Monday, April 4, 2011

Things I Did Today
  • Worked from 10:00 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.
3 Recommended Links
Thoughts -- Excerpts From The Middle Ages, Part 6: The Church Hierarchy
The ecclesiastical hierarchy became a class hierarchy. The bishops and high prelates generally came from the nobility; the parish priests, from the peasantry. Monks and friars were outside the class system, but in the early Middle Ages the abbots tended to be gentlemen, and the rank and file, commoners. The bishops were lords and must still be so addressed in England. They kept the pride of their noble background and their insistence on precedence. When a papal legate visited Westminster Abbey in 1176, the archbishop of Canterbury sat down in the seat of honor at his right. The rival archbishop of York, an old warrior, crowded into the same seat, "thrusting with the more uncomely quarters of his body so that he sat down upon the lap of his own Primate," says a chronicler. York elbowed Canterbury with his sword arm, but "was ignominiously seized by certain bishops, clerics, and laymen, and torn from the Archbishop's lap, and cast upon the floor."

There were good bishops and bad. Many were learned theologians, conscientious in the discharge of their tasks, compassionate, even saintly. Their job was an exacting one, combining spiritual obligations and diocesan administration with political, feudal, and judicial duties. Some were ignorant. A bishop of Durham, consecrated in 1316, was scarcely able to read. When during the consecration ceremony he reached, after many promptings, the word metropolitanus, he game up, gasping, "Let that be taken as read." Some were cynical self-seekers. A thirteenth-century bishop of Parma refused communion on his deathbed, saying he believed nothing of the Christian faith. Asked why he had accepted the bishopric, he replied, "Because of its riches and honors," and so died unabsolved. And some were frank scoundrels, like Bishop Matthew of Toul in France, who defied excommunication for eight years, murdered the ecclesiastic sent to replace him, stole the episcopal equipment and holy chrism, and built a castle from which he plundered his own diocese.

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