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The Doctrine of the Superiority of the Church
Cardinal Joseph Hergenröther
Throughout the Middle Ages, it was maintained as a doctrine that two powers have come down from God, the spiritual and the temporal, both indispensable to mankind, and appointed to work together in peace. Concord between the two was recognized as the foundation of the well-being of peoples and kingdoms, and discord as their ruin.
The Church and State, distinct in aims and means, in extent and compass, are nevertheless to work together for the well-being of mankind, mutually supporting and aiding one another. But although both powers are coordinate and independent in their own domain, still a certain order of precedence must exist between them, since they do not precisely coincide; and in case of conflict preference must be given to one over the other; and in this case, the preference was given to the Church. Let us now examine more closely, first, the doctrine of the superiority of the Church, and second, of her authority in matters temporal.
§1. The Pre-Eminence of the Church as Maintained by the Fathers
The doctrine of the superiority of Church over State is by no means a specialty of the Middle Ages, as has often been asserted. It belongs rather to the Patristic Age, and was defended by the Fathers of the Church. Thus, St. John Chrysostom says:
The Church is above the State, in the same way as the soul is above the body and heaven above the earth, and indeed far more.
Gregory of Nazianzen unites the two comparisons when he says to those holding civil dignities (dynasts and archons):
Take not amiss my freedom of speech: the law of Christ subjects you to my power and to my throne; for we bishops also exercise a sovereignty, and, moreover, I add, a greater and more perfect sovereignty; or is perchance the spirit to be inferior to the flesh, the heavenly to the earthly?
St. Isidore of Pelusium writes:
The government of the world rests on kinghood and on priesthood: although the two differ widely - for one is as the body, the other as the soul - they are nevertheless destined to one end, the well-being of their subjects.
The sovereignty exercised by bishops is, according to him, more sublime and more arduous than that of kings. The dignity of the priesthood is expressed by St. John Chrysostom in yet another way:
Those who are rulers on earth have indeed the power of binding, but it affects bodies merely; but the priestly power of binding touches souls, and penetrates heaven; what priests do here below is confirmed by God above, and the judgment of the Servants is approved by the Lord (John 20:23; Matthew 18:18). What power can be mightier? All judgment has been given by the Father to the Son (John 5:22); and I know that the disciples receive all judgment from the Son; a power as much exalted above earthly power as heaven above earth and the soul above the body.
This figure of the body and soul was employed also in the Middle Ages. Precisely similar to the image of heaven and earth is that of the sun and moon, made use of by Popes Gregory VII and Innocent III, and by many other writers. Moreover, the words of Pius IX, so ill-received by the public press, in which he said that the Church was stronger than heaven, are used by St. John Chrysostom.
§2. The Figure of the Two Swords
The figure of the two swords is also much used in the Middle Ages. Abbot Godfrey of Vendôme employs it even before St. Bernard, to whom Bossuet ascribes its first use, but not with quite so wide an application. The spiritual and the material sword were both to serve for the defence of the Church; and the material sword was to support the spiritual. Bishop Hildebert of Mans, when unjustly kept prisoner by the Count of Perche, wrote to Bishop Herlo:
Most surely it was not without reason that two swords were found on the Apostles (Luke 22:38), since both are still to be found on the members of Christ's body; as the priest is a member of Christ, so likewise is the king. I am speaking to one who has knowledge; thou knowest the meaning of the sword of the king and the sword of the priest: the first is the penalty imposed by the courts of justice; the second, the severity of Church discipline. If any one would set me free with the sword of the king, I would not ask that on my account the sword of the priest should be drawn.
Frederick Barbarossa appealed to Hadrian IV on the precise ground that it was to these two swords that God had delivered the government of the world. According to St. Richard, Archbishop of Canterbury, these two swords seek mutually for aid, and the one lends to the other its own power. Other writers also make use of this figure; and in Gratian may be found a passage imputed (though questionably) to Pope Nicholas I, in which the bishops of Gaul received an order to force plunderers of Church property to make restitution, both by the spiritual and material sword. Innocent III. also employs the figure to point out the necessity of mutual support between the two powers, which in a certain sense complete each other. Thus, in 1208 he called upon the King of France to unite his sword with that of the Church, for the chastisement of evildoers, since the spiritual and material sword have to aid each other.
§3. St. Bernard
Even stronger are the words of St. Bernard, in which he calls upon Pope Eugenius III to draw the two swords, which both belong to Peter: one to be drawn at his command, the other by his hand, as often as is needful. In his great work dedicated to the same Pope, he says:
He who denies to thee the (material) sword does not seem to have weighed sufficiently the words of our Lord, "Put thy sword into the scabbard." It is thy sword, and is to be drawn on a sign from thee, although not with thine own hand. For if it in no way belonged to thee, the Lord of the Apostles, when they said to Him, " See, here are two swords," would not have made answer, "It is enough," but " It is too much." Both swords therefore, the material and the spiritual, belong to the Church; the first to be drawn for the Church, and the second by the Church.
According to St. Bernard, the material sword belongs, in the first place, to civil rulers; but it must in any event be used according to the advice and counsel of the Church. It does not belong to the Church absolutely, but only in a certain sense, and in so far as it is bound to give her aid, to support and defend her. The figure is meant to show forth, in the first place, the necessary harmony of the two powers, and also the principle that earthly power has for its end the well-being and furtherance of the kingdom of Christ. John of Salisbury, and many other writers, teach the same thing; the Emperor Frederick II also employed this figure in the same sense, and many Popes have done the same.
This teaching was opposed for the first time in the fourteenth century by the champions of the civil power, who maintained that the allegory had no weight as proof; that it might easily bear quite another meaning; and that even supposing the two powers to be intended by the two swords, it by no means necessarily followed that both belonged to St. Peter, or to any other Apostle.
§4. The Material Sword in Defence of the Church
The principle is the same set forth by the Fathers, that God has given power to emperors and kings that they may serve His kingdom, cooperate in the aims of the Church, and promote the worship of the Almighty, and that earthly kingdoms may serve the cause of the heavenly. Gregory the Great expresses this in a letter to the Emperor Maurice:
For this end has power over all mankind been bestowed by Heaven upon the piety of my sovereign, that those who strive after good may be supported, that the path to heaven may be widened, that the earthly kingdom may serve the heavenly.
In the same way, Leo the Great warned the Emperor Leo that the imperial power was not given him merely for the ruling of the world, but also for the protection of the Church. No thought is more prominently put forward by the Fathers than that of the civil power (the material sword) being intended for the protection and furtherance of the Church. Thus, Bishop Ivo of Chartres writes to King Henry I of England:
We admonish your highness, with urgent entreaties, to suffer the Word of God to be preached without hindrance in the kingdom entrusted to you, and to be ever mindful that the earthly kingdom must be always subordinate to the heavenly kingdom, entrusted to the Church.
Paschal II (April 2, 1117) writes to the King of Denmark:
Power is lightly used when the eye is fixed on God, by whom it has been bestowed. Therefore, have God ever before thine eyes; and as thou hast received power from God, strive ever to please Him through His grace. Honor the churches and priests of God, in joy and humility; protect orphans and widows; be active in administering justice, and repress with thy might all who strive against it. Suffer not any one to plunder the goods of the Church, for this is a crime of sacrilege, and for such guilt thou art responsible; since it must not be that what is bestowed for the good of many should be plundered by the violence of one. In the repression of this crime and others, let the bishops of thy kingdom be thy fellow-workers, supporters, and helpers. The world is well governed when the priestly power acts in concert with the kingly.
§5. Utterances of the Popes
The superiority of the spiritual power has also been set forth by the Popes. Thus, Pope Gelasius wrote to the Emperor Anastasius:
There are two powers by which the world is principally governed: the consecrated authority of the bishops and the authority of the king. Of these two, the burden of the bishops is the heavier, since they have to render account for kings themselves before the judgment-seat of God. If thou, by thy dignity, hast precedence amongst men, still must thou bow thy neck in obedience to ecclesiastical superiors; thou hast to direct thy course according to their judgment, not to lead them according to thine own pleasure. Still more hast thou to submit to the Bishop of the Roman See, set over all by the voice of Christ, and ever acknowledged with reverence as her head by the Church.
Pope Symmachus declares to him:
If thou be a Christian prince, thou must hearken patiently to the voice of every bishop. When the dignity of emperor is compared to the dignity of bishop, the difference between them is as great as between the charge of things human and of things divine.
Gregory IV impressed upon the Frankish bishops that the charge of souls, a bishop's office, is higher than the imperium, which is merely temporal. According to Ambrosiaster, nothing like the episcopal dignity is to be found; compared to it, the splendor of kings and the diadem of princes are as lead to gold. Treating of this, Erasmus of Rotterdam himself says:
Weighed in a just balance, no king is so exalted, in virtue of his kingship, as not to be beneath the dignity, I will not say of a bishop, but even of a simple pastor of souls, in virtue of his pastoral charge.
Gregory VII observes:
In the hour of death, no one calls for the assistance of an earthly king, but for that of a priest; priests are the fathers and teachers even of kings and princes, and Constantine himself considered them as his judges; indeed, a simple exorcist has greater power than civil rulers; for the exorcist has sway over devils, while rulers often obey them.
§6. The Pre-Eminence of the Church as Defended in the Middle Ages
Throughout the Middle Ages, and long afterwards, the pre-eminence of the Church over every earthly kingdom was uncontested. It was recognized that the order or rank of societies differed according to their end or aim; that the end of the Church was the higher, indeed the highest conceivable, and that the temporal must be subservient to the spiritual. The principle put forward by St. Augustine was maintained, i.e. that without true justice, which is the foundation of kingdoms, no government can endure; but that true justice exists only where the true faith reigns, where Christ is king. It was remembered in the Middle Ages that the Fathers had set forth the insufficiency of political and social institutions, and had referred the Bible prophecies concerning the kingdom of David, and the eternal kingdom never to be overthrown, to the Church. The words of Holy Scripture as to the chastisement of the mighty who despise the law of God were ever before men's eyes (e.g. Wisdom 6:2, 10), as were the passages as to the passing nature of all earthly power and greatness (e.g. Ecclesiastes 1:1 seq.); and they were used to see the first place conceded to the kingdom of God above all others.
§7. The Independence of Church and State
It is the teaching of theologians and canonists that, although the political power of sovereigns is the highest of its kind in all that concerns the material aims of life and the well-being of society, and is in its own sphere second to none, still it by no means follows that in all which relates to a more sublime end it has not been subjected to another power. From a Christian point of view, the end of the State is not the final and most lofty; it is inferior to the end of eternal salvation; the natural order is surpassed by the supernatural. The Church ever sets before men the highest end; and it is precisely by their ends that the relation of various societies to each other is determined.
Earthly well-being, which it is the duty of the State to promote, is for the Church merely a means to her own end, the attainment of eternal salvation for her members. So long as it is not denied that this life is to be referred to a future life; so long as the immortality of the soul, and the final destiny of man beyond the grave, are maintained; and so long as it is conceded that the aim of the Church is to prepare and direct mankind for this destiny, it must likewise be conceded that, in questions relating to the higher end, eternal salvation, the civil power must be subordinate to the spiritual, even as the end of the one is subordinate to the end of the other.
But in things temporal, the dependence of the Church upon the State is often felt most pressingly; according to Pope Nicholas I, Christian emperors, in order to attain eternal life, stand in need of the Pontiffs, while they, on their side, make use of the imperial laws in earthly matters. This mutual need brings with it a matual dependence in all things which extend beyond the distinct province of each power.
§8. The Distinction Between the Powers of Church and State
Nevertheless, the Church being a direct institution of God, while the State has been only indirectly instituted by God, the Church once more takes precedence; she has, moreover, greater firmness and endurance, wider extension, more influence both on the heart and actions of men. Even French Councils pronounced the higher dignity and pre-eminence of ecclesiastical over civil power; and as late as the beginning of the seventeenth century, this was a received principle with all Catholic authors. Whether the civil power owed its origin to the ecclesiastical was indeed disputed, but never that it was beneath the ecclesiastical in dignity.
§9. The Rejection of the Separation of Church and State
From a Christian point of view, the superiority of the Church is seen to be all the more needful from the fact that otherwise the true relation between the two orders, the natural and the supernatural, would be wanting. Seen in the light of the Catholic faith, the separation of Church and State, lately become a principle, is the tearing of the world from God, of the creature from the Creator, the turning away of society from its highest end; the dividing and dismembering of each individual, by separating the characters of churchman and citizen, in a way opposed to the nature of things, and which entails endless collisions of duties, being contrary to the text, "That which God has united let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6).
In practice, it presents immense difficulties, things temporal and things spiritual not being always easy to divide; for the points of contact and connection between the religious and civil domains are endless, and the boundary line has not in all cases been discerned, much less determined. According to one able French writer:
If the Church were merely an institution for prayer, and the State for police; if religion confined itself entirely to speculative opinions, mystical feelings, and secret meditations, while the State had to do only with the good order and cleanliness of cities and streets; if the spiritual sphere comprehended only the innermost relations of each soul to God, the temporal only the prevention of misdeeds and plunder among men; it would then indeed be easy to separate completely two spheres which would neither have, nor be likely to have, any points of contact, and to preserve freedom to two powers knowing nothing of, and never coming across, one another. But facts overturn all these imaginary barriers and boundary lines. Religion is by no means a hermit enclosed in a cell; neither is the State contented with the part of a district policeman or beadle. Both powers aim far higher, and as yet, even without overstepping the sphere transmitted and belonging to each, neither of the two have been able to stir a step without being brought into mutual contact.
Everywhere in life they come across one another, and the one can neither avoid nor ignore the other. This being the case, it cannot be but that one should honor the other as superior. Even if it does not follow, as was maintained of old, from the principle of unity in the government of the universe, that two powers, not merely distinct, but, moreover, entirely independent of each other, cannot by possibility exist side by side, it may still be seen from their actual relations, that either the State must guide the Church or the Church the State; a mean between State supremacy and a so-called theocracy is no longer conceivable. Since earthly well-being is to lead to heaven, all else must be subordinate to man's final end; and the rulers of Christian States, as believers, being bound by the same duties as their subjects, a Catholic State cannot avoid acknowledging the superiority of the Church, and must necessarily look upon it as a healthful and strengthening influence, as a safeguard of its own welfare and prosperity.
§10. The Inability of the State to Fulfil the Highest End
Christianity of necessity brought with it a change in the conception of the State. The State is no longer a final end to which, according to the ancient idea, individuals must devote themselves, and personal rights be sacrificed; on the contrary, individuals have essential aims, independent of the State, which they may never sacrifice to it. To them, the State is not above all else, but is subservient to the institutions ordained for the salvation and highest destiny of mankind.
Christianity may thus seem to have withdrawn from the State a portion of its dignity, but it has in reality increased it. According to the Christian conception, the State is an ordinance of God for the maintenance of peace and justice, a figure of the moral government of the universe in this lower world. The majesty and power of rulers is based upon their receiving a charge from God, and being His representatives; and it is their calling to do all in their power for the increase of God's kingdom, and the training of man for his supernatural destiny.
§11. The Protestant Defence of the Superiority of the Church
Let us hear a professor of Protestant theology. The ecclesiastical privy councillor of Baden, C. B. Hundeshagen, writes:
Within the pale of Christianity, there is no point of view from which it is not accepted as a certain truth that heaven is superior, earth inferior and subordinate; that the salvation of souls is incomparably above all earthly well-being; that the majesty of holiness is immeasurably beyond all other majesty; that aid in attaining heaven, in the very nature of things, takes precedence of any kind of aid towards the end of this earthly life. This is and will ever be the Christian view of life. It is absolutely inconceivable that, so long as Christianity exists, this view of life should ever cease to exercise its influence upon the hearts and minds of men. Striking practical proof in support of this assertion is given us in the fact that the destiny of man for something higher than this everyday world, and that which it brings with it, has so completely taken possession of the mind of all ages of Christendom, that even such times and societies as have long ago got rid of all thought of "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns," still have not been able to free themselves from a remnant of Christian idealism. In many regions of the great world of civilization, as is well known, there often remains, of that which constitutes the real meaning of Christian hopes and aspirations, merely a dull colorless deposit. It is nevertheless acknowledged that spirit is above matter, the soul higher than the body, the world of thought more exalted than the world fashioned by our hands; that the ideal, though invisible, and merely an object of faith, takes precedence of all that is visible to our eyes, that may be felt, that stands before us and flatters our senses, that is the object of sensible experience. It is not necessary, for this, to mix with men of a higher stamp; in most cases, even those of a coarser nature will confess that, in theory at least, above money and land, above property and pleasures, above the loaves and fishes of this earthly life, stand ideal goods: conscience, honor, freedom, right, love, truth, art, and science. They will at least allow that such a view of the world, if perhaps not "practical," is still "beautiful." This remnant of idealism has still, there can be no doubt, a certain value. Reverence for the sublime, the noble, and the beautiful, in contrast with the mean and the base, forms most surely a notable point of union between the un-Christian civilized world and the Christian, with its high conception of things sacred. It is at the same time a testimony of the permanent influence of the Christian view of life, even in such regions as have in all else rejected the Christian view; and in this respect it is a remarkable sign. Suffice it to say that the magic by which New Rome won the hearts of men to her system of the government of the State by the Church was no other than this sense of ideal good so strongly and universally awakened in mankind by Christianity.
And this, forsooth, is called theocracy!
§12. The Scope of the Church's Power as Taught by the Popes
Theocracy, in this sense, can never be uprooted; it is inseparably bound up with Christianity. It is the ideal of Christians truly filled with faith and trained at the same time in mind. It will make itself felt amid all forms of human development as long as men have faith in Him who has said:
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
But even among Christians, it is an ideal but seldom, and in part, realized. In a sense, it is the same as with Christian perfection and the Evangelical Counsels. The heathen of old, especially Julian the Apostate, made sport of them, above all of Matthew 19:21, as impolitic and conducive to the ruin of human society, which could not exist together with them. Amongst other answers it was urged in reply that though, of course, perfection was to be desired for all, still as a fact it was not to be found in all, while virtue had ever fewer followers than vice, and wealth found more supporters than poverty. But supposing the luxury of life, the search and pursuit of earthly pleasure, the serving of mammon completely done away with, all society would be raised, ennobled, and transformed into a more sublime community. In the same way, were an end put to all wars,were all laws molded upon the eternal justice of God, the supernatural everywhere preferred to the natural, and all spiritual claims satisfied, the pathway to the Church triumphant would be thrown open for the Church militant, and earth would be the antechamber of heaven; a true kingdom of God would arise, not indeed rendering earthly kingdoms superfluous, but raising them to a higher unity.
Christ did not set aside His counsels because few were found to follow them, and in like manner the ideal of the truly God-fearing State, because it can be but seldom and approximately realised, is not therefore to be passed over in silence, and this all the less because, from a religious point ofview, it is here not a question of a counsel merely, but of a duty. For as the individual has to subject himself to God and to His revelation, so also has society, domestic as well as political, the family as well as the State. Christ has given to the community the same way of salvation as to the individual f and as the body has its life from the soul, so the soul has its life from God, in whom we live and move and have our being. The admonition, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33), applies as much to the community as to individuals; earthly blessings will follow after.
Some there are who deny the divinity and sovereignty of Christ, and withdraw their necks from His yoke; but the King and Lord of all things does not therefore cease to possess this sovereignty; His right and His majesty are in no way impaired by this disobedience. Christ is and must ever be the King of kings, and the Church is His Kingdom, to which all are bound to belong.
§13. The Ideal of the Truly God-Fearing State
The practical consequences arising from the superiority of the Church are by no means such as have been deduced from it,that is to say, it does not follow that the whole domain of civil rule devolves upon the Church; never has she claimed for herself so unlimited a competency. The Popes themselves, when engaged in the decision of weighty questions, have fully set forth the limits of their power. This is the case, for example, in the Decree of Innocent III Per venerabilem (1202). The Pope here clearly and emphatically expresses his high respect for the authority of temporal princes. Count William of Montpellier had petitioned the Pope to legitimatize his illegitimate children, and amongst other examples appealed to that of the French King Philip Augustus. Innocent thereupon made answer:
The King of France, since he acknowledges in matters temporal no superior, could, without violating the rights of a third party, submit himself to our judgment, as he actually did; some may even think that he himself in his own person might have given the dispensation, not as a father to his own children, but as a prince to his subjects. But thou (William) art, as thou knowest, subject to other princes; hence perhaps thou couldst not submit thyself to us without prejudice to them if they should withhold their consent; and thy authority is not such as to give thee personally in such cases the right of dispensation.
§14. The Decree 'Novit'
Here also mention must be made of the celebrated Decree Novit, called forth by a complaint made by the King of England against Philip Augustus of France. The feudal relation between the continental possessions of the English kings and the crown of France had often led to disputes and wars, always most disastrous, but especially so in the time of King John of England. The murder of his nephew Arthur was universally laid to his charge; and, at the suit of the Duchess Constance, Prince Arthur's mother, and of the nobles of Aquitaine, the French king summoned John before the feudal court to make his defense. John neither appeared himself nor sent representatives. The court of French peers declared him guilty of felony, and his feudal estates in France forfeited. Philip Augustus, with a strong force, invaded Normandy, and took one by one all John's continental possessions. John, unable to withstand his enemy, applied to the Roman See, complaining that the King of France had violated a sworn treaty, had begun the war before the expiration of the time agreed upon, and had violently seized from him his dominions. These incessant feuds between great kings were, as Alexander III had before declared (September 6, 1173), most displeasing to the Holy See, especially as they harassed and divided the powers of Christendom, and thus rendered impossible all joint undertakings, especially Crusades. Innocent III, who had not been remiss in admonitions and warnings, and had made unceasing efforts to keep peace between the two kings, sent the Abbots of Casamario and Tre Fontane as legates to induce them to lay down their arms and make peace, and the rights of each party being reserved, to lay that country under an interdict whose ruler should refuse compliance. The legates were sent to both princes, who were admonished to put an end to the war. The letters of the Pope, in which similar words are used to both kings, show an equal sense of his own duty, and of the respect due to their high dignity. He says:
Since it is well known to thy kingly highness that with us there can be no respect of persons, we are convinced that thou wilt not take it ill if even towards thee we fulfill the duty of our pastoral office, lest, together with the offence against the Divine Majesty of which negligence would make us guilty, our office may incur the censure of men by our omitting in the case of kings and princes something of that which ought to be done, making more account of their wishes than of their well-being. The word of God in our mouths must never be bound, but must be wholly free, that we may freely correct the turbulent, and as often as is profitable fulfill the word of the Apostle, which applies to us all the more the higher the office held by us in the Church.
John, in the midst of so many difficulties, was ready to submit, even though the bitterest truths were told him; but Philip Augustus, who had no wish to be deprived of his victory, first delayed his answer, then deliberated with his council, and at last replied that, in matters of fiefs and vassals, he was not bound to render account to the Pope, who had moreover no concern with the disputes of kings. Thereupon, the Pope wrote back to Philip that nothing more nearly concerned his pastoral charge than the admonishing of Christian princes to keep the peace, that he might thereby hinder pillage, sacrilege, and other evils arising from war; that the King of England had complained to the Holy See of grievous injustice suffered at the hands of Philip, by reason of which, having in vain sought redress, he had turned to the Church; to her the king must perforce hearken, since it was a question involving grievous sin. The Pope wrote in detail on the same subject to all the bishops of France in 1204, setting forth the right and justice of his interference. Hence arose the celebrated Decree Novit.
§15. The Judgment of Innocent III
Innocent declares that he has the honour and well-being of the King of France so much at heart that he considers the exaltation of his kingdom as the exaltation of the Holy See, and that he was far from intending in any way to injure him; that, burdened already with duties beyond his strength, he had no thought of encroaching upon the jurisdiction of the king, and neither would the king desire to do anything to the prejudice of the Pope's jurisdiction; that he had merely made use of the spiritual jurisdiction possessed by the Church (Matthew 18:15-17); that when brotherly admonition and correction before witnesses were fruitless, the sinner was to be brought before the judgment-seat of the Church, and, if found guilty and wanting in submission, was to be cast forth and treated as the heathen and the publican; that the right of correction, even in the case of Christian princes, had ever been inherent in the Church; that he had no intention of judging in a question of fiefs, but in a question of sin, to censure which was beyond doubt the duty of the Pope; that, moreover, this was a case of treaties of peace confirmed by oath and broken before the appointed time; and that it was the duty of the Church to take cognizance of oaths.
The principle of the Decree is that directly the Church has to pass judgment as to the violation of the moral law, indirectly as to the temporal matters involved. The Pope was not directly concerned in the execution of the sentence of the French feudal court, nor in the sentence itself, but grievous offences against the moral law fall under the judgment of the Head of the Church, who has power to proceed against the culprit with spiritual punishments. This is a power given not by men but by God, the power of binding and loosing given to St. Peter and affecting all Christians without respect of persons; even kings are subject to it, and all the more because, with this exception, they acknowledge no superior. The Pope has not to speak of temporal matters as such, and can only touch them indirectly when they are connected with a violation of the moral law. The Pope in this case is merely a subsidiary judge.
This was the principle applied hy Alexander III in a question as to legitimacy when appeal was made from a temporal judge to the Roman See, and by Honorius III in the dispute as to the right of succession of the Queen of Cyprus. Innocent accurately distinguishes the question of civil law from that falling within his own jurisdiction. In the particular case before us, King John had brought Philip's offence under the notice of the Church, and had offered to come forward himself as a witness. Philip, as the Pope admonished him, should now have called to mind the example of pious princes, such as the Emperor Valentinian, who desired ever such a supreme pastor as would recall him to the right path by his rebuke, when he through human frailty erred. Theodosius II and Charles the Great directed that, if one of two contending parties desired to lay his case before the Church, he should be suffered to do so. The promotion of peace was the Pope's unquestioned duty; a short time before it had been beneficial to the French king; and since he had himself desired the Pope to mediate for peace with Richard Coeur-de-Lion, he had no just ground for now withstanding a like endeavor.
But beyond the question of the truce came that of its confirmation by oath, upon which the Church had an acknowledged right of judgment. The Pope could not appear to favor such a state of disturbance between the two kings, or to lean to one side rather than the other. His legates were to move the King of France to make a new treaty, or failing this, in conjunction with the Archbishop of Bourges, to make inquiry into John's grievances. John sent no representative to the Synod held by the legates at Meaux in 1204, while the French prelates appealed to the Pope. The Pope received the appeal, though he would not hold them bound by the obligation they had undertaken of obeying the summons within an appointed time under pain of suspension; he was satisfied with the attendance of a few. Those who made their appearance were the Archbishops of Sens and Bourges, the Bishops of Paris, Meaux, Châlons, Nevers, and other ecclesiastics; they defended the right of their king, and were prepared, in case they had fallen under suspicion, to undergo canonical purgation. The Pope released them from this, and took no further steps on the side of John, who again had sent no representative to Rome. By 1206, John had lost his dominions on the Continent. When, in 1205, the Bishops of Normandy inquired of the Pope whether they were to take the fidelitas demanded by the French king, i.e. the oath of allegiance, Innocent III replied that they must judge for themselves according to their knowledge of the circumstances, and that he could give them no answer on the subject.
§16. The Ability of the Church to Judge Sin
The Decree Novit was everywhere, even in France itself, accepted as part of canon law. In 1329, Petrus Bertrandi, at that time Bishop of Autun, set forth these principles in the name of the clergy before the officers of the crown, making appeal to this very Decree; the same had been done before by the renowned Augustinian Aegidius of Rome, Archbishop of Bourges (died 1316), who defended the jurisdiction of the Church in mixed matters in the sense of the Decree; even the author of the Somnium Viridarii (c. 1382), though so little in favour of ecclesiastical claims, maintains the same; the differences of opinion mentioned by him scarcely affect the material question. St. Bernard also taught that, in certain contingencies (incidenter) and for cogent reasons, the Church may intervene in temporal matters, and the same has been taught by the majority of theologians since his time.
But this did not imply that all temporal power was delivered over to the Church, or that the two powers were blended into one. The Church punished crimes which fell under her cognizance with spiritual penalties, while the State came in with temporal penalties. The State dealt with temporal cases inquisitorially and by means of its officials; the spiritual power only after a denunciation, or by reason of the publicity of the guilt, in so far as lay within its domain. The Church, whose aim was the amendment of the offender, only punished the obstinate (contumax), who, in spite of all warnings, did not amend; the State punished those who had done wrong, even when they had repented of their crime. The chastisements of the Church were intended to heal the soul (medicinal), and not primarily to expiate the crime (vindicative). But the Church could not justly punish unless the sin was proved; she must take cognizance of it. Therefore kings, though subject to no vindicative punishment, and having in matters temporal no superior over them, were still not free from the spiritual power and from the healing punishments of the Church in case they sinned publicly and with grievous scandal, or misused their power to the injury of religion and of souls.
It did not follow that every question of law could be brought at pleasure before the spiritual court under pretext of grievous sin; if fraud (dolus) were proved, the spiritual judge was bound to refuse to hear the question in dispute. Moreover, the competence of the civil judge, when real, did not cease because the Church also took cognizance of the case of a Christian guilty of public and grievous sin.
In the next installment, we shall examine the authority of the Church in temporal matters.