A History of the Popes
by Joseph McCabe
Excerpts from: A History of the Popes by Joseph McCabe,
| 9th to 11th Century
SECTION - THREE
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The new Roman Empire which Charlemagne had created stretched from Western France to Saxony, from Denmark to Southern Italy. His attempt to invade and annex Spain, which was in the hands of the Arabs, had been an ignominious failure; and Russia and Prussia still lay beyond the frontiers of civilization. Too many historians repeat the conventional opinion that this creation of a large Empire and the admission of the spiritual powers to a share in governing it were long steps in the direction of a restoration of civilization. One smiles, for instance, at the fervour with which Alison Phillips greets it, in the article on France in the Encyclopedia Britannica, as an "early renaissance after centuries of barbarism and ignorance." All this rhetoric is out-weighed by the plain historical fact that the restoration of civilization did not begin until more than two centuries later, and that in most countries, especially Italy, still lower depths of barbarism and ignorance were to be reached. The creation of the Empire led to centuries of savage warfare in which character was further degraded. Some of the royal personages involved in these wars and other horrors enter vitally into our story of the Popes and it will be useful to premise a general explanation.
Charlemagne, the hero of a hundred love-stories and scurrilous legends in the Middle Ages, left behind him only one legitimate son, Louis the Pious, and a nephew, Bernard, whom he made King of Italy. Bernard rebelled, and Louis the Pious — he was, in fact, very devout and chaste — had his eyes cut out, and so brutally that he died. Louis had three sons: Lothar, whom he destined for the imperial title and the Kingdom of Italy; Pepin, who died before his father; and Louis, who was to have Germany. But in advanced years the pietist, losing his wife, married a beautiful and fascinating German girl, Judith, and, when she bore him a boy, the future Charles the Bald, she and her doting husband set out to make at whatever cost some principality for him out of the Empire.
We need not here follow all the plans and bitter quarrels that ensued. It is enough that in 833 the three elder sons took the field against their father, and one of the most sordid pages of that sordid time tells how Louis the Pious, in a hair-shirt, knelt before all the nobles and prelates of France and Germany in the chief church of Compiegne and signed a confession that he had been guilty of sacrilege, treason, and murder: which was a lie in three chapters. The charge of adultery against the fascinating Judith was probably sound. Historians leave it open whether the great prelates of France and Germany acted upon the counsel of Pope Gregory IV in this shameless desertion and vile treatment of their sovereign and their most generous benefactor, but we have reached an age when prelates did not take such momentous steps without consulting the Pope; and it was to the Pope's interest to conciliate the eldest son, Lothar, who was King of Italy. Thus the spiritual powers which were henceforward to direct the secular forces and curb the passions of princes and nobles monstrously betrayed their ideals, in their own material interest, within twenty years of the death of Charlemagne.
In all the wars, civil wars, and rebellions which filled the next hundred years and thoroughly demoralized France and Germany the Popes counted for little. We shall find the greatest Pope of the period, Nicholas I (858-867), moving heaven and earth to punish a royal love-affair while the Empire, broken into warring fragments, rapidly decays. The western half of it, which now definitely becomes France, under Charles the Bald, began to suffer from the Norman invasions, which compelled it to weaken its forces in Italy. In the confusion the dukes (military leaders) who had governed various provinces of Italy for the Emperor were encouraged to set up independent principalities and add materially to the deepening disorder of the times. While the forces which are so often represented as reconstructing civilization in Europe were thus absorbed in the savage destructiveness which was an inevitable result of the work of Charlemagne, the Papacy encountered a new and more terrible danger in the south. The Arabs had by the middle of the ninth century created a chain of brilliant civilizations which stretched from Spain almost to India. Here a comparatively narrow fringe of good land and towns had a broad background of desert life in which the crudest and most violent fanaticism was apt in all ages to spread like fire on a prairie, constantly destroying the efforts of the few Arabs who cared to settle there.
It was but a day's sail from what we now call Tunisia to Sicily, and the Saracen sailors soon discovered that a degenerate remnant of the Greeks lived there amid the marble palaces and faded opulence of the older Sicilian civilization. There is a story that they were invited to invade the island by a Greek officer who had, in the fashion of the time, had his nose cut off for violating a nun. However that may be, the African Muslim overran Sicily and began to venture up the coasts of Italy and make raids into the interior while they were still in their condition of semi-barbarous fanaticism. In the ninth century the sight of Christian institutions goaded them to savagery. They emasculated the monks and used to lay the nuns upon the altars of their chapels for outrage. Churches, vestments, and sacred vessels were defiled in the most odious ways. The news passed on to Rome that legions of devils were sweeping over South Italy and making for the rich churches of Rome.
The story of the Popes for the next thirty years contains little more than the struggle against the Saracens. From the death of Hadrian in 827 to 846 there is almost a blank record; although Pope Gregory IV ruled for seventeen years, (827-844). At his death there was one of the familiar election brawls, and, as the new Pope Sergius II, (844-847), made the disorder of the times an excuse for not announcing his accession to the Emperor Lothar, the young King of Italy, Louis II, was sent to punish his northern provinces. The Pope disarmed and crowned Louis, but he would not surrender to that monarch's ambitions in Italy, and the Frank left him to the mercy of the Saracens. Their fleets took and sacked the ports, Ostia and Portus, and sailed up the Tiber as far as Rome.
The human aspect of the piety, or the clerical ambition, which had spent vast sums in enriching ther churches and nothing on the defence of such churches as were not enclosed within the old city-walls, was now painfully disclosed. The Vatican region had become the most sacred and most richly endowed area in Europe, and it lay wide open to the invaders. St. Peter's and the other churches of this district were very thoroughly sacked and defiled. From the wall across the river the Romans saw the Africans tear the silver plates from the doors and bring out the thick plates of gold which had covered the altars. The golden High Altar was broken up and carried away to the ships. The solid gold statues, the gold and silver crosses, often containing priceless relics, the silks and tapestries and precious stones were taken from every church. The soldiers even broke into the alleged Tomb of the Apostle and smashed the large bronze casket which contained the bones that had been imposed upon Europe as the bones of Peter. A zealous Catholic noble in the north at last led a Lombard army and drove off the Saracens, but it was too late to save the sacred treasures.
Sergius died in the following year, and a strong and sensible Pope, Leo IV (847-853), occupied the throne for eight years. The public has become familiar in recent years with the phrase "the Leonine City," or the area across the Tiber which is now the Vatican City. This was the Leo who first had the secular sagacity to enclose it within stout walls and enable it to defy the Saracens. Other buildings arose in the area, and the house which the Popes had had in connection with St. Peter's — they lived habitually, of course, in the Lateran Palace on the other side of the city — became a modest Vatican Palace. St. Peter's and the other churches were re-furnished with a sumptuousness which leads Gregorovius to estimate that the Roman treasury at this time was richer than in the days of Leo X (1513-1521): the Renaissance Pope who spent, mostly on his own pleasures, more than 2,000,000 in a few years. The new High Altar of St. Peter's was plated with gold — not merdy gilded, for we read of one plate weighing 216 pounds — and decorated with jewels and enamels. A silver ciborium weighed 1606 pounds: a golden cross, studded with jewels, weighed 1000 pounds. And statues, lamps, altar-vessels, and tapestries were strewn everywhere. Whence did they come? The Saracens had sold them back to Rome through the Greeks and the Venetians.
Leo had the walls and towers of the city repaired, and he went down to Ostia on the coast and blessed the fleet, which beat the Saracens at sea and brought home many captives to help in repairing the damage they had done. Many towns and ports were rebuilt. Louis II came to be crowned in the new St. Peter's in 850, and for a time he helped in the war against the Saracens. He soon retired, and the Romans complained bitterly of the uselessness of their Protector. The Pope was denounced to the Emperor, who came to Rome in a rage and held a trial in the Vatican Palace. Leo was absolved, though corruption amongst his clerical officials was disclosed; and he died a few days later.
Ironically enough, it is at the close of this vigorous pontificate of Leo IV that the story of Pope Joan (853-855) is placed by a late medieval legend. A beautiful English girl, the story ran, entered a monastery in male dress in order to be near her lover. Coming to Rome, she made so deep an impression by her learning that at the death of Leo they made her Pope and did not discover her sex until she was seized with the pains of child-birth while she rode in a religious procession, or such like. After that, the legend said, the higher clergy verified the sex of every Pope before he was consecrated. There existed a certain chair exam, part of the medieval papal consecration ceremony for almost six hundred years. Each newly elected Pope after Joan sat on the sella stercoraria (literally, "dung seat"), pierced in the middle like a toilet, where his genitals were examined to give proof of his manhood. Afterward the examiner solemnly informed the gathered people, "Mas nobis nominus est" — "Our nominee is a man." Only then was the Pope handed the keys of St. Peter. This ceremony continued until the sixteenth century. This was so widely accepted in Italy as fact for two centuries that a portrait of Joan was included in the series of portraits of Popes in the great cathedral of Siena. (In 1276, after ordering a thorough search of the papal records, Pope John XX changed his title to John XXI in official recognition of Joan’s reign as Pope John VIII).
The wealth of the Papacy led to another sordid quarrel for the prize. Benedict III (855-858) was elected, but a "cardinal" priest (or priest of one of the leading or cardinal churches), Anastasius, who had been deposed and banished by Leo for improper conduct, bribed the Imperial Legates to announce to the Emperor that he had been elected. They did so and, when theyreturned toward Rome, Anastasius joined them, When envoys of Benedict came out to meet the party, he had them put in irons. A large number of both Frank and Roman nobles and the clergy joined them, and they forced their way into St. Peter's. Leo had hung on the wall a painting of the synod condemning Anastasius, and he made short work of this with an axe and then, for some obscure reason, started upon the religious statues and pictures. Behind all the gossipy stories we see the long-standing feud of Imperialists and Papalists.
Anastasius and his friends rode across the city to the Lateran to deal with his rival. Benedict sat on his throne in the Lateran church, and a bishop, at the head of a troop of armed men, dragged him from the throne, stripped him of the Papal robes, and packed him off to a monastery. But the people and lower clergy who supported Benedict had met in a church, and they refused to yield when soldiers, sword in hand, were sent in to them. They were evidently the great majority of the people and clergy, and in the end the Imperialists had to sacrifice Anastasius, who was sent back into exile. For three years Benedict sustained the work of building and decorating churches.
Nicholas I (858-867), an imperious member of a noble family, is described as a man of great learning and deep religious sentiment. Since Leo IV had admitted in 853 that he could not find teachers of any but religious knowledge, we do not need to examine his learning. Royal sinners were no longer flattered. They were flayed with anathemas, until the strongest monarchs trembled or cursed at the approach of his Legates. In him the pontifical conception reached a height which even Gregory VII and Innocent III would not transcend. He was "prince over all the earth" and had to smite offenders "in every part of the world."
Kings, who had the very inferior job of ruling men's bodies, must take their swords and sceptres from him. Any prelate who hesitated to obey him must be deposed at once. Not a church must be built anywhere "without the commands of the Pope", and not a book of any importance must be written unless he has authorized it. No Pope was better fitted than Nicholas to discharge the function of preserver of civilization which historical writers now so freely ascribe to the "great Popes."
Yet we again find, as we have found a score of times and shall find a further score of times, that this rhetorical or ethical-sentimental philosophy of history is sheer nonsense. Within ten years of the death of Nicholas the Papacy entered upon corrupt ways which culminated in a century of degradation that has no parallel in the history of religion. That is the best-known fact of the history of the time. The second most notorous fact is that European Christendom generally sank in the same period to its lowest moral depth. The one region for which exception is claimed is Saxony (for a time), yet, when the King of Saxony sent a delegation to the court of the Arab ruler in Spain, it was regarded by the highly civilized Arabs with much the same patronizing politeness as that with which we now receive delegations from African kings or chiefs, and its members behaved like rustics amid the splendours of Cordova.
There is not the least need for any subtle analysis of the failure of Pope Nicholas to bring about any social regeneration. He, like the other outstanding Popes, never sought to accomplish this. Sexual vice he certainly denounced, and in the case of some high-placed offenders punished severely; but it was not this that hindered the restoration of civilization, nor did the Pope impose more than a few years' reluctant restraint upon the higher clergy and princes. He insisted upon justice, but within certain narrow limits and rather to give proof of his power; for to the appalling injustice of the social order he was completely indifferent. But it is enough to say that he was so religious and so wholly absorbed in Church matters that he despised all considerations of secular and human welfare. A short account of the chief incidents of his career will show this.
Some time after his accession Nicholas received a delegation from Constantinople. The Greeks presented him with a superb set of jewelled altar vessels and asked him to approve the elevation of Photius, with the Emperor's full consent, to the archbishopric of Constantinople. To what extent Nicholas understood the new situation in the East we do not know. It was piquant. On the Byzantine throne was a young Emperor who is known in history as Michael the Drunkard. His mother Theodora is, like the Irene to whom I previously referred, a saint in the calendar of the Greek Church; and, while Irene had blinded her son so as to keep power, chiefly for religious reasons, in her own hands, Theodora had with the same object entrusted her son's education to her brother Bardas, who taught him that a princely dissipation was the proper function of monarchs. They had in time made a nun of the Empress-mother, and Michael and his favourite mistress and his uncle now jovially ruled the palace. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Ignatius, a religious monk, was indiscreet enough to protest when they filled the palace with orgies which rivalled those of Nero and Commodus and even rode the streets on asses in the vestments of bishops, bawling indecent and blasphemous cries. They had deposed Ignatius, and had chosen as his successor one of the most learned, and apparently most complaisant, men in Constantinople, Photius.
The situation at the dismissal of the Patriarch must have been known in Rome, and the Pope's letters well illustrate the limits of his idea of justice. He at once replied (Ep. IV) that he would send Legates to make an inquiry, but he rebuked the Emperor's "presumptuous temerity" in deposing Ignatius without the Pope's permission, and reminded him that the Greeks still held some of the Papal possessions. The Legates reached Constantinople, and they were, as so often happened, corrupted by the Greeks and supported Photius. Ignatius, however, who had been imprisoned and vilely tortured to compel him to resign, got a message to the Pope, and he shot anathemas at the whole group at Constantinople, including his Legates.
When the Emperor replied with a contemptuous letter, Nicholas wrote to say that if he did not withdraw the letter, he would "commit it to eternal perdition, in a great fire, and so bring the Emperor into contempt with all nations." Whereupon Photius, to the Pope's stupefaction, drew up and sent to Rome a list of the heresies of the Latin Church which compelled him to excommunicate it and its Pope! It is said that Michael was drunk when he signed it. The heresies were dreadful practices like fasting on Saturdays, eating cheese in Lent, compelling priests to shave and forbidding them to marry, etc., and the inclusion in the Latin creed of a statement that the Holy Ghost "proceeds" from both the Father and the Son: which monstrous error is really the one doctrinal difference between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Church. I need not further pursue the long quarrel. Nicholas's successor recognized Photius, who was twice deposed and recalled, but the struggle with Nicholas, who was fully justified in principle, had hardened the hostility between the two Churches, and they made no further approach to each other for five or six centuries.
Of much greater interest is the quarrel with Lothar II, King of Lorraine and brother of the Emperor. Looseness of life remained quite common among the nobles and prelates of France and Germany, and few Popes or bishops troubled to interfere, but Nicholas fell upon it with a fiery anger. In 860 we find him writing to the Archbishop of Rheims, the greatest prelate in France and probably the most accomplished man in Europe, ordering him in the most peremptory terms to excommunicate Ingeltrude, Countess of Burgundy, unless she at once abandons her licentious vagabondage and returns to her husband. She was a lady of mature years, for Nicholas's predecessor, Benedict III, gives us a long and weird account of the vices of her son Hubert, Abbot of St.Maurice, who, it seems, went about France with a troupe of mistresses and desecrated monasteries and nunneries with their nocturnal orgies when the day's hunt was over.
Lothar accused his wife Theutberga of incest. She demanded the ordeal by boiling water, and, when her champion passed this, she had to be reinstated. She was, however, so harshly treated in the palace that she, in despair, falsely confessed that she was guilty, and a synod of the leading French and German bishops dissolved her marriage and declared Waldrada, his mistress, queen. Theutberga retired to a nunnery, and as we are told that she now appealed to the Pope, we may safely infer that she did so at his command.
The Pope ordered the northern prelates to hold a synod at Metz, to which he would send Legates, and he notified King Lothar that he would be excommunicated if he did not present himself at it for examination. The Legates were, as usual, bribed or cajoled, and the synod declared in favour of Lothar; and two of the leading archbishops, Gunther of Cologne and Theutand of Treves, were sent to Rome to announce and explain the decision to the Pope. Theutand was a prelate of strict life, though a supporter of Lothar, and both were well calculated to impress Rome with the dignity and power of the Frank Church and the Frank princes.
But they did not yet know Nicholas I. He kept them waiting for three weeks, then summoned them before a synod and, refusing to listen to them, deposed and excommunicated them and their brother-bishops and declared the decisions of their synod void. The archbishop hastened to tell the Emperor at Benevento how the Pope had insulted him, his brother, and the Frank Church, and Emperor Louis led an army to Rome and from the Vatican Palace angrily demanded satisfaction. Nicholas shut himself in the Lateran Palace in the city and ordered fasts and religious piocessions. When one of these processions, bearing at its head an immense crucifix in which was embodied one of the thousands of fragments of "the true cross," crossed the bridge and approached St. Peter's, the Emperor's men fell furiously upon it. To the horror of the Romans they broke the precious cross, tore up the banners, and beat some of the clergy. This sacrilege seems to have disquieted the Emperor, and he permitted his devout wife to mediate. The archbishops were sent back to Germany, though the Pope refused to lift the ban, and the Emperor was superficially reconciled. But the Frank prelates, who had thought this an excellent opportunity to check the new Papal pretensions, were angry. They wrote a scornful letter, we are told in the Annals of Hincmar, about this Pope who "professes to be Emperor of the whole world" and excommunicated him.
The Pope prepared a sheaf of anathemas and sent one of the most arrogant of his Legates, Arsenius, with them to Lorraine. We shall see in the sequel that this cleric-noble was not really a religious man, but he handled the heaviest anathemas with ease. He even spared one for an unknown thief who had stolen some of his money. Lothar was alarmed when his clergy submitted, and he declared himself penitent. Archbishop Gunther was deposed; Abbot Hubert was murdered in one of his adventures; Queen Theutberga sought refuge with her royal brother Charles; and Charles and Louis advised Lothar to go to Rome and kneel at the feet of the Pope. But Nicholas was not satisfied. "It does not matter what you say," he wrote to the monarchs; "we say what is divinely revealed to us." The Legate must visit them and brandish his anathemas; and Lothar must take back Theutberga whether she wishes or not. She was sent back to Lorraine, and in the presence of the Legate and his bishops, twelve nobles swore on behalf of Lothar that her conjugal rights (which all the prelates of France had sworn she was incapable of enjoying) would be restored. Then the Legate set out for Rome with the siren Waldrada a captive in his train, and, we are told that she "escaped," and went back to France; in explanation of which remarkable feat, as it was in such an age, we have merely a hint that Bishop Arsenius was very fond of gold.
Two years later the Pope heard that Lothar was not keeping his promise and was secretly still cherishing Waldrada. The Pope prepared for more drastic action. When Theutberga wrote imploring him to let her enter a nunnery and hinted that she had a physical defect which unfitted her for marriage, he told her that she must continue to bear her martyrdom. His action may have been morally heroic: socially it was inhuman and disastrous, making men despise their spiritual authority and preparing a sordid reaction. But Nicholas died before he could take further action, and Lothar, who fought for his mistress to the end, died soon afterwards. It is not easy to understand how this ethical intransigence is so valuable to the social welfare when for five years passion, bitterness, and crime of all kind are let loose over half of Europe rather than that a prince shall have some alleviation when a repulsive wife has been imposed upon him in youth for political reasons.
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There is another aspect of the work of Pope Nicholas which illustrates the un-social character of his lofty moral code and helps to explain why all his severity left no trace whatever in the life of Europe. All historians, even Catholic, are agreed that it was during his pontificate that an extraordinary series of forgeries which are known as the Isidorean or Pseudo-Isidorean or Forged Decretals made their first appearance. This is a collection of hundreds of letters of Popes and decrees of councils from the first century onward, the vast majority of which are acknowledged to be sheer fabrications, and very few (and these of the least importance) of the remainder are not falsified. The forgery is so crass and blatant that even in the fifteenth century Catholic scholars began to complain of it.
The object of the forgery is to show that from the earliest period of Christian history the Church (the clergy) was admitted to be above the State, and that the supremacy of the Roman Pope was acknowledged. But the authority of the Pope over other bishops is evidently stressed with the main object of justifying priests in appealing to Rome against their bishops and bishops appealing against their archbishops or councils. For this reason it is generally acknowledged that the forgeries were made, not at Rome or in the interest of the Popes, but in France and in the interest of the lower clergy or the bishops. The only question that concerns us here is, therefore, whether Nicholas knew and made use of the forgeries, as his successors admittedly did. He certainly used them.
The documents were probably forged in the archdiocese of Rheims. The archbishop, Ebbo, had taken a leading part in the disgraceful trial of Louis I and had, when that monarch was restored, been deposed and replaced by the learned Hincmar. The new archbishop held that ordinations of priests and consecrations of bishops by Ebbo were invalid, and this threw out of office a body of very spirited rebels. It seems most probable that these fabricated the Decretals as a basis for an appeal to the Pope against Hincmar. The leader of the rebels was a Bishop Rothrad, in degrading whom Hincmar does not exhibit a very strict integrity. Rothrad was forbidden by the King to appeal to Rome and was sent to a monastery, but he succeeded in sending an appeal. Nicholas wrote to Hincmar and the King in the harshest and most arrogant terms and demanded the presence of Rothrad in Rome. He reinstated him without any serious examination and sent him back with a letter to Hincmar, in the course of which he says (Ep. LXXV):
Even if he had not appealed to the Apostolic See, you had no right to run counter to so many and such important decretal statutes and depose a bishop without consulting us.
That he is here referring to the False Decretals, of which Rothrad had probably brought a copy to Rome, is clear; and this is confirmed by the sequel. The French bishops replied that they had no such decretals — there were none except in the forged collection — and Nicholas replied that Hincmar used these decretals himself when it served his purpose — which is true — and that these letters of Popes written even in "the times of the pagan persecutions" are to be respected.
Catholic writers like Jules Roy (Saint Nicholas, 1901), whom Mann follows, while trying to limit severely the Pope's reliance on the Isidorean Decretals, admit that he did quote spurious documents and that he gave an improper extension to genuine documents; as when he appeals to a law that no church can be built or bishop deposed or important book written without his consent. His whole conception of his power, as I summarized it earlier, rested upon forged claims no less than his Temporal Power did. For the Pope held that these had always been the acknowledged powers and rights of the Papacy, and the story of its development, which we have followed, shows that this is so false that a priest so well trained as Nicholas was in ecclesiastical matters cannot possibly have believed it. He added new and massive stones to the fraudulent foundations of the Papacy. The end justified the means.
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The first Catholic scholar to write a complete history of his Church was the learned Cardinal Baronius, of the second half of the sixteenth century, Since he was so orthodox a Papalist that he would have been elected Pope but for the political opposition of the Spaniards, and seeing that his main purpose was to refute the Protestant contention that Rome had gradually built up its fabric of doctrine and authority, we do not expect to find him critical, Yet when, in the course of his large work, in twelve folio volumes, he reaches the stage at which we have arrived, he is remarkably outspoken. He calls it the Saculum Ferreum, which might be translated Iron Century, but is in any case a reference to the classic myth of a degraded Iron Age following upon Golden and Silver Ages. And he calls the first half of it, frankly, the Rule of the Whores (scortorum), to translate his words literally.
The successor of Nicholas was not elected promptly, and during the delay Rome had a first proof of the hatred and contempt of clerical authority which that Pope had aroused. Lambert, Duke of Spoleto, rode into the city at the head of his men and was joined by a number of resident Franks and Lombards. For the hundredth time citizens cowered pale in their houses while bands of unrestrained soldiers stole their property and violated their wives and daughters. The nunneries were, as usual, desecrated and the churches looted. Lambert seized a number of maids of the wealthier Papalist families and handed them over to his men. No help came from the Emperor, who was attacking the Saracens in the south. In fact, when the Emperor defeated these and took rich booty from them, one of his own vassals in Southern Italy, the Duke of Benevento, attacked him and compelled him to surrender the spoils. Within a month of the death of Nicholas, Italy discovered how futile his sacerdotal dictatorship had been. Within a year Rome itself was to yield a more awful proof; and the facts are well known to every historian who has at least an elementary acquaintance with the Papal record.
The new Pope, Hadrian II (867-872), was seventy-five years old, and is described as a man of moderate and inoffensive character. We shall see. He at once declared an amnesty, and Nicholas's rebels and exiles came back to Rome. But his leniency angered the zealots and did not reconcile the nobles. At the head of the opposition were now the former Legate Arsenius, who was disappointed that he had not been elected Pope, and his sons Cardinal Anastasius, whose grievances we already know, and Eleutherius. They were of the highest nobility and wealthy. We read even at this time on almost every page of sons and "nephews" of Popes and bishops, and the explanation given is that they had been married and had raised families before they became priests.
Pope Hadrian himself had a daughter who is said to have been born before his ordination; though the frivolous may reflect that it is curious that a priest of seventy-five has a daughter of marriageable age, which in medieval Italy generally meant the middle 'teens. The daughter was, in fact, not yet married but betrothed when, in 868, Eleutherius seized her and brought her to the mansion where he lived with his bishop-father and cardinal-brother, and compelled her to marry him. He is said to have abducted her, yet her mother, the Pope's wife or ought one to say widow? went to live with her. These mansions of the Roman nobles already appear to have been fortified castles, for the Pope was powerless, and appealed to the Emperor. Whereupon ex-Legate Bishop Arsenius gathers together his treasures and goes to buy the favour of the Empress. He conveniently dies at Benevento, where the court is; the Empress gets the treasure, and the Emperor sends a detachment to Rome. So Eleutherius, member of the highest clerical-noble family in Rome, cuts the throat of his wife and her mother; and he is beheaded and his family scattered.
In the following year Lothar made his final appearance. Hadrian had lifted the ban from the gay Waldrada, but had refused to liberate the unhappy Queen Theutberga from her loathsome position. Lothar came to Rome, and after a few days of coldness dined with the Pope and arranged a reconciliation ceremony. During a solemn Mass Lothar and the Archbishop Gunther and other supporters came up to the altar to receive the communion from the Pope, and, with the sacrament in his hand, the Pope made each swear a heavy oath that Lothar had never committed adultery with Waldrada! One wonders if there was even a Roman tinker in the church who did not know that they all lied brazenly. Waldrada and her lady friends must have heard the news with great interest.
Lothar died soon afterwards, and the wicked uncles, who had for years rejoiced in the childlessness of Theutberga, pounced upon his kingdom, Lorraine, and divided it between them. The French King, whose western provinces were by this time fearfully ravaged by the Vikings of Norway — utter barbarians who have, nevertheless, been idealized in our time — had at least the weightier claim on the ground of need, but the Pope's interest was to conciliate the German, the Emperor Louis II, and he showered anathemas upon Charles of France and his clergy. They took no notice of them, and the royal brothers agreed to divide Lorraine.
For this the Pope had an ignoble revenge. Charles had made his son Carloman an abbot and had heaped ecclesiastical benefices upon him. Neither Popes nor bishops objected to this common way of providing for a younger son, whatever his character was, but when Carloman went on from hunting and venery to rebellion and general brigandage of the most outrageous description, Charles called upon his bishops to excommunicate him. Carloman, on the strength of the Forged Decretals, appealed to the Pope, and the "venerable" Hadrian wrote King Charles a scalding letter about the inhumanity of his treatment of his innocent son! Carloman was the most notorious and most cruel brigand in Northern France and Belgium, yet the Pope promised excommunication to any bishop who excommunicated him or any noble who fought against him: of which again they took no notice. Carloman was caught, blinded, and imprisoned; but his friends rescued him, and he resumed his gay ways, as far as possible, in Germany.
We shall now see how the Rome of Nicholas's day became in a generation the Rome over which loose women ruled. We begin, however, to perceive that we need make no drastic search for causes of deterioration. The men of whose conduct we have just seen a few examples were the men of Nicholas's day. He had wrought no change whatever in their minds. They were sufficiently superstitious to be intimidated for a time by his blood-curdling sentences, but they merely awaited the accession of an older and weaker Pope; and they began, when the thunder of the voice of Nicholas was stilled, to reflect that the Papacy ruled the world primarily in its own interest.
John VIII (872-882)
For a time Papal Rome was sobered by the need of a mighty effort to save the city from the Saracens, for the tortuous policy of the new Pope, John VIII, left him without a protector. The Emperor Louis died in 875, and Charles of France, according to all the contemporary authorities, paid the Pope and the Roman Senators large sums of money, and promised help against the Saracens, if they would support his improper claim to the succession. The Pope invited Charles to Rome and crowned him in St. Peter's on Christmas Day, 875. Later he was crowned King of Italy at Pavia, and at this function Charles accepted a gold sceptre from the Pope in token of his virtual vassalage. When the Germans resented this act, the Pope wrote them a series of haughty letters. He, the Viceregent of Christ, had chosen an Emperor. He will tolerate no insolence of princes, but will excommunicate the lot of them "if they continue to rebel against God."
When Charles in turn died, and his successor needed all his resources to meet the Normans in the west and the Germans in the east, the Pope had to face the dire consequences of his conduct. The Roman nobles and higher clergy split into pro-German and pro-French parties, each animated by a bitterness which would presently have appalling results for the Papacy. The dukes and marquises who had been left in charge of the various provinces of Italy, since it was now a kingdom under a French prince, watched with eager interest how the rival branches of the Carolingian dynasty wore themselves out and failed to produce a man of ability, and they began to declare themselves independent rulers. The Saracens spread in a devastating flood over the land every year, and the governors of the southern provinces repeatedly entered into alliance with them and defied the Pope's anathemas. It is related with pride by Catholic historians how Pope John VIII became a vigorous military commander, on land and sea; and they invite us to admit that this incessant war upon the Papal territory and dire threat to the city of Rome not unnaturally led to some demoralization.
It is an unsound plea. The main body of the Africans had now settled in Sicily and had adopted an orderly civic life; and every substantial force that was sent against those of them who still lived by piracy and banditry was successful. A league of Italian armies would, without any help from France or Germany, have held them firmly south of Naples, That such a league was never formed was due as much to the totally unprincipled policy of the Pope, who did not merely seek the safety of Rome, but a restoration of Temporal Power, as to the low character of the princes themselves.
In the year 876 the Pope excommunicated a group of his opponents in Rome for treason and conspiracy to murder him. The only one of the group who attracts our sympathy and he would certainly not be in a plot to murder, if there was such a plot was the Bishop of Portus, Formosus, who later became Pope and was the victim of a horrible outrage. He was very highly esteemed at Rome for his learning and, it is said, his integrity, and was opposed to the Pope on grounds of policy. The other leaders of the group were typical members of the nobility. Sergius, nephew of Pope Nicholas, had repudiated his wife and lived with a Frank mistress: George had murdered his wife, a niece of Pope Benedict, in order to marry the daughter of one of the highest Papal officials and had bribed the judges and been protected by his father in court.
While the Pope was at Pavia, they looted the Lateran and several other churches and fled to their ally the Duke of Spoleto. They heard later that John proposed to go to France to beg aid against the Saracens, and, rightly suspecting that he wanted to make another French Emperor and use his forces to crush the Saracens and the Italian princes and annex their provinces, they marched upon Rome and occupied the Leonine City (St. Peter's and the Vatican area). They demanded that the Pope should consent to the election of the German Carloman as Emperor and permit the return of the Roman exiles. But John, although they kept him a prisoner for thirty days, refused, and they seem to have retired without attaining any result.
The Pope then removed the treasures of St. Peter's to the Lateran and, bribing the cynical Saracens with a promise of 25,000 pounds of silver a year, he took ship for France. When he arrived in Provence, he was most devoutly and most flatteringly received by Duke Boso, a rich and powerful prince and one of the most highly coloured characters of that picturesque age. Boso had notoriously poisoned his first wife and married, or compelled to marry him, the daughter and sole heiress of Louis II. The unscrupulous adventurer wanted to be recognized King of Provence, if not Emperor, and he became for a time John's most intimate and beloved son. The Pope literally adopted him as son, and in his letters he unctuously praises Boso's virtue and piety. Boso was, of course, to bring his army to Italy. So after a leisurely tour in France, in the course of which the Pope crowned Louis the Stammerer and shed anathemas right and left, even upon the thieves who stole the Papal horses, John and Boso returned to Italy. It must be said that he made strenuous efforts to get a crown for his adopted son, but the Italian bishops and princes would not receive the boor, and he went back to Provence. The French and Germans had meantime agreed that the crown of Italy must go to the German prince Charles the Fat, the last ignoble descendant of Charlemagne, and John was compelled to abandon all his intrigues and crown him.
Meanwhile the Pope, in the course of his vigorous war against the Saracens he was repeatedly at "the front" and at one time on the fleet which he had built had another painful experience which reveals his character and further illustrates the character of the age. The Duke of Naples Sergius, was one of the princes who protected themselves by maintaining friendly relations with the Saracens in spite of the Pope's fiery letters,, which spluttered anathemas; as, in fact, the great majority of his three hundred extant letters do. The duke's uncle Athanasius was bishop, and at his death Sergius got his own brother, another Athanasius, appointed to the See. John fully approved of fighting bishops, and this was not the only case in which he sanctioned the consecration of a noble of loose but vigorous character. Athanasius, however, was crafty as well as unscrupulous, and his letters to the Pope bemoaned the iniquity of his brother the Duke, who, in spite of a Papal raid on Naples and the execution of a score of the nobles, continued to traffic with the Saracens. The death of the Emperor and the growing anarchy in France and Germany had encouraged them, and Southern Italy was a desolation.
Bishop Athanasius then organized a revolt in Naples, seized the person of his brother, cut out his eyes — "dug out" is the blunt expression of the monk-chronicler — and sent him to Rome, where he "died miserably" soon afterwards. The bishop took over the duchy, and the way in which the Pope congratulates him (Ep. XCVI), especially upon his courage in mutilating his own brother, is only slightly relieved in its nauseousness by the fact that John now believed that he had at least a loyal son of the Church in command of this most important duchy. Athanasius is, he says, "a man of the House of the Lord, full of justice and holiness, of truth and humanity."
One is almost tempted to reflect that the Pope deserved the punishment that he got. Secure in the possession of the duchy, Athanasius threw off the mask and, in alliance with the Saracens, spread fire and sword over the country as far as Rome. The monk Erechembert, who lived in the midst of the horrors, paints a terrible picture. His own abbey, Monte Cassino, the most famous in Europe, had hitherto been spared. It was now burned to the ground and its abbot murdered. The swarthy Africans and the soldiers of the bishop-duke worked together in looting and burning churches, desecrating nunneries, and destroying monks and monasteries almost to the gates of Rome.
On an earlier page I told how the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius, who had raised the sacred anger of Pope Nicholas to a white heat, was respectfully recognized by Pope John; it occurred in the year we have reached. John appealed in his distress to the whole Christian world for help, and Constantinople, which still enjoyed its short phase of scepticism and prosperity, almost alone responded. Not without a grimace, which we faintly trace in his letters, John swallowed all the crimes and heresies of the Greeks, and with the aid of their fleet beat back the Saracens. Their bishop-ally now pretended to desert them, on condition that the Pope paid him a large subsidy, but John found that he still secretly aided them, and excommunicated him. He begged forgiveness, and the terms which the Pope offered him would seem incredible if we had not the letter in which John states them:
If, in the presence of our Legates, Bishop Marinus and the Papal secretary, you capture the leading Saracens, of whom we give you the names, and as many more as possible and, cutting the throats of the others (jugulatis aliis), you send the leaders to us at Rome, we will relieve you from the ban of excommunication.
The Pope died in the following year. There is only one account of his death, but this is given in the Annals of the monks of Fulda, which was, after the destruction of Monte Cassino, the chief centre of Christian culture in Europe. The monks say that a relative of the Pope poisoned him and, when the poison acted slowly, beat out his brains with a hammer. The writer on John in the Catholic Encyclopedia asks us to reject the story on the ground that the monks give a wrong date! The writer probably knows that if we reject chroniclers of this barbaric age on the ground of jumbles of dates, we blot out European history for two or three centuries.
John is the only Pope between the death of Nicholas in 867 and the beginning of "the Rule of Whores" in 904 about whom we have much information. And if the reader asks whether it is not possible to put into the scale a few meritorious deeds and qualities to weigh against what we have seen, he will be disappointed. The incidents I have described so clearly and consistently exhibit the character of the Pope that no sensible man will look for another set of experiences indicating a different character. His outstanding merit from the ecclesiastical point of view is that he saved Rome from the Saracens. We may appreciate the energy with which he organized some sort of army and navy, though that is merely to ascribe to him the common virtue of rulers in face of a grave threat. He made no effort to arrest the deepening degradation of Roman and European character. His letters offer nauseous flattery to the most vicious of princes when he wants their services, and he shows no sense of principle in the changes of his alliances; while his relations with Athanasius of Naples betray the growing barbarity of even educated Romans.
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Ten Popes succeeded each other in the next twenty years, and what we know about most of them is hardly worth telling. The murder of John VIII led to a victory of the German faction, which may have inspired it, at Rome, since the new Pope, Marinus (882-884), — the bishop whom John sent to witness the bloody treachery he demanded at Naples — lifted the ban from Bishop Formosus and allowed the exiles to return. His successor, Hadrian III (884-885), inherited the passionate conflicts which ensued, and all that we know of interest about him is that he had the eyes cut out of one of his leading opponents and had the noble wife of another stripped naked and in that condition whipped through the streets of Rome. Of his successor, Pope Stephen (885-891), a weak man who, strangely, lasted six years in a chaotic world, we have only a few impersonal details. It is said that he found the Papal treasury empty, and a decree of a Roman Council of the year 904 throws a curious light upon this. The decree condemns a custom which has been established of allowing the officials and people to sack a Pope's palace when he died. We gather, in fact, that the original practice of looting the Pope's palace has grown into an "orgy" of wild street rejoicings and breaking into houses throughout the city and suburbs which lasts several days; and the newly elected Pope has then to distribute a generous sum of money in largesse. Thirty Popes died in the next hundred years and released this "bacchanalian rejoicing," as the decree calls it.
The shadows deepened over Rome when, in the year 891, Formosus (891-896) was elected. The name of this Bishop of Portus, who is said to have been one of the most accomplished of the Roman clergy — not a very high distinction — has already come before us several times, and the first fury of the barbarous outbreak of the ninth century will centre about his memory, yet his personality is elusive. He reigned five years, and in the scanty chronicles of that bleak age we read only about political changes and the clash of arms. What is clear is that the clergy and nobles of Rome were bitterly divided on the question of a successor to the imperial crown. Formosus and his friends favoured the claim of Arnulph, a natural son of Carloman and a truculent and dissolute man. They felt that an Emperor who lived beyond the Alps would be less apt to interfere in Roman life. The other faction wanted an Italian Emperor and had a candidate in Guido of Tuscany, or, when he presently died, his son Lambert. The head of this faction was the priest Sergius, the open lover (as we shall see) of a daughter of the most important noble family and a close associate of the Tuscans. Formosus banished him from Rome — it was his second bitter exile — and he went to nurse in Tuscany the wrath which would soon light the fires of hell in Rome.
Arnulph was on his way to Rome with a German army when Formosus beat his rival Sergius in the Papal election and banished him. The Germans retired, however, and Formosus was compelled to crown Lambert of Tuscany. But Arnulph returned, and his path to Rome was a broad stretch of ruin and sacrilege. Nunneries fared as usual; priests were led in chains through the streets; the soldiers caroused with loose women in the churches. Sergius and the Tuscan amazon meantime led their troops to Rome and imprisoned the Pope. The Germans advanced and released him, and he crowned Arnulph. But that Emperor's wild debauches brought upon him an attack of paralysis, so that he was taken back to Germany; and a few weeks later Formosus died. We do not feel disposed to resent the story of some chroniclers that he was poisoned by agents of Sergius.
Arnulph still lingered in the north of Italy, and the electors chose a colourless Pope: a gouty and gluttonous old priest, Boniface VI (April 896), who had been suspended by John VIII for the irregularity of his life. He died a fortnight after his consecration, and, as Arnulph was now back in Germany and helpless, the Italian faction celebrated their triumph with a revolting act. They elected, yet another, and this may be the reason why history has a slight problem recollecting the numerous Pope Stephens there really were, Stephen (896-897), whose character we may gather from the ceremony at which he soon presided. Pope Formosus was to be tried for his transgression of the canons in accepting the Papacy when he was already a bishop. The Roman clergy had long before passed a rule that no man who was already a bishop could become a candidate for the Papacy: a rule which in effect ensured that the prize would always fall to one of themselves. It is perhaps the most ironic as well as the most revolting incident of this appalling period of Papal history that, to show their resentment of the breach of this innocent domestic regulation, the entire clergy and nobility of Rome and Central Italy perpetrated a savage outrage.
Formosus had been buried eight months before, but his putrefying body was dug up, clothed in the pontifical robes, and seated in the papal throne. In face of this horrible object were Pope Stephen and all his clergy and nobility and Lambert of Tuscany with his ferocious mother and his bishops and nobles. The "trial" was an obscene farce. The Pope shrieked at the corpse and declared it guilty. The three fingers of the right hand with which Formosus had been wont to give the Papal blessing were cut off. The robes were stripped from the putrid body, and it was then handed over to the rabble, who dragged it through the streets of Rome and in the end threw it, like the body of a dead dog, into the Tiber river.
The partisans of Arnulph and Formosus were stung to fury and they in turn roused the people; and Stephen was put into prison and strangled. His successor, Romanus (897) lasted four months, the next Pope, Theodore (897) twenty days: which was just time Enough for him to recover what was left of the body of Formosus and bury it. Three Popes followed in four years, John IX (898-900), Benedict IV (900-903), and Leo V (903). The German faction remained dominant, and Sergius was again sent into exile. But when Leo V was dethroned and imprisoned by his chaplain, the Cardinal Christopher, and this man got himself elected Pope. Cardinal Sergius III (904-911) came along with a small army, swept Christopher into a monastery (and probably the grave), and achieved his ambition. The Rule of the Whores began.
There had now been thirteen Popes since the death of Nicholas I . The only three whose character is well known to us, from the record of their actions and from their letters, are Hadrian II, John VIII, and Stephen VI; and it is in each case a very defective character. Whatever the character of the others, they had no influence. They were corks tossed for a few months on a sea of passion. What arrests our attention is what we may call the Papal Circle: the upper stratum of Roman life from which Popes, cardinals, and the Papal and civic officials were drawn. It was thoroughly and comprehensively corrupt. Nicholas had made no impression upon it. Gregorovius, the historian of the city of Rome, reflects at this stage:
Sinister darkness brooded over Rome, scarcely relieved by the doubtful glimmers which ancient chronicles let fall upon this terrible period. A fearful scene is disclosed: violent barons calling themselves consuls and senators, rising from among them brutal or wretched Popes: beautiful, fierce, and debauched women. (History of the City of Rome, III, 224)
This darkness we shall now find growing deeper and more sulphurous and brooding over the city of the Popes for a further hundred and fifty years. And professors at estimable universities tell their pupils that there never was a Dark Age, and that the Popes steadily raised Europe out of the morass into which the barbarians had driven it.
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In the course of the long dirge with which he opens his record of events in the first year of the tenth century Cardinal Baronius says:
A century that for its violence and its lack of all goodness ought to be called the Iron Century: for the monstrousness of its evil the Leaden Century: for the meagreness of its literature the Dark Century.
The historical writers who smugly condemn their predecessors of the last century for — they say — inventing the myth of the Dark Age may be surprised to learn that it was the Father of Catholic History and staunchest of Papalists who first used the phrase. They may now change their note and suggest that, if the age was really so poor in culture as well as character, we must hesitate to admit the statements of the writers from whom we derive our knowledge of it. Modern Catholic apologists, in fact, make some use of this argument, but we smile at the sophistry when they eagerly accept the testimony of a contemporary writer if he for some reason flatters a Pope and reject it when it is unpalatable. The properly-informed historian of our time, however, has no difficulty. If he continues to speak of the tenth century as the Iron Century or the Dark Age, he means only as regards Rome and the greater part of Papal Europe.
From the popular literature and certain manuals of history which lazily repeat the legend that the Popes preserved or rebuilt civilization most men get the idea that Rome was a refuge of virtue and culture in a Europe which was beset on all sides by uncivilized invaders. Their mental picture of the world at this date has Rome as a luminous centre, irradiating a large area of the Continent, while the border-provinces are devastated by Danes, Normans, Prussians, and Saracens, and the world beyond lies in darkness. It is grotesque. Certainly England was at this time ravaged by the Danes, Western France by the Northmen, and the southern one-fourth of Italy by the rougher Africans; but it is surely time we abandoned the idea that the "history of the world" in the Middle Ages is merely, or chiefly, the history of Italy, Germany, France, and England. These countries, comprising about one-third of Europe, were in the tenth century a comparatively small and barbaric area lying outside an enormously larger region, stretching from Spain to China, which enjoyed a high quality of art, culture, prosperity, and (generally) social idealism. And in the semi-barbaric area itself which was subject to the Popes Rome was not a luminous centre, but one of the darkest patches. It was not a lighthouse. It was a cesspool.
Nor was this because it received a taint from an environing barbarism. North and south of it in Italy were two areas of civilization. A day's sail to the South, in Sicily, the Africans had already built up a very fair and rapidly advancing civilization. The chief authority on this, Amari (Storia dei Musulmani in Sicilia} shows that in the first half of the tenth century one of three divisions of the island had a settled and prosperous population of about two millions, and that by the end of the century Saracen Sicily had eighteen cities with splendid arts, crafts, and engineering — Palermo had five hundred mosques, one of which accommodated seven thousand worshippers — and nine hundred towns and villages. At the time when a couple of depraved women and their descendants ruled the Papacy, and Rome was sodden with ignorance and crime, Sicily, two hundred miles away, had a much finer civilization than it would have in the days of Queen Victoria.
Still nearer to Rome were the cities of North Italy which had recovered much of their Lombard culture and produced the best literature of the age. Liutprand, the courtly and genial Bishop of Cremona, wrote attractive and generally reliable histories of the time. Ratherius, the more devout Bishop of Verona, has left us a remarkable, if tearful, picture of the highly civilized luxury and vice of most of his episcopal colleagues, who hunted on horses with gold trappings, had rich banquets with dancing-girls when the hunt was over, and retired with these to beds with silk sheets and gold-embroidered covers. Thus the Papal area in Central Italy was a swamp of barbarism lying between two cultivated areas. It was not infected from without, but developed disease from its own morbid ideas and institutions; and so it would remain until, in the eleventh century, the Germans came and purged it for a time of its moral poison.
The picturesque phrase of Cardinal Baronius which I have chosen as the title of this chapter applies to the first thirty years of the century. It must not be taken quite literally. Bishop Liutprand, it is true, repeatedly calls the ladies "shameless whores" — he uses the coarsest Latin word for that class — and Cardinal Baronius emphatically repeats this, but the remarkable women who now enter our story were the wife, Theodora, and the daughters, Theodora and Marozia, of the leading noble of the city. All that Liutprand tells us in detail about the mother is that she compelled a handsome priest to reciprocate her passion for him and got him appointed Archbishop of Ravenna and later Pope John X (914-928). He, however, clearly suggests that all three were promiscuous when he says that her daughters were "even more prompt in the service of Venus." Of the elder daughter, Theodora, we know only that she had several children — we have a deed on which they make a cross, like a Russian peasant of the last century, because they cannot write their names — but Marozia, the bishops tells us, was the mistress of Sergius, either before or after he became Pope in 904, and their son was Pope John XI (931-935). The Pontifical Chronicle itself says that John XI was the son of Sergius, and Abbot Flodoard, the most conscientious chronicler of the time, says in his Annals (year 933) that he was the son of Marozia.
The older Catholic historians admitted this contemporary testimony without hesitation, especially in view of the comprehensive corruption of the age. All historians pass much the same general verdict upon it as Milman (III, 299):
Nor was the Supreme Pontiff alone depraved in these turbulent times. The great ecclesiastics of Italy are mingled up in most of the treacherous and bloody transactions of the period. . . . The obscenities which perpetually occur in the pages of Liutprand betoken an age of profound corruption. The Italian character was now a strange fusion of lust and ferocity. The emasculation of their enemies was a common revenge.
Theodora was the wife of the leader of the Roman nobility. This man, Theophylactus, combined the dignities of Master of the Papal Wardrobe, Master of the Troops, Consul, and Senator: the highest offices for laymen in Rome. Theodora herself had the title Senatrix; Marozia, when her turn came, was Senatrix and Patricia (the title given to Charlemagne), so that they were, Liutprand ironically says, "the monarchs of Rome." Gregorovius reproduces Roman documents of the time which show, as I said, that some of these leading ladies of Europe could not sign their own names. They were women of a type which we have already encountered since the seventh century and shall find all over Europe in the so-called Age of Chivalry: beautiful, of immense nervous energy and ambition, amorously aggressive, callous, densely ignorant, and completely unscrupulous. This faction triumphed and their rule began when, in 904, Sergius returned to Rome at the head of an army, evicted from the Papal chair the cardinal who had just established himself in it, and became Pope Sergius III (904-911). The contemporary Vulgarius says that he had his two predecessors murdered, and they disappear so completely that Dummler accepts this. It seems probable.
Sergius ruled for seven years, and from references to the age of his son, Pope John XI (931-935), we gather that it was now that he was intimate with Marozia. But the nobles, headed by Theophylactus and Theodora, kept Rome quiet, and almost all that the meagre chronicles tell us about the pontificate of Sergius is that he rebuilt the Lateran Palace, which had been for some years a heap of ruins. We have no further information of interest about the three years after the death of Sergius, when two obscure Popes succeeded each other, Anasthasius III (911-913), and Lando (913-914). Then Theodora summoned her archiepiscopal lover from Ravenna and made him Pope John X (914-928). According to Liutprand, he was a very handsome provincial cleric whom she had met during one of his many visits to Rome and forcibly annexed. He would hardly require compulsion. Theodora and he had been present a few years earlier at the foul treatment of Formosus because he had accepted the Papacy while he was a provincial bishop. Now, although John is an archbishop, they cynically ignore the canons. But every writer of the time testifies that clerical morals were appalling throughout Italy, and we shall see far worse things than these, even about John.
John X is chiefly remembered as a military commander. He took the field in person against the Saracens and defeated them. But the non-Catholic writers who, like Milman and Gregorovius, give him high praise forgetting the sacred law of the Church which forbids a priest to shed blood, and that John had an able military commander to do the work for these secular services, have to record other acts of his which show that he shared the general perversion of character of the leading Popes of this period. He indulged in nepotism, or the enrichment of his family, and by this conduct he prepared the way for a deeper degradation of the Papacy. He invited or joined in the invitation of the Hungarians, who were at this time still half-civilized Asiatics, to come and fight his enemies, and he thus brought a new and terrible plague upon his country. And he had no principle whatever in his diplomatic and political conduct. John had put the imperial crown upon the head of Berengar, the German-Italian King of Italy. The rival faction at Rome invited Rudolph of Burgundy to come and dispute it and help to lay waste Italy, and it was then that the Pope joined with the King in summoning the Magyars, who were as ruthless as the early Saracens. A third and more formidable claimant, Hugh of Provence, now appeared.
Critics of the Church sometimes make the mistake of assuming that woman sank into a state of subjection as soon as the Popes attained power. This is very far from the truth as regards women of noble rank. During the greater part of the Middle Ages, or until Innocent III completed the fabrication of the Papal Power, women of fierce energy and aggressiveness, generally of hard and unscrupulous character, often fiendishly cruel, rise into prominence in all parts of Europe. One of these was Bertha of Provence, natural daughter of the siren Waldrada and the King Lothar who, we saw, swore on the sacrament in St. Peter's that he had never committed adultery with her. Bertha wanted the Kingdom of Italy for her son, Hugh, and, when she died in the year 925, his sister Irmengard took up the malodorous tradition of the family.
Bishop Liutprand, our chief source of information for this half-century, is rejected by Catholics as a witness (when what he says is unpalatable to them) on the ground that he was lascivious. But he was at this date, or soon after it, in the service of Hugh, and is the best-informed historian of the period. Hugh, his patron, he describes as a man who took equal delight in the conversation of scholars and the embraces of loose ladies: in other words, he posed as a great prince and was quite princely in his vices. Irmengard he pictures to us as a new Messalina. In the pursuit of her ambition for her brother she gave herself "not only to princes, but even to men of ignoble condition." She traversed North Italy winning the support of bishops and nobles, and in the end of the Pope. Hugh was invited to come to Italy and drive out the Burgundians, and the Pope went to Mantua to meet him and his charming sister.
John X had by this time entered upon a bitter quarrel with Marozia Theodora was dead and the leading nobles of Rome. He had brought his brother Peter to Rome, raised him to the rank of nobility, and heaped upon him the profitable offices which the nobles had come to regard as their preserve. Courteous writers on the Pope invite us to admire his design to break the power of the wicked nobles and, with Hugh's help, to extend to the degraded abbeys of Italy the reform which had recently begun amongst the Benedictine monks of France. We smile. The warrior-Pope was a quaint enough reformer, but Hugh was one of the most openly licentious princes of his age. It was a struggle for power. The nobles, led by Marozia, drove Peter, the Popes brother, from the city. In agreement with the Pope he summoned the Hungarians and let them loose upon the provinces. The Pope and his brother then returned to Rome, but a body of Marozia's men cut their way into the Lateran Palace and murdered Peter before the Pope's eyes.
They imprisoned the Pope, and Liutprand says that they smothered him with a pillow. Our Catholic Encyclopedia says that this is just a rumour reproduced by the frivolous bishop and "thus little to be relied on"; that we must prefer the more respectable Flodoard, who tells us that John "died of anxiety." This is the new "science" of history. We are to reject the testimony of the bishop who lived in Italy and prefer the abbot who lived a thousand miles away; and the abbot is wrongly quoted. What he says is that "some say he died of violence, but more say that he died of grief." Moreover, the Annals of Beneventum, written by monks in Italy, says that the Pope was "murdered in the Castle" — the Castle of Sant'Angelo, of which Marozia had taken possession — and the only other writers of the century who refer to the Pope's death support this. He completely disappears after being seized by Marozia's men, and there is no serious reason to doubt that he was murdered.
Marozia, Patricia and Senatrix, ruling Rome from the Papal Castle of Sant'Angelo near St. Peter's, was at this time married to Guido of Tuscany, her second husband. But she coldly calculated that Hugh of Provence was the rising star in Italy, and she decided to marry him; and Hugh was not indisposed to a union with the most powerful woman in the country. Marozia's husband and Hugh's wife conveniently "died," but there was still a very grave impediment, for Guido had been Hugh's half-brother. Hugh swept away the obstacle by declaring that his mother, who had fought so strenuously for him, had duped her second husband. She had had no children by him and had fraudulently imposed Guido and his brothers as her own offspring. One of Guido's brothers demanded an ordeal by duel, and he won, but Hugh removed the new obstacle. He had his step-brother trapped, blinded, and imprisoned. Then he led his army to Rome; and the Pope, in the year 932, blessed the union, in the Castle of Sant'Angelo, of the two murderers and libertines. And, to crown the infamy of it, this Pope was Marozia's own son, Pope John XI (931-935), by Pope Sergius III.
Her son is said to have been too young for the pontificate at the death of John X; from which I have inferred that he was born about, or shortly before, the date of John's election (914), and that therefore, since an Italian girl was then commonly a mother in her 'teens (often at fifteen), it is preposterous to call Theodora "a woman of advanced years." Marozia had appointed two Popes in succession after the murder of John X, Leo VI (928) and yet another Pope Stephen (929-931), but both had died within three years, and she had in 931 ordered the election of her bastard son. He actually ruled the Church for five years, but, in spite of the virility of his mother, this son of Pope Sergius was a spineless youth who was content to discharge in obscurity the technical functions of his office and enjoy its revenue. Very different in character was his half-brother Alberic, the son of her first husband, who proved a match even for the formidable Hugh.
Rome was soon heavy with a feeling of revolt against its new rulers. We should like to attribute this to a lingering feeling of decency, but it was probably due to the arrogance and greed of Hugh and the Frenchmen he imported. He treated Marozia's son Alberic with brutal disdain and compelled him to wait at table; and one day he struck the youth for spilling water over him. Alberic rushed into the city and kindled the smouldering passions of the citizens. Hugh and Marozia were besieged in Sant'Angelo, and the prince, basely deserting his wife, fled to his army. He shortly afterwards declared his marriage with Marozia invalid and married again; and the hectic career of Marozia ends with the bald statement that her son Alberic put her in prison. The rest is silence. We can but reflect that murder was now epidemic.
The rule of the courtesans, which had lasted about thirty years, was over; yet, incredible as it may seem to the reader, the Papacy was now to sink to a lower depth of degradation and, except for a period of a few years, when some political freak put upon the sordid throne the most learned man in Christendom, it was to remain in this foul condition for more than a hundred years after the disappearance of Marozia, I repeat that there is in the history of the heads of other religions no approach to a parallel with this period of complete debasement: an almost continuous period of a hundred and fifty years from the trial of the corpse of Formosus to the German reform of the Papacy. Yet even educated Catholics wills if you succeed in getting them to read these pages of history, airily brush aside their significance and tell you that they never regarded the Popes as "impeccable"; and historical writers who know that these facts are unquestioned, and that other long periods of degradation will occupy us later, continue to say that the Popes were a priceless force in the restoration of European civilization.
Marozia's son Alberic, who ruled the Papacy and Rome for the next twenty years, is represented as a reformer because during his reign he secured the election of Popes to whose name no scandal is attached. Indeed, the Pope who succeeded John XI, whom he had permitted to continue in the Papal office, was a monastic reformer, Leo VII (936-939), who was encouraged to attempt to apply the new French or Cluny reform to the corrupt abbeys of Italy; though he accomplished little in the three years of his pontificate. Our standard historical work, the Cambridge Medieval History (V, 5), says that "the great Italian monastery of Farfa is typical of the general condition." After its restoration in 936, the first year of Leo's pontificate, two noble youths who were monks in it poisoned the abbot, and one of them took his place. By his various mistresses he had seven sons and three daughters, and he provided for these out of the revenues of the abbey. The second murderer became Abbot of Fermo, which rivalled Farfa in gaiety. All the monks were married, and their wives made silk dresses out of the sacred vestments. At Farfa Abbot Hildebrand and his mistresses and children got so drunk at one of their banquets that they set the abbey afire. Alberic sent troops and imposed a strict abbot upon them; and five years later they murdered him and returned gaily to their vices.
The idea of Alberic as a reformer is piquant. He brought about the worst degradation of the Papacy by compelling the nobles and clergy to promise on oath that, if he died, they would carry out his design of making his own son Octavian Pope; and the youth was being educated in vice under his eyes. Indeed, the regard for virtue of both is well illustrated by the statement, which was afterwards judicially established, that the young Pope included among his many mistresses "one of his father's concubines." In the biblical language which Cardinal Baronius used, the rule of the whores merely gave place to the even more scandalous rule of the whoremongers. The simple reason why Alberic put upon the Papal throne two or three men of, as far as we know, respectable character, another Stephen (939-942), Marinus II (942-946), and Agapetus II (946-955), was that he was determined to have men who would forget the pretension to a Temporal Power, so that he could enjoy the revenues of the former Papal States and exercise dictatorial power in all secular affairs.
Alberic died in 954, and Pope Agapetus in the following year. Prince Octavian, as he had been titled during his father Alberic's life, which rather suggests that Alberic dreamed of his son becoming Emperor as well as King of Italy and Pope, was eighteen years old when Agapetus died. We cannot suppose that the life of unrestrained licence which he had adopted was hidden from either clergy or nobles, and they committed an outrage against every standard of decency as well as against the canons of the Church in making him Pope. As secular ruler he was still Octavian, but he set a new precedent by adopting the name of a saint — John XII (955-963) — for his pontifical work. It would be difficult to imagine a priest who was farther removed from saintliness, yet, in an age when the average life of a Pope was about two years, he kept the throne for ten years and enjoyed the boisterous support of the nobles and of the general body of the clergy and citizens.
Bishop Liutprand, who was now one of the leading prelates of the time, gives us in detail the charges which were made against him by the Roman clergy when he was denounced to the Emperor. Gathering about him the loosest young nobles, of both sexes, in Rome, he turned the Lateran Palace into a "brothel" and "a stable." He would spend the day hunting with them or riding abroad in the armour of a knight, and the evenings were passed in drunken carousals and gambling. He drank toasts to the devil and invoked the pagan gods and goddesses as he flung the dice. He "liked to have a collection of women," says the monk-chronicler Benedict of Soracte; and the Roman clergy deposed that he had incestuous relations with his sisters and raped or seduced the more handsome of the women who came as pilgrims to Rome. He made a mockery of religion by consecrating a bishop in a stable. He castrated a cardinal who ventured to reprove him, cut out the eyes of another priest, and punished many in various ways.
These charges are not "gossip that is repeated by the lascivious bishop," but statements sworn to by the highest Roman ecclesiastics in a trial at which Liutprand was present. As long as the vigorous Alberic lived, the Italian princes had confined themselves to their territory. Even the Emperor Otto had, when he came on pilgrimage (he said) to Rome, found the gates closed against him and had been compelled to retire. But the Italian princes stirred when Alberic died, and John, after futile expeditions against them at the head of his troops, had invited Otto to Rome and crowned him King of Italy and Roman Emperor.
They took the usual oaths of mutual fidelity, yet before the Emperor was out of Italy he learned that the Pope was intriguing with the Italian princes against his authority. He sent officials to make an inquiry at Rome, and we are told that he heard from these about the Pope's vices. It is impossible that he had not heard of these during his weeks in Rome. In any case, he merely observed that John was "just a boy" and would grow out of his frivolous ways. Nothing, perhaps, more luridly illustrates the character of the age than this authentic story of the greatest monarch in Europe, from the country (Saxony) which was then in advance of most others, remarking that the "Holy Father" must be allowed to sow his wild oats and might be expected in time to settle down.
But the charge of disloyalty to himself was a different matter; especially as the Pope sent him an impudent letter accusing the Emperor of disloyalty to his oath by failing to restore the temporal possessions of the Papacy. We again smile at the historians who prove that there was no Dark Age when we read that Otto, king of the country which these historians select as particularly civilized, sent two bishops who should either swear to his innocence or appoint two champions who would fight a murderous ordeal-duel with any two champions selected by the Pope! John, apparently, did not like the heavy swords of the Germans. He refused and, when the Emperor came to Rome with his army, fled with his treasures to Tivoli.
A crowd of prelates and nobles, German, French, and Italian, gathered about the Emperor in St. Peter's while the witnesses deposed to the crimes and vices of the young Pope. When he was summoned to reply to them, he sent a five-line letter, which looks like the effort of a boy who has had six months at Latin, threatening to excommunicate them all. To a second summons the reply was: "The Pope has gone hunting." So the Emperor declared the Pope deposed and requested the Roman clergy to select a priest of respectable life to succeed him. It appears that they could not find one in Rome, for the new Pope, Leo VIII (963-964), was a layman who had to be put through all the clerical orders in a day!
It was near Christmas, in the year 963, when these extraordinary yet exceptionally authenticated events — for Liutprand was present — occurred, and, after the celebration of the Nativity, the Emperor sent away part of his army. And a few days later, on January 3, the Romans flew to arms at the call of church bells and streamed over the bridge to make an end of the Emperor who had deprived them of their beloved Pope. Many were killed in the fight with the German troops, but Pope Leo begged an amnesty for the rebels, and Otto marched away to the North. He had not gone far from Rome when Leo hurried to his camp with the news that the Romans had recalled John, and nearly the whole city had boisterously welcomed him. The loose women of Rome, we are told, had been particularly active in his interest. John XII now called a synod in St. Peter's and fell mercilessly upon the bishops and cardinals who had agreed to depose him. One cardinal lost his nose, tongue, and two fingers. Otto angrily made for Rome once more, but he heard on the way that John was dead. He was killed, the chronicles say, by the devil while he was raping a woman in a house in the suburbs. The truth appears to be that the husband of the woman thrashed his Holy Father so severely that he died of the wounds eight days later. And the official epitaph inscribed upon his tomb at Rome declares him to have been "an ornament of the whole world." These epitaphs are part of the material used by Catholic writers in their biographical sketches of the Popes.
The Romans swore that they would not accept the Pope whom the Emperor had forced upon them, and they elected Benedict V (May-June 964). His Papal career was short. The Emperor soon arrived with Pope Leo in his train, and Benedict was degraded and sent into exile; and in a fit of temper the virtuous Pope broke the Anti-Pope's crozier acoss his knee. But Leo died in the following year, and, with the consent of the Emperor, the Romans, whose right to elect a Pope was now drastically restricted, chose John XIII (965-972), Bishop of Narni and son of a Bishop of Narni.
John was a noble of the Theodora family, and he was arrogant, covetous, and a nepotist. He enriched his relatives, and the Romans drove him into exile and attempted to give their city a democratic and secular government. The Emperor Otto was weary of restoring Popes to their "beloved sons," but he could not tolerate this assertion of independence and, after a long delay, he returned to Rome. The character of Pope John XIII is painfully revealed in the terrible reprisals. The body of the Prefect who had ordered John out of Rome, and who had died soon afterwards, was dug up and torn to pieces. His successor was handed over by the Emperor to the Pope, and John had him first suspended by his long hair from a statue in the public square, then led, stark naked, on an ass through the streets. He faced the tail, on which was a bell which he had to ring, and he was decorated with wine-skins. Twelve Tribunes of the People were hanged, and a number of others were executed, brutally treated, or exiled. Europe had become callous, but it shuddered when it heard of Pope John's idea of justice. Even the Greek Emperor told the representative of the Roman Emperor what they thought of him and the Pope.
The Romans loathed the Pope, but the sword of the Emperor was suspended over their heads, and John, who fawned upon the brutal monarch, lived in uneasy and undistinguished peace for six further years. The death of Otto I in the spring of 972 led to a new conspiracy, and, when the Pope died four months later, the Romans set up a rival to the Imperialist Pope, Benedict VI (973-974). Led by the noble family of the Crescentii, the people chose a deacon who is variously called Bonifazio and Francone, son of some obscure Ferruccio. We shall probably be correct if we assume that he was "Boniface the Frank," or an illegitimate son of some crude small noble by a Frank mistress. At this time many French, English, and German "ladies" who came on pilgrimage to Rome were seduced or raped there and remained as courtesans. Pope Benedict was strangled in the castle of Sant'Angelo — the fifth Pope murdered in seventy years — and Boniface VII (974) opened his inglorious career.
There were, in fact, to be seventy further years of corruption, and I will give a mere summary of the record. Boniface VII is described by the learned Gerbert, or Pope Sylvester II, who ruled thirty years later, as "a horrid monster"; and many historians believe that it was Gerbert who, speaking at a synod at Rheims in 991 at which the degradation of the Papacy was discussed, said that Boniface was "a man who in criminality surpassed all the rest of mankind." It is amusing to read how, when the French prelates at this synod taunted the Romans with their ignorance, the Pope's Legate replied that "the Vicars of Peter and their followers will not have as their master Plato or Vergil or Terence or any other of these philosophical cattle." The reader must not, by the way, imagine that this synod represented French virtue regarding with dismay the vices of Rome. It had been summoned to pass judgment upon the young Archbishop of Rheims, who had in the previous year been solemnly recommended for the See by the French King on the ground that he was a "son of Lothar of divine memory by a concubine." He was steeped in vice, natural and unnatural, but, when he added treason to his crimes, the King directed the synod to expose his ways and condemn him. Gerbert was the young libertine's secretary and was held to be involved in much of his misconduct.
Boniface seems to have crept into office with the aid of a pro-Greek faction, which again appears in the life of Rome, but the German party recovered power, and six weeks after his election Boniface found it prudent to pack up the portable treasures of the Lateran and go to live in Constantinople. Under German influence a bishop of regular life now became Pope, but all that history records of the nine years of the pontificate of Benedict VII (974-983) is that he piously restored churches and reformed a few wicked monasteries while representatives of the Emperor held the Romans in leash.
John XIV (983-984) took up his work in 983, but the Emperor died soon after the election, and his widow led her forces back to Germany to protect the accession of her three-year-old son; and the "horrid monster" Boniface VII, watching the course of events from Constantinople, hurried back to Rome with bags of Greek gold. He put John in the dungeons of Sant'Angelo, where he was slowly murdered by starvation and neglect, cut out a few pious eyes, and settled down once more in the dishonoured "Chair of St. Peter" or the "Holy See." But he had not the gay appeal of that other pontifical rake, John XII, and the national party rose against him. It is not clear whether he was murdered or died a natural death, but the Romans amused themselves by dragging his body through the streets and in the end tossed it into the gutter.
John XV (985-996), who succeeded him, earned in two years a European repute for avarice and venality. A devout French abbot who came to Rome, Abbo of Fleury, said, according to his monk-biographer, that John was "greedy of gain and venal in all things." The Emperor secured the election of his own cousin, Bruno, who took the name of Gregory V (996-999). The new Pope was a youth of twenty-four, but a new type of noble. He was an austere Christian idealist, and he was going to restore the Papacy of Nicholas I, while the young Emperor built up once more the Empire of Charlemagne. Within a year the idealist was driven from Rome, the nobles making a mockery of his anathemas.
There was at Rome a Greek-Italian bishop who had acquired great wealth in the ways known to corrupt prelates, and he paid the noble Crescentius, who held the secular rule of the city, a large sum for the title of Pope (or Anti-Pope) John XVI. He did not long enjoy it. Otto came back next year with his German army and his cousin-Pope; and the austere, virtuous, and refined Pope looked on while the poor Greek was deprived of his eyes, ears, nose, and tongue and, in that mutilated condition, driven round Rome on a mangy ass, holding its tail for bridle. Crescentius and twelve other democratic leaders were beheaded, and their bodies hung by the feet on the battlements of Sant'Angelo; though the Emperor had induced them to surrender on a promise of immunity. Some chroniclers say that Stephania, the widow of Crescentius, was handed to the German soldiers, while others say that the Emperor took her as one of his mistresses and she lived to poison him and the Pope. Nilus, the holiest hermit in Italy, solemnly warned Emperor and Pope against their savagery, and Rome was not surprised when the "saintly" Pope died immediately afterwards, to be followed in a couple of years by the Emperor at the age of twenty-one.
As successor to his zealous and futile cousin the young Emperor had put forward the most learned man in Christendom; indeed, the one man in Christendom who had any other than ecclesiastical erudition. Catholics naturally boast of their scientist-Pope Sylvester II (Gerbert) (999-1003) and, as we saw, the new historians write pages on him and decline to notice all the corruption that preceded and followed him. His pontificate was, in point of fact, one of the worst and most futile blunders of the romantic and unbalanced young Emperor, Otto III. Gerbert's knowledge of science is no longer a mystery. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that he learned it in the Arab schools of Cordova and Seville — it would be safer to say in the Arab-Christian schools of Barcelona and the Arab schools of Cordova — and his efforts to win the Romans to astronomy and mathematics drew upon him a murderous hatred and left a sulphurous memory that lingered for centuries. His character is ambiguous, but we need not examine it, for he did nothing as Pope. Doubtless he encouraged the fantastic dream of the half-Greek young Emperor. Germany, heavy with drink and gluttony, was to be abandoned, and a new Empire was to have Rome as its brilliant centre and the Pope restricted to spiritual matters; for Otto seems to have been shown by one of the Greek scholars in his suite that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery. But Italy rebelled against Otto, and Rome drove out the Pope; and both died, under suspicion of poison, in 1003.
With Otto III died the "Ottonian Renaissance" which we are supposed to have overlooked in our study of medieval history. We have seen the three Ottos act with all the barbarism of their age, and, though the matrimonial connection of Saxony and Greece had certainly led to some taste for art and luxury, there was no intellectual revival — the Greek world was incapable of inspiring this — and at the death of the third Otto Germany and Italy fell back into the semi-barbarism of the Dark Age. Both countries were demoralized by a new struggle for the imperial title.
While North Italy was absorbed in this murderous conflict, Rome remained under the rule of the Grescentii family and the democrats, and three undistinguished Popes were appointed by them during the six years after the death of Gerbert; John XVII (1003), John XVIII (1003-1009), and Sergius IV (1009-1012). During the pontificate of the third of these, Sergius IV, the Germans crushed the Italian claimant to the Kingdom of Italy, and the Counts of Tusculum, whose seat was only fifteen miles from Rome, decided to support the Germans and with their aid capture Rome and the Papacy. They were descendants of the Theodora-Marozia family, typically ruthless and unscrupulous barons, and under their control the Papacy passed into the final phase of its long degradation.
In the spring of 1012 Pope Sergius IV died, and the Cresccntii and their supporters proceeded to elect a successor; but an army of Tusculan troops, led by the son of the Count, entered Rome and seized power. Their commander, a layman, got himself elected Pope Benedict VIII (1012-1024), and, although the legitimately elected Pope appealed to the new Emperor, he, bribed by a promise of coronation in Rome, declared for the Tusculans. There is nothing to interest us in the record of Benedict and his successor, John XIX (1024-1032), in the next twenty years, for we have seen enough about campaigns in Italy, revolts and brutal repressions in Rome, and futile attempts to reform the morals of the clergy. What we have to consider is the last phase of the Papacy of the Dark Age, after so many centuries of reforms and "renaissances."
Pope Benedict VIII and Pope John XIX had been brothers, sons of the Count who designed to keep within his family the entire wealth of the city and the Papacy. They had discharged their pontifical duties as well as most of their predecessors had done during the preceding hundred years, but the family now, with revolting cynicism, put forward a boy of twelve for the Papal throne; and, heavily bribed — so all the chronicles state — the clergy and nobles of Rome elected him and assisted at the solemn farce of his consecration. Benedict IX (1032-1045). I call this not only cynical but revolting for the boy must already have given proof of his character. A youth who by the age of twenty had a record of vice and murder which amazed all Christendom can hardly have been a little angel at the age of twelve. Except for a small minority, to which we will return presently, Rome was, six hundred years after Leo I had established the supremacy of the Papacy, four hundred years after "the Carolingian Renaissance," and half a century after "the Ottoman Renaissance," more debased than it had been in the days of Nero.
Pope Victor III would later expressly assure us that Benedict was then a boy of twelve. Bishop Benno accuses Benedict of "many vile adulteries and murders," and Pope Victor III speaks of his "rapes, murders, and other unspeakable acts" and says that "his life as a Pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable that I shudder to think of it." Reading these charges in the light of the common practices of the age, we understand that the Holy Father indulged unrestrainedly in natural and unnatural vice and extortion and murdered any who opposed him.
After three or four years the Romans drove out their Pope. He joined the Emperor in North Italy and, by promising to excommunicate prelates who were supporting Conrad's rebels, won his support and was reinstated at Rome. These reforming German Emperors, we again notice, could overlook Papal vices when it suited them. After six further years of gaiety — like the other Papal rakes he lasted four times as long as the average pontificate — there was another revolt. Benedict won robust supporters, partly by offering to resign and marry the daughter of one of them, and there were bloody fights. The Bishop of Sabina bribed and detached his supporters and was consecrated Sergius III. Rome rallied to Benedict, however, and drove out the Anti-Pope.
The last phase, which no one disputes, is remarkable. The reform of monasteries, which had not yet spent its first fervour, had converted a few of the abbeys and convents of Rome, and round these gathered a spirited minority of puritans, including Cardinal Peter Damiani, author of the most sensational exposure of clerical morals (The Book of Gomorrah), and a young monk, Hildebrand, who was to make history. With them was a wealthy priest, John Gratian, Benedict's godfather and a very simple-minded and devout man. The reformers gave their first proof, of which we shall see many, of their belief that the end justifies the means when they encouraged John to buy the Papacy from Benedict for 2000 pounds of gold: Benedict cynically observing that that was what his relatives had paid for it. We have a letter in which Peter Damiani boisterously congratulates John on this gross act of simony; and this at a time when every religious writer bemoaned that simony was the greatest curse of the Church. What Benedict would do with the gold they knew well.
Like all these tainted devices of the puritans, their unscrupulous act recoiled upon them. Gregory VI (1045), their new Pope, exhausted his remaining wealth in the hire of soldiers to secure order in Rome. William of Malmesbury gives us in the second book of his Chronicle of the Kings of England a spirited picture of Rome in the last days of the Dark Age. Pilgrims had ceased to come. Brigands — servants of the Italian nobles — beset every road. Assassins infested every street of Rome, and "their swords were drawn in the churches and over the altars." The offerings which pilgrims laid upon the altars were at once snatched off by thieves. The necessary struggle against this barbarous state of things, which is, of course, ignored by apologists for the Dark Age, gave the rival Popes encouragement. Benedict, who had spent his gold in riotous living in a country castle, came back and entrenched himself in the church of Sta. Maria Maggiore: Sergius returned and seized the Lateran: Gregory and his monks occupied St. Peter's.
The next move of the reformers was to appeal to the new Emperor, Henry III, holding out to him the prospect of a coronation at Rome. They sent their simple-minded Pope Gregory to meet him, and the cordial reception that he got misled them. Henry called a synod (1046) at Sutri, and the bishops decided that Benedict, having already abdicated, need not further be regarded, and that Sergius must be degraded and banished as an anti-Pope. But, to the dismay of the puritans, they then summoned Gregory to explain how he became Pope, and he had to assume the position of a penitent and confess that he had been guilty of "the most vile venality and simony," And since, says Bishop Benno, they found no cleric in Rome who "was not either illiterate, or guilty of simony, or living in concubinage," the Emperor ordered the election of one of his German prelates, the Bishop of Bamberg, who was consecrated on Christmas Day, 1046; and Gregory and the fiery young monk Hildebrand, and other leading reformers were taken away in the Emperor's train to Germany, lest they make further mischief at Rome. Such was the Papacy in the last hour of the stretch of history which we are now invited to admire.
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The historical facts which we have examined in this Book afford a decisive answer to the painfully familiar claim that the Popes of the six centuries of the Dark Age preserved, helped to preserve, or re-created the vital elements of civilization in Europe. Rome was too corrupt to effect this: too selfishly absorbed in securing its own wealth and power to attempt it. By the tenth century it had forgotten the character of the civilization which had once illumined it. The day had come when its leading spokesmen, pupils of its chief school, could lump together the comedian Terence, the poet Vergil, and Plato as "philosophical cattle": at a time when, most writers say, the monks were busy preserving the classics. The facts compel us to suppose that Roman character remained at a very low level throughout the period. At every provocation we see the people and "nobles" resort to savagery: to murder, rape, theft, and gross mutilations. We find what I have called the Papal Circle — the higher clergy and the nobles who supply or elect Popes — so corrupt that repeatedly, in every century, they make violent, vicious, or entirely worldly men what they call Vicars of Christ.
We find this corruption and violence erupting immediately after the death of each of the "greater Popes"; Gregory I, Hadrian I, and Nicholas I. It is therefore futile to say that at least these strong and religious pontiffs must be regarded as preservers of civilization. The assumption is a lazy acquiescence in two literary historical superstitions: first, that sexual freedom weakens the foundation of civilization, and, secondly, that the preaching of justice is a social preservative.
Not only is the first point in conflict with the facts of history, but sexual restraint is the very quality in which Papal Europe was most conspicuously lacking from end to end of the Middle Ages. As to the second point, it is obvious that, apart from the general futility of preaching, the nature of the preacher's conception of justice is of primary importance; and the Papal conception was false. Here we have a large part of the explanation of the failure of even the best Popes. To the massive injustice of the social order, the oppression and brutalization of nine-tenths of the people, they were blind; and they sought wealth and temporal power for the Papacy by such means forgery, untruth, the use of barbaric troops, etc. — that they themselves undermined social ideals. In a word, to four-fifths of the elements of what is soundly called civilization these religious Popes were indifferent; and the virtues of chastity and justice on which they insisted were the least practised of all virtues in the Middle Ages.
Our survey of six centuries of medieval life has further shown us the worthlessness of the plea that the Popes did in fact constantly rebuild civilization in Europe but that invasions of barbarians down to the eleventh century periodically ruined their work. The answer is that the Popes themselves, at least after the fifth century, generally invited the barbaric peoples — Lombards, Franks, Magyars and Normans — to lay waste Italy in an attempt to recover the Temporal Power for them; that every beginning of a restoration in Italy was due precisely to these barbarians after a few generations of contact with the old culture and was in nearly every case ruined by the Popes; and that the worst debasement of Rome and Central Italy had nothing to do with invasions, for the Saracens never entered Rome or advanced north of it. One is amazed at the excuses that are now made for that social futility of the Papacy which it is increasingly difficult to question. An American historian has blamed the plagues which swept over Europe for the long stagnation. Even an undergraduate in history ought to know that the ravages of the plague were far worse in the later and progressive part of the Middle Ages than in the Dark Age.
The genuine social student who consults history in order that he may make a just valuation of institutions which played a prominent part in it wants not only facts but facts stated in their correct proportion. He is not interested to hear that a saintly monk reformed a number of abbeys of his order for a time in a particular century; that some abbot in another century dealt faithfully with the serfs on his estates or was interested in the classics; that we do find a saintly man, even a saintly Pope, here and there in the long course, of the Dark Age. Such things he takes for granted. It is the general truth that matters. And if we apply this search for the general truth to the most important aspects of life in the Dark Age, we finally dispose of the question of the social value of the Papacy. Europe was semi-barbaric after six centuries of their domination of it.
Since the chief preoccupation of the greater Popes, after their concern about their Temporal Power, was the inculcation of virtue in the narrower or sexual sense, we may begin with this; though what we have seen about Rome itself and the royal or noble or episcopal delinquents who come under the notice of the severer Popes dispenses me from saying much. Doubtless there were always some who observed the code, but sexual licence was general in all classes. In the lowest and largest class, which means nine-tenths of the population of Europe, it had grosser features than any that we find mentioned in classical literature. The Catholic of our time has in his prayer-book an exhaustive list of "sins" which he reads, to refresh his memory, when he is going to confess. The lists drawn up in the ninth and tenth centuries, in the form of questions which a visiting bishop or a priest must put (often publicly) to the people, could not be published in English to-day; and I am not referring to rape, incest, sodomy, and bestiality, which were common. (Abbot Regino of Prum, Germany, in the tenth century, in his Disciplina Ecclesiastica). We have seen how, from the sixth century onward (until about three centuries ago, as a matter of fact), soldiers on the march or after taking a town, and even the town-workers in a riot, indulged in promiscuous rape and took particular delight in the desecration of nunneries. On certain festivals (Feast of Fools, of the Ass, etc.), the clergy joined with the laity in a wild debauch of drink, indecency, and licensed blasphemy in the cathedrals.
The very common practice of public emasculation, even at times of nobles and bishops, throughout this period and until the Reformation, is proof enough of this grossness of all classes. In the Penitentials (lists of sins) of the ninth and tenth centuries the bishop or priest asks in much blunter language than mine — "Have you castrated any man?" as coldly as he asks, "Have you cut out any man's eyes? or tongue? or cut off his ears or nose ?" Long after the Dark Age is over we shall find a canon of Paris cathedral hiring men to commit the outrage on the greatest scholar in Christendom, and the scholar, Abelard, loudly insisting that he is entitled by law to have the canon publicly treated in the same manner. This mutilation was performed in public throughout the later part of the Dark Age (and later) everywhere, and no Pope or (as far as I can ascertain) bishop protested.
I have often referred to the morals of the higher clergy, and could quote a hundred witnesses to their general corruption. Of the same date in the tenth century we have a letter (XC) of Bishop Atto of Vercelli to his clergy, quite courteously arguing with them about their adulteries and fornications. For France at the same date (909) we have the lengthy report of the Council of Trosle, at which the Archbishop of Rheims and his colleagues expose an appalling general corruption of French bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. We saw how Bishop Gregory of Tours reported the same general condition in the sixth century. St.Boniface, of the eighth century, reports a still deeper and more thorough degradation of the French bishops, clergy, and monks in his letters to the Pope. Boniface was equally familiar with Church life in France and England, and his letters give an even more lurid description of the clerical corruption in England. The nunneries are brothels of the nobles, and the nuns murder the babies that are born to them. Two centuries later we have Dunstan exposing and combating just as deep and general a corruption in the English Church; and after the "great reform" of Dunstan we have Bishop Wulfstan, in a sermon to the nation in 1014, giving what Freeman calls "a frightful picture both of national wretchedness and national corruption," including the life of the clergy.
I could, if this were the place to do so, cover the entire period with these testifications to a general corruption of the bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. A volume at least as large as 500 pages would be required to put before the reader the entire collection of witnesses (reports of synods, letters, chronicles, etc,) to the morals of bishops, priests, monks, and nuns during the Dark Age. Most of these are collected and stored in the voluminous compilations of the older Catholic historians — Baronius, Pagi, Mansi, Tillemont, Bouquet, etc. — to whom there are no successors, either in point of candour or learning, in the modern Catholic world. I have read most of these contemporary testimonies to both vice and virtue, and the former immensely outnumber the latter. But it is enough here that there was, century by century, a vast amount of corruption of bishops, priests, monks, and nuns. It is in regard to the precise virtue upon which the more religious and more powerful Popes laid the heaviest stress — chastity — that they most conspicuously failed.
World-experience in modern times has confirmed that such general grossness and violence are closely connected with ignorance, and that education is the most potent remedy for them. So Theodoric the Goth, Liutprand the Lombard, and even (when it was too late) Charlemagne, concluded. The Goths and Lombards, we saw, did much to restore the school system of the old Roman civilization, and the Popes destroyed their work. Charlemagne, in mature life, tried to enforce upon the clergy and monks of his kingdom the educational work of the Lombards, ordering the bishops and the monks to open schools, but they did very little while he lived, and they abandoned the work as soon as he died. His grandson, Lothar, attempted, we saw, to restore the work in Lombardy in 825 and, as part of a reform of Rome, compelled Pope Eugenius to call for the opening of schools; and we saw the confession of Leo IV that there were in Rome no men capable of teaching in them. These local and transient efforts represent, except where some decent abbot or bishop maintains a school for a few years, all the educational enterprise of the Dark Age. More than nine-tenths of the people of Europe remained not merely illiterate, as we found the wives and daughters of nobles at Rome, but of an ignorance which is now almost incredible.
We have no expert studies of morals or character during the Middle Ages. They would be too ironical in face of the still-dominant convention that the Popes and priests made people virtuous. But we have a dozen able manuals, based upon thorough research, of the history of education, and they unanimously give the account of the Dark Age which I have just summarized. While Catholic and many other writers continue to repeat the loose rhetoric of Montalembert's Monks of the West ("Every monastery was a school," etc.), the experts show that not one monastery in a thousand had a school or devoted itself to copying manuscripts. Craftsmen and merchants were so few in number in the Dark Age that, apart from the enormous numbers of priests, monks, and nuns, more than nine-tenths of the population were serfs; and modern sociologists like Vinogradov have shown that serfdom was real slavery. Who was likely to care about their education? One abbot in tens of thousands.
The general verdicts of the experts are fatal to the Catholic claim. Professor C.L. Wells, for instance, who is far from anti-clerical, says, when he comes to tell of the complete failure of the designs of Charlemagne:
Through the Dark Age which intervened between the age of Charles the Great and the twelfth century there were at least a few monasteries and perhaps one or two cathedrals where the fame of some great teacher drew students from distant lands.
No one ever questioned that in a stretch of four hundred years, during which tens of thousands of abbots and bishops flourished, "a few" discovered a love of learning. It is pathetic to have to say it. Dr. J.Bass Mullinger, commenting upon the reference of the Catholic writer Ozanam to "the polite and cultivatedsociety of the sixth century," quotes the lament of the contemporary bishop of Tours in that century that "the study of letters has perished in our midst," and assures us that Ozanam's polite society "had little existence save in his own imagination." He adds that in the eighth century "the condition of the episcopal and monastic schools was one of utter demoralization"; and that "the work of Charlemagne was premature and transient." Dr. W.Boyd says in his History of Western Education (1928), a book which is careful to offend no prejudice:
Under critical scrutiny the evidence available on the subject goes to negative the idea of the monasteries as homes of scholarship from which learning radiated forth into an ignorant world.
The very abbot who is quoted as proof of the learning of the Dark Age, Lupus, says in the first of his extant letters:
"In our time those who seek to gain a little knowledge are hardly tolerated."
Compayre, another expert, shows in his History of Paedagogy that in the enormous and rich abbey of St.Gall, which is especially praised by Montalembert, as late as the thirteenth century not a single monk could read or write. Alfred, whose work in England has been reduced to small proportions by recent historians, confesses that "very few" priests in England in his time understood the Latin they read at Mass.
The second source of the myth of the learned monks is that in the Rule of St. Benedict it is prescribed that the monks shall spend some of their time copying manuscripts. Benedict had in view solely the copying of religious books. How little time the vast army of the monks of the Dark Age spent even in copying religious books is very plainly shown by the size of their libraries. Montalembert claims, in accents which are tremulous with pride, that one monastic library had 6700 manuscripts. Seeing that the Canterbury library, the largest in England, had only 698 manuscripts as late as the twelfth century, we are sceptical, but the pride of the French Catholic is a measure of his real ignorance. In the Greek-Roman world there had been a number of libraries of from 100,000 to 700,000 manuscript works, and in the darkest century of the Dark Age Arab Spain had millions of beautifully written manuscripts. One Caliph had a superb library of 400,000 at a time when there was probably not a monastic library with 400, and thousands of the richer Arabs had private libraries of from 10,000 to 50,000 works. Professor Ribera, the best expert on them, calculates that the paid copyists of Cordova alone must have turned out, in beautiful script and as they adopted the flat page instead of the roll often in sumptuous bindings, 70,000 to 80,000 works a year. In other words, Arab Spain must have produced or copied at least half a million works a year at the time when Rome was most degraded and few abbeys had more than a few hundred manuscripts. Yet our literature is full of references to the zealous monk-copyists and never mentions the Arabs.
The most exasperating feature of it all is that the particular claim that these monk-copyists "preserved the classics for us" is repeated on all sides, whereas I pointed out that the highest German authority, Professor Heeren, maintained more than a century and a half ago that "no monastery in Europe rendered any service whatever in connection with classical literature." By their practice of washing the ink from old parchments in order to write their lives of the saints, the monks of the Middle Ages destroyed more valuable literature than they preserved.
If we examine the character of the law, experts write learned dissertations on the fusion of ancient Roman and native Teutonic law, but we have seen enough to recognize that the result was barbaric. The ghastly mutilations of which we have heard so much were legal penalties as well as acts of private vengeance, and they were inflicted with an appalling frequency in every country. Very often an accused man, if he were a bishop or noble, could avoid trial by swearing a solemn oath that he was innocent; which led to the most blatant perjury and sacrilege and to the impunity of gross offenders. The perjury became so fluent and notorious that the nations fell back upon the old Teutonic settlement of guilt by duel. The common men fought with heavy staves, the nobles with swords, lances, or axes. The clergy assisted, often saying Mass before the duel and then watching the murderous conflict. Bishops and women chose champions to fight for them, and down to the twelfth century we find bishops and abbots maintaining at a high wage specially skilled swordsmen who would take up challenges for them. As the prelates took advantage of this to annex territory and property to which they had no right, their duellists were just the equivalent of the paid American murderers. In some places the clergy and monks themselves fought, and, though the better Popes always though without the least effect denounced the duel, we find Alexander III in 1165 permitting a priest who has lost a finger in a duel to continue to say Mass.
Ordeals by fire and water were equally common. The priest blessed the large tank of cold water into which an accused man or woman was thrown, to prove his innocence by floating, or the vessel of boiling water into which he must thrust an arm, or the red-hot iron bar. Such spectacles fed the appetite for violence and the gross taste of the people of all classes; and regional variations were crude and innumerable. In parts of Germany a woman vindicated her own "honour." The man, armed with a stick, was half-buried in the ground, while the lady ranged round him in her smock, in one sleeve of which she had sewn a heavy stone. Women fighting in one loose garment became very popular spectacles. In some parts of France a woman who was held falsely to have accused her neighbour had to walk before her in her smock in the next religious procession while the accused pricked her in the rear with a bodkin.
The torture of accused and witnesses and the savage treatment and mutilation of those who were pronounced guilty betray the same barbarism. There is a short Latin chronicle by the French monk Hermann, of the later Middle Ages, which describes how a canon of the cathedral of Laon, near his abbey, was treated to make him confess to theft. He was hung up by the arms ten times in one afternoon, and after each spell of hanging he was laid on the ground and boiling fat was poured over him. Men were literally boiled in oil in that age which was not a Dark Age. Molten lead was used. Water dripped upon stomachs from a height. Women had their breasts crushed or burned. Men had weights suspended from their more delicate organs or cords drawn tightly round them. Fingers were crushed in thumb-screws and limbs drawn out on the rack. Tongues were pierced with a red-hot iron, and boiled eggs were pressed under the arm-pits. Every foul device of the brutalized imagination of the age was used to inflict the maximum of pain, and the result was that men falsely confessed and sought relief in death.
Sir J. Fitzjames Stephen quotes the case of a man of the twelfth century who was accused of stealing a few pence worth of goods; he had his eyes pulled out and his genitals cut off. A.D. White gives a long account of a man who was accused at Milan in the seventeenth century of smearing a wall with something which would cause plague. Under torture he confessed and accused others, and these, being tortured, accused more, so that in the end a large number of people suffered a horrible death. And White shows that the man was just a writer whom two old women had seen wiping the ink off his fingers on the wall.
If we further remind ourselves that the Church multiplied offences (heresy, blasphemy, sacrilege, etc.) by its own code and insisted that the foulest of the tortures should be inflicted for those offences, and that this barbarism continued almost without rebuke until the Reformation, we need not further consider the administration of justice under a Papacy which is now recommended to us as the special guardian of that virtue. To social justice the Popes, even the greatest of them, were equally blind. Throughout the Dark Age the overwhelming majority of the population remained slaves. It was only later that a verbal distinction was made between serf and slave, neither name being known in the Dark Age. The workers were just servi, as they had been in Roman days. The only differences were that, whereas in the late pagan Empire there had been, according to the most recent authorities, three free workers to one slave, there were now ten slaves to one free worker; and that, whereas in the Roman Empire the cruelty of the owner was drastically checked by law, it was now generally without restraint. The one theoretical restraint that the apologist claims is that the serfs of an abbey estate might appeal to the abbot's court in case of injustice or cruelty, but the abbots were generally men of rank, and had no more idea than other feudal lords had of listening to the complaints of slaves.
Theoretically the serf differed from the ancient slave because the latter had been the direct personal property of the master, whereas the serf was owned by him through his ownership of the soil. It made no difference in practice. The serfs of the Dark Age had a more miserable time than any class of slaves had in the later period of the Roman Empire, and in Italy in particular they suffered from evils which had been unknown to or rarely experienced by the Italian slaves in pagan days. It is hardly necessary to remind the reader how the agricultural workers suffered in every part of the country from the incessant barbaric warfare we have seen in one generation after another and the terrible epidemics which now racked them. It was much the same in all countries. The life of nine-tenths of the population was vile. The socio-economic system was barbaric.
At least, says the apologist, when craftsmen or artisans multiplied as towns grew in the later part of the Dark Age, the Church founded or encouraged guilds for their protection. These guilds first appear in literature in the time of Charlemagne, and for nearly a hundred years after the first reference to them, in the year 779, the Church condemns and wages fierce war against them. They are "conspiracies." They are "heathen." In other words, they were feeble survivals of the Colleges (unions) which had once included all the tens of millions of free workers, and often slaves or women, of the Greek-Roman world. The Church opposed them as truculently as Charlemagne did, but it could not extinguish them, so it gave them a religious character and brought them under clerical supervision. And again note the difference between the pagan and the Papal period. In the Greek-Roman world three-fourths of the workers had been free and had had their unions: in the Dark Age free craftsmen were very few in number, and the overwhelming majority were the downtrodden serfs, who had no guilds.
History of the Popes - 3