For the first time since the fall of the Western Empire, Europe, during the eleventh century, made rapid progress not subsequently lost. There had been progress of a sort during the Carolingian renaissance, but it proved to be not solid. In the eleventh century, the improvement was lasting and many-sided. It began with monastic reform; it then extended to the papacy and Church government; towards the end of the century it produced the first scholastic philosophers. The Saracens were expelled from Sicily by the Normans; the Hungarians, having become Christians, ceased to be marauders; the conquests of the Normans in France and England saved those countries from further Scandinavian incursions. Architecture, which had been barbaric except where Byzantine influence prevailed, attained sudden sublimity. The level of education rose enormously among the clergy, and considerably in the lay aristocracy.
The reform movement, in its earlier stages, was, in the minds of its promoters, actuated exclusively by moral motives. The clergy, both regular and secular, had fallen into bad ways, and earnest men set to work to make them live more in accordance with their principles. But behind this purely moral motive there was another, at first perhaps unconscious, but gradually becoming more and more open. This motive was to complete the separation between clergy and laity, and, in so doing, to increase the power of the former. It was therefore natural that the victory of reform in the Church should lead straight on to a violent conflict between Emperor and Pope.
Priests had formed a separate and powerful caste in Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia, but not in Greece or Rome. In the primitive Christian Church, the distinction between clergy and laity arose gradually; when we read of 'bishops' in the New Testament, the word does not mean what it has come to mean to us. The separation of the clergy from the rest of the population had two aspects, one doctrinal, the other political; the political aspect depended upon the doctrinal. The clergy possessed certain miraculous powers, especially in connection with the sacraments—except baptism, which could be performed by laymen. Without the help of the clergy, marriage, absolution, and extreme unction were impossible. Even more important, in the Middle Ages, was transubstantiation: only a priest could perform the miracle of the mass. It was not until the eleventh century, in 1079, that the doctrine of transubstantiation became an article of faith, though it had been generally believed for a long time.
Owing to their miraculous powers, priests could determine whether a man should spend eternity in heaven or in hell. If he died while excommunicate, he went to hell; if he died after a priest had performed all the proper ceremonies, he would ultimately go to heaven provided he had duly repented and confessed. Before going to heaven, however, he would have to spend some time—perhaps a very long time—suffering the pains of purgatory. Priests could shorten this time by saying masses for his soul, which they were willing to do for a suitable money payment.
All this, it must be understood, was genuinely and firmly believed both by priests and by laity; it was not merely a creed officially professed. Over and over again, the miraculous powers of the clergy gave them the victory over powerful princes at the head of their armies. This power, however, was limited on two ways: by reckless outbreaks of passion on the part of furious laymen, and by divisions among the clergy. The inhabitants of Rome, until the time of Gregory VII, showed little respect for the person of the Pope. They would kidnap him, imprison him, poison him, or fight against him, whenever their turbulent factional strife tempted them to such action. How is this compatible with their beliefs? Partly, no doubt, the explanation lies in mere lack of self-control; partly, however, in the thought that one could repent on one's deathbed. Another reason, which operated less in Rome than elsewhere, was that kings could bend to their will the bishops in their kingdoms, and thus secure enough priestly magic to save themselves from damnation. Church discipline and a unified ecclesiastical government were therefore essential to the power of the clergy. These ends were secured during the eleventh century, as part and parcel of a moral reformation of the clergy.
The power of the clergy as a whole could only be secured by very considerable sacrifices on the part of individual ecclesiastics. The two great evils against which all clerical reformers directed their energies were simony and concubinage. Something must be said about each of these.
Owing to the benefactions of the pious, the Church had become rich. Many bishops had huge estates, and even parish priests had, as a rule, what for those times was a comfortable living. The appointment of bishops was usually, in practice, in the hands of the king, but sometimes in those of some subordinate feudal noble. It was customary for the king to sell bishoprics; this, in fact, provided a substantial part of his income. The bishop, in turn, sold such ecclesiastical preferment as was in his power. There was no secret about this. Gerbert (Sylvester II) represented bishops as saying: 'I gave gold and I received the episcopate; but yet I do not fear to receive it back if I behave as I should. I ordain a priest and I receive gold; I make a deacon and I receive a heap of silver. Behold the gold which I gave I have once more unlessened in my purse.'1 Peter Damian in Milan, in 1059, found that every cleric in the city, from the archbishop downwards, had been guilty of simony. And this state of affairs was in no way exceptional.
Simony, of course, was a sin, but that was not the only objection to it. It caused ecclesiastical preferment to go by wealth, not merit; it confirmed lay authority in the appointment of bishops, and episcopal subservience to secular rulers; and it tended to make the episcopate part of the feudal system. Moreover, when a man had purchased preferment, he was naturally anxious to recoup himself, so that worldly rather than spiritual concerns were likely to preoccupy him. For these reasons, the campaign against simony was a necessary part of the ecclesiastical struggle for power.
Very similar considerations applied to clerical celibacy. The reformers of the eleventh century often spoke of 'concubinage' when it would have been more accurate to speak of 'marriage'. Monks, of course, were precluded from marriage by their vow of chastity, but there had been no clear prohibition of marriage for the secular clergy. In the Eastern Church, to this day, parish priests are allowed to be married. In the West, in the eleventh century, most parish priests were married. Bishops, for their part, appealed to St Paul's pronouncement: 'A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife.'2 There was not the same clear moral issue as in the matter of simony, but in the insistence on clerical celibacy there were political motives very similar to those in the campaign against simony.3
When priests were married, they naturally tried to pass on Church property to their sons. They could do this legally if their sons became priests; therefore one of the first steps of the reform party, when it acquired power, was to forbid the ordination of priests' sons.4 But in the confusion of the times there was still danger that, if priests had sons, they would find means of
illegally alienating parts of the Church lands. In addition to this economic consideration, there was also the fact that, if a priest was a family man like his neighbours, he seemed to them less removed from themselves. There was, from at least the fifth century onwards, an intense admiration for celibacy, and if the clergy were to command the reverence on which their powers depended, it was highly advantageous that they should be obviously separated from other men by abstinence from marriage. The reformers themselves, no doubt, sincerely believed that the married state, though not actually sinful, is lower than the state of celibacy, and is only conceded to the weakness of the flesh. St Paul says 'If they cannot contain, let them marry'5; but a really holy man ought to be able to 'contain'. Therefore clerical celibacy is essential to the moral authority of the Church.
After these general preliminaries, let us come to the actual history of the reform movement in the eleventh-century Church.
The beginning goes back to the foundation of the abbey of Cluny in 910 by William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine. This abbey was, from the first, independent of all external authority except that of the Pope; moreover, its abbot was given authority over other monasteries that owed their origin to it. Most monasteries, at this time, were rich and lax; Cluny, though avoiding extreme asceticism, was careful to preserve decency and decorum. The second abbot, Odo, went to Italy, and was given control of several Roman monasteries. He was not always successful: 'Farfa, divided by a schism between two rival abbots who had murdered their predecessor, resisted the introduction of Cluniac monks by Odo and got rid by poison of the abbot whom Alberic installed by armed force.'6(Alberic was the ruler of Rome who had invited Odo.) In the twelfth century Cluny's reforming zeal grew cold. St Bernard objected to its fine architecture; like all the most earnest men of his time, he considered splendid ecclesiastical edifices a sign of sinful pride.
During the eleventh century, various other orders were founded by reformers. Romuald, an ascetic hermit, founded the Camaldolese Order in 1012; Peter Damian, of whom we shall speak shortly, was a follower of his. The Carthusians, who never ceased to be austere, were founded by Bruno of Cologne in 1084. In 1098 the Cistercian Order was founded, and in 1113 it was joined by St Bernard. It adhered strictly to the Benedictine Rule. It forbade stained-glass windows. For labour, it employed conversi, or lay brethren. These men took the vows, but were forbidden to learn reading and writing; they were employed mainly in agriculture, but also in other work, such as architecture. Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire, is Cistercian—a remarkable work for men who thought all beauty of the Devil.
As will be seen from the case of Farfa, which was by no means unique, monastic reformers required great courage and energy. Where they succeeded, they were supported by the secular authorities. It was these men and their followers who made possible the reformation, first of the papacy and then of the Church as a whole.
The reform of the papacy, however, was, at first, mainly the work of the Emperor. The last dynastic Pope was Benedict IX, elected in 1032, and said to have been only twelve years old at the time. He was the son of Alberic of Tusculum, whom we have already met in connection with Abbot Odo. As he grew older, he grew more and more debauched, and shocked even the Romans. At last his wickedness reached such a pitch that he decided to resign the papacy in order to marry. He sold it to his godfather, who became Gregory VI. This man, though he acquired the papacy simoniacally, was a reformer; he was a friend of Hildebrand (Gregory VII). The manner of his acquiring the papacy, however, was too scandalous to be passed over. The young Emperor Henry III (1039–56) was a pious reformer, who had abandoned simony at great cost to his revenue, while retaining the right to appoint bishops. He came to Italy in 1046, at the age of twenty-two, and deposed Gregory VI on the charge of simony.
Henry III retained throughout his reign the power of making and unmaking popes, which, however, he exercised wisely in the interests of reform. After getting rid of Gregory VI, he appointed a German bishop, Suidger of Bamberg; the Romans resigned the election rights which they had claimed and often exercised, almost always badly. The new Pope died next year, and the Emperor's next nominee also died almost immediately—of poison, it was said. Henry III then chose a relation of his own, Bruno of Toul, who became Leo IX (1049–54). He was an earnest reformer, who travelled much and held many councils; he wished to fight the Normans in Southern Italy, but in this he was unsuccessful. Hildebrand was his friend, and might almost be called his pupil. At his death the Emperor appointed one more Pope, Gebhard of Eichstadt, who became Victor II, in 1055. But the Emperor died the next year, and the Pope the year after. From this point onwards, the relations of Emperor and Pope became less friendly. The Pope, having acquired moral authority by the help of Henry III, claimed first independence of the Emperor, and then superiority to him. Thus began the great conflict which lasted two hundred years and ended in the defeat of the Emperor. In the long run, therefore, Henry III's policy of reforming the papacy was perhaps short-sighted.
The next Emperor, Henry IV, reigned for fifty years (1056–1106). At first he was a minor, and the regency was exercised by his mother the Empress Agnes. Stephen IX was Pope for one year, and at his death the cardinals chose one Pope while the Romans, reasserting the rights they had surrendered, chose another. The Empress sided with the cardinals, whose nominee took the name of Nicholas II. Although his reign only lasted three years, it was important. He made peace with the Normans, thereby making the papacy less dependent on the Emperor. In his time the manner in which popes were to be elected was determined by a decree, according to which the choice was to be made first by the cardinal bishops, then by the other cardinals, and last by the clergy and people of Rome, whose participation, one gathers, was to be purely formal. In effect, the cardinal bishops were to select the Pope. The election was to take place in Rome if possible, but might take place elsewhere if circumstances made election in Rome difficult or undesirable. No part in the election was allotted to the Emperor. This decree, which was accepted only after a struggle, was an essential step in the emancipation of the papacy from lay control.
Nicholas II secured a decree that, for the future, ordinations by men guilty of simony were not to be valid. The decree was not made retroactive, because to do so would have invalidated the great majority of ordinations of existing priests.
During the pontificate of Nicholas II an interesting struggle began in Milan. The Archbishop, following the Ambrosian tradition, claimed a certain independence of the Pope. He and his clergy were in alliance with the aristocracy, and were strongly opposed to reform. The mercantile and lower classes, on the other hand, wished the clergy to be pious; there were riots in support of clerical celibacy, and a powerful reform movement, called 'Patarine', against the archbishop and his supporters. In 1059 the Pope, in support of reform, sent to Milan as his legate the eminent St Peter Damian. Damian was the author of a treatise On Divine Omnipotence, which maintained that God can do things contrary to the law of contradiction, and can undo the past. (This view was rejected by St Thomas, and has, since his time, been unorthodox.) He opposed dialectic, and spoke of philosophy as the handmaid of theology. He was, as we have seen, a follower of the hermit Romuald, and engaged with great reluctance in the conduct of affairs. His holiness, however, was such an asset to the papacy that very strong persuasion was brought to bear on him to help in the reform campaign, and he yielded to the Pope's representations. At Milan in 1059 he made a speech against simony to the assembled clerics. At first they were so enraged that his life was in danger, but at last his eloquence won them over, and with tears they one and all confessed themselves guilty. Moreover, they promised obedience to Rome. Under the next Pope, there was a dispute with the Emperor about the see of Milan, in which, with the help of the Patarines, the Pope was ultimately victorious.
At the death of Nicholas II in 1061, Henry IV being now of age, there was a dispute between him and the cardinals as to the succession to the papacy. The Emperor had not accepted the election decree, and was not prepared to forgo his rights in the election of the Pope. The dispute lasted for three years, but in the end the cardinals' choice prevailed, without a definite trial of strength between Emperor and curia. What turned the scale was the obvious merit of the cardinals' Pope, who was a man combining virtue with experience, and a former pupil of Lanfranc (afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury). The death of this Pope, Alexander II, in 1073, was followed by the election of Hildebrand (Gregory VII).
Gregory VII (1073–85) is one of the most eminent of the Popes. He had long been prominent, and had great influence on papal policy. It was owing to him that Pope Alexander II blessed William the Conqueror's English enterprise; he favoured the Normans both in Italy and in the North. He had been a protégé of Gregory VI, who bought the papacy in order to combat simony; after the deposition of this Pope, Hildebrand passed two years in exile. Most of the rest of his life was spent in Rome. He was not a learned man, but was inspired largely by St Augustine, whose doctrines he learnt at second-hand from his hero Gregory the Great. After he became Pope, he believed himself the mouthpiece of St Peter. This gave him a degree of self-confidence which, on a mundane calculation, was not justified. He admitted that the Emperor's authority was also of divine origin: at first, he compared Pope and Emperor to two eyes; later, when quarrelling with the Emperor, to the sun and moon—the Pope, of course being the sun. The Pope must be supreme in morals, and must therefore have the right to depose the Emperor if the Emperor was immoral. And nothing could be more immoral than resisting the Pope. All this he genuinely and profoundly believed.
Gregory VII did more than any previous Pope to enforce clerical celibacy. In Germany the clergy objected, and on this ground as well as others were inclined to side with the Emperor. The laity, however, everywhere preferred their priests celibate. Gregory stirred up riots of the laity against married priests and their wives, in which both often suffered brutal ill-treatment. He called on the laity not to attend mass when celebrated by a recalcitrant priest. He decreed that the sacraments of married clergy were invalid, and that such clergy must not enter churches. All this roused clerical opposition and lay support; even in Rome, where Popes had usually gone in danger of their lives, he was popular with the people.
In Gregory's time began the great dispute concerning 'investitures'. When a bishop was consecrated, he was invested with a ring and staff as symbols of his office. These had been given by Emperor or king (according to the locality), as the bishop's feudal overlord. Gregory insisted that they should be given by the Pope. The dispute was part of the work of detaching the ecclesiastical from the feudal hierarchy. It lasted a long time, but in the end the papacy was completely victorious.
The quarrel which led to Canossa began over the archbishopric of Milan. In 1075 the Emperor, with the concurrence of the suffragans, appointed an archbishop; the Pope considered this an infringement of his prerogative, and threatened the Emperor with excommunication and deposition. The Emperor retaliated by summoning a council of bishops at Worms, where the bishops renounced their allegiance to the Pope. They wrote him a letter accusing him of adultery and perjury, and (worse than either) ill-treatment of bishops. The Emperor also wrote him a letter, claiming to be above all earthly judgment. The Emperor and his bishops pronounced Gregory deposed; Gregory excommunicated the Emperor and his bishops, and pronounced them deposed. Thus the stage was set.
In the first act, victory went to the Pope. The Saxons, who had before rebelled against Henry IV and then made peace with him, rebelled again; the German bishops made their peace with Gregory. The world at large was shocked by the Emperor's treatment of the Pope. Accordingly in the following year (1077) Henry decided to seek absolution from the Pope. In the depth of winter, with his wife and infant son and a few attendants, he crossed the Mont Cenis pass, and presented himself as a suppliant before the castle of Canossa, where the Pope was. For three days the Pope kept him waiting, barefoot and in penitential garb. At last he was admitted. Having expressed penitence and sworn, in future, to follow the Pope's directions in dealing with his German opponents, he was pardoned and received back into communion.
The Pope's victory, however, was illusory. He had been caught out by the rules of his own theology, one of which enjoined absolution for penitents. Strange to say, he was taken in by Henry, and supposed his repentance sincere. He soon discovered his mistake. He could no longer support Henry's German enemies, who felt that he had betrayed them. From this moment, things began to go against him.
Henry's German enemies elected a rival Emperor, named Rudolf. The Pope, at first, while maintaining that it was for him to decide between Henry and Rudolf, refused to come to a decision. At last, in 1080, having experienced the insincerity of Henry's repentance, he pronounced for Rudolf. By this time, however, Henry had got the better of most of his opponents in Germany. He had an antipope elected by his clerical supporters, and with him, in 1084, he entered Rome. His antipope duly crowned him, but both had to retreat quickly before the Normans, who advanced to the relief of Gregory. The Normans brutally sacked Rome, and took Gregory away with them. He remained virtually their prisoner until his death the next year.
Thus his policies appeared to have ended in disaster. But in fact they were pursued with more moderation, by his successors. A compromise favourable to the papacy was patched up for the moment, but the conflict was essentially irreconcilable. Its later stages will be dealt with in subsequent chapters.
It remains to say something of the intellectual revival in the eleventh century. The tenth century was destitute of philosophers, except for Gerbert (Pope Sylvester II, 999–1003), and even he was more a mathematician than a philosopher. But as the eleventh century advanced, men of real philosophical eminence began to appear. Of these, the most important were Anselm and Roscelin, but some others deserve mention. All were monks connected with the reform movement.
Peter Damian, the oldest of them, has already been mentioned. Berengar of Tours (d. 1088) is interesting as being something of a rationalist. He maintained that reason is superior to authority, in support of which view he appealed to John the Scot, who was therefore posthumously condemned. Berengar denied transubstantiation, and was twice compelled to recant. His heresies were combated by Lanfranc in his book De corpore et sanguine Domini. Lanfranc was born at Pavia, studied law at Bologna, and became a first-rate dialectician. But he abandoned dialectic for theology, and entered the monastery of Bec, in Normandy, where he conducted a school. William the Conqueror made him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070.
St Anselm was, like Lanfranc, an Italian, a monk at Bec, and Archbishop of Canterbury (1093–1109), in which capacity he followed the principles of Gregory VII and quarrelled with the king. He is chiefly known to fame as the inventor of the 'ontological argument' for the existence of God. As he put it, the argument is as follows: We define 'God' as the greatest possible object of thought. Now if an object of thought does not exist, another, exactly like it, which does exist, is greater. Therefore the greatest of all objects of thought must exist, since, otherwise, another, still greater, would be possible. Therefore God exists.
This argument has never been accepted, by theologians. It was adversely criticized at the time; then it was forgotten till the latter half of the thirteenth century. Thomas Aquinas rejected it, and among theologians his authority has prevailed ever since. But among philosophers it has had a better fate. Descartes revived it in a somewhat amended form; Leibniz thought that it could be made valid by the addition of a supplement to prove that God is possible. Kant considered that he had demolished it once for all. Nevertheless, in some sense, it underlies the system of Hegel and his followers, and reappears in Bradley's principle: 'What may be and must be, is.'
Clearly an argument with such a distinguished history is to be treated with respect, whether valid or not. The real question is: Is there anything we can think of which, by the mere fact that we can think of it, is shown to exist outside our thought? Every philosopher would like to say yes, because a philosopher's job is to find out things about the world by thinking rather than observing. If yes is the right answer, there is a bridge from pure thought to things, if not, not. In this generalized form, Plato uses a kind of ontological argument to prove the objective reality of ideas. But no one before Anselm had stated the argument in its naked logical purity. In gaining purity, it loses plausibility; but this also is to Anselm's credit.
For the rest, Anselm's philosophy is mainly derived from St Augustine, from whom it acquires many Platonic elements. He believes in Platonic ideas, from which he derives another proof of the existence of God. By Neoplatonic arguments he professes to prove not only God, but the Trinity. (It will be remembered that Plotinus has a Trinity, though not one that a Christian can accept as orthodox.) Anselm considers reason subordinate to faith. 'I believe in order to understand,' he says; following Augustine, he holds that without belief it is impossible to understand. God, he says, is not just, but justice. It will be remembered that John the Scot says similar things. The common origin is in Plato.
St Anselm, like his predecessors in Christian philosophy, is in the Platonic rather than the Aristotelian tradition. For this reason, he has not the distinctive characteristics of the philosophy which is called 'scholastic', which culminated in Thomas Aquinas. This kind of philosophy may be reckoned as beginning with Roscelin, who was Anselm's contemporary, being seventeen years younger than Anselm. Roscelin marks a new beginning, and will be considered in a later chapter.
When it is said that medieval philosophy, until the thirteenth century, was mainly Platonic, it must be remembered that Plato, except for a fragment of the Timaeus, was known only at second or third hand. John the Scot, for example, could not have held the views which he did hold but for Plato, but most of what is Platonic in him comes from the pseudo-Dionysius. The date of this author is uncertain, but it seems probable that he was a disciple of Proclus the Neoplatonist. It is probable, also, that John the Scot had never heard of Proclus or read a line of Plotinus. Apart from the pseudo-Dionysius, the other source of Platonism in the Middle Ages was Boethius. This Platonism was in many ways different from that which a modern student derives from Plato's own writings. It omitted almost everything that had no obvious bearing on religion, and in religious philosophy it enlarged and emphasized certain aspects at the expense of others. This change in the conception of Plato had already been effected by Plotinus. The knowledge of Aristotle was also fragmentary, but in an opposite direction: all that was known of him until the twelfth century was Boethius's translation of the Categories and De Emendatione. Thus Aristotle was conceived as a mere dialectician, and Plato as only a religious philosopher and the author of the theory of ideas. During the course of the later Middle Ages, both these partial conceptions were gradually emended, especially the conception of Aristotle. But the process, as regards Plato, was not completed until the Renaissance.