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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Then he took the hierarchic side resolutely


Those

were the times in which the attempt of the Emperor Frederic I to call a council, and in it to decide on a contested papal election, had created general excitement among the peoples and churches of Southern Europe, which would only consent to be led by a pope independent of the empire. Driven from Italy, Alexander III, the Pope rejected by the Emperor, found a cordial reception in France; and here he now collected on his side a papal council in opposition to the imperial one, in which the cardinals, whose election the Emperor was trying to annul, and the bishops of Spain and South Italy, and those of the collective Gaulish dioceses (more than a hundred in number), and the English bishops also, gathered around him, and laid the Pope elected by the Emperor under the anathema. It was inevitable that the idea of the Church, as independent of the temporal power, should here find its strongest expression. Some canons were passed which prohibited the usurpation of ecclesiastical property by the laity, and made it a crime in the bishops to allow it.[23]

Thomas Becket was welcomed in this council with a seductive kindness; but besides this, what is harder than to set oneself against the common feeling of one's own order, when moderation already appears to be apostasy? He returned to England filled with the ideas of hierarchic independence; in preparing to carry it through, he necessarily brought on the conflict which had hitherto been avoided.

justify;">The Plantagenet King, whose whole heart was in the work of securing the obedience of the manifold provinces that had fallen to his lot; who hastened ceaselessly from one to the other (when people thought him far away in South France, he had already recrossed the sea to England), ever occupied in extending his inherited power by institutions of a legal and administrative nature, was not inclined to give way to the Church in this attempt. He would neither make the election of the higher clergy free, nor allow their excommunication to be valid without State control; he not only maintained the right of the lay courts to try ecclesiastics for heinous offences, which else often remained unpunished; but, even in the sphere of spiritual jurisdiction, he claimed to hear appeals in the last instance without regard to the Pope. In all this the lay and spiritual nobility agreed with him; in a Council at Clarendon they framed 'constitutions,' in which they declared these rules to be the law of the realm, as it had always been observed, and ought to be observed henceforth.[24]

Becket did not possess the inflexible obstinacy which distinguishes most of the champions of the hierarchy. As the accordant voice of Europe moved him to take up the hierarchic principles, so now the accordant voice of his country's rulers made an impression on him: he listened to the ecclesiastics who entreated him not to draw the King's displeasure on them, and to the laymen, who prayed him not to bring on them the necessity of executing it on the ecclesiastics: he virtually accepted the Constitutions of Clarendon. But then again he could not prevail on himself to observe them. Only when his vacillation endangered him personally, so that he could expect nothing else to follow but a condemnation by a new assembly of the royal court, did he come to a decision. Then he took the hierarchic side resolutely; in contradiction to the Constitutions, he appealed to the Pope. It is a remarkable day in English history, that 14th October 1164, on which Thomas Becket, after reading mass, appeared before the court without his archiepiscopal dress, but cross in hand. He forbade the earl, who wished to announce the judgment to him, to speak, since no layman had power to sit in judgment on his spiritual father;[25] he again put himself under the protection of God and the Roman Church, and then passed from the court, no man venturing to lay hands on him, still armed with his cross, to a church close by, from whence he escaped to the Continent. By this he brought into England the war of the two powers, which had already burst into flame in Italy and Germany. The archbishop and primate rejected the supreme judicial authority of the Curia Regis; only in the chief pontiff at Rome did he recognise his rightful judge: by undertaking to bring into full view the complete independence of the spiritual principle on this ground also, he broke down that unity of authority, which had, been hitherto maintained in the English realm, and entered into open war with his King.


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