, and though repeated efforts were made to carry out the proposed foundation, it was never possible to establish a prosperous University in Ireland. An object so desirable could only be attained by long and patient efforts.