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corporation, linked by manifold ties to the civil government. It acquired political influence, both in executing and making laws. During the barbaric period, that season of wild disorder which ensued upon the invasion of the Roman empire, and which extended from the fifth to the seventh century, the political influence of the church greatly increased. Bishops were invested with extraordinary powers. In the towns and cities where they resided, the general superintendence of public affairs was committed to their hands. The codes of Justinian empowered them to act in the management of city revenues, and in the oversight of the public works, such as the construction and the repairs of magazines, aqueducts, baths, harbours, bridges, and roads.
Other powers were given them, rather more in accordance with the clerical character. They were to interfere in the appointment of guardians over the young, in the protection of prisoners, insane persons, foundlings, stolen children, and oppressed women, in the general administration of justice, and in the public maintenance of morality and order. * Whatever opinion we may form respecting the discharge of civic functions by the ministers of Christianity, we are constrained to confess that here was an instance in which temporal authority might be most beneficially exercised. But if the temper of the clergy answered the description given by a writer of that period—and if that temper descended to their successors, the beneficial effect of the church's civil power was not very widely extended. “Is it likely that any should undertake the cause of the oppressed, when even the priests of the Lord do nothing,--the most of them either holding their peace, or if they speak, acting like the silent? So it is that the poor are plundered, widows groan, orphans are trampled upon, and many are driven to take refuge among the barbarians, seeking among the barbarians Roman humanity, because among the Romans they are not able to endure their barbarous inhumanity. "*
* Cod. Just. lib. i. tit. iv,
Some abatement, perhaps, may be justly made from this sweeping censure : most probably, even in that degenerate age, cases were not wanting in which the benign spirit of Christianity prompted those who were invested with such extraordinary powers, to employ them for the relief of human suffering, the vindication of injured character, and the protection of the oppressed.
But it was not in the administration of municipal affairs alone, that the clergy were possessed of political power. They had no small share in making laws, as well as in executing them. This was especially the case in Spain. The laws of the Visigoths, instituted at the council of Toledo, were compiled by the bishops. Here the influence of the church was decidedly beneficial. Those laws exhibit traces of a philosophic and Christian spirit. “Amongst the barbarians, men were valued at a fixed rate, according to their situations; the barbarian, the Roman, the freeman, the vassal, were not estimated at the same sum: their lives were made matter of tariff. The principle of men being of equal value in the eyes of the law was established in the code of the Visigoths. With regard to the system of procedure, we find the oath of compurgatores and the judicial combat displaced for the proof by witnesses, and such a rational examination into facts as might be adopted in any civilized society. In a word, the whole Visigoth code bears a wise, systematic, and social character. We perceive in it the labours of that same clergy which held command in the councils of Toledo, and operated so powerfully on the government of the country."*
* Salvian, quoted in " Ancient Christianity," vol. ii. 52.
The judicial prerogatives and legislative influence of the bishops of the church, were backed by the extravagant veneration of the priestly office, so natural to such a state of society as that which prevailed at the commencement of the middle ages; and these causes combined to elevate the rulers of the church to the loftiest position in society. As an example of the power of the clergy, and of the precedence which they claimed for themselves, as well as of the social manners of the period, we may quote an anecdote of the famous Martin, bishop of Tours, in the fourth century, recorded in his life, by Sulpicius Severus. Dining once
*Guizot, Civilisation of Europe, Lect. 3.
at the royal table, the emperor Maximus ordered the cup to be first offered to the bishop, expecting next to receive it himself. But the bishop handed it to a presbyter, who was sitting by him, as an indication that a priest took precedence of a prince. On another occasion, the empress waited on this celebrated ecclesiastic, in the capacity of a menial, preparing his food, bringing water for his hands, standing motionless by his side, in the attitude of a slave ; presenting him with wine, reverently collecting the crumbs which fell from his table, and above all, in imitation of the woman in the gospel, bathing his feet with her tears, and wiping them with the hair of her head.* In the spirit thus displayed by this haughty prelate, the churchmen of that day maintained that the priesthood was above the crown, as much as heaven is nobler than the earth, and the soul than the body: and acting upon that principle, we find the bishops of France in the ninth century deposing Louis, the son of Charlemagne. An ecclesiastical council in the same kingdom afterwards adjudged his son Lothaire, unworthy of the crown, and conferred it on his brother, Charles the Bald. A subsequent council deposed him, when the pusillanimous monarch complained, “I ought not to have been deposed, or at least not before I had been judged by the bishops, who gave me royal authority: I have always submitted to their correction, and am ready to do so now.”
* Sulp. Severus, Dial. ii. 6.
But while this kind of power was altogether inconsistent with the ministerial character, and was often most tyrannically employed, it is some little relief to know, that the history of the middle ages can supply numerous instances of the beneficial exercise of clerical influence in checking the vices of the great, and curbing the injustice of monarchs. The church, too, sometimes interposed between nobles and princes at variance with each other, and prevented the shedding of blood ; of which a pleasing instance occurs in the life of Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury, in the seventh century, who, just before his death, reconciled two Saxon kings on the eve of a sanguinary conflict, and thus closed his public acts by sheathing the sword of war.*
The bishops of Europe during the dark ages formed a civil as well as a spiritual aristocracy, controlling, to a great extent, the affairs of empires : but the bishop of one see climbed above all the rest, to the highest pinnacle of power, first obtaining a sort of limited monarchy, and then grasping at universal despotism. It comes not within the range of our present design to trace the steps by which the prelates of Rome attained their vast prerogatives ;
" Were they not
* Bede, Ece. Hist. 1. iv. 21.