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THE Anglo-Saxon church was missionary in its beginnings, monastic in its organization, and aristocratic by its connection. with the king and chief nobles. The traces of its foreign origin were preserved in its filial connection with Rome. The monks and canons of the first diocesan cities remained, throughout Anglo-Saxon history, the centres of church government. Tithes were paid to the bishop, and he licensed the confessional. In general, bishops and abbots were drawn from the highest families of the kingdom. This connection with the nobility associated the church, in England beyond any other country, with the duties of civil government. By the practice which gradually prevailed, the church might be said to exist separate from the state, but the state was interpenetrated by the church. The synods, from an early time, adjudicated in civil cases where church property was concerned. Towards the end of the monarchy they obtained the right of punishing priests who had offended against the criminal law; and this privilege was of course distinct from the feudal rights of judgement which the. higher clergy possessed over their dependants. Moreover, although their lands were compelled to do military service to

1 Cod. Dip., 184, 186, 256; Canute's Laws, S. 43; Leges Edw. Conf., 21; A. S. Laws, vol. i., pp. 401, 451.



the state, the appearance of the clergy themselves in armour would have shocked Anglo-Saxon feeling: Odo appeared in the field to pray; Turketul even headed the London militia, himself slaying no man, although in the thick of the fight; but when Bishop Leofgar "forsook his chrism and rood," and "took to spear and shield," the Saxon historian recorded it as a scandal.1 The bishop was named by the king and witan; ranking with an ealdorman, he took part in the great council of the nation, and presided conjointly over the scir-gemot. By a natural feeling, the minister of Christ was esteemed the proper person to see justice done between man and man, to interpose the warnings of the church against perjury, and to superintend the ordeal; as chief of the educated class, he would speak with authority upon all questions of succession and contract; he guarded the standards of measure and weight; to him the serf might appeal if he were overworked; and he controlled the revenues out of which the poor were relieved. Besides this, the whole correctional police of the country was in the hands of the church; the state might inflict fines, or mutilate, or take away life, but only the bishop or the priest could enforce penance or seclude the criminal from the world.

This importance of the heads of the church was increased by the large size of their dioceses, and by the fact that learning and character belonged rather to the canons or monks, who commonly sided with the bishop, than to the masspriests of the country villages. The ordinary Anglo-Saxon priest was no very dignified personage. He was commonly, in later times, of the semi-servile class, and had probably, there

'Ingulf's remark (Gale, vol. i., p. 37), that it was allowable for a clergyman to fight for his country, is against the whole spirit of the canons, and betrays Norman influences. The incidental explanation of the presence of churchmen in battles given in the Hist. Ram. is preferable: "Occubuerunt (in the battle of Assington) Ædnothus, Episcopus Dorcastriæ, et Wlfsius Abbas Ramesiæ, qui cum multis aliis religiosis, juxta morem Anglorum veterem ibidem convenerant, non armis sed orationum suppetiis, pugnantem exercitum juvaturi.” -Gale, vol. i., p. 433.

2 Kemble's Saxons in England, vol. ii., chap. 8.



fore, in an earlier period, been taken from the ceorls, or yeomanry, whose social degradation he shared. He had the habits and faults of the class from which he sprung. It was necessary in the tenth century to warn him that he should not be a public spoiler, or engaged in private feuds; that he should not drink in taverns, or greedily introduce himself at funeral feasts. Even the decencies of church service were often scandalously neglected; books and vestments were wanting; improper vessels used for the Eucharist; the church turned into a barn, and the altar covered with dung. It was natural that the heads of the church should restrict the duties of a secular clergy who were thus imperfectly educated; the mass-priest was only required to explain the simplest truths of the faith, to catechize children, and administer the sacraments. The people did not altogether trust them even for these, and a popular bishop on his circuits was sometimes called upon to baptize the children of a whole neighbourhood, who had been kept for his arrival. Still more decidedly was confession an episcopal privilege, which the priest could only exercise as the bishop's vicar.2

The confessional in the tenth century was very different from what it has become under altered conditions of society. The mere fact that it was not brought home to every man's door, that the sinner burdened with a sense of guilt had often to seek absolution in a distant part of the diocese, would in itself exclude much that is unavoidably morbid in the frequent habit

1 Mr. Kemble makes the parish priest equal to the head of the hundred. But he only supports this from Walafrid Strabo, a foreign authority of the ninth century.-Saxons in England, vol. ii., chap. 9. His oath and witnessing capacity were equal to those of a thane; but the sanctity of the seven church degrees is the reason given in the laws for this privilege.-Oaths, 12; A. S. Laws, vol. i., p. 183. In Domesday Book it is often specially mentioned if the priest be free, and he "is often numbered with the villeins and borders."-Morgan's Normans in England, pp. 106-111. Again, the expression in Elfric's canons (6), that the priest ought not to live like a ceorl, no doubt applies primarily to the question of marriage, but the comparison may be fairly taken to indicate the ordinary social position of the mass-priest.

2 Kemble's Saxons in England, vol. ii., chap. 8; Vita S. Wilfridi, Gale, iii., pp. 60, 61; Vita S. Wlstani, Ang. Sac., vol. ii., pp. 248-261.



of self-analysis. But, besides this, the rough soldiers and peasants who came to fit themselves for Easter had a different ideal of life from the modern. They knew that murder and theft were wrong, but they classed them with other offences against church discipline; any sin was a breach of the system under which all were bound to live, and they drew no subtle distinctions between moral and positive laws. Their belief in the brotherhood of men was based, not on abstract notions of humanity, but on the conception of a common fellowship in Christ; and to keep Easter on the wrong day might therefore be worse in itself than to shed blood: the former was an offence against the communion of souls, the latter only against that of men. Such a doctrine may seem monstrous; the case is no doubt an extreme one; but if the intellectual scepticism which led an early heretic to doubt as to the day on which Easter fell, takes the form in modern times of dispraising the theological changes of the sixteenth century, there is still a section in the state which regards the doubter with abhorrence, and seeks to banish him from the civil service of his country. In reality, the Anglo-Saxon church-system was severely logical: as the ideal placed before society, it was thought to be wide and deep as human nature and life; it was supposed to reflect God's law, which was perfect as his attributes, and from which the slightest deviation was sin equally with the greatest. Moreover, it must be remembered that much which now appears to us insignificant, was of the last importance in semi-barbarous times. When the sins of the flesh were the crying vices of the land, the fasts of the church were invaluable as a protest against excess in eating and drinking. Accidentally, the laws forbidding marriage within certain degrees prevented the formation of clans, and removed a fertile source of madness and scrofula. We in England have outgrown these rules, and the possibility of enforcing them: we leave sins of act to the law, and sins of thought to conscience and God's judgement; but this immunity for moral transgressions is of recent date everywhere except in the English church; the Scotch and American churches of the last



century had tribunals as pitiless as any to which the AngloSaxons were ever subject.

The worst consequences of this moral theory of life were its interference with family ties, and its tendency to substitute mechanical for moral expiation. Among ourselves, a father cannot divest himself of his authority over his children, nor a man of his own liberty, except in cases where a money value for it is given. Among the Anglo-Saxons, it was natural that the higher law should over-ride the lower; and that individual freedom should be sacrificed to the well-being of society. When Wilfrid of York was riding through his diocese, a woman brought him a dead child to be baptized, hoping • that the holy water would restore life. The saint perceived the imposture, but prayed to God, and the infant lived again. Wilfrid told the woman that she must consider it dedicate to God's service; she perhaps consented at the time, when her heart was full, but as the boy grew up, could not endure to be separated, and fled with him out of the country. Wilfrid appealed to the law; the fugitives were brought back, and the boy placed in a monastery. Cases of this monstrous kind were not, we may fairly hope, common.1 The observance of monastic vows was in like manner made matter of enforcement by the state. To this, perhaps, there is less objection in theory, when vows are taken at the age of discretion. But no system, however complete in theory, or supreme in the consciences of men, can be carried out without inequalities. Assuming virtue and vice to be opposite quantities in a state, which the church aimed at increasing or diminishing respectively, it was natural that it should permit an offence to be compensated by a good work. A slight extension of this principle would allow one good work to be substituted for another; the singing of psalms for fasting, especially in cases where fasting was precluded by ill health. By a just but horrible analogy, a sort of insurance for sin came

1 The existing laws of Austria compel a father to educate his son in a faith

not his own, if he has made a written covenant with the church.

2 Vita S. Wilfridi, Gale, vol. iii., pp. 60, 61; Laws of Ethelred, v., 4-7; A. S. Laws, vol. i., pp. 305-307.

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