|A Medieval Bishop sits enthroned|
holding his crozier or episcopal staff
The Gregorian Reform managed to impose clerical celibacy as the universal law for the Western Church. That is to say, by the end of the eleventh century it was known and accepted as law that clergy above and including the Order of Subdeacon in the Western Church were to be celibate. Accepted does not mean, however, that the law was enforced, much less complied with. As mentioned in some earlier posts (July 20, 21, 23, 24, 27, August 9), clerical marriage—of a sort of common-law variety—remained somewhat the norm until the reforms of the Council of Trent. We often refer to the practice of the clergy having a less than formal (that is to say church-blessed) union as “clerical concubinage” but it should be considered more as common law marriage as the relationships tended to be permanent, exclusive (faithful), fecund (child-bearing), and if not public nor were they secret. It is only after the sixteenth century that celibacy, though not necessarily chastity, became the practice as well as the law.
Simony, the purchasing and selling of Church offices, did not have a better fate. One does not come across it as much after the Gregorian Reform, at least by that name, but in fact it persisted under various guises and indeed still persists in the Church today under the camouflage of well accepted practices. We will see that in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance huge amounts of money as well as promises of lucrative positions were shelled out to the Cardinal-Electors by papal wanna-bes every time there was a conclave. When we look at the situation at the time of the Protestant Reformations we will examine the issue of “annates”—the practice of giving the Holy See the first year’s income from one’s new position in return for papal confirmation of the election or appointment. Can you imagine giving to the Holy See the entire income of the Diocese of Winchester in England for, let us say, 1532? Or the Archdiocese of Cologne? One can see why so many supported the breaks with Rome just to keep that money local. Today too—and many Catholics are surprised (and even shocked) that it is customary for a newly elevated prelate ranging from Cardinals down through Monsignors in developed societies such as our own to give the Holy See (I refrain from saying “The Pope”) a handsome gift in acknowledgement for their appointment. Such honorariums can range anywhere from a million dollars for a more important appointment to perhaps ten or fifteen thousand for the monsignoral purple belly-band. In the case of Cardinals or bishops, these gratuities are usually offered by their dioceses to thank the Holy See for providing new leadership and, to be fair, the gifts offered newly named monsignors by their friends help defray the offering the new domestic prelate or chaplain to His Holiness or whatever makes to our friends across the seas. Moreover the gifts and fees accruing to a major prelate (not a monsignor) make their gifts to the Holy See affordable. For example, when a bishop visits a parish for confirmation or comes to a religious community to perform an ordination—priestly or diaconal—the normal gratuity would be between five hundred and a thousand dollars. Even a casual visit to the parish merits an “Irish hand-shake.” One East Coast Archbishop, when complimented on some expensive cufflinks that matched his arch-episcopal ring (all three holding a Roman coin from the time of Jesus—also the time of Herod the Great), said “Oh, when you’re an archbishop you don’t pay for these things.” No, I guess you don’t. And so it is indeed right and just that the Holy See should be thanked for facilitating a step up into a more gracious life-style. As Thernadier was inclined to sing in Les Miserables: “But nothing gets you nothing Everything has got a little price!” It can be argued that this provides necessary income for the Holy See which always has a terrible time balancing its budget—an even tougher time than the United States Government, though more successful than the Feds in the end. I buy that. The problem isn’t the financial transaction; the problem is the lack of transparency. But Catholic Church finances are notoriously non-transparent, excepting for some religious orders of women who are way ahead of the pack in knowing what the Church needs today for genuine Reformation.
Well—on to the Investiture Conflict. You know, I don’t think we have time for that today after all. Let me set it up and we will continue it in the next posting. The problem is that, as I described yesterday, the custom had arisen of the Emperor, or a King, or even a major nobleman “investing” bishops and abbots in their respective empires, kingdoms, or duchies with the insignia of office. This implied that the prelate received his jurisdiction and authority not from God (or from God’s Church) but from the secular lord. Indeed, the problem was even more serious. In fact it was usually the Emperor, King, or major noble who instructed the cathedral chapter (or in the case of abbots, the monastic chapter) for whom to vote in the election. Church offices were in the gift of the political authority and this threatened the independence of the Church. It also, and this was even more to the point, threatened the loyalty of the bishop or abbot to the Holy See should a dispute arise between the secular power and the Church, as it indeed often did. Thus Gregory VII—who is my second favorite pope in history—undertook to break this practice of imperial/royal investiture and so he took on the Emperor, Henry IV. But that is for our next posting.