The faith of the Churches of Italy in the tenth century.


FORASMUCH as this century was generally devoted to ignorance and debauchery, and very barren of authors, it will be hard for us to inform ourselves any thing in particular concerning the Churches of Italy, except only so far as we make our conjectures of it by considering the condition of other western Churches, which was as deplorable as can well be imagined. This is owned by the Papists themselves, by Caranza, Genebrard, Baronins, and many more, who describe this tenth century as a monstrous age. Indeed, we can scarce expect that it should have been better at that time, if we consider the furious wars that wasted this diocese, as well by reason of the invasion of the Huns, as by the divisions happening between several princes, who endeavored to make themselves masters of that part of Italy, after the death of Charles the Great.

But Providence has preserved us two authors of this diocese; the one is Ratherius, who alone might have been sufficient to inform us very exactly about the state of Italy. This Ratherius, Bishop of Verona, who, from being a monk in the abbey of Lobe, near to Liege, was advanced to the see of Verona, in the year 928, and being chased from thence in 932, was made Bishop of Liege in the year 954, and died in 974; so that he was Bishop during the most part of the tenth century.

Sigebertus informs us that the heresy of the Anthropomorphites began to appear again in the diocese of Italy during his pontificate, and that he was obliged to write against them. And indeed we find a large digression of Ratherius upon this occasion in his first sermon of Lent. He observes, that the Priests of the diocese of Vicenza were of this opinion, which they grounded upon the following passages of Scripture, Psalm 33:16. Job 10:8. and Genesis 1:26. He acknowledges, that other people of his diocese were of the same opinion, and that they could no otherwise conceive the existence of God. He ingenuously confesseth, that this belief was grown in the minds of the people, because in the pictures and images they saw God seated like a king, on a throne, and the angels, in the shape of men with wings, arrayed in white. Behold here the happy effect of images upon an ignorant people, and what may be expected from these sort of books, which the Prophet Habakkuk so justly calls the teachers of lies.

He gives us an account in the same sermon of a very pleasant fancy of the people of his diocese: they believed that St. Michael the archangel celebrated the Mass of the second feria; whence they were persuaded, that the Mass of St. Michael, called the second feria, was far more excellent than any other Mass whatsoever. It is worth our observing, how he confutes this fantastical opinion. First, he maintains from Revelation 21:22 that there is no temple in heaven. Secondly, he proves, that the angels cannot celebrate Mass, because we ought not to believe, that the angels eat or drink corporeal bread and wine; and that Jesus Christ is only called the Bread of angels, because they are nourished with his praises, as with food. Be it as it will, it appears very plainly, that neither this gross people, nor their Bishops, who endeavored to disabuse them, were very well informed of the mysteries of the Church of Rome; for otherwise, why doth not this good Bishop tell his people, that the angels were not capable of the character of Priesthood? How could he object to them, that the angels cannot eat or drink corporeal bread and wine, but the substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which exist therein in the manner of a spirit? Is it any contradiction to suppose, that spirits may truly receive a body which exists after the manner of a spirit? It is very plain, that though, may be, he might have embraced some of the hypotheses of Paschasius, which, through the stupidity of that people, were swallowed down by little and little, yet he did not know the whole of it. It was necessary, that Lan-franc, Guitmond, and Alger should make an end of licking this bear into some shape, as being but half formed by its author, when at first it was brought forth.

But not to insist longer on this, I observe two things: the first is, that this author, who had been brought up in a strange country, and who probably had brought along with him his notions from thence, seems in diverse points to follow the doctrine of Paschasius upon this question. The second is, that notwithstanding that, he doth up and down make use of a number of notions and expressions, which directly oppose and overthrow it.

On the one hand he tells the Priests of his diocese, in his Synodical Epistle, Paranda cordium nostrorum habitacula, ventufo ad nos, per corporis et sanguinis sui substantiam, Christo: We ought to prepare the habitations of our heart for Christ, who is to come into us, by the substance of his body and blood.”

And on the other hand he tells us, that wicked Priests eat the goat, and not the lamb; which is also the expression of Odo Cluniacensis, who lived at the same time. An altogether incomprehensible expression in the mouth of a man that believes transubstantiation.

In his treatise of the Contempt of the Canons, par. 1. he quotes a passage of Zeno, Bishop of Verona, which overthrows transubstantiation. It is found in a sermon concerning Judah and Thamar, in these words: Omniurn corrupte viventium Diabolus pater est; et O quam non manducat verendam camera Domini, nec bibit ejus sanguinem, in quo Diabolus per tria ista vitia, hoc est, superbiam, hypocrisin, atque luxuriam requiescit, licet communicate cum Sdelibus videatur, Domino dicente, Qui manducat meam carnere, et bibit meum sanguinem, in me manet, et ego in co. Cure et per conversionem ira hoc possit resolvi ; Qui in me manet, et ego in eo, ipsc manducat camera meam, et bibit sanguinem meum. In quo enim Deus manet, et ipse in Deo, quomodo in eo Diabolus dormire possit non video: dormit veto in eo qui per hypocrisin vel elationem umbrosus et vacuus, per luxuriam existit humectus. Quid ergo manducat, quando communicat. Judicium si respondes, Apostolo connives, et intelligere me pariter commones, quia pro eo judicabitur, id est, damnabitur, quia cum indignus existeret, Christi est ausus carnem manducare, et sanguinem bibere; ac propterea quod debuerat illi fore salvatio, est factum damnatio. De substantia vero corporali quam sumit, cure sit mea nunc quxstio, mihi nunc quoque ipsi loquar, ira succumbo; cure sit enim digne sumenti vera caro, panis licet quod dim ruerat videatur, et sanguis, quod vinum; indigne sumenti, id est, non in Deo manenti, quid sit, nedurn dicibile, incogitabile, fateor, mihi; et, A1tiora to ne quaesieris,

“The Devil is the father of all those that live wickedly: and O how far is he from eating the venerable body of our Lord, and drinking his blood, in whom the Devil rests, by means of these three vices, pride, hypocrisy, and luxury, though he may seem to communicate with the faithful? Our Lord telling us, He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me, and I in him: which words may be translated thus; He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that eats my flesh and drinks my blood. For he in whom God abides, and he in God, how the Devil can take up his rest in such an one, I see not: but the Devil doth rest in him, who by reason of hypocrisy and pride is shadowy and empty, and dissolved by luxury. What then doth such an one eat, when he communicates? If thou answerest, judgment, thou agreest with the Apostle, and puttest me in mind to understand, that he shall therefore be judged that is, condemned, because, being unworthy he durst venture to eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood; and therefore that which was to have been his salvation, is become his damnation. But whereas my inquiry at present is concerning the bodily substance he receives, I must now answer myself, and own that here I am at a loss; for since it is true flesh to the worthy receiver, though it be the bread it was before, and blood, which yet is wine; what it is to the unworthy receiver, that is, to him who abides not in God, is so far, I confess from being expressible, that it is altogether inconceivable by me; and therefore in this case I ought to take that word as spoke to me, Do not seek after things too high for thee, nor search out things too deep for thee.”

This seems to be very full; and yet, p. 182, he seems to believe with Paschasius, that it is the flesh of Jesus Christ, whosoever he be that receives it. But after all, the good man refers himself to the belief of St. Chrysostom, who calls the Sacrament a spiritual food, and to that of St. Austin, Tract. 61 et 62 in Johan. vid. p. 304.

Thus in his first Easter sermon, he supposeth, that the flesh of Jesus Christ is not received by the wicked, p. 310; and in his fourth sermon on the same subject, he asserts the contrary, p. 322.

Whatsoever may be his opinion in this matter in those writings I have before produced, he seems to have spoken more plainly in favor of the real change of the Eucharist of the body and blood of Christ, in his Epistle published by D’Achery, in the twelfth tome of his Spicilegium: but at the same time he gives this advantage, that he furnisheth us with a new defender of that figurative sense in the words of the Eucharist; for he clearly attributes to his friend, to whom he wrote, that he took the words in no other sense than as they are understood by the Protestants; upon which it is natural to take notice of two things; the first, that the disciples of Paschasius have had great trouble to oppose directly the opinion of St. Austin, who lays it down always, that only the faithful receive the body of Jesus Christ. The other is, that Gaufridus Vindocinensis is perhaps the first who taught clearly (about the year 1100) that the wicked receive the body of Christ, as Nell as the faithful, against the constant doctrine of St. Austin, Tract. 26. in Johan.

We ought not to forget, that in his Perpendicular Volume, p. 183, he attributes the force of the consecration to prayer; which the Church of Rome at present condemns.

We may easily judge, that the Communion under both kinds was in vogue at that time; as appears from several places of his works. But we are to observe, concerning this matter,

First, that he expressly forbids private masses.

Secondly, That they kept still the custom, not to communicate on fast days, except in the afternoon, because the Communion broke the fast; so little were they of opinion at that time, that the substance of the bread and wine was lost and vanished by means of the consecration.

Thirdly, That the custom of giving the Eucharist to laics, in order to carry it to the sick, was not yet abolished, though it began then to be condemned.

It is evident enough how much these articles oppose the belief of the Church of Rome. We may see, that the Church at that time did not take the Eucharist to be a sacrifice, since she believed that it could not be celebrated without communicants. The Church did not believe it to be only an heap of accidents, because she believed, that the taking of the Sacrament did break the fast. The Church of Rome could not leave the Sacrament in the hands of laics, after she had once made it the object of her adoration. But let us proceed to other articles about the Sacraments: seeing that Ratherius lays down eight deadly sins, we may guess from thence, that he was not acquainted with the seven Sacraments of the Church of Rome, which have a reference to the seven sins, as the modern Divines of that communion assure us.

True it is, that he speaks of anointing the sick but as of an unction which was administered before the Communion of dying men, which has been prudently altered in the Pontificale Romanurn, since they have thought fit to own Extreme Unction for the last of their Sacraments.

As to Baptism, and its necessity, it appears by his Synodieal Epistle, that he was against having the custom abrogated of baptizing only on Easterday and Whitsunday, except in case of necessity, that is, danger of death. As to the matter of penance, he would have the Priests invite the people to it, and that they may impose penances upon those who commit some secret sins; but he reserves to himself the power to impose penance upon public sinners; which shows that the ancient discipline was yet in practice: and he would have the Priests of his diocese to be furnished with a Paenitential, that they might follow the Canons thereof: so far was he from owning them for absolute judges, who could pronounce without appeal. He did indeed believe Purgatory, but after another manner than the Church of Rome doth: for he saith expressly, that it is only for slighter sins; whereas, according to the Papists, it is also appointed for the temporal pain of mortal sins: Purgatovii poena non est statuta pro criminibus, sed pro peccarls levioribus, quae utique per lignum, faenum, etstipulam designantur:

“The punishment of purgatory is not appointed for crimes, but for lighter sins, which are intimated by wood, hay, and stubble.” We shall now proceed to the examining of some other points, the better to inform ourselves of the state of this Church of Italy during the tenth century.

First, They believed that all Bishops in general were St. Peter’s successors. Ratherius is very express in this case: Petri omnes Episcopi vicera tonent in Ecclesiis;

“All Bishops are Peter’s vicegerents in their Churches,” and p. 168, 169, 173, and 229.

Secondly, They did not believe that the Pope had power to remove Bishops from one bishopric to another. The translation of Ratherius from the see of Liege was done by order from the Emperor, and of a Council of Italy, assembled at Verona.

Thirdly, They were very sensible of the inconvenience of the sovereignty which the Pope endeavored to usurp over the Church. See what Ratherins speaks of it: Si Papa fit nequam, perjurus, adulter, venator, ebriosus, quid fiet de quaerimoniis ad ipsum delatis? Ridebit guerulos, favebit sibi similibus:

“If the Pope should prove a wicked man, perjured, an adulterer, a hunter, a drunkard, what will become of the complaints made to him? He will laugh at those that complain, and favor those that are like himself.”

Fourthly, They without fear laughed at the Pope’s excommunications and His anathemas, of which he began already to be very liberal. Ratherins gives us an instance of it in his Apologetic; De quodam Clericol venalera illam, ut ait Salustius, adiens urbem, pretio, ut omnia antiquitus, ibi emptas quasi apostolicas dejarens chartas anathematis tam me, quam successores omnimodis meos mulctavit mucrone; ut fuivis abhinc Episcoporum si de Clericorum se infra mit teret rebus, perpetuo, ut aiunt, anathemate foret damnatus:

“Concerning one of the Clergy, who going to that city where all things were to be sold, as Salust expresses it, and bringing along with him the apostolical letters, bought for money, as of old, he smote me, as well as all my successors, with the edge of the anathematical sword; so that any Bishop from henceforward, that shall meddle with any matters concerning the Clergy, must expect to be condemned by a perpetual anathema.”

We may see how he refutes this piece of folly.

Fifthly, They were yet in a doubt whether the title of Universal did of right belong to the Bishop of Rome: Vestrae Paternitatis provolvens genius, Domine venerandissime, Archipraesul, Archiepiscope, et, si de ullo mortalium jure dici possit, Universalis Papa nominande:

 “Prostrating myself at the knees of your Paternity, most reverend Lord, Archprelate Archbishop, and if it may of right be said of any mortal, Universal Pope.”

Ratherius being banished from his Church, gives us a very ludicrous notion of it: Ait, Taedet me esse Universalera Episcopure, id est, gyrovagum, et sine sede;

“It troubles me,” saith he, “to be an Universal Bishop, that is, a wanderer about, without a see.”

Sixthly, He appealed indeed to the Pope, concerning the unjust oppression he endured; but he appealed also at the same time to the Councils of Gaul, of Italy, and of Germany.

Seventhly, He takes notice that he did not go to Rome out of devotion, because it is said, John 4:21. The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, etc. but that he might be present at the Synod. Some other points worth our observing are,

First, He deplores the general contempt of the Canons of the Church; a neglect which reigned from the Pope to the meanest of the people; Luget generalera contempturn Canonurn a laico ad Summum (pro nef asi) Pontifcem.

He chargeth the Italians with being the most corrupt of all, by reason of their greater proneness to debauchery and vice; that the Doctors there neglected all discipline, insomuch as the Clergy did in nothing differ from the laity, but in their habits.

Secondly, He observes, that most of the Clergy were either sodomites or adulterers: Ouam perdita tonsatorum universitas tota, si nemo in els qui non adulter aut sit aut arsenoquita! “How profligate is the whole crew of shavelings, when there is none among them that is not either an adulterer or a sodomite!”

Thirdly, As for simony, it was so common, that he writes to the Bishop of Parma, to desire him to confer orders upon children for money no more, as he was wont to do. Manasses, Bishop of Milan, who had five bishoprics, sold that of Verona, and turned out Ratherius.

Fourthly, He takes notice of such extreme ignorance in the Priests of his diocese, that they could not so much as say the Apostles’ Creed. And he chargeth his Priests, in his Synodical Epistle, to be able to say it without book, together with that of St. Athanasius.

Fifthly, He observes, that both Priests and people were Anthropomorphites.

Sixthly, He cannot dissemble the way which some of his Priests took to deceive souls, by maintaining that none that had been baptized could ever be damned.

Seventhly, Lastly he exclaims, that Christianity was perished and gone: Vera quo evasisti Christianitas? “True Christianity, whither art thou fled?” And he declares, that his time was that of which the Apostle spoke when he said, that many should depart from theathith. This good Ratherius, in truth, had his share of the ignorance that reigned in his time, as well as of the superstition that had already seized upon many in Italy. Which ignorance of his appears,

1. In that he admits for true the false Decretals, which the Popes had foisted in, to subject all the world to themselves.

2. By his finding fault with the ordination of those persons who had been married more than once, as supposing they were forbid by the Apostle.

3. By his lamenting the liberty which was given to the Clergy to marry.

4. In that he joins the married Bishops with the most corrupt and profligate of that order.

5. By his charging the Clergy with a great crime, for having refused to obey the edict of the Emperor, which condemned the marriage of Ecclesiastics.

6. From his falsely pretending that marriage had been forbid to Ministers by the third Canon of the Council of Nice; whereas they maintained that they ought to use matrimony, to avoid falling into those enormous crimes which St. Paul hath set down in his first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.

7. From his expelling the married Monks out of his abbey, and placing Canons in their place.

8. From his prescribing some fasts to a woman that had married a Priest, without dissolving the marriage, or declaring it void.

9. From his commanding laics to abstain from their wives, and from flesh, twenty-eight days before Advent, and twenty days before Christmas.

10. From his severely blaming those who, instead of fasting forty days, fasted only twenty.

The second author that can give us any information concerning the state of the diocese of Italy, is Atto, Bishop of Verceil, who, as Ughellus tells us, flourished about the middle of the tenth century. D’Achery has published several of his pieces in his Spicilegium, tom. viii.

We find in the Capitulary, which he addressed to the Priests of his diocese, almost all borrowed from that of Theodulphus, who was an Italian born, that he charged them to learn Athanasius’s Creed, as a short compendium of the faith, upon pain of interdiction from wine for forty days; and to explain the Apostles’ Creed to those that demanded Baptism; but doth not speak to them at all of other doctrines taught at present, as another part of religion.

He forbids the celebration of Masses without any communicants, and shows them that this is contrary to the Canon of the Liturgy.

He very severely condemns the custom of burying in churches; as likewise that of selling places to bury the dead in: though this custom was at first introduced by an opinion, that the dead received some help from the prayers of their relations.

He absolutely forbids the ordination of Priests without title; which shows that he did not look upon the trade of sacrificing the body of Jesus Christ to be so necessary and authorized, that for it he ought to dispense with the Canons, which are now laid aside, since the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass is come in request.

He commands the Clergy to work with their hands, after reading and. prayer; which some ages after was condemned in the Waldenses; though therein he follows Theodulphus and the Rule of St. Bennet.

He will not have any thing read in the church, save the books of the Old and New Testament, and permits the passions of the martyrs to be read only on their anniversaries.

He condemns the custom of making baths of holy water, which was introduced into that country.

He hath one chapter about the case of the Eucharist that is fallen down, and concerning him that vomits again after three days; which plainly shows, that they supposed it to nourish really and truly, notwithstanding that it was consecrated bread.

It appears evidently, that public penance had not yet given place to the practice of confession to Priests; which has wholly abolished all the discipline of the Church of Rome.

He makes an extract of the Rule of St. Bennet, concerning the moral part of the Gospel; to which there is no Protestant but would be very willing to subscribe, as containing nothing of the spirit of monkery or of superstition.

He reduceth the matters of faith, which believers ought to know, to the Lord’s Prayer, according to the Council of Forojulio, which I have already cited.

He maintains, according to the Canons of the Church of Rome, that the Scriptures are the foundation of religion, and doth not admit of the writings of the Fathers, but with this caution; Try all things, hold fast that which is good: and according to the Canon of Gelasius I. he ranks several books amongst the apocryphal writings, from whence the Church of Rome, some ages after, has borrowed diverse shreds to stuff out her Breviary, and their lives of saints.

We may now take a view of his doctrine in his treatise of the Judgments of Bishops. He maintains, that the Church is founded on the confession of the apostolic faith, and that she subsists by the faith and love of Jesus Christ, by the receiving of the Sacraments, and by the observation of our Savior’s precepts. All the rest of that discourse, wherein he highly exalts the power of the Pope of Rome, is a plain sign that he was trepanned into the snare, which had been set a hundred and fifty years before, by a supposititious obtrusion of the false Decretals of ancient Popes, the end of which was to appropriate the cognizance of the trials of Bishops to the Pope, under pretense of preventing their oppression. In particular, he shows himself very angry against those who obliged the Bishops to terminate the quarrels they had with laics, by providing a champion to fight it out for them.

He pretends that the Scripture of the New Testament does absolutely forbid Christians to swear; which constitutes one of the errors of the Waldenses.

He maintains, according to the doctrine of St. Ambrose, that it is not lawful for Bishops to take up arms, no, not for the Church’s interest; which the Popes have practiced but very badly.

He seems to suppose, that the order of Bishops, and that of Presbyters, were not two different orders in St. Paul’s time, and that they were distinguished afterwards.

He asserts, that laics have right to judge of the behavior of Bishops, as it is their right to have a share in their election.

He employs a whole treatise to confound the disorder which reigned at that time in the election of Bishops, as having no regard either to their charity or faith, but to the nobleness of their blood, and electing many that were yet mere children.

He declares in one of his letters, that some heresies were already crept into his diocese, which he had already hinted in the forty-eighth chapter of his Capitulary; and he seems to point at a branch of the Manichean heresy.

He shows, that in his diocese they would not fast on Saturdays; which he finds fault with, notwithstanding the Saturday’s fast was not known in St. Ambrose’s time, in the diocese of Milan.

He quotes a law of the Lombards, to show that the marriage of a godson with his godmother was unlawful; and the definition he afterwards gives of marriage shows that he knew nothing of its being a sacrament.

He maintains, that the she-priests, of whom mention is made in the Canons, were the primitive Deaconesses, that they had power to teach in public, and that formerly they were employed to baptize maids or women; which Priests had married wives before they had received Orders, from whom they were to abstain afterwards.

Whoever will reflect upon what I have here said, and upon several other matters that might be observed, will easily judge, that both truth and piety began to decrease in this diocese, and that error and superstition, by little and little, began to take their places, in spite of the opposition of those whom God had raised up to stop their progress: however, the essentials of religion still continued there, notwithstanding these growing corruptions.


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