The Church

Rome was taken and sacked but never occupied by the barbarians. It still belonged to the Romans: it still preserved the traditions and the genius of empire. Whatever may have been the origin of British or Celtic Christianity, it is certain that the English were converted by the Papists; the first Archbishop of Canterbury was an Italian; his converts became missionaries, entered the vast forests of pagan Germany, and brought nations to the feet of Rome. The alliance of Pepin and the Roman See placed also the French clergy under the dominion of the Pope, who was acknowledged by Alcuin, the adherent of Charlemagne, to be the "Pontiff of God, vicar of the apostles, heir of the fathers, prince of the Church, guardian of the only dove without stain."

The ordinance of clerical celibacy increased the efficacy of the priesthood and the power of the Pope. The ranks of the clergy were recruited, generation after generation, from the most intelligent of the lay men in the lower classes, and from those among the upper classes who were more inclined to intellectual pursuits than to military life. These men, divided as they were from family connections, ceased to be Germans, Englishmen, or Frenchmen, and became catholic or universal hearted men, patriots of religion, children of the Church. And those enthusiastic laymen who had adopted an ascetic isolated life, or had gathered together in voluntary associations; those hermits and monks, who might have been so dangerous to the Established Church, were welcomed as allies. No mean jealousy in the Roman Church divided the priest and the prophet, as among the ancient Jews; the mullah and the dervish, as in the East at the present time. The monks were allowed to preach, and to elect their own monastery priests; they were gradually formed into regular orders, and brought within the discipline of ecclesiastic law. The monks of the East, who could live on a handful of beans, passed their lives in weaving baskets, in prayer and meditation. But the monks of the West, who lived in a colder climate, required a different kind of food; and as at first they had no money, they could obtain it only by means of work. They laboured in the fields in order to live and that which had arisen from necessity was continued as a part of the monastic discipline. There were also begging friars, who journeyed from land to land. These were the first travellers in Europe. Their sacred character preserved their lives from all robbers, whether noble or plebeian, and the same exemption was accorded to those who put on the pilgrim's garb. The smaller pilgrimage was that to Rome the greater that to the Holy Land, by which the palmers obtained remission of their sins, and also were shown by the monks of Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine, many interesting relics and vestiges of supernatural events. They were shown the barns which Joseph had built, vulgarly called the Pyramids; the bush which had burnt before Moses and was not consumed, and the cleft out of which he peeped at the "back parts" of Jehovah; the pillar of salt which was once Lot's wife, and which, though the sheep continually licked it out of shape, was continually restored to its pristine form; the ruins of the temple which Samson overthrew; the well where Jesus used to draw water for his mother when he was a little boy, and where she used to wash his clothes; the manger in which he was born, and the table on which he was circumcised; the caves in which his disciples concealed themselves during the crucifixion, and the cracks in the ground produced by the earthquake, which followed that event; the tree on which Judas hanged himself, and the house in which he resided, which was surrounded by the Jews with a wall that it might not be injured by the Christians.

It was not only the rich who undertook this pilgrimage; many a poor man begged his way to the Holy Land. When such a person was ready to depart, the village pastor clad him in a cloak of coarse black serge, with a broad hat upon his head, put a long staff in his hand, and hung round him a scarf and script. He was conducted to the borders of the parish in solemn procession, with cross and holy water the neighbours parted from him there with tears and benedictions. He returned with cockle-shells stitched in his hat, as a sign that he had been across the seas, and with a branch of palm tied on to his staff, as a sign that he had been to Jerusalem itself. He often brought also relics and beads; a bag of dust to hang at the bedside of the sick; a phial of oil from the lamp which hung over the Holy Sepulchre, and perhaps a splinter of the true cross.

When the Saracens conquered Palestine and Egypt, they did not destroy the memorials of Jesus, for they reverenced him as a prophet. Pious Moslems made also the pilgrimage to Jerusalem; and the Christians were surprised and edified to see the turbaned infidels removing their sandals like Moses on Mount Sinai, and prostrating themselves upon the pavement before the tomb. The caliphs were sufficiently enlightened to encourage and protect the foreign enthusiasts who filled the land with gold; and although the palmers were exempt from "passage" and "pontage" and other kinds of black-mail levied by the barons on lay travellers, they found it more easy and more safe to travel in Asia than in Europe. The passion for the pilgrimage to Palestine, which had gradually increased since the days of Helena and Jerome, burst forth as an epidemic at the close of the tenth century. The thousand years assigned in Revelation as the lifetime of the earth were about to expire. It was believed that Jesus would appear in Jerusalem, and there hold a grand assize: thousands bestowed their property upon the Church, and crowded to the Holy Land.

While they thus lived at Jerusalem and waited for the second coming, continually looking up at the sky and expecting it to open, there came instead a host of men with yellow faces and oblique slit-shaped eyes, who took the Holy City by assault, drove the Arabs out of Syria, killed many pilgrims, stripped them of all their money, and if they found none outside their bodies, probed them with daggers, or administered emetics in the hope of finding some within. When the pilgrims returned, they related their sufferings, and showed their scars. The anger of Christendom was aroused. A crusade was preached, and the enthusiasm which everywhere prevailed enabled the Church to exercise unusual powers. The Pope decreed that the men of the cross should be hindered by none. Creditor might not arrest; master might not detain. To those who joined the army of the Church, absolution was given; and paradise was promised in the Moslem style to those who died in the campaign. The tidings flew from castle to castle, and from town to town; there was not a land, however remote, which escaped the infection of the time. In the homely language of the monk of Malmesbury, "the Welshman left his hunting, the Scotch his fellowship with vermin, the Dane his drinking party, the Norwegian his raw fish." Europe was torn up from its foundations and hurled upon Asia. Society was dissolved. Monks, not waiting for the permission of their superiors, cast off their black gowns and put on the buff jerkin, the boots and the sword. The serf left his plough in the furrow, the shepherd left his flock in the field. Men servants and maid servants ran from the castle. Wives insisted upon going with their husbands, and if their husbands refused to take them, went with some one else. Murderers, robbers, and pirates declared that they would wash out their sins in pagan blood. In some cases, the poor rustic shod his oxen like horses, and placed his whole family in a cart, and whenever he came to a castle or a town, inquired whether that was Jerusalem. The barons sold or mortgaged their estates, indifferent about the future, hoping to win the wealth of Eastern princes with the sword. During two hundred years, the natives of Europe appeared to have no other object than to conquer or to keep possession of the Holy Land.

The Christian knights were at length driven out of Asia; in the meantime, Europe was transformed. The kings had taken no part in the first crusades; the estates of the barons had been purchased partly by them, and partly by the burghers. An alliance was made between Crown and Town. The sovereignty of the castle was destroyed. Judges appointed by the king travelled on circuit through the land; the Roman law, from being municipal became national; the barons became a nobility residing chiefly at the court; the middle class came into life. The burghers acknowledged no sovereign but the king: they officered their own trainbands; they collected their own taxes; they were represented in a national assembly at the capital. New tastes came into vogue; both mind and body were indulged with dainty foods. The man of talent, whatever his station, might hope to be ennobled; the honour of knighthood was reserved by the king, and bestowed upon civilians. The spices of the East, the sugar of Egypt and Spain, the silk of Greece and the islands were no longer occasional luxuries, but requirements of daily life. And since it was considered unworthy of a gentleman to trade, the profits of commerce were monopolised by the third estate. Education was required for mercantile pursuits; it was at first given by the priests who had previously taught laymen only to repeat the paternoster and the credo, and to pay tithes. Schools were opened in the towns, and universities became secular. The rich merchants took a pride in giving their sons the best education that money could obtain, and these young men were not always disposed to follow commercial pursuits. They adopted the study of the law, cultivated the fine arts, made experiments in natural philosophy, and were often sent by their parents to study in the land beyond the Alps, where they saw something which was in itself an education for the burgher mind -- merchants dwelling in palaces, seated upon thrones, governing great cities, commanding fleets and armies, negotiating on equal terms with the proudest and most powerful monarchs of the North.

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