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

Which took the form of Concordats


During

the fourteenth century the Papacy endeavoured to obtain a more complete control over ecclesiastical appointments by means of the system of _Reservations_ which figures so largely in local ecclesiastical affairs to the discredit of the Papacy during the years before the Reformation. For at least a century earlier, Popes had been accustomed to declare on various pretexts that certain benefices were _vacantes apud Sedem Apostolicam_, which meant that the Bishop of Rome reserved the appointment for himself. Pope John XXII. (1316-1334), founding on such previous practice, laid down a series of rules stating what benefices were to be reserved for the papal patronage. The ostensible reason for this legislation was to prevent the growing evil of pluralities; but, as in all cases of papal lawmaking, these _Constitutiones Johanninae_ had the effect of binding ecclesiastically all patrons but the Popes themselves. For the Popes always maintained that they alone were superior to the laws which they made. They were _supra legem_ or _legibus absoluti_, and their dispensations could always set aside their legislation when it suited their purpose. Under these constitutions of Pope John XXII., when sees were vacant owing to the invalidation of an election they were _reserved_ to the Pope. Thus we find that there was a disputed election to the see of Dunkeld in 1337, and after some years' litigation at Rome the election was quashed, and Richard de Pilmor was appointed bishop _auctoritate apostolica_.
The see of Dunkeld was declared to be reserved to the Pope for the appointment of the two succeeding bishops at least.(9) This system of _Reservations_ was gradually extended under the successors of Pope John XXII., and was applied to benefices of every kind all over Europe, until it would be difficult to say what piece of ecclesiastical preferment escaped the papal net. There exists in the town library in Trier a MS. of the _Rules of the Roman Chancery_ on which someone has sketched the head of a Pope, with the legend issuing from the mouth, _Reservamus omnia_, which somewhat roughly represents the contents of the book. In the end, the assertion was made that the Holy See owned all benefices, and, in the universal secularisation of the Church which the half century before the Reformation witnessed, the very Rules of the Roman Chancery contained the lists of prices to be charged for various benefices, whether with or without cure of souls; and in completing the bargain the purchaser could always procure a clause setting aside the civil rights of patrons.

On the other hand, ecclesiastical preferments always implied the holders being liferented in lands and in monies, and the right to bestow these temporalities was protected by the laws of most European countries. Thus the ever-extending papal _reservations_ of benefices led to continual conflicts between the laws of the Church--in this case latterly the Rules of the Roman Chancery--and the laws of the European States. Temporal rulers sought to protect themselves and their subjects by statutes of _Praemunire_ and others of a like kind,(10) or else made bargains with the Popes, which took the form of _Concordats_, like that of Bourges (1438) and that of Vienna (1448). Neither statutes nor bargains were of much avail against the superior diplomacy of the Papacy, and the dread which its supposed possession of spiritual powers inspired in all classes of people. A Concordat was always represented by papal lawyers to be binding only so long as the goodwill of the Pope maintained it; and there was a deep-seated feeling throughout the peoples of Europe that the Church was, to use the language of the peasants of Germany, "the Pope's House," and that he had a right to deal freely with its property. Pious and patriotic men, like Gascoigne in England, deplored the evil effects of the papal _reservations_; but they saw no remedy unless the Almighty changed the heart of the Holy Father; and, after the failures of the Conciliar attempts at reform, a sullen hopelessness seemed to have taken possession of the minds of men, until Luther taught them that there was nothing in the indefinable power that the Pope and the clergy claimed to possess over the spiritual and eternal welfare of men and women.


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