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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 125. Bishops.


Although the episcopate lost some of its ancient prestige through the centralization of power in the papacy, the incumbents of the great sees were fully as powerful as the greater secular princes. The old theory, that all bishops are the successors of Peter, had a waning number of open advocates. Bernard said19141914    De consid., II. 8; III. 4; IV. 8. After the resurrection, Peter went to Jesus on the lake. The lake signified the world and Peter has charge over the world, and each Apostle charge over his own little boat. James was satisfied with jurisdiction over Jerusalem and acknowledged Peter’s authority over the entire Church.. A hundred years later Grosseteste still held to the equal dignity of all bishops as being successors of Peter.19151915    Letter 23, Luard’s ed., principes ecclesiastici qui vicem Petri tenent.

By the law of Gregory IX., archbishops took an oath of allegiance to the pope, and Martin V. (1417–1431) extended it so as to include all bishops. Gregory IX. and other popes made this oath the ground of demands for military service. Long before this, in 1139, Innocent II. had addressed the bishops as occupying a relation to the papal see such as vassals occupy to their prince. They were to be known as "bishops by the grace of God and the Apostolic see."19161916    In a vigorous letter to Innocent, Bernard complained that bishops were deprived by the curia of the power to right wrongs in their own dioceses and to exercise the function of the keys. Ep., 178, Migne, 182. 310.19171917    See Döllinger, Papstthum, pp. 73, 409 sq. Innocent referred back to Leo I., who had written to a bishop of Thessalonica, vices enim nostras ita tuae credidimus charitati, ut in partem sis vocatus sollicitudinis, non in plenitudinem potestatis. Ep., VI. Migne, LIV. 671. a fixed rule by Nicolas III. (1277–1280).19181918    Lib. Sextus, I. 6, 16, Friedberg’s ed., II. 954 sqq.

After the Concordat of Worms, 1122, the appointment of bishops by princes and other lay patrons, in theory, ceased. Pope after pope declared the right of election belonged to the cathedral chapters. But, in fact, the elections were not free. Princes ignored the rights of the chapters and dictated the nominees, or had unsatisfactory elections set aside by appealing to Rome. In France and Spain, a royal writ was required before an election could be had and the royal acceptance of the candidate was interposed as a condition of consecration. In England, in spite of the settlement between Anselm and Henry I., the rights of the chapters were constantly set aside, and disputed elections were a constant recurrence. By John’s charter, the election took place in the chapter house of the cathedral, and the king might exercise the right of nomination and confirmation.19191919    Stubbs, Const. Hist., III. 303 sq., refers to "the shadowy freedom of election."e rule that a chapter, failing to reach a conclusion in three months, forfeited the right of election.

The law requiring a bishop to be at least thirty years old19201920    Third Lat., can. 3.nted bishop of Lincoln before he was twenty and for six years he enjoyed the revenues of the see without being ordained priest. He was afterwards made archbishop of York. Gerlach of Nassau was made archbishop at twenty. We have in this period no case quite so flagrant as that of Hugh of Vermandois, about 930, who, after poisoning the archbishop of Rheims, put his own son, a child of five, into the office. Disregard of the age-limit reached its height in the latter half of the fifteenth century. The larger sees were a tempting prize to noblemen, and Innocent III. felt it necessary to emphasize merit as a qualification for the episcopal office as against noble birth.

The important right of canonization was withdrawn from the bishops by Alexander III., 1181, and its exercise thenceforth restricted to the pope. Bishops were not popular material for sainthood. Otto of Bamberg is a shining exception.

From the time of Otto the Great, German bishops had the rank of princes.19211921    Hauck, III. 28 sqq., they were raised to the dignity of the peerage. The three German sees of Treves, Mainz, and Cologne probably enjoyed larger revenues and authority than any other sees in Western Christendom. They gave to the territory along the Rhine the name of the "priests’ alley." Their three prelates were among the seven electors of the empire. In Northern Germany, the see of Bremen retained its relative importance. Lund was the metropolitan see of Denmark and Scandinavia. In France, the ancient archbishoprics of Lyons and Rheims perpetuated the rank and influence of an earlier period. In England, after the see of Canterbury, Lincoln was the most influential diocese.

The cathedral and collegiate chapters grew in importance. In the earlier part of this period, it was still the custom for the canons belonging to a chapter to live under the same roof and eat at the same table. In the thirteenth century a great change took place. With the increasing wealth of the churches, the chapters threatened to assert the rights of distinct corporations, and to become virtually independent of the bishops.19221922    capitula clausa. Hurter, III. 355, pronounced the change a sign of decay.ork. The canons lived apart by themselves, supported by the revenues of their stalls and their portion of the cathedral income. No places were more often filled by papal appointment in the way of reservation and expectance.19231923    The prospective occupants of stalls were called canonici in herbis, canons on the commons; the actual incumbents, canonici in floribus et fructibus. The Third Lateran forbade the appointment of canons to stalls not yet vacant, but Alexander IV., 1254, sanctioned the appointment of as many as four such expectants. See Art. Kapitel, Herzog, X. 38.

The archdeacon, still called as of old, "the bishop’s eye," assisted the bishop in matters of diocesan administration, visited churches, made investigation of the sacred robes and vessels, adjudicated disputes, presided over synods, and, as provided for by the English Constitutions of Otho, instructed the clergy on the sacraments and other subjects. This official threatened to assume the rank of bishop-coadjutor, or even to become independent of the bishop.19241924    Third Lat., can. 6, Friedberg, pp. 188 sqq. Innocent III. recognized the archdeacon as the bishop’s representative. Hurter, III. 362 sq.. The large dioceses employed a plurality of them. As early as the eleventh century, the see of Treves had five, Cologne six, and Halberstadt thirty.19251925    Hauck, IV. 10 sqq. Metz, Toul, Mainz, etc., also employed a number of archdeacons.s of Lincoln, Leicester, Stow, Buckingham, Huntingdon, Northampton, Oxford, and Bedford. Archdeacons were often appointed at an early age, and it became the custom for them to go abroad to pursue the study of canon law before entering upon the duties of their office. They were inclined to allow themselves more liberties than other ecclesiastics, and John of Salisbury propounded the question whether an archdeacon could be saved. Among the better known of the English archdeacons were Thomas à Becket, Walter Map, archdeacon of Oxford, and Peter of Blois, archdeacon of London. Peter complained to Innocent III. that he received no financial support from the 120 churches of London.

A hard struggle was carried on to remove the hand of the secular power from church funds. Synods, local and oecumenical, threatened severest penalties upon any interference of this kind. In 1209, Otto IV. renounced the old right of spoliation—jus spolii or jus exuviarum,—whereby the secular prince might seize the revenues of vacant sees and livings, and appropriate them to himself. The Church was exempted by Innocent III. from all civil taxation at the hands of laymen, except as it was sanctioned by pope or bishop, and lay patrons were enjoined against withholding or seizing for their own use church livings to which they had the right of appointment.19261926    Third Lat., can. 19, Fourth Lat., can. 46. This principle was recognized by Frederick II., 1220. Also Narbonne, 1127, can. 12; Toulouse, 1229, can. 20 sq., etc.19271927    Third Lat., can. 15.ter his estate. Priests were exempt from personal taxation. For prescribed taxes, free gifts so called, were substituted. Peter of Blois commended the piety of certain princes who declined to levy taxes upon churches and other ecclesiastical institutions, even for necessary expenditures, such as the repair of city walls; but met them, if not from their own resources, from booty taken from enemies.19281928    Epp., 112, 121.

Besides the usual income accruing from landed endowments and tithes, the bishop had other sources of revenue. He might at pleasure levy taxes for the spiritual needs of his see,19291929    Subsidium charitativum. Third Lateran. at the dedication of churches and altars, and the benediction of cemeteries. Abaelard speaks of the throngs which assembled on such festal occasions, and the large offerings which were, in part, payments for the relaxation of penances.19301930    Ethica, 25, Migne, 178. 672 sq.

As for the pastoral fidelity and morals of the bishops, there was much ground for complaint, and there are also records of exemplary prelates. As a whole, the prelates were a militant class. No pope of this age wore armor as did John XII., and, at a later time, Julius II., though there were few if any pontiffs, who did not encourage war under the name of religion. Bishops and abbots were often among the bravest warriors and led their troops into the thickest of the fight both on European soil and under Syrian suns. Monks and priests wore armor and went into battle. When the pope asked for the release of the fighting bishop of Beauvais, whom Richard Coeur de Lion had seized, Richard sent him the bishop’s coat of mail clotted with blood and the words taken from the story of Joseph, "We found this. Is it not thy son’s coat?" Archbishop Christian of Mainz (d. 1183) is said to have felled, with his own hand, nine antagonists in the Lombard war, and to have struck out the teeth of thirty others. Absalom and Andrew of Lund were famous warriors.19311931    See Hurter, III. 292 sqq., for a list of warrior prelates. monk’s garb, to encourage bloodshed than he could have done in military dress.

The chastity of the bishops was often open to just suspicion. The Christian, already referred to, a loyal supporter of Barbarossa, kept a harem.19321932    Gregorovius, IV. 610.ffrey Riddel to the see of Ely was being prosecuted at the papal court, and Geoffrey was absent, the bishop of Orleans facetiously explained his absence by saying, "He hath married a wife, and therefore he cannot come."19331933    Stubbs’ ed. of Hoveden, II.58.ce-bishop of Liége, is perhaps the most notorious case. He was cited before Gregory X. at the second council of Lyons, and forced to resign. He was an illiterate, and could not read the book presented to him. For thirty years he had led a shameless life. Two abbesses and a nun were among his concubines and he boasted of having had fourteen children in twenty-two months. The worst seems to have occurred before he was made priest. Innocent IV. had been his strong friend. Salimbene tells the popular tale of his day that the saintly Cistercian, Geoffroi de Péronne, came back from the other world and announced that if he had accepted the bishopric of Tournai, as the pope urged him to do, he would have been burning in hell. From the pages of this chronicler we have the pictures of many unworthy prelates given to wine and pleasure, but also of some who were model pastors.19341934    Coulton’s ed., p. 264 sqq.

The prelates of Germany had no better reputation than those of Italy, and Caesar of Heisterbach19351935    Dial., II. 27, Strange’s ed., I. 99. who declared that he "could believe all things, but it was not possible for him to believe that any German bishop could be saved." When asked the reason for such a judgment, he replied, that the German prelates carried both swords, waged wars, and were more concerned about the pay of soldiers than the salvation of the souls committed to them.

The other side to this picture is not so apt to be presented. Chroniclers are more addicted to point out the scandalous lives of priests than to dwell upon clerical fidelity. There were faithful and good bishops and abbots. The names of Anselm of Canterbury and Hugh of Lincoln, Bernard and Peter the Venerable only need to be mentioned to put us on our guard against accepting the cases of unworthy and profligate prelates which have been handed down as indicating a universal rule.



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