Excerpts from Crux Ansata (cont.)
(P. 22) As early as the fifth century Christianity had already become greater, sturdier and more enduring than any empire had ever been, because it was something not merely imposed upon men, but interwoven with their deeper instinct for righteousness. It reached out far beyond the utmost limits of the empire, into Armenia, Persia, Abyssinia, Ireland, Germany, India and Turkmenistan. It had become something no statesman could ignore.
…The Church was to be the ruler of the world over all nations, the divinely-led ruling power over a great league of terrestrial states… The history of Europe from the fifth century onward to the fifteenth is very largely the history of the failure of this great idea of a divinely ordained and righteous world government to realise itself in practice.
(In Chapter V Wells describes the power of the papacy, and how eventually some popes such as Gregory the Great [c. 600 CE] “ruled in Rome like an independent king, organising armies, making treaties…”)
(29) Charlemagne was most simply and enthusiastically Christian, and his disposition to sins of the flesh, to a certain domestic laxity—he is accused among other things of incestuous relations with his daughters—merely sharpened his redeeming zeal for the Church. An aggressive Church had long since decided that sins of the flesh are venial sins when weighed against unorthodoxy, and [Charlemagne] was able to offer up vast hecatombs of conquered pagans to appease the more and more complaisant Church. He insisted on their becoming Christians, and to refuse baptism or to retract after baptism were equally crimes punishable by death.
(56) [O]ur case against the Catholic Church is that, albeit it originated in a passionate assertion of the conception of brotherly equality, it relapsed steadily from the broad nobility of its beginnings and passed over at last almost completely to the side of persecution and the pleasures of cruelty.
(75) Not only the moral but the intellectual prestige of Rome was fading in the growing light of the times. Wycliffe (1320–84) was a learned doctor at Oxford; for a time he was Master of Balliol; and he held various livings in the Church. Quite late in his life he began a series of outspoken criticisms of the corruption of the clergy and the unwisdom of the Church.
He organised a number of poor priests, the Wycliffites, to spread his ideas throughout England; and in order that people should judge between the Church and himself, he had the Bible translated into English.
He was a more learned and far abler man that either St. Francis or St. Dominic. He had supporters in high places and a great following among the people; and though Rome raged against him and ordered his imprisonment, he died a free man, still administering the sacraments as parish priest of Lutterworth.
The black and ancient spirit that was leading the Church to its destruction would not let his bones res in his grave. By a decree of the Council of Constance, in 1415, his remains were ordered to be dug up and burnt, an order which was carried out, at the command of Pope Martin V, by Bishop Fleming in 1428. This desecration was not the act of some isolated fanatic; it was the official act of this Church we now indict.
(64-66) It must be understood that it was from within the body of the Catholic Church that the destruction of its own unity came. It was men in holy orders striving to be good Christians who began to question the methods and disciplines of the Church. The Reformation came out of the heart of the Church… The tragedy of the Church is that she put her spiritual influence to evil ends and abused her freedoms without measure.
The Pope was the supreme lawgiver of Christendom, and his court at Rome the final and decisive court of appeal. The Church levied taxes; it had not only vast properties and a great income from fees, but it imposed a tax of a tenth, the tithe, upon its subjects. It did not call for this as a pious benefaction; it demanded it as a right. Steadily more and more of the nation’s property fell into the dead hand (Mortmain) of the Church and paid its tribute to St. Peter. The clergy, on the other hand, claimed exemption from lay taxation.
This attempt to trade upon their peculiar prestige and evade their share in fiscal burdens was certainly one considerable factor in the growing dissatisfaction with the clergy. Apart from any question of justice, it was impolitic. It made taxes seem ten times more burthensome to those who had to pay. It made everyone resent the immunities of the Church.
And a still more extravagant and unwise claim made by the Church was the claim to the power of dispensation. It did not interpret right and wrong now; it was above right and wrong and it could make wrong right and right wrong. The Pope in many instances set aside the laws of the Church in individual cases; he allowed cousins to marry, permitted a man to have two wives, released men from vows. The Church’s crowning folly in the sixteenth century was the sale of indulgences, whereby the sufferings of the soul in purgatory could be commuted for a money payment.
By the dawn of the sixteenth century, the Church, blindly and rashly, had come to a final parting of the ways. The force of protest, that is to say of Protestantism, was gathering against it, and the alternatives, whether it would modernise or whether it would dogmatise or fight, were before it. It chose to fight and tyrannise.
Before the thirteenth century it had been customary for the Pope to make occasional inquests or enquiries into heresy in this region or that, but Innocent III found in the Dominicans a powerful instrument of suppression. The Inquisition was organised as a standing enquiry under their direction, and with fire and torture the Church set itself, through this instrument, to assail and weaken the human conscience in which its sole hope of world dominion resided. Before the thirteenth century the penalty of death had been inflicted but rarely upon heretics and unbelievers. Now in a hundred market-places in Europe the dignitaries of the Church watched the blackened bodies of its antagonists, for the most part poor and insignificant people, burn and sink pitifully, and their own great mission to mankind burn and sink with them into dust and ashes.