Modern life has travelled so far beyond medieval Christianity that it is only with an effort we retrace our steps to the intellectual position of a St. Bernard, a St. Francis, or the Imitatio Christi . Apart from the difficulties of an unfamiliar terminology, we have become estranged from ideas which then were commonplaces; beliefs once held to be self-evident and cardinal now hover on the outer verge of speculative thought, as bare possibilities, as unproved and unprovable guesses at truth. Our own creeds, it may be, rest upon no sounder bottom of logical demonstration. But they have been framed to answer doubts, and to account for facts, which medieval theories ignored; and in framing them we have been constrained partly to revise, partly to destroy, the medieval conceptions of God and the Universe, of man and the moral law.

This is not the place for a critique of medieval religion. But, unless we bear in mind some essential features of the Catholic system of thought, we miss the key to that ecclesiastical statesmanship which dominates the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The programme of the great Popes, from Gregory VII to Boniface VIII, must appear a tissue of absurdities, of preposterous ambitions and indefensible actions, unless it is studied in relation to a theology as far remote from primitive Christianity as from the cults and philosophies of classical antiquity.

The first article in this theology is the existence of a personal God who, though all-pervading and all-powerful, does not reveal Himself immediately to the human beings whom He has created to be His worshippers, and does not so order the world that events shall always express His will and purpose. He has endowed man with a sinful nature, and has permitted His universe to be invaded by evil intelligences of superhuman power and malignancy, who tempt man to destruction and are bent upon subverting the Divine order of which they form a part. He is supremely benevolent, and yet He only manifests the full measure of this quality when His help is invoked by prayer; His goodwill often finds expression in miracles - that is, in the suspending or reversing of the general laws which He has Himself laid down for the regulation of the universe and human destinies. He is inscrutable and incomprehensible; yet to be deceived as to the nature of His being is the greatest of all sins against His majesty. The goal of the religious life is personal communion with Him, the intuitive apprehension and spontaneous acceptance of His will, the Beatific Vision of His excellencies. But this state of blessedness cannot be reached by mere self-discipline; the prayers, the meditations, the good works of the isolated and uninstructed individual, can only serve to condone a state of irremediable ignorance. The avenue to knowledge of Him lies through faith; and faith means the unquestioning acceptance of the twofold revelation of Himself which He has given in the Scriptures and in the tradition of the Church. The two revelations are in effect reduced to one by the statement that only the Church is competent to give an authoritative exposition of the sacred writings. Upon the Church hangs the welfare of the individual and the world. Without participation in her sacraments the individual would be eternally cut off from God; without her prayers the tide of evil forces would no longer be held in check by recurring acts of miraculous intervention, but would rise irresistibly and submerge the human race.

A society charged with these tremendous duties, the only organ of the Divine will and affording the only assurance of salvation, must obviously be superior to all mundane powers. It would be monstrous if her teaching were modified, if her powers of self-government were restricted, to suit the ambitions or the so-called common sense of a lay ruler. The Church stands to the State in the relation of the head to the members, of the soul to the body, of the sun to the moon. The State exists to provide the material foundations of the Christian society, to protect the Church, to extend her sphere and to constrain those who rebel against her law. In a sense the State is ordained by God, but only in the sense of being a necessary condition for the existence of a Christian Commonwealth. Logically the State should be the servant of the Church, acting with delegated powers under her direction.

But theories, however logical, must come to terms with facts, or vanish into the limbo of chimeras. The power of the Hildebrandine Church was subject to serious limitations. On certain questions of importance the national hierarchies were inclined to side with the State against the Pope; and thus, for example, the claims of the Curia to tax the clergy, and to override the rights of ecclesiastical patrons, were restricted at one time or another by concordats, or by secular legislation such as the English statutes of Provisors and Praemunire. Where the whole of the clerical order presented a solid front, it was sometimes possible to make good a claim against which there was much to be said on grounds of common sense; as, for instance, benefit of clergy, - the exclusive jurisdiction of the Church over criminous ecclesiastics, - which was enforced even against a sovereign so powerful and so astute as Henry II of England. But, in the last resort, the pretensions of the Church depended for success upon a public opinion which was hard to move. Not because the average layman was critical or anti-clerical, but because he was illogical and unimaginative, he remained cold to any programme of reform which could only be justified by long trains of deductive reasoning; his natural impulse was against violent innovations, and he felt rather than argued that the State, as the ultimate guarantee of social order, must be maintained even at some cost of theological consistency. Until he could be convinced that high moral issues and his own salvation were at stake, it was useless or dangerous to excommunicate his king and to lay his country under interdict. For want of lay support the Church failed to make good such important claims as those of immunity from national taxation and of jurisdiction in cases of commercial contract. More striking still, she was prevented from establishing the Inquisition in states where that tribunal would have found no lack of work.

Still, in spite of clerical divisions and lay conservatism, "the freedom of the Church" was an ideal which commanded universal homage; and it was necessary for the most obstinate opponent of ecclesiastical privilege to make it clear that his policy involved no real attack upon this freedom. Otherwise, defeat was certain. Thrice in two hundred years the cry for freedom was raised against the Holy Roman Empire; and three prolonged conflicts ended in the discomfiture of the most resolute and resourceful statesmen who ever held that office-Henry IV (1056-1105), Henry V (1106-1125), Frederic Barbarossa (1152-1190), and Frederic II (1212-1250). In the first of these great conflicts the question at issue was the reformation of the national clergy and their emancipation from secular authority. Henry IV paid for his assertion of prerogative and custom, both by the ignominious though illusory surrender at Canossa (1077), and by the unparalleled humiliations of his latter days, when he was compelled, as the prisoner of his own son, not only to abdicate but also to sign a confession of infamous offences against religion and morality. Henry V, reviving the plans of the father whom he had betrayed and entrapped, was reduced through very weariness to conclude the Concordat of worms (1122) - a renunciation which only ended in something less than absolute defeat for the Empire, because the imperial concessions were interpreted with more regard to the letter than the spirit. In the second struggle the immediate issue was the freedom of papal elections, the ultimate question whether Pope or Emperor should shape the Church's policy; and Frederic Barbarossa was compelled, after a schism of seventeen years' duration to surrender claims which dated from the time of Charles the Great, and to make peace with Alexander III, whom he had sworn that he would never recognise (Treaty of Anagni, 1176). Henry VI, the son of Barbarossa, when he joined the kingdom of Sicily to the Empire through his marriage with Constance, the heiress of the Norman throne, sowed the seed of a new conflict, and bequeathed to Frederic II the perilous ideal of an Italy united under a Hohenstauffen despotism. Ecclesiastical freedom now became a euphemism for the preservation of the temporal power, and for the project of a federal Italy, owning allegiance to a papal suzerain. Frederic II, who came nearer to success in a more far-reaching policy than any of his predecessors, was worn out by the steady alternation of successes with reverses, and left his sons and grandson to reap the bitter harvest of a failure which he had barely realised.

The moral issue dwindles to smaller proportions in each successive stage of this titanic duel between the titular representatives of State and Church; and from first to last the Papacy depended largely upon allies who were pursuing their own objects in the Church's name. The German princes, the Normans of Lower Italy and Sicily, the Lombard communes, all contributed in varying degrees to the defeat of the Henries and the Frederics. The German princes brought Henry IV to his knees at two critical moments in the reign; the majority of them held obstinately aloof from the Italian wars of Barbarossa; and Frederic II, who endeavoured to buy their neutrality by extravagant concessions, found himself confronted by German rebels and pretenders towards the close of his career (1246-1250), when the Italian situation appeared to be changing in his favour. The Normans intervened more than once in the Wars of Investitures to shelter a fugitive Pope or rescue Rome from German armies; the Lombards, as we shall relate elsewhere, were the chief barrier between Rome and Frederic Barbarossa, between Frederic II and Germany. Charles of Anjou was the latest and most efficient champion of the papal cause; and he lives in history as the forerunner of the conscienceless and shameless statesmanship of the Renaissance epoch. And yet, when we have allowed for the utility of these alliances, the question remains why radical communes, rebellious feudatories, and adventurers in search of kingdoms, found it worth their while to enlist in the service of the Church, and to endure the restrictions which such a service inevitably entailed. The true strength of the Church lay in her moral influence. It was a handful, even among the clergy, who devoted themselves heart and soul to the ideal of society which she set up. Still her ideal was in possession of the field; it might be subjected to a negative and sceptical criticism by an isolated philosopher, by a heretical sect, or by an orthodox layman smarting under priestly arrogance; but when the forces of the Church were mobilised, the indifferent majority stood aside and shrugged their shoulders. The way of Rome might not be the way of Christ; but if the Apostolic misinterpreted the lessons of Scripture and tradition, from whom could a better rule of life be learned? An erring Church was better than no Church at all. In the thirteenth century, when papal extortions were a subject of complaint in every European state, Frederic II put himself forward as the champion of the common interest, and appealed from the Pope to the bar of public opinion. It was his turn today, he said with perfect truth; the turn of kings and princes would come when the Emperor was overthrown. His eloquence made some impression; but his fellow-sovereigns could not or would not prevent the Pope from taxing their clergy and recruiting their subjects for the Holy War against the secular chief of Christendom, the head and front of whose offending was that he opposed the interests of the State to the so-called rights of the 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.

Naturally enough the monastic spirit has been often treated as an absolute antithesis to the lay statesmanship which it so bitterly opposed. But in fact they sprang from the same root of a discontent, which was wholly reasonable, with the anarchical conditions of the early Middle Ages. The religious reformer, stunned and bewildered by the wrong-doing of men and the manifest inequity of fortune, argued that a world so irredeemably bad must be regarded as an ordeal for the faith of the believer. Man was afflicted in this life that he might realise the supreme value of the life to come. He was surrounded by evil that he might learn to hate it. He was placed in society that he might school himself to control the immoral and non-moral instincts which society calls into play. The political reformers, at least in their more disinterested moods, were animated by the same belief in an all-wise Providence, but drew different deductions from it. The God who created man as a social being could not have intended that society should remain perpetually unjust. He must have intended that it should approximate, however imperfectly, to the idea of justice which He has revealed. The State is a divine institution, and therefore man must do his best to reform the State. The lay ruler, as the representative of justice, is God's steward and even in a sense His priest. Frederic II, whom his contemporaries denounced as an apostate and blasphemer, only expressed in a particularly daring form the tradition of medieval royalty when he styled himself, or allowed his flatterers to style him, the Corner-Stone of the Church, the Vicar of God, the New Messiah.

Similarly, the heretics and rationalists, whose criticism was even more dangerous to the Church than the open violence of the State, had more in common with their opponents than we should infer from the duration and the character of the disputes which they provoked. In the background of medieval history, and developing pari passu with the feud of Papacy and Empire, there was a war, of arguments and persecution, against free thought, in which the religious Orders figured as the protagonists of orthodoxy. Berengar of Tours, who challenged the doctrine of transubstantiation and so endangered the basis of the sacerdotal theory, lived in the age when a regenerated Papacy was arming for the war on secularism; it was Hildebrand himself who pronounced the final sentence on the first of the heresiarchs. The age of Henry V and of the Concordat of Worms saw the rise of a medieval Puritanism in Languedoc and Flanders. Between the Concordat of Worms and the schism of Frederic Barbarossa lies the age of Abelard, - the metaphysical free-lance who made philosophy the talk of the street-corner and the marketplace, - and of Arnold of Brescia, who demanded that the Church should be reduced to apostolic poverty. To the youthful days of Frederic II belong the Albigensian Crusade, the futile campaign of authority against Averroes and Aristotle, the heresy-hunts of volunteer inquisitors in Italy and Germany. While the same Emperor was trying conclusions with Innocent IV, the Papal Inquisition became a permanent branch of the ecclesiastical executive; and the Mendicant Orders, who supplied the inquisitors, simultaneously took upon themselves the harder task of converting the universities from the cult of Aristotle to a belief in the Christian scholasticism formulated by Albertus Magnus and Aquinas. The weapons of this interminable and many-sided controversy were as rude as the age which forged them: on the one side, coarse invective and irreverent paradox; on the other, scandalous imputations, spiritual censures, the sword, the prison, and the stake. For the medieval attitude towards heterodoxy was unflinching and uncompromising. To remain sceptical when the Church had defined was as the sin of witchcraft or idolatry. The existence of the rebel was an insult to the Most High, a menace to the salvation of the simple; he was a diseased limb of the body politic, calling for sharp surgery. And yet these nonconformists were anything but unbelievers. The free-thinkers of the schools, apart from a few obscure eccentrics, only desired to find a rational basis for the common creed or to eliminate from it certain articles which, on moral grounds and grounds of history, they stigmatised as mere interpolations. The offence of Berengar was that he attacked a dogma which had been an open question within the last two hundred years; of Abelard, that he offered his own theories on some points in regard to which the orthodox tradition was mute or inconsistent. As for the sectaries, their offence usually consisted in exaggerating one or other of three doctrines which the Church acknowledged in a more moderate shape. Either, like the Poor Men of Lyons, they desired that the Church should return to primitive simplicity; or, like the Albigeois, they harped upon the Pauline antithesis between the spirit and the flesh, pushed to extremes the monastic contempt for earthly ties, and exalted the Christian Devil to the rank of an evil deity, supreme in the material universe. Or, finally, with Joachim of Corazzo and the Fraticelli, they developed the cardinal idea of the more orthodox mystics, the belief in the inner light, and taught that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. In short, all were guilty, not of repudiating Christianity, but of interpreting the Christian doctrine in a sense forbidden by authority. Beneath all differences there was unity; behind the controversy, agreement. There are no feuds more bitter, no recriminations more unjust, than those of men who look at the same faith from different sides.

In justice to the official Church it must be remembered that, whether she had to deal with kings or heretics, the peculiar nature of her power forced her to work through instruments which she was powerless to keep in hand, and in which she had placed her confidence with the temerity of desperation. There can be no greater contrast than that between the Hildebrandine programme and the measures by which it was incompletely realised. To enforce the celibacy of the clergy the mobs of Milan and the South-German cities were commissioned to rabble married priests. To make an end of simony the German princes were encouraged in a policy of provincial separatism, a premium was placed on perjured accusations, and a son was suborned to betray his father. That the tide of the Albigensian heresy might be stemmed, Innocent III launched against the brilliant civilisation of Languedoc the brutal and avaricious feudalism of the North. Sometimes the error was recognised after it had been committed. But no experience could cure the official Church of the delusion that every volunteer must be credited with the purest motives until the contrary is proved. The same ignorance of human nature characterised her methods of administrative routine. Even if, for the sake of argument, we admit the truth of the principles which were alleged to justify the Papal Inquisition, or the censorship of the bishops' courts, or the appellate jurisdiction of the Curia, the fact remains that these institutions were so organised and so conducted that the most flagrant abuses were only to be expected. A system which, if staffed with saints, would have been barely tolerable, became iniquitous when it was committed to the charge of petty officials, ill-paid, ill- supervised, and ill-selected. To a great extent the crimes and follies of the medieval Church were those of a complex bureaucracy in a half-civilised state. Such a system fails through being too ambitious; the founders have neither the technical experience requisite for a satisfactory arrangement of details, nor the subordinates who can repair the defects of the machine by the efficiency and honesty with which they tend it; and yet because the aim is grandiose, because the supporters of the scheme proclaim their readiness and their capacity to regenerate the State and human nature, they are hailed as the prophets of a new order; they are allowed to plead the excellence of their motives in extenuation of all and any means; and they end by creating new evils without appreciably diminishing the old.

But if the Church as a scheme of government was a doubtful blessing to those who gave her their allegiance, the Church as a home of spiritual life was invested with a grandeur and a charm which were and are apparent, even to spectators standing at the outer verge of her domain. We may compare the religion of the Middle Ages to an alpine range, on the lower slopes of which the explorer finds himself entangled in the mire and undergrowth of pathless thickets, oppressed by a still and stifling atmosphere, shut off from any view of the sky above or the pleasant plains beneath. Ascending through this sheltered and ignoble wilderness, he comes to free and windswept pastures, to the white solitude of virgin snowfields, to brooding glens and soaring peaks robed in the light or darkness of a mystery which he is as little able to define as to resist. Far below him, illimitably vast and yet infinitely little, extends the prospect of the lower levels which, whether beautiful or sordid, are too remote to seem a part of the new world in which he finds himself, and strike his senses only as a foil and a background to the severer hues, the more majestic lines and contours of the snow-capped mountain-ranges. On such heights of moral exaltation the medieval mystics built their tabernacles and sang their Benedicite, calling all nature to bear witness with them that God in His heaven was very near, and all well with a universe which existed only to fulfil His word. It was a noble optimism; and those who embraced it are the truest poets of the Middle Ages, none the less poets because they expressed their high imaginings in life instead of language. Philosophers they neither were nor sought to be; the temperament which feels the mystery of things most keenly is not that which probes into the how and why; but the world of their dreams was at least superior to ours in being founded upon an ever-present and overwhelming reverence for the truth behind the veil. The vision of the mountain-peaks, however clouded, was worth the toil of the ascent; and there was reason in the docility with which the vulgar bowed themselves before the forms and ceremonies and rules of outward conduct which the visible Church prescribed; since they believed that so they might find the way, in this life or a better, to that higher rule of service, exemplified in the finest characters of their experience, which as Scripture said and the saints testified was perfect life and freedom. It is no wonder that they were disposed to go further still; to stake their earthly fortunes and the future of society on the bidding of those among the elect who from time to time descended among them, like Moses from the mountain, with transfigured faces and the message of a new revelation. And if the result was sometimes calamitous or pitiable, there were compensating gains; a matter-of-fact prosperity is not altogether preferable to enlistment in the forlorn hope of idealism. Had medieval society been more consistently secular and sceptical, it might have been more prosperous, more stable, the nursery of more balanced natures and the theatre of more orderly careers. But there would have been the less to learn from the ethical and political conceptions of the age. What appeals to us in the medieval outlook upon life is, first, the idea of mankind as a brotherhood transcending racial and political divisions, united in a common quest for truth, filled with the spirit of mutual charity and mutual helpfulness, and endowed with a higher will and wisdom than that of the individuals who belong to it; secondly, a profound belief in the superiority of right over might, of spirit over matter, of the eternal interests of humanity over the ambitions and the passions of the passing hour. Without Christianity these articles of faith could scarcely have passed into the common heritage of men; and, without the Church, it is in the last degree improbable that Christianity would have survived that age of semi-barbarism in which the foundations of the modern world were laid.