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his cause and encouraged him to return to Rome, with the delusive expectation of resuming his lost episcopate ; but the artifices of Vigilius prevailed ; his unfortunate rival was resigned to his power, and banished to the islands of Pontus and Pandatara, where, in penury and wretchedness, he ended his days. But, upon the disgraceful squabbles to which a competition for the bishopric of Rome gave rise, I have spoken in a former Lecture, and therefore, though the subject be abundantly prolific, consider it needless to enlarge. · It was some time before the claim of infallibility, as the successors of an infallible apostle, was set up by the bishops of Rome. The first pope who seems to have preferred this claim was Agatho, about the year 680. This pontiff, in an epistle to the sixth general council held at Constantinople, had the effrontery to declare that the church of Rome never erred, nor could err in any point; and that all the constitutions of his church ought to be received as if delivered by the divine voice of St. Peter himself.* This monstrous assumption, however, was not propounded all at once; for, before this time, there had not been wanting individuals who flattered the pride of the popes by very extravagant encomiums, an instance of which I have lately adduced in the case of Ennodias, who impiously termed Symmachus “God's vicegerent, &c.”
The temporal or secular power of the bishops, of Rome advanced pari passu with their ecclesiastical encroachments on the rights and liberties of the laity. Prior to the days of Constantine, there had been no little strife or contention among the clergy which of them should take precedence in the church ; but from the moment their profession was established by law as the religion of the empire, and the high road to worldly honour and dignity was thrown open to them, the grand object of competition among the clergy was, which of them should obtain the greatest portion of the good things of this world-riches, houses, lands, and whatever ministers to the pride of life. This object seems to have engrossed their whole attention; and, taking up with this world as their portion, they pursued it like hungry vultures thirsting for their prey. I formerly mentioned that covetousness became almost a characteristic vice, insomuch that
* History of Popery, vol. ii. p. 5.
HISTORY OF THE PAPAL POWER.
one of the Roman emperors, in the year 370, passed a law, prohibiting the clergy from receiving legacies bequeathed by women; and the prevailing cupidity of their contemporaries was severely reprobated by several of the fathers.
The ecclesiastical hierarchy never received any territorial endowment by law, either under the Roman empire or the kingdoms established upon its ruins; but the voluntary munificence of princes as well as their subjects amply supplied the place of a more universal provision. Large private estates, or, as they were termed, patrimonies, not only within their own dioceses, but sometimes in distant countries, sustained the dignity of the principal sees, and especially of that of Rome. The French monarch, the Saxon line of emperors, and the kings of England, set hardly any bounds to their liberality, as is attested by numerous charters still extant. Many churches possessed seven or eight thousand mansi (probably acres of land) :-one, with but two thousand, passed for only indifferently rich. Many of these donations, however, consisted of lands uncultivated and unappropriated. The monasteries acquired legitimate riches by the culture of these deserted tracts and by the prudent management of their revenues. Their wealth, continually accumulating, enabled them to become the regular purchasers of landed estates, especially in the times of the crusades.
There were, however, other sources of wealth less pure; and the clergy derived their wealth from many sources. Persons on entering a monastery often threw their whole estates into a common stock; and even the children of rich parents were expected to make a donation of land, on taking the cowl, as it was termed ; that is, on becoming monks. Some gave their property to the church before entering on military expeditions ; gifts were made by some to take effect after their lives; and bequests were made by many in the terrors of dissolution, with the view of pacifying a guilty conscience. Above all things, the clergy failed not to inculcate, upon the wealthy sinner, that no atonement could be so acceptable to heaven as liberal presents to its earthly delegates! To die without allotting a portion of wealth or property to pious uses was reckoned the next thing to suicide, or a refusal of the last sacraments; and hence, intestacy passed for a sort of fraud upon the church, which she punished by taking the administration of the effects of the deceased into her own hands -such, at least, was the case in England, in the middle ages. Canonical penances were imposed upon repentant offenders, extravagantly severe in themselves, but they might be commuted for money or landed property—a fertile though scandalous source of monastic wealth, which the popes, in after ages, diverted into their own coffers, by the sale of dispensations and indulgences. And, as if all these means of accumulating property and wealth were insufficient, the monks prostituted their knowledge of writing to the purpose of forging charters in their own favour, which might easily impose upon an ignorant age, since it has required a peculiar science to detect them in modern times. Such rapacity might seem incredible in men cut off from the pursuits of life, and professing a religion which inculcates disconformity to the world, contentedness with our lot in life, and setting the heart and affections on the invisible realities of eterinity,if we had not ocular demonstration every day of the insatiable cravings of avarice and the fervour of professional attachment.
It is, however, proper to remark that there were many hindrances that thwarted the clergy in their acquisition of opulence, and the tide sometimes set in very strongly against them. The ecclesiastical history of the middle ages presents one long contention of fraud against robbery—of acquisitions made by the church, through such means as have now been described, and torn from her by lawless power. Those very men who, in the season of sickness and the hour of impending death, showered the gifts of expiatory devotion upon her altars, had spent the sunshine of their lives in what was termed sacrilegious plunder. Notwithstanding the obsequiousness of the laity to their spiritual guides, and the blind veneration for religious institutions among the nobility, there were very many exceptions to this general view of things. In every country, we find continual lamentation over the plunder of ecclesiastical possessions. And, though it was not commonly practised by sovereigns, the evil was not less universally felt. We have an illustration of the truth of what has now been hinted at in the case of tithes.
The ecclesiastics, in the age and under the auspices of Constantine the Great, having modelled the church on the plan of
ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF TITHES.
the Jewish economy, recommended and enjoined, in imitation of the Jewish law, the payment of tithes as a permanent source of revenue to the clergy. 'Tis needless to tell you that the founder of the Christian religion gave them no authority for this; there is not a single text of Scripture in all the New Testament that sanctions such a proceeding—on the contrary, the genius, spirit, laws, and principles of Christianity, protest against it, and the true churches of Christ have always disclaimed this source of revenue. The exaction of tithes for the support of the clergy has, no doubt, received the sanction of human laws in various states and countries ; but it is part and parcel of the Antichristian system, to an illustration of which the present Lecture is devoted. Tithes, however, were not at first applied to the maintenance of a regular clergy. Parishes, or parochial divisions, as they now exist, did not take place in some countries till long after the age of Constantine. The rural churches, or more properly places of worship, erected successively as the necessities of a congregation required, were, in fact, a kind of chapels of ease, dependent on the cathedral, or mother church, and served by deputies at the bishop's discretion. The bishop himself received the tithes and apportioned them as he thought fit; and when, by an ecclesiastical canon, the subject was put upon a somewhat different footing, their division into three parts was regulated after the following manner :-One part for the bishop and his clergy, a second for the poor, and a third for the support of the building and other contingencies.
The slow and gradual manner in which parochial churches became independent is in itself a sufficient answer to those who ascribe a high antiquity to the universal payment of tithes. But there are more direct proofs that this species of ecclesiastical property was acquired, not only in a very gradual manner, but with considerable opposition. We find the payment of tithes first enjoined by the canons of a provincial council in France towards the end of the sixth century. From the ninth to the end of the twelfth, it is continually enforced by similar authority. Father Paul has remarked that most of the sermons preached about the eighth century inculcate the payment of tithes as a duty, and even seem to place the summit of Christian perfection in its performance.* This reluctant submission of the people to a general and permanent tribute is perfectly consistent with the eagerness displayed by them in accumulating voluntary donations upon the church. The first who gave the sanction of law to these ecclesiastical injunctions was Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, of France, about the year 800. The practice had doubtless gained ground to a considerable extent before this time, through the influence of ecclesiastical authority, but even the authority of the French monarch did not give it universal currency. In the subsequent ages, it was very common to appropriate tithes, which had originally been payable to the bishop, either towards the support of particular churches, or, according to the prevalent superstition, to the support of monasteries. These arbitrary consecrations, though the subject of complaint, continued till about the year 1200, when the obligation of paying tithes, which hitherto had been restricted to the fruits of the earth, was extended to almost every species of profit, and to the wages of every kind of labour. That the laity should avail themselves of every means in their power to counteract this vile system can excite no surprise in any rational being. It gave rise, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, to what are termed lay impropriations—that is, the revenues of benefices passed into the hands of laymen, who employed curates at the cheapest rate; a practice which has never ceased and which is in full force in our own day and country—and, if you will take the word of the present lord bishop of London, these lay impropriations constitute the most crying evil that afflicts the church of England. The fact may be so, for aught I know; but, if it had not been for this and other drawbacks, the clergy must, one would imagine, long ere this have acquired almost the exclusive property of the soil. They certainly did enjoy nearly one half of England ; and, I believe, a still greater proportion in some countries of Europe. They had reached perhaps their zenith, in respect of territorial property, about the end of the twelfth century. From that time, the disposition to enrich the clergy by pious donations grew more languid, and * Selden’s History of Tithes—and Fra Paolo on Benefices, ch. xi.