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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Papal nepotism became a byword


style="text-align: justify;">? 3. The Spiritual Supremacy.

The ecclesiastical supremacy was gradually interpreted to mean that the Bishop of Rome was the _one_ or universal bishop in whom all spiritual and ecclesiastical powers were summed up, and that all other members of the hierarchy were simply delegates selected by him for the purposes of administration. On this interpretation, the Bishop of Rome was the absolute monarch over a kingdom which was called spiritual, but which was as thoroughly material as were those of France, Spain, or England. For, according to mediaeval ideas, men were spiritual if they had taken orders, or were under monastic vows; fields, drains, and fences were spiritual things if they were Church property; a house, a barn, or a byre was a spiritual thing, if it stood on land belonging to the Church. This papal kingdom, miscalled spiritual, lay scattered over Europe in diocesan lands, convent estates, and parish glebes--interwoven in the web of the ordinary kingdoms and principalities of Europe. It was part of the Pope's claim to _spiritual_ supremacy that his subjects (the clergy) owed no allegiance to the monarch within whose territories they resided; that they lived outside the sphere of civil legislation and taxation; and that they were under special laws imposed on them by their supreme spiritual ruler, and paid taxes to him and to him alone. The claim to spiritual supremacy therefore involved endless interference

with the rights of temporal sovereignty in every country in Europe, and things civil and things sacred were so inextricably mixed that it is quite impossible to speak of the Reformation as a purely religious movement. It was also an endeavour to put an end to the exemption of the Church and its possessions from all secular control, and to her constant encroachment on secular territory.

To show how this claim for spiritual supremacy trespassed continually on the domain of secular authority and created a spirit of unrest all over Europe, we have only to look at its exercise in the matter of patronage to benefices, to the way in which the common law of the Church interfered with the special civil laws of European States, and to the increasing burden of papal requisitions of money.

In the case of bishops, the theory was that the dean and chapter elected, and that the bishop-elect had to be confirmed by the Pope. This procedure provided for the selection locally of a suitable spiritual ruler, and also for the supremacy of the head of the Church. The mediaeval bishops, however, were temporal lords of great influence in the civil affairs of the kingdom or principality within which their dioceses were placed, and it was naturally an object of interest to kings and princes to secure men who would be faithful to themselves. Hence the tendency was for the civil authorities to interfere more or less in episcopal appointments. This frequently resulted in making these elections a matter of conflict between the head of the Church in Rome and the head of the State in France, England, or Germany; in which case the rights of the dean and chapter were commonly of small account. The contest was in the nature of things almost inevitable even when the civil and the ecclesiastical powers were actuated by the best motives, and when both sought to appoint men competent to discharge the duties of the position with ability. But the best motives were not always active. Diocesan rents were large, and the incomes of bishops made excellent provision for the favourite followers of kings and of Popes, and if the revenues of one see failed to express royal or papal favour adequately, the favourite could be appointed to several sees at once. Papal nepotism became a byword; but it ought to be remembered that kingly nepotism also existed. Pope Sixtus V. insisted on appointing a retainer of his nephew, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, to the see of Modrus in Hungary, and after a contest of three years carried his point in 1483; and Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, gave the archbishopric of Gran to Ippolito d'Este, a youth under age, and after a two years' struggle compelled the Pope to confirm the appointment in 1487.


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