Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

We are now to enter on the last chronological section of our subject, extending from the accession of Charle- * niagne to the Imperial throne to the rise of the Capetian dynasty in France, and the first development, on the banks of the Tiber, of more exalted ideas concerning papal and clerical jurisdiction. During this entire period the tendency of clerical power, both politically and socially, was an apparently onward one, though we may reasonably doubt whether at its close the priesthood exercised either over the minds of individuals or the policy of the nations as truly and honorably influential a sway as what we have traced during the preceding centuries.

At the fall of the Merovingian dynasty, the condition of the ecclesiastical world bore a considerable resemblance in its leading features to that of the Roman Empire three centuries previously. For the clergy, instead of opposing to the caprices of surrounding barbarism that strict unity which had so long and so actively promoted the cause of truth, suffered themselves to be led astray by the attractions of party intrigue and promised political power, so as to look upon themselves as members rather of distinct and conflicting earthly kingdoms than of the Church universal. The unbending morality, by which more than by any other means they had established and maintained their influence over the conquerors of Europe, had given way before the solicitations of temporal prosperity; so that the whole Church, had it not possessed within itself a sure principle of stability, would have fallen, as Rome did, rather by the weakness of its defenders than by the strength of its adversaries. And in proportion to the unsophisticated barbarism of the Christian nations was the rapidity with which the perversion of the Church reacted on the framework of society; for it was hardly to be expected that the rude minds of Franks or Goths should be able to account for the lamentable variance between the precepts and examples of their spiritual guides, or should bestow any great attention on the exhortations of such prelates as Leodegarius, Bishop of Autun*, who devoted all their powers to political intrigue, and did not scruple to assemble and conduct fratricidal armies1.

From this its state of greatest depression the Church began to recover at the establishment of the Carlovingian dynasty in France: for the monarchs of that house were the first to display a true appreciation of their country's necessities, by introducing a thorough clerical reform. Contemporary with these events in France was the extension, under the preaching of Boniface, of Gospel

* See Sismondi, Hist, des Fr. t. ii. p. 65. [Also the Vita S. Leodgari, ap. Guizot, Coll. des Mem. ii. 319—371. Du Chesne, Hist. Franc. Script, i. 600—616.]

1 "Virilitatem coelestis civis senescens mundus grflvatus viciis non valuit sustinere," says his anonymous biographer (Vita S. Leodgari, c. 4, ap. Guizot, Coll. des Mem. ii. 333. Du Chesne, Hist. Fr. Scr. i. 603 A).

knowledge to the east of the Rhine, and the final separation of the Roman and Greek Churches, in consequence of which the rising papal power, supported by all the vigor of the Carlovingian sway, was directed more exclusively to Western Europe; and was enabled to lay in the ecclesiastical body the secure foundations of that despotism so soon to be experienced by the temporal as well as the spiritual authorities. Such then was the general condition of the religious world at the moment when the Frank empire was again united under a victorious and dreaded chief; and it is during this the second and more systematic establishment of Church power among the barbarians (as we fear the paladins of Charlemagne must in historical correctness be styled) that we have to investigate the moral benefits of clerical influence. In order the more fully to appreciate the workings of clerical intercourse during this the eventful age, in which we first discern so many of those institutions peculiar to modern civilization, we must first glance at the social and political development of the European nations during the palmy days of the Carlovingian Empire; and during the century of incipient feudalism consequent on its dismemberment.

Nearly every historian or essayist has rejoiced in some infallible key to the great problem presented by the internal condition of Europe during the Carlovingian age; but an unbiassed reader, as contending hypotheses pass before his eyes, may reasonably question the universal applicability of any, and may the more firmly be induced to believe that during the eighth and ninth centuries the only permanency was the prevailing barbarism. But the sudden and gigantic extension of Frankish sway under Charlemagne produced an entire convulsion in society as well as in politics; while at the same time it must be observed that many of the changes usually associated with the name of that great conqueror are rather to be considered as mere developments of the policy of his predecessors than as innovations of his own, just as historical strictness awards to his father and grandfather those triumphs over the infidel which have been bestowed by romance upon the court of Aix-laChapelle. In like manner that gradual and constant transition from the system of political centralization to that of distribution, which is usually assigned to Charlemagne, ought rather to be considered a tendency of the social movement during the eighth and succeeding century; and in France this was combined with the amalgamation of the Frank and Romano-Gallic nations, or, as it might perhaps more correctly be termed, the absorption of the former into the latter. The first of the two great changes to which we have alluded is that by which the numerous functions originating in the turmoil of barbarian administration, the offices of dukes and counts, throughout France and Italy became hereditary instead of elective1. By this means, although for centuries the

1 A year after Dagobert's death Pepin was succeeded by his son Grimoald as mayor of the palace (Fredeg. Chron. c. 85),—the first instance of hereditary transmission of an office of the sort. Again, assemblies of the Champ de Mars continued to exercise a nominal authority, and the royal power alternately rose and sunk, yet the country ceased to be, as it had been, under the immediate superintendence of the chief of the French nation; and we perceive for the first time through France, Germany, and Italy, the elements of those regal duchies, counties, and bishoprics, productive of so weighty a result during the middle ages. If we compare this state of the European social system with that of the Church, we shall find in it an apt illustration of a rule which seems to apply to the relations of ecclesiastical to civil power: that the phenomena in the changes of the one are in an inverse ratio, as it were, to those of the other; for the authority of the Church, weakened under the concentrated sway of Charlemagne, rose into fuller activity in proportion as the Empire was rent in pieces from the grasp of his descendants.

Now although this social movement, limiting the real though not the nominal power of the sovereign, and improving the condition of the lower orders by multiplying the centres of production and expenditure, certainly did not take its rise with Charlemagne, yet it does appear to have acquired additional importance during his reign, both from the new freedom of action it obtained, and from the vast extent of Europe over which the political and social ideas of France were diffused. For not

on Grimoald's death the office fell, seemingly for the first time, into the hands of a minor ("parvulus"), his son Theodoald (2nd Cont. of Fredeg. Chron. 104).

« AnteriorContinuar »