An institution is not necessarily discredited when we discover that it has grown from small beginnings, has been applied under new conditions to new purposes, and in the course of a long history has been defended by arguments which are demonstrably false. The child, no doubt, is father of the man; but the man is something different from, and may well be something better than, his infant self. We must not attach undue importance to the study of origins. On the other hand we cannot afford to neglect them. However slight the fibres by which the present is rooted in the past, to observe them is to realise the continuity of human development - the most important, the most obvious, and the most neglected of the lessons that history can teach. It is true that the roots, however strong and however deeply set, are insufficient to account for the characteristics of the plant which springs from them. But it is also true that neither plants nor institutions can altogether shed the husk of their immaturity. They are not entirely adapted to the conditions under which they reach their full development. The Papacy in the zenith of its power and renown is partly new and partly old. When we consider the papal theory, as it floated before the mind of a Gregory VII or an Innocent III, it produces in us the same impression of symmetry, logical consistency and completeness, which we experience on entering for the first time one of the great medieval churches. But when once we have grasped the design of the architect, we shall usually find that he has conformed in some respects to unmeaning traditions inherited from an earlier period, and further that his work incorporates the remnants of an older, simpler structure. Here are pillars of massive girth altogether disproportionate to the delicate arches which they carry; there an old tower has been buttressed to make it capable of supporting a new spire. For all the builder's cunning, we can yet distinguish between the new and the renovated. So it is with the papal apologia in the great days of papal policy. A sentence from the laws of ancient Rome dovetails with an axiom stolen from the philosophers of the Porch or the Academy. Fables of Gallic or Egyptian origin are invoked to corroborate the canons of Nicene and Chalcedonian synods. A text from a Hebrew prophet is interpreted by the fancy of an African expositor. The fabric composed of these incongruous elements has in truth a unity of purpose; but the design is so disguised and so perverted by the recalcitrance of the materials, that we are irresistibly impelled to ask how and why they came to be employed.

More than any other human institution the Papacy has suffered from a supposed necessity of justifying every forward step by precedent and reference to authority. Twice in the course of sixteen centuries the Holy See has ventured on a startling change of front, and has been sorely embarrassed to rebut the charge of inconsistency. One such change was silently effected at the close of the seventeenth century, when the Popes ceased to concern themselves more than was unavoidable with international affairs. This was a great change; yet not so great as that made in the latter part of the eleventh century, by Gregory VII. For he revolutionised the whole theory of papal prerogative. Neither a profound lawyer nor a profound theologian, he regarded the past history of his office with the idealism of a poet, and looked into its future with the sanguine radicalism of a Machiavelli or a Hobbes. Gregory VII conceived of Christendom as an undivided state; of a state as a polity dominated by a sovereign; of a sovereign as a ruler who must be either absolute or useless. And who, he asked, but the heir of the Prince of the Apostles could presume to claim a power so tremendous? For us the audacity of his pretensions is excused by the lofty aims which they were meant to serve. To conciliate contemporary opinion it was necessary that the new claims should be represented as the revival of old rights, as the logical corollaries of undisputed truths. And this course involved as its consequence an industrious, if partially unconscious, perversion of past history. For the Popes who had gone before him claimed powers which, though extensive, were capable of definition; which, though startling, could in the main be defended by appeal to well-established usage. The new policy led to this paradoxical situation, that precedents were diligently invoked to prove the Pope superior to all precedents.

With Gregory VII the primacy of Western Christendom assumed a new character. But the primacy, in one form or another, had for centuries belonged to the Roman See. So much his remote predecessors had achieved, and their success is all the more remarkable when we remember how few of them had been distinguished statesmen. It is no matter for surprise that, in the course of nine troubled centuries, some Bishops of Borne had proved incompetent and others had betrayed the interests committed to their charge. It is, however, surprising that the Roman See was able to assume and hold the leading position among Western bishops without rendering much service to the extension or the organisation of the Church.

Of all the early Popes, save Leo I and Gregory I, it is true that we may be tolerably at home in the history of their times without knowing much about them. No Pope is ranked among the leading Western Fathers. The only considerable theologian who occupied the Holy See, before the year 1000, is Gregory I; and the highest praise which we can give his writings is that they imparted new life to some ideas of St. Augustine. It is as statesmen, not as thinkers, that the early Popes appeal to our attention. Yet their practical achievements scarcely account for the reverence which they inspired. The one great mission which Rome set on foot was that of Augustine to England. The other evangelists of the Dark Ages found their inspiration elsewhere, in the monasteries of Ireland or of Gaul and Germany. If we consider the progress of theological science, and of ecclesiastical organisation, we find that the great controversies were resolved, and the great legislative assemblies convened, in the Eastern Empire. It was but rarely that Rome asserted her right to speak in the name even of the Western Church; the record of the early Popes who attained to such a momentary pre-eminence was not such as the West could recollect with satisfaction. In fact, it was due to other causes than the merits of individual Popes that Rome became and remained the religious metropolis of Europe.

How, then, are we to account for her triumphant progress? Hobbes suggested one explanation when he called the Papacy "the ghost of the Roman Empire." And it is true that the later Emperors found it convenient to confer special privileges on the bishops of their ancient capital. But they adopted this policy too late, when reverence for the Empire was already declining in the West. By imperial grants the Papacy gained no substantial powers, while individual Popes lost credit and independence by their special connection with the New Rome on the Bosporus. They were compelled to play an ignominious part in the squabbles of the Eastern Churches, they were loaded with onerous secular duties; they became the emblems and the agents of an alien tyranny, mistrusted alike by the barbarian invaders and the nominal subjects of the Empire.

Other critics have explained the prestige of the Papacy as the fruit of successful impostures. For this hypothesis there is little to be said. One or two Popes, not the greatest, have condescended to use forged title-deeds. But the effect of these frauds has been much exaggerated. The most famous of them are the Donation of Constantine and the False Decretals. The former, though probably of Roman origin, was little used at Rome, and only served to justify the modest beginnings of the temporal power. The latter are of more importance, and are sometimes regarded as opening an era of new pretensions. In fact they are little more than reiterations and amplifications of very ancient claims. Though frequently quoted by the canon lawyers, they are not indispensable links in the claim of historical proofs and precedents. They are chiefly significant as attesting the general desire of churchmen to find some warrant for a vigorous exercise of the papal prerogative. A primate with real powers was desired, not only by the clergy of the national churches as a bulwark against the brutal oppression of the State, but also by all religious thinkers as a symbol of corporate unity and a guarantee of doctrinal uniformity.

No theory can be regarded as supplying a satisfactory explanation of papal authority, unless it explains this general belief in the necessity for a visible Head of the Western Church. In part the necessity was political. Exposed to the common danger of secular tyranny, the national churches looked for safety in federation; and they notified their union in the only way that uneducated laymen could understand, by announcing their subjection to a single spiritual sovereign. But there remained the problem of justifying this act of independence amounting to rebellion. The justification was found in two arguments, the one historical, the other doctrinal; the one based upon the Roman legend of St. Peter, the other on the acknowledged importance of holding fast to right tradition. Each of these arguments calls for some consideration.

St. Peter, says the legend, was invested with the primacy among the Apostles; such is the plain meaning of the Saviour's declaration, Tu es Petrus. St. Peter founded the Roman Church and instituted the Roman bishopric. To Linus, the first bishop, Peter bequeathed his Divine commission and his knowledge of the Christian verities. From Linus these gifts descended without diminution to one after another in the unbroken chain of his successors. Hence Rome is entitled to the same pre-eminence among the churches which Peter held among his brethren. To examine the historical basis of the legend would be a lengthy and unprofitable task. Of St. Peter's connection with the Eternal City we know nothing certain, except that he preached and suffered there. If bishops existed in his time, there is some reason for thinking that the office was collegiate, and that the committee of bishops was less important then in the spiritual life of the community than at a later time. Not until the second century did the episcopate become monarchical and the holder of the office the supreme authority within the Church by which he was elected. The change was complete by the time of Irenaeus, who wrote circa 180 A.D.; to him we owe our earliest catalogue of Roman bishops, beginning with Linus and ending with Eleutherus, the twelfth from Peter and the contemporary of Irenaeus. The later names in the list are doubtless those of authentic bishops; the earlier may be in some sense historical, the names of famous presbyters or of men who made their mark on the old episcopal committee. A point of secondary interest is that Irenaeus speaks of bishops, not of Popes; this title came into use a hundred years after his time. More important is the fact that, in the third century, when our documents become more copious, Rome is generally recognised as first in dignity among the churches (ecclesia principalis), but has no appellate jurisdiction and no legislative powers. It is only admitted that, when disputes arise on points of tradition, her testimony is entitled to special honour, as that of a church which preserves the memory of Peter's teaching. As doctrinal controversies become more acute and more fundamental, the importance of tradition is emphasised, the authority of those who voice it is magnified. Ultimately all the pretensions of the Holy See are founded on the claim that she possesses the only undefiled tradition. But it was not until long after the third century that the consequences of the claim were realised even by the claimants.

If we were invited, at the present day, to suggest a means of conserving intact a body of doctrinal definitions and disciplinary law, we should not naturally select some mode of oral transmission as the safest available. Yet this expedient has found much favour in the past. Even among the Jews, with their extreme respect for sacred books, the written word was made of none account by the traditions of expositors. The votaries of the Greek mystic cults deliberately avoided writing down their more important formulae. Several considerations were in favour of this curious policy. There were no scientific canons for the interpretation of written texts; allegorising commentators read their own wild fancies into the plainest sentences. The only way of meeting them was to fall back on the traditional interpretation. We use the texts to test the traditions; but criticism in its early stages pursues the opposite course, and as a natural consequence rates tradition above Scripture. Other reasons which discouraged the use of writing were, first, the fear that no literary skill might be equal to the difficulty of accurate statement; secondly, the natural reluctance of the religious mind to let the deepest truths be exposed to the vulgar scoffs and criticism of the uninitiated; thirdly, some remnant of the primitive superstition that the formulae of a ritual are magic spells, which would lose their potency if published to the world; and, finally, the natural instinct of a sacerdotal class to reserve the knowledge of deepest mysteries to a select inner circle. For all these reasons a jealously guarded tradition, commonly designated as the arcana or secreta, was to be found in all the early Christian Churches. To give a few examples: the Apostles' Creed, the distinctive symbol of the Roman Church, was preserved by oral tradition only down to the fourth century, and was not imparted to any catechumen until the time of his baptism. The minute rules of penitential discipline were first committed to writing by Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, towards the close of the seventh century; and this innovation was sharply criticised by some ecclesiastical synods. Most remarkable of all is the reluctance of the churches to write down the essential, operative parts of the Mass. Written copies are first mentioned in the fourth century, and it was not until a much later period that the diversities of local tradition were corrected by the issue of a standard text. It might be supposed that the non-existence of official copies was due to the want of any device, such as printing, by which they could be cheaply multiplied. But there is a curious fact which suggests that publication was considered undesirable. One section of the Canon of the Mass was called the secret part (secretum), and was recited by the celebrant in an undertone, that it might not become known to the congregation. Similarly, all literary exposition of such central doctrines as the Atonement, or the Trinity, was deprecated by early theologians, who pass by them with the remark that they are known to the initiate.

This cult of secrecy engendered difficulties which are written large upon the page of history. Disputes arose about the wording of the creeds, about the canon of the Scriptures, about the number and nature of the mortal sins, and the penances which they should entail. Periodically a curious investigator raised a storm by claiming that he had discovered a flaw in the traditional formulae, or a mistake in the sense which was currently attached to them. The one way of meeting such doubts was to compare the traditions of the older churches. This could be done by a provincial synod or a general council. But of these tribunals the former was unsatisfactory, as its decisions were of merely local validity and might be overruled by the voice of the universal Church. The general council was hard to convene, particularly after a rift had opened between the Eastern and the Western Churches. It was easier to select as the final arbiter a bishop whose knowledge of tradition was derived from an apostolic predecessor. In the East there were three such sees (Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria), but in the West Rome alone satisfied the necessary conditions. And the Bishops of Rome could claim, with some show of reason, that their tradition was derived from a worthier source, and had been better guarded against contagion, than that of any other Apostolic Church. Was it not a well-established fact that Rome had preserved an unwavering front in the face of the heretical Arius, when even Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria had wavered?

Recourse to Rome as the oracle of the faith was so obvious an expedient, given the prevailing attitude towards tradition, that we can only be surprised to find how slow and gradual was the triumph of the Roman claims. The victory of logic was retarded both by the pride and by the common sense of the other Western Churches. On the one hand, the See of Carthage clung to the old ideal of Christendom as a confederation of self-governing churches, which might consult one another as they pleased but recognised no superior except a general council. Carthage carried with her the whole Church of Africa, and furnished an example which less illustrious communities were proud to imitate. The conquest of Africa by the Vandal heretics was necessary before the African Christians would consent to look to Rome as their spiritual metropolis. On the other hand, the rulings of the Roman bishops were justly suspected of being tempered by regard for expediency. Sometimes they relaxed penitential discipline, for fear of driving the weaker brethren to apostasy. Sometimes, under pressure from Constantinople, they proposed an ambiguous compromise with heresy. Such considerations were but gradually overborne by the pressure of circumstances. The spread of Arianism and the irruption of the Teutons (themselves often Arians) at length compelled the churches to take the obvious means of preserving their imperilled uniformity and union.

It is in the acts of the Council of Sardica (343 A.D.) that we find the first explicit recognition of the Pope as an arbiter and (we may almost say) a judge of appeal. This council was merely a gathering of Western bishops, and the canons which it passed were never accepted by the Church of Africa. So doubtful was their validity that the Popes of the next generation disingenuously asserted that they had been passed at the earlier and more famous Council of Nicaea (325). Yet even at Sardica the Pope was only endowed with one definite prerogative. Henceforward any bishop condemned by a provincial synod might appeal to him; he could then order a second trial to be held, and could send his legates to sit among the judges; but he could not hear the case in his own court. More striking than this decree are the words of the letter which the Council addressed to Pope Julius: "It will be very right and fitting for the priests of the Lord, from every province, to refer to their Head, that is to the See of Peter." This recommendation was readily obeyed by the Churches of Gaul and Spain. Questions from their bishops poured in upon the Popes, who began to give their decisions in the form of open letters, and to claim for these letters the binding force of law. Pope Liberius (352-366 A.D.) appears to have commenced the practice, although the earliest of the extant "Decretals" is from the pen of Pope Siricius (385). Sixty years after Siricius' time, when the Western Empire was in its death-agony, this claim to legislative power was formally confirmed by the Emperor Valentinian III (445). But for some time after the Council of Sardica the new prerogative was used with the greatest caution. The Popes of that period use every precaution to make their oracular answers inoffensive. They assure their correspondents that Rome enjoins no novelties; that she does not presume to decide any point on which tradition is silent; that she is merely executing a mandate which general councils have laid upon her. Those who evince respect for her claims are overwhelmed with compliments. A decretal of Innocent I (402-417) begins as follows: -

"Very dear brother, the Church's rules of life and conduct are well known to a priest of your merit and dignity. But since you have urgently inquired of us concerning the rule which the Roman Church prescribes, we bow to your desire and herewith send you our rules of discipline, arranged in order."

On the other hand, no opportunity is lost of calling attention to the Roman primacy. Pope Siricius (384-398) writes in one of his letters: "We bear the burdens of all who are oppressed; it is the Apostle Peter who speaks in our person." Through the more confidential and domestic utterances of these Popes there runs a vein of haughty self-assertion. In the homilies of Leo I (440-461) the text Tu es Petrus rings like a trumpet note; here we have the Roman ruler communing with his Roman people, the pride of empire taking a new shape amidst the ruins of that secular empire which the pagan Romans of the past had built up.

In the general chaos produced by the barbarian migrations the consequence of the Papacy, as compared with that of other Western sees, was considerably enhanced by various causes: by the ruin of Carthage, the most unsparing of her critics; by the progressive deterioration of the other churches, which was most marked in those provinces where the barbarians were most readily converted; by the rising tide of ignorance, which overwhelmed all rival conceptions of Christendom and blotted out the past history of the Church. So great was this ignorance that Innocent I could claim, without much fear of contradiction, that "no man has founded any church in Italy, Sicily, Gaul, Spain, or Africa, excepting those whom Peter and his successors have ordained as priests." In the Italian peninsula there were three churches - Ravenna, Milan, Aquileia - which obstinately refused to consider themselves mere offshoots from the See of Peter. But the legend struck root and throve, as successive Popes associated themselves with missions to the unconverted tribes and with reforms in the barbarian churches.

Among the earlier events which contributed to make the Roman belief the standard for all Western Christendom we need only mention the conquests of the orthodox Frankish monarchy; the official conversions from Arianism of the Burgundians (516) and the Visigoths in Spain (586); the extirpation of the Vandals and Ostrogoths by Justinian's generals; the missions of Augustine to England, of Wilfrid, Willibrord, and Boniface to the Germans; the submission of the Frankish Church under the influence of Boniface and Pepin the Short (748). Naturally the moral influence of Rome in the northern lands was augmented by the revival of the Western Empire, which meant the co-operation of Pope and Emperor in the extension of the Christian Republic. Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs, found it necessary to renounce the allegiance of the Greek Church, and to place their converts under the protection of Rome (866). It was from Rome that St. Adalbert went forth on his ill-starred but glorious mission to the Prussians (997); and it was a Pope, Sylvester II, who earned the glory of uniting the Hungarian people to Western Christendom (1000). Finally, Canute the Great, of Denmark and of England, came in the manner of a pilgrim (1027) to lay the homage of his Scandinavian subjects on the altar of St. Peter. The Popes reaped where they had not sown; but the harvest was rich and splendid.

No less important was the political character which the papal office assumed with the revival of the Empire. Already under Gregory the Great we can trace the beginnings of a temporal power. Naturally and necessarily the Pope, already like other bishops a functionary charged with important secular duties, took upon himself the protection and government of Rome and the surrounding duchy, when the rulers of Byzantium shook off these unprofitable responsibilities. Naturally and excusably he claimed, over his vast Italian estates, the powers of jurisdiction which every landowner was assuming as a measure of self-defence against oppression or unbridled anarchy. In the time of Pepin the Short a further step was taken. The Frank, unwilling to involve himself in Italy yet anxious to secure the Holy See against the Lombards, recognized Pope Stephen II as the lawful heir of the derelict imperial possessions. And Charles the Great, both as King and as Emperor, confirmed the donation of his father. To make the Pope an independent sovereign was indeed a policy which he refused to entertain. His ideal was that of the Eastern Emperors: himself as the head of State and Church, the Pope as the Patriarch of all the churches in the Empire, elected with the Emperor's approval, ruling the clergy with the Emperor's counsel, enjoying over the lands of his see the largest privileges bestowed on any bishop, but still in all secular affairs a subject of the Empire. But on the other hand arose at Rome a different conception of the Pope's prerogative. Long ago Pope Gelasius had formulated the principle, more useful to his remote successors than himself, of the Two Powers, Church and State, both derived from God and both entitled to absolute power in their respective spheres. On this principle the State should not interfere with episcopal elections, or with matters of faith and discipline; it should not exercise jurisdiction over the priesthood who are servants of the Church, or over Church estates since they are held in trust for God and the poor. This view was proclaimed to the world by Leo III, who caused to be set up in the Lateran a mosaic representing in an allegory his relations to the Empire. St. Peter sits enthroned above; Charles and Leo kneel to right and left, in the act of receiving from the Apostle the pallium and the gonfalon, the symbols of their respective offices.

No powerful Emperor ever accepted the Gelasian principle entire. To refute it was, however, difficult, so well did it harmonise with the current conception of the State. Under the later Carolingians it became the programme both of reformers and of mere ecclesiastical politicians. The new monasteries, founded or reorganised under the influence of Cluny, placed themselves beneath the special protection of the Pope, thus escaping from secular burdens. The national hierarchies hailed the forgeries of the Pseudo-Isidore as the charter of ecclesiastical liberty. Pope Nicholas I took his stand at the head of the new movement, and gave it a remarkable development when he asserted his jurisdiction over the adulterous Lothaire II (863). Nicholas died before he couldgive further illustrations of his claim to be supreme, even over kings, in matters of morality and faith. From his time to that of Hildebrand there was no Pope vigorous enough to make a similar example. Dragged down by their temporal possessions to the level of municipal seigneurs and party instruments, the Popes from 867 to 962 were, at the best, no more than vigorous Italian princes. To that level they returned after the period of the Saxon Ottos (962-1002). In those forty years there were glimpses of a better future; the German Pope, Gregory V, allied himself to Cluny (996-999); as Sylvester II (999-1003) the versatile Gerbert of Aurillac - at once mathematician, rhetorician, philosopher, and statesman - entered into the romantic dreams of his friend and pupil, Otto III, and formed others on his own behalf which centred round the Papacy rather than the Empire. Sylvester saw in imagination the Holy See at the head of a federation of Christian monarchies. But fate was no kinder to him than to Otto; he outlived his boy patron only by a year.