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pontiff, whose extraordinary eleva- land : and when the barbarians took tion arose out of the very dismember- possession of the conquered provinces, ment of the empire. The scattered they found themselves conquered and clergy felt the need of an ecclesiastical subjugated by a power they had no power which could be a terror to
weapons to contend against. To the princes—which could protect them by Goth it had already extended its its excommunications and its inter teaching, and before their inroads had dicts, the more terrific the more re prepared them to be the future conmote their source; and they therefore querors of Rome. At a time when raised the Pope to a pre-eminence some desperate politicians of that city which they themselves often found ex were debating whether the only means tremely inconvenient and oppressive. of securing the pre-eminence and One man at Rome could do nothing if safety of Rome was not to make her he had not been supported by that Pagan, and place her at the head of sentiment of reverence amongst the all Pagan nations, the Church had faithful which the clergy had instilled. sent its missionaries into the forests of
Contemplating this vast hierarchy Germany to secure for it at least as an institution of the middle ages,
The Frank no one can fail to be struck with its and the Norman found themselves admirable adaptation to the times. It taken in the spiritual toils. Here in seems to take complete possession of Britain, the Saxons had come in so all Europe ; and, look when we will, it great numbers, that the Christian presents the most conspicuous figure faith was swept from the land, or in the retrospect. By the various nearly so; but there came missionranks and orders of its sacred func aries from Rome who brought us tionaries, it appears to fill every cre back into the Christian fold. The vice of society. It towers above all Church, firm, united, and preserving princes, it creeps barefoot amidst the some portion of the intelligence of humblest peasantry. No part of the foregone times, now frequently suppopulation but find themselves in con- plied, amongst the irregular governtact with its sacred officers; and ments into which Europe was split, whether lord or serf, he encounters a the defects of a rude, imperfect jurisbisnop to control him, or a friar to con prudence ; it opened its sanctuary to fess and recomfort. We speak here men chased by their fell and unscruof the old Church, not, of course, as it pulous adversaries, and mediated bestands in relationship to the new-not tween them and their enraged pur. as opposed to Protestantism-but in suers; it gave a refuge to learning, relationship solely to its own times, and clothed the man of quiet and meand in its conflict with heathen ignor- ditation in the only garb of peace ance and barbarous violence.
which the fierce warriors of that age Christianity had been called by would not have despised; and, above Constantine to an alliance with the all, it preserved a connexion between state at a time when civil government the disjointed parts of the old empire, had been long established, when laws kept them in one faith, which no had been profoundly studied, and other known means could have effectcivilisation vividly appreciated ; and ed, and so united a number of nations, it must be owned, that the alliance speaking many of them à different under the Greek empire added no language, and engaged all of them in peculiar strength to the laws or to the perpetual hostilities, that whatever magistrate, but rendered more diffi- intelligence sprung up in any one cult than before the task of govern- part of Europe was participated by ment. But in Western Europe, after the whole. They were made to be the invasion of the barbarian, and the still of one family, though they contotal disruption of the empire, the tinued, it must be admitted, a very Christian hierarchy assumed a very quarrelsome one. The Papal Church different position with regard to the was seen in its proper and most signistate. It now appeared as the elder ficant attitude when it placed the im. and more vigorous institution, and perial crown on the brow of Charlestood forth as the protector of what magne, with vain attempt on the part remained of law and civilisation, both of the monarch and the priest to There it stood, one vast religious cor. revive the unity of the empire. poration already established over the And for the religious instruction of
the people, note one thing—the muni- tecture, and music, and pageant. The ficence with which this vast corpora Church was not wanting to its duty, · tion employed the funds at its dis- and supplied with liberality this costly posal for this very purpose.
apparatus of instruction. The Cathe.. call to mind that in an era far from dral arose, vying with the towers of literary-when the multitude of books Belus, or the vast monuments of India, which now oppress us with know- works of despotic power; the prayer, ledge, were represented by a few dark the incessant chant, resounded in its manuscripts perused by here and walls ; the gorgeous procession issued there a solitary student-when the from its gates, and passed through the ideas which oral discourse could ap- streets, and before the houses of the peal to were exceeding scanty, and people; piety was as it were personithe preacher could avail nothing ex fied, and dwelt amongst them in the cept to move passions more violent vested monk, or the slow friar, stealing than salutary- let us call to mind, from the throng to his cloistered sethat in such an era, religion can be clusion, while the heart of the trousteadily supported amongst a people bled worldling followed him to his only by the institution of forms and pious repose ;—and by these and other ceremonies, by the eye-teaching of an similar means were kept alive in the outward and visible church, and by minds of all men, ideas, vague indeed the dogmatic authority of its sacred to the intellectấthey could not be and respected functionaries. In our otherwise-but elevating and salutary day, the means of instruction are as to the character. much more simple as they are effec. But though this universal Church tive. A few sheets of printed paper, was friendly to the purposes of civil carried whithersoever we please, are government, inasmuch as it was instrument enough for the communi- friendly to peace and equity, it could cation of thought, or the excitement not fail from time to time to excite of the heart. But in those times, when the jealousy of the several potentates no paper talisman filled the mind even of Europe. How far the clergy were of the peasant with ideas as foreign to be under the government of the to the daily routine of his toils or his king or of the pope, was a question pleasures, as if a spirit from another that gave rise to a succession of disworld had descended to inspire them, putes that form a striking peculiarity and not only thus directly informed in the history of the middle ages. his mind, but prepared it also to re The great dispute upon investitures, ceive salutary and correct impressions which, under a contest upon ceremofrom the discourse of the preacher nies, involved no less a matter than for the orator of an uninstructed mul- the patronage of the Church in the titude is a perilous instrument of cul- appointment of its bishops, agitated in ture—in those times, other means of turn every part of Europe. The popular instruction were wanted, means Church was standing on an ancient as much more costly, as much more right to choose its own bishops-a right vast, complicated, and imposing, as it could not challenge in opposition to they are in reality less ample and the king, but through its powerful efficacious. Then, if the attention of chief at Rome; the king, as the feudal men is to be called from earthly pur- lord of the bishop, who held a barony suits and passions, the lofty temple as well as a religious office, rested on must rise before them, towering in the feudal principle, that homage must their sight above all other structures; be done to him before the ecclesiastic then must solemn ceremonies be insti. could enter on his temporal possestuted, occurring at stated intervals ; sions. The contest was not unequal, then must a sacred class be ordained, and ended here in England in what who, at all events, by their outward might be called a drawn game. Henry habit and demeanour, symbolize a I. agreed no longer to profane the holy character, whether they attain to crosier by placing it in the hands of it or not. Then is a sacerdotal order the newly elected bishop, but still not a dogma, but a necessity. The retained the privilege of investing him twenty-four letters of the alphabet by the ring with his temporal possesmay suffice for us; but those who have sions. no alphabet to learn from, must be Thomas-à-Becket, (or Becket, as he tanght in such hieroglyphics as archi- is now more generally called) in his
opposition to Henry II., presents a occasion were of a trivial or groundstrong example of the haughty Church- less nature, was no reason that they man of the middle ages, as he is seen should be less effective for his destrucbattling with his sovereign for the tion. On the day when sentence was privileges of his order, and supported expected to be passed, he entered the throughout the contest by the distant Parliament attired in his archiepiscopal thunders of the Vatican. An immu- robes, and taking the long silver cross nity from lay jurisdiction in criminal from the officer who usually bore it charges, was a privilege that had long before him, he carried it himself as his been claimed by, and yielded to the safeguard. The King felt the power Church ; and it was a privilege very of his adversary, who had come, as he naturally insisted on by a sacred order, complained, “ armed” against him. whose reputation with the vulgar was Becket took his seat calmly and in deemed at that time of essential im. silence with his cross before him ; he portance to religion, and would cer sat alone, forsaken even by his own tainly have been endangered by the bishops, who disclaimed his authority, scandalous spectacle of one of its and, renouncing allegiance to him as members in the position of a convicted their ecclesiastical superior, appealed criminal, or under the hands of the to the Pope. He quietly and willingcommon executioner. But the Church, ly acquiesced in that appeal. by distributing the tonsure too liberally, some of the lords then approaching to had abused this privilege, and many pronounce the judgment of the Parcrimes were consequently unpunished, liament, (or Great Council, as it was or punished very inadequately. This then called,) he rose and interposed. abuse, together with some others, • Earl of Leicester,” he said, “ I comHenry II. resolved to reform. He mand you, as a son of the Church, not deterinined to take away the privilege. to presume to give judgment against In fact, he had undertaken to reduce your spiritual father!” And so saythe clergy in his dominions to what he ing, he walked slowly away, none preconsidered (and what would be cone venting him. sidered by all parties at present) a due But the danger of Becket was im. subjection to the civil power. In this minent, and he was compelled to design he was frustrated by a single escape by stealth from the country. opponent, the Archbishop of Canter The King, as a means of annoying bury, who, unsupported by his own and embarrassing his adversary, sent bishops, and with no other aid than after him a number of his dependents, what he derived from the sanction of to be provided for by the now imthe Roman Pontiff, successfully vin. poverished archbishop. Their feudal dicated the cause of the Church protector, their patron, was absent, against the most powerful monarch of and the King could act towards them,
The circumstances of this it seemed, in what arbitrary manner contest are many of them so character- he pleased. Becket retired to a monaistic of the times, that we will briefly stery of the Cistertian order, from recall them. Henry II. collected which retreat he carried on an epistowhat were understood to have been lary warfare. After six years of the ancient customs of the kingdom fruitless discussion, the King-at that with regard to the privileges of the time in Normandy, and partly induced clergy ; and these were re-enacted by by the mediation of his brother of a statute which, being passed at Cla- France, who, being a pious prince, rendon, received the title of The Con. was scandalized at Henry's opposition stitutions of Clarendon. But, though to his Holiness-submitted to a reconenacted by Parliament, they were con ciliation with his refractory prelate. sidered ineffectual unless the Arch If the reconciliation on the part of bishop of Canterbury personally ac the King may be suspected of insinceded to them. This he at first pro- cerity, the return of the Archbishop mised to do, but afterwards retracted; to his country was marked by a conand, on ultimately refusing to attach his duct which showed the haughty unseal to the Constitutions of Clarendon, controllable temper of the man, and the King ordered him to be impeached boded ill for future tranquillity: Duin Parliament, on some pretext con ring his absence, the Archbishop of nected with his late office of Chancellor. York, assisted by other bishops, had That the charges fabricated for the crowned the young prince, Henry's
eldest son, thus encroaching on the been struck with horror at this sacrile. privilege of the see of Canterbury. gious murder. The usual service was For this invasion of his rights a decree suspended in all the churches, the had been privately obtained from the crosses were veiled, and the altars dePope, suspending those dignitaries; and nuded of their sacred ornaments, as in this decree Becket now fulminated on the Passion; and the monks in low the heads of his opposing brotherhood. and monotonous tone, from which all The suspended prelates hastened over music was purposely banished, deto Normandy, and laid their complaint plored day and night the sins of the before the King. Henry was perplexed King and the people. The King was in the extreme, and his resentment was defeated by the dead saint, and, to kindled. He saw he had to cope appease the popular indignation, was with an untired adversary, and an compelled to show signs of the deepest adversary of no mean power, being contrition. The monarch was brought supported in his cause by the Pope, to kneel like a penitent before the tomb and having been welcomed to his own of his murdered adversary. Approachsee with the loudest demonstrations of ing to the town of Canterbury, he was popular applause. In his anger, he no sooner in sight of the towers of the uttered reproaches against his friends cathedral, than he divested himself of for allowing him so long a time to be his regal garments, threw a coarse vexed and harassed by such an ene cloth around him, and barefooted, and my. On this, four knights took upon submitting his shoulder to the scourge, themselves the quarrel of their master, proceeded to the shrine of Becket, and travelled night and day till they where he extended himself in humiliareached England.
ting penance. The Constitutions of The story is familiar to every one. Clarendon, as might be expected, The four from Normandy rushed into were not attempted to be enforced, the presence of the Archbishop. After neither, we may add, were they resome fruitless demands and threats, pealed-such were the lax notions of which failed to shake the constancy of legislation in those days. Henry Becket, they left him—but only to wrote to the Pope, and promised that return armed, and accompanied with the clergy should be exempted as others, to accomplish his destruction. heretofore from lay criminal jurisdicHis retainers now gathered round him, tion, nd made other concessions. and the battle-axes of the knights Whether from the general compaswere heard thundering at the door forsion at his death, or from the gratire-admission. Becket was advised to tude of a clergy whose cause that take refuge in the church. His bold death had rendered triumphant, the spirit rejected what seemed a timid martyr of Canterbury became the counsel, until one of his attendants most popular saint in the Calendar; reminded him that it was time for more miracles were wrought at his vespers. Then ordering his cross to tomb than elsewhere, and even sucbe brought, he followed it slowly ceeding kings were anointed at their through the cloisters, and ascended coronation with oil that had been the altar of the cathedral. The shades trusted to Becket by the Virgin Mary. of evening were falling in the church; He retained this pre-eminence till the his enemies, who had followed, were Reformation, when Henry VIII., now heard to call aloud for the traitor; head of the Church, resenting what his friends called on him to fly. He appeared to him the treason and reremained stationary, nor did he con bellion of the Archbishop, cited the descend to supplicate, but extended dead saint to appear in his Court his head to the inevitable blow. A Ecclesiastical, and as Becket made no first and second stroke threw him on appearance, nor any answer to the his face before the altar; he collected summons, he pronounced his sainthis robes around him, that he might ship forfeited, and scattered his dust die with dignity, and joining his hands from the tomb. as if in prayer, he received in this The character of Becket has been posture a third blow, which fell with variously interpreted. As the Chansuch violence, that after entering the cellor of Henry II., he is allowed to skull the sword broke on the pavem have exhibited great capacity and ment.
firmness, being accounted haughty to The whole country seems to have his superiors and equals, but conde
scending and affable to his inferiors. had he pleased, the chancellorship toHe was brave and accomplished, dis- gether with his new dignity? What tinguished for his warlike propensi- had he to gain by a rupture with the ties, his knightly bearing, his liberality King ? Nothing. But he had, on and munificence; but not at all for the the contrary, every thing to lose, and fervour of his devotions, or the multi- the prospect of that exile in which his plicity of his prayers. In the embassy predecessor Anselm had passed so he undertook to Paris, the display he great a portion of his life. We made of wealth and pageantry was so
read the matter thus :—When Becket dazzling, that those who make report accepted the primacy, he appears, of it, run riot in extravagance of de- from some language he is reported scription. His ordinary mode of living, to have used, to have foreseen that when resident in England, was so either he must betray the trust sumptuous as to have been the asto- which the Church would repose in nishment of the times; and his resi- him, or offend his sovereign. Indence being in the west, it earned for deed, from the situation in which he him the title of the wonder and delight was placed, it is plain that he could of the western world. Such was the not at the same time have earned the man advanced to be the head of the character of fidelity to the Church, and Church in England. But no sooner had retained his friendship with Henry. he accepted the primacy than he be- Even such an acquiescence in Henry's came an altered being; and thesagacious measures as might have been pardonchancellor, the witty companion of the able in another, would have been súsmonarch, the splendid ambassador, picious in one who would appear to the munificent host, was converted have accepted his ecclesiastic preferinto the ascetic religionist, a complete ment for the very sake of executing example of piety as it was practised those measures. He was a man of in those days. Underneath the gor- high and noble spirit, proud and feargeous robes of the archbishop he wore less. Would such a man have confoul sackcloth overrun with vermin- sented even to seem the traitor, or to his drink was water, in which nau. act like a cowed and submissive seous herbs had been purposely boiled churchman? Placed at the head of -the scourge was not idle—he walk- the English Church, he was resolved ed apart amongst the cloisters, suffused to uphold its privileges, and his own in penitential tears—he wept, he fast- rights as Primate of England. If not ed, he prayed, he humbled and tor sincere in his piety, he was at least tured himself with all the zeal of the sincere, we think, in his championship poorest friar who has nothing to com of the Church. To prepare himself mend him to earth or to heaven but for his novel and perilous position, his own miserable self-immolation. what more natural than that he should Was this change sincere, or was it adopt a total change of manners ? but the cloak of ambition ?
And in this change how far he gave The charge of hypocrisy, which is scope also to that religious feeling frequently, perhaps generally, imputed which lies buried and oppressed, we to Becket, appears to be founded en believe, in the hearts of most men, tirely on the suddenness of his conver and requires only to be elicited by sion. But this suddenness is made so propitious circumstances, who can striking, let it be remembered, by the venture to divine ? ostentatious mode of devotion preva That he was so far sincere in his lent in the middle ages, in the adop- piety as to escape the charge of hypotion of which, even with the most crisy, is the impression his history sincere intention, a change of manners leaves upon our mind ; that he had so easily outruns the change of heart. relinquished his pride and ambition, As an artifice of ambition, it is not his violent conduct towards his broeasy to understand why Becket should ther bishops is sufficient utterly to have practised these painful austeri contradict. We speak it with reverties. Men to raise themselves from ence, but there are few positions more obscurity to eminence bave submit- favourable to the growth of pride and ted to this species of self-infliction; the love of power than the priestly but what had he to gain by such a function. If it makes not the heart device who was Archbishop of Can- exceeding humble, which we have terbury, and who might have retained, reason to hope it frequently does, it