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Chapter XXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1


State of the Church from Ethelred II. to the Death of Edward the Confessor.
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Amongst the canons of the Church generally ascribed to Elfric, the thirty-third obliges the priests to have two sorts of sacred oil or chrism - one for the sick, and another for children - and enjoins that the former should always be anointed in their beds.

In the same canon the first four general councils are declared of equal authority as the Gospels.

From the beginning of the reign of Ethelred II. to the Norman conquest, we find in the ecclesiastical history of England but two councils. Most probably, the wars with the Danes prevented the bishops from assembling more frequently, or perhaps were the occasion of the records of these conventions being lost. Both these councils, the one held at Engsham, and the other at Haba, assembled whilst Elphegus was archbishop. They consisted of seculars as well as ecclesiastics, and the constitutions passed there related both to Church and State. The most remarkable canons art:! as follow: -

In the council of Engsham, the second canon enjoins the celibacy of the clergy.

The ninth forbids all persons to do any wrong to the Church, or eject a clergyman out of his benefice without the consent of the bishop.

By the seventeenth, every Friday was to be a fast, unless it fell upon a holiday.

The nineteenth enjoins widows to stay twelve months after the death of their husbands before they marry again.

The twentieth enjoins frequent confessions, and the people are ordered to receive the sacrament three times, at least, in a year.

The council of Haba has but one canon worth notice - namely, the second, by which every Christian was obliged to fast three days with bread and water before the feast of St. Michael, and to distribute among the poor what he should have eaten in these three days.

These are the only canons worth remarking in these two synods; but to supply the want of councils, we have the ecclesiastical laws of Canute the Great and Edward the Confessor, some of which are inserted, to show the great regard these two monarchs had for the clergy. The following are Canute's: -

The fourth enjoins all Christians to pay great respect to the clergy, because their sacerdotal functions are extremely beneficial to the people.

By the fifth, if a priest was accused of any crime, he had the liberty of purging himself by saying mass, arid receiving the eucharist.

The twelfth recommends celibacy to the clergy, and ranks them among the thanes of the second class - that is, among the gentry.

The twentieth ordains that at funerals the dues shall ba paid upon the breaking up of the ground; and that the dues shall be paid to the parish the deceased belonged to, though he was buried elsewhere,

The twenty-second enjoins the observance of Sunday from Saturday at three o'clock in the afternoon, till Monday at break of day.

The twenty-third determines the times of fasting, and places the vigils of the festivals of the blessed Virgin and of the apostles among the fasts.

There are several others, relating to the payment of tithes and Peter-pence, the violators of the privileges of the clergy, and the like, in favour of the Church.

It is also decreed by these laws, that every Christian should learn the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed; otherwise, they were allowed neither to stand godfather, nor receive the communion, nor have Christian burial.

The ecclesiastical laws of Edward t*he Confessor relate chiefly to the protection of the Church and clergy.

The first forbids the molesting a clergyman, contrary to the tenour of the privileges of the Church.

The second appoints certain days, whereon all proceedings in the courts of justice were to cease.

By the third the Church's causes are to be tried first.

The fourth firmly establishes the immunities of those who in any wise depend on the Church, and ordains that they shall not be obliged to answer any plea, &c., except in the ecclesiastical court.

The fifth confirms the privilege of sanctuary to churches, and extends it even to priests' houses.

By the sixth, if any person broke in upon the privileges of the Church, he had no way of being relieved but by submitting to the sentence of the bishop.

The sixth orders the punctual payment of tithes, and sets forth what is to be paid.

The ninth determines the circumstances relating to the ordeal trial.

The twelfth settles the fine of manbote, or the sum to be paid to the lord for killing any of his vassals or slaves. The king's and the archbishop's manbote is fixed at the same sum.

By the thirteenth, all treasure found belongs to the king, unless it be found in a church or churchyard; then the gold is the king's, and the silver the Church's.

It is visible, throughout these laws, that the clergy took care of themselves, when they came in contact with devout and easy princes, or such as stood in need of their interest.

But notwithstanding the great consideration of the Saxon kings for the clergy, they could not retain the privilege of choosing their bishops and abbots. Whilst the prelates confined themselves within the bounds of their pastoral functions, and meddled not with civil matters, the power of electing was freely left to the chapters; but when the bishops became rich and popular, and began to interpose in state affairs, by reason of the fiefs they were possessed of, it was of great consequence to the kings to have such bishops and abbots as were in their interest, or, at least, were obliged to them for their preferments. Accordingly, the kings began to interpose in elections, by way of canvassing, or recommendation, and very often by refusing to put in possession of the fiefs belonging to the church or abbey such prelates and abbots as they did not like; and, ultimately, the authority of the court prevailed so, that in the time of Ethelred II. the monks had entirely lost the privilege of choosing their abbots, as appears from Ingulphus, who says, "In those days the monks and abbots seldom resorted to court. But ever since the kings have disposed of the abbeys, the monks have made interest with the courtiers, which sometimes cost them very dear." The historian himself loudly complains of this abuse, though he was installed in the abbey of Croyland by the same method - that is, by the sole will and pleasure of William the Conqueror.

There were but two removals of bishops' sees within the period now treated of. The see of Kirton, in Wessex, was removed to Exeter, and the see of Lindisfarn, in Northumberland, to Durham. Aldhun, Bishop of Lindisfarn, being disturbed in that small island by the incursions of the Danes, removed to Durham, carrying with him the relics of St. Cuthbert, where he built a cathedral, and fixed his see, which remains there to this day.

In 981, the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury acquired a new jurisdiction in Wales. Gucan, a Welsh priest, being chosen Bishop of Llandaff, and consecrated by Archbishop Dunstan, this precedent was followed by his successors, who, like him, owned the Archbishop of Canterbury for their metropolitan: and some writers have inferred from hence, that all the British bishops at the same time owned the superiority of the Church of Rome; but this cannot be admitted. It is certain the Bishops of St. David's exercised the archiepiscopal functions in Wales, till the time of Henry I., and that without the ornament of the pall, the mark of submission to the Pope.

Edmund, Bishop of Durham, was remarkable for the manner of his election. The chapter of Durham having met to elect a bishop, and not being able to agree in their choice, Edmund, a priest of that church, said jestingly that, since they were at a loss whom to choose, they might as good select him and make him a bishop. As miracles were then much in vogue, the chapter looked upon this as a Divine inspiration, and elected him. He afterwards proved worthy of the office to which he had been chosen in so singular a fashion: reprimanding vice even in the highest, and doing anything in his power for the encouragement of learning and virtue.

Of the division of the kingdom into parishes, we find that Augustin, the first Saxon bishop, received from the King of Kent certain lands for the maintenance of himself and the monks who accompanied him.

On receiving this gift, he consulted Pope Gregory I. as to how it ought to be disposed of. The reply was, that the Church of Rome was accustomed to divide the revenues and offerings of the Church into four portions, and devote one of them to the support of the inferior clergy; but as Augustin and his companions were monks, he recommended them to live together in community.

At first, there was but one such church; but as the number of converts increased, others were built, and the districts surrounding each gradually divided into parishes - slowly at first, the people not approving that the priests who officiated in them should have no share in the offerings and oblations which were reserved for the bishops.

This circumstance induced the prelates at last to abandon their claim to them to the hard-working or inferior clergy; upon which the churches increased rapidly in England: the divisions of them, as they appear in the Doomsday-book, in the majority of instances, being the same as at the present day.


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