During the reign of this great pope the Roman See rose to its utmost height. The thirteenth century is commonly distinguished as the noon-day of pontifical glory. We have seen the dawn of papal assumption, or rather the first streaks of dawn, in the bold conceptions of Innocent I. and Leo the Great in the fifth century. Gregory the Great in the seventh, and Nicholas and John in the ninth centuries, did much towards laying the foundations of the great papal scheme; but it was Gregory VII. that raised the superstructure. The one grand object of this bold, ambitious, unscrupulous priest, was to restore to papal Rome all that imperial Rome had lost; and thus to set the chair of St. Peter above all other thrones. But the daring pope perished in the desperate struggle. Rome was taken, as we have seen; Hildebrand was compelled to flee, and died in exile at Salerno. For more than a hundred years after his death, no pope filled the chair who could complete the work which he had begun. But in the beginning of the thirteenth century the superior genius of Gregory was surpassed by Innocent. The bold schemes which the former had planned were fully executed by the latter. No doubt the conjunction of many circumstances was favorable, and the powers of his: mind were adapted to the accomplishment of his grand object; so that he fully obtained what had haunted the imagination of popes for ages — "sacerdotal supremacy', regal monarchy, and dominion over the kings of the earth." The crowned priest of Rome now moved with a masterly hand, and with unwearied application, the whole machinery of popery, that he might maintain and consolidate the absolute sovereignty of the Roman See. But here, on this summit, we must pause a little for reflection. Let us endeavor to ascertain the mind of God on this great religious system, not merely the testimony of history.
It has been our desire from the commencement of this work, to study history from a scriptural point of view; but more especially in the light of the epistles to the seven Apocalyptic churches. The evils which were only budding then are now full-blown. In Pergamos, we have Balaam teaching "to commit fornication;" and in Thyatira, we have Jezebel introduced, who imposed idolatry by force. But these and many other evils we shall now find concentrated in the cup of the false woman of Revelation 17.
There can be no question, we think, as to what is meant by the symbol here used. Not only a woman, but a licentious woman, and enthroned amidst the corruptions of the seven-hilled city.
"And here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth."
Here we have a material point — that which has always characterized Rome, both in prose and poetry; as one has said, speaking of Arnold of Brescia, "In the service of freedom, his eloquence thundered over the seven hills." Every reader knows what city the historian means by this description. But the word of God is perfectly plain to "the mind that hath wisdom." Rome is clearly indicated, and her religious corruptions are symbolized by "the mother of harlots." But why, it may be asked, is she called Babylon? The term is applied figuratively, we believe, just as Sodom and Egypt are applied to Jerusalem.
"And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." (Re 11:8.) Besides, the literal Babylon, the Chaldean capital, was built upon a plain — the plain of Shinar.
These points being fairly disposed of, and Rome fully identified, we accept Re 17:1; 18:1 as descriptive of the papacy. The character, conduct, relationships, and final judgment of this spiritual Babylon, are here set before us, not by the partial or imperfect pen of history, but by the Spirit of Truth who sees the end from the beginning. The papal system as a whole is looked at morally from God's point of view. This is an immense point gained to the man of faith. We will now briefly examine some of its more prominent features.
1. She is seen in vision as "seated upon many waters." This is explained by the angel in verse 15 to mean, "Peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." The figure implies that this false woman, or the corrupt religious system of Rome, exercises a soul-ruining influence over all these multitudes, nations, and tongues. But God sees it all — marks it all: her evil history is written in heaven.
2. She is represented as having intercourse of the most seductive, licentious character with all classes. "With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication." What a state of things for that which professedly bears the fair name of Christ! The term "fornication," as here used, means, we have no doubt, the seducing power of the Romish system in drawing away the affections from Christ, who is the only true object of faith for the heart. The priest comes in between the heart and the blessed Lord; the Bible is concealed; the mind of God is unknown; the people are intoxicated with her exciting falsehoods; and worship they know not what. The whole earth is corrupted with the wine of her fornication. But her end, her fearful end, speedily draws near, "For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double."
3. She is next seen as ruling and directing the civil power. "And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads, and ten horns." Whether it be the resuscitated Roman empire (Revelation 13), or the different kingdoms which arose from the ruins of its imperial unity, or all governments and principalities of the earth, the woman swayed her scepter, or rather her blood-stained sword, over them all as her divinely given domain. The purple of the Caesars was claimed by the popes, the imperial eagles were exchanged for the cross-keys, and his Holiness proclaimed a universal monarch. And this new mistress of the world was not so in name only. She clothed with new power her ancient name. Rome imperial never inspired such terrors by its arms, as Rome papal by her anathemas. "Christendom," as one has said, "through all its extended realms of mental and moral darkness, trembled while the pontiff fulminated excommunications. Monarchs quaked on their thrones at the terror of papal despotism, and crouched before his spiritual power like the meanest slave. The clergy considered the pope as the fountain of their subordinate authority, and the way to future promotion. The people, immersed in gross ignorance and superstition, viewed his supremacy as a terrestrial deity, who wielded the temporal and eternal destinies of man. The wealth of nations flowed into the sacred treasury, and enabled the successor of the Galilean fisherman and head of the Christian commonwealth, to rival the splendor of Eastern pomp and grandeur." The extent of her dominions too far exceeded the widest conquests of the empire. Many nations that had escaped the iron grasp of Rome imperial were held beneath the yoke of Rome papal. This we have seen in our history of the religious wars of Charlemagne. Some have reckoned them as Ireland, the north of Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Prussia, Poland, Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, Hungary, with a considerable part of Germany. These, we are told, were gathered as sheep into the fold of the shepherd of Rome by such missionaries as Boniface; but in God's account they were enslaved by the tyranny and usurpation of the great corruptress.
4. But there is more than her sitting by the many waters and sitting on the beast. She is full of idolatries and the uncleanness of her fornication. "And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of the abominations and filthiness of her fornication." In spite of all her outward glory — that which the world counts precious and beautiful, she is in God's sight as a licentious woman with a gorgeous cup full of all abominations. We have already seen her tenacious love of images, which is here referred to by the term "abominations."
5. Her great, flaunting, and exclusive pretensions to the truth of God. "And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of harlots and Abominations of the Earth." This is the gravest and weightiest of Rome's sins; the awful counterfeit of Satan, and the basest of all her hypocrises. Of the true, the heavenly mystery we thus read,
"This is a great mystery," says Paul, "but I speak concerning Christ and the church." (Eph 5:32.)
But in place of subjection to Christ and faithfulness to Him, she — like an abandoned shameless woman — corrupts by her foul embrace the great ones of the earth. Nor is this all. She is a mother — the mother of harlots; she has many daughters. Every religious system in Christendom, that tends in any measure to lead souls away from Christ, to engage their affections with objects that come between the heart and the Man in the glow, is related to this great parent of spiritual iniquity.
6. Her insatiable thirst for the blood of God's saints. "And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration." This strange sight — a woman — a religious community, professing to be the true spouse of Christ, drunken with the blood of the martyrs, the saints of God, fills the mind of the apostle with great amazement. Nor need we wonder. But we shall soon have to see this strange sight, not in vision only but in unprecedented reality. Innocent III. was the man who declared war on the peasants of the south of France, and turned the sword of the notorious Simon de Montfort against the well-known Albigenses and Waldenses, and that under the pretense of doing the will of Christ, and acting by His authority.
From verse 7, we have the explanation which the angel gives of the vision, and the awful doom of Babylon from the hand of both man and God, down to the close of chapter 18. But as we are not interpreting, we need not pursue the solemn theme of these chapters any farther. We can now tread ill the dark blood-stained footsteps of the historian in the light of holy scripture.
The different features or characteristics of Babylon which the Spirit of God has distinctly shown us in these chapters, and which are most hateful to Him, we shall find most fully displayed in the history of this pontiff. But both reader and writer have to watch against the spirit of Babylon creeping into our own hearts. We are not to suppose that it is confined to popery, though there it is publicly enthroned and will be publicly dealt with in judgment. Unless we are gathered around the rejected Jesus, and walking with Him in the fellowship of His sufferings and in the hope of His glories, we are in danger of being caught in the snare. Men, Christian men, too often connect the present enjoyment of prosperity and pleasure in the world with the name and sanction of Christ. This is the very essence of Babylon — the unhallowed mixture of Christ and the world, of heaven and earth. He who professes faith in a rejected Christ, and yet has his heart in the world that rejected Him, is deeply imbued with the spirit of Babylon. It is like one truly espoused to the Prince of heaven, and yet listening to the flatteries and accepting the favors of the prince of this world. And do we not see, alas! everywhere, the indulgence of worldly desires with the profession of the name of the Lord? This is the inconsistency, the confusion, which is so offensive to God, and which He will judge in so awful a manner. May the Lord keep us from ever seeking to mingle the cross and the heavenly glory of Christ with this present evil world.
The spirit of popery is all for this world with the highest pretensions of being all for Christ. "I sit a queen," she says, "and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow." Dominion has ever been her one desire — . dominion over Church and State, over sea and land, over the souls and bodies of men, with power to open and shut the gates of heaven and hell as she pleased. So thought Innocent, and so he acted as we shall now see.
Lothario de'Conti was the original name of Innocent. He was of the house of the Counts of Segni, one of the great Roman families. Under the tuition of his two uncles, the Cardinals of St. Sergius and St. Paul, the great natural abilities of Lothario gave promise of that kind of distinction which his friends and relatives most desired. He afterwards acquired great fame for learning in the schools of Rome, Bologna, and Paris; but canon law was his favorite study. At the death of Celestine III. he was duly elected to the vacant chair, and consecrated February 22nd, 1198, at the early age of thirty-seven. The cardinals saluted him by the name of Innocent in testimony of his blameless life.
A few extracts from the inauguration sermon, and other writings of Innocent, will give the reader the best idea of popish, or Babylonish pretensions. The unmeasured assertion of his dignity, with the loudest protestations of humility, betrays the real spirit of the pope. Thus he spoke out: "Ye see what manner of servant that is whom the Lord hath set over His people; no other than the vice-gerent of Christ, the successor of St. Peter. He is the Lord's anointed; he stands in the midst between God and man; below God, above man; less than God, more than man. He judges all, he is judged by none, for it is written, 'I will judge.' But he whom the preeminence of dignity exalts, is lowered by his office of a servant that so humility may be exalted, and pride abased; for God is against the high-minded; and to the lowly he showeth mercy: and he who exalteth himself shall be abased." He also discovers the popedom in the Book of Genesis. "The firmament," he says, "signifies the church. As the Creator of all things hath set in the heavens two great lights, the greater to rule the day, the lesser to rule the night, so also hath He set up in the firmament of His church, two great powers: the greater to rule the souls, the lesser to rule the bodies of men. These powers are the pontifical and the royal: but the moon, as being the lesser body, borroweth all her light from the sun; she is inferior to the sun both in the quantity and quality of the light she sends forth, as also in her position and functions in the heavens. In like manner the royal power borrows all its dignity and splendor from the pontifical, so that the nearer it approaches the greater light, the more are its rays absorbed, and its borrowed glories eclipsed. It was moreover ordained that both these glories should have their fixed and final abode in this our land of Italy, inasmuch as in this land dwelleth, by and through the combined primacy of the empire and the priesthood, the entire foundation and structure of the Christian faith, and with it a predominant principality over both!"
The reader will have no difficulty in gathering from these statements, though clothed in metaphor, the high pretensions of the papal scheme, as matured in the mind of this celebrated pontiff. He unmistakably affirms, that all earthly dominion is simply derived from the pope; that all kings and princes of this world are his subjects and servants; and that universal dominion is his.
Like a wise man, he commenced his great life-work by reforming his own household. Rigid simplicity was established in the place of courtly luxury. The multitude of nobles and high-born pages who lately thronged the palace were dismissed, but with handsome presents which retained them as friends, and secured their services on occasions of high ceremony. The citizens, who were clamorous for the donative with which they had been usually gratified at the commencement of every new reign, he did not forget, and thus secured the favor of the multitude. He combined with the boldness of Gregory VII. the politic caution and patience of Alexander III. He knew the Romans and how to manage them. They have the worst character of any people in history. Hear the evidence of St. Bernard in writing to the pope, "Why should I mention the people? The people is Roman. I have no shorter nor have I any clearer term to express my opinion of your parishioners. For what is so notorious to all men and ages as the wantonness and haughtiness of the Romans? A race unaccustomed to peace, habituated to tumult a race merciless and untractable, and to this instant scorning all subjection, when it has any means of existence... Whom will you find even in the vast extent of your city who would have you for pope, unless for profit or the hope of profit? the promise of fidelity, to have the better means of injuring those who trust them? They are men too proud to obey, too ignorant to rule, faithless to superiors, insupportable to inferiors; shameless in asking, insolent in refusing; importunate to obtain favors, restless while obtaining them, ungrateful when they have obtained; grand, eloquent, and inefficient; most profuse in promise, most niggardly in performance; the smoothest flatterers, the most venomous detractors. Among such as these you are proceeding as their pastor, covered with gold and every variety of splendor. What are your sheep looking for? If I dared to use the expression, I should say that it is a pasture of demons rather than 'sheep.'"
Such, as witnessed by the highest authority, was the character of the people whom the new shepherd of Rome had around his person, and whom he had to watch over. But his mind was not to be dismayed, even by the exhaustive style of St. Bernard; with great energy, prudence, and skill, he began his successful reign.
Next to the affairs of his own household, those of the city had his immediate attention. His first object was to abolish the last vestige of imperial sovereignty in Rome. This was a hold step, but he had smoothed his way by silently and skillfully distributing money throughout the thirteen quarters of the city. Hitherto the prefect of Rome had held his office under the Emperor, he was the representative of the imperial authority. But Innocent influenced him to reject the imperial and submit entirely to the papal power. He took from his hand the secular sword, the ancient emblem of his power, and substituted a silver cup in its place, as the symbol of peace and friendship. He absolved him from his oath of allegiance to the German emperors, compelled him to take a strong oath of fidelity to himself, and to receive investiture from his hands. Thus was the last link broken of the imperial power in Rome.
In like manner the new pope persuaded the senator, or representative of the legislature, to resign, in order that he might substitute another in his place, whom he bound by an oath to himself as sovereign. The judges, officers, and all the citizens were required to swear obedience to his spiritual majesty, and acknowledge the exclusive sovereignty of the Holy See.
But the imperial city, at this moment, was surrounded by many dangerous neighbors. How to rid himself of these was now the first and important question with Innocent. The fairest provinces of central and southern Italy, even up to the gates of Rome, and the kingdom of Sicily, were under the galling yoke of fierce German adventurers. It happened in this way.
Henry VI. Emperor of Germany, surnamed the Severe, in the year 1186 married Constantia, legitimate heir to the crown of Sicily, with the lordship of all the Norman provinces in southern Italy.
The evident advantage of this union to the Emperor, and the equally evident danger to the papacy, alarmed the reigning pontiff, Lucius III.; and led him to take steps to prevent the marriage, but dying suddenly, nothing was accomplished. His successor, Urban III., also failed to break the engagement and the marriage was celebrated on the 27th of January, 1186. But as usual, a pretender to the crown of Sicily was found and supported by the papacy, which led to a cruel and desolating war of several years' duration. Henry invaded the Italian territories for the avowed purpose of putting himself in possession of his wife's inheritance. The expedition was completely successful. Province after province fell into his hands, and in a short time the whole of southern Italy and the kingdom of Sicily submitted to the merciless tyrant, the treacherous husband of Constantia. Before leaving the conquered territories, says Greenwood, "All the great military commands were bestowed on the most distinguished officers of his army. Castles, lands, revenues, powers of the largest and most indefinite kind, were showered upon the mob of adventurers and mercenaries, whose only object was plunder, and whose rapacity was unchecked by the remotest regard for the rights or the welfare of those whom they were appointed to govern."
Philip, Henry's brother, duke of Swabia, was intrusted with the government of central Italy, including the estates of the Countess Matilda, and the duchy of Tuscany. Markwald, a knight of Alsace, the Emperor's favourite, was made duke of Ravenna and Romagna. Conrad of Lutzenburg, a Swabtan knight, as duke of Spoleto, possessed that city and its domain. Thus were the pontifical states enclosed by a hostile chain of fortresses on all sides. Communication with the outer world was well nigh cut off. But the master-hand that was required to direct and control the different garrisons was suddenly withdrawn.
Henry died at Messina on the 28th of September, 1197, rather more than three months before the accession of Innocent.
We have thus rapidly referred to the military occupation of the country when Innocent took into his hands the reins of government. For fuller details the general histories may be consulted. But as our object in this chapter is to show how completely the ecclesiastical power triumphed over the civil, we have felt it necessary to show the strong position of the latter. And now the problem is to be solved. How can a single man, by a single word, overthrow the physical force of the empire, and compel both prince and people to submit to a spiritual despotism? The unseen power, we doubt not, is from beneath. The blending of the lamb and the dragon, or the man of sin, in one power, or system, proves its origin. (Re 13:11-18.)
The death of Henry, the jealousies and rivalries of the German chiefs, the exasperated state of the Italians, prepared the way for the full exercise of Innocent's great powers of administration. The cruelties of the Emperor Henry to his Italian subjects had ripened the whole country for revolt. They only awaited a deliverer from the German yoke. That deliverer was Innocent. He summoned Markwald, the most formidable of imperial lieutenants in command, to surrender to St. Peter all the estates of the church. Markwald paused: though he was a bold and ambitious man, and possessed of great wealth and power, he wished to avoid an open contest with the pope. He was conscious of his danger from the people's hatred of the foreign yoke; and endeavored to draw him into an alliance with many fair promises of great service to the church. But the pope was firm and withstood all his offers whether of money or of service. He demanded the immediate unconditional surrender of all the territories of the church. Markwald refused. The people rose to assert the papal claims. The war began. The German banners were torn down; city after city rose in rebellion, and cast to the ground everything German. Markwald, insulted and burning with rage, "revenged himself by sallying forth from the gates of Ravenna, ravaging the whole region, burning, plundering, destroying homesteads and harvests, castles and churches. Innocent opened the papal treasures, borrowed large sums of money, raised an army; hurled an excommunication against the: rebellious vassal of the church, in which he absolved from their oaths all who had sworn allegiance to Markwald."
The fall of Markwald filled the others with consternation. They proposed terms of peace and offered to pay tribute, but Innocent would agree to no compromise. He claimed possession of the patrimonial domains without reserve, declared himself heir to the Countess Matilda's donation, and sovereign of the duchy of Tuscany. But no event, consequent on the decease of the Emperor was more important to the papacy than the faithless conduct of the Empress Constantia. Immediately after the death of her husband, though left the natural guardian of the realm, she separated herself from the German cause, and returned to Sicily with her infant son Frederick. She espoused the interest of her native land, threw herself and her son into the arms of the Holy See, caused him to be crowned in Palermo, and requested the pontifical investiture of the kingdom for her son as a fief of the papal See. Innocent saw his own strength, her weakness, and made his own terms. The Empress and her son were required to acknowledge the absolute feudal superiority of the pope over the whole kingdom of Naples and Sicily, and pay a large annual tribute. The German warriors were compelled to retire to the castles on the mainland; but only to brood over their present defeat and their future revenge.
The conquests of Innocent had been rapid and were apparently complete. In less than one year after his accession to the papal throne, he was virtually king of Sicily, and master of his own large territories. By means of his legates, he made his presence to be felt, and enforced obedience, throughout his newly acquired dominions. But, as ever, the beast on which the woman rode became most refractory. The territories, forts, citadels, and revenues, that had been recovered from the Germans, were claimed by the Papal See as her possessions. But as these demands were both unjust and illegal, resistance on the part of the citizens and the imperial governors was the natural consequence, and for years Sicily and her provinces was a scene of anarchy, violence, bloodshed, and ceaseless intrigues. And yet, at this very moment, Innocent reminded those cities which objected to surrender to him the full benefit of their hard-won deliverance, of the awful nature of the power they dared to oppose. Their lack of confidence in him was a crime against the Lord Jesus Himself whose successor he was, "one in whom there was no sin at all, neither was any deceit found in his mouth." Could blasphemy be more daring, more barefaced? Could there be a more wicked attempt to unite the dragon and the lamb?
Before the close of the eventful year over which we have been travelling, Constantia, the Sicilian princess and the German Empress, died. On the 27th of November, 1198, she breathed her last. Her death, it is supposed, was hastened by her maternal solicitude for her infant son, Frederick. He was then about four years old, had been crowned king of Sicily, and was heir of the empire. In her last will she bequeathed him to the guardianship of the pope as his liege lord, and provided that thirty thousand pieces of gold should be paid yearly to the pope for his pious protection of her son, and that all his other' expenses were to be charged on the revenue of the country.
But the tranquillity of Rome was not secured by its great successes. The civil war, with all its horrors, was renewed. The pontiff lost no time in making known, in loftiest phrase, to the nobles of Sicily his accession to the government as regent, and commissioned his legate to administer the oath of allegiance. Markwald, in the meantime, hearing of the death of the Empress, resumed the title of Seneschal of the Empire, and, by a document which professed to be a will of the late Emperor, laid claim to the regency of Sicily during the minority of the young king. In support of these claims he had assembled a large force of adventurers, besieged and obtained possession of the papal city, Germano, and had almost become master of the great monastery of Monte Casino, which was defended for eight days by a garrison of the pope; but a fresh supply of troops and provisions from Rome strengthened the position of the warrior monks, and compelled the great duke to raise the siege. According to the best authorities, Innocent now assumed the most warlike attitude. He issued a proclamation, summoning the whole realm of Naples and Sicily to arms. He assembled troops from Lombardy, Tuscany, Romagna, and Campania, paying them from the papal treasury. Markwald and all his accomplices were excommunicated in the most solemn manner every Sunday, with quenched candles and tolling bells — bell, book, and candle. The whole kingdom was ravaged, laid waste, and distracted by the armies of the pope and the soldiers of the empire. But the death of the rebel chief, Markwald, in the year 1202, relieved the pope of his most powerful and most successful antagonist.
We now turn for a little to observe the working of that same powerful mind in the complicated affairs of the empire.
An infant Emperor, now an orphan; a vacant throne, fiercely contested by rival princes; opened up a still wider field for papal ambition.
The immediate object of Innocent's policy was to separate the kingdom of Sicily from the empire. While both remained in the same hands, a sovereign more powerful than himself might be placed on the Sicilian throne. The possibility of a neighbor so dangerous must be removed. The contest then raging for the possession of the crown gave him the desired opportunity.
The troops, being required at home, were withdrawn from Sicily, Apulia, and Capua. The garrisons being thus reduced, the German dominion was overthrown, the countries separated from the empire, and the papal authority established by force.
Immediately after the death of Henry, his brother, Philip, duke of Swabia, took possession of the imperial treasures, declared himself regent of the realm, and protector of the interests of his young nephew. And so far he seems to have acted from a right motive. But an infant Emperor was contrary to German usage, and unsuited to those troublous times. An adverse party speedily arose, and strongly opposed the election of the child as king. The adherents of the house of Hohenstaufen entreated Philip to become the representative of his family, in opposition to the other candidates for the crown. He consented, and was chosen defender of the kingdom by a large body of princes and prelates assembled at Mulhausen.
The party opposed to the Swabian family was headed by Adolphus, of Altena, archbishop of Cologne. This faction was chiefly composed of the great prelates of the Rhine. Such was the principal occupation of prelates and clergy in those days. They were determined to raise up an antagonist to the house of Hohenstaufen. After several princes had refused to become candidates for the imperial dignity, the churchmen turned their thoughts to the house of Saxony, the irreconcilable adversary of the house of Swabia. Their choice fell on Otho, the second son of Henry the lion, duke of Saxony.
In consequence of his father's family having fallen under the ban of the empire, and being banished from Germany, he was brought up at the court of England. His mother, Matilda, was sister to King Richard Coeur de Lion. The young knight had shown signs of valor such as Richard admired, and he created Otho first Count of York and Poitou. Well furnished with English gold, and a few followers, he set forth, reached Cologne, where he was proclaimed Emperor, and champion of the church.
PHILIP AND OTHO
Philip was twenty-two years of age, Otho twenty-three. "In personal character," say the chroniclers, "in wealth, and in the number of his
adherents, Philip had the advantage. He was praised for his moderation and his love of justice. His mind had been cultivated by literature to a degree then very unusual among princes, and his popular manners contrasted favorably with the pride and roughness of Otho. But Otho was the favorite with the great body of the clergy, to whom Philip was obnoxious, as the representative of a family which was regarded as opposed to the interests of the hierarchy."
But what, the reader may be supposed to inquire — what of the young Frederick who had been crowned and anointed, and to whom both princes and prelates had sworn allegiance. and over whose rights the pope was handsomely paid to keep watch and ward? The only answer to this inquiry is to be found in the secret but perfidious policy of Innocent. His one grand object in allowing, if not in creating, this great national quarrel for the imperial crown, was the humbling of the haughty house of Swabia, and every subordinate consideration must be sacrificed to the limitation of that power. But the elastic conscience of the papacy never was at a loss for an apparently pious reason for the perpetration of the greatest wickedness, or the most faithless and treacherous conduct. Innocent could not deny, and therefore makes a show of lofty equity in admitting, the claims of Frederick. This was the dragon's voice. He admits the lawfulness of his election, and the oath of allegiance taken by the nobles of the empire. But, on the other hand, he discovers that the oath was exacted by the father before the child was a Christian by baptism. He decreed that a child of two years old, unbaptized, was a nullity: therefore their oaths were null and void, and all obligation to the young heir was entirely set aside.
What a character, we may exclaim, for posterity to contemplate! He who assumed to be "the representative of God's eternal and immutable justice upon earth, absolutely above all passion or interest," now absolves the whole constituency of Germany from the most solemn oath of fealty to the legitimate heir of the kingdom. In place of maintaining the rights of his ward — to whom he wrote when he accepted the charge, "that though God had visited him by the death of his father and mother, he had provided him with a more worthy father — His own vicar on earth; and a better mother — the church" — rebuking the rival parties, and persuading them to peace; we see him fomenting the animosities of both, we see justice, truth, righteousness, peace, and every claim of humanity, all wantonly sacrificed, in the hope of increasing and consolidating the papal power. The crafty pope kept behind the scene, but stirred up and fed the flame of contention, knowing that both parties would be compelled, from the loss of blood and treasure, to lay their cause at his feet, and then he could come forward as the sovereign director of kings, and dictate his own terms. These convictions are fully borne out by the following judgment of Dean Milman: "Ten years of strife and civil war in Germany are to be traced, if not to the direct instigation, to the inflexible obstinacy of Pope Innocent III."
Richard, king of England, and Philip Augustus, king of France — who warmly espoused the cause of Philip — spared no amount of flatteries and professions to win over the pope to the party of their respective candidates. But he delayed, having too many objects in view to be straightforward. In the meantime war broke out along the Rhine. Philip, at the first, gained great advantages; he advanced almost to the gates of Cologne; but a powerful army of Rhenish prelates and Flemish nobles caused him to retreat. The largest and most powerful part of the empire acknowledged and supported the cause of Philip; the clergy and the Count of Flanders stood almost alone on the side of Otho.
It was a civil war of the most ferocious and barbarous lawlessness. At the end of the first year, fortune favored the cause of Philip. The death of Richard, in 1199, had deprived Otho of his most powerful ally. John, who succeeded him, was not disposed to part with his money for such a distant and uncertain game. The war might now have terminated with a fair show of honor, even to Otho; but papal vengeance against the hated house of Hohenstaufen was not yet full. The pope openly avowed the cause of the usurper, Otho; and for nine long dreary years, with but short intervals of truce, Germany was abandoned by the tender shepherd of the Tiber to, all the horrors of a civil war. But the deceitful underhand policy of Innocent became apparent to all. His suffering flock accused and reproached him as the guilty cause of all their misery, as having provoked, inflamed, and kept up the disastrous strife, for the gratification of his own malicious purpose of ruining the royal house of Henry the Severe. It required all his wits, with the help of Satan, to acquit himself of the charge.
But the war had done its work — its dragon work. "It was a war, not of decisive battles, but of marauding, desolation, havoc, plunder, wasting of harvests, ravaging open and defenceless countries — war, waged by prelate against prelate, by prince against prince; wild Bohemians, and bandit soldiers of every race, were roving through every province. Throughout the land there was no law; the roads were impassable on account of robbers; nothing was spared, nothing sacred, church or cloister." Such, and worse, was the civil war in Germany. Yet the unrelenting mind of the wretched man continued to thunder his anathemas against Philip; declared all oaths which had been taken to him null and void, and showered privileges and immunities of all sorts on the bishops and the monastic societies who espoused the party of Otho. But the thunders of the Vatican became unavailing, and the strength of Philip increased year by year.
The course of events could not fail to tell even on the inflexible mind of Innocent. He was threatened with the humiliation of a total defeat. At the close of ten years the cause of Otho was hopeless. But how can the pope forget his vows of implacable enmity against the house of Swabia, or struggle out of his vows of perpetual alliance with the house of Saxony? He must find some holy and pious reasons for abandoning the cause of Otho, and espousing the cause of Philip. He found great difficulty in covering the shame of this debasing position. But Philip made such ample professions and promises to the pope by his ambassadors, that he saw it to be his duty to receive back his penitent son, and absolve him from the censures of the church. The papal legate proceeded to Metz, and there proclaimed him the victorious Emperor.
Peace now seemed to be secured on all sides. Philip had obtained the highest object of his wishes. A proposal of marriage between Otho and Beatrice, the daughter of Philip, had been sanctioned by the pope, under the pretense of healing the long-standing feud between the houses of Swabia and Saxony. But uncertain is the tenure of all human greatness and human glow. On the 21st of June, 1208, the Emperor Philip, one of the ablest and mildest of his race, was basely assassinated by the Count Palatine of Bavaria for some private offense. The country was paralyzed by the news of this terrible crime. The execration of mankind pursued the murderer; his castle was levelled with the ground, and the assassin put to death with many wounds.
Innocent now retraced his steps. The crime of the Bavarian relieved him from the humiliation of his apostasy. He hastened to write to the German princes, charging them to acquiesce in the manifest declaration of divine providence in favor of Otho. He used every means in his power to prevent a fresh election, and to unite all parties in his support; and he warmly exhorted Otho to moderation and conciliation. On both sides there was an ardent desire for peace, and Otho was now undisputed Enqperor.
The: following year, 1209, he proceeded to Italy, to receive the imperial crown. He was attended by the princes, prelates, and nobles of the empire, with a numerous army of military dependents. Their march was a succession of festive receptions. The cities opened their gates to welcome the champion of the church, and the Emperor chosen by the pope. Innocent and Otho met at Viterbo. "They embraced, they wept tears of joy, in remembrance of their common trials, in transport at their common triumph." But the pope did not forget the prerogative of his pontifical throne. He demanded security that Otho would surrender, immediately after his coronation, the lands of the church, and yield every pretension to the long-disputed inheritance of the Countess Matilda. But so good, so humble, so submissive was Otho, as he was kneeling for the diadem, that his heart was grieved at the apparent suspicion of his loyalty by his holy father. "All that I have been," he exclaimed, "all I am, all I ever shall be, after God, I owe to you and the church."
The imperial crown was now on the head of Otho. Not only was he crowned by the hands of Innocent in St. Peter's, at Rome, but he was raised to that dignity by the artful and cruel policy of the apostolic See. But the deceiver was deceived; the traitor was betrayed. Scarcely was the ceremony of the coronation completed, when the mask of obedience under which Otho had veiled his real intentions was thrown off. The effect of the iron crown was irresistible. He felt himself a new man, in a new position, and bound to maintain the prerogatives of his crown against the encroachments of the spiritual power. From that hour the Emperor and the pope were implacable enemies. Such was the disappointment, as overruled by the righteous government of God, of the unscrupulous pontiff. Satan may rule, but an all-wise God overrules.
"Be not deceived," says the apostle; "God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (Ga 6:7.)
Innocent had taught his nominee to deceive, and now he must eat the bitter fruit of his own teaching.
The unusual strength and numbers of Otho's army which accompanied him, and now lay encamped under the walls Of Rome, were regarded with great jealousy by the inhabitants. The quarrels, which had become customary on such occasions, were renewed with great fierceness. Many of the Germans were slain, and a number of their horses were killed — so they said, at least. But it was enough. Otho's smothered ambition was now kindled into a flame of indignation. He withdrew in wrath from the city. He demanded compensation. Innocent refused. The troops were distributed over the patrimony of St. Peter to the great damage of the people and the increasing alarm of the pope. The Emperor was requested to withdraw his soldiers from the neighborhood of Rome, but he declared they would remain until the provisions of the country were exhausted. He enriched himself by the plunder of pilgrims whom his soldiery intercepted on their way to Rome. He marched into Tuscany, took possession of the cities on the frontier of the territory of the Countess Matilda, seized towns and fortresses which the pope had lately occupied; estates and dignities within the pontifical claims he bestowed upon his favorites, and the most formidable of the pope's adversaries, Count Diephold, he invested with the duchy of Spoleto. Success inflamed his ambition; he contemplated the invasion of Sicily, and seizing the young Frederick, the last of the house of Hohenstaufen.
He who had proclaimed himself infallible was in despair. After all his labors, all his sacrifices, all his treacheries, he had raised up to himself a more formidable antagonist, a more bitter foe, than any of the Swabtan family had ever been. The most earnest appeals to his gratitude, the most solemn admonitions, and the loudest thunders of excommunication, were alike disregarded by the headstrong pupil of Richard Coeur de Lion.
Otho had now been three years absent from Germany — three years of unwonted peace in that country — their hands had become strong. The kindred of the young Frederick became anxious for his safety. He was now about eighteen years of age. The pope was quietly consulted. He turned round, saw good reason to take active measures against Otho, and to assume the most friendly disposition towards Frederick. There were many difficulties in the way, because of the occupation of Otho; but two brave and loyal Swabian knights accomplished the dangerous expedition, and Frederick was safely conducted from his sunny Palermo to the colder regions of Germany, where he was welcomed with open arms to resume his ancestral throne. But the cause of Frederick against Otho was really won by Philip Augustus of France.
Between the two rivals for the empire there was no great battle. France had all along been the steady friend of the Swabians, as England had been of the Saxons. Philip entered into a close alliance with Frederick. The Count of Flanders, the princes of the lower Rhine, and the king of England, entered into league with Otho. At the head of a large army he advanced, under the impulse of vindictive passion, towards the frontiers of France. He regarded Philip as the real author of all his misfortunes. But his vigilant adversary was ready to receive him. On the 27th of July, 1214, a great battle was fought at the village of Vouvines, not far from Lille. Philip Augustus was victorious over the last of the Othos and his allies. He survived his fall about five years, which he was allowed to spend in monastic penance without being formally deposed.
The following year Frederick II. was crowned at Aix-la-Chappele, and in the enthusiasm of the moment, he, with many others, made a vow to go in person on a crusade to the Holy Land. This rash promise was the occasion of troubles which he little expected, extending over his long reign of thirty-five years.
We have seen the interference of Innocent in the elevation of three emperors to the throne of Germany, and the policy he pursued in order to obtain more temporal power for the Roman See, and a more extensive dominion over the minds and ways of all mankind. We now follow him to the kingdom of France, there to witness an expression of the same pontifical power, but on other grounds, and for other objects. He now comes before us as the protector of innocence against wrong, the preacher of Christian morals, and the maintainer of the sanctity of the marriage bond. We are willing to allow that in his contest with Philip he may have been actuated by a right motive; but his outward conduct is marked by the same dictatorial spirit that has hitherto characterized his reign. He assumes to himself the high function of the supreme direction of all human affairs; as arbiter in the last resort, whether it be a contested throne, or the holy sacrament of marriage. But our main object, under this heading, is to give the reader an example of a whole kingdom being laid under the papal ban. It is difficult in our own days to believe the awful consequences of such a thing.
A remarkable circumstance in connection with the second marriage of Philip furnished Innocent with the desired opportunity to chastise and humble the ally and supporter of the house of Swabia. On his return from the crusade in 1193, he was attracted by the fame of the beauty and virtues of Ingeburga, or Isamburga, sister of the king of Denmark. The hand of the king of France was readily accepted, the dowry fixed. She arrived in France under an escort of Danish nobles, and the king hastened to meet her at Amiens. The day after their marriage the royal pair were crowned; but during the ceremony of the coronation Philip was observed to shudder and turn pale. It was soon found that he had conceived an unconquerable aversion for his new queen. As no real cause could be found for such a change in the king, it was popularly ascribed to witchcraft, or diabolic influence. She is described as of gentle manners, very beautiful, and sincere as a Christian. Philip proposed to send her back at once to Denmark; her attendants refused the disgraceful office; and she herself was determined to remain in France.
The king was now in a great difficulty. He applied for a divorce, but knew that, unless a dissolution of the marriage could be obtained in due form, he would have no peace. The genealogies of the royal houses were traced, and, as it was found by the bishops devoted to the king that the royal pair were within the forbidden degrees, therefore the clergy of France, with the Archbishop of Rheims at their head, pronounced the marriage null and void. When the sentence was explained to Ingeburga, who could scarcely speak a word of French, her feelings of indignation were expressed by exclaiming, "Wicked France! Rome! Rome!" Her brother took up her cause, and appealed to the aged pope, Celestine; but he was unequal to contend with the powerful king of France, and no decided step was taken during the remainder of his pontificate. In the meantime Ingeburga was shut up in a convent, and Philip married Agnes, the beautiful daughter of the duke of Meran. His affection for Agnes was as intense as his hatred of Ingeburga. The former was introduced on all occasions to grace the royal circle; the latter was dragged from convent to convent, or rather from prison to prison.
Such was the state of things in France when Innocent espoused the cause of the repudiated princess of Denmark. He first wrote to the bishop of Paris, then to the king himself. After enlarging on the sanctity of marriage, he admonished the king to put away Agnes and to restore Ingeburga. The king haughtily declared that the affair of his marriage was no business of the pope's. But Philip had soon to feel the power and the terror of the papal thunders, and as they had never before been felt in France.
Peter, Cardinal of St. Mary in the Via Lata, was sent as legate into France, with authority, in case of the king's obstinacy, to lay his dominions under the papal ban. But the command to put away his beloved Agnes, and to receive again the hated Ingeburga, the king treated with contempt and defiance. The pope was inflexible. "If, within one month," he wrote to the legate, "after your communication, the king of France does not receive his queen with conjugal affection, you shall subject his whole realm to interdict — an interdict with all its awful consequences." A council was held at Dijon, messengers appeared from the king, protesting in his name against all further proceedings, and appealing to Rome. But the orders to the legate were peremptory. The interdict was proclaimed with all its appalling circumstances. It is thus described: — "At midnight, each priest holding a torch, were chanted the psalm for the miserable, and the prayers for the dead, the last prayers which were to be uttered by the clergy of France during the interdict. The cross on which the Savior hung was veiled with black crape; the relics replaced within the tombs; the host was consumed. The cardinal, in his mourning stole of violet, pronounced the territories of the king of France under the ban. All religious services from that time ceased; there was no access to heaven by prayer or offering. The sobs of the aged, of the women and children, alone broke the silence. The interdict was pronounced at Dijon. Only the baptism of infants, and extreme unction to the dying, were allowed by the church, while the realm lay under the curse of the papal ban."
For the guilt of the sovereign the whole nation must suffer, reasoned the pope, in order that his heart might be softened, either by pity for the misery of his people or by fear of their discontent; and in those days of superstition the misery was extreme; for death at such a time would be thought eternal perdition. "O how terrible," exclaimed an eye-witness, "how pitiable a spectacle it was in all our cities! To see the doors of the church watched, and Christians driven away from them like dogs; all divine offices ceased; the sacrament of the body and blood of the soul was not offered; no gathering together of the people, as wont at the festivals of the saints; the bodies of the dead not admitted to Christian burial, but their stench infected the air, the, loathsome sight of them appalled the living: only extreme unction and baptism were allowed. There was a deep silence over the whole realm, while the organs and the voices of those who chanted God's praises were everywhere mute."
Philip Augustus was a proud, haughty, arbitrary prince, not accustomed to brook encroachment quietly. He broke out into paroxysms of fury; he swore by the sword of Charlemagne that he would rather lose half his dominions than part from Agnes of Meran. He threatened the clergy with the last extremities if they dared to obey the pope. Ingeburga was seized, dragged from her cloister, and imprisoned in the strong castle of Etampes. But the wrath of the king would not prevail over the stern decree of the pope. The barons, whose power he had reduced, cared not to rally round him; the people were in a state of pious insurrection. They had assembled round the churches, forced the doors; they were determined not to be deprived of their religious services. The king became alarmed at the mutinies among the people, and promised to obey the pope.
A deputation was sent to Rome. The king complained of the harsh proceedings of the legate, but declared himself ready to abide by the sentence of the pope. "What sentence? " sternly exclaimed his holiness; "he knows our decree; let him put away his concubine, receive his lawful wife, reinstate the bishops whom he has expelled, and give them satisfaction for their losses. Then will we raise the interdict, receive his sureties, examine into the alleged relationship, and pronounce our decree." The answer went to the heart of Agnes, and drove the king to madness. "I will turn Mahometan," he exclaimed. "Happy Saladin, he has no pope above him." But the haughty Philip must bow. The affections and religious feelings of all classes were with the clergy. He summoned a parliament at Paris; it was attended by all the great vassals of the crown. "What is to be done? " demanded the king, with his beautiful Agnes by his side. "Obey the pope, dismiss Agnes, receive back Ingeburga;" was the crushing reply. Thus he who had doubled France in extent by the sharpness of his sword, and the prudence of his policy; he who had raised the crown to something like independence above the great feudal lords; must now drink the dregs of humiliation in the presence of the nobles of France at the bidding of the pope.
The scene was overwhelming. Agnes had declared that she cared nothing for the crown; that it was her husband she loved; a stranger, the daughter of a Christian prince, young and ignorant of the world, she married the king; and had borne him two children. Sever me not from my husband, was her touching appeal. But the inexorable decree had gone forth; "Obey the pope, dismiss Agnes, receive back Ingeburga." The king at last agreed to a reconciliation with Ingeburga. She was brought in; but the sight of her so aroused the king's aversion that negotiations were almost broken off. At last he mastered himself for the moment and bowed to the papal sentence. He swore to receive and honor her as queen of France. At that instant the ringing of bells proclaimed that the interdict which had weighed so heavily on the people for upwards of seven months was taken off. "The curtains were withdrawn from the images, from the crucifixes, the doors of the churches flew open, the multitudes streamed in to satiate their pious desires, which had been suppressed during the period of the interdict."
Rome has accomplished her object; she has triumphed over the greatest king in Christendom; the word of God is fulfilled; "The woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." Universal dominion over the bodies and souls and affairs of men was her unquenchable desire, her unceasing aim. And beyond this display of power we cannot suppose that Rome had any higher object in view, as she had sanctioned in Philip's great predecessor more outrageous conduct.
The distressed king now separated himself from his broken-hearted Agnes. She soon after died of grief, having given birth to a son, to whom she gave the significant name of Tristan — the son of my sorrow. Ingeburga was received with outward honor, but was in reality a state prisoner; nothing could ever induce Philip to live with her as his wife, though he consented to her living in the palace. Fresh quarrels between France and England diverted the mind of Innocent from the neglected queen, and opened up a more inviting field for his active and ambitious mind. We will now turn to home scenes for a little.
Richard the Lion-hearted, it will be remembered, was the great supporter of Otho, the papal claimant of the empire. England at that time was in close alliance with the See of Rome. After the death of Richard his brother John, the youngest son of Henry II., was raised to the vacant throne. According to our present laws of succession his nephew, Arthur, duke of Brittany, the only son and heir of his elder brother, Geoffrey Plantagenet, would have been king. But crowns at this time were as much elective as hereditary.
The whole reign of John — 1199-1216 — is a history of weakness and violence, of wickedness and degradation, of the most cruel, sensual, and faithless of monarchs. But the hand of the Lord is most manifest in the affairs of England at this time. Never had a viler prince worn a crown; yet God in His mercy, and in His care for England, overruled his many faults for the benefit of the church and the people of England. We speak of course in general terms. But from this reign may be dated England's wholesome dread of popery, and her enthusiasm for civil and religious liberty. Disastrous to the last degree as was the reign of John; humiliating to the king and to the nation; yet the united voice of history affirms that it was then that the foundations were laid of "the English character, the English liberties, and the English greatness; and to this reign, from the attempt to degrade the kingdom to a fief of the Roman See, may be traced the first signs of that independence, that jealousy of the papal usurpations, which led eventually to the Reformation." The overruling hand of God, in His special care of England, has been manifest in all her revolutions ever since. Scarcely any benefit resulted to either Church or State in France from the pope's interference with Philip, excepting that they were made to feel the awfulness of the papal power. But no Magna Charta was signed, no House of Commons arose.
One of John's first and great scandals, reveals in the clearest light the unprincipled character of Innocent's policy. John had been married twelve years to a daughter of the Earl of Gloucester before he came to the throne. After that, aspiring to a royal connection, he sought a dissolution, and the obsequious Archbishop of Bordeaux dissolved the marriage bond. He suddenly became enamored with a lady who was the betrothed bride of the Count de la Mark, carried her off, and was married to her, while his own wife was living. But what will the pope now say about the holy sacrament of matrimony — he whose horror of such connections has been so inexorably displayed in the case of Philip and Agnes? Fast and thick we may expect his thunderbolts to fly at the adulterous king; but no! no censure is uttered from Rome against either the king or the archbishop. He confirms the dissolution of the marriage in the face of God, the church, and the world. Such was the glaring wickedness of "his holiness, his infallibility." But why show such partiality to John? He was the supporter of Otho, and the enemy of the house of Swabia.
But if the pope was quiescent, the world was scandalized. Such an outrage on a great vassal was a violation of the first law of feudalism. The barons of Anjou, Touraine, Poitou, Maine, were eager to avenge the indignity offered to Hugh de la Mark, and from that day they held themselves absolved from their fealty to John. They appealed to Philip, king of France, for redress. Philip Augustus felt his strength, and summoned the English king to answer in his courts of Paris for the wrongs done to the Count de la Mark. John appeared not; this led to a ruinous war, and to the loss of immense territories in France to England. In a few months Philip wrested from John the great inheritance of Rollo — the great Anglo-Norman dukedom, which in the days of his father Henry II. was equal in the extent of its territories, its revenues, its forces, its wealth, to the whole of that over which the French monarch swayed his scepter.
We now leave the civil, and turn more directly to the ecclesiastical history of affairs in England at this interesting moment.
We have seen the pope overlooking the gravest immoralities in John, on account, as we suppose, of his being the partisan of Otho, and the ally of the Holy See; but John was now guilty of crimes which his Holiness could not overlook. His matrimonial irregularities, however criminal, might be allowed to pass without censure; but his disposal of sees, his taxation of monasteries, his interference in the appointment of a primate, brought him into direct collision with the papacy, and involved him in a fierce contention with his ally, Pope Innocent.
Immediately after the death of Hubert, archbishop of Canterbury, the younger monks hastily elected their sub-prior, Reginald, to the vacant See. But, soon finding that they had acted imprudently, they applied to the king for leave to proceed in a fresh election. The choice of a bishop was really in the hands of the sovereign, though nominally it might be in the hands of the clergy. Such was the Anglo-Norman system. The king recommended one of his chief councillors, John de Grey, bishop of Norwich, who was accordingly chosen, invested with the temporalities of the See, and sent to Rome for confirmation. The pope now saw his opportunity, and eager to extend his power in England, disallowed both elections, Reginald and John de Grey, and commanded the election of Stephen Langton, an Englishman by birth, a learned prudent man, and of excellent character. A more fit person, as it happened, could not have been named by the pope; but his action was in defiance of the privilege claimed by the monks, the suffragan bishops, and the king himself. In vain did the representatives of Canterbury and the king's commissioners urge the necessity of the royal assent. Innocent ruled otherwise. He constituted them a chapter by "the authority of God and the Apostolic See." The monks were now between two tyrants — the spiritual and the temporal. Twelve were under oath to the king not to elect any one but the bishop of Norwich; the pope commanded them to elect Langton, on pain of excommunication and anathema. Overcome by this awful menace, the chapter yielded to the spiritual tyrant, proceeded to elect Stephen, and on the 17th of June, 1207, the pope consecrated him Archbishop of Canterbury.
Such an interference with the rights of the established church and the prerogative of the crown was wholly new in England. Had John been a popular prince and surrounded by the strength and sympathies of his insulted people, he might have laughed to scorn the daring presumption and menaces of a foreign priest; but the folly and unpopularity of the king gave the pope the opportunity he desired. The monks of Canterbury, on their return from Rome, were impeached of high treason; and were in consequence expelled from their residences, and their property confiscated. But the king's fury knew no bounds; he dispatched a troop of horse to drive the monks out of the country, and, in case of resistance, to put them to death. The orders were executed in the temper they were given. The soldiers broke into the monastery with drawn swords; the prior and monks were ordered to leave the kingdom, and threatened, if they resisted or delayed, to see their monastery set on fire, and themselves thrust back into the flames. Many of them fled and found an asylum in Flanders. The king also indulged in the most insulting and stinging language to the proud and passionate pontiff; protesting that he would never accept Stephen Langton as primate, that he would maintain the right of the bishop of Norwich, and, in case of the pope's refusal, he would cut off all communication between his dominions and Rome. But the pope proceeded with no less energy than John, only with a calmer dignity.
In the course of some further exchange of letters the pope enlarges on the learning and piety of Langton, and exhorts the king to abstain from taking up arms against God and His church; but, as John made no concession, Innocent commanded the bishops of London, Worcester, and Ely, to lay the whole kingdom under an interdict. When the bishops delivered their message, the king's anger broke out in wild oaths and blasphemies. He swore that if either pope or prelate should lay the kingdom under an interdict, he would drive the bishops and clergy out of the kingdom "without eyes, ears, or noses, to be the scarecrows of all nations." The prelates withdrew, and, when at a convenient distance from John, published the interdict.
In a moment all divine offices throughout the kingdom ceased, except the rite of baptism and extreme unction. "From Berwick to the British Channel," says one account of this fearful malediction, "from the Land's End to Dover, the churches were closed, the bells were silent; the only clergy who were seen stealing silently about were those who were to baptize newborn infants, or hear the confession of the dying. The dead were cast out of the towns, buried like dogs in some unconsecrated place, without prayer, without the tolling bell, without funeral rite. Those only can judge the effect of a papal interdict who consider how completely the whole life of all orders was affected by the ritual and daily ordinances of the church. Every important act was done under the counsel of the priest or the monk. The festivals of the church were the only holidays, the processions of the church the only spectacles, the ceremonies of the church the only amusements. To hear no prayer nor chant, to suppose that the world was surrendered to the unrestrained power of the devil and his evil spirits, with no saint to intercede, no sacrifice to avert the wrath of God; when no single image was exposed to view, not a cross unveiled: the intercourse between man and God utterly broken off; souls left to perish, or but reluctantly permitted absolution in the instant of death." And from other quarters we learn that, in order to inspire a deeper gloom and fanaticism, the hair was to be left uncut and the beard unshaven; the use of meat was forbidden; and even the ordinary salutation was prohibited.
Such was the state of our own country, England, for at least four years. The public misery was great and universal; but neither the misery of the subject, nor the religious privations of the Christian, moved the obdurate heart of the king or the pontiff. The triumph of the shepherd of Rome over a great kingdom was far more to be desired than the welfare of the flock. The prelates who published the edict with other rich bishops fled the kingdom; "there they lived," says the historian, "in abundance and luxury, instead of standing up as a defense for the Lord's house, abandoning their flocks to the ravening wolf." The vindictive tyrant John seemed to defy and treat with insolent disdain the awful effects of the edict on his suffering subjects. He revelled in his vengeance against the bishops and priests who obeyed the pope. He confiscated the property of the superior clergy and monasteries throughout England; and compelled the Jews to yield up their wealth by imprisonment and torture. This state of things had lasted nearly two years when another bull was issued.
The crafty pope had narrowly watched the effect of the first; and seeing that John was losing his friends and becoming more unpopular, he published the sentence of excommunication against the name and person of the sovereign. Still the profligate habits of John were such that, while he defied the pope and the hierarchy, he at the same time alienated the affections of all orders in the country. Again the pope saw his opportunity, and issued another bull yet more appalling. The subjects of John were absolved from their allegiance and commanded to avoid his presence. But with that stoical indifference to human suffering which he uniformly manifested, he determined that both himself and the nation should brave the full vengeance of Rome. The papal thunders seemed wasted on the unfeeling and irreligious king; and had he managed his nobles and people wisely, the greatest of the popes and the heaviest of his bolts, must have been ineffectual on the people of England. But the rapacity, barbarities, and outrageous conduct of the king, estranged all classes. Disaffection grew into murmurs, almost into revolt. Innocent, observing this leaven of disaffection working so effectually in England, prepared to launch his last and most dangerous thunderbolt against the contumacious sovereign. "The interdict had smitten the land; the excommunication had desecrated the person of the king; there: remained the act of deposition from the throne of his fathers, which was now pronounced. That John, king of England, be deposed from the royal crown and dignity; that his subjects be dissolved from their oath of allegiance, and be at liberty to transfer them to a person worthier to fill the vacant throne."
The throne of England was now publicly and solemnly declared vacant, by the decree of the pope, and the king's dominions the lawful spoil of whoever could wrest them from his unhallowed hands. Such was the power of the popes in those days, and such the terror of his thunders. He struck great nations with his anathemas, and they fell before him as if withered and blasted; he hurled great kings from their thrones, and compelled them to bend before the tempest of his wrath, and humbly obey the mandate of his will. All, without exception, in Church and State, must accept his own terms of reconciliation, or die without salvation and be tormented in the flames of hell for ever. The haughty and able Philip Augustus of France was tamed into submission in a few months; while the weak and contemptible John disregarded his fulminations for years, but it was only to receive a heavier blow at last, and submit to a deeper humiliation. We shall now see how this was accomplished; and, in the plot, the reader will also notice the deep cunning and deceitfulness of the pope. We have no difficulty, throughout this affair, in seeing the depths of Satan.
The papal sentence of deposition against the king of England having been publicly and solemnly promulgated, Philip of France was delegated to execute the decree. The legates placed in his hands a formal commission, directing him by apostolic authority to invade England, depose the king, and take his crown; and it is observed by the historian, that the legates and prelates feigned the most wondrous zeal and earnestness in the whole affair; while it was altogether the merest artifice. Nothing was farther from Innocent's mind than to unite the two crowns on one head. This would have strengthened France, not the Roman See. Philip had not forgotten the insolence of the pope in interdicting his kingdom, and excommunicating himself; but his hatred of John, his love of enterprise, and the pope's treachery, completely blinded him. He counted on the truthfulness of the pope, but he made a ruinous mistake. Not a moment, however, was lost by Philip in collecting a numerous fleet and army for the invasion of England.
The pope at the same time published a crusade all over Christendom against the impious king John, promising to all who should take part in this holy war the remission of sins and the privileges of crusaders. But the fallen king was not wanting either in vigor of subtlety. He assembled a large fleet at Portsmouth, and an army on Barham Downs, near Canterbury. He assumed the aggressive: but he soon discovered that in his large army there were not many to be relied upon. Maddened with passion, he threatened to become a Mahometan and seek an alliance with the Caliph; but at this moment the spirit of the impatient king underwent a sudden revolution. From the height of defiant rage he fell to the lowest depths of prostration and fear.
As it was not the interest or the intention of his Holiness to allow matters to be carried to extremities, the vigilant pope saw his time was come to interfere. Two legates, Pandulph and Durand, were sent over with the final demands of Innocent to John. They assured him that the King of France was ready to invade England with a great host and a powerful fleet, and that he would be accompanied with the archbishops, bishops, and clergy, whom John had banished; that they would transfer their allegiance to his rival Philip, and place the crown upon his head. With many such-like statements, they terrified the king, who lost all self-possession, and threw himself and his kingdom into the hands of the legates without reserve. With a meanness of spirit almost exceeding belief, and an abject submission which knew no bounds, he laid his crown at the feet of the haughty legate, resigned England and Ireland into the hands of the pope, swore homage to him as his liege lord, and took an oath of fealty to his successors. The terms of this remarkable oath are rather long and wordy, but the following is the substance of it, as given in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
"I John, by the grace of God King of England and Lord of Ireland, in order to expiate my sins, from my own free will and the advice of my barons, give to the Church of Rome, to Pope Innocent and his successors, the kingdom of England and all other prerogatives of my crown. I will hereafter hold them as the pope's vassal. I will be faithful to God, to the Church of Rome, to the pope my master, and to his successors legitimately elected. I promise to pay him a tribute of 1000 merks; to wit, 700 for the kingdom of England, and 300 for the kingdom of Ireland." This memorable submission took place on the 15th of May, 1213, in the fourteenth year of his reign, at the house of the Templars, not far from Dover.
This oath was taken by the King kneeling before all the people, and with his hands held up between those of the legate. The attesting witnesses were, one archbishop, one bishop, nine earls, four barons. Having then agreed to install Langton in the primacy, he received the crown which he had been supposed to have forfeited. The wary and politic Pandulph, having received the fealty of the King of England, and eighty thousand sterling as compensation for the exiled bishops, hastily gathered up his charter and his money-bags, and hurried to rejoin the banished prelates in Normandy and divide the money. He next hastened to the camp of King Philip Augustus, and finding the army on the point of embarkation for England, he coolly informed the King, "that there was now no further need for his services; and that in fact any attempt to invade the kingdom, or to annoy the King of England, must; be highly offensive to the holy See, inasmuch as that kingdom was now part and parcel of the patrimony of the church: it was therefore his duty to dismiss his army, and himself to return home in peace." When Philip discovered that he had been so thoroughly duped, he broke out in a storm of indignant invectives against the pope. "He had been drawn into enormous expense; he had called forth the whole strength of his dominions, under the delusive promise of a kingdom and the remission of his sins; all this he had done at the earnest entreaty of the pope. And was all the chivalry of France, in arms around their sove, reign, to be dismissed like hired menials when there was no more use for their services? " But the King's fury was met by a cool repetition of the order, "Desist from hostilities against the vassal of the Holy See."
Philip's disappointment and mortification were great; but not daring to offend the pope and unwilling to disband his army without attempting some enterprise, he made a descent on Flanders. Ferrand, the earl, though a peer of France, having entered into a secret league with John, gave Philip a fair pretext for turning his arms against his revolted vassal. But the fleets of England joined the Flemings, and the attempted conquest of Flanders ended in disgraceful defeat. The English captured three hundred vessels, and destroyed about a hundred more: whilst Philip, finding it impossible to prevent the rest from falling into the hands of the enemy, set fire to them himself, and thus abandoned the enterprise. Such was the heavy loss and discomfiture of Philip through the deep laid plot of Innocent.
John having thus triumphed over his bitter enemy, and secured the alliance of the Holy See, continued the same cruel and tyrannical measures which had hitherto rendered him odious to his subjects. His long misgovernment, and his reckless indulgence in excesses of every vicious habit, had exhausted the patience of all classes both in Church and State. A general desire was expressed for the privileges and the control of settled law.
The story of Magna Charta is so truly English, so well known, and so intimately connected with church, as well as civil history, that we must give it a brief notice in our "Short Papers." Besides, it is said by historians, that no event of equal importance occurred in any other country of Europe during the thirteenth century; and that the results of no single incident have ever been so enduring or so widely spread as those of the meeting of the barons at Runnymede and the summoning of the burgesses to Parliament. While monarchy was making such rapid strides in France, a counter-balancing power was formed in England by the combination of the nobility and the rise of the House of Commons.
Archbishop Langton, whom Innocent had raised to the primacy, in order by his means to maintain all the exorbitant pretensions of Rome over England, was himself an Englishman, and on all occasions showed a sincere regard for the interests of the kingdom to the utter disappointment of the pope. Having found amidst the rubbish of an obscure monastery a copy of the charter of Henry I., he conferred privately with the barons, and exhorted them to have it renewed. Those of the barons who had felt deeply the degradation which John had inflicted on the whole kingdom by his abject submission to the pope, received the document with loud acclamations, and took a solemn oath to conquer or to die in the defense of their liberties. After several conferences and delays forty-five barons, armed in mail, well mounted on their war-steeds, and surrounded with their knights, servants, and soldiers, presented a petition to the King, praying him to renew and ratify the charter. John at first resented their presumption in a furious passion, and swore "that he would newer grant them liberties which would make himself a slave." But the barons were firm and united, and the court of John rapidly diminished. He eventually submitted and agreed to a friendly conference. The barons named Runnymede as a proper place for meeting. It was a meadow situated between Staines and Windsor; the ground is still held in veneration as the spot where the standard of English freedom was first unfurled. On the 15th day of June, 1215, both parties met there; the King signed the charter — the great charter of the liberties of England.
Among the witnesses to that signature was Pandulph, the haughty legate. He saw it was a deadly blow to the papal power in England. Innocent was soon in possession of the startling news. His infallibility shuddered with alarm; he raged, he swore, as his manner was; he knit his brow, as the historian says, and broke out into the language of astonishment. "What! have the barons of England presumed to dethrone a king who has taken the cross, and placed himself under the protection of the apostolic See? Do they transfer to others the patrimony of the Church of Rome? By St. Peter we cannot leave such a crime unpunished." The great charter was declared null and void, the King forbidden under pain of excommunication to respect the oath which he had taken or the liberties he had confirmed. But the spiritual censures, the annulling edicts, were now received by the barons with utter disregard.
War broke out; and to the still deeper disgrace of John, who had no army of his own, he brought over from the continent bands of adventurers and freebooters promising them the estates of the English barons as rewards of valor. At the head of these mercenary troops, with the aid of two warlike bishops, Worcester and Norwich, he traversed the whole country from the channel to the Forth. He let loose his ferocious hordes like wild beasts upon his unhappy realm. The barons had made no preparations for war, not suspecting the introduction of a foreign army. Here again we see the depths of Satan; he is ever ready to give to another what power he has over the nations, provided he to whom he gives it subjects himself entirely to his will. "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." (Mt 4:8-9.) It was much the same to John whether he became a vassal of the pope, Mahomet, or Satan. For a short time he was undisputed master of the field. The whole land was wasted with fire and sword. Plunder, murder, torture, raged without control. Nothing was sacred, nothing was safe. Nobles and peasants fled with their wives and families when it was possible. The blood-stained assassins of the King and the pope passed through the country with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other; when a cry rose to heaven, "Oh, unhappy England! Oh, unhappy country! May God have mercy on us, and may His judgments fall on the King and the pope."
The judgment was not long delayed. Neither heaven nor earth could tolerate their cruelties and tyrannies any longer. The pope died on July 16th, 1216, at the age of fifty-five; just a year, a month, and a day, after the signing of Magna Charta. John survived him only a few months. He died on the 12th of October, 1216, in the forty-ninth year of his age, and the seventeenth of his reign. It is supposed that he died from fright accompanied by drunkenness. As he was returning from one of his scenes of slaughter, the royal wagons were crossing the sands of the Wash, from Norfolk into Lincolnshire, when the tide rose suddenly and all sank in the abyss. The accident filled the King with terror; he felt as if the earth was about to open and swallow him alive. He drank copiously of cider, which, with fear and remorse, closed the days of the meanest and most despicable tyrant that has ever sat on the throne of England. The names of other kings, whose vices are black enough to call forth the execrations of posterity, are often surrounded with such a halo of talent, either in the senate or the field, as to mitigate the severity of the sentence. But King John dies: his character stands before us unredeemed by one solitary virtue.
Chapter 25 - Innocent and the South of France