Book 2, Chapter 3, 827 AD to 857 AD – The Clergy and The Monasteries – Continued
It must be confessed that this document, however interesting as a literary and historical curiosity, throws little light, if indeed any light at all upon the point in dispute, but as much has been made of it by ecclesiastical historians and others, it was needful to introduce it here. One thing appears certain, that, originally, tithes were devoted to a threefold use, one third being appropriated to the repair and ornamentation of churches, one third to the relief of the poor, and one third to the maintenance of the clergy. How far the money thus raised came to be diverted in after times to other purposes, and by what means the clergy came to be a wealthy and powerful corporation, with interests distinct from those of the country at large, and claiming freedom from its usages and laws, excepting in so far as these served their own purposes and ends, will become evident as the course of the history proceeds.
Even long before the period now under consideration, (the middle of the ninth century) the arrogance, the wealth, the pride, the indolence, and the vices of the clergy, had become matters of wide complaint. In the year 747 the Council of Cloveshoe ordered that monasteries should not be turned into places of amusement for harpers and buffoons, and that laymen should not be admitted within their walls too freely, lest they might be scandalized at offences discoverable there. These establishments, with kindred convents for nuns, had rapidly increased, even in Bede’s time, so that, monk though he was, in one of his letters to his friend Egbert, archbishop of York, he expressed his fears that, from the increase of monks, soldiers would at length be wanting to repel an enemy. It was deemed highly meritorious for persons of rank and wealth to vacate their positions in order to devote themselves to monastic life, endowing the religious houses with their possessions, and any great sacrifice in this respect was generally rewarded by the attainment of the high post of abbot or abbess.
Instances occurred in which husbands and wives separated in order to do this, and kings laid aside their dignity and titles for, the same purpose. Some of the monasteries claimed and obtained the right of sanctuary and into this refuge any could flee, not only from misfortune and injustice, but also from the punishment due to their crimes, and thus an institution whose primary tendency was to soften and humanize, by protecting the weak and the poor against lordly oppressors, in an age when might was right, degenerated into a safe asylum where the murderer, the ravisher, and the thief might, with impunity, defy the law. To be buried in these places was esteemed a high honour, and a sure passport to heaven, and this was fostered as being a lucrative superstition. The remains of Glastonbury and St. Alban’s, and the accounts existing of Croyland, and of other large abbeys, sufficiently attest their wealth and influence. Such a state of things could not exist without exerting a prejudicial effect upon all the higher manly virtues, and to this may be ascribed, in no small measure, the ultimate triumph of the Danes over the Saxons. An emasculated Christianity proved no match in a conflict with the vigorous heathens of the north.
Chapter 3, Egbert
Chapter 3, The Clergy and The Monasteries
Condition of the Monks and Clergy
Chapter 3, The Witenagemot
Categories: Book 2