Read CHAPTER III of History of the Intellectual Development of Europe‚ Volume II, free online book, by John William Draper, on



The quarrel had now become a mortal one. There was but one course for Boniface to take, and he did take it. He excommunicated the king. He deprived him of his throne, and anathematized his posterity to the fourth generation. The bull was to be suspended in the porch of the Cathedral of Anagni on September 8; but William de Nogaret and one of the Colonnas had already passed into Italy. They hired a troop of banditti, and on September 7 attacked the pontiff in his palace at Anagni. The doors of a church which protected him were strong, but they yielded to fire. The brave old man, in his pontifical robes, with his crucifix in one hand and the keys of St. Peter in the other, sat down on his throne and confronted his assailants. His cardinals had fled through a sewer. So little reverence was there for God’s vicar upon earth, that Sciarra Colonna raised his hand to kill him on the spot; but the blow was arrested by De Nogaret, who, with a bitter taunt, told him that here, in his own city, he owed his life to the mercy of a servant of the King of France a servant whose father had been burnt by the Inquisition. The pontiff was spared only to be placed on a miserable horse, with his face to the tail, and led off to prison. They meant to transport him to France to await the general council. He was rescued, returned to Rome, was seized and imprisoned again. On the 11th of October he died.

Thus, after a pontificate of nine eventful years, perished Boniface VIII. His history and his fate show to what a gulf Roman Christianity was approaching. His successor, Benedict XI., had but a brief enjoyment of power; long enough, however, to learn that the hatred of the King of France had not died with the death of Boniface, and that he was determined not only to pursue the departed pontiff’s memory beyond the grave, but also to effect a radical change in the papacy itself. A basket of figs was presented to Benedict by a veiled female. She had brought them, she said, from the Abbess of St. Petronilla. In an unguarded moment the pontiff ate of them without the customary precaution of having them previously tasted. Alas! what was the state of morals in Italy? A dysentery came on; in a few days he was dead. But the Colonnas had already taught the King of France how one should work who desires to touch the popedom; the event that had just occurred was the preparation for putting their advice into operation. The king came to an understanding with Bernard de Goth, the Archbishop of Bordeaux. Six conditions were arranged between them: 1. The reconciliation between the Church and the king; 2. The absolution of all persons engaged in the affair of Boniface; 3. Tenths from the clergy for five years; 4. The condemnation of the memory of Boniface; 5. The restoration of the Colonnas; 6. A secret article; what it was time soon showed. A swift messenger carried intelligence to the king’s partisans in the College of Cardinals, and Bernard became Clement V. “It will be long before we see the face of another pope in Rome!” exclaimed the Cardinal Matteo Orsini, with a prophetic instinct of what was coming when the conspiracy reached its development. His prophecy was only too true. Now appeared what was that sixth, that secret article negotiated between King Philip and De Goth. Clement took up his residence at Avignon in France. The tomb of the apostles was abandoned. The Eternal City had ceased to be the metropolis of Christianity.

But a French prelate had not bargained with a French king for the most eminent dignity to which a European can aspire without having given an equivalent. In as good faith as he could to his contract, in as good faith as he could to his present pre-eminent position, Clement V. proceeded to discharge his share of the obligation. To a certain extent King Philip was animated by an undying vengeance against his enemy, whom he considered as having escaped out of his grasp, but he was also actuated by a sincere desire of accomplishing a reform in the Church through a radical change in its constitution. He was resolved that the pontiffs should be accountable to the kings of France, or that France should more directly influence their conduct. To reconcile men to this, it was for him to show, with the semblance of pious reluctance, what was the state to which morals and faith had come in Rome. The trial of the dead Boniface was therefore entered upon, A.D. 1310. The Consistory was opened at Avignon, March 18. The proceedings occupied many months; many witnesses were examined. The main points attempted to be established by their evidence seem to have been these: “That Boniface had declared his belief that there was no such thing as divine law what was reputed to be such was merely the invention of men to keep the vulgar in awe by the terrors of eternal punishment; that it was a falsehood to assert the Trinity, and fatuous to believe it; that it was falsehood to say that a virgin had brought forth, for it was an impossibility; that it was falsehood to assert that bread is transubstantiated into the body of Christ; that Christianity is false, because it asserts a future life, of which there is no evidence save that of visionary people.” It was in evidence that the pope had said, “God may do the worst with me that he pleases in the future life; I believe as every educated man does, the vulgar believe otherwise. We have to speak as they do, but we must believe and think with the few.” It was sworn to by those who had heard him disputing with some Parisians that he had maintained “that neither the body nor the soul rise again.” Others testified that “he neither believed in the resurrection nor in the sacraments of the Church, and had denied that carnal gratifications are sins.” The Primicerio of St. John’s at Naples, deposed that, when a cardinal, Boniface had said in his presence, “So that God gives me the good things of this life, I care not a bean for that to come. A man has no more a soul than a beast. Did you ever see any one who had risen from the dead?” He took delight in deriding the blessed Virgin; “for,” said he, “she was no more a virgin than my mother.” As to the presence of Christ in the Host, “It is nothing but paste.” Three knights of Lucca testified that when certain venerable ambassadors, whose names they gave, were in the presence of the pope at the time of the jubilee, and a chaplain happened to invoke the mercy of Jesus on a person recently dead, Boniface appalled all around him by exclaiming, “What a fool, to commend him to Christ! He could not help himself, and how can he be expected to help others? He was no Son of God, but a shrewd man and a great hypocrite.” It might seem impossible to exceed such blasphemy: and yet the witnesses went on to testify to a conversation which he held with the brave old Sicilian admiral, Roger Loria. This devout sailor made the remark, in the pope’s presence, that if, on a certain occasion, he had died, it was his trust that Christ would have had mercy on him. To this Boniface replied, “Christ! he was no Son of God; he was a man, eating and drinking like ourselves; he never rose from the dead; no man has ever risen. I am far mightier than he. I can bestow kingdoms and humble kings.” Other witnesses deposed to having heard him affirm, “There is no harm in simony. There is no more harm in adultery than in rubbing one’s hands together.” Some testified to such immoralities and lewdness in his private life that the pages of a modern book cannot be soiled with the recital.

John XXII., elected after an interval of more than two years spent in rivalries and intrigues between the French and Italian cardinals, continued the residence at Avignon. His movements took a practical turn in the commencement of a process for the recovery of the treasures of Clement from the Viscount de Lomenie. This was only a part of the wealth of the deceased pope, but it amounted to a million and three quarters of florins of gold. The Inquisition was kept actively at work for the extermination of the believers in “The Everlasting Gospel,” and the remnant of the Albigenses and Waldenses. But all this had no other result than that which eventually occurred an examination of the authenticity and rightfulness of the papal power. With an instinct as to the origin of the misbelief everywhere spreading, the pope published bulls against the Jews, of whom a bloody persecution had arisen, and ordered that all their Talmuds and other blasphemous books should be burnt. A physician, Marsilio of Padua, published a work, “The Defender of Peace.” It was a philosophical examination of the principles of government, and of the nature and limits of the sacerdotal power. Its democratic tendency was displayed by its demonstration that the exposition of the law of Christianity rests not with the pope nor any other priest, but with a general council; it rejected the papal political pretensions; asserted that no one can be rightfully excommunicated by a pope alone, and that he has no power of coercion over human thought; that the civil immunities of the clergy ought to be ended; that poverty and humility ought alone to be their characteristics; that society ought to provide them with a decent sustenance, but nothing more: their pomp, extravagance, luxury, and usurpations, especially that of tithes, should be abrogated; that neither Christ nor the Scriptures ever gave St. Peter a supremacy over the other apostles; that, if history is to be consulted, St. Paul, and not St. Peter, was bishop of Rome indeed, it is doubtful whether the latter was ever in that city, the Acts of the Apostles being silent on that subject. From these and many other such arguments he drew forty-one conclusions adverse to the political and ecclesiastical supremacy of the pope.

It is not necessary to consider here the relations of John XXII. to Louis of Bavaria, nor of the antipope Nicholas; they belong merely to political history. But, as if to show how the intellectual movement was working its way, the pontiff himself did not escape a charge of heresy. Though he had so many temporal affairs on his hands, John did not hesitate to raise the great question of the “beatific vision.” In his opinion, the dead, even the saints, do not enjoy the beatific vision of God until after the Judgment-day. At once there was a demand among the orthodox, “What! do not the apostles, John, Peter, nay, even the blessed Virgin, stand yet in the presence of God?” The pope directed the most learned theologians to examine the question, himself entering actively into the dispute. The University of Paris was involved. The King of France declared that his realm should not be polluted with such heretical doctrines. A single sentence explains the practical direction of the dogma, so far as the interests of the Church were concerned: “If the saints stand not in the presence of God, of what use is their intercession? What is the use of addressing prayers to them?” The folly of the pontiff perhaps might be excused by his age. He was now nearly ninety years old. That he had not guided himself according to the prevailing sentiment of the lower religious orders, who thought that poverty is essential to salvation, appeared at his death, A.D. 1334. He left eighteen millions of gold florins in specie, and seven millions in plate and jewels.

Nor was this great movement limited to the clergy. In every direction the laity participated in it, pecuniary questions being in very many instances the incentive. Things had come to such a condition that it seemed to be of little moment what might be the personal character of the pontiff; the necessities of the position irresistibly drove him to replenish the treasury by shameful means. Thus, on Alexander’s death, Balthazar Cossa, an evil but an able man, who succeeded as John XXIII., was not only compelled to extend the existing simoniacal practices of the ecclesiastical brokers’ offices, but actually to derive revenue from the licensing of prostitutes, gambling-houses, and usurers. In England, for ages a mine of wealth to Rome, the tendency of things was shown by such facts as the remonstrance of the Commons with the crown on the appointment of ecclesiastics to all the great offices; the allegations made by the “Good Parliament” as to the amount of money drawn by Rome from the kingdom. They asserted that it was five times as much as the taxes levied by the king, and that the pope’s revenue from England was greater than the revenue of any prince in Christendom. It was shown again by such facts as the passage of the statutes of Mortmain, Provisors, and Praemunire, and by the universal clamour against the mendicant orders. This dissatisfaction with the clergy was accompanied by a desire for knowledge. Thousands of persons crowded to the universities both on the Continent and in England. In a community thus well prepared, Wiclif found no difficulty in disseminating his views. He had adopted in many particulars the doctrines of Berengar. He taught that the bread in the Eucharist is not the real body of Christ, but only its image; that the Roman Church has no true claim to headship over other churches; that its bishop has no more authority than any other bishop; that it is right to deprive a delinquent Church of temporal possessions; that no bishop ought to have prisons for the punishment of those obnoxious to him; and that the Bible alone is a sufficient guide for a Christian man. His translation of the Bible into English was the practical carrying out of that assertion for the benefit of his own countrymen. All classes of society were becoming infected. The government for a season vacillated. It was said that every other man in England was a Lollard. The Lollards were Wiclifites. But the Church at last persuaded the government to let her try her hand, and the statute “de herético comburendo” was passed A.D. 1400. William Sautree, a priest who had turned Wiclifite, was the first English martyr. John Badbee, a tailor, who denied transubstantiation accused of having said that, if it were true, there were 20,000 gods in every corn-field in England next suffered in like manner at the stake, in presence of the Prince of Wales. Lord Cobham, the head of the Lollards, who had denounced the pope as Anti-Christ, the Son of Perdition, was imprisoned; but escaping, became involved in political movements, and suffered at length the double penalty for heresy and treason, being hung on a gallows with a fire blazing at his feet. It is interesting to remark the social rank of these three early martyrs. Heresy was pervading all classes, from the lowest to the highest.

John XXIII. was compelled to abdicate. Gregory XII. died. Some time after, Benedict XIII. followed him. The council had elected Martin V., and in him found a master who soon put an end to its doings. It had deposed one pope and elected another; it had cemented the dominant creed with blood; it had authorized the dreadful doctrine that a difference in religious opinion justifies the breaking of plighted faith between man and man; it had attempted to perpetuate its own power by enacting that councils should be held every five years; but it had not accomplished its great object ecclesiastical reform.

The democratic influence pervading the Church showed no symptoms of abatement. The fate of Huss had been avenged in blood and fire by the Bohemian sword. Eugenius IV., now pontiff, was afraid that negotiations would be entered upon with the Hussite chiefs. Such a treaty, he affirmed, would be blasphemy against God and an insult to the pope. He was therefore bent on the prorogation of the council, and spared no means to accomplish his purpose. Its ostensible object was the reformation of the clergy; its real intent was to convert the papal autocracy into a constitutional monarchy. To this end it cited the pope, and, on his non-appearance, declared him and seventeen of the cardinals in contumacy. He had denounced it as the Synagogue of Satan; on its part, it was assuming the functions of the Senate of Christendom. It had prepared a great seal, and asserted that, in case of the death of the pope, the election of his successor was vested in it. It was its firm purpose never again to leave that great event in the hands of a conclave of intriguing Italian cardinals, but to intrust it to the representatives of united Christendom. After a due delay since he was declared in contumacy, the council suspended the pope, and, slowly moving towards its object, elected Amadeus of Savoy, Felix V., his successor. It was necessary that its pope should be a rich man, for the council had but slender means of offering him pecuniary support. Amadeus had that qualification. And perhaps it was far from being, in the eyes of many, an inopportune circumstance that he had been married and had children. We may discern, through the shifting scenes of the intrigues of the times, that the German hierarchy had come to the resolution that the election of the popes should be taken from the Italians and given to Europe; that his power should be restricted; that he should no longer be the irresponsible vicar of God upon earth; but the accountable chief executive officer of Christendom; and that the right of marriage should be conceded to the clergy. These are significantly Teutonic ideas.

At this point is the true end of the Italian system that system which had pressed upon Europe like a nightmare. The great men of the times the statesmen, the philosophers, the merchants, the lawyers, the governing classes those whose weight of opinion is recognized by the uneducated people at last, had shaken off the incubus and opened their eyes. A glimmering of the true state of things was breaking upon the clergy. No more with the vigour it once possessed was the papacy again to domineer over human thought and be the controlling agent of European affairs. Convulsive struggles it might make, but they were only death-throes. The sovereign pontiff must now descend from the autocracy he had for so many ages possessed, and become a small potentate, tolerated by kings in that subordinate position only because of the remnant of his influence on the uneducated multitude and those of feeble minds.