The popes were continually increasing their power in many ways, although they were often unable to hold their ground in their own city, but were driven out by the Romans, so that they were obliged to seek a refuge in France, or to fix their court for a time in some little Italian town. They claimed the right of setting up and plucking down emperors and kings. Instead of asking the emperor to confirm their own election to the papacy, as in former times, they declared that no one could be emperor without their consent. They said that they were the chief lords over kingdoms; they required the emperors to hold their stirrup as they mounted on horseback, and the rein of their bridle as they rode. And while such was their treatment of earthly princes, they also steadily tried to get into their own hands the powers which properly belonged to bishops, so that the bishops should seem to have no rights of their own, but to hold their office and to do whatever they did only through the pope's leave and as his servants. They contrived that whenever any difference arose in the Church of any country, instead of being settled on the spot, it should be carried by an appeal to Rome, that the pope might judge it. They declared themselves to be above any councils of bishops, and claimed the power of assembling general councils, although in earlier times this power had belonged to the emperors, as was seen in the case of the first great council of Nicaea. They interfered with the election of bishops, and with the appointment of clergy to offices, in every country; and they sent into every country their ambassadors, or "legates" (as they were called), whom they charged people to respect and obey as they would respect and obey the pope himself. These legates usually made themselves hated by their pride and greediness; for they set themselves up far above the archbishops and bishops of any country that they might be sent into, and they squeezed out from the clergy of each country which they visited the means of keeping up their pomp and splendour.
The popes who followed Gregory VII all endeavoured to act in his spirit, and to push the claims of their see further and further. And of these popes, by far the strongest and most successful was Innocent III, who was only thirty-seven years old when he was elected in 1198. I have told you how Gregory said that the papacy was as much greater than any earthly power as the sun is than the moon. And now Innocent carried out this further by saying that, as the lesser light (the moon) borrows of the greater light (the sun), so the royal power is borrowed from the priestly power.
Innocent pretended to a right of judging between the princes who claimed the empire and the kingdom of Germany, and of making an emperor by his own choice. He forced the king of France, Philip Augustus, to do justice to a virtuous Danish princess, whom he had married and had afterwards put away. And he forced John of England to accept Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury, although Langton was appointed by the pope without any regard to the rights of the clergy or of the sovereign of England. Both in France and in England, Innocent made use of what was called an interdict to make people submit to his will. By this sentence (which had first come into use about three hundred years before), a whole country was punished at once, the bad and the good alike; all the churches were closed, all the bells there silenced, all the outward signs of religion were taken away. There was no blessing for marriage, there were no prayers at the burial of the dead; the baptism of children and the office for the dying were the only services of the Church which were allowed while the interdict lasted. And it was commonly found, that, although a king might not himself care for any spiritual threats or sentences which the pope might utter, he was unable to hold out against the general feeling of his people, who could not bear to be without the rites of religion, and cried out that the innocent thousands were punished for the sake of one guilty person.
John was completely subdued to the papacy, and agreed to give up his crown to the pope's commissioner, Pandulf; after which he received it again from Pandulf's hands, and promised to hold the kingdoms of England and Ireland under the condition of paying a yearly tribute as an acknowledgment that the pope was his lord.
Archbishop Langton, although he had been forced on the English Church by the pope, yet afterwards took a different line from what might have been expected. For when John, by his tyranny, provoked his barons to rise against him, the archbishop was at the head of those who wrung from the king the Great Charter as a security for English liberty; and, although the pope was violently angry, and threatened to punish the archbishop and the barons severely, Langton stood firmly by the cause which he had taken up.
While Innocent was thus carrying things with a high hand among the Christians of the West, he could not but feel distress about the state of affairs in the East. There, countries which had once been Christian, and among them the Holy Land, where the Saviour had lived and died, had fallen into the hands of unbelievers, and all the efforts which had been made to recover them had hitherto been vain. The pope's mind was set on a new crusade, and in order to raise money for it he gave much out of his own purse, stinted himself as to his manner of living, obliged the cardinals and others around him to do the like, and caused collections to be gathered throughout Western Christendom. Eloquent preachers were sent about to stir people up to the great work, and the chief beginning was made at a place called Ecry, in the north of France. It so happened that the most famous of the preachers, whose name was Fulk, arrived there just as a number of nobles and knights were met for a tournament (which was the name given to the fights of knights on horseback, which were regarded as sport, but very often ended in sad earnest). Fulk, by the power of his speech, persuaded most of these gallant knights at Ecry to take the cross; and, as the number of Crusaders grew, some of them were sent to Venice, to provide means for their being carried by sea to Egypt, which was the country in which it was thought that the Mahometans might be attacked with the best hope of success.
When these envoys reached Venice, which was then the chief trading city of Europe, they found the Venetians very willing to supply what they wanted. It was agreed that for a certain sum of money the Venetians should prepare ships and provisions for the number of Crusaders which was expected; and they did so accordingly. But when the Crusaders came, it was found that their numbers fell short of what had been reckoned on; for many had chosen other ways of going to the East; and, as the Venetians would take nothing less than the sum which they had bargained for, the Crusaders, with their lessened numbers, found themselves unable to pay. In this difficulty, the Venetians proposed that, instead of the money which could not be raised, the Crusaders should give them their help against the city of Zara, in Dalmatia, with which Venice had a quarrel. The Crusaders were very unwilling to do this; because the pope, in giving his consent to their enterprise, had forbidden them to turn their arms against any Christians. But they contrived to persuade themselves that the pope's words were not to be understood too exactly; and at a meeting in the great church of St. Mark, Henry Dandolo, the doge or duke of Venice, took the cross, and declared to the vast multitude of citizens and Crusaders who crowded the church that, although he was ninety-four years of age, and almost or altogether blind, he himself would be the leader.
A fleet of nearly five hundred vessels sailed from Venice accordingly (Oct. 1202), and Zara was taken after a siege of six days, although the inhabitants tried to soften the feelings of the besiegers by displaying crosses and sacred pictures from the walls, as tokens of their brotherhood in Christ. After this success, the Crusaders were bound by their engagement to go on to Egypt or the Holy Land; but a young Greek prince, named Alexius, entreated them to restore his father, who had been dethroned by a usurper, to the empire of the East; and although the French were unwilling to undertake any work that might interfere with the recovery of the Holy Land, the Venetians, who cared little for anything but their own gain, persuaded them to turn aside to Constantinople.
When the Crusaders came in sight of the city, they were so astonished at the beauty of its lofty walls and towers, of its palaces and its many churches, that (as we are told) the hearts of the boldest among them beat with a feeling which could not be kept down, and many of them even burst into tears. They found the harbour protected by a great chain which was drawn across the mouth of it; but this chain was broken by the force of a ship which was driven against it with the sails swollen by a strong wind. The blind old doge, Henry Dandolo, stood in the prow of the foremost ship, and was the first to land in the face of the Greeks who stood ready to defend the ground. Constantinople was soon won, and the emperor, who had been deposed and blinded by the usurper, was brought from his dungeon, and was enthroned in the great church of St. Sophia, while his son Alexius was anointed and crowned as a partner in the empire.
But quarrels soon arose between the Greeks and the Latins. Alexius was murdered by a new usurper; his father died of grief: and the Crusaders found themselves drawn on to conquer the city afresh for themselves. This conquest was disgraced by much cruelty and unchecked plunder; and the religion of the Greeks was outraged by the Latin victors as much as it could have been by heathen barbarians.
The Crusaders set up an emperor and a patriarch of their own, and the Greek clergy were forced to give way to Latins. The pope, although he was much disappointed at finding that his plan for the recovery of the Holy Land had come to nothing, was yet persuaded by the greatness of the conquest to give a kind of approval to it. But the Latin empire of the East was never strong; and after about seventy years it was overthrown by the Greeks, who drove out the Latins and restored their own form of Christian religion.
Innocent did not give up the notion of a crusade, and at a later time he sent about preachers to stir up the people of the West afresh; but nothing had come of this when the pope died. I must, however, mention a strange thing which arose out of this attempt at a crusade.
A shepherd boy, named Stephen, who lived near Vendome, in the province of Orleans, gave out that he had seen a vision of the Saviour, and had been charged by Him to preach the cross. By this tale Stephen gathered some children about him, and they set off for the crusade, displaying crosses and banners, and chanting in every town or village through which they passed, "Lord, help us to recover Thy true and holy cross!" When they reached Paris, there were no less than 15,000 of them, and as they went along their numbers became greater and greater. If any parents tried to keep back their children from joining them, it was of no use; even if they shut them up, it was believed that the children were able to break through bars and locks in order to follow Stephen and his companions. Ignorant people fancied that Stephen could work miracles, and treasured up threads of his dress as precious relics. At length the company, whose numbers had reached 30,000, arrived at Marseilles, where Stephen entered the city in a triumphal car, surrounded on all sides by guards. Some shipowners undertook to convey the child-crusaders to Egypt and Africa for nothing; but these were wretches who meant to sell them as slaves to the Mahometans; and this was the fate of such of the children as reached the African coast, after many of them had been lost by shipwreck on the way.
Innocent, although he had nothing to do with this crusade, or with one of the same kind which was got up in Germany, declared that the zeal of the children put to shame the coldness of their elders, whom he was still labouring, with little success, to enlist in the cause of the Holy Land.
A war of a different kind, but which was also styled a crusade, was carried on in the south of France while Innocent was pope. In that country there were great numbers of persons who did not agree with the Roman Church, and who are known by the names of Waldenses and Albigenses. The opinions of these two parties differed greatly from each other. The Waldenses, whose name was given to them from Peter Waldo of Lyons, who founded the party about the year 1170, were a quiet set of people, something like the Quakers of our own time. They dressed and lived plainly, they were mild in their manners, and used some rather affected ways of speech; they thought all war and all oaths wrong, they did not acknowledge the claims of the clergy, and, although they attended the services of the Church, it is said that they secretly mocked at them. They were fond of reading the Holy Scripture in their own language, while the Roman Church could only allow it to be read in Latin, which was understood by few except the clergy, and not by all of them. And so eager were the Waldenses to bring people to their own way of thinking, that we are told of one of them, a poor man, who, after his day's work, used to swim across a river on wintry nights, that he might reach a person whom he wished to convert.
The Albigenses, on whom the persecution chiefly fell, held something like the doctrines of Manes, whom I mentioned a long way back (p 110), so that they could not properly be considered as Christians at all. But, although we cannot think well of their doctrines, the treatment of these people was so cruel and so treacherous as to raise the strongest feelings of anger and horror in all who read the accounts of it. Tens of thousands were slain, and their rich and beautiful country was turned into a desert.
The chief leader of the crusade in the south of France was Simon de Montfort, father of that Earl Simon who is famous in the history of England. Innocent, although he seems to have been much deceived by those who reported matters to him, was grievously to blame for having given too much countenance to the cruelties and injustice which were practised against the unhappy Albigenses.
Among the clergy who accompanied the Crusaders into southern France and tried to bring over the Albigenses and Waldenses to the Roman Church was a Spaniard named Dominic, who afterwards became famous as the founder of an order of mendicant friars (that is to say, "begging brothers"). He also founded the Inquisition, which was a body intended to search out and to put down all opinions differing from the doctrines of the Catholic Church. But the cruelty, darkness, and treachery of its proceedings were so shocking, that, although Dominic was certainly its founder, we need not suppose that he would have approved of all its doings. [NOTE by transcriber: Dominic opposed all coercion against heretics. He proposed to convert them by reasoned argument and example of life.]
The Waldenses and Albigenses had been used to reproach the clergy of the Church for their habits of pomp and luxury; and Dominic had done what he could to meet these charges by the plainness and hardness of the life which he and his companions led while labouring in the south of France. And when he resolved to found a new order of monks, he carried the notion of poverty to an extreme. His followers were to be not only poor, but beggars. They were to live on alms, and from day to day, refusing any gifts of money so large as to give the notion of a settled provision for their needs.
About the same time another great begging order was founded by Francis, who was born in 1182 at Assisi, a town in the Italian duchy of Spoleto. The stories as to his early days are very strange; indeed, it would seem that, when he was struck with a religious idea, he could not carry it out without such oddities of behaviour as in most people would look like signs of a mind not altogether right. When Francis heard in church our Lord's charge to His apostles, that they should go forth without money in their purses, or a staff or scrip, or shoes, or changes of raiment (St. Matt. x. 9f), he went before the bishop of Assisi, and, stripping off all his other clothes, he set forth to preach repentance without having anything on him but a rough grey woollen frock, with a rope tied round his waist. He fancied that he was called by a vision to repair a certain church; and he set about gathering the money for this purpose by singing and begging in the streets. He felt an especial charity for lepers, who, on account of their loathsome disease, were shut out from the company of men, and were subject to miseries of many kinds; and, although many hospitals had already been founded in various countries for these unfortunate people, the kindness which Francis showed to them had a great effect in lightening their lot, so far as human fellow-feeling could do so.
Francis wished his followers to study humility in all ways. They were to seek to be despised, and were told to be uneasy if they met with usage of any other kind. They were not to let themselves be called "brethren" but "little brethren"; they must try to be reckoned as less than any other persons. They were especially to be on their guard against the pride of learning; and, in order to preserve them from the danger of this, Francis would hardly allow them even a book of the Psalms. But, in truth, all these things might really be turned the opposite way, and in making such studied shows of humility it was quite possible that the Franciscans might fall under the temptations of pride.
Francis was very fond of animals, which he treated as reasonable creatures, speaking to them by the names of brothers and sisters. He used to call his own body Brother Ass, on account of the heavy burdens and the hard usage which it had to bear. He kept a sheep in church, and it is said that the creature, without any training, used to take part in the services by kneeling and bleating at proper times. He preached to flocks of birds on the duty of thanking their Maker for His goodness to them; nay, he preached to fishes, to worms, and even to flowers.
Perhaps the oddest story of this kind is one about his dealing with a wolf which infested the neighbourhood of Gubbio. Finding that every one in the place was overcome by fear of this fierce beast, Francis went out boldly to the forest where the wolf lived, and, meeting him, began to talk to him about the wickedness of killing, not only brute animals, but men; and he promised that, if the wolf would give up such evil ways, the citizens of Gubbio should maintain him. He then held out his right hand; whereupon the wolf put his paw into it as a sign of agreement, and allowed the saint to lead him into the town. The people of Gubbio were only too glad to fulfil the promise which Francis had made for them; and they kept the wolf handsomely, giving him his meals by turns, until he died of old age, and in such general respect that he was lamented by all Gubbio.
There is a strange story that Francis, towards the end of his life, received in his body what are called the "stigmata" (that is to say, the marks of the wounds which were made in our Lord's body at the crucifixion). And a great number of other superstitious tales became connected with his name; but with such things we need not here trouble ourselves.
When Dominic and Francis each applied to Pope Innocent for his approval of their designs to found new orders, he was not forward to give it; but, on thinking the matter over, he granted them what they asked. Each of them soon gathered followers, who spread into all lands. The Franciscans, especially, made converts from heathenism by missions; and these orders, by their rough and plain habits of life, made their way to the hearts of the poorest classes in a degree which had never been known before. And the influence which they thus gained was all used for the papacy, which found them the most active and useful of all its servants.
In the year 1215, Innocent held a great council at Rome, what is known as the fourth Lateran Council, and is to be remembered for two of its canons; by one of which the doctrine of the Roman Church as to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (what they call "transubstantiation") was, for the first time, established; and by the other, it was made the duty of every one in the Roman Church to confess to the priest of his parish at least once a year.