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This was the sentence with which Becket threatened the King, and which he actually pronounced against persons who had acted in obedience to the King and to the laws of their country. If the individual upon whom such curses were imprecated felt only an apprehension that it was possible they might be efficient, the mere thought of such a possibility might have brought about one of the maledictions, by driving him mad. But the reasonable doubt which the subject himself must have entertained, and endeavoured to strengthen, was opposed by the general belief, and by the conduct of all about him ; for whosoever associated with one thus marked for perdition, and delivered over judicially to the Devil and his angels, placed himself thereby under the same tremendous penalties. The condition of a leper was more tolerable than that of an excommunicated person. The leper, though excluded from the community, was still within the pale of the Church and of human charity: they who avoided his dangerous presence, assisted him with alms; and he had companions enough in affliction to form a society of their own, ... a miserable one indeed, but still a society, in which the sense of suffering was alleviated by resignation, the comforts of religion, and the prospect of death and of the life to come. But the excommunicated man was cut off from consolation and hope ; it remained for him only to despair and die, or to obtain absolution by entire submission to the Church ; and in the present case it must be remembered that submission implied the sacrifice of the points in dispute, that is, the sacrifice of principle and justice, of national interests, of kingly and individual honour. There were some parts of Europe, where, if a person remained one year under ecclesiastical censures, all his possessions of whatever kind were forfeited. This was not the law in England, where indeed the usurpations of the Romish Church had been resisted longer and more steadily than on the continent. But the next step after excommunicating the King might be to pronounce sentence of deposition against him : and that sentence, while it endangered him in England, would, in all likelihood, deprive him of his continental territories, which the King of France, who continually instigated Becket against him, was eager to invade.
But there was another measure, even more to be dreaded in its consequences, of which Henry stood in fear. Supported as
he was in the grounds of this dispute both by his barons and by the nation, and by the Bishops also in the personal contest with Becket, a sentence of excommunication and deposition might have failed to shake the allegiance of his subjects. An interdict would do this by bringing the evil home to them ; for the effect of an interdict was to suspend all religious forms, usages, and sacraments, save only that baptism was allowed to infants, and confession to those who were at the point of death. The churches were closed, no priest might officiate either in public or private ; the dead were deprived of christian burial, and the living could contract no marriages. Of all the devices of the papal church this was the most effectual for breaking the bonds of loyalty, and compelling subjects to rise against their sovereign. Expecting that Becket would have recourse to it, Henry took measures of the severest precaution: he gave instructions that the ports should be closely watched, and ordered that if an ecclesiastic were detected bringing over letters of interdict, he should be punished with mutilation of members; if a lay-man, with death : and that if such letters reached the country and were promulgated, any priest who in obedience to them refused to perform service should be castrated. In such a spirit was one tyranny opposed by another during those ages of inhumanity and superstition ! Exasperated with the Cistercians of Pontigny for having received the Primate into their convent, he announced that if they continued to harbour him, he would expel their order from his dominions. This angry act gave Becket an opportunity of showing his generosity by withdrawing, and enabled Louis to wound his enemy's feelings, by despatching an escort to attend him, and inviting him to choose an asylum in any part of his dominions. He fixed upon the convent of St. Columba by the city of Sens, and was received there with public honours.
This was one of the many unworthy acts committed by Henry under the influence of anger, during this long and acrimonious struggle. He acted with more prudence by his ministers, and prosecuted with sufficient policy the appeal which it had been impolitic to make. While a paper war was carried on with bitterness between Becket and the English Bishops, his messengers at Rome were employing golden arguments with a court, which, in Becket's own words, was prostituted like a harlot for hire.
The excommunicated John of Oxford was one of these ministers; for him to have undertaken such a commission implied a confidence in his own dexterity which was not belied by the event. He obtained absolution for himself; resigned his deanery to the Pope, and received it again from his appointment; and persuaded Alexander to depute two Cardinals as his legates in the King's continental territories, with full powers to hear and determine the cause, and to absolve the excommunicated persons; thus revoking the legantine power which had been granted to Becket, and annulling all that he had done at Vizelay. The Pope, who had previously ratified those acts, was so conscious of his inconsistency, that when he notified these concessions to the King, he strictly enjoined him to keep the letter secret, and not let it be seen, except in case of necessity. This was not all; the messengers brought back with them the letters which Becket and his friends had written to the Pope, and some of these proved to be from persons of the King's household, who had never before been suspected. In these letters Becket had called Henry a malicious tyrant; but no new discovery could now imbitter Henry's feelings toward him.
When the Primate was apprized of this unexpected change in the conduct of the Papal court, he said, that if it were true, the Pope had not only strangled him, but the English and Gallican Churches also. Its effect was immediately perceived in the treatment of his unhappy kinsmen and dependents who had been driven into banishment for his sake. It was now seen to what motives the liberality with which some of the French Nobles and Bishops had hitherto supported them was owing ; for now, when Becket was deemed to be forsaken by the Pope, their aid was inhumanly withdrawn :-some of these poor people were left in such utter destitution that they died of cold and hunger, and Becket, who in this emergency neither abandoned himself nor them, implored Alexander to take means for preserving the rest from the same fate. His spirit was one of those which difficulties and dangers seem only to exalt, the same temper, which in prosperity made him violent and imperious, assuming under adverse fortune the character of heroic fortitude. Still, being more statesman than saint, by habit as well as inclination, he exerted now in his own behalf those talents to which he owed
his elevation, and which qualified him better for the Chancellorship than the Primacy; he represented to Alexander that Henry's policy was to gain time by prolonging the business till the Papacy should become vacant, and then to make a recognition of the obnoxious customs the terms upon which he would acknowledge his successor. If he succeeded in this, other princes would extort the like emancipation from the Church, her liberty and jurisdiction would be destroyed, and there would be none to restrain the wickedness of tyrants : and addressing to the Pope phrases of supplication which, in Scripture, are appropriated to the Almighty, Rise, Lord, he said, and delay no longer! Let the light of thy countenance shine upon me, and do unto me and my wretched friends according to thy mercy ! Save us, for we perish! And he called upon him to clear up his own honour, which was now obscured, though till now it had remained singly inviolate, when all else was lost.
These representations were strongly aided by the King of France, Louis VII. being equally sincere in his enmity towards Henry and his devotion to the Church; and Alexander, emboldened also at this time by a fortunate change in his own contest with the Emperor, restricted the power of his legates, whom he now deputed rather as mediators than as judges. Their task was the more difficult, because Henry was persuaded that Becket had had no small share in instigating the King of France and the Earl of Flanders to make war upon him. Becket made oath that he was innocent :-of directly instigating them, no doubt he was clear; but it is as little to be doubted, that he had exasperated the ill-will of the one prince, and that both had been encouraged by the advantages which they expected to derive from the embarrassment in which Henry was thus involved. From Becket’s disposition even less was to be hoped than from the King's: he cautioned them to place no confidence in those Balaams, the English Bishops, and expressed his trust that they would cure the royal Syrian of his leprosy, but inflict merited punishment upon the Gehazis of his train. To the Pope he wrote, “ It is by forbearance on our side that the powers of the world grow insolent, and Kings become tyrants so as to believe that no rights, no privileges are to be left to the Church, unless at their pleasure. But blessed is he who takes and
dashes their little ones against the stones! For if Judah does not, according to the command of the law, root out the Canaanite, he will grow up against him to be perpetually his enemy and his scourge.” In vain did the legates recommend to him moderation and humility, and exhort him to give way for the peace of the Church. He would neither concede the slightest point, nor consent to abide by their judgement; whereas Henry offered to give them any security they should ask, declaring that he would submit to it in every point, if they would render him that justice which the lowest of men had a right to demand. While one party was so intractable, nothing could be done by mediation ; their powers did not extend farther, and Henry was so offended at being thus paltered with, that in their hearing he wished he might never again see the face of a Cardinal. He came, however, to a better understanding with them before they departed, and when they took their leave shed tears as he begged them to use their intercession with the Pope for ridding him of Becket.
Becket was at this time elated by a brief, wherein the Pope, by virtue of his apostolical powers, annulled the decree of the Great Council at Northampton, confiscating the primate's goods for contumacy. But this mark of favour was heavily counterbalanced when he received a prohibition from excommunicating any person in England, or interdicting that realm, till the affair should have been brought before the Pope. Henry was incautious enough to say that he had now got the Pope and all the Cardinals in his purse, and even to state in his own family what bribes he had given, and how they had been applied. It is not to be believed that Alexander himself was accessible by such means; infamously venal as the court of Rome had become, this was a case in which he had too much at stake, even if his
personal character were such as might otherwise warrant the imputation. He would willingly have reconciled the parties ; and inclining to one party or the other, as Becket's vehemence and the urgent interference of the French King, or the fair statements and able negotiations of Henry's ministers, prevailed, his own wishes were indicated in the exhortations to humility and moderation which he repeatedly but vainly addressed to the Primate. The King had said to the Legates he would be contented