Book 2, Chapter 3, 827 AD to 857 AD – Egbert- Continued
One act deserves special and honourable mention. He observed that the public penitents and exiles were bound with iron, and he procured an ordinance from the pope that no Englishman should be put in bonds while doing penance. On his way back through France, Ethelwulf, though advanced in years, solicited and I obtained in marriage Judith, the young daughter of Charles the Bald, an act which, combined with his long absence from the kingdom, and his manifest preference for his youngest son, Alfred, gave great displeasure to the nobles, and a rebel lion was the consequence, at the head of which was Ethelbald, the heir presumptive. A civil war was only avoided by the consent of Ethelwulf to a division of the kingdom, he taking Kent, Essex, and Sussex, and Ethelbald the remainder, but the old king did not long survive this arrangement, dying in 857. He was interred at Winchester, where, already, much kingly dust was deposited.
Either just before or immediately after his pilgrimage to Rome, Ethelwulf, with the sanction of his witonagemot, made a donation to the church which is usually construed to be the original grant of tithes. The whole subject is involved in great obscurity, and the most diverse opinions have been expressed upon it, according to the bias of historical writers. Upon this vexed question it is not possible to pronounce authoritatively, owing to an absence of data by which to judge, yet its bearings upon the after course of English history are so important, that a reference to it is absolutely essential at the present stage. The grafting of the ancient Jewish law of tithe upon the Christian system was not the work of one man, or of one age, but was the gradually attained result of a long course of preparatory instruction and stimulus. Voluntary offerings, and exhortations to spontaneous benevolence, slowly crystallized into custom and formal law.
The preachers of early times, immediately succeeding the apostolic age, recommended the appropriation of tenths, on the Jewish model, avowedly as a matter of convenience and as an appropriate act of piety, and to this there could be no valid objection, for though the ceremonial law was abrogated when the new dispensation arose, neither the verbal moral law, nor what may be termed the common or unwritten law of God, was set aside. Only it needs to be remembered, in every discussion on this topic, that under the Mosaic economy, there was no legal process by which tithes were recoverable from a defaulter. All were enjoined to pay and that willingly, but if any failed they were left to be dealt with by God Himself, and by their own consciences in this respect the old law being the opposite of the modern ecclesiastical law.
In process of time, these recommendatory teachings of the priests were slowly supplanted by others of a more ex-press and positive nature, and the practice which had been praised as imitable, came to be enjoined as imperative and of perpetual obligation. Sermons and homilies were largely directed to the attainment of this end, and in effect, it was taught that all the practical parts of Christianity were comprised in the exact and faithful payment of tithes to the clergy. This was only part of a much wider range of teaching which set forth that outward religious observances, and, in particular, the lavish bestowment of property for what were called “pious uses”, were acceptable substitutes before God for the practice of holiness, love, and self-denial, for it is universally true that men will readily fast, and make long journeys, and give alms, and endure severe penance, in preference to the greater sacrifice of amendment of life.
Chapter 3, Egbert
Revolt under Ethelbald, and Division of the kingdom
Chapter 3, The Clergy and The Monasteries
Chapter 3, The Witenagemot
Categories: Book 2