Anxiety that sex polluted and the concomitant insistence on clerical celibacy have, of course, a history that long pre-dates the pontificate of Innocent III; already in the fourth century these were topics that caused impassioned debates in ecclesiastical circles and which opened up differences of opinion between East and West The East adopted a compromise that demanded a celibate episcopate but that allowed those priests and deacons who were married before ordination to continue thereafter to have marital sex^ The West on the other hand, at least after the Council of Elvira c 325, periodically insisted, even if more often than not in vain, that all married clergy live as celibates^ Those who did not were from time to time threatened with floggings and other penalties, but in the main the fulminations of the rigorists had little effect Until the eleventh century it was therefore quite usual for bishops, priests and deacons to be married and to have children In turn these children might themselves become ordained and take over their fathers' positions^ Such 'hereditary' priests could expect to enjoy positions of considerable honour But in the eleventh and twelfth centuries all this was set to change,
3 Caesarius, Dialogus, vol 2, distinctio 9, ch 26, 183^
4 Innocent III, Sermones de diversis, PL 217, cols^ 684-5^ For the translations of these sermons see Corinne J Vause and Frank C Gardiner, Pope Innocent III: Between God and Man: Six Sermons on the Priestly Office (Washington, D^G: Catholic University of America Press, 2004X
The story of Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-67) is but one among many that could be told.
Aelred of Rievaulx came from a long line of priests from the north of England; his great-grandfather had had the responsibility at Durham of looking after the incorrupt body of St Cuthbert, of cutting his hair and nails - and the job of evicting a weasel that had chosen to nest in Cuthbert's coffin; his grandfather and his father had cared for the saints of Hexham. But in 1138 this particular world came finally to its end. In this year Aelred's father Eilaf fell ill. His status in Hexham had already been diminished by the reforming policies of the Norman archbishops of York. Regular (hence celibate) canons had been introduced to Hexham, allegedly to help Eilaf, but effectively minimising his responsibilities. For Eilaf, the writing on the wall was clear. His son Aelred had already given up a promising career at the court of the king of Scotland to join the newly arrived Cistercians at Rievaulx, and Eilaf decided he himself would now renounce all family claims to Hexham and that he would end his days as a monk at Durham. Cuthbert, meanwhile, was no longer the saint he once had been; the days when a married priest had cared for him were past, and Cuthbert had become a notable misogynist, allegedly so opposed in his lifetime to monks enjoying any female company that in death he could not tolerate the presence of women in any of the cemeteries where his body even for a time had lain. The stories of the terrible fates of such women, as reported by Symeon of Durham, raise the question how it was that a saint who in life had asked that he should be buried wrapped in a cloth given to him by a woman should in death have become so obsessed by the need to keep all women at bay?5 Why had ecclesiastical reformers come to focus with such intensity on issues of sexual pollution?
Eleventh-century ecclesiastical reform was for long associated primarily with the pontificate of Gregory VII. The reasons are not hard to fathom. Gregory's aggressive rhetoric was matched by equally forceful policies. His excommunication of the Emperor Henry IV and the subsequent reconciliation between pope and emperor at Canossa in 1077 provide one of the most dramatic scenes of western medieval history, but it is important to be clear that what was at stake between pope and emperor was a quarrel about power
5 For Cuthbert's burial shroud see Bertram Colgrave, ed. and trans., Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede's Prose Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1940; repr. 1985), 272. For Symeon of Durham's tales see his Libellus de exordio atque procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis ecclesie: Tracts on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham, ed. and trans. David Rollason (Oxford Medieval Texts; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 104-11 and 174-7.
and authority rather than about clerical morality and reform. Henry IV might dispute Gregory's wisdom in supporting the boycotting of the masses said by unworthy priests, but neither he - nor indeed his anti-pope Wibert of Ravenna - had any doubt that both simony (the buying and selling of office or of the sacraments) and clerical marriage (the two are frequently found linked together) were abuses to be eradicated, 'plagues' which at least in theory ecclesiastical and secular rulers could unite to combat. Henry I of England, for example, however bitter his quarrels over investiture with Archbishop Anselm, had no objection to Anselm's measures forbidding English priests to have wives (especially since on a later occasion, and much to the chagrin of his bench, Henry was able to use the renewal of the prohibition as a way of extorting money from the offenders).6
A spotless clergy, freed from the taint of simony and from the lure of the marriage bed: this was an ideal that appealed across the normal divisions of society. For some what seemed an outrage was the sheer cost to the church of clerical families - of the luxuries priests allegedly lavished on their wives and of the privileges they gained for their sons; for others, including those whom the church deemed heretical, the charisma of the chaste exercised a particular fascination, commanding a respect over and above any owed to those in positions of nominal authority. The call to cultic purity became a programme enthusiastically endorsed by the curia, but it is important to note that it had been born elsewhere, in the great peace assemblies of the early eleventh century, its message spread initially not by papal councils and legates, but by wandering preachers and ascetic holy men. Tellingly, one ofthe first such holy men of whom we know is Romuald, whose Life, written by Peter Damian, proclaims that it was Romuald who first identified simony as a heresy and whose ambition, according to Damian, was 'to turn the whole world into a hermitage'.7 (It was Damian too who popularised the use of the term 'nicolai-tism' to apply to married clergy after the heretical sect of Rev. 2.6 and 2.14.) Values which formerly had seemed appropriate only for the cloister were now to be held up for emulation by all. The enormity of this programme is hard to grasp, and its implications were not worked out until the Lateran Council of 1215. To understand how revolutionary it was we must consider first how problematic had been the chances of salvation for laymen and women before the pastoral revolution of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
6 Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum: The History of the English People, ed. and trans.
Diana Greenaway (Oxford Medieval Texts; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), bk. 3, 484.
7 Peter Damian, Vita Beati Romualdi, ed. Giovanni Tabacco (Fonti per la storia d'Italia 94;
Rome: Istituo Storico Italiano, 1957), ch. 37, 78.
In the tenth century, the key to salvation was held by monks: there was little hope of reaching heaven except by becoming a monk or by arranging for the prayers of monks on one's behalf. How any layman could lead a virtuous life was far from clear. Gerald of Aurillac (d. 909) did his best, allowing himself to be robbed, refusing to spill human blood and steadfastly guarding his chastity - when he was laid out after his death his hand refused to stay on his breast and insisted on moving so as to cover his private parts - but Gerald was an exception, and tellingly he crowned his quasi-monastic way of life by tonsuring himself (though this was a fact he kept secret by wearing a little hat).8 More usual was the course chosen by the knight Ralph of Noyon. The year is 1092; Ralph had been ill and had become worried about the state of his soul. The monk whom he consulted was unequivocal: 'as long as you live in the world as you have been living up to now, I don't see how you can be saved. If you truly want to be saved, give up the world and embrace the monastic life.' Ralph shares his concern with his wife Mainsendis who turns out to be as anxious as he: 'I fear for my soul just as you are afraid for yours', but she is pregnant so neither feels they can immediately leave the world. For the next eighteen months they continue to live together but 'for all that they did nothing carnal'. When the time comes for them to take their vows they offer to the monastic life not only themselves, but also their sons including the baby, placed in his cradle on the altar, not wanting to leave them 'in the hands of the devil'.9
By 1215, the year of Lateran IV, the world of Gerald, of Ralph and of Mainsendis had all but disappeared. A knightly class had emerged whose weapons and way of life the church was ready to bless; the crusades had legitimised warfare; marriage had been declared a sacrament; child oblation was out of fashion, the new orders notably refusing to accept any but adult vocations. The world, it now appeared, was not intrinsically evil; all baptised Christians could be saved: 'not only virgins and the continent but also married persons find favour with God by right faith and good actions and deserve to attain eternal blessedness'.10 Human nature being what it was, men and women would still sin, but regular confession could restore anyone who
8 Odo of Cluny, Vita Sancti Geraldi Auriliacensis Comitis, PL 133, cols. 639-704. See in particular bk. 1, chs. 8 and 26; bk. 2, ch. 3; bk. 3, ch. 10.
9 Herimanni liber de restauracione monasterii Sancti Martini Tornacensis, ed. Georg Waitz, MGH SS 14, 274-317. Ralph and Mainsendis' story comes in chs. 61-3. The text is available now in translation by Lynn H. Nelson, The Restoration of the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tournai (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996).
10 Norman Tanner, ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 1, (Nicaea 1-Lateran V) (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990), ch. 1, 231.
was truly penitent to a state of grace^ The chasm between heaven and hell was bridged by purgatory - a place which the very brave might visit on pilgrimage (Lough Derg in Ireland provided a favoured entry point) but from which even those of lesser courage could in the hereafter be rescued by the prayers of the faithful and by masses offered on their behalf
The Lateran Council of 1215, and the subsequent dissemination of its canons, set the seal on this new order in the Christian world^ It turned out to be a world made up not, as had once been thought, of three groups, of clerks, monks and laymen, but only of two: the clerical and the lay^ The distinction between the two was to be absolute; it was to be clear at a glance who was, and who was not, a clerk:
Clerks should not practice callings or business of a secular nature, especially those that are dishonourable^ They should not watch mimes, entertainers and actors^ Let them avoid taverns altogether, unless by chance they are obliged by necessity on a journey^ They should not play at games of chance or of dice, nor be present at such games^ They should have a suitable crown and tonsure and let them diligently apply themselves to the divine services and other good pursuits^ Their outer garments should be closed and neither too short nor too long^ Let them not indulge in red or green cloths, long sleeves or shoes with embroidery or pointed toes, or in bridles, saddles, breast-plates and spurs that are gilded or have other superfluous ornamentation Let them not wear cloaks with sleeves at divine services in a church, nor even elsewhere, if they are priests or parsons... They are not to wear buckles or belts ornamented with gold or silver, or even rings except for those whose dignity it befits to have them^ All bishops should wear outer garments of linen in public and in church, unless they have been monks, in which case they may wear the monastic habit; and let them not wear their cloaks loose in public but rather fastened together behind the neck or across the chest (c 16)
Clerks should 'abstain from gluttony and drunkenness' (c 15); they were not 'to hunt or to fowl' (c 15); they should not stay up late, feasting and indulging in 'forbidden conversation'; they must not neglect liturgical duties in order to listen to 'conversations of the laity' (c 17); they are to have nothing to do with any sentence that involves the shedding of blood; nor should they be 'put in command of mercenaries or crossbowmen or suchlike men of blood'; they must not practise 'the art of surgery' nor should they take part in ordeals (c 18); they are to keep their churches 'neat and clean' and never to 'deposit in [them] their own or even other's furniture, so that the churches look like lay houses rather than basilicas of God' (c 19); but above all, first and foremost, they must be chaste: clerics are 'to live in a continent and chaste way'; God must be served with 'a pure heart and an unsullied body'; anyone caught
'giving way to the vice of incontinence' was to be punished 'according to canonical sanctions, in proportion to the seriousness of their sins... such sanctions [are] to be effectively and strictly observed, in order that those whom the fear of God does not hold back from evil may at least be restrained from sin by temporal punishment' (c. 14).
The decrees of Lateran IV in effect secured the monasticisation of the clergy. There were to be no new actual monastic orders, not only for the stated reason that 'too great a variety of religious orders leads to grave confusion in God's church' (c. 13), but also because such orders were no longer needed. Laymen and women were mandated to look after their own salvation, aided by their priest (c. 21) and, notably as the following decades would show, by the new figure of the friar, harbinger and deliverer of the pastoral revolution. As leaders of the laity, the behaviour of priests must be exemplary. A sinful clergy, insisted Innocent III, is the root of all evil - 'faith decays, religion grows deformed, liberty is thwarted. Justice is trampled underfoot, heretics emerge.'11 Heresy had long been of particular concern to Innocent, and he had opened the Council with a solemn declaration of faith followed by a condemnation of particular heresies and of heresies in general: 'we condemn all heretics, whatever names they may go under' (c. 3). But heretics apart, anyone who could subscribe to the Council's creed could be saved, but they needed the support of a righteous clergy, 'For all corruption in the people comes first from the clergy'.12
Innocent's programme for the church was not only a response to the immediate circumstances of his pontificate; it also sought to provide solutions to the turmoil of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The spiritual hunger manifested in the crowds who had gathered at the turn of the millennium around the shrines of saints and at the feet of itinerant preachers had to some extent been assuaged by Gregory VII's reforms, but only at a price. Gregory, with good reason, was known as a 'holy Satan' and 'a dangerous man'.13 In his conflicts with the emperor he had not hesitated to mobilise the crowd. The distinctions between clergy and laity which Lateran IV was to take such pains to safeguard had been in danger of being overthrown by Gregory's demagogic
11 Innocent III in his sermon on the occasion of the convening of Lateran IV, Sermones de diversis, col. 673.
12 Sermones de diversis, col. 673.
13 Peter Damian calls Gregory his 'holy Satan', Peter Damian, Die Briefe des Petrus Damiani, ed. Kurt Reindel, MGH, EPP, no. 107,3.185; the epithet 'periculosus homo' comes from Archbishop Liemar of Bremen, Die Hannoversche Briefsammlung, ed. C. Erdmann, in Briefsammlungen der Zeit Heinrichs IV (MGH, EPP, Briefe der deutschen Kaiserzeit V; Weimar: Bohlau, 1950), no. 15, 3-5.
instincts. His support of the Patarenes of Milan, those radical opponents of clerical marriage, who believed not only in the boycotting of the masses of incontinent clergy, but also in taking direct action against them, is but one instance of his readiness to ally with the laity against any priest or bishop who did not seem to him to be sufficiently committed to reform. To the chronicler Sigebert of Gembloux (c.1030-1112) it was precisely these tactics which were so shocking; fighting simony and clerical marriage was one thing - what indeed could be 'more lovely', asked Sigebert - but Gregory's methods undermined all his objectives: 'if you look for the fruit, you see the Lord's flock miserably scattered and their shepherds inciting the wolves against them'. The doctrine of the reformers that the sacraments of married priests had no validity was 'lethal poison'; 'who does not grieve', concluded Sigebert, 'at so great an upheaval in the Church. Which Christian does not, if he has any compassion, feel full of sorrow on seeing Christianity trampled underfoot...and all this backed by authority, by those who are called the leaders of Christendom.'14 It fell to the popes of the twelfth century and above all to Innocent III to attempt to set the seal on the new order in the world, and as far as possible to resolve the rifts opened up by previous conflicts. The problem of lay investiture, which had seemed such a stumbling block in the eleventh century, proved after all amenable to compromise - England, France and finally the Empire each found solutions; simony, while it might still be a matter for concern, no longer caused 'moral panic';15 it was quite simply accepted as wrong. In theory, at least, elections to ecclesiastical office could now proceed freely without undue influence from lay patrons and without money passing hands. Canon lawyers meanwhile satisfactorily established that the validity of masses was in no wise dependent on the moral health of the celebrant. The one issue that remained much less tractable was that of clerical celibacy, demanding time and again the reiteration and tightening up of papal condemnations accompanied by continuing appeals to the laity not to attend the masses of any priest known to have a wife or a concubine. Callixtus II, at the Council of Rheims of 1119, repeated Urban II's 1095 threats of deposition to any priest, deacon or subdeacon found living with his wife or with a concubine; the First and Second Lateran Councils respectively went further, announcing
14 Sigebert of Gembloux, Apologia contra eos qui calumniantur missas coniugatorum sacerdo-tum, ed. E. Sackur (MGH, Libelli de Lite Imperatorum et Pontificum 2; Hanover: Hahn, 1892), 438.
15 'Moral panic': see Timothy Reuter's 'Gifts and Simony', in Esther Cohn and Mayke B. de Jong, eds., Medieval Transformations: Texts, Power and Gifts in Context (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 160.
in 1123 that the marriages ofpriests, deacons, subdeacons and monks be held as void and in 1139 demanding the separation from their partners of married clergy - that is, of 'bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks and professed lay brothers' on the grounds that such marriages ('such outrageous behaviour') were against ecclesiastical law and therefore illegaL At the Third Lateran Council of 1179 married clergy are no longer mentioned, suggesting the efficacy of the 1139 decree, but concubinage evidently remained a problem: 'clerics in holy orders who in open concubinage keep their mistresses in their houses should either cast them out and live continently or be deprived of ecclesiastical office and benefice'•16
In this new world order it was essential that the men with the power to bind and to loose, and who alone could turn the bread and wine of the eucharist into the body and blood of Christ should be demonstrably separate from the laity, even though chastity, the touchstone of this difference, would always be difficult to enforce, as Innocent III himself recognised, as Caesarius of Heisterbach's stories make plain, and as many a noisy demonstration of married priests proved^ Henry of Huntingdon's gleeful telling of the tale of Cardinal John Crema - 'discovered after vespers with a whore' when on that same day he had held a council at which 'he dealt most severely with the matter of priest's wives, saying it was the greatest sin to rise from the side of a whore and go to make the body of Christ' - would have been greeted by sympathetic audiences across Europe/7 Even as late as 1215 theologians could be found who were uneasy about the wisdom and stringency of the new policy^ Thomas of Chobham, for instance, in his Summa confessorum composed at about that time, was prepared to argue that it was a lesser sin for a cleric to marry secretly than it was for him to have extra-marital sex and to express in more general terms doubts about the legitimacy of enforcing clerical celibacy. But nonetheless Thomas accepted that Rome had spoken and that to all intents and purposes the matter by now was closed.
To understand the determination behind Rome's stance it may be helpful to consider the insights of social anthropology^ The work of Robert Just on late twentieth-century Greece is pertinent here^ According to Just the village priest in Greece will be a married man, usually coming from the village where he was born The system has perceptible weaknesses:
16 For the relevant decrees of the Lateran I, II and III, see Tanner, edM Decrees 191, C 7; 194, C 21; 198, c 6; and 217, C 11
17 Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum: The History of the English People, ed^ and trans. Diana Greenaway (Oxford Medieval Texts; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), bk 7, 473-5-
on the one hand, the Church as a whole is seen as remote, aligned with the rich and the powerful, part of that envied and inaccessible world whose very success is evidence enough of its corruption, while on the other hand, at the local level, the human failings of the priesthood (real or imagined) are only too intimately known and discussed.
It is a situation in which the village priest loses all ways. He is a servant of the Church which is fabulously wealthy, politically conservative, remote from 'the people'; at the same time he is just another villager, somebody's brother, somebody's husband, somebody's father, somebody's son...who would trust a man who, like everyone else, must seek his advantage where he may? Who would confess his secrets or his problems to a man who also has a daughter to wed and a field he must water? And yet they must call him 'Papas' and have him baptise their children, celebrate their marriages and bury their dead.18
Only minor adjustments are needed to make such scenes a fit description of early eleventh-century Europe. The way out chosen by the West brought in its wake hardship, both for clergy and for their discarded women, as well as the occasion for many a ribald joke at the expense of those who failed to live up to the new demands of the celibate life (the thirteenth-century ditty 'Priests who lack a girl to cherish/Won't be mindful lest they perish/ They will take whom'er they find/Married, single - never mind' is but one example19). Nonetheless, the imposition of clerical celibacy cannot be seen simply as an indication of misguided puritanism on the part of the reformed papacy, nor as a sign of 'zealous sacerdotalism or unreasoning bigotry'; nor its influence 'one of almost unmixed evil' as the Victorian historian Henry Lea would have it in his monumental work The History of Sacerdotal Celibacy.20 Undoubtedly the system claimed its victims, the most famous of all being Heloise and Abelard, caught as they were by the new ruling of 1123 forbidding the marriage of all clerks in higher orders and which forms the backdrop to Heloise's arguments as Abelard reports them:
What honour could she win, she protested, from a marriage that would dishonour me and humiliate us both?. Think of the curses, the loss to the
18 Robert Just, 'Anti-clericalism and National Identity: Attitudes towards the Orthodox Church in Greece', in Wendy James and Douglas H. Johnson, eds., Essays in the Social Anthropology of Religion Presented to Godfrey Lienhardt (Oxford: Jaso, 1988), 27-8.
19 From 'De concubinis sacerdotum', in T. Wright, ed., The Latin Poems Commonly Attributed to Walter Mapes (London: Camden Society, 1841) quoted by James Brundage in 'Sin, Crimes and the Pleasures of the Flesh', in Peter Linehan and Janet L. Nelson, eds., The Medieval World (London: Routledge, 2001), 298.
20 Henry C. Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church (3rd edn; London: Williams and Norgate, 1907), 410, 430.
Church and grief of philosophers which would greet such a marriage! Nature had created me for all mankind - it would be a sorry scandal if I should bind myself to a single woman and submit to such base servitude.in every people, pagan, Jew or Christian, some men have always stood out for their faith or upright way of life, and have cut themselves off from their fellows because of their singular chastity or austerity.if pagans and laymen could live in this way.is there not a greater obligation on you, as clerk and canon, not to put base pleasures before your sacred duties, and to guard against being sucked down headlong into this Charybdis, there to lose all sense of shame and be plunged forever into a whirlpool of impurity?21
However much we may lament the outcome of Abelard and Heloise's affair, it is not for us to question the arguments by which Heloise tried to dissuade Abelard from marriage but to listen to their force and to try to understand their history.
21 Peter Abelard, Historia Calamitatum, ed. J. MonfTin (Paris: Librairie Vrin, 1959), 75-8. For the translation see Betty Radice, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, rev. edn, M. T. Clanchy (London: Penguin, 2003), 13-16.
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