Growth Of Commerce And Its Results
Formation Of France
England And The Other States
The Papacy In The New Age
Summary - Medieval Civilization
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The Papacy In The New Age
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN the tenth chapter we followed the conflict between the church and the empire to its close in the thirteenth century. The papacy had come out of that conflict apparently victorious over its only rival. Frederick II. had failed, and no new emperor had arisen to take his place with a power which could be at all dangerous to the pope's.
But at the moment of this victory a new enemy appeared in the field. The growth of commerce, and the other results which followed from the crusades, had already changed the character of the age, and the general attitude of mind toward the papacy. It had raised the general level of intelligence and created a new feeling of individual self-reliance in large portions of the population, even before the age of the revival of learning proper. The -gradual organization of the modern nations, and their progress, step by step, towards definite constitutions and true national life, had been accompanied with a growth of the spirit of political independence, and the beginnings, at least, of a genuine feeling of patriotism. It was impossible for the political and intellectual world, which was forming under these influences, and which was animated by this new spirit, to submit tamely to those pretensions of universal political supervision which had been asserted by Gregory VII. and by Innocent III. and which the papacy still claimed in even more extreme language.
Isolated cases, due to these new influences, of a more or less determined resistance to these pretensions are scattered through the thirteenth century in the history of various states, and, in the case of exceptionally strong states or sovereigns, are to be found even in the twelfth. At the beginning of the fourteenth occurred an instance of this resistance which became of universal importance, and which, in the final consequences that followed from it, united all the new forces of the time in a grand attack upon the papacy, to destroy its political power, and even to change the character of its ecclesiastical rule. This was the conflict between Philip the Fair of France, and Pope Boniface VIII.
Boniface VIII. was elected pope in 1294, after he had procured by his intrigues the abdication of the weak and unworldly Celestin V. He was a man of exactly opposite character hasty and obstinate, and with the most extreme views of the rights of the papacy over all other powers in the world. Opportunities were offered him, one after another, for the actual assertion of these rights in almost every country of Europe, and if he could have carried through successfully the things which he at-tempted, the papal empire would have existed in reality.
England and France were, at the time, in the midst of that interminable series of wars which grew out of the attempts of the French kings to absorb in their growing state the territories of their independent vassals, of which the kings of England held so large a share. Philip IV., the Fair, was one of the ablest of the Capetian kings who were carrying on this inherited policy, and, at the same time, one of the most unscrupulous and determined. The necessities of the war compelled both him and Ed-ward I. of England to demand taxes from the clergy of their kingdoms in a more regular way than had ever been done before. It was near the time, as we know, of the completion of that economic revolution which substituted money for cruder forms of payment in produce and services. Taxation was consequently beginning to assume a great importance among the resources of a state. The clergy, exempt by universal consent, in view of their religious services to the state, from personal military service, had insisted, also, upon an exemption from taxation unless the tax were specially sanctioned by themselves or by the pope. But the large proportion of the landed wealth of the country which was in their hands made the question of their submission, like the other classes, to the independent taxing power of the state, a very serious one for the new governments, especially for one which was endeavoring to attain independence of the feudal nobles, and neither Philip nor Edward was disposed to allow this exemption. Boniface VIII., appealed to by some of the clergy in support of their rights, issued his bull, " Clericis laicos," in which, in the strongest terms, he forbade any prince or state to collect any unauthorized taxes from the clergy, and commanded all prelates to resist such extortion to the utmost.
The struggle with Philip, begun in this way, involved before its close more than one other point concerning the right of the pope to interfere in the internal affairs of the state. They were the old claims of the papacy pushed to an extreme point. The bull, " Unam Sanctam," issued in 1302, gives expression in the fullest and plainest terms to the theory of papal supremacy and the grounds on which it was made to rest. It says : " When the apostles said, ` Behold here are two swords ! ' . . . the Lord did not reply that this was too much, but enough. Surely he who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter wrongly interprets the word of the Lord when He says : ' Put up thy sword in its scab, bard.' Both swords, the spiritual and the material, there-fore, are in the power of the church ; the one, indeed, to be wielded for the church, the other by the church ; the one by the hand of the priest, the other by the hand of kings and knights, but at the will and sufferance of the priest." . . " For, the truth bearing witness, the spiritual power has to establish the earthly power, and to judge it if it be not good. Thus concerning the church and the ecclesiastical power is verified the prophecy of Jeremiah : ' See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms,' and the other things which follow. Therefore if the earthly power err it shall be judged by the spiritual power ; but if the lesser spiritual power err, by the greater. But if the greatest, it can be judged by God alone, not by man, the apostle bearing witness. A spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is judged by no one. This authority, more-over, even though it is given to man and exercised through man, is not human but rather divine, being given by divine lips to Peter and founded on a rock for him and his successors through Christ himself, whom he has confessed ; the Lord himself saying to Peter : ' Whatsoever thou shalt bind,' etc. Whoever, therefore, resists this power, thus ordained by God, resists the ordination of God." . . . "Indeed we declare, announce, and define, that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff."
There was nothing particularly new in these pretensions. They had been maintained by the church for the last two hundred years. But they were expressed in clearer and stronger terms than ever before, and they drew the line sharply between the old claims of the papacy and the new spirit of the nations. The significant thing about the contest was the answer which the nations made to these assertions.
Philip seems to have realized the new force which he had behind him, and he appealed directly to the nation. In 1302, as we know, he summoned the first Estates General of France, and submitted to them the papal demands. Each of the three Estates responded separately, supporting the king and denying the right of the pope to any supremacy over the state. The clergy, perhaps, took this position somewhat reluctantly and with a divided allegiance, but it illustrates in a striking way the strength of public opinion in favor of the state that they did so at all, and many of them undoubtedly supported the king from real conviction.
The result in England was the same. It has been said by some that on the point of taxation Edward yielded to the pope, but this is certainly a misunderstanding of the case. It is true that, in 1297, he effected a temporary reconciliation with the church, but immediately afterward he exercised again his asserted right of taxation, and when he finally abandoned it he yielded not to the church but to the general opposition throughout the nation to the exercise of an unconstitutional power, and agreed that no orders in the state should be taxed except by their own consent. This is a very different thing from recognizing the claims of the bull " Clericis laicos," which he distinctly refused to do. In 1299, when the pope asserted that Scotland was a fief of the papacy and must not be at-tacked by the English, Edward showed no disposition to yield his rights, and he had the support of the kingdom in his resistance.
One incident of this contest must not be omitted, for it is the beginning of an idea which came in time to be of the utmost importance. Philip made a formal appeal from the pope, on the grounds of Boniface's heresy and immorality of life, to a general council and a more lawful pope. The appeal, at the moment, came to nothing, but the idea that a council had the right to judge of the legitimacy of a pope was destined in the next age to be the starting-point of a most promising and hopeful at-tempt to reconstruct the constitution of the church.
The reign of Boniface came to an end with his death, in 1303, as the result of an assault upon his person by his enemies. He had failed in every attempt which he had made to control political affairs wherever the new national spirit had begun to be alive. It was the close of an epoch in the history of papacy indeed. The old triumphs of the church over the state could no longer be repeated. The forces of modern politics which have reduced the papacy to political insignificance were already beginning to stir.
After the death of Boniface, Philip IV. determined to prevent any recurrence of such a conflict in the future, by subjecting the papacy directly to his own power, and, after a brief interval, the reign of Benedict XI., he se-cured the election of a French prelate, Clement V., and the papacy passed for a period of seventy years under French influence. The outward sign of this was the removal of the residence of the popes, and so the practical capital of the ecclesiastical world, to Avignon, a city of Provence on the borders of France. The college of cardinals was filled with French prelates, and during a part of the time the kings of France, or the French kings of Naples, almost openly controlled the papal policy.
It is not difficult to imagine the result. International politics in the modern sense had not yet arisen, but the first faint traces were then to be seen of the conflicting interests, which were in the course of time, when the internal affairs of the states had been brought into more settled shape, to lead to modern inter-state politics. The nations were beginning to be jealous of one another and to fear encroachment. At least each government had objects which it was eagerly striving to accomplish within its own territories, which other states might aid or with which they might interfere. So long as the papacy continued to occupy the position of an umpire, above all the states and not immediately under the influence of any one of them, and so long as it had no manifest political interests of its own to serve, it might retain something of its imperial position. The spirit of the new nations might resent its direct interference in their local affairs, but they were not so likely to resent, indeed they would be often glad to avail themselves of its inter-national influence. The true policy for the papacy to pursue, after the rise of the nations, was to keep itself as free as it could from all special politics, and to improve and strengthen in every possible way its international power.
The papacy at Avignon was, on the contrary, virtually a complete abdication of this position. It was almost as sudden and final a destruction of the imperial power of the popes as the ruin of the Hohenstaufen family had been of the imperial position of the German kings. As soon as the other states of Europe saw, or thought they saw, that the popes were under the control of France, that their undisputed ecclesiastical rights, and their pre-tensions in other directions were being used to serve the ends of French politics, that the popes were really the tools of the kings of France, then the national spirit was roused at once in opposition to papal interference, and the popes lost even the respect and obedience of the other states. The place in general European affairs, from which the papacy descended when it went to Avignon it was never able to recover. This was in reality due of course to the growth of new powers and new conditions, a new general atmosphere, which made it impossible to return to the old, but the historical facts which brought these new forces to bear upon the papal pretensions were the defeat of Boniface in his conflict with Philip, and the consequent "Babylonian captivity" at Avignon.
England, for example, was at war with France during nearly the whole of this period, and the feeling that the papacy was the close ally of her enemy had something beyond question to do with the repeated and stringent measures which were taken in the reign of Edward III., to limit the right of the pope to interfere even in the ecclesiastical affairs of the country, in the statute of " pro-visors" against his right to make appointments to English benefices, and of " praemunire " against appeals to the papal courts, and in the refusal of the nation to pay any longer the annual tribute which was the mark of the feudal dependence of England upon the papacy, established by the homage of King John.
Still more clearly does this appear in the case of Germany. When the Avignonese popes, John XXII. and Benedict XII., asserted their right to decide a disputed election, or to determine the right to the throne of a regularly elected candidate, manifestly in the interest of the political ambition of the king of France, then even weakened and divided Germany was aroused by the spirit of national independence and rejected with decision the pope's pretensions. The electors drew up a solemn declaration, in 1338, which in the same year received the sanction of a numerously attended diet at Frankfort, reciting that the king derived his right to rule from God alone and not from the pope, and that his regular election carried with it the full power to exercise all the prerogatives of king and emperor, whatever rights of crowning and consecration might justly belong to the pope.1
But other results of the captivity at Avignon threatened the papacy with a far more serious disaster than the loss of its political influence. Grave discontent began to arise, and earnest criticism began to be heard within the church itself against the papal policy. The progress of events increased this feeling and gave it stronger and more manifest grounds until, for a short time, it threatened to overthrow even the ecclesiastical supremacy of the pope, and to revolutionize the entire constitution of the church.
Increasing luxury and nepotism were characteristic of the papacy at Avignon. The wasteful extravagance of a court, far more like that of a prodigal sovereign of the world than of a Christian bishop, demanded an increased income to meet its abnormally heavy expenses. The ordinary revenues would not suffice, and the ingenuity of successive popes needed to be exercised to devise new forms of taxation, or rather new expedients by which money could be exacted from the clergy of Europe. This necessity led to a great enlargement of the papal right of appointment to local benefices throughout the Catholic world, a method of extortion which was doubly offensive, not merely because of the large sums thus extorted in annates and other fees, but also because of its interference with the independence and self-government of the local churches. The practice excited no little out-cry and opposition. It had a decisive influence in leading to the adoption of the statutes against such practices in England under Edward III., and elsewhere ecclesiastical bodies made strong protest and drew up formal declarations against the rights assumed by the popes.
This spirit of discontent and criticism was strengthened from another side. Earnest minds could not fail to condemn, as contrary to a genuine Christianity, the luxury and immorality which prevailed at Avignon and influenced the whole church from that centre. Wycliffe's party in England drew no little aid from the prevalence of this feeling. But an earlier rebellion in the church on this point had been attended with even more extreme views. A body within the Franciscan order, earnestly devoted to a simple and spiritual life, had adopted an idea which implied that, following the example of Christ and the apostles, " evangelical poverty " was a Christian duty demanded of all the clergy, and with this other equally revolutionary notions. Condemned by the popes as heretics, the more irreconcilable of them, with some others of like mind, took refuge with Lewis of Bavaria, who gathered about him in this way a small literary army, far more logical and thorough in their opposition to the papal demands than he was himself. In his service, the ablest of these writers, William of Ockham and Marsiglio of Padua, proclaimed doctrines which were revolutionary not merely of the world's ecclesiastical government of that time, but also of its political governments, and which were in many remarkable ways anticipations of ideas which have come to prevail in modern times. On the special point at issue between Lewis and the pope, they denied in the clearest terms the right of the pope to centre in himself the powers of the church, and maintained the superiority of a general council.
During the residence of the popes at Avignon, there was, therefore, a growing dissatisfaction and spirit of criticism both within and without the ranks of the clergy, a disposition to question the right of the papacy as an absolute monarchy over the church, as well as to deny its right to assume the direction of political affairs, and there were also, a still more significant fact, clear demands for a general council to judge and control the pope. But as yet these signs of coming civil war had been seen only here and there as connected with special cases of dispute between the pope and some particular opponent. Men's minds had been somewhat familiarized with these new theories of church government, as possibilities, but there was as yet no general acceptance of them, no European demand for a universal council to exercise supreme functions in the church, and to take the papacy under its control. It was the Great Schism, and the events connected with it, the period in church history which followed the Babylonian captivity at Avignon, which transformed these isolated demands for a general council, used as a weapon in special contests with the papacy, as a threat to be held over the pope, into a strong demand of all Europe which could not be resisted.
It was the condition of affairs in Italy, rather than any sense of duty to the church universal, which moved Gregory XI. to return from Avignon to Rome. The absence of the popes had thrown the papal states into anarchy and confusion. Revolution and counter-revolution had followed one another in rapid succession, now democratic in spirit and again papal it was in this period that the experiments of Rienzo were made and, in 1377, Gregory XI. feared that his power in Italy would be entirely lost if he did not attempt its recovery in person. But the French cardinals were not reconciled to the change. They were not willing to leave the luxury and quiet of Avignon and to subject themselves to the tumultuous rudeness of Rome. The loud demand of the Romans that an Italian pope should be elected, on the death of Gregory XI. in 1378, and popular tumults connected with the election of Urban VI., gave them an opportunity to assert that the election had been forced upon them by bodily fear and was not there-fore a free and legal election. On this ground they withdrew in the end all the cardinals who had elected Urban abandoned him and elected one of their own number pope, who took the name of Clement VII., and returned to Avignon. Urban on his side created a number of Italian cardinals, and the papacy had now two heads as well as two capitals. The nations of Europe chose sides solely as their political interests led them. France, of course, supported Clement; England, of course, supported Urban. Naples could not help opposing the Roman. pope, nor Germany the pope who was under the influence of France. There were not merely two popes and two capitals, but the whole church was rent in twain, and the question whether there was in the church, as distinguished from the pope, a power to re-organize its government and to compel even the papacy to submit to reformation, was forced upon the attention of every man who had any interest in public affairs.
In the prevailing temper of the time, the discussion of this question showed a rapid tendency to break with the traditions and historical theories of the church. It was a time when the ties of the church universal seem to have been loosed in every direction and new and strange notions in theology and concerning practical religion made their appearance on every hand. Wild dreams and ideas that would one day bear good fruit were mingled together Wycliffe and the Beguines, the Brethren of the Common Life and the Flagellants, and many forgotten names of the sort, good and bad. It was a favorable atmosphere for the rapid growth of revolutionary schemes for the settlement of the difficulty which the Schism forced upon the church. The whole tendency for centuries in the ecclesiastical world had been to centre the life and power of the church more and more completely in the pope. The doctrine of papal infallibility and of the pope's absolute headship of the church may not have been so explicitly stated as a necessary article of faith as now, but it was practically no less clearly held or firmly believed by the general body of churchmen. In the circumstances of the time, this historical tendency was for-gotten by very many. It was argued that it mattered little how many popes there were. There might be ten or twelve. Each land might have its own independent pope. It might be the will of God that the papacy should remain permanently divided.'
But the ideas which won the general acceptance of Europe were not so extreme as these, though really as revolutionary. A group of earnest and able men, of whom John Gerson, of the University of Paris, is the best known, began to advance ideas which, though they broke with the special form which the unity of the church had been assuming in the headship of the pope, did not break with the real spirit of that unity, and which consequently furnished a more solid doctrinal foundation for their plan of reformation than was possible for the wilder ideas of others, and commanded general approval for it. According to these theories, the church universal is superior to the pope. It may elect him if the cardinals fail to do so ; it may depose one whom the cardinals have elected. The pope is an officer of the church, and, if he abuses his office, he may be treated as an enemy, as a temporal prince would be in a similar case. The highest expression of the unity and power of this church universal is a general council. This is superior to the pope, may meet legitimately without his summons, and he must obey its decisions.
The first attempt to carry into practice the appeal from the pope to a general council, and so to end the Schism, was in the Council of Pisa, in 1409. Long negotiations for the purpose of restoring peace to the church in some other way had failed. The attempt to get both popes to abdicate, and so make way for the election of a new pope for the whole church, had shortly before seemed about to succeed. Each of the two popes Benedict XIII., of Avignon, and Gregory XII., of Bome had been elected under solemn promise to re-sign if his opponent could be brought to do the same. But neither was willing to take the first step, and it soon became evident that the Schism could not be healed in this way. France then withdrew its support from Benedict who took refuge in Spain. The majority of the cardinals of both popes abandoned their masters and united in a call for a general council to assemble in Pisa in 1409.
But the Council of Pisa did not command universal acceptance. Political and other considerations had retained a few states in the obedience of each of the popes. The council was itself injudicious and hasty, and did not sufficiently fortify its position against obvious objections. It deposed the two contending popes and sanctioned the election of a new one by the cardinals present, Alexander V.--who died in 1410, and was succeeded by John XXIII. but it separated without providing for the real reformation of the church.
The situation was made in reality worse than it had been before. There were now three popes, each claiming to be the sole rightful pope, and each recognized as such by some part of the church. But the council had served the great purpose of bringing out, more clearly than ever before, the arguments on which its right to act rested, and of convincing Europe at large that, if it could be properly managed, a really universal council, as the voice of the united church, was the proper method of solving the difficulty.
In the next stage of events the emperor-elect, Sigismund, as representing, upon the political side, the unity of Christendom, took a leading part. The political situation in Italy forced John XXIII. to depend upon the emperor's aid, and Sigismund was therefore able to make the representatives of the pope agree to a council which was to meet in the imperial city of Constance, and so outside of Italy, on November 1, 1414. This agreement Sigismund made haste to announce publicly to all Europe and to invite proper persons from all states to be present. After a fruitless attempt to change the place of meeting, John was compelled to acquiesce, and a few weeks later issued a formal summons for the council.
Sanctioned in this way by the Roman emperor and by the pope, whom the greater part of the church recognized, and supported by the deep and universal desire of Europe for union and reformation, the council which assembled at Constance was to all intents and purposes a universal one, and appeared to have a most encouraging prospect of success. Its membership reached five thousand. All Europe was represented from the beginning, with insignificant exceptions. Its spirit, too, was in contrast with that of the Council of Pisa. While resolutely determined to do away with the Schism, it was directed with caution and good judgment.
John XXIII. failed to control the council as he had hoped to do, and was finally forced to recognize its right to depose him. This was done on May 29, 1415. On July 4th the council listened to the abdication, voluntary in form, of Gregory XII. Benedict XIII. refused to abdicate, but finally his supporters all withdrew from his obedience and joined the council, and on July 26, 1417, he was formally deposed.
The church was now reunited in a way that was satisfactory to all Christendom, but it was without a head, and measures of moral reform were still to be adopted. The council was thus brought to the necessity of deciding a question upon which there was the widest difference of opinion whether it should proceed first to the election of a pope or to a thorough reformation of the abuses in the government of the church, of which there was so general complaint. The earnest reform party, supported by the emperor, desired to make sure of the reformation before the choice of a pope. The cardinals, less interested in reformation and fearing a diminution of their influence, demanded the immediate election of a pope. They were supported by the Italian representatives and by many who really desired reform, but in whom the conservative feeling of the necessity of a head to the real constitution of the church was a stronger motive. The reform efforts of the council were greatly weakened by dissension. Various parties urged special measures of their own which were not acceptable to others. Local and national interests were opposed to one another. Political influences were also at work and agreement on details seemed impossible. Finally a compromise was adopted. Certain reform measures of a general character on which all could unite were to be first decreed by the council and then a pope was to be elected. In accordance with this agreement five such reform decrees were adopted in October, 1417, and on November 11th the cardinals, to whom the council had added thirty representatives, chosen from its membership for this purpose, elected a new pope, Martin V.
The new pope was able to prevent any further action of importance by the council, and it dissolved on April 22, 1418, having reunited the church but not having reformed it. The most important of the general reform measures which it had adopted was one providing for the regular recurrence of such general councils, the first in five years, the second in seven, and thereafter at intervals of ten years. Could this decree have been enforced, together with the declarations of the council adopted in its early sessions of the superiority of a general council over the pope, which gave expression to ideas very generally prevalent at the time, the whole constitution of the church would have been changed and all its subsequent history would have been different. The later absolutism of the pope would have been impossible, the papacy would have been transformed into a limited monarchy, and the supreme power would have been a representative assembly meeting at regular intervals, and having final legislative and judicial authority. But so favorable a moment as that presented by the Council of Constance for accomplishing this result never recurred, and the failure of that council to secure the subjection of the pope was fatal to the plan.
The first two councils, provided for by the decree of the Council of Constance, met at the appointed time but were able to accomplish nothing. The first was held at Pavia, in 1423, but was very thinly attended, and, though it manifested the same desire to limit the power of the pope, Martin V. dissolved it before it had adopted any important measures. It selected Basel as the place for the meeting of the next council, which would assemble in 1431. At that time the threatening successes of the Hussites and the apparent impossibility of overcoming them by force seemed to make a general council especially necessary, but the attendance at its opening was small and was at no time large. Its spirit, however, was most determined and its measures most thoroughgoing. It gave itself a democratic organization by admitting the lower clergy to an equal vote with the higher ; it reaffirmed the decrees of the Council of Constance in regard to the superiority of a council over the pope ; denied his right to dissolve the council without its own consent ; declared that the payment of annates and of all fees to the pope on appointment to benefices should cease ; provided for local synods to carry throughout the church the idea of government by councils; attempted to change the method of electing the popes by the cardinals ; and assumed the right to exercise in several points special papal prerogatives. But it did not gain general recognition for these assumptions. The pope, Eugenius IV. , after a premature attempt to dissolve it, had been compelled by political considerations for some time to recognize it as a council, but finally he was able to declare it dissolved and to open another council under his own control in Italy. The Council of Basel in turn deposed the pope and elected one of its own in his place. But the more influential of the prelates gradually went over to the side of Pope Eugenius. The council degenerated rapidly, and finally disappeared, a complete failure.
One other phase of this later contest is of considerable interest. At the moment when the discord between the Council of Basel and the pope threatened a new schism in the church, France and Germany took advantage of the opportunity to declare in advance their neutrality in the coming struggle, and to signify their acceptance of such decrees of the council as would secure a good degree of independence to their national churches. The French national synod, held at Bourges, in 1438, recognized the superior authority of councils, declared that they ought to be held every ten years, enacted that reservations, annates, and appeals to Rome in ordinary cases should cease, and adopted measures of moral reform. The following year very similar provisions were adopted for Germany by the Diet at Mainz. Such a result was in truth a natural consequence of the position taken by the councils and of the general current of opinion which had supported them, and if that position had been success-fully established and the constitution of the church permanently modified, it would inevitably have led to the formation of locally independent and self-governing national churches. As it was, this attempt also came to nothing.'
This indicates the real significance of the crisis through which the church had passed. It had been a most serious danger to the papacy, looked at from the point of view of its historical development. Drawing its strength and life undoubtedly from the same sources from which the great political movement whose history we have followed had drawn, being in fact the same forces as those which had constructed the new nations transferred now to the sphere of ecclesiastical government, and striving to work the same revolution there which they had worked in temporal governments, unconscious of course of this relationship, unconscious also very largely of the end which would have been reached, but with a growing clearness of apprehension, this movement threatened to transform as completely the Roman Catholic monarchy as it had transformed that other great medieval creation, the feudal system. The peculiar situation of things within the church — the Babylonian captivity and the Great Schism gave an opportunity for the translation of the political ideas of the age into ecclesiastical ideas. The growing importance of the representative system of Diets and Estates General in national governments made the appeal to a general council in the government of the church seem a perfectly natural resource in time of difficulty, especially to lawyers, and university teachers, and even to the great lay public. It might not seem so simple and manifest an expedient to those immediately concerned in the government of the church and directly interested in its traditions or devoted to them. But the strength of the reform movement was not drawn from the world of the cardinals and the great prelates, but from the universities and the doctors, and the non-ecclesiastical world.
This movement was, in truth, strong enough to have succeeded, and it almost succeeded. If the Council of Constance had continued to the end cautious and well-managed, if there could have come to the front some great leader, strong enough to have persuaded its members to lay aside their local differences for the general cause, and to hold back outside political interests from interference, and who could have defined clearly the specific measures necessary to realize the policy which unquestionably the majority desired, he could have succeeded in all probability in remodelling the government of the church. It seems an almost unparalleled fact that the crisis did not produce such a leader.
It may be objected that such a revolution would have been too sudden to effect a permanent change, that only those revolutions are really successful which are the culmination, however sudden in appearance, of a long pre-pared change. The principle is certainly correct, but the application here is doubtful, for the line of preparation is manifestly to be traced not in the ecclesiastical but in the political world.
Knowing, as we do now, the events which followed on so rapidly in the history of the church the revolution so much more violent and far-reaching of the sixteenth century we cannot help asking the question : What would have been the result had the Council of Constance succeeded where it failed ? and allowing the imagination to answer. It seems certain that one result would have been the formation of a government for the church like that which was taking shape at the same time in England, a limited monarchy with a legislature gradually gaining more and more the real control of affairs. It seems al-most equally certain that with this the churches of each nationality would have gained a large degree of local in-dependence and the general government of the church have assumed by degrees the character of a great federal and constitutional state. If this had been the case, it is hard to see why all the results which were accomplished by the reformation of Luther might not have been attained as completely without that violent disruption of the church, which was necessary and unavoidable as the church was then constituted. Whether that would have been on the whole a better result may be left without discussion.
If this is in a way fanciful history, the results which did follow were real enough. The theory of the papal supremacy was too strongly established in the church to be overthrown by an opposing theory only half-believed in by its supporters. The logic of the papal position is immensely strong if its starting-point be accepted, and to the great body of the leading churchmen of the times, whose training was wholly in speculative and theoretical lines, it seemed in the end invincible. It would have demanded a more united and abler commanded attack to have destroyed it. The only result of the attempt, so far as the church constitution is concerned, was to make the position of the papal absolutism stronger than it had been before, and to bring to an end forever any serious opposition to it. The next great council, that of Trent, which was so completely under the control of the pope as to give ground for the sneer that the Holy Spirit by which it was inspired came every day from Rome in a mail-bag, was the legitimate successor of the Council of Constance, and the dogma of papal infallibility, pro-claimed by the Council of the Vatican, in 1870, was only an official formulation of the principle established when the movement for reformation by councils in the fifteenth century failed.
The fact that the Council of Constance did actually appear to depose popes and to provide during a brief interval for the government of the church gives the Catholic theologian of to-day who maintains the traditional position but little difficulty. In his eyes, Gregory XII. was the only one of the three popes who had a rightful title. The assembly at Constance was no real general council, only a synod, until Gregory issued his bull of convocation, and its acts passed before that date, including its declaration of the superior power of a council, are all wanting in legislative validity. By convoking the council and then abdicating his office Gregory relieved the church from great embarrassment, and first gave to the council a legitimate position, so that it could act with some prospect of success for the reunion of the church. By accepting the acts of Gregory, the council formally recognized him as the only legitimate pope, and, by inference, with him his predecessors during the Schism.' Thus the theory is perfectly preserved. What-ever right the council had in the premises it got not by virtue of its existence as a general council, but indirectly, from the concessions of the pope.
For the moral reformation of the church the age of the councils accomplished nothing of real value. Most of the old abuses of which the people complained remained unchecked. Avarice and immorality continued, unabashed, in the papal court, and before the close of the century the papacy was to reach a depth of moral de-gradation equalled only in the tenth century. A considerable proportion of the clergy throughout Europe imitated the practices of Italy, and, heedless of the warnings they were constantly receiving, continued to strengthen the current of rebellion.
Politically the position of the papacy was greatly changed, but it remained no less controlled, perhaps even more controlled, by political considerations. The day when it could hope to carry out the plans of Gregory VII., and Innocent III., and Boniface VIII., and to establish a monarchy, imperial in the political as it was in the ecclesiastical world, would never return again. But the pope was a king as well as a bishop. He was the temporal sovereign of a little state in Italy. With the rise of international politics and the beginning of the modern conflict of state with state for European supremacy which we have already noticed, Italy was the first battle-ground of all nations. It was the practically unoccupied piece of ground lying first at hand in which each might hope to gain some great advantage over the others. In this struggle of armies and diplomacy the popes had an immediate and vital interest. They must enter into it on the same footing and with the same weapons as Austria or Spain, and this necessity of constantly striving to preserve the independence of their little kingdom in the turmoil of European politics, or to recover it when lost, has been a controlling element in the papal policy down to the reign of Leo XIII., a perpetually harassing and disabling necessity, judged from the point of view of its religious position.