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Ir will make the story of the Middle Ages more intelligible if we take a glance at the chequered career of the Papacy. Moreover, the religious history of Europe, though intimately blended with its political transformations, will be more impressive when contemplated apart and disconnected from all extraneous matter. It will be interesting to trace in a general way the slow but steady growth of the Papacy, which century after century marched on from triumph to triumph, till it became the predominant authority of Europe. Kings and Emperors long resisted it. Heretics perished by thousands in assaulting it. In the sixteenth century it reached its zenith, but then received a blow which proved vital. From that date its omnipotence has declined.
With this simple prelude let us turn to its origin.
In 42 A.D., in the reign of the Emperor Claudius, St. Peter, the chief of the twelve Apostles, went to Rome, and made the metropolis of Paganism the head-quarters of the new Religion. From that date the authority of the See of Rome was acknowledged by all the Christian Churches in Europe, and all points in dispute were referred to its decision. When Constantine made Constantinople the new Capital of the Roman Empire, 330, the spiritual supremacy of the Bishops of Rome still continued, and they remained the
head of the Christian Church in the East and the West until the Schism of 862, when the Greek Church declared itself independent of the Roman Church, and has ever since remained so.
During the first centuries of Christianity, the Roman Bishops rendered obedience to the various Emperors, or to their delegates in Italy after the seat of the Empire had been removed to Constantinople. Their power was purely spiritual, but as the new doctrines spread their sway over the minds of men high and low continued to increase. The most despotic rulers during the Dark Ages yielded to their counsels and commands. It was not till the eighth century, when the Exarchs, or representatives of the Emperors of the East, were driven out of Italy, and when Pepin the French King, 755, and afterwards Charlemagne, 775, bestowed on them extensive tracts of land, that the Bishops of Rome became territorial rulers. At a much later date, 1077, the Countess Matilda of Tuscany made a gift of her States to the See of Rome, and these various territories received the name of the "Patrimony of St. Peter."
Gregory VII., 1073, was the first Pontiff who assumed the title of Pope.* At first the Bishops of Rome were elected by the people and the Clergy. Then, later, by the Clergy only. The Emperors of Germany often arrogated the right to name the Pope. Finally, from the year 1170, the right of election was given exclusively to the Cardinals † by Pope Alexander III.
The spiritual power of the Popes continued steadily * The word Pope is derived from the Greek Pappas, signifying-father. † Cardinal is derived from the Latin word Cardinalis. At first the name was applied to the priests at the head of the parishes at Rome. They were then below the rank of Bishops of the Church. They gradually rose in importance till they began to be regarded as the Princes of the Church.
to extend over all Christendom, and so great was the credulity of the masses during the greater part of the Middle Ages, so deep was their reverence for the head of the Church, that few Kings or Emperors ventured to resist his mandates. A sentence of Excommunication launched against any Potentate however powerful, impaired his authority over his subjects, who looked on him as accursed of God.
Towards the end of the eleventh century, a Monk named Peter the Hermit came from the Holy Land, and represented to the Pope, Urban II., the outrages suffered by the Christians from the Infidels, and the profanation of the Holy Sepulchre. The Pope authorized Peter to preach a Crusade against the Infidels, and Peter travelled over Europe, his feet bare and a cross in his hand, stirring up the religious zeal of the Christian world. A number of feudal Lords organized an expedition, at the head of which was a French Noble, Godfrey de Bouillon, a man of great capacity. He sold his Duchy to raise funds, and many other Nobles sold or mortgaged their fiefs to follow him. They set out for Asia Minor in 1096, and defeated the Saracens in every battle. Jerusalem was taken, and Godfrey was elected King. The expedition returned in 1100.
The brilliant success of this adventure stimulated other Crusades. The Popes used all their influence to encourage them, as the religious fervor aroused by these pious enterprises served largely to augment their authority. The Second Crusade, 1147, was headed by Louis VII., King of France, and Conrad, Emperor of Germany. It was not so fortunate. The Third, 1189, was led by Richard, Cœur de Lion, King of England, by Philip Augustus, King of France, and Frederick
Barbarossa, Emperor of Germany. Europe was greatly excited by this grand array, but the result was not equal to the general expectation. The Emperor of Germany was defeated, and the King of France quarrelled with Richard and returned home.
Five other Crusades followed at different periods. The last, 1270, had Louis IX., King of France, for its chief.
Contemporarily with the Crusades, Italy was distracted by a furious warfare which lasted over three centuries— the wars of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. The quarrel began between two German Princes who aspired to the throne of Germany. At this time the Emperors of Germany ruled over the north of Italy, and the Pope seeing Germany divided by a civil war, thought the occasion a good one to emancipate Italy from the German yoke, and to strengthen the Papacy. His Holiness accordingly joined the Guelph party, which was favorable to the independence of Italy, and the domination of the Church. This sanguinary strife began in 1159, and continued at intervals down to 1495, with no other result than the alternate victory and defeat of either party.
From this may be seen the unhappy condition of Italy during the Middle Ages. France was no better off, for the constant broils of her feudal Lords kept the country in a state of chronic anarchy. Germany was in a similar condition.. England suffered less, as the Feudal System was weaker there.
The Papacy, however, flourished and expanded in the midst of the disorder of Europe, which it was often accused of seeking to promote. In every country the Priesthood was composed of the ablest men, who