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If the present Pope be the scion of a noble house, his immediate predecessor had been a peasant-born friar.
Nevertheless, although the Church has, to a great extent, preserved its characteristic democratic tendencies as regards its relations with the lay world outside the priestly pale, it is a curious and significant fact that the policy of its own internal arrangements and government has continually tended to become ever more and more aristocratic, oligarchic, and despotic. It has been the conscious policy as well as the self-acting tendency of the institution to deliver every lower grade in the hierarchy ever more and more stringently bound into the power of its immediate superior. Parochial clergy have been more and more entirely subjected to their bishops; and bishops have been effectually taught to submit, not only their conduct, but their souls, to the great central despot at Pome. And the strength of this tendency, most vigorous in that centre ganglion of the system, has singularly manifested itself there by the invention of an entirely adventitious order of ecclesisastic nobles—the Sacred College. And the scope and aim of this invention has been to turn the original Apostolic Church democracy into one of the closest oligarchies the world has ever seen, as regards the highest purposes of ecclesiastical government.
Ecclesiastical theory recognises the Bishop of Eome as the universal Metropolitan of Christendom, because he is the successor in that see of the apostle to whom Christ said, "Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram sedificabo ecclesiam meam!" And the circumstance that Eome was the seat of empire and centre of the civilised world has produced coincidence between that theory and historic fact. It has been denied by historical inquirers of polemic tendencies that St. Peter ever was Bishop of Eome, or present there at all. I think, however, that it must be admitted that the balance of evidence, though certainly not reaching to historic proof, is in favour of the truth of the facts as claimed by Eome. But in truth, the whole story of the early days of the Church at Eome, including the dim and shadowy names of the Pontiffs who are chronicled as having succeeded each other in the seat of Peter, is in the highest degree legendary. Nor have we any means of knowing by what process it was settled among the faithful that the man who became their bishop should be such. For twelve hundred years indeed after the first establishment of the see of Eome, though the chronological place and identification of the majority of the Popes is sufficiently clear and satisfactory, the succession is in many instances so obscure, and so far from being historically ascertained that the immense amount of learning that has been expended on the subject has not availed to bring the learned disputants to a common understanding on the subject, or to produce any intelligible and trustworthy line of papal succession. The main difficulty of the matter arises from the number of Antipopes, and the exceedingly obscure questions which arise as to many of these whether he is to be considered as Pope or Antipope. Prom all which it will be readily understood that little can be said with any degree of certainty as to the method of Papal election during those centuries. There is every reason to think that in the earliest times the bishop was chosen by the voices of all the faithful belonging to that "Church"—to the society, that is, of the Christians who lived there. Ecclesiastical historians are anxious to maintain that from the earliest time the clergy alone had the privilege of voting on the subject, while the people were only asked for their consent to the choice thus made. Not all even of the orthodox writers on the subject insist on this; and it is far more probable that the Eoman Bishop was in the earliest ages chosen by the whole body of the faithful, and that most likely by some more or less fixed and orderly process, not in perfect accordance with any regular system of votation.
We thus find Boniface I., who had reason to fear that the peace of the Church might be troubled after his death by the turbulence of an Antipope, one Eulalius, writing in 419 to the Emperor Honorius a letter, in which he enjoins on him that no one should be elected Pope by means of intrigues, but that he only should be considered the legitimate Pope who should be chosen by Divine judgment and with the consent of all.* The vague nature of this recommendation is sufficiently indicative of the uncertain and unregulated practices that prevailed in the election. The address of this letter to the Emperor, moreover, and the reply of the latter, mark the fact that the Emperors had already begun to exercise a more or less admitted and recognised influence over the pontifical elections. A few years later, in 461, St. Hilarius finds it necessary to decree that no Pope shall appoint his own successor. In 499 St. Symmachus, in a council held at Eome, and attended by seventy-two bishops, decrees that he shall be accepted as Pope who
* Labbe, Concil., torn. iii. col. 1582.
shall have united all the suffrages of the clergy, or at least of the greater part of them. In this same brieff we find the earliest promulgation of a rule which sundry later Pontiff's, notably Paul IV., in 1558, confirmed and made more stringent, and which to the present day is held as one of the fundamental and most important rules of all connected with the election of a successor to St. Peter. It provides that while the Pope lives no negotiation or conference shall take place with regard to his successor, and this under pain of excommunication and forfeiture of all offices. At the death of Symmachus, we find Odoacer publishing a law, given by Labbe under the year 502 (Concil., tom. iv. col. 1334), by which he forbids any pontifical election to be proceeded with without the participation in the deliberations of himself or a pretorian prefect on his behalf. The barbarian king, however, alleged that Symmachus had requested him to take this step; and the ecclesiastical historians admit that some such request may have been made, but assert that Odoacer availed himself of it to usurp a power which it had never been intended to confer on him. As late as 1072 we find the election of Gregory VII., the great Hildebrand, promulgated in the following terms: "We, the cardinals of the holy Eoman Church, and the clergy, acolytes, subdeacons, and priests, in the presence of the bishops and abbots and many other personages ecclesiastical and lay, this day, the 21st April, 1072, in the church of St. Peter in Vincula, elect as the true Vicar of Christ the Archdeacon Hildebrand, a person of much learning," &c, &c, &c, "and we will that he
* Labbo, Concil., torn. iv. col. 1313.
should have that same authority in the Church of God which St. Peter exercised over that same Church by the will and ordinance of God."* In short, for more than a thousand years the elections of the Eoman Pontiffs got themselves accomplished in all sorts of varying and irregular ways, as best might be, with now more and now less attention on the part of the electors to the real, or at least professed, objects and nature of the office, and now more and now less intervention of corruption within the Church and high-handed lay violence from without. In process of time, as the number of clergy became very much larger, and disorders in the proceedings at the papal elections became more serious, it was thought desirable before the close of the eleventh century to determine that the election of the Bishop of Eome should be entrusted to the leading priests in Eome—" preti primari "—and the bishops of the immediately neighbouring sees exclusively.
The variations of practice during the five hundred years previous to this date, 1072, are chronicled by Moroni, f who counts up eighteen different methods used during this period in the process of election. It will hardly be deemed necessary that the points of difference which characterize these eighteen modes of election should be registered here. It will be sufficient to say that the general tendency of them all was to place the power of election in the hands of a small clerical oligarchy, and to exclude the lay element, especially as represented by crowned heads, from any participation in
* Baronius, ad an. 1074. Labbe, torn. x. col. 6.
f Dizionario di Erudizione Storico-ecclesiastica, vol. ixi. p. 199.