Editor’s note: This is the eleventh of twelve lectures by Charles Kingsley, published as The Roman and the Teuton (1889).
‘Our Lady the Mother of God, even Virgin Maria, together with us, protests to you, adjuring you with great obligations, and admonishes and commands you, and with her the thrones, dominations, all the heavenly angels, the martyrs and confessors of Christ, on behalf of the Roman city, committed to us by the Lord God, and the sheep of the Lord dwelling in it. Defend and free it speedily from the hands of the persecuting Lombards, lest my body which suffered torments for Christ, and my home in which it rests by the command of God, be contaminated by the people of the Lombards, who are guilty of such iniquitous perjury, and are proud transgressors of the divine scripture. So will I at the day of judgment reward you with my patronage, and prepare for you in the kingdom of God most shining and glorious tabernacles, promising you the reward of eternal retribution, and the infinite joys of paradise.
‘Run, by the true and living God I exhort you, run, and help; before the living fountain, whence you were consecrated and born again, shall dry up: before the little spark remaining of that brilliant flame, from which you knew the light, be extinguished; before your spiritual mother, the holy Church of God, in which you hope to receive eternal life, shall be humiliated, invaded, violated, and defiled by the impious.
‘But if not, may your provinces in return, and your possessions, be invaded by people whom you know not. Separate not yourselves from my Roman people; so you will not be aliens, and separate from the kingdom of God, and eternal life. For whatever you shall ask of me, I will surely give you, and be your patron. Assist my Roman people, your brothers; and strive more perfectly; for it is written, No man receiveth the crown, unless he strive lawfully.
‘I conjure you, most beloved, by the living God, leave not this my city of Rome to be any longer torn by the Lombards, lest your bodies and souls be torn and tormented for ever, in inextinguishable and Tartarian fire with the devil and his pestiferous angels; and let not the sheep of the Lord’s flock, which are the Roman people, be dispersed any more, lest the Lord disperse you, and cast you forth as the people of Israel was dispersed.’
You will conclude, doubtless, that this curious document can be nothing but a papal allocution. Its peculiar scriptural style (wrongly supposed to have been invented by the Puritans, who merely learnt it from the old Roman clergy), as well as the self-conceit, which fancies the fate of the whole world to depend on the prosperity of a small half-ruined city in Italy, will be to you sufficient marks of the Roman hand. But you will be somewhat mistaken. It is hardly an epistle from the successor of St. Peter. It professes to be an epistle from St. Peter himself, and sent by him through the hands of Pope Stephen III to Pepin the king of the Franks, in the year 755. You will have concluded also from it, that Catholic Christianity is in its extreme agony; that the worship and name of our Lord, and the fountains of sacramental grace are about to be extinguished for ever, and that nothing but heresy or heathendom can follow. Then you will be quite mistaken. These Lombards are pious Catholics. Builders of churches and monasteries, they are taking up the relics of the Roman martyrs, to transfer them to the churches of Milan and Pavia. They have just given Pope Stephen the most striking proof of their awe of his person and office. But they are quarrelling with him about the boundaries of his estates for the patrimony of St. Peter. They consider that he and his predecessors have grossly wronged them at different times; and now last of all, by calling in foreign invaders; and they are at the gates of Rome laying waste the country, and demanding a poll-tax as ransom. That is all.
The causes which led to this quarrel must be sought far back in history. The original documents in which you will find the facts will be Paulus Diaconus, as far as King Luitprand’s death; then the Life and Writings of Gregory the Great; and then Baronius’ Annals, especially his quotations from Anastasius’ Life of Stephen III., bearing in mind that, as with the Ostrogoths, we have only the Roman Papal story; that the Lombards have never stated their case, not even through Paulus Diaconus, who, being a clergyman, prudently holds his tongue about the whole matter. But by far the best account is to be found in Dean Milman’s ‘Latin Christianity,’ Vols. I. and II. Rome, you must understand, has become gradually the patrimony of St. Peter; the Popes are the practical kings of Rome, possessing, in the name of the Church, much land round Rome, and many estates scattered throughout Italy, and even in Sicily, Gaul, Africa, and the East—estates probably bequeathed by pious people. They have succeeded to this jurisdiction simply by default. They rule Rome, because there is no one else to rule it. We find St. Gregory the Great feeding the pauper-masses of Rome, on the first day of every month, from the fruitful corn-bearing estates in Sicily; keeping up the ‘Panem;’ but substituting, thank Heaven, for the ‘Circenses’ at least the services of the Church. Of course, the man who could keep the Roman people alive must needs become, ipso facto, their monarch.
The Pope acknowledges, of course, a certain allegiance to the Emperor at Constantinople, and therefore to his representative, the Exarch of Ravenna: that is to say, he meets them with flattery when they are working on his side; with wrath when they oppose him. He intrigues with them, too, whenever he can safely do so, against the Lombards.
Thus the Pope has become, during the four centuries which followed the destruction of the Western Empire, the sole surviving representative of that Empire. He is the head of the ‘gens togata;’ of the ‘Senatus Populusque Romanus.’ In him Rome has risen again out of her grave, to awe the peoples once more by the Romani nominis umbra; and to found a new Empire; not as before, on physical force, and the awe of visible power; but on the deeper and more enduring ground of spiritual force, and the awe of the invisible world.
An Empire, I say. The Popes were becoming, from the 5th to the 8th centuries, not merely the lords of Rome, but the lords of the Western Church. Their spiritual Empire, to do them justice, was not so much deliberately sought by them, as thrust upon them. As the clergy were, all over the Empire, the representatives of the down-trodden Romans, so they naturally gravitated toward the Eternal City, their ancient mistress. Like all disciplined and organized bodies they felt the need of unity, of monarchy. Where could they find it, save at Rome? Rome was still, practically and in fact, the fountain of their doctrine, of their superior civilization; and to submit themselves to the Pope of Rome was their only means of keeping up one faith, one practice, and the strength which comes from union.
To seat the Pope upon the throne of the Cæsars; to attribute to him powers weightier than all which the Cæsars had possest…. It was a magnificent idea. A politic idea, too; for it would cover the priesthood with all the prestige of ancient Rome, and enable them to face the barbarian in the name of that great people whose very memory still awed him; whose baths, aqueducts, palaces, he looked on as the work of demons; whose sages and poets were to him enchanters; whose very gems, dug out of the ruins by night, in fear and trembling, possest magic influence for healing, for preservation, for good fortune in peace or war.
Politic; and in their eyes, true. Easy enough to be believed honestly, by men who already believed honestly in their own divine mission. They were the representatives of Christ on earth. Of that fact there could be then, or can be now, no doubt whatsoever. Whatsoever truth, light, righteousness, there was in the West, came to it through them. And Christ was the King of kings. But He delayed his coming: at moments, He seemed to have deserted the earth, and left mankind to tear itself in pieces, with wild war and misrule. But it could not be so. If Christ were absent, He must at least have left an authority behind Him to occupy till He came; a head and ruler for his opprest and distracted Church. And who could that be, if not the Pope of Rome?
It ought to be so.—It must be so—thought they. And to men in that mood, proofs that it was so soon came to hand, and accumulated from generation to generation; till the Pope at last found himself proclaiming, and what was more, believing, that God had given the whole world to St. Peter, and through St. Peter to him; and that he was the only source of power, law, kingship, who could set up and pull down whom he would, as the vicegerent of God on earth.
Such pretensions, of course, grew but slowly. It was not, I believe, till the year 875, 180 years after the time of which I am speaking, that Pope John VIII distinctly asserted his right, as representative of the ancient Roman Empire, to create the Cæsar; and informed the Synod of Pavia that he had ‘elected and approved Charles the Bald, with the consent of his brothers the bishops, of the other ministers of the Holy Roman Church, and’ (significant, though empty words) ‘of the Roman senate and people.’
At the time of which I speak, the power was still in embryo, growing, through many struggles: but growing surely and strongly, and destined speedily to avenge the fall of Rome on the simple barbarians who were tearing each other to pieces over her spoils.
It is not easy to explain the lasting and hereditary hatred of the Popes to the Lombards. Its origin is simple enough: but not so its continuance. Why they should be nefandissimi in the eyes of Pope Gregory the Great one sees: but why 100 years afterwards, they should be still nefandissimi, and ‘non dicenda gens Langobardorum,’ not to be called a nation, is puzzling.
At first, of course, the Pope could only look on them as a fresh horde of barbarous conquerors; half heathen, half Arian. Their virtuous and loyal life within the boundaries of Alboin’s conquests—of which Paulus Diaconus says, that violence and treachery were unknown—that no one oppressed, no one plundered—that the traveller went where he would in perfect safety—all this would be hid from the Pope by the plain fact, that they were continually enlarging their frontier toward Rome; that they had founded two half-independent Dukedoms of Beneventum and Spoleto, that Autharis had swept over South Italy, and ridden his horse into the sea at Reggio, to strike with his lance a column in the waves, and cry, ‘Here ends the Lombard kingdom.’
The Pope (Gregory the Great I am speaking of) could only recollect, again, that during the lawless interregnum before Autharis’ coronation, the independent Lombard dukes had plundered churches and monasteries, slain the clergy, and destroyed the people, who had ‘grown up again like corn.’
But as years rolled on, these Arian Lombards had become good Catholics; and that in the lifetime of Gregory the Great.
Theodelinda, the Bavarian princess, she to whom Autharis had gone in disguise to her father’s court, and only confessed himself at his departure, by rising in his stirrups, and burying his battle-axe in a tree stem with the cry, ‘Thus smites Autharis the Lombard,’—this Theodelinda, I say, had married after his death Agilwulf his cousin, and made him king of the Lombards.
She was a Catholic; and through her Gregory the Great converted Autharis, and the Lombard nation. To her he addressed those famous dialogues of his, full alike of true piety and earnestness, and of childish superstition. But in judging them and him we must bear in mind, that these Lombards became at least by his means Catholics, and that Arians would have believed in the superstitions just as much as Catholics. And it is surely better to believe a great truth, plus certain mistakes which do not affect it in the least, than a great lie, plus the very same mistakes likewise. Which is best, to believe that the road to London lies through Bishopstortford, and that there are dog-headed men on the road: or that it lies through Edinburgh, but that there are dog-headed men on that road too?
Theodelinda had built at Modicæa, twelve miles above Milan, a fair basilica to John the Baptist, enriched by her and the Lombard kings and dukes, ‘crowns, crosses, golden tables adorned with emeralds, hyacinths, amber, carbuncles and pearls, gold and silver altar-cloths, and that admirable cup of sapphire,’ all which remained till the eighteenth century. There, too, was the famous iron crown of Lombardy, which Austria still claims as her own; so called from a thin ring of iron inserted in it, made from a nail of the true cross which Gregory had sent Agilwulf; just as he sent Childebert, the Frankish king, some filings of St. Peter’s chains; which however, he says, did not always allow their sacred selves to be filed.
In return, Agilwulf had restored the church-property which he had plundered, had reinstated the bishops; and why did not all go well? Why are these Lombards still the most wicked of men?
Again, in the beginning of the eighth century came the days of the good Luitprand, ‘wise and pious, a lover of peace, and mighty in war; merciful to offenders, chaste and modest, instant in prayer, bountiful in alms, equal to the philosophers, though he knew no letters, a nourisher of his people, an augmenter of the laws.’ He it was, who, when he had quarrelled with Pope Gregory II., and marched on Rome, was stopped at the Gates of the Vatican by the Pontiff’s prayers and threats. And a sacred awe fell on him; and humbly entering St. Peter’s, he worshipped there, and laid on the Apostle’s tomb his royal arms, his silver cross and crown of gold, and withdrawing his army, went home again in peace. But why were this great king’s good deeds towards the Pope and the Catholic faith rewarded, by what we can only call detestable intrigue and treachery?
Again; Leo the Iconoclast Emperor destroyed the holy images in the East, and sent commands to the Exarch of Ravenna to destroy them in western Italy. Pope Gregory II replied by renouncing allegiance to the Emperor of Constantinople; and by two famous letters which are still preserved; in which he tells the Iconoclast Emperor, that, ‘if he went round the grammar-schools at Rome, the children would throw their horn-books at his head . . . that he implored Christ to send the Emperor a devil, for the destruction of his body and the salvation of his soul . . . that if he attempted to destroy the images in Rome, the pontiff would take refuge with the Lombards, and then he might as well chase the wind that the Popes were the mediators of peace between East and West, and that the eyes of the nations were fixed on the Pope’s humility, and adored as a God on earth the apostle St. Peter. And that the pious Barbarians, kindled into rage, thirsted to avenge the persecution of the East.’ Then Luitprand took up the cause of the Pope and his images, and of the mob, who were furious at the loss of their idols; and marched on Ravenna, which opened her gates to him, so that he became master of the whole Pentapolis; and image-worship, to which some plainspoken people give a harsher name, was saved for ever and a day in Italy. Why did Gregory II in return, call in Orso, the first Venetian Doge, to expel from Ravenna the very Luitprand who had fought his battles for him, and to restore that Exarchate of Ravenna, of which it was confessed, that its civil quarrels, misrule, and extortions, made it the most miserable government in Italy? And why did he enter into secret negotiations with the Franks to come and invade Italy?
Again, when Luitprand wanted to reduce the duchies of Beneventum and Spoleto, which he considered as rebels against him, their feudal suzerain; why did the next Pope, Gregory III., again send over the Alps to Charles Martel to come and invade Italy, and deliver the Church and Christ’s people from ruin?
And who were these Franks, the ancestors of that magnificent, but profligate aristocracy whose destruction our grandfathers beheld in 1793? I have purposely abstained from describing them, till they appear upon the stage of Italy, and take part in her fortunes—which were then the fortunes of the world.
They appear first on the Roman frontier in A.D. 241, and from that time are never at rest till they have conquered the north of Gaul. They are supposed (with reason) not to have been a race or tribe at all; but a confederation of warriors, who were simply ‘Franken,’ ‘free;’ ‘free companions,’ or ‘free lances,’ as they would have been called a few centuries later; who recruited themselves from any and every tribe who would join them in war and plunder. If this was the case; if they had thrown away, as adventurers, much of the old Teutonic respect for law, for the royal races, for family life, for the sacred bonds of kindred, many of their peculiarities are explained. Falsehood, brutality, lawlessness, ignorance, and cruelty to the conquered Romans, were their special sins; while their special, and indeed only virtue, was that indomitable daring which they transmitted to their descendants for so many hundred years. The buccaneers of the young world, they were insensible to all influences save that of superstition. They had become, under Clovis, orthodox Christians: but their conversion, to judge from the notorious facts of history, worked little improvement on their morals. The pages of Gregory of Tours are comparable, for dreary monotony of horrors, only to those of Johnson’s History of the Pyrates.
But, as M. Sismondi well remarks, their very ignorance and brutality made them the more easily the tools of the Roman clergy: ‘Cette haute vénération pour l’Église, et leur sévère orthodoxie, d’autant plus facile à conserver que, ne faisant aucune étude, et ne disputant jamais sur la foi, ils ne connaissaient pas même les questions controversées, leur donnèrent dans le clergé de puissants auxiliaires. Les Francs se montrèrent disposés à haïr les Ariens, à les combattres, et les dépouiller sans les entendre; les évêques, en retour, ne se montrèrent pas scrupuleux sur le reste des enseignements moraux de la religion: ils fermèrent les yeux sur les violences, le meurtre, le déréglement des moeurs; ils autorisèrent en quelque sorte publiquement la poligamie, et ils prêchèrent le droit divin des rois et le devoir le l’obéissance pour les peuples.’
A painful picture of the alliance: but, I fear, too true.
The history of these Franks you must read for yourselves. You will find it well told in the pages of Sismondi, and in Mr. Perry’s excellent book, ‘The Franks.’ It suffices now to say, that in the days of Luitprand these Franks, after centuries of confusion and bloodshed, have been united into one great nation, stretching from the Rhine to the Loire and the sea, and encroaching continually to the southward and eastward. The government has long passed out of the hands of their fainéant Meerwing kings into that of the semi-hereditary Majores Domûs, or Mayors of the Palace; and Charles Martel, perhaps the greatest of that race of great men, has just made himself mayor of Austrasia (the real Teutonic centre of Frank life and power), Neustria and Burgundy. He has crushed Eudo, the duke of Romanized Aquitaine, and has finally delivered France and Christendom from the invading Saracens. On his Franks, and on the Lombards of Italy, rest, for the moment, the destinies of Europe.
For meanwhile another portent has appeared, this time out of the far East. Another swarm of destroyers has swept over the earth. The wild Arabs of the desert, awakening into sudden life and civilization under the influence of a new creed, have overwhelmed the whole East, the whole north of Africa, destroying the last relics of Roman and Greek civilization, and with them the effete and semi-idolatrous Christianity of the Empire. All the work of Narses and Belisarius is undone. Arab Emirs rule in the old kingdom of the Vandals. The new human deluge has crossed the Straits into Europe. The Visigoths, enervated by the luxurious climate of Spain, have recoiled before the Mussulman invaders. Roderick, the last king of the Goths, is wandering as an unknown penitent in expiation of his sin against the fair Cava, which brought down (so legends and ballads tell) the scourge of God upon the hapless land; and the remnants of the old Visigoths and Sueves are crushed together into the mountain fastnesses of Asturias and Gallicia, thence to reissue, after long centuries, as the noble Spanish nation, wrought in the forges of adversity into the likeness of tempered steel; and destined to reconquer, foot by foot, their native land from the Moslem invader.
But at present the Crescent was master of the Cross; and beyond the Pyrenees all was slavery and ‘miscreance.’ The Arabs, invading France in 732, in countless thousands, had been driven back at the great fight of Tours, with a slaughter so great, that the excited imagination of Paulus Diaconus sees 375,000 miscreants dead upon the field, while only 1500 Franks had perished. But home troubles had prevented ‘the Hammer of the Moors’ from following up his victory. The Saracens had returned in force in 737, and again in 739. They still held Narbonne. The danger was imminent. There was no reason why they should not attempt a third invasion. Why should they not spread along the shores of the Mediterranean, establishing themselves there, as they were already doing in Sicily, and menacing Rome from north as well as south? To unite, therefore, the two great Catholic Teutonic powers, the Frank and the Lombard, for the defence of Christendom, should have been the policy of him who called himself the Chief Pontiff in Christendom. Yet the Pope preferred, in the face of that great danger, to set the Teutonic nations on destroying each other, rather than to unite them against the Moslem.
The bribe offered to the Frank was significant—the title of Roman Consul; beside which he was to have filings of St. Peter’s chains, and the key of his tomb, to preserve him body and soul from all evil.
Charles would not come. Frank though he was, he was too honourable to march at a priest’s bidding against Luitprand, his old brother in arms, to whom he had sent the boy Pepin, his son, that Luitprand might take him on his knee, and cut his long royal hair, and become his father-in-arms, after the good old Teuton fashion; Luitprand, who with his Lombards had helped him to save Christendom a second time from the Mussulman in 737. The Pope, one would think, should have remembered that good deed of the good Lombard’s whereof his epitaph sings,
‘Deinceps tremuere feroces
Usque Saraceni, quos dispulit impiger, ipsos
Cum premerent Gallos, Karolo poscente juvari.’
So Charles Martel took the title of Patrician from the Pope, but sent him no armies; and the quarrel went on; while Charles filled up the measure of his iniquity by meddling with that church-property in Gaul which his sword had saved from the hordes of the Saracens; and is now, as St. Eucherius (or Bishop Hincmar) saw in a vision, writhing therefore in the lowest abyss of hell.
So one generation more passes by; and then Pepin le Bref, grown to manhood, is less scrupulous than his father. He is bound to the Pope by gratitude. The Pope has confirmed him as king, allowing him to depose the royal house of the Merovingians, and so assumed the right of making kings.—A right which future popes will not forget.
Meanwhile the Pope has persuaded the Lombard king Rachis to go into a monastery. Astulf seizes the crown, and attacks Ravenna. The Pope succeeding, Stephen III., opposes him; and he marches on Rome, threatening to assault it, unless the citizens redeem their lives by a poll-tax.
Stephen determines to go himself to Pepin to ask for help: and so awful has the name and person of a Pope become, that he is allowed to do it; allowed to pass safely and unarmed through the very land upon which he is going to let loose all the horrors of invading warfare.
It is a strange, and instructive figure, that. The dread of the unseen, the fear of spiritual power, has fallen on the wild Teutons; on Frank and on Lombard alike. The Pope and his clergy are to them magicians, against whom neither sword nor lance avails; who can heal the sick and blast the sound; who can call to their aid out of the clouds that pantheon of demi-gods, with which, under the name of saints, they have peopled heaven; who can let loose on them the legions of fiends who dwell in every cave, every forest, every ruin, every cloud; who can, by the sentence of excommunication, destroy both body and soul in hell. They were very loth to fear God, these wild Teutons; therefore they had instead, as all men have who will not fear God, to fear the devil.
So Pope Stephen goes to Pepin, the eldest son of the Church. He promises to come with all his Franks. Stephen’s conscience seems to have been touched: he tries to have no fighting, only negotiation: but it is too late now. Astolf will hear of no terms; Pepin sweeps over the Alps, and at the gates of Pavia dictates his own terms to the Lombards. The old Lombard spirit seems to have past away.
Pepin goes back again, and Astolf refuses to fulfil his promises. The Pope sends Pepin that letter from St. Peter himself with which this lecture commenced.
Astolf has marched down, as we heard, to the walls of Rome, laying the land waste; cutting down the vines, carrying off consecrated vessels, insulting the sacrament of the altar. The Lombards have violated nuns; and tried to kill them, the Pope says; though, if they had really tried, one cannot see why they should not have succeeded. In fact, Pope Stephen’s hysterical orations to Pepin must be received with extreme caution. No Catholic historian of that age cares to examine the truth of a fact which makes for him; nothing is too bad to say of an enemy: and really the man who would forge a letter from St. Peter might dare to tell a few lesser falsehoods into the bargain. Pepin cannot but obey so august a summons; and again he is in Italy, and the Lombards dare not resist him. He seizes not only all that Astolf had taken from the Pope, but the Pentapolis and Exarchate, the property, if of any one, of the Greek Emperors, and bestows them on Stephen, the Pope, and ‘the holy Roman Republic.’
The pope’s commissioners received the keys of the towns, which were placed upon the altar of St. Peter; and this, the Dotation of Pepin, the Dotation of the Exarchate, was the first legal temporal sovereignty of the Popes:—born in sin, and conceived in iniquity, as you may see.
The Lombard rule now broke up rapidly. The Lombards of Spoleto yielded to the double pressure of Franks and Romans, asked to be ‘taken into the service of St. Peter,’ and clipt their long German locks after the Roman fashion.
Charlemagne, in his final invasion, had little left to do. He confirmed Pepin’s gift, and even, though he hardly kept his promise, enlarged it to include the whole of Italy, from Lombardy to the frontier of Naples, while he himself became king of Lombardy, and won the iron crown.
And so by French armies—not for the last time—was the Pope propt up on his ill-gotten throne.
But the mere support of French armies was not enough to seat the Pope securely upon the throne of the western Cæsars. Documentary evidence was required to prove that they possessed Rome, not as the vassals of the Frankish Kaisers, or of any barbarian Teutons whatsoever; but in their own right, as hereditary sovereigns of Rome. And the documents, when needed, were forthcoming. Under the name of St. Isidore, some ready scribe produced the too-famous ‘Decretals,’ and the ‘Donation of Constantine,’ and Pope Adrian I. saw no reason against publishing them to Charlemagne and to the world.
It was discovered suddenly, by means of these remarkable documents, that Constantine the Great had been healed of leprosy, and afterwards baptized, by Pope Sylvester; that he had, in gratitude for his cure, resigned to the Popes his western throne, and the patrimony of St. Peter, and the sovereignty of Italy and the West; and that this was the true reason of his having founded Constantinople, as a new seat of government for the remnant of his empire.
This astounding falsehood was, of course, accepted humbly by the unlettered Teutons; and did its work well, for centuries to come. It is said—I trust not truly—to be still enrolled among the decrees of the Canon law, though reprobated by all enlightened Roman Catholics. Be that as it may, on the strength of this document the Popes began to assume an all but despotic sovereignty over the western world, and—the Teutonic peoples, and Rome’s conquest of her conquerors was at last complete.
What then were the causes of the Papal hatred of a race who were good and devout Catholics for the last 200 years of their rule?
There were deep political reasons (in the strictest, and I am afraid lowest sense of the word); but over and above them there were evidently moral reasons, which lay even deeper still.
A free, plain-spoken, practical race like these Lombards; living by their own laws; disbelieving in witchcraft; and seemingly doing little for monasticism, were not likely to find favour in the eyes of popes. They were not the material which the Papacy could mould into the Neapolitan ideal of ‘Little saints,—and little asses.’ These Lombards were not a superstitious race; they did not, like the Franks and Anglo-Saxons, crowd into monasteries. I can only find four instances of Lombard sovereigns founding monasteries in all Paulus’ history. One of them, strangely enough, is that of the very Astulf against whom the Pope fulminated so loudly the letter from St. Peter which I read you.
Moreover, it must be said in all fairness—the Lombards despised the Romans exceedingly. So did all the Teutons. ‘We Lombards,’ says Bishop Luitprand, ‘Saxons, Franks, Lorrainers, Bavarians, Sueves, Burgunds, consider it a sufficient insult to call our enemy a Roman; comprehending in that one name of Roman, whatever is ignoble, cowardly, avaricious, luxurious, false, in a word, every vice.’ If this was—as it very probably was—the feeling of the whole Teutonic race; and if it was repaid—as it certainly was—on the part of the Roman, by contempt for the ‘barbarism’ and ‘ignorance’ of the Teuton; what must have been the feeling between Roman and Lombard? Contact must have embittered mutual contempt into an utter and internecine hatred, in which the Pope, as representative of the Roman people, could not but share.
As for the political reasons, they are clear enough. It is absurd to say that they wished to free Italy from Lombard tyrants. What did they do but hand her over to Frankish tyrants instead? No. The true reason was this. Gradually there had arisen in the mind of all Popes, from Gregory the Great onward, the idea of a spiritual supremacy, independent of all kings of the earth. It was a great idea, as the event proved: it was a beneficent one for Europe; but a ruinous one for Italy. For the Popes were not content with spiritual power. They could not conceive of it as separated from temporal power, and temporal power meant land. How early they set their hearts on the Exarchate of Ravenna, we shall never know: the fact is patent, that it was a Naboth’s vineyard to them; and that to obtain it they called in the Franks.
Their dread was, evidently, lest the Lombards should become masters of the whole of Italy. A united Italy suited their views then, no more than it does now. Not only did they conceive of Rome as still the centre of the western world, but more, their stock in trade was at Rome. The chains of St. Peter, the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul, the catacombs filled with the bones of innumerable martyrs;—these were their stock in trade. By giving these, selling these, working miracles with these, calling pilgrims from all parts of Christendom to visit these in situ, they kept up their power and their wealth. I do not accuse them of misusing that power and that wealth in those days. They used them, on the contrary, better than power and wealth had been ever used in the world before. But they were dependent on the sanctity attached to a particular spot; and any power, which, like the Lombard, tended to give Italy another centre than Rome, they dreaded and disliked. That Lombard basilica, near Milan, with all its treasures, must have been in their eyes, a formidable rival. Still more frightful must it have been to them to see Astulf, when he encamped before the walls of Rome, searching for martyrs’ relics, and carrying them off to Milan. That, as a fact, seems to have been the exciting cause of Stephen’s journey to Pepin. This Astulf was a good Catholic. He founded a nunnery, and put his own daughters in it. What could a man do more meritorious in the eyes of the Pope? But he took away the lands of the Church, and worse, the relics, the reserved capital by which the Church purchased lands. This was indeed a crime only to be expiated by the horrors of a Frank invasion.
On the same principle the Popes supported the Exarchs of Ravenna, and the independent duchies of Spoleto and Beneventum. Well or ill ruled, Iconoclast or not, they were necessary to keep Italy divided and weak. And having obtained what they wanted from Pepin and Charlemagne, it was still their interest to pursue the same policy; to compound for their own independence, as they did with Charlemagne and his successors, by defending the pretences of foreign kings to the sovereignty of the rest of Italy. This has been their policy for centuries. It is their policy still; and that policy has been the curse of Italy. This fatal gift of the patrimony of St. Peter—as Dante saw—as Machiavelli saw,—as all clear-sighted Italians have seen,—as we are seeing it now in these very days—has kept her divided, torn by civil wars, conquered and reconquered by foreign invaders. Unable, as a celibate ecclesiastic, to form his dominions into a strong hereditary kingdom; unable, as the hierophant of a priestly caste, to unite his people in the bonds of national life; unable, as Borgia tried to do, to conquer the rest of Italy for himself; and form it into a kingdom large enough to have weight in the balance of power; the Pope has been forced, again and again, to keep himself on his throne by intriguing with foreign princes, and calling in foreign arms; and the bane of Italy, from the time of Stephen III. to that of Pius IX., has been the temporal power of the Pope.
But on the popes, also, the Nemesis came. In building their power on the Roman relics, on the fable that Rome was the patrimony of Peter, they had built on a lie; and that lie avenged itself.
Had they been independent of the locality of Rome; had they been really spiritual emperors, by becoming cosmopolitan, journeying, it may be, from nation to nation in regular progresses, then their power might have been as boundless as they ever desired it should be. Having committed themselves to the false position of being petty kings of a petty kingdom, they had to endure continual treachery and tyranny from their foreign allies; to see not merely Italy, but Rome itself insulted, and even sacked, by faithful Catholics; and to become more and more, as the centuries rolled on, the tools of those very kings whom they had wished to make their tools.
True, they defended themselves long, and with astonishing skill and courage. Their sources of power were two, the moral, and the thaumaturgic; and they used them both: but when the former failed, the latter became useless. As long as their moral power was real; as long as they and their clergy were on the whole, in spite of enormous faults, the best men in Europe; so long the people believed in them, and in their thaumaturgic relics likewise. But they became by no means the best men in Europe. Then they began to think that after all it was more easy to work the material than the moral power—easier to work the bones than to work righteousness. They were deceived. Behold! when the righteousness was gone, the bones refused to work. People began to question the virtues of the bones, and to ask, We can believe that the bones may have worked miracles for good men, but for bad men? We will examine whether they work any miracles at all. And then, behold, it came out that the bones did not work miracles, and that possibly they were not saints’ bones at all; and then the storm came: and the lie, as all lies do, punished itself. The salt had lost its savour. The Teutonic intellect appealed from its old masters to God, and to God’s universe of facts, and emancipated itself once and for all. They who had been the light of Europe, became its darkness; they who had been first, became last; a warning to mankind until the end of time, that on Truth and Virtue depends the only abiding strength.