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Beacon Lights of History, Volume V by John Lord

Part 3 out of 5

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cause. It cemented the power of the Pope, while freedom from papal
interference has ever been dear to the English nation.

When Anselm had fought this great fight he died, 1109, in the sixteenth
year of his reign as primate of the Church in England, and was buried,
next to Lanfranc, in his abbey church. His career outwardly is memorable
only for this contest, which was afterwards renewed by Thomas Becket
with a greater king than either William Rufus or Henry I. It is
interesting, since it was a part of the great struggle between the
spiritual and temporal powers for two hundred years,--from Hildebrand to
Innocent III. This was only one of the phases of the quarrel,--one of
the battles of a long war,--not between popes and emperors, as in
Germany and Italy, but between a king and the vicegerent of a pope; a
king and his subject, the one armed with secular, the other with
spiritual, weapons. It was only brought to an end by an appeal to the
fears of men,--the dread of excommunication and consequent torments in
hell, which was the great governing idea of the Middle Ages, the means
by which the clergy controlled the laity. Abused and perverted as this
idea was, it indicates and presupposes a general belief in the
personality of God, in rewards and punishments in a future state, and
the necessity of conforming to the divine laws as expounded and
enforced by the Christian Church. Hence the dark ages have been called
"Ages of Faith."

It now remains to us to contemplate Anselm as a theologian and
philosopher,--a more interesting view, for in this aspect his character
is more genial, and his influence more extended and permanent. He is one
of the first who revived theological studies in Europe. He did not teach
in the universities as a scholastic doctor, but he was one who prepared
the way for universities by the stimulus he gave to philosophy. It was
in his abbey of Bec that he laid the foundation of a new school of
theological inquiry. In original genius he was surpassed by no
scholastic in the Middle Ages, although both Abelard and Thomas Aquinas
enjoyed a greater fame. It was for his learning and sanctity that he was
canonized,--and singularly enough by Alexander VI., the worst pope who
ever reigned. Still more singular is it that the last of his successors,
as abbot of Bec, was the diplomatist Talleyrand,--one of the most
worldly and secular of all the ecclesiastical dignitaries of an
infidel age.

The theology of the Middle Ages, of which Anselm was one of the greatest
expounders, certainly the most profound, was that which was systematized
by Saint Augustine from the writings of Paul. Augustine was the oracle
of the Latin Church until the Council of Trent, and nominally his
authority has never been repudiated by the Catholic Church. But he was
no more the father of the Catholic theology than he was of the
Protestant, as taught by John Calvin: these two great theologians were
in harmony in all essential doctrines as completely as were Augustine
and Anselm, or Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The doctrines of theology,
as formulated by Augustine, were subjects of contemplation and study in
all the convents of the Middle Ages. In spite of the prevailing
ignorance, it was impossible that inquiring men, "secluded in gloomy
monasteries, should find food for their minds in the dreary and
monotonous duties to which monks were doomed,--a life devoted to
alternate manual labor and mechanical religious services." There would
be some of them who would speculate on the lofty subjects which were the
constant themes of their meditations. Bishops were absorbed in their
practical duties as executive rulers. Village priests were too ignorant
to do much beyond looking after the wants of hinds and peasants. The
only scholarly men were the monks. And although the number of these was
small, they have the honor of creating the first intellectual movement
since the fall of the Roman Empire. They alone combined leisure with
brain-work. These intellectual and inquiring monks, as far back as the
ninth century speculated on the great subjects of Christian faith with
singular boldness, considering the general ignorance which veiled
Europe in melancholy darkness. Some of them were logically led "to a
secret mutiny and insurrection" against the doctrines which were
universally received. This insurrection of human intelligence gave great
alarm to the orthodox leaders of the Church; and to suppress it the
Church raised up conservative dialecticians as acute and able as those
who strove for emancipation. At first they used the weapons of natural
reason, but afterwards employed the logic and method of Aristotle, as
translated into Latin from the Arabic, to assist them in their
intellectual combats. Gradually the movement centred in the scholastic
philosophy, as a bulwark to Catholic theology. But this was nearly a
hundred years after the time of Anselm, who himself was not enslaved by
the technicalities of a complicated system of dialectics.

Naturally the first subject which was suggested to the minds of
inquiring monks was the being and attributes of God. He was the
beginning and end of their meditations. It was to meditate upon God that
the Oriental recluse sought the deserts of Asia Minor and Egypt. Like
the Eastern monk of the fourth century, he sought to know the essence
and nature of the Deity he worshipped. There arose before his mind the
great doctrines of the trinity, the incarnation, and redemption. Closely
connected with these were predestination and grace, and then "fixed
fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute." On these mysteries he could
not help meditating; and with meditation came speculation on
unfathomable subjects pertaining to God and his relations with man, to
the nature of sin and its penalty, to the freedom of the will, and
eternal decrees.

The monk became first a theologian and then a philosopher, whether of
the school of Plato or of Aristotle he did not know. He began to
speculate on questions which had agitated the Grecian schools,--the
origin of evil and of matter; whether the world was created or
uncreated; whether there is a distinction between things visible and
invisible; whether we derive our knowledge from sensation or reflection;
whether the soul is necessarily immortal; how free-will is to be
reconciled with God's eternal decrees, or what the Greeks called Fate;
whether ideas are eternal, or are the creation of our own minds. These,
and other more subtile questions--like the nature of angels--began to
agitate the convent in the ninth century.

It was then that the monk Gottschalk revived the question of
predestination, which had slumbered since the time of Saint Augustine.
Although the Bishop of Hippo was the oracle of the Church, and no one
disputed his authority, it would seem that his characteristic
doctrine,--that of grace; the essential doctrine of Luther also,--was
never a favorite one with the great churchmen of the Middle Ages. They
did not dispute Saint Augustine, but they adhered to penances and
expiations, which entered so largely into the piety of the Middle Ages.
The idea of penances and expiations, pushed to their utmost logical
sequence, was salvation by works and not by faith. Grace, as understood
by the Fathers, was closely allied to predestination; it disdained the
elaborate and cumbrous machinery of ecclesiastical discipline, on which
the power of the clergy was based. Grace was opposed to penance, while
penance was the form which religion took; and as predestination was a
theological sequence of grace, it was distasteful to the Mediaeval
Church. Both grace and predestination tended to undermine the system of
penance then universally accepted. The great churchmen of the Middle
Ages were plainly at war with their great oracle in this matter, without
being fully aware of their real antagonism. So they made an onslaught on
Gottschalk, as opposed to those ideas on which sacerdotal power
rested,--especially did Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, the greatest
prelate of that age. Persecuted, Gottschalk appealed to reason rather
than authority, thus anticipating Luther by five hundred years,--an
immense heresy in the Middle Ages. Hincmar, not being able to grapple
with the monk in argument, summoned to his aid the brightest intellect
of that century,--the first man who really gave an impulse to
philosophical inquiries in the Middle Ages, the true founder of

This man was John Scotus Erigena,--or John the Erin-born,--who was also
a monk, and whose early days had been spent in some secluded monastery
in Ireland, or the Scottish islands. Somehow he attracted the attention
of Charles the Bald, A.D. 843, and became his guest and chosen
companion. And yet, while he lived in the court, he spent the most of
his time in intellectual seclusion. As a guest of the king he may have
become acquainted with Hincmar, or his acquaintance with Hincmar may
have led to his friendship with Charles. He was witty, bright, and
learned, like Abelard, a favorite with the great. In his treatise on
Predestination, in which he combated the views of Gotschalk, he probably
went further than Hincmar desired or expected: he boldly asserted the
supremacy of reason, and threw off the shackles of authority. He
combated Saint Augustine as well as Gottschalk. He even aspired to
reconcile free-will with the divine sovereignty,--the great mistake of
theologians in every age, the most hopeless and the most ambitious
effort of human genius,--a problem which cannot be solved. He went even
further than this: he attempted to harmonize philosophy with religion,
as Abelard did afterwards. He brought all theological questions to the
test of dialectical reasoning. Thus the ninth century saw a rationalist
and a pantheist at the court of a Christian king. Like Democritus, he
maintained the eternity of matter. Like a Buddhist, he believed that God
is all things and all things are God. Such doctrines were not to be
tolerated, even in an age when theological speculations did not usually
provoke persecution. Religious persecution for opinions was the fruit of
subsequent inquiries, and did not reach its height until the Dominicans
arose in the thirteenth century. But Erigena was generally denounced; he
fell under the censure of the Pope, and was obliged to fly, taking
refuge about the year 882 in England,--it is said at Oxford, where there
was probably a cathedral school, but not as yet a university, with its
professors' chairs and scholastic honors. Others suppose that he died in
Paris, 891.

A spirit of inquiry having been thus awakened among a few intellectual
monks, they began to speculate about those questions which had agitated
the Grecian schools: whether _genera_ and _species_--called
"universals," or ideas--have a substantial and independent existence, or
whether they are the creation of our own minds; whether, if they have a
real existence, they are material or immaterial essences; whether they
exist apart from objects perceptible by the senses. It is singular that
such questions should have been discussed in the ninth century, since
neither Plato nor Aristotle were studied. That age was totally ignorant
of Greek. It may be doubted whether there was a Greek scholar in Western
Europe,--or even in Rome.

No very remarkable man arose with a rationalizing spirit, after Erigena,
until Berengar of Tours in the eleventh century, who maintained that in
the Sacrament the presence of the body of Christ involves no change in
the nature and essence of the bread and wine. He was opposed by
Lanfranc. But the doctrine of transubstantiation was too deeply grounded
in the faith of Christendom to be easily shaken. Controversies seemed to
centre around the doctrine of the real existence of ideas,--what are
called "universals,"--which doctrine was generally accepted. The monks,
in this matter, followed Saint Augustine, who was a realist, as were
also the orthodox leaders of the Church generally from his time to that
of Saint Bernard. It was a sequence of the belief in the doctrine of
the Trinity.

No one of mark opposed the Realism which had now become one of the
accepted philosophical opinions of the age, until Roscelin, in the
latter part of the eleventh century, denied that universals have a real
existence. It was Plato's doctrine that universals have an independent
existence apart from individual objects, and that they exist before the
latter (_universalia_ ANTE _rem_,--the thought _before_ the thing);
while Aristotle maintained that universals, though possessing a real
existence, exist only in individual objects (_universalia_ IN _re_,
--the thought _in_ the thing). Nominalism is the doctrine that
individuals only have real existence (_universalia_ POST _rem_,--the
thought _after_ the thing).

It is not probable that this profound question about universals would
have excited much interest among the intellectual monks of the eleventh
century, had it not been applied to theological subjects, in which
chiefly they were absorbed. Now Roscelin advanced the doctrine, that, if
the three persons in the Trinity were one thing, it would follow that
the Father and the Holy Ghost must have entered into the flesh together
with the Son; and as he believed that only individuals exist in reality,
it would follow that the three persons of the Godhead are three
substances, in fact three Gods. Thus Nominalism logically led to an
assault on the received doctrine of the Trinity--the central point in
the theology of the Church. This was heresy. The foundations of
Christian belief were attacked, and no one in that age was strong enough
to come to the rescue but Anselm, then Abbot of Bec.

His great service to the cause of Christian theology, and therefore to
the Church universal, was his exposition of the logical results of the
Nominalism of Roscelin,--to whom universals, or ideas, were merely
creations of the mind, or conventional phrases, having no real
existence. Hence such things as love, friendship, beauty, justice, were
only conceptions. Plato and Augustine maintained that they are eternal
verities, not to be explained by definitions, appealing to
consciousness, in the firm belief in which the soul sustains itself;
that there can be no certain knowledge without a recognition of these;
that from these only sound deductions of moral truth can be drawn; that
without a firm belief in these eternal certitudes there can be no repose
and no lofty faith. These ideas are independent of us. They do not vary
with our changing sensations; they have nothing to do with sensation.
They are not creations of the brain; they inherently exist, from all
eternity. The substance of these ideas is God; without these we could
not conceive of God. Augustine especially, in the true spirit of
Platonism, abhorred doctrines which made the existence of God depend
upon our own abstractions. To him there was a reality in love, in
friendship, in justice, in beauty; and he repelled scepticism as to
their eternal existence, as life repels death.

Roscelin took away the platform from whose lofty heights Socrates and
Plato would survey the universe. He attacked the citadel in which
Augustine intrenched himself amid the desolations of a dissolving world;
he laid the axe at the root of the tree which sheltered all those who
would fly from uncertainty and despair.

But if these ideas were not true, what was true; on what were the hopes
of the world to be based; where was consolation for the miseries of life
to be found? "There are many goods," says Anselm, "which we
desire,--some for utility, and others for beauty; but all these goods
are relative,--more or less good,--and imply something absolutely good.
This absolute good--the _summum bonum_--is God. In like manner all that
is great and high are only relatively great and high; and hence there
must be something absolutely great and high, and this is God. There must
exist at least one being than which no other is higher; hence there must
be but one such being,--and this is God."

It was thus that Anselm brought philosophy to the support of theology.
He would combat the philosophical reasonings of Roscelin with still
keener dialectics. He would conquer him on his own ground and with his
own weapons.

Let it not be supposed that this controversy about universals was a mere
dialectical tournament, with no grand results. It goes down to the root
of almost every great subject in philosophy and religion. The denial of
universal ideas is rationalism and materialism in philosophy, as it is
Pelagianism and Arminianism in theology. The Nominalism of Roscelin
reappeared in the Rationalism of Abelard; and, carried out to its
severe logical sequences, is the refusal to accept any doctrine which
cannot be proved by reason. Hence nothing is to be accepted which is
beyond the province of reason to explain; and hence nothing is to be
received by faith alone. Christianity, in the hands of fearless and
logical nominalists, would melt away,--that is, what is peculiar in its
mysterious dogmas. Its mysterious dogmas were the anchors of belief in
ages of faith. It was these which animated the existence of such men as
Augustine, Bernard, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Hence their terrible
antagonism even to philosophical doctrines which conflicted with the
orthodox belief, on which, as they thought, the salvation of
mankind rested.

But Anselm did not rest with combating the Nominalism of Roscelin. In
the course of his inquiries and arguments he felt it necessary to
establish the belief in God--the one great thing from which all other
questions radiated--by a new argument, and on firmer ground than that on
which it had hitherto rested. He was profoundly devotional as well as
logical, and original as he was learned. Beyond all the monks of his age
he lived in the contemplation of God. God was to him the essence of all
good, the end of all inquiries, the joy and repose of his soul He could
not understand unless he _first_ believed; knowledge was the _fruit_ of
faith, not its _cause_. The idea of God in the mind of man is the
highest proof of the existence of God. That only is real which appeals
to consciousness. He did not care to reason about a thing when reasoning
would not strengthen his convictions, perhaps involve him in doubts and
perplexities. Reason is finite and clouded and warped. But that which
directly appeals to consciousness (as all that is eternal must appeal),
and to that alone, like beauty and justice and love,--ultimate ideas to
which reasoning and definitions add nothing,--is to be received as a
final certitude. Hence, absolute certainty of the existence of God, as
it appeals to consciousness,--like the "_Cogito, ergo sum_." In this
argument he anticipated Descartes, and proved himself the profoundest
thinker of his century, perhaps of five centuries.

The deductions which Anselm made from the attributes of God and his
moral government seem to have strengthened the belief of the Middle Ages
in some theological aspects which are repulsive to consciousness,--his
stronghold; thereby showing how one-sided any deductions are apt to be
when pushed out to their utmost logical consequences; how they may even
become a rebuke to human reason in those grand efforts of which reason
is most proud, for theology, it must be borne in mind, is a science of
deductions from acknowledged truths of revelation. Hence, from the
imperfections of reason, or from disregard of other established truths,
deductions may be pushed to absurdity even when logical, and may be made
to conflict with the obvious meaning of primal truths from which these
deductions are made, or at least with those intuitions which are hard to
be distinguished from consciousness itself. There may be no flaw in the
argument, but the argument may land one in absurdity and contradiction.
For instance, from the acknowledged sinfulness of human nature--one of
the cardinal declarations of Scripture, and confirmed by universal
experience--and the equally fundamental truth that God is infinite,
Anselm assumed the dogma that the guilt of men as sinners against an
infinite God is infinitely great. From this premise, which few in his
age were disposed to deny, for it was in accordance with Saint
Augustine, it follows that infinite sin, according to eternal justice,
could only be atoned for by an infinite punishment. Hence all men
deserve eternal punishment, and must receive it, unless there be made an
infinite satisfaction or atonement, since not otherwise can divine love
be harmonized with divine justice. Hence it was necessary that the
eternal Son should become man, and make, by his voluntary death on the
cross, the necessary atonement for human sins. Pushed out to the
severest logical consequences, it would follow, that, as an infinite
satisfaction has atoned for sin, _all_ sinners are pardoned. But the
Church shrank from such a conclusion, although logical, and included in
the benefits of the atonement only the _believing_ portion of mankind.
The discrepancy between the logical deductions and consciousness, and I
may add Scripture, lies in assuming that human guilt _is infinitely_
great. It is thus that theology became complicated, even gloomy, and in
some points false, by metaphysical reasonings, which had such a charm
both to the Fathers and the Schoolmen. The attempt to reconcile divine
justice with divine love by metaphysics and abstruse reasoning proved as
futile as the attempt to reconcile free-will with predestination; for
divine justice was made by deduction, without reference to other
attributes, to conflict with those ideas of justice which consciousness
attests,--even as a fettered will, of which all are conscious (that is,
a will fettered by sin), was pushed out by logical deductions into
absolute slavery and impotence.

Anselm did not carry out metaphysical reasonings to such lengths as did
the Schoolmen who succeeded him,--those dialecticians who lived in
universities in the thirteenth century. He was a devout man, who
meditated on God and on revealed truth with awe and reverence, without
any desire of system-making or dialectical victories. This desire more
properly marked the Scholastic doctors of the universities in a
subsequent age, when, though philosophy had been invoked by Anselm to
support theology, they virtually made theology subordinate to philosophy.
It was his main effort to establish, on rational grounds, the existence
of God, and afterwards the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.
And yet with Anselm and Roscelin the Scholastic age began. They were the
founders of the Realists and the Nominalists,--those two schools which
divided the Church in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and which
will probably go on together, under different names, as long as men shall
believe and doubt. But this subject, on which I have only entered, must
be deferred to the next lecture.


Church's Life of Saint Anselm; Neander's Church History; Milman's
History of the Latin Church; Stockl's History of the Philosophy of the
Middle Ages; Ueberweg's History of Philosophy; Wordsworth's
Ecclesiastical Biography; Trench's Mediaeval Church History; Digby's
Ages of Faith; Fleury's Ecclesiastical History; Dupin's Ecclesiastical
History; Biographie Universelle; M. Rousselot's Histoire de la
Philosophic du Moyen Age; Newman's Mission of the Benedictine Order;
Dugdale's Monasticon; Hallam's Literature of Europe; Hampden's article
on the Scholastic Philosophy, in Encyclopaedia Metropolitana.


* * * * *

A.D. 1225(7)-1274.


We have seen how the cloister life of the Middle Ages developed
meditative habits of mind, which were followed by a spirit of inquiry on
deep theological questions. We have now to consider a great intellectual
movement, stimulated by the effort to bring philosophy to the aid of
theology, and thus more effectually to battle with insidious and rising
heresies. The most illustrious representative of this movement was
Thomas of Aquino, generally called Thomas Aquinas. With him we associate
the Scholastic Philosophy, which, though barren in the results at which
it aimed, led to a remarkable intellectual activity, and hence,
indirectly, to the emancipation of the mind. It furnished teachers who
prepared the way for the great lights of the Reformation.

Anselm had successfully battled with the rationalism of Roscelin, and
also had furnished a new argument for the existence of God. He secured
the triumph of Realism for a time and the apparent extinction of
heresy. But a new impulse to thought was given, soon after his death, by
a less profound but more popular and brilliant man, and, like him, a
monk. This was the celebrated Peter Abelard, born in the year 1079, in
Brittany, of noble parents, and a boy of remarkable precocity. He was a
sort of knight-errant of philosophy, going from convent to convent and
from school to school, disputing, while a mere youth, with learned
teachers, wherever he could find them. Having vanquished the masters in
the provincial schools, he turned his steps to Paris, at that time the
intellectual centre of Europe. The university was not yet established,
but the cathedral school of Notre Dame was presided over by William of
Champeaux, who defended the Realism of Anselm.

To this famous cathedral school Abelard came as a pupil of the veteran
dialectician at the age of twenty, and dared to dispute his doctrines.
He soon set up as a teacher himself; but as Notre Dame was interdicted
to him he retired to Melun, ten leagues from Paris, where enthusiastic
pupils crowded to his lecture room, for he was witty, bold, sarcastic,
acute, and eloquent. He afterwards removed to Paris, and so completely
discomfited his old master that he retired from the field. Abelard then
applied himself to the study of divinity, and attended the lectures of
Anselm of Laon, who, though an old man, was treated by Abelard with
great flippancy and arrogance. He then began to lecture on divinity as
well as philosophy, with extraordinary _eclat_. Students flocked to his
lecture room from all parts of Germany, Italy, France, and England. It
is said that five thousand young men attended his lectures, among whom
one hundred were destined to be prelates, including that brilliant and
able Italian who afterwards reigned as Innocent III. It was about this
time, 1117, when he was thirty-eight, that he encountered Heloise,--a
passage of his life which will be considered in a later volume of this
work. His unfortunate love and his cruel misfortune led to a temporary
seclusion in a convent, from which, however, he issued to lecture with
renewed popularity in a desert place in Champagne, where he constructed
a vast edifice and dedicated it to the Paraclete. It was here that his
most brilliant days were spent. It is said that three thousand pupils
followed him to this wilderness. He was doubtless the most brilliant and
successful lecturer that the Middle Ages ever saw. He continued the
controversy which was begun by Roscelin respecting universals, the
reality of which he denied.

Abelard was not acquainted with the Greek, but in a Latin translation
from the Arabic he had studied Aristotle, whom he regarded as the great
master of dialectics, although not making use of his method, as did the
great Scholastics of the succeeding century. Still, he was among the
first to apply dialectics to theology. He maintained a certain
independence of the patristic authority by his "Sic et Non," in which
treatise he makes the authorities neutralize each other by placing side
by side contradictory assertions. He maintained that the natural
propensity to evil, in consequence of the original transgression, is not
in itself sin; that sin consists in consenting to evil. "It is not,"
said he, "the temptation to lust that is sinful, but the acquiescence in
the temptation;" hence, that virtue cannot be tested without
temptations; consequently, that moral worth can only be truly estimated
by God, to whom motives are known,--in short, that sin consists in the
intention, and not in act. He admitted with Anselm that faith, in a
certain sense, precedes knowledge, but insisted that one must know why
and what he believes before his faith is established; hence, that faith
works itself out of doubt by means of rational investigation.

The tendency of Abelard's teachings was rationalistic, and therefore he
arrayed against himself the great champion of orthodoxy in his
day,--Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, the most influential churchman
of his age, and the most devout and lofty. His immense influence was
based on his learning and sanctity; but he was dogmatic and intolerant.
It is probable that the intellectual arrogance of Abelard, his flippancy
and his sarcasms, offended more than the matter of his lectures. "It is
not by industry," said he, "that I have reached the heights of
philosophy, but by force of genius." He was more admired by young and
worldly men than by old men. He was the admiration of women, for he was
poet as well as philosopher. His love-songs were scattered over Europe.
With a proud and aristocratic bearing, severe yet negligent dress,
beautiful and noble figure, musical and electrical voice, added to the
impression he made by his wit and dialectical power, no man ever
commanded greater admiration from those who listened to him. But he
excited envy as well as admiration, and was probably misrepresented by
his opponents. Like all strong and original characters, he had bitter
enemies as well as admiring friends; and these enemies exaggerated his
failings and his heretical opinions. Therefore he was summoned before
the Council of Soissons, and condemned to perpetual silence. From this
he appealed to Rome, and Rome sided with his enemies. He found a
retreat, after his condemnation, in the abbey of Cluny, and died in the
arms of his friend Peter the Venerable, the most benignant ecclesiastic
of the century, who venerated his genius and defended his orthodoxy, and
whose influence procured him absolution from the Pope.

But whatever were the faults of Abelard; however selfish he was in his
treatment of Heloise, or proud and provoking to adversaries, or even
heretical in many of his doctrines, especially in reference to faith,
which he is accused of undermining, although he accepted in the main the
received doctrines of the Church, certainly in his latter days, when he
was broken and penitent (for no great man ever suffered more humiliating
misfortunes),--one thing is clear, that he gave a stimulus to
philosophical inquiries, and awakened a desire of knowledge, and gave
dignity to human reason, beyond any man in the Middle Ages.

The dialectical and controversial spirit awakened by Abelard led to such
a variety of opinions among the inquiring young men who assembled in
Paris at the various schools, some of which were regarded as
rationalistic in their tendency, or at least a departure from the
patristic standard, that Peter Lombard, Bishop of Paris, collected in
four books the various sayings of the Fathers concerning theological
dogmas. He was also influenced to make this exposition by the "Sic et
Non" of Abelard, which tended to unsettle belief. This famous manual,
called the "Book of Sentences," appeared about the middle of the twelfth
century, and had an immense influence. It was the great text-book of the
theological schools.

About the time this book appeared the works of Aristotle were introduced
to the attention of students, translated into Latin from the Saracenic
language. Aristotle had already been commented upon by Arabian scholars
in Spain,--among whom Averroes, a physician and mathematician of
Cordova, was the most distinguished,--who regarded the Greek philosopher
as the founder of scientific knowledge. His works were translated from
the Greek into the Arabic in the early part of the ninth century.

The introduction of Aristotle led to an extension of philosophical
studies. From the time of Charlemagne only grammar and elementary logic
and dogmatic theology had been taught, but Abelard introduced dialectics
into theology. A more complete method was required than that which the
existing schools furnished, and this was supplied by the dialectics of
Aristotle. He became, therefore, at the close of the twelfth century, an
acknowledged authority, and his method was adopted to support the dogmas
of the Church.

Meanwhile the press of students at Paris, collected into various
schools,--the chief of which were the theological school of Notre Dame,
and the school of logic at Mount Genevieve, where Abelard had
lectured,--demanded a new organization. The teachers and pupils of these
schools then formed a corporation called a university (_Universitas
Magistrorum et Scholarium_), under the control of the chancellor and
chapter of Notre Dame, whose corporate existence was secured from
Innocent III. a few years afterwards.

Thus arose the University of Paris at the close of the twelfth century,
or about the beginning of the thirteenth, soon followed in different
parts of Europe by other universities, the most distinguished of which
were those of Oxford, Bologna, Padua, and Salamanca. But that of Paris
took the lead, this city being the intellectual centre of Europe even at
that early day. Thither flocked young men from Germany, England, and
Italy, as well as from all parts of France, to the number of twenty-five
or thirty thousand. These students were a motley crowd: some of them
were half-starved youth, with tattered clothes, living in garrets and
unhealthy cells; others again were rich and noble,--but all were eager
for knowledge. They came to Paris as pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem,
being drawn by the fame of the lecturers. The old sleepy schools of the
convents were deserted, for who would go to Fulda or York or Citeaux,
when such men as Abelard, Albert, and Victor were dazzling enthusiastic
youth by their brilliant disputations? These young men also seem to have
been noisy, turbulent, and dissipated for the most part, "filling the
streets with their brawls and the taverns with the fumes of liquor.
There was no such thing as discipline among them. They yelled and
shouted and brandished daggers, fought the townspeople, and were free
with their knocks and blows." They were not all youth; many of them were
men in middle life, with wives and children. At that time no one
finished his education at twenty-one; some remained scholars until the
age of thirty-five.

Some of these students came to study medicine, others law, but more
theology and philosophy. The headquarters of theology was the Sorbonne,
opened in 1253,--a college founded by Robert Sorbon, chaplain of the
king, whose aim was to bring together the students and professors,
heretofore scattered throughout the city. The students of this college,
which formed a part of the university, under the rule of the chancellor
of Notre Dame, it would seem were more orderly and studious than the
other students. They arose at five, assisted at Mass at six, studied
till ten,--the dinner hour; from dinner till five they studied or
attended lectures; then went to supper,--the principal meal; after which
they discussed problems till nine or ten, when they went to bed. The
students were divided into _hospites_ and _socii_, the latter of whom
carried on the administration. The lectures were given in a large hall,
in the middle of which was the chair of the master or doctor, while
immediately below him sat his assistant, the bachelor, who was going
through his training for a professorship. The chair of theology was the
most coveted honor of the university, and was reached only by a long
course of study and searching examinations, to which no one could aspire
but the most learned and gifted of the doctors. The students sat around
on benches, or on the straw. There were no writing-desks. The teaching
was oral, principally by questions and answers. Neither the master nor
the bachelor used a book. No reading was allowed. The students rarely
took notes or wrote in short-hand; they listened to the lectures and
wrote them down afterwards, so far as their memory served them. The
usual text-book was the "Book of Sentences," by Peter Lombard. The
bachelor, after having previously studied ten years, was obliged to go
through a three years' drill, and then submit to a public examination in
presence of the whole university before he was thought fit to teach. He
could not then receive his master's badge until he had successfully
maintained a public disputation on some thesis proposed; and even then
he stood no chance of being elevated to a professor's chair unless he
had lectured for some time with great _eclat_ Even Albertus Magnus,
fresh with the laurels of Cologne, was compelled to go through a three
years' course as a sub-teacher at Paris before he received his doctor's
cap, and to lecture for some years more as master before his
transcendent abilities were rewarded with a professorship. The dean of
the faculty of theology was chosen by the suffrages of the doctors.

The _Organum_ (philosophy of first principles) of Aristotle was first
publicly taught in 1215. This was certainly in advance of the seven
liberal arts which were studied in the old Cathedral schools,--grammar,
rhetoric, and dialectic (Trivium); and arithmetic, geometry, music, and
astronomy (Quadrivium),--for only the elements of these were taught. But
philosophy and theology, under the teaching of the Scholastic doctors
(_Doctores Scholastici_), taxed severely the intellectual powers. When
they introduced dialectics to support theology a more severe method was
required. "The method consisted in connecting the doctrine to be
expounded with a commentary on some work chosen for the purpose. The
contents were divided and subdivided, until the several propositions of
which it was composed were reached. Then these were interpreted,
questions were raised in reference to them, and the grounds of affirming
or denying were presented. Then the decision was announced, and in case
this was affirmative, the grounds of the negative were confuted."

Aristotle was made use of in order to reduce to scientific form a body
of dogmatic teachings, or to introduce a logical arrangement. Platonism,
embraced by the early Fathers, was a collection of abstractions and
theories, but was deficient in method. It did not furnish the weapons to
assail heresy with effect. But Aristotle was logical and precise and
passionless. He examined the nature of language, and was clear and
accurate in his definitions. His logic was studied with the sole view
of learning to use polemical weapons. For this end the syllogism was
introduced, which descends from the universal to the particular, by
deduction,--connecting the general with the special by means of a middle
term which is common to both. This mode of reasoning is opposite to the
method by induction, which rises to the universal from a comparison of
the single and particular, or, as applied in science, from a collection
and collation of facts sufficient to form a certainty or high
probability. A sound special deduction can be arrived at only by logical
inference from true and certain general principles.

This is what Anselm essayed to do; but the Schoolmen who succeeded
Abelard often drew dialectical inferences from what appeared to be true,
while some of them were so sophistical as to argue from false premises.
This syllogistic reasoning, in the hands of an acute dialectician, was
very efficient in overthrowing an antagonist, or turning his position
into absurdity, but not favorable for the discovery of truth, since it
aimed no higher than the establishment of the particulars which were
included in the doctrine assumed or deduced from it. It was reasoning in
perpetual circles; it was full of quibbles and sophistries; it was
ingenious, subtle, acute, very attractive to the minds of that age, and
inexhaustible from divisions and subdivisions and endless
ramifications. It made the contests of the schools a dialectical display
of remarkable powers in which great interest was felt, yet but little
knowledge was acquired. In one respect the Scholastic doctors rendered a
service: they demolished all dreamy theories and poured contempt on
mystical phrases. They insisted, like Socrates, on a definite meaning to
words. If they were hair-splitting in their definitions and
distinctions, they were at least clear and precise. Their method was
scientific. Such terms and expressions as are frequently used by our
modern transcendental philosophers would have been laughed to scorn by
the Schoolmen. No system of philosophy can be built up when words have
no definite meaning. This Socrates was the first to inculcate, and
Aristotle followed in his steps.

With the Crusades arose a new spirit, which gave an impulse to
philosophy as well as to art and enterprise. "The _primum mobile_ of the
new system was Motion, in distinction from the Rest which marked the old
monastic retreats." An immense enthusiasm for knowledge had been kindled
by Abelard, which was further intensified by the Scholastic doctors of
the thirteenth century, especially such of them as belonged to the
Dominican and Franciscan friars.

These celebrated Orders arose at a great crisis in the Papal history,
when rival popes aspired to the throne of Saint Peter, when the Church
was rent with divisions, when princes were contending for the right of
investiture, and when heretical opinions were defended by men of genius.
At this crisis a great Pope was called to the government of the
Church,--Innocent III., under whose able rule the papal power
culminated. He belonged to an illustrious Roman family, and received an
unusual education, being versed in theology, philosophy, and canon law.
His name was Lothario, of the family of the Conti; he was nephew of a
pope, and counted three cardinals among his relatives. At the age of
twenty-one, about the year 1181, he was one of the canons of Saint
Peter's Church; at twenty-four he was sent by the Pope on important
missions. In 1188 he was created cardinal by his uncle, Clement III.;
and in 1198 he was elected Pope, at the age of thirty-eight, when the
Crusades were at their height, when the south of France was agitated by
the opinions of the Albigenses, and the provinces on the Rhine by those
of the Waldenses. It was a turbulent age, full of tumults,
insurrections, wars, and theological dissensions. The old Benedictine
monks had lost their influence, and were disgraced by idleness and
gluttony, while the secular clergy were ignorant and worldly. Innocent
cast his eagle eye into all the abuses which disgraced the age and
Church, and made fearless war upon those princes who usurped his
prerogatives. He excommunicated princes, humbled the Emperor of Germany
and the King of England, put kingdoms under interdict, exempted abbots
from the jurisdiction of bishops, punished heretics, formed crusades,
laid down new canons, regulated taxes, and directed all ecclesiastical
movements. His activity was ceaseless, and his ambition was boundless.
He instituted important changes, and added new orders of monks to the
Church. It was this Pope who instituted auricular confession, and laid
the foundation of a more dreadful spiritual despotism in the form of

Yet while he ruled tyrannically, his private life was above reproach.
His habits were simple and his tastes were cultivated. He was charitable
and kind to the poor and unfortunate. He spent his enormous revenues in
building churches, endowing hospitals, and rewarding learned men; and
otherwise showed himself the friend of scholars, and the patron of
benevolent movements. He was a reformer of abuses, publishing the most
severe acts against venality, and deciding quarrels on principles of
justice. He had no dramatic conflicts like Hildebrand, for his authority
was established. As the supreme guardian of the interests of the Church
he seldom made demands which he had not the power to enforce. John of
England attempted resistance, but was compelled to submit. Innocent
even gave the archbishopric of Canterbury to one of his cardinals,
Stephen Langton, against the wishes of a Norman king. He took away the
wife of Philip Augustus; he nominated an emperor to the throne of
Constantine; he compelled France to make war on England, and incited the
barons to rebellion against John. Ten years' civil war in Germany was
the fruit of his astute policy, and the only great failure of his
administration was that he could not exempt Italy from the dominion of
the Emperors of Germany, thus giving rise to the two great political
parties of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,--the Guelphs and

To cement his vast spiritual power he encouraged what doubtless seemed
even to him a great fanaticism, but which he found could be turned to
his advantage,--that of the Mendicant Friars, established by Saint
Francis of Assisi, and Saint Dominic of the great family of the Guzmans
in Spain. These men made substantially the same offers to the Pope that
Ignatius Loyola did in after times,--to go where they were sent as
teachers, preachers, and missionaries without condition or reward. They
renounced riches, professed absolute poverty, and wandered from village
to city barefooted, and subsisting entirely on alms as beggars. The
Dominican friar in his black habit, and the Franciscan in his gray,
became the ablest and most effective preachers of the thirteenth
century. The Dominicans confined their teachings to the upper classes,
and became their favorite confessors. They were the most learned men of
the thirteenth century, and also the most reproachless in morals. The
Franciscans were itinerary preachers to the common people, and created
among them the same religious revival that the Methodists did later in
England under the guidance of Wesley. The founder of the Franciscans was
a man who seemed to be "inebriated with love," so unquenchable was his
charity, rapt his devotions, and supernal his sympathy. He found his way
to Rome in the year 1215, and in twenty-two years after his death there
were nine thousand religious houses of his Order. In a century from his
death the friars numbered one hundred and fifty thousand. The increase
of the Dominicans was not so rapid, but more illustrious men belonged to
this institution. It is affirmed that it produced seventy cardinals,
four hundred and sixty bishops, and four popes.

It was in the palmy days of these celebrated monks, before corruption
had set in, that the Dominican Order was recruited with one of the most
extraordinary men of the Middle Ages. This man was Saint Thomas, born
1225 or 1227, son of a Count of Aquino in the kingdom of Naples, known
in history as Thomas Aquinas, "the most successful organizer of
knowledge," says Archbishop Trench, "the world has known since
Aristotle." He was called "the angelical doctor," exciting the
enthusiasm of his age for his learning and piety and genius alike. He
was a prodigy and a marvel of dialectical skill, and Catholic writers
have exhausted language to find expressions for their admiration. Their
Lives of him are an unbounded panegyric for the sweetness of his temper,
his wonderful self-control, his lofty devotion to study, his
indifference to praises and rewards, his spiritual devotion, his loyalty
to the Church, his marvellous acuteness of intellect, his industry, and
his unparalleled logical victories. When he was five years of age his
father, a noble of very high rank, sent him to Monte Cassino with the
hope that he would become a Benedictine monk, and ultimately abbot of
that famous monastery, with the control of its vast revenues and
patronage. Here he remained seven years, until the convent was taken and
sacked by the soldiers of the Emperor Frederic in his war with the Pope.
The young Aquino returned to his father's castle, and was then sent to
Naples to be educated at the university, living in a Benedictine abbey,
and not in lodgings like other students. The Dominicans and Franciscans
held chairs in the university, one of which was filled with a man of
great ability, whose preaching and teaching had such great influence on
the youthful Thomas that he resolved to join the Order, and at the age
of seventeen became a Dominican friar, to the disappointment of his
family. His mother Theodora went to Naples to extricate him from the
hands of the Dominicans, who secretly hurried him off to Rome and
immured him in their convent, from which he was rescued by violence. But
the youth persisted in his intentions against the most passionate
entreaties of his mother, made his escape, and was carried back to
Naples. The Pope, at the solicitation of his family, offered to make him
Abbot of Monte Cassino, but he remained a poor Dominican. His superior,
seeing his remarkable talents, sent him to Cologne to attend the
lectures of Albertus Magnus, then the most able expounder of the
Scholastic Philosophy, and the oracle of the universities, who continued
his lectures after he was made a bishop, and even until he was
eighty-five. When Albertus was transferred from Cologne to Paris, where
the Dominicans held two chairs of theology, Thomas followed him, and
soon after was made bachelor. Again was Albert sent back to Cologne, and
Thomas was made his assistant professor. He at once attracted attention,
was ordained priest, and became as famous for his sermons as for his
lectures. After four years at Cologne Thomas was ordered back to Paris,
travelling on foot, and begging his way, yet stopping to preach in the
large cities. He was still magister and Albert professor, but had
greatly distinguished himself by his lectures.

His appearance at this time was marked. His body was tall and massive,
but spare and lean from fasting and labor. His eyes were bright, but
their expression was most modest. His face was oblong, his complexion
sallow; his forehead depressed, his head large, his person erect.

His first great work was a commentary of about twelve hundred pages on
the "Book of Sentences," in the Parma edition, which was received with
great admiration for its logical precision, and its opposition to the
rationalistic tendencies of the times. In it are discussed all the great
theological questions treated by Saint Augustine,--God, Christ, the Holy
Spirit, grace, predestination, faith, free-will, Providence, and the
like,--blended with metaphysical discussions on the soul, the existence
of evil, the nature of angels, and other subjects which interested the
Middle Ages. Such was his fame and dialectical skill that he was taken
away from his teachings and sent to Rome to defend his Order and the
cause of orthodoxy against the slanders of William of Saint Amour, an
aristocratic doctor, who hated the Mendicant Friars and their wandering
and begging habits. William had written a book called "Perils," in which
he exposed the dangers to be apprehended from the new order of monks,
in which he proved himself a true prophet, for ultimately the Mendicant
Friars became subjects of ridicule and reproach. But the Pope came to
the rescue of his best supporters.

On the return of Thomas to Paris he was made doctor of theology, at the
same time with Bonaventura the Franciscan, called "the seraphic doctor,"
between whom and Thomas were intimate ties of friendship. He had now
reached the highest honor that the university could bestow, which was
conferred with such extraordinary ceremony that it would seem to have
been a great event in Paris at that time.

His fame chiefly rests on the ablest treatise written in the Middle
Ages,--the "Summa Theologica,"--in which all the great questions in
theology and philosophy are minutely discussed, in the most exhaustive
manner. He took the side of the Realists, his object being to uphold
Saint Augustine. He was more a Platonist in his spirit than an
Aristotelian, although he was indebted to Aristotle for his method. He
appealed to both reason and authority. He presented the Christian
religion in a scientific form. His book is an assimilation of all that
is precious in the thinking of the Church. If he learned many things at
Paris, Cologne, and Naples, he was also educated by Chrysostom, by
Augustine, and Ambrose. "It is impossible," says Cardinal Newman, and no
authority is higher than his, "to read the _Catena_ of Saint Thomas
without being struck by the masterly skill with which he put it
together. A learning of the highest kind,--not mere literary book
knowledge which may have supplied the place of indexes and tables in
ages destitute of these helps, and when they had to be read in
unarranged and fragmentary manuscripts, but a thorough acquaintance with
the whole range of ecclesiastical antiquity, so as to be able to bring
the substance of all that had been written on any point to bear upon the
text which involved it,--a familiarity with the style of each writer so
as to compress in a few words the pith of the whole page, and a power of
clear and orderly arrangement in this mass of knowledge, are qualities
which make this _Catena_ nearly perfect as an interpretation of
Patristic literature." Dr. Vaughan, in eulogistic language, says: "The
'Summa Theologica' may be likened to one of the great cathedrals of the
Middle Ages, infinite in detail but massive in the grouping of pillars
and arches, forming a complete unity that must have taxed the brain of
the architect to its greatest extent. But greater as work of intellect
is this digest of all theological richness for one thousand years, in
which the thread of discourse is never lost sight of, but winds through
a labyrinth of important discussions and digressions, all bearing on the
fundamental truths which Paul declared and Augustine systematized."

This treatise would seem to be a thesaurus of both Patristic and
Mediaeval learning; not a dictionary of knowledge, but a system of truth
severely elaborated in every part,--a work to be studied by the
Mediaeval students as Calvin's "Institutes" were by the scholars of the
Reformation, and not far different in its scope and end; for the
Patristic, the Mediaeval, and the Protestant divines did not materially
differ in reference to the fundamental truths pertaining to God, the
Incarnation, and Redemption. The Catholic and Protestant divines differ
chiefly on the ideas pertaining to government and ecclesiastical
institutions, and the various inventions of the Middle Ages to uphold
the authority of the Church, not on dogmas strictly theological. A
student in theology could even in our times sit at the feet of Thomas
Aquinas, as he could at the feet of Augustine or Calvin; except that in
the theology which Thomas Aquinas commented upon there is a cumbrous
method, borrowed from Aristotle, which introduced infinite distinctions
and questions and definitions and deductions and ramifications which
have no charm to men who have other things to occupy their minds than
Scholastic subtilties, acute and logical as they may be. Thomas Aquinas
was raised to combat, with the weapons most esteemed in his day, the
various forms of Rationalism, Pantheism, and Mysticism which then
existed, and were included in the Nominalism of his antagonists. And as
long as universities are centres of inquiry the same errors, under other
names, will have to be combated, but probably not with the same methods
which marked the teachings of the "angelical doctor." In demolishing
errors and systematizing truth he was the greatest benefactor to the
cause of "orthodoxy" that appeared in Europe for several centuries,
admired for his genius as much as Spencer and other great lights of
science are in our day, but standing preeminent and lofty over all, like
a beacon light to give both guidance and warning to inquiring minds in
every part of Christendom. Nor could popes and sovereigns render too
great honor to such a prodigy of genius. They offered him the abbacy of
Monte Cassino and the archbishopric of Naples, but he preferred the life
of a quiet student, finding in knowledge and study, for their own sake,
the highest reward, and pursuing his labors without the _impedimenta_ of
those high positions which involve ceremonies and cares and pomps, yet
which most ambitious men love better than freedom, placidity, and
intellectual repose. He lived not in a palace, as he might have lived,
surrounded with flatterers, luxuries, and dignities, but in a cell,
wearing his simple black gown, and walking barefooted wherever he went,
begging his daily bread according to the rules of his Order. His black
gown was not an academic badge, but the Dominican dress. His only badge
of distinction was the doctors' cap.

Dr. Vaughan, in his heavy and unartistic life of Thomas Aquinas, has
drawn a striking resemblance between Plato and the Mediaeval doctor:
"Both," he says, "were nobly born, both were grave from youth, both
loved truth with an intensity of devotion. If Plato was instructed by
Socrates, Aquinas was taught by Albertus Magnus; if Plato travelled into
Italy, Greece, and Egypt, Aquinas went to Cologne, Naples, Bologna, and
Rome; if Plato was famous for his erudition, Aquinas was no less noted
for his universal knowledge. Both were naturally meek and gentle; both
led lives of retirement and contemplation; both loved solitude; both
were celebrated for self-control; both were brave; both held their
pupils spell-bound by their brilliant mental gifts; both passed their
time in lecturing to the schools (what the Pythagoreans were to Plato,
the Benedictines were to the angelical); both shrank from the display of
self; both were great dialecticians; both reposed on eternal ideas; both
were oracles to their generation." But if Aquinas had the soul of Plato,
he also had the scholastic gifts of Aristotle, to whom the Church is
indebted for method and nomenclature as it was to Plato for synthesis
and that exalted Realism which went hand in hand with Christianity. How
far he was indebted to Plato it is difficult to say. He certainly had
not studied his dialectics through translations or in the original, but
had probably imbibed the spirit of this great philosopher through Saint
Augustine and other orthodox Fathers who were his admirers.

Although both Plato and Aristotle accepted "universals" as the
foundation of scientific inquiry, the former arrived at them by
consciousness, and the other by reasoning. The spirit of the two great
masters of thought was as essentially different as their habits and
lives. Plato believed that God governed the world; Aristotle believed
that it was governed by chance. The former maintained that mind is
divine and eternal; the latter that it is a form of the body, and
consequently mortal. Plato thought that the source of happiness was in
virtue and resemblance to God; while Aristotle placed it in riches and
outward prosperity. Plato believed in prayer; but Aristotle thought that
God would not hear or answer it, and therefore that it was useless.
Plato believed in happiness after death; while Aristotle supposed that
death ended all pleasure. Plato lived in the world of abstract ideas;
Aristotle in the realm of sense and observation. The one was religious;
the other secular and worldly. With both the passion for knowledge was
boundless, but they differed in their conceptions of knowledge; the one
basing it on eternal ideas and the deductions to be drawn from them,
and the other on physical science,--the phenomena of Nature,--those
things which are cognizable by the senses. The spiritual life of Plato
was "a longing after love and of eternal ideas, by the contemplation of
which the soul sustains itself and becomes participant in immortality."
The life of Aristotle was not spiritual, but intellectual. He was an
incarnation of mere intellect, the architect of a great temple of
knowledge, which received the name of _Organum_, or the philosophy of
first principles.

Thomas Aquinas, we may see from what has been said, was both Platonic
and Aristotelian. He resembled Plato in his deep and pious meditations
on the eternal realities of the spiritual world, while in the severity
of his logic he resembled Aristotle, from whom he learned precision of
language, lucidity of statement, and a syllogistic mode of argument well
calculated to confirm what was already known, but not to make
attainments in new fields of thought or knowledge. If he was gentle and
loving and pious like Plato, he was also as calm and passionless as

This great man died at the age of forty-eight, in the year 1274, a few
years after Saint Louis, before his sum of theology was completed. He
died prematurely, exhausted by his intense studies; leaving, however,
treatises which filled seventeen printed folio volumes,--one of the most
voluminous writers of the world. His fame was prodigious, both as a
dialectician and a saint, and he was in due time canonized as one of the
great pillars of the Church, ranking after Chrysostom, Jerome,
Augustine, and Gregory the Great,--the standard authority for centuries
of the Catholic theology.

The Scholastic Philosophy, which culminated in Thomas Aquinas,
maintained its position in the universities of Europe until the
Reformation, but declined in earnestness. It descended to the discussion
of unimportant and often frivolous questions. Even the "angelical
doctor" is quoted as discussing the absurd question as to how many
angels could dance together on the point of a needle. The play of words
became interminable. Things were lost sight of in a barbarous jargon
about questions which have no interest to humanity, and which are
utterly unintelligible. At the best, logical processes can add nothing
to the ideas from which they start. When these ideas are lofty,
discussion upon them elevates the mind and doubtless strengthens its
powers. But when the subjects themselves are frivolous, the logical
tournaments in their defence degrade the intellect and narrow it.
Nothing destroys intellectual dignity more effectually than the waste of
energies in the defence of what is of no practical utility, and which
cannot be applied to the acquisition of solid knowledge. Hence the
Scholastic Philosophy did not advance knowledge, since it did not seek
the acquisition of new truths, but only the establishment of the old.
Its utility consisted in training the human mind to logical reasonings.
It exercised the intellect and strengthened it, as gymnastics do the
body, without enlarging it. It was nothing but barren dialectics,--"dry
bones," a perpetual fencing. The soul cries out for bread; the
Scholastics gave it a stone.

We are amazed that intellectual giants, equal to the old Greeks in
acuteness and logical powers, could waste their time on the frivolous
questions and dialectical subtilties to which they devoted their mighty
powers. However interesting to them, nothing is drier and duller to us,
nothing more barren and unsatisfying, than their logical sports. Their
treatises are like trees with endless branches, each leading to new
ramifications, with no central point in view, and hence never finished,
and which might be carried on _ad infinitum_. To attempt to read their
disquisitions is like walking in labyrinths of ever-opening intricacies.
By such a method no ultimate truth could be arrived at, beyond what was
assumed. There is now and then a man who professes to have derived light
and wisdom from those dialectical displays, since they were doubtless
marvels of logical precision and clearness of statement. But in a
practical point of view those "masterpieces of logic" are utterly
useless to most modern inquirers. These are interesting only as they
exhibit the waste of gigantic energies; they do not even have the merit
of illustrative rhetoric or eloquence. The earlier monks were devout and
spiritual, and we can still read their lofty meditations with profit,
since they elevate the soul and make it pant for the beatitudes of
spiritual communion with God. But the writings of the Scholastic doctors
are cold, calm, passionless, and purely intellectual,--logical without
being edifying. We turn from them, however acute and able, with blended
disappointment and despair. They are fig-trees, bearing nothing but
leaves, such as our Lord did curse. The distinctions are simply
metaphysical, and not moral.

Why the whole force of an awakening age should have been devoted to such
subtilties and barren discussion it is difficult to see, unless they
were found useful in supporting a theology made up of metaphysical
deductions rather than an interpretation of the meaning of Scripture
texts. But there was then no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew; there was no
exegetical research; there was no science and no real learning. There
was nothing but theology, with the exception of Lives of the Saints. The
horizon of human inquiries was extremely narrow. But when the minds of
very intellectual men were directed to one particular field, it would be
natural to expect something remarkable and marvellously elaborate of
its kind. Such was the Scholastic Philosophy. As a mere exhibition of
dialectical acumen, minute distinctions, and logical precision in the
use of words, it was wonderful. The intricacy and detail and
ramifications of this system were an intellectual feat which astonishes
us, yet which does not instruct us, certainly outside of a metaphysical
divinity which had more charm to the men of the Middle Ages than it can
have to us, even in a theological school where dogmatic divinity is made
the most important study. The day will soon come when the principal
chair in the theological school will be for the explanation of the
Scripture texts on which dogmas are based; and for this, great learning
and scholarship will be indispensable. To me it is surprising that
metaphysics have so long retained their hold on the minds of Protestant
divines. Nothing is more unsatisfactory, and to many more repulsive,
than metaphysical divinity. It is a perversion of the spirit of
Christian teachings. "What says our Lord?" should be the great inquiry
in our schools of theology; not, What deductions can be drawn from them
by a process of ingenious reasoning which often, without reference to
other important truths, lands one in absurdities, or at least in
one-sided systems?

But the metaphysical divinity of the Schoolmen had great attractions to
the students of the Middle Ages. And there must have been something in
it which we do not appreciate, or it would not have maintained itself in
the schools for three hundred years. Perhaps it was what those ages
needed,--the discipline through which the mind must go before it could
be prepared for the scientific investigations of our own times. In an
important sense the Scholastic doctors were the teachers of Luther and
Bacon. Certainly their unsatisfactory science was one of the marked
developments of the civilization of Europe, through which the Gothic
nations must need pass. It has been the fashion to ridicule it and
depreciate it in our modern times, especially among Protestants, who
have ridiculed and slandered the papal power and all the institutions of
the Middle Ages. Yet scholars might as well ridicule the text-books they
were required to study fifty years ago, because they are not up to our
times. We should not disdain the early steps by which future progress is
made easy. We cannot despise men who gave up their lives to the
contemplation of subjects which demand the highest tension of the
intellectual faculties, even if these exercises were barren of
utilitarian results. Some future age may be surprised at the comparative
unimportance of questions which interest this generation. The Scholastic
Philosophy cannot indeed be utilized by us in the pursuit of scientific
knowledge; nor (to recur to Vaughan's simile for the great work of
Aquinas) can a mediaeval cathedral be utilized for purposes of oratory
or business. But the cathedral is nevertheless a grand monument,
suggesting lofty sentiments, which it would be senseless and ruthless
barbarism to destroy or allow to fall into decay, but which should
rather be preserved as a precious memento of what is most poetic and
attractive in the Middle Ages. When any modern philosopher shall rear so
gigantic and symmetrical a monument of logical disquisitions as the
"Summa Theologica" is said to be by the most competent authorities, then
the sneers of a Macaulay or a Lewes will be entitled to more
consideration. It is said that a new edition of this great Mediaeval
work is about to be published under the direct auspices of the Pope, as
the best and most comprehensive system of Christian theology ever
written by man.


Dr. Vaughan's Life of Thomas Aquinas; Histoire de la Vie et des Ecrits
de St. Thomas d'Aquin, par l'Abbe Bareille; Lacordaire's Life of Saint
Dominic; Dr. Hampden's Life of Thomas Aquinas; article on Thomas
Aquinas, in London Quarterly, July, 1881; Summa Theologica; Neander,
Milman, Fleury, Dupin, and Ecclesiastical Histories generally;
Biographic Universelle; Werner's Leben des Heiligen Thomas von Aquino;
Trench's Lectures on Mediaeval History; Ueberweg & Rousselot's History
of Philosophy. Dr. Hampden's article, in the Encyclopaedia
Metropolitana, on Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastic Philosophy, is
regarded by Hallam as the ablest view of this subject which has appeared
in English.


* * * * *

A.D. 1118-1170.


A great deal has been written of late years on Thomas Becket, Archbishop
of Canterbury in the reign of Henry II.,--some historians writing him
up, and others writing him down; some making him a martyr to the Church,
and others representing him as an ambitious prelate who encroached on
royal authority,--more of a rebel than a patriot. His history has become
interesting, in view of this very discrepancy of opinion,--like that of
Oliver Cromwell, one of those historical puzzles which always have
attraction to critics. And there is abundant material for either side we
choose to take. An advocate can make a case in reference to Becket's
career with more plausibility than about any other great character in
English history,--with the exception of Queen Elizabeth, Cromwell, and
Archbishop Laud.

The cause of Becket was the cause of the Middle Ages. He was not the
advocate of fundamental principles, as were Burke and Bacon. He fought
either for himself, or for principles whose importance has in a measure
passed away. He was a high-churchman, who sought to make the temporal
power subordinate to the spiritual. He appears in an interesting light
only so far as the principles he sought to establish were necessary for
the elevation of society in his ignorant and iron age. Moreover, it was
his struggles which give to his life its chief charm, and invest it with
dramatic interest. It was his energy, his audacity, his ability in
overcoming obstacles, which made him memorable,--one of the heroes of
history, like Ambrose and Hildebrand; an ecclesiastical warrior who
fought bravely, and died without seeing the fruits of his bravery.

There seems to be some discrepancy among historians as to Becket's birth
and origin, some making him out a pure Norman, and others a Saxon, and
others again half Saracen. But that is, after all, a small matter,
although the critics make a great thing of it. They always are inclined
to wrangle over unimportant points. Michelet thinks he was a Saxon, and
that his mother was a Saracen lady of rank, who had become enamored of
the Saxon when taken prisoner while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
and who returned with him to England, embraced his religion, and was
publicly baptized in Saint Paul's Cathedral, her beauty and rank having
won attention; but Mr. Froude and Milman regard this as a late legend.

It would seem, however, that he was born in London about the year 1118
or 1119, and that his father, Gilbert Becket, was probably a respectable
merchant and sheriff, or portreeve, of London, and was a Norman. His
parents died young, leaving him not well provided for; but being
beautiful and bright he was sent to school in an abbey, and afterwards
to Oxford. From Oxford he went into a house of business in London for
three years, and contrived to attract the notice of Theobald, Archbishop
of Canterbury, who saw his talents, sent him to Paris, and thence to
Bologna to study the canon law, which was necessary to a young man who
would rise in the world. He was afterwards employed by Theobald in
confidential negotiations. The question of the day in England was
whether Stephen's son (Eustace) or Matilda's son (Henry of Anjou) was
the true heir to the crown, it being settled that Stephen should
continue to rule during his lifetime, and that Henry should peaceably
follow him; which happened in a little more than a year. Becket had
espoused the side of Henry.

The reign of Henry II., during which Becket's memorable career took
place, was an important one. He united, through his mother Matilda, the
blood of the old Saxon kings with that of the Norman dukes. He was the
first truly English sovereign who had sat on the throne since the
Conquest. In his reign (1154-1189) the blending of the Norman and Saxon
races was effected. Villages and towns rose around the castles of great
Norman nobles and the cathedrals and abbeys of Norman ecclesiastics.
Ultimately these towns obtained freedom. London became a great city with
more than a hundred churches. The castles, built during the disastrous
civil wars of Stephen's usurped reign, were demolished. Peace and order
were restored by a legitimate central power.

Between the young monarch of twenty-two and Thomas, as a favorite of
Theobald and as Archdeacon of Canterbury, an intimacy sprang up. Henry
II. was the most powerful sovereign of Western Europe, since he was not
only King of England, but had inherited in France Anjou and Touraine
from his father, and Normandy and Maine from his mother. By his marriage
with Eleanor of Aquitaine, he gained seven other provinces as her dower.
The dominions of Louis were not half so great as his, even in France.
And Henry was not only a powerful sovereign by his great territorial
possessions, but also for his tact and ability. He saw the genius of
Becket and made him his chancellor, loading him with honors and
perquisites and Church benefices.

The power of Becket as chancellor was very great, since he was prime
minister, and the civil administration of the kingdom was chiefly
intrusted to him, embracing nearly all the functions now performed by
the various members of the Cabinet. As chancellor he rendered great
services. He effected a decided improvement in the state of the country;
it was freed from robbers and bandits, and brought under dominion of the
law. He depressed the power of the feudal nobles; he appointed the most
deserving people to office; he repaired the royal palaces, increased the
royal revenues, and promoted agricultural industry. He seems to have
pursued a peace policy. But he was unscrupulous and grasping. His style
of life when chancellor was for that age magnificent: Wolsey, in after
times, scarcely excelled him. His dress was as rich as barbaric taste
could make it,--for the more barbarous the age, the more gorgeous is the
attire of great dignitaries. "The hospitalities of the chancellor were
unbounded. He kept seven hundred horsemen completely armed. The
harnesses of his horses were embossed with gold and silver. The most
powerful nobles sent their sons to serve in his household as pages; and
nobles and knights waited in his antechamber. There never passed a day
when he did not make rich presents." His expenditure was enormous. He
rivalled the King in magnificence. His sideboard was loaded with vessels
of gold and silver. He was doubtless ostentatious, but his hospitality
was free, and his person was as accessible as a primitive bishop. He is
accused of being light and frivolous; but this I doubt. He had too many
cares and duties for frivolity. He doubtless unbent. All men loaded down
with labors must unbend somewhere. It was nothing against him that he
told good stories at the royal table, or at his own, surrounded by earls
and barons. These relaxations preserved in him elasticity of mind,
without which the greatest genius soon becomes a hack, a plodding piece
of mechanism, a stupid lump of learned dulness. But he was stained by no
vices or excesses. He was a man of indefatigable activity, and all his
labors were in the service of the Crown, to which, as chancellor, he was
devoted, body and soul.

Is it strange that such a man should have been offered the See of
Canterbury on the death of Theobald? He had been devoted to his royal
master and friend; he enjoyed rich livings, and was Archdeacon of
Canterbury; he had shown no opposition to the royal will. Moreover Henry
wanted an able man for that exalted post, in order to carry out his
schemes of making himself independent of priestly influence and papal

So Becket was made archbishop and primate of the English Church at the
age of forty-four, the clergy of the province acquiescing,--perhaps with
secret complaints, for he was not even priest; merely deacon, and the
minister of an unscrupulous king. He was ordained priest only just
before receiving the primacy, and for that purpose.

Nothing in England could exceed the dignity of the See of Canterbury.
Even the archbishopric of York was subordinate. Becket as metropolitan
of the English Church was second in rank only to the King himself. He
could depose any ecclesiastic in the realm. He had the exclusive
privilege of crowning the king. His decisions were final, except an
appeal to Rome. No one dared disobey his mandates, for the law of
clerical obedience was one of the fundamental ideas of the age. Through
his clergy, over whom his power was absolute, he controlled the people.
His law courts had cognizance of questions which the royal courts could
not interfere with. No ecclesiastical dignitary in Europe was his
superior, except the Pope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had been a great personage under the Saxon
kings. Dunstan ruled England as the prime minister of Edward the Martyr,
but his influence would have been nearly as great had he been merely
primate of the Church. Nor was the power of the archbishop reduced by
the Norman kings. William the Conqueror might have made the spiritual
authority subordinate to the temporal, if he had followed his
inclinations. But he dared not quarrel with the Pope,--the great
Hildebrand, by whose favor he was unmolested in the conquest of the
Saxons. He was on very intimate terms of friendship with Lanfranc, whom
he made Archbishop of Canterbury,--a wily and ambitious Italian, who was
devoted to the See of Rome and his spiritual monarch. The influence of
Hildebrand and Lanfranc combined was too great to be resisted. Nor did
he attempt resistance; he acquiesced in the necessity of making a king
of Canterbury. His mind was so deeply absorbed with his conquest and
other state matters that he did not seem to comprehend the difficulties
which might arise under his successors, in yielding so much power to the
primate. Moreover Lanfranc, in the quiet enjoyment of his ecclesiastical
privileges, gave his powerful assistance in imposing the Norman yoke. He
filled the great sees with Norman prelates. He does not seem to have had
much sympathy with the Saxons, or their bishops, who were not so refined
or intellectual as the bishops of France. The Normans were a superior
race to the Saxons in executive ability and military enthusiasm. The
chivalric element of English society, among the higher classes, came
from the Normans, not from the Saxons. In piety, in passive virtues, in
sustained industry, in patient toil, in love of personal freedom, the
Saxons doubtless furnished a finer material for the basis of an
agricultural, industrial, and commercial nation. The sturdy yeomen of
England were Saxons: the noble and great administrators were Normans. In
pride, in ambition, and in executive ability the Normans bore a closer
resemblance to the old heroic Romans than did the Saxons.

The next archbishop after Lanfranc was Anselm, appointed by William
Rufus. Anselm was a great scholar, the profoundest of the early
Schoolmen; a man of meditative habits, who it was presumed would not
interfere with royal encroachments. William Rufus never dreamed that the
austere and learned monk, who had spent most of his days in the abbey of
Bec in devout meditations and scholastic inquiries, would interfere with
his rapacity. But, as we have already seen, Anselm was conscientious,
and became the champion of the high-church party in the West. He
occupied two distinct spheres,--he was absorbed in philosophical
speculations, yet took an interest in all mundane questions. His resolve
to oppose the king's usurpations in the spiritual realm caused the
bitter quarrel already described, which ended in a compromise.

When Henry I. came to the throne, he appointed Theobald, a feeble but
good man, to the See of Canterbury,--less ambitious than Lanfranc, more
inoffensive than Anselm; a Norman disinclined to quarrel with his
sovereign. He died during the reign of Henry II., and this great
monarch, as we have seen, appointed Becket to the vacant See, thinking
that in the double capacity of chancellor and archbishop he would be a
very powerful ally. But he was amazingly deceived in the character of
his Chancellor. Becket had not sought the office,--the office had sought
him. It would seem that he accepted it unwillingly. He knew that new
responsibilities and duties would be imposed upon him, which, if he
discharged conscientiously like Anselm, would in all probability
alienate his friend the King, and provoke a desperate contest. And when
the courtly and luxurious Chancellor held out, in Normandy, the skirts
of his gilded and embroidered garments to show how unfit he was for an
archbishop, Henry ought to have perceived that a future estrangement was
a probability.

Better for Henry had Becket remained in the civil service. But Henry,
with all his penetration, had not fathomed the mind of his favorite.
Becket may have been a dissembler, or a great change may have been
wrought in his character. Probably the new responsibilities imposed upon
him as Primate of the English Church pressed upon his conscience. He
knew that supreme allegiance was due to the Pope as head of the Church,
and that if compelled to choose between the Pope and the King, he must
obey the Pope. He was ambitious, doubtless; but his subsequent career
shows that he preferred the liberties of his Church to the temporal
interests of the sovereign. He was not a theologian, like Lanfranc and
Anselm. Of all the great characters who preceded him, he most resembles
Ambrose. Ambrose the governor, and a layman, became Archbishop of Milan.
Becket the minister of a king, and only deacon, became Archbishop of
Canterbury. The character of both these great men changed on their
elevation to high ecclesiastical position. They both became
high-churchmen, and defended the prerogatives of the clergy. But Ambrose
was superior to Becket in his zeal to defend the doctrines of the
Church. It does not appear that Becket took much interest in doctrines.
In his age there was no dissent. Everybody, outwardly at least, was
orthodox. In England, certainly, there were no heretics. Had Becket
remained chancellor, in all probability he would not have quarrelled
with Henry. As archbishop he knew what was expected of him; and he knew
also the infamy in store for him should he betray his cause. I do not
believe he was a hypocrite. Every subsequent act of his life shows his
sincerity and his devotion to his Church against his own interests.

Becket was no sooner ordained priest and consecrated as archbishop than
he changed his habits. He became as austere as Lanfranc. He laid aside
his former ostentation. He clothed himself in sackcloth; he mortified
his body with fasts and laceration; he associated only with the pious
and the learned; he frequented the cloisters and places of meditation;
he received into his palace the needy and the miserable; he washed the
feet of thirteen beggars every day; he conformed to the standard of
piety in his age; he called forth the admiration of his attendants by
his devotion to clerical duties. "He was," says James Stephen, "a second
Moses entering the tabernacle at the accepted time for the contemplation
of his God, and going out from it in order to perform some work of piety
to his neighbor. He was like one of God's angels on the ladder, whose
top reached the heavens, now descending to lighten the wants of men, now
ascending to behold the divine majesty and the splendor of the Heavenly
One. His prime councillor was reason, which ruled his passions as a
mistress guides her servants. Under her guidance he was conducted to
virtue, which, wrapped up in itself, and embracing everything within
itself, never looks forward for anything additional."

This is the testimony of his biographer, and has not been explained away
or denied, although it is probably true that Becket did not purge the
corruptions of the Church, or punish the disorders and vices of the
clergy, as Hildebrand did. But I only speak of his private character. I
admit that he was no reformer. He was simply the high-churchman aiming
to secure the ascendency of the spiritual power. Becket is not immortal
for his reforms, or his theological attainments, but for his
intrepidity, his courage, his devotion to his cause,--a hero, and not a
man of progress; a man who fought a fight. It should be the aim of an
historian to show for what he was distinguished; to describe his
warfare, not to abuse him because he was not a philosopher and reformer.
He lived in the twelfth century.

One of the first things which opened the eyes of the King was the
resignation of the Chancellor. The King doubtless made him primate of
the English hierarchy in order that he might combine both offices. But
they were incompatible, unless Becket was willing to be the unscrupulous
tool of the King in everything. Of course Henry could not long remain
the friend of the man who he thought had duped him. Before a year had
passed, his friendship was turned to secret but bitter enmity. Nor was
it long before an event occurred,--a small matter,--which brought the
King and the Prelate into open collision.

The matter was this: A young nobleman, who held a clerical office,
committed a murder. As an ecclesiastic, he was brought before the court
of the Bishop of Lincoln, and was sentenced to pay a small fine. But
public justice was not satisfied, and the sheriff summoned the canon,
who refused to plead before him. The matter was referred to the King,
who insisted that the murderer should be tried in the civil court,--that
a sacred profession should not screen a man who had committed a crime
against society. While the King had, as we think, justice on his side,
yet in this matter he interfered with the jurisdiction of the spiritual
courts, which had been in force since Constantine. Theodosius and
Justinian had confirmed the privilege of the Church, on the ground that
the irregularities of a body of men devoted to the offices of religion
should be veiled from the common eye; so that ecclesiastics were
sometimes protected when they should be punished. But if the
ecclesiastical courts had abuses, they were generally presided over by
good and wise men,--more learned than the officers of the civil courts,
and very popular in the Middle Ages; and justice in them was generally
administered. So much were they valued in a dark age, when the clergy
were the most learned men of their times, that much business came
gradually to be transacted in them which previously had been settled in
the civil courts,--as tithes, testaments, breaches of contract,
perjuries, and questions pertaining to marriage. But Henry did not like
these courts, and was determined to weaken their jurisdiction, and
transfer their power to his own courts, in order to strengthen the royal
authority. Enlightened jurists and historians in our times here
sympathize with Henry. High-Church ecclesiastics defend the jurisdiction
of the spiritual courts, since they upheld the power of the Church, so
useful in the Middle Ages. The King began the attack where the
spiritual courts were weakest,--protection afforded to clergymen accused
of crime. So he assembled a council of bishops and barons to meet him at
Westminster. The bishops at first were inclined to yield to the King,
but Becket gained them over, and would make no concession. He stood up
for the privileges of his order. It was neither justice nor right which
he defended, but his Church, at all hazards,--not her doctrines, but her
prerogatives. He would present a barrier against royal encroachments,
even if they were for the welfare of the realm. He would defend the
independence of the clergy, and their power,--perhaps as an offset to
royal power. In his rigid defence of the privileges of the clergy we see
the churchman, not the statesman; we see the antagonist, not the ally,
of the King. Henry was of course enraged. Who can wonder? He was bearded
by his former favorite,--by one of his subjects.

If Becket was narrow, he probably was conscientious. He may have been
ambitious of wielding unlimited spiritual authority. But it should be
noted that, had he not quarrelled with the King, he could have been both
archbishop and chancellor, and in that double capacity wielded more
power; and had he been disposed to serve his royal master, had he been
more gentle, the King might not have pushed out his policy of crippling
the spiritual courts,--might have waived, delayed, or made concessions.
But now these two great potentates were in open opposition, and a deadly
warfare was at hand. It is this fight which gives to Becket all his
historical importance. It is not for me to settle the merits of the
case, if I could,--only to describe the battle. The lawyers would
probably take one side, and Catholic priests would take the other, and
perhaps all high-churchmen. Even men like Mr. Froude and Mr. Freeman,
both very learned and able, are totally at issue, not merely as to the
merits of the case, but even as to the facts. Mr. Froude seems to hate
Becket and all other churchmen as much as Mr. Freeman loves them. I
think one reason why Mr. Froude exalts so highly Henry VIII. is because
he put his foot on the clergy and took away their revenues. But with the
war of partisans I have nothing to do, except the war between Henry II.
and Thomas Becket.

This war waxed hot when a second council of bishops and barons was
assembled at Clarendon, near Winchester, to give their assent to certain
resolutions which the King's judges had prepared in reference to the
questions at issue, and other things tending to increase the royal
authority. They are called in history "The Constitutions of Clarendon."
The gist and substance of them were, that during the vacancy of any
bishopric or abbey of royal foundation, the estates were to be in the
custody of the Crown; that all disputes between laymen and clergymen
should be tried in the civil courts; that clergymen accused of crime
should, if the judges decided, be tried in the King's court, and, if
found guilty, be handed over to the secular arm for punishment; that no
officer or tenant of the King should be excommunicated without the
King's consent; that no peasant's son should be ordained without
permission of his feudal lord; that great ecclesiastical personages
should not leave the kingdom without the King's consent.

"Anybody must see that these articles were nothing more nor less than
the surrender of the most important and vital privileges of the Church
into the hands of the King: not merely her properties, but her
liberties; even a surrender of the only weapon with which she defended
herself in extreme cases,--that of excommunication." It was the virtual
confiscation of the Church in favor of an aggressive and unscrupulous
monarch. Could we expect Becket to sign such an agreement, to part with
his powers, to betray the Church of which he was the first dignitary in
England? When have men parted with their privileges, except upon
compulsion? He never would have given up his prerogatives; he never
meant for a moment to do so. He was not the man for such a base
submission. Yet he was so worried and threatened by the King, who had
taken away from him the government of the Prince, his son, and the
custody of certain castles; he was so importuned by the bishops
themselves, for fear that the peace of the country would be
endangered,--that in a weak moment he promised to sign the articles,
reserving this phrase: "Saving the honor of his order." With this
reservation, he thought he could sign the agreement, for he could
include under such a phrase whatever he pleased.

But when really called to fulfil his promise and sign with his own hand
those constitutions, he wavered. He burst out in passionate
self-reproaches for having made a promise he never intended to keep.
"Never, never!" he said; "I will never do it so long as breath is in my
body." In his repentance he mortified himself with new self-expiations.
He suspended himself from the service of the altar. He was overwhelmed
with grief, shame, rage, and penitence. He resolved he would not yield
up the privileges of his order, come what might,--not even if the Pope
gave him authority to sign.

The dejected and humbled metropolitan advanced to the royal throne with
downcast eye but unfaltering voice; accused himself of weakness and
folly, and firmly refused to sign the articles. "Miserable wretch that I
am," cried he, with bitter tears coursing down his cheeks, "I see the
Anglican Church enslaved, in punishment for my sins. But it is all
right. I was taken from the court, not the cloister, to fill this
station; from the palace of Caesar, not the school of the Saviour. I
was a feeder of birds, but suddenly made a feeder of men; a patron of
stage-players, a follower of hounds, and I became a shepherd over so
many souls. Surely I am rightly abandoned by God."

He then took his departure for Canterbury, but was soon summoned to a
grand council at Northampton, to answer serious charges. He was called
to account for the sums he had spent as chancellor, and for various
alleged injustices. He was found guilty by a court controlled by the
King, and sentenced to pay a heavy fine, which he paid. The next day new
charges were preferred, and he was condemned to a still heavier fine,
which he was unable to pay; but he found sureties. On the next day still
heavier charges were made, and new fines inflicted, which would have
embarrassed the temporalities of his See. He now perceived that the King
was bent on his ruin; that the more he yielded the more he would be
expected to yield. He therefore resolved to yield no further, but to
stand on his rights.

But before he made his final resistance he armed himself with his
crozier, and sought counsel from the bishops assembled in another
chamber of the royal castle. The bishops were divided: some for him,
some against him. Gilbert Foliot of London put him in mind of the
benefits he had received from Henry, and the humble condition from which
he was raised, and advised him to resign for sake of peace. Henry of
Winchester, a relative of the King, bade him resign. Roger of Worcester
was non-committal. "If I advise to resist the King, I shall be put out
of the synagogue," said he. "I counsel nothing." The Bishop of
Chichester declared that Becket was primate no longer, as he had gone
against the laws of the realm. In the midst of this conference the Earl
of Leicester entered, and announced the sentence of the peers. Then
gathering himself up to his full height, the Primate, with austere
dignity, addressed the Earl and the Bishops: "My brethren, our enemies
are pressing hard upon us, and the whole world is against us; but I now
enjoin you, in virtue of your obedience, and in peril of your orders,
not to be present in any cause which may be made against my person; and
I appeal to that refuge of the distressed, the Holy See. And I command
you as your Primate, and in the name of the Pope, to put forth the
censures of the Church in behalf of your Archbishop, should the secular
arm lay violent hands upon me; for, be assured, though this frail body
may yield to persecution,--since all flesh is weak,--yet shall my spirit
never yield."

Then pushing his way, he swept through the chamber, reached the
quadrangle of the palace, mounted his horse, reached his lodgings, gave
a banquet to some beggars, stole away in disguise and fled, reaching the
coast in safety, and succeeding in crossing over to Flanders. He was now
out of the King's power, who doubtless would have imprisoned him and
perhaps killed him, for he hated him with the intensest hatred. Becket
had deceived him, having trifled with him by taking an oath to sign the
Constitutions of Clarendon, and then broken his oath and defied his
authority, appealing to the Pope, and perhaps involving the King in a
quarrel with the supreme spiritual power of Christendom. Finally he had
deserted his post and fled the kingdom. He had defeated the King in his
most darling schemes.

But although Becket was an exile, a fugitive, and a wanderer, he was
still Archbishop of Canterbury. He was the head of the English Church,
and all the clergy of the kingdom owed him spiritual obedience. He still
had the power of excommunicating the King, and the sole right of
crowning his successor. If the Pope should take his side, and the King
of France, and other temporal powers, Becket would be no unequal match
for the King. It was a grand crisis which Henry comprehended, and he
therefore sent some of his most powerful barons and prelates to the
Continent to advance his cause and secure the papal interposition.

Becket did not remain long in Flanders, since the Count was cold and did
not take his side. He escaped, and sought shelter and aid from the King
of France.

Louis VII. was a feeble monarch, but he hated Henry II. and admired
Becket. He took him under his protection, and wrote a letter to the
Pope in his behalf.

That Pope was Alexander III,--himself an exile, living in Sens, and
placed in a situation of great difficulty, struggling as he was with an
anti-pope, and the great Frederic Barbarossa, Emperor of Germany.
Moreover he was a personal friend of Henry, to whom he had been indebted
for his elevation to the papal throne. His course, therefore, was
non-committal and dilatory and vacillating, although he doubtless was on
the side of the prelate who exalted ecclesiastical authority. But he was
obliged from policy to be prudent and conciliatory. He patiently heard
both sides, but decided nothing. All he consented to do was to send
cardinal legates to England, but intrusted to none but himself the
prerogatives of final judgment.

After Henry's ambassadors had left, Becket appeared with a splendid
train of three hundred horsemen, the Archbishop of Rheims, the brothers
of the King of France, and a long array of bishops. The Pope dared not
receive him with the warmth he felt, but was courteous, more so than his
cardinals; and Becket unfolded and discussed the Constitutions of
Clarendon, which of course found no favor with the Pope. He rebuked
Becket for his weakness in promising to sign a paper which curtailed so
fundamentally the privileges of the Church. Some historians affirm he
did not extend to him the protection he deserved, although he confirmed
him in his office. He sent him to the hospitable care of the Abbot of
Pontigny. "Go now," he said, "and learn what privation is; and in the
company of Christ's humblest servants subdue the flesh to the spirit."

In this Cistercian abbey it would seem that Becket lived in great
austerity, tearing his flesh with his nails, and inflicting on himself
severe flagellations; so that his health suffered, and his dreams
haunted him. He was protected, but he could not escape annoyances and
persecutions. Henry, in his wrath, sequestrated the estates of the
archbishopric; the incumbents of his benefices were expelled; all his
relatives and dependents were banished,--some four hundred people; men,
women, and children. The bishops sent him ironical letters, and hoped
his fasts would benefit his soul.

The quarrel now was of great interest to all Europe. It was nothing less
than a battle between the spiritual and temporal powers, like that, a
century before, between Hildebrand and the Emperor of Germany. Although
the Pope was obliged from motives of policy,--for fear of being
deposed,--to seem neutral and attempt to conciliate, still the war
really was carried on in his behalf. "The great, the terrible, the
magnificent in the fate of Becket," says Michelet, "arises from his
being charged, weak and unassisted, with the interests of the Church
Universal,--a post which belonged to the Pope himself." He was still
Archbishop; but his revenues were cut off, and had it not been for the
bounty of Louis the King of France, who admired him and respected his
cause, he might have fared as a simple monk. The Pope allowed him to
excommunicate the persons who occupied his estates, but not the King
himself. He feared a revolt of the English Church from papal authority,
since Henry was supreme in England, and had won over to his cause the
English bishops. The whole question became complicated and interesting.
It was the common topic of discourse in all the castles and convents of
Europe. The Pope, timid and calculating, began to fear he had supported
Becket too far, and pressed upon him a reconciliation with Henry, much
to the disgust of Becket, who seemed to comprehend the issue better than
did the Pope; for the Pope had, in his desire to patch up the quarrel,
permitted the son of Henry to be crowned by the Archbishop of York,
which was not only an infringement of the privileges of the Primate, but
was a blow against the spiritual power. So long as the Archbishop of
Canterbury had the exclusive privilege of crowning a king, the King was
dependent in a measure on the Primate, and, through him, on the Pope. At
this suicidal act on the part of Alexander, Becket lost all patience,
and wrote to him a letter of blended indignation and reproach. "Why,"
said he, "lay in my path a stumbling-block? How can you blind yourself
to the wrong which Christ suffers in me and yourself? And yet you call
on me, like a hireling, to be silent. I might flourish in power and
riches and pleasures, and be feared and honored of all; but since the
Lord hath called me, weak and unworthy as I am, to the oversight of the
English Church, I prefer proscription, exile, poverty, misery, and
death, rather than traffic with the liberties of the Church."

What language to a Pope! What a reproof from a subordinate! How grandly
the character of Becket looms up here! I say nothing of his cause. It
may have been a right or a wrong one. Who shall settle whether spiritual
or temporal power should have the ascendency in the Middle Ages? I speak
only of his heroism, his fidelity to his cause, his undoubted sincerity.
Men do not become exiles and martyrs voluntarily, unless they are backed
by a great cause. Becket may have been haughty, irascible, ambitious.
Very likely. But what then? The more personal faults he had, the greater
does his devotion to the interests of the Church appear, fighting as it
were alone and unassisted. Undaunted, against the advice of his friends,
unsupported by the Pope, he now hurls his anathemas from his retreat in
France. He excommunicates the Bishop of Salisbury, and John of Oxford,
and the Archdeacon of Ilchester, and the Lord Chief-Justice de Luci,
and everybody who adhered to the Constitutions of Clarendon. The bishops
of England remonstrate with him, and remind him of his plebeian origin
and his obligations to the King. To whom he replies: "I am not indeed
sprung from noble ancestors, but I would rather be the man to whom
nobility of mind gives the advantages of birth than to be the degenerate
issue of an illustrious family. David was taken from the sheepfold to be
a ruler of God's people, and Peter was taken from fishing to be the head
of the Church. I was born under a humble roof, yet, nevertheless, God
has intrusted me with the liberties of the Church, which I will guard
with my latest breath."

Henry now threatens to confiscate the property of all the Cistercian
convents in England; and the Abbot of Pontigny, at the command of his
general, is forced to drive Becket away from his sanctuary. Becket
retires to Sens, sad at heart and grieved that the excommunications
which he had inflicted should have been removed by the Pope. Then Louis,
the King of France, made war on Henry, and took Becket under his
protection. The Pope rebuked Louis for the war; but Louis retorted by
telling Alexander that it was a shame for him not to give up his
time-serving policy. In so doing, Louis spoke out the heart of
Christendom. The Pope, at last aroused, excommunicated the Archbishop
of York for crowning the son of Henry, and threatened Henry himself
with an interdict, and recalled his legates. Becket also fulminated his
excommunications. There was hardly a prelate or royal chaplain in
England who was not under ecclesiastical censure. The bishops began to
waver. Henry had reason to fear he might lose the support of his English
subjects, and Norman likewise. He could do nothing with the whole Church
against him.

The King was therefore obliged to compromise. Several times before, he
had sought reconciliation with his dreadful enemy; but Becket always, in
his promises, fell back on the phrase, "Saving the honor of his order,"
or "Saving the honor of God." But now, amid the fire of
excommunications, Henry was compelled to make his peace with the man he
detested. He himself did not much care for the priestly thunderbolts,
but his clergy and his subjects did. The penalty of eternal fire was a
dreadful fear to those who believed, as everybody then did, in the hell
of which the popes were supposed to hold the keys. This fear sustained
the empire of the popes; it was the basis of sacerdotal rule in the
Middle Ages. Hence Becket was so powerful, even in exile. His greatness
was in his character; his power was in his spiritual weapons.

In the hollow reconciliation at last effected between the King and the
Prelate, Henry promised to confirm Becket in his powers and dignities,
and molest him no more. But he haughtily refused the customary kiss of
peace. Becket saw the omen; so did the King of France. The peace was
inconclusive. It was a truce, not a treaty. Both parties distrusted
each other.

But Henry was weary with the struggle, and Becket was tired of
exile,--never pleasant, even if voluntary. Moreover, the Prelate had
gained the moral victory, even as Hildebrand did when the Emperor of
Germany stooped as a suppliant in the fortress of Canossa. The King of
England had virtually yielded to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Perhaps
Becket felt that his mission was accomplished; that he had done the work
for which he was raised up. Wearied, sickened with the world, disgusted
with the Pope, despising his bishops, perhaps he was willing to die. He
had a presentiment that he should die as a martyr. So had the French
king and his prelates. But Becket longed to return to his church and
celebrate the festivities of Christmas. So he made up his mind to return
to England, "although I know, of a truth," he said, "I shall meet my
passion there." Before embarking he made a friendly and parting visit to
the King of France, and then rode to the coast with an escort of one
hundred horsemen. As Dover was guarded by the King's retainers, who
might harm him, he landed at Sandwich, his own town. The next day he set
out for Canterbury, after an absence of seven years. The whole
population lined the road, strewed it with flowers, and rent the air
with songs. Their beloved Archbishop had returned. On reaching
Canterbury he went directly to his cathedral and seated himself on his
throne, and the monks came and kissed him, with tears in their eyes. One
Herbert said, "Christ has conquered; Christ is now King!"

From Canterbury Becket made a sort of triumphal progress through the
kingdom, with the pretence of paying a visit to the young king at
Woodstock,--exciting rather than allaying the causes of discord,
scattering his excommunications, still haughty, restless, implacable; so
that the Court became alarmed, and ordered him to return to his diocese.
He obeyed, as he wished to celebrate Christmas at home; and ascending
his long-neglected pulpit preached, according to Michelet, from this
singular text: "I am come to die in the midst of you."

Henry at this time was on the Continent, and was greatly annoyed at the
reports of Becket's conduct which reached him. Then there arrived three
bishops whom the Primate had excommunicated, with renewed complaints and
grievances, assuring him there would be no peace so long as Becket
lived. Henry was almost wild with rage and perplexity. What could he do?
He dared not execute the Archbishop, as Henry VIII. would have done. In
his age the Prelate was almost as powerful as the King. Violence to his
person was the last thing to do, for this would have involved the King
in war with the adherents of the Pope, and would have entailed an
excommunication. Still, the supremest desire of Henry's soul was to get
Becket out of the way. So, yielding to an impulse of passion, he said to
his attendants, "Is there no one to relieve me from the insults of this
low-born and turbulent priest?"

Among these attendants were four courtiers or knights, of high birth and
large estates, who, hearing these reproachful words, left the court at
once, crossed the channel, and repaired to the castle of Sir Ranulf de
Broc, the great enemy of Becket, who had molested him in innumerable
ways. Some friendly person contrived to acquaint Becket with his danger,
to whom he paid no heed, knowing it very well himself. He knew he was to
die; and resolved to die bravely.

The four armed knights, meanwhile, on the 29th of December, rode with an
escort to Canterbury, dined at the Augustinian abbey, and entered the
court-yard of the Archbishop's palace as Becket had finished his mid-day
meal and had retired to an inner room with his chaplain and a few
intimate friends. They then entered the hall and sought the Archbishop,
who received them in silence. Sir Reginald Fitzurst then broke the
silence with these words: "We bring you the commands of the King beyond
the sea, that you repair without delay to the young King's presence and
swear allegiance. And further, he commands you to absolve the bishops
you have excommunicated." On Becket's refusal, the knight continued:
"Since you will not obey, the royal command is that you and your clergy
forthwith depart from the realm, never more to return." Becket angrily
declared he would never again leave England. The knights then sprang to
their feet and departed, enjoining the attendants to prevent the escape
of Becket, who exclaimed: "Do you think I shall fly, then? Neither for
the King nor any living man will I fly. You cannot be more ready to kill
me than I am to die."

He sought, however, the shelter of his cathedral, as the vesper bell
summoned him to prayers,--followed by the armed knights, with a company
of men-at-arms, driving before them a crowd of monks. The Archbishop was
standing on the steps of the choir, beyond the central pillar, which
reached to the roof of the cathedral, in the dim light shed by the
candles of the altars, so that only the outline of his noble figure
could be seen, when the knights closed around him, and Fitzurst seized
him,--perhaps meaning to drag him away as a prisoner to the King, or
outside the church before despatching him. Becket cried, "Touch me not,
thou abominable wretch!" at the same time hurling Tracy, another of the
knights, to the ground, who, rising, wounded him in the head with his
sword. The Archbishop then bent his neck to the assassins, exclaiming,
"I am prepared to die for Christ and His Church."

Such was the murder of Becket,--a martyr, as he has been generally
regarded, for the liberties of the Church; but, according to some,
justly punished for presumptuous opposition to his sovereign.

The assassination was a shock to Christendom. The most intrepid
churchman of his age was slain at his post for doing, as he believed,
his duty. No one felt the shock more than the King himself, who knew he
would be held responsible for the murder. He dreaded the consequences,
and shut himself up for three days in his chamber, refusing food,
issuing orders for the arrest of the murderers, and sending ambassadors
to the Pope to exculpate himself. Fearing an excommunication and an
interdict, he swore on the Gospel, in one of the Norman cathedrals, that
he had not commanded nor desired the death of the Archbishop; and
stipulated to maintain at his own cost two hundred knights in the Holy
Land, to abrogate the Constitutions of Clarendon, to reinvest the See of
Canterbury with all he had wrested away, and even to undertake a crusade
against the Saracens of Spain if the Pope desired. Amid the calamities
which saddened his latter days, he felt that all were the judgments of
God for his persecution of the martyr, and did penance at his tomb.

So Becket slew more by his death than he did by his life. His cause was
gained by his blood: it arrested the encroachments of the Norman kings
for more than three hundred years. He gained the gratitude of the Church
and a martyr's crown. He was canonized as a saint. His shrine was
enriched with princely offerings beyond any other object of popular
veneration in the Middle Ages. Till the time of the Reformation a
pilgrimage to that shrine was a common form of penance for people of all
conditions, and was supposed to expiate their sins. Even miracles were
reputed to be wrought at that shrine, while a drop of Becket's blood
would purchase a domain!

Whatever may be said about the cause of Becket, to which there are two
sides, there is no doubt about his popularity. Even the Reformation, and
the changes made in the English Constitution, have not obliterated the
veneration in which he was held for five hundred years. You cannot
destroy respect for a man who is willing to be a martyr, whether his
cause is right or wrong. If enlightened judgments declare that he was "a
martyr of sacerdotal power, not of Christianity; of a caste, and not of
mankind;" that he struggled for the authority and privileges of the
clergy rather than for the good of his country,--still it will be
conceded that he fought bravely and died with dignity. All people love
heroism. They are inclined to worship heroes; and especially when an
unarmed priest dares to resist an unscrupulous and rapacious king, as
Henry is well known to have been, and succeeds in tearing from his hands
the spoils he has seized, there must be admiration. You cannot
extinguish the tribute of the soul for heroism, any more than that of
the mind for genius. The historian who seeks to pull down a hero from
the pedestal on which he has been seated for ages plays a losing game.
No brilliancy in sophistical pleadings can make men long prefer what is
_new_ to that which is _true_. Becket is enshrined in the hearts of his
countrymen, even as Cromwell is among the descendants of the Puritans;
and substantially for the same reason,--because they both fought bravely
for their respective causes,--the cause of the people in their
respective ages. Both recognized God Almighty, and both contended
against the despotism of kings seeking to be absolute, and in behalf of
the people who were ground down by military power. In the twelfth
century the people looked up to the clergy as their deliverers and
friends; in the seventeenth century to parliaments and lawyers. Becket
was the champion of the clergy, even as Cromwell was the champion--at
least at first--of the Parliament. Carlyle eulogizes Cromwell as much as
Froude abuses Becket; but Becket, if more haughty and repulsive than
Cromwell in his private character, yet was truer to his principles. He
was a great hero, faithful to a great cause, as he regarded it, however
averse this age may justly be to priestly domination. He must be judged
by the standard which good and enlightened people adopted seven hundred
years ago,--not in semi-barbarous England alone, but throughout the
continent of Europe. This is not the standard which reason accepts
to-day, I grant; but it is the standard by which Becket must be
judged,--even as the standard which justified the encroachments of Leo
the Great, or the rigorous rule of Tiberius and Marcus Aurelius, is not
that which enthrones Gustavus Adolphus and William of Orange in the
heart of the civilized world.


Eadmer's Life of Anselm; Historia Novarum; Sir J. Stephen's Life of
Becket, of William of Malmsbury, and of Henry of Huntington;
Correspondence of Thomas Becket, with that of Foliot, Bishop of London,
and John of Salisbury; Chronicle of Peter of Peterborough; Chronicle of
Ralph Niper, and that of Jocelyn of Brakeland; Dugdale's Monasticon;
Freeman's Norman Conquest; Michelet's History of France; Green, Hume,
Knight, Stubbs, among the English historians; Encyclopaedia Britannica;
Hook's Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury; Lord Littleton on Henry
II.; Stanley's Memorials of Canterbury; Milman's Latin Christianity;
article by Froude; Morris's Life of Thomas a Becket; J. Craigie
Robertson's Life of Thomas Becket.


* * * * *

ABOUT A.D. 800-1300.

There is no great character with whom Feudalism is especially
identified. It was an institution of the Middle Ages, which grew out of
the miseries and robberies that succeeded the fall of the Roman Empire.

Before I present the mutual relation between a lord and his vassal, I
would call your attention to political anarchies ending in political
degradation; to an unformed state of society; to semi-barbarism, with
its characteristic vices of plunder, rapine, oppression, and injustice;
to wild and violent passions, unchecked by law; to the absence of
central power; to the reign of hard and martial nobles; to the miseries
of the people, ground down, ignorant, and brutal; to rude agricultural
life; to petty wars; to general ignorance, which kept society in
darkness and gloom for a thousand years,--all growing out of the eclipse
of the old civilization, so that the European nations began a new
existence, and toiled in sorrow and fear, with few ameliorations: an
iron age, yet an age which was not unfavorable for the development of
new virtues and heroic qualities, under the influence of which society
emerged from barbarism, with a new foundation for national greatness,
and a new material for Christianity and art and literature and science
to work upon.

Such was the state of society during the existence of feudal
institutions,--a period of about five hundred years,--dating from the
dismemberment of Charlemagne's empire to the fifteenth century. The era
of its greatest power was from the Norman conquest of England to the
reign of Edward III. But there was a long and gloomy period before
Feudalism ripened into an institution,--from the dissolution of the
Roman Empire to the eighth and ninth centuries. I would assign this
period as the darkest and the dreariest in the history of Europe since
the Roman conquests, for this reason,--that civilization perished
without any one to chronicle the changes, or to take notice of the

From Charlemagne there had been, with the exception of brief intervals,
the birth of new ideas and interests, the growth of a new civilization.
Before his day there was a progressive decline. Art, literature,
science, alike faded away. There were no grand monuments erected, the
voice of the poet was unheard in the universal wretchedness, the monks
completed the destruction which the barbarians began. Why were libraries
burned or destroyed? Why was classic literature utterly neglected? Why
did no great scholars arise, even in the Church? The new races looked in
vain for benefactors. Even the souvenirs of the old Empire were lost.
Nearly all the records of ancient greatness perished. The old cities
were levelled to the ground. Nothing was built but monasteries, and
these were as gloomy as feudal castles at a later date. The churches
were heavy and mournful. Good men hid themselves, trying to escape from
the miserable world, and sang monotonous chants of death and the grave.
Agriculture was at the lowest state, and hunting, piracy, and robbery
were resorted to as a means of precarious existence. There was no
commerce. The roads were invested with vagabonds and robbers. It was the
era of universal pillage and destruction. Nothing was sacred. Universal
desolation filled the souls of men with despair. What state of society
could be worse than that of England under the early Saxon kings? There
were no dominant races and no central power. The countries of Europe
relapsed into a sullen barbarism. I see no bright spot anywhere, not
even in Italy, which was at this time the most overrun and the most
mercilessly plundered of all the provinces of the fallen Empire. The old
capital of the world was nearly depopulated. Nothing was spared of
ancient art on which the barbarians could lay their hands, and nothing
was valued.

This was the period of what writers call _allodial_ tenure, in
distinction from feudal. The allodialist owned indeed his lands, but
they were subject to incessant depredations from wandering tribes of
barbarians and from robbers. There was no encouragement to till the
soil. There was no incentive to industry of any kind. During a reign of
universal lawlessness, what man would work except for a scanty and
precarious support? His cattle might be driven away, his crops seized,
his house plundered. It is hard to realize that our remote ancestors
were mere barbarians, who by the force of numbers overran the world.
They seem to have had but one class of virtues,---contempt of death, and
the willing sacrifice of their lives in battle. The allodialist,
however, was not a barbaric warrior or chieftain, but the despoiled
owner of lands that his ancestors had once cultivated in peace and
prosperity. He was the degenerate descendant of Celtic and Roman
citizens, the victim of barbaric spoliations. His lands may have passed
into the hands of the Gothic conquerors; but the Gothic or Burgundian or
Frankish possessor of innumerable acres, once tilled by peaceful
citizens, remained an allodial proprietor. Even he had no protection and
no safety; for any new excursion of less fortunate barbarians would
desolate his possessions and decimate his laborers. The small proprietor
was especially subject to pillage and murder.

In the universal despair from this reign of anarchy and lawlessness,
when there was no security to property and no redress of evils, the
allodialist parted with his lands to some powerful chieftain, and
obtained promise of protection. He even resigned the privilege of
freedom to save his wretched life. He became a serf,--a semi-bondman,
chained to the soil, but protected from outrage. Nothing but
inconceivable miseries, which have not been painted by historians, can
account for the almost simultaneous change in the ownership of land in
all European countries. We can conceive of nothing but blank despair
among the people who attempted to cultivate land. And there must have
been the grossest ignorance and the lowest degradation when men were
willing to submit to the curtailment of personal freedom and the loss of
their lands, in order to find protectors.

Thus Feudalism arose in the ninth and tenth centuries from the absolute
wreck of property and hopes. It was virtually the surrender of land for
the promise of protection. It was the great necessity of that anarchical
age. Like all institutions, it grew out of the needs of the times. Yet
its universal acceptance seems to prove that the change was beneficial.
Feudalism, especially in its early ages, is not to be judged by the
institutions of our times, any more than is the enormous growth of
spiritual power which took place when this social and political
revolution was going on. Wars and devastations and untold calamities and
brutal forces were the natural sequence of barbaric invasions, and of
the progressive fall of the old civilization, continued from generation
to generation for a period of two or three hundred years, with scarcely
any interruption. You get no relief from such a dispensation of Divine
Providence, unless you can solve the question why the Roman Empire was
permitted to be swept away. If it must be destroyed, from the prevalence
of the same vices which have uniformly undermined all empires,--utter
and unspeakable rottenness and depravity,--in spite of Christianity,
whether nominal or real; if eternal justice must bear sway on this
earth, bringing its fearful retributions for the abuse of privileges and
general wickedness,--then we accept the natural effects of that violence
which consummated the ruin. The natural consequences of two hundred
years of pillage and warfare and destruction of ancient institutions
were, and could have been nothing other than, miseries, misrule,
sufferings, poverty, insecurity, and despair. A universal conflagration
must destroy everything that past ages had valued. As a relief from what
was felt to be intolerable, and by men who were brutal, ignorant,
superstitious, and degraded, all from the effect of the necessary evils
which war creates, a sort of semi-slavery was felt to be preferable, as
the price of dependence and protection.

Dependence and protection are the elemental principles of Feudalism.
These were the hard necessities which the age demanded. And for three
hundred years, it cannot be doubted, the relation between master and
serf was beneficial. It resulted in a more peaceful state of
society,--not free from great evils, but still a healthful change from
the disorders of the preceding epoch. The peasant could cultivate his

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