« VorigeDoorgaan »
right over the sub vassal, or any direct estate or interest in his territory. The lord's right and interest consisted in this, that if the vassal neglected to perform the services, or pay the rent incident to his tenure, the territory was subject to the lord's remedy for enforcing them, and liable, in some instances, to be forfeited. When this happened, the vassalage was extinguished ; and the sub-vassal became, from that time, chief or immediate tenant to the lord. It is the same, at the present time, with respect to a manor, which the lord of it holds of the lord of another manor. If the intermediate lord neglects to pay his rent, or to perform his service, the superior lord may enforce them by distress, and, in some cases, by seizing the intermediate manor for forfeiture. When the forfeiture takes place, the lordship of the intermediate manor ceases, and the tenants of it become actual or immediate tenants of the superior lord. It may be added, that, at the time to which the subject of these letters has led us, there scarcely was, in Christendom, a sovereign who was not possessed of territories, for which he was a vassal, either to some other sovereign, or to the subject of another sovereign.
Still, if the transaction had rested here, both the monarch and the pontiff would have been inexcusable, as the former had no right to confer, or the latter to receive, the ultimate feudal superiority created by the arrangement.
But it may be observed, in justification both of the monarch and the pontiff, that the prelates, barons, and knights of the realm, were parties to the transaction, and concurred in it. You yourself inform us, that all parties had alternately appealed to the pope.
The ignominious ceremony was performed in their presence, and without even a murmur of disapprobation : it may be added, that it took place under a national apprehension of a French invasion; and it is not a little remarkable, that the barons, soon afterwards, transferred their allegiance to Lewis, the son of the French monarch, then at the head of the invading army. Considering all these circumstances, you will probably think with me, that the transaction has not been fairly represented by the generality of our historians; that the king, and his spiritual and temporal lords, share the blame in common with the pontiff; and that he was less blameable than they.
Temporal Power of the Pope. From an humble fisherman, the pope successively became owner of houses and lands, acquired the power of magistracy in Rome, and large territorial possessions in Italy, Dalmatia, Sicily, Sardinia, France and Africa, and ultimately obtained the rank and consequence of a great temporal prince.
Here the pope did not stop; but claimed, by divine gift, a right to exercise supreme temporal power over all christian sovereigns, when a great
good of religion required it. This claim was unfounded; both the gospel and tradition declared against it, and it produced great evil.
But let us be just : 1. In theory, the utility of such a power may be imagined " The interest of human kind," says Voltaire, “ requires a curb to withhold sove“ reigns, and to protect the lives of their subjects.
By a general convention, this curb might have “ been placed in the hands of the popes. These
supreme pontiffs,—by interfering in temporal quarrels, for no purpose but appeasing them; by
representing to sovereigns and subjects their “ respective duties; by reproving their crimes, and “ reserving excommunications for great enormities,
--might have been regarded as gods upon earth. “ But men are reduced to have no other defence " than the laws and manners of their country; “ laws often despised, and manners often corrupt.”
In the middle ages there was often no such available law; some curb was, therefore, necessary, and it could not be placed in better hands than in those
of the pope.
By universal convention," says Voltaire*, “ it might have been placed in his hands.” No such universal convention was entered into at any specific time; but, from the repeated acknowledgment of the sovereigns of almost every christian state, may it not be plausibly contended that such a convention was tacitly established ? “ Unhap
* Essai sur l'Hist. Gen. tom. 2, c. 49.
pily, almost all the sovereigns," says Voltaire*,
by an inconceivable blindness, laboured to give “ it credit in public opinion, as a weapon which
depended, for its power, on public opinion only. “ When it was levelled at one of their rivals, or “ their enemies, they not only approved but soli“ cited it; and by their undertaking to execute a “ sentence, which deprived a sovereign of his state,
they subjected their own to the usurped juris“ diction." In confirmation of this observation of Voltaire, we may mention, that when the pope excommunicated Phillip Augustus of France, for marrying a woman during the life of his first wife, the monarch charged the pope with insolence, and an abuse of power ; but, when the pope conferred the kingdom of England upon Phillip, and his heirs, the monarch never observed to any one, that the pope had no right to dispose of kingdoms. At the league of Cambray, the kings of France and Spain recognized the pope's power of excommunication ; and stipulated, that he should subject Venice to an interdict, if she did not comply with their demands within a given time.
It is not a little remarkable, that, so lately as the sixteenth century, Henry VII. than whom no monarch was more jealous of his prerogative, or better acquainted with it, applied to pope Innocent for a confirmation of his title to the crown. Lord Bacon cites the bull by which it was granted.
I repeat, that the claim was fantastic. But who were most blameable,—the popes, who made the
Lettres sur l'Histoire, tom. 2, lett. 2.4.
claim, or the sovereigns, who acknowledged it?
The latter were silly; worldly wisdom could not blame the former.
3. It must be admitted, that the popes, by insisting upon their claims, sometimes produced good. The action and re-action of the pope's aggression, and the monarch's resistance, gave to each the locus penitentia, the hour of reflection, and brought both to moderate councils: this proved, in the result, advantageous, both to the religious and the civil interests of the people.
4. It must also be admitted, that, in these contests, the clergy generally supported the monarch; and that, on other occasions, they resisted the undue exertion of papal prerogative.
5. In most respects, the popes appear to advantage, both in their sacerdotal and their regal capacities. That a few, in the long list were stained by vice, is not denied; or that others exhibited the workings of those passions, which too often accompany the possession of power. But can it be said, that, even in the times of the greatest darkness, the roman pontiffs were not generally distinguished by superior virtue and superior acquirements ? Collectively taken, let them be compared with their contemporary princes in every age, and, most assuredly, they will not suffer in the comparison.
Voltaire observes, that, in the dark ages, there was less of barbarism and ignorance, in the dominions of the popes, than in any other European
Much, unquestionably, was done by them, in every portion of Christendom, to dispel ignorance,