VI. THE HILDEBRANDINE CHURCH
It is no mere accident that the heyday of sacerdotal pretensions coincided with the golden age of the religious orders; that the Hildebrandine policy took shape when the Cluniac movement was overflowing the borders of France into all the adjacent countries; that Alexander III was a younger contemporary of St. Bernard, and that the death-grapple between Empire and Papacy followed hard upon the foundation of the mendicant fraternities by St. Francis and St. Dominic. The monks and the friars were the militia of the Church. Not that the medieval orders devoted themselves to a political propaganda with the zeal and system of the Jesuits in the sixteenth century. The serviceswhich the Cluniacs and the Cistercians, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, rendered to the militant Papacy were more impalpable and indirect. From time to time, it is true, they were entrusted with important missions - to raise money, to preach a crusade, to influence monarchs, to convert or to persecute the heretic; St. Bernard, the founder of Clairvaux and the incarnation of the monastic spirit, was for twenty years (1133-1153) the oracle to whom Pope after Pope resorted for direction. But even in St. Bernard's time, and even when the reigning Pope was his nominee or pupil, there was a certain divergence between the theories for which he stood and the actual policy of the Curia. It was, for example, against his better judgment that he organised the Second Crusade in deference to the express commands of Pope Eugenius III; and on the other hand, the Papacy preserved towards the pioneers of scholasticism an attitude which he thought unduly lenient. Rome was more broad-minded than Clairvaux, more alive to realities, more versed in statecraft and diplomacy; while Clairvaux fostered a nobler conception of the spiritual life, and was more consistent in withholding the Church from secular entanglements. The qualities which made the monk invaluable as a leader of public opinion also made him an incalculable and intractable factor in political combinations. He was most useful as the missionary and the embodiment of an ecclesiastical idea which, unconsciously perhaps but none the less emphatically, attacked the foundations of the secular State. The founders of the great orders, whether they found their inspiration (with St. Bernard) in the Rule of Benedict, or rather strove (with St. Francis) to follow literally the commission imposed by Christ upon his twelve Apostles, returned upon a past in which the State and Caesar were nothing to the Christian but "the powers that be." The monastic or mendicant order, designed as an exemplar of the Christian society, was a voluntary association governed by the common conscience, as expressed in the will of representative chapters and an elected superior. The absolute obedience of the monk or friar was self-imposed, the consequence of a vow only accepted from one who had felt the inner call and had tested it in a severe probation. In virtue of his self-surrender he became dead to the world, a citizen of the kingdom of heaven upon earth. No secular duties could be lawfully demanded of him; he had migrated from the jurisdiction of the State to that of God. The religious orders claimed the right to be free from all subjection save that of the Church, as represented by the Pope. Though far from holding the State a superfluous invention - they regarded it as a Divine instrument to curb the lawless passions of the laity - they demanded that all other ministers of God, from the archbishop to the humblest clerk in orders, should enjoy the same exemption as themselves on condition of accepting the same threefold obligation - Poverty, Obedience, Chastity. It was consequently in the religious orders that the chief movements for reforming the medieval clergy found their warmest partisans; and the same school supplied the theoretical basis for each new claim of privilege. The Orders were the salt of the Church, so long as they preserved the spirit of their founders. But they were also responsible for the insanely logical pretensions which characterise the Church's policy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; and it was with reason that Wycliffe, the greatest medieval critic of the sacerdotal theory, attacked the Mendicant Orders as typifying all that was worst in the hierarchy of his age.