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GENERAL INTRODUCTION : THE CHURCH AND THE NORMAN
THE Norman Conqueror brought the English Church and nation, which had hitherto been insulated in a kind of backwater, into the main stream of European civilisation
Introductory just at the opening of one of the most eventful sketch of the
period. periods in the history of Christendom.
The two hundred years that extend from the latter half of the eleventh century to near the close of the thirteenth were emphatically an age of growth-intellectual, religious, and political. It was an age of great men, of grand ideals and noble ventures. It witnessed the rise and progress of the Crusading movement until the enthusiasm which had inspired it was almost exhausted. It saw monasticism reach its zenith in the reform of the Benedictines, and the foundation of the Cistercian and Carthusian Orders. The Augustinian Canons Regular and the Cistercians spread rapidly over England in the course of the twelfth century; and not less rapid was the diffusion in the following century of the Mendicant Orders, especially the Franciscans. The latter not only brought the ministrations of Christian love and self-sacrifice to the outcast leper, the sick, the suffering, the needy, the sin-laden, but also furnished some of the leading teachers in the University of Oxford.
It was indeed an age of great intellectual activity, in which scholastic learning was carried to its highest stage of development, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge rose out of obscure beginnings into fame and importance. Amongst European scholars of the eleventh century Lanfranc had a
high reputation, especially for legal learning, while Anselm ranked as the foremost dialectician and theologian of his time. Amongst the scholars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries few were more distinguished than John of Salisbury, Gilbert Foliot, and Edmund Rich; none more illustrious than Robert Grosseteste. Within the same period, also, two styles of architecture - the Norman and Early English cessively brought to perfection, and the arts of illuminating, fresco-painting, and sculpture reached a high standard of excellence.
England was remarkably fortunate during these two centuries in the primates who occupied the metropolitan see of Canterbury It would indeed be difficult to find any church which, within the same limits of time, could point to a succession of archbishops so eminent either for ' sanctity, or learning, or administrative ability, or all combined, as Lanfranc, Anselm, Theobald, Thomas Becket, Hubert Walter, Stephen Langton, Edmund Rich. And from time to time some of the other sees were filled with great prelates who, in various ways and degrees, as statesmen, or saints, or vigorous diocesan rulers, exercised an important influence on the life of the Church and nation. It was mainly through the action of the Church under the conduct of her great prelates that the kingdom was saved from total anarchy in the disastrous reign of Stephen, and that the liberties of both Church and nation were protected from the insolent tyranny of John, and the oppressive exactions of both the king and the pope in the reign of Henry III.
A succession of able and ambitious popes, beginning with Hildebrand (Gregory VII.), were striving, throughout this period, to give practical effect to the idea, a true and noble one in itself, that the spiritual power, being by nature superior to the earthly and temporal, ought to be paramount in Christendom. The conviction that the supreme spiritual authority centred in the papacy was based upon the belief, unquestioned for ages, that it was inherited by the popes from St. Peter, as the chief of the Apostles and the first Bishop of Rome. And the claim to a kind of suzerainty over the whole Church, especially in Western Europe, was strengthened by the belief that Constantine had conferred imperial sovereignty in the
West on Pope Sylvester, and that the administration of this empire in things secular had been afterwards bestowed by Pope Leo III. on Charles the Great. The attempt, however, to enforce this grand ideal of the supremacy of the spiritual power resulted before the close of our period in involving the papacy in the entanglements and intrigues of worldly policy. The papacy stooped to conquer, and was abased in the effort to exalt itself. The sword of the flesh, forbidden to St. Peter, was employed by those who called themselves his successors to compass ends supposed to be spiritual, while the spiritual weapons of anathema and excommunication were freely exercised to obtain or support temporal power.
The relation of the English Church to the papacy varied with the changing circumstances of the time, and with the characters of successive English Sovereigns and Roman pontiffs. William I. and Lanfranc paid respectful deference to the apostolic see, but both king and primate plainly intimated that an absolute submission would not be yielded. Under William Rufus, Anselm appealed to the pope as the highest available source of justice against intolerable and brutal tyranny. In the strife of Anselm with Henry I. about “investitures,” and of Thomas with Henry II. about “the customs,” and the trial of criminous clerks, both prelates invoked the aid of the papacy against what seemed to them a tendency to despotic rule on the part of the crown. Innocent III. began by assisting the Church and nation against the tyranny of John, but, after the abject submission of the king to the Roman see, Innocent and his successors regarded England as a kind of feudal appendage over which they could exercise a variety of rights, especially that of demanding pecuniary aid to carry on their wars with the emperors. The long minority of Henry III. afforded a favourable opportunity for carrying the theory of papal suzerainty into practice, and Henry himself remained throughout his life a humble and submissive son, or rather servant, of the Holy See. The ever-increasing exactions of an extravagant king and avaricious popes drained the resources of the country, and exhausted the patience of the people until at last the clergy, baronage, and commons united their forces in resistance to the twofold oppression.
The sanction of the pope Alexander II. was no small assistance to William in his invasion of England. The Bull
denouncing Harold as a usurper, and proclaiming sanction of William the lawful heir of the English throne, the the Norman ring presented to him containing a hair of St. Peter,
the consecrated banner which floated over the centre of the victorious host at Senlac—all these things invested William's enterprise with the character of a holy war. He might have experienced some difficulty in collecting forces sufficient to warrant the venture had he not been able to appeal to religious sentiment as well as to a love of plunder, and the hope of rewards in the shape of English lands and lordships. Wealthy ecclesiastics in high position did not scruple to contribute men and ships for the invading army. Remigius, almoner of the abbey of Fécamp, supplied one ship with twenty knights, while the Abbot of St. Ouen furnished no less than twenty ships and one hundred knights, and Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, the duke's half-brother, one hundred ships. Although William declared on his death-bed that he owed his crown to the grace of God, and not to hereditary right, it is possible that he had sincerely believed in the justice of his claim, and this conviction was of course strengthened by the papal sanction. The verdict of heaven seemed to be in his favour.
Moreover, although William would never surrender his independence to the pope he had always been a devout son of
the Church. He was regular in his attendance at devoutness. mass, a faithful husband in a profligate age, and a
good father in taking care to have his children duly instructed in the Christian faith. He made his bishops and abbots in Normandy of the best men whom he could find, discountenancing the prevailing vice of simony, he promoted the building of churches and the reformation of monasteries, and presided over ecclesiastical councils in which canons were passed for the better government of the Church. Nowhere was the “Truce of God,” by which hostilities were suspended during certain sacred seasons, more scrupulously observed than in his Norman duchy. On the eve of his departure for the invasion of England he appointed Lanfranc to be abbot of his new monastery of St. Stephen at Caen, and attended