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"Before the coming of Christ certain ones, in figure but nevertheless living and functioning
in the flesh, were both kings and priests, as sacred history tells us holy Melchisedech was. The
devil, who in his usurping spirit always hastens to appropriate what belongs to the divine religion,
initiated this among his own, so that pagan rulers were called emperors and pontifices maximi.
But when the true king and pontiff came the emperor no longer took the name of pontiff for
himself nor did the pontiff claim the royal dignity. Although the members of Him who is the true
king and pontiff may be said, according to the participation of nature, to have sublimely assumed
both in their sacred nobility so that they are at once a royal and priestly race. For, Christ mindful
of human weakness and of what would be good for men's salvation arranged things by a divine
dispensation. Desiring that His own be saved by salutary humility and not again ruined by human
pride He so divided the duties of the two powers that the Christian emperors would need the
pontiffs for their eternal salvation and the pontiffs would use the imperial orderings for the course
of temporal things. As a result spiritual action would be removed from carnal encroachments; no
one serving as God's soldier would entangle himself in worldly affairs and
The medieval dyarchy is the fulfillment of the Augustinian sketch of the City of God. In
theory the solidarity of the Christian commonwealth was such that the societies which moderns
sharply distinguish as Church and state were regarded as but two powers of one body, the one
concerned with divine and eternal affairs, the other with human and temporal matters. While the
essential distinction of Church and state was doubtless well recognized by the learned, in practice
the persons and concerns of the two authorities were closely linked, interchanged, and even
confused. In place of two antagonistic societies, one the persecutor of the other in the pagan
imperialistic environment, Christian permeation of secular society had now gone so far that
harmony of ideals of the Church and Christian state was taken for granted. Needless to say, the
whole history of the Middle Ages, even during those centuries most influenced by the clerical
theocracy, would demonstrate that this theoretical collaboration was often far from being the case
in practice; the world, the flesh, and the devil had not abdicated during the medieval era. Yet the
force of the ideal of co-operation between priesthood and statesmanship, between popes and
emperors, must not be discounted. It would prove a stabilizing factor, as it was a reasonable and
by no means entirely unworkable ideal. To a degree, then, Church and state merge into the
dyarchy, the condominium, that is known as Christendom.
The central idea of the Middle Ages is the all-pervading influence of the Church.
Christianity was younger than the Roman Empire. Hence even after it had brought the greater
part of the Graeco-Roman world under its spiritual rule, it still faced a society and culture that
were venerable and deeply rooted. This environment the Church did modify and elevate, as can
be seen by a comparison of Roman laws before and after the Edict of Milan. Yet the process was
gradual and far from complete.
Teutonic conversion, however, introduced a new environment. When the Germans were
converted, they lacked a pre-existing civilization comparable with the Graeco-Roman. Imperial
culture was in a state of deterioration when the Teutons entered the empire, nor did they derive it
chiefly from secular sources. Rather, the precious remnant of Roman culture survived vitally only
in the institutions of the Christian Church and it was thence that the Teutons drew that modicum
that they were at first capable of absorbing. They came to regard the Church in consequence as
more than a spiritual mother. For them she was also the temporal guide who had given them all
that they prized of education, law, culture-in some cases, even of material civilization. The
Church's influence was therefore the greater upon these unprejudiced minds, bound by no
attachment to a previous culture, withheld by no unconscious intellectual snobbery. The Church
could and did become the center of everyday Teutonic-and Celtic-life, and her voice was beard in
all temporal occupations. This ecclesiastical leadership is what prompts the description of the
Medieval period as the age of Christendom. This feudal era now to be considered witnessed the
gradual and difficult process of softening Teutonic barbarism and of organizing primitive
institutions, until by the twelfth century it might be said that an indigenous Christian culture had
developed-to Hower in what is often termed the Renaissance of the Twelfth Century.
The priesthood in its widest sense was the divinely appointed hierarchy of the Church,
even from the days when its Founder walked the earth. The apostles had already been set apart
by Him as leaders of men. This priesthood had various grades, but all who shared in it wielded
divinely delegated authority. Religious reverence for the priesthood by the majority of Europeans
in the Middle Ages is the root of all its social influence. Without this supernatural basis, all the
secondary and annexed powers exercised by the sacerdotium remain inexplicable and indeed
quickly disappeared in the great anticlerical revolt of the sixteenth century. The human agents of
this sacerdotium, unfortunately, were not always blameless. They were prone to succumb to their
degrading environment instead of elevating it. Generalizing freely, several times they badly
stumbled, only to recover by a new infusion of supernatural vitality. And in the long run, they
succeeded with God's grace. Success and prosperity, however, brought new problems and that
very Renaissance that was their triumph also nourished a secular intelligentsia destined to
oppose first the temporal, and later the spiritual, lead of the sacerdotium.
The sacerdotium maius, the bishops, were by divine institution Superior to the priests, the
sacerdotium minus. At the opening of the Middle Ages, the bishops were more than successors
of the apostles. Under the later empire they had come to be as well substitutes for Caesars
governors. It was to them that the Romans had turned for protectors and intercessors when the
Teutons poured into provinces abandoned by civil governors and generals. It was to the bishops
that the wiser barbarian chiefs, conscious of their precarious position as rulers of a conquered
majority, had turned as intermediaries and pacificators to secure that degree of grudging co-
operation from the Romans which made life possible. The bishops in the universal breakdown of
law, administration, learning, communications, had been called upon to assume or had assumed
many details of secular government in the public interest. Next to the monarchy they came to
hold first place in all Teutonic realms that survived, chief members of a clerical "first estate."
Frankish, Ostrogothic, Visigothic, and Anglo-Saxon law gave them rights of supervision over the
new counts and most of the Teutons recognized the legal immunity which ecclesiastical courts
had begun to enjoy in Roman times.
The Bishop of Rome, as successor of St. Peter, had a special claim to medieval
reverence for the sacerdotium. St. Gregory the Great and his successors began to protect and
administer not merely the provincial metropolis or civitas, but the traditional capital of the still awe-
inspiring empire. In the absence of residential emperors, the popes had come to be, if not yet
their successors, at least the autonomous viceroys, duces et praefecti militum of Respublica
Christian brotherhood was a powerful idea for international understanding and solidarity.
Brotherhood, however, presupposes fatherhood. God was indeed the invisible father of mankind,
but in accordance with human inclinations He had given Christian men a visible, earthly father in
the pope. This human papa was considered by his children to have full paternal authority in the
household of the Faith. He wished his children to be at peace, and whenever their better instincts
triumphed he became the arbiter of their disputes. He showed solicitude for their temporal
welfare; hence he tried to protect them and teach them to protect themselves against infidel foes.
He desired them to know the truth and therefore promoted education, supervised instruction,
rooted out error, especially error in Faith. He rebuked them for their moral failings and was the
last court of appeal on earth, whose decision, moreover, would be ratified in heaven. No earthly
eminence could exempt from his jurisdiction; the Synodus Palmaris had demonstrated that to
judge the pope was not only juridically but politically impossible: Christian public opinion would
not tolerate it. This father also sought to shield all from tyranny, political or economic. Thus he
strove to introduce law and justice into society, co-operation, just prices, and fair play into
business. In all moral issues he was final interpreter. And the children acknowledged their father.
Like all children, they might sulk, Murmur or even rebel at times, but even while they did so, they
were half aware that in the long run they must submit to Christ's viceroy and Peter's vicar.
Temporal jurisdiction. That the pope is supreme sovereign in moral matters is conceded
by all Catholics as a matter of course. The moot question lies in his temporal power. Some
theologians have contended that the pope possessed "direct jurisdiction" in temporal affairs, but
this view today commands little favor. But at least it was certain, according to St. Ambrose's
principles, that bishops had the power to give moral direction and inflict censures on all
Christians, irrespective of rank, even imperial. Priests, moreover, had jurisdiction over oaths and
vows, fundamental in feudal society. In temporal concerns, therefore, they enjoyed at least
"indirect power" or right of intervention ratione peccati. In addition, for the duration of the Middle
Ages the sacerdotium exercised a delegated power over temporal princes in virtue of the
constitutions of various realms. which implicitly represented the popular wish. Monarchs
reluctantly, and their subjects eagerly acknowledged this moral suzerainty of the sacerdotium.
Regal acknowledgement. The Dyarchy reached its zenith with Pope Zachary's decision
in favor of Pepin's kingship (751). The latter's decendants, Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald,
recognized even episcopal power of deposition. The latter admitted: "By no one could I be cast
down from the height of royal power without at least the consideration and judgment of the
bishops, by whose ministry I was consecrated king, and who are called the thrones of God."
Visigothic monarchs, according to the decree of the Sixth Council of Toledo (638) had to abide by
their coronation oath: "Hereafter no king shall mount the throne until he has sworn, among other
conditions, not to tolerate heretics in his states." Article 14 of the Laws of Edward the Confessor
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