Page images

to hear confessions, and to pronounce absolutions, without any license from the bishops, and even without consulting them. The Franciscans had the chief managernent of the sale of indulgences, and the Dominicans directed the Inquisition.

Besides the monks and regulars, there is another sort of religious persons, who, according to their institution, bear the name of St John of Jerusalem, from whom are descended the Knights of Malta ; and similar to them were the Knights Templars, and the Knights of the Teutonic order. These orders had their origin in the time of the Crusades, and their first object was to take care of the sick and wounded, and afterwards to defend them. But they distinguished themselves so much in their military capacity, that the order was soon filled with men of a military turn, and at length they were most depended upon for any military service. Thus, from their undertaking the defence of their hospital, they undertook the defence of the Holy Land, and by degrees that of other Christian countries against all Mahometan powers. The Knights of St John were established in 1090, and being driven from the Holy Land, they retired to Cyprus, then to Rhodes, and they are now settled at Malta.

The Knights Templars were established in 1118, taking their name from their first house which stood near the temple in Jerusalem. This order grew very rich and powerful, but withal so exceedingly vicious, and it is said atheistical, that, becoming obnoxious in France, Italy, and Spain, the Pope was compelled to abolish the order in 1312.

The last order of a religious kind, of which I think it of any consequence to give an account, is that of the Jesuits, which was instituted by Ignatius Loyola, and confirmed by the Pope, with a view to heal the wounds which the church of Rome had received by the reformation, and to supply the place of the monks, and especially that of the mendicants, who were then sunk into contempt. The Jesuits held a middle rank between the monks and the secular clergy, and approached pretty nearly to the regular canons. They all took an oath, by which they bound themselves to go, without deliberation or delay, wherever the Pope should think fit to send them. The secrets of this society were not known to all the Jesuits, nor even to all those who were called professed members, and were distinguished from those

who were called scholars, but only to a few of the oldest of them, and those who were approved by long experience. The court and church of Rome derived more assistance from this single order, than from all their other emissaries and ministers, by their application to learning, engaging in controversy, and preaching in distant countries, but more especially by their consummate skill in civil transactions, and getting to themselves almost the whole business of confession to crowned heads, and persons of eminence in the state; a business which had before been engrossed by the Dominicans.

The moral maxims of this society were so dangerous and so obnoxious to the temporal princes (added to the temptation of the wealth of which they were possessed) that being charged with many intrigues and crimes of state, they were banished, and had their effects confiscated, first in Portugal, then in Spain, and afterwards in France; and at length the Pope was obliged to abolish the whole order.

The religious orders in general have been the great support of the papal power, and of all the superstitions of the church of Rome, in all ages. The worship of saints, and the superstitious veneration for relics were chiefly promoted by their assiduity, in proclaiming their virtues every where, and publishing accounts of miracles wrought by them, and of revelations in their favor. They were also the great venders of indulgences, the founders of the inquisition, and the great instrument of the papal persecutions. The licentiousness of the monks was become proverbial so early as the fifth century, and they are said in those times, to have excited tumults and seditions in various places.

It must, however, be acknowledged, that notwithstanding the great mischief that has been done to the christian world by the religious orders, they have, both directly and indirectly, been the occasion of some good; and though they were the chief support of the papal power, they nevertheless contributed something to the diminution of it, and to the reformation.

A capital advantage which the christian world always derived from the monks, and which we enjoy to this day, is the use they were of to literature in general, both on account of the monasteries being the principal repositories of books, and the monks the copiers of them, and because, almost from their first institution, the monks had a greater

[ocr errors]

share of knowledge than the secular clergy. In the seventh century, the little learning there was in Europe, was, in a manner, confined to the monasteries, many of the monks being obliged by their rules to devote certain hours every day to study; when the schools which had been committed to the care of the bishops were gone to ruin.

The cause of literature has also been much indebted to the Jesuits, and more lately to the Benedictines; the members of both these orders having produced many works of great erudition and labor, and having employed the revenues of their societies to defray the expense of printing them.



THE INTRODUCTION. In this part I shall exhibit a view of the changes which have taken place with respect to the revenues of the church; and shall show by what steps ministers of the gospel, from living on the alms of christian societies, together with the poor that belonged to them, came to have independent and even princely incomes, and to engross to themselves a very considerable part of the wealth and even of the landed property of Europe.



WESTERN EMPIRE. In the constitution of the primitive church the apostles followed the custom of the Jewish synagogues, the members of which contributed every week what they could spare, and intrusted it with those who distributed alms. Like the Jews also, the christians sent alms to distant places, and gave to those who came from a distance with proper recommendations.

The church had no other revenues besides these voluntary alms till the time of Constantine.

Under him, christian societies began to acquire worldly honors and riches. In an edict, he gave liberty to all persons of leaving by will to the churches, and especially to that of Rome, whatever they pleased. What had been taken from them in time of persecution, was to be restored, and he ordained that the estates of the martyrs who had no heirs, should fall to them.

By this means, churches had what was called their patrimony, and that belonging to Rome was called the patrimony of St Peter, which was very extensive in the sixth century in Italy and other countries. At first christian ministers had no property of their own, but lived on the stock of the church. Gradually they had separate pecuniary interests of their own, and became rich and luxurious.

All the civil affairs of christian societies were at first managed by deacons, but the disposal of the money was in the power of the presbyters, by whose general directions the deacons acted. This power with others was usurped by the bishops, who often embezzled the estates belonging to the churches. Owing to this abuse, stewards were chosen to take care of the temporal affairs, and bishops were restricted to the cure of souls.

The distribution of the church stock was the cause of great animosities and contentions between the bishops and the inferior clergy, in which the popes were often obliged to interpose with their advice and authority.

Those corruptions of the clergy which arose from the riches of the church began to be peculiarly conspicuous, when, after the time of Constantine, the church came to be possessed of fixed and large revenues. Jerome says, that the church had indeed become more rich and powerful under the christian emperors, but less virtuous; and Chrysostom says that the bishops forsook their employments to sell their corn and wine, and to look after their .glebes and farms, besides spending much time in lawsuits. Augustine was very sensible of this, and often refused inheritances left to his church, giving them to the lawful heir, and he would never make any purchases for the use of his church. Jerome says that the priests of his time spared no tricks or artifices to get the estates of private persons;

and he mentions many low and sordid offices, to which priests and monks stooped, in order to get the favor and the estates of old men and women, who had no children.

The disorders of the clergy must have been very great in the time of Jerome, since the emperors were then obliged to make many laws to restrain em. In 370 Valentinian made a law to put a stop to the avarice of the clergy, forbidding priests and monks to receive any thing, either by gift or will

, from widows, virgins, or any women. Twenty years after he made another law, to forbid deaconesses to give or bequeath their effects to the clergy, or the monks, or to make the churches their heirs; but Theodosius revoked that edict. We may form some idea of the riches of the church of Rome towards the middle of the third century, from this circumstance, that in that time, according to Eusebius, it maintained one thousand five hundred persons, widows, orphans and poor; and it had then.forty-six priests, besides the bishop, and other officers.




Upon the invasion of the Roman empire by the Norman nations, both the ecclesiastical laws and revenues underwent a great alteration, and upon

the whole very

favorable to the church, as a political system, though for some time, and in some cases, it was unfavorable to the clergy.

About this time, however, began the custom of granting estates to ecclesiastical persons in the same manner, and upon the same terms, as they had been granted to laymen; the ecclesiastics swearing fealty and allegiance for them, and rendering the same services that the lay lords rendered for their estates. Hence the term benefice caine to be applied to church livings. For that term was originally applied to estates granted to layinen upon condition of milita

In no part of the world were the clergy so great gainers by this system as in Germany, where whole principalities were given to churches and monasteries; whereby bishopsbecame, in all respects, independent sovereign princes, as they are at this day. In those times of confusion, when property in land, and

ry service.

« PreviousContinue »