IT is said of Buffon that he used to measure the intensity of light through the effects produced by darkness. The method consisted simply in al- lowing plants to grow up to a certain point in obscurity, and then to ex- pose them to the rays of the sun falling through a narrow orifice. Many phenomena of the moral world might be computed in the same artless manner. The progress of civilization, for example, as far as regards re- legious emancipation. Indeed, the amount of light and liberty which the mind enjoys in our day can scarcely be calculated in any other man- ner than by contrasting it with the blind ignorance of former ages. An occasion for essaying this modus operandi presents itself very conspicu- ously just at present in respect to that once more revived form of spiritual power, excommunication by the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Excommunication was not, as seems to be generally believed, a Papal invention, but it was in use centuries before the so-called successors of St. Peter had established themselves in the city of Romulus. The Druids, among the ancient Britons and Gauls, are known to have em- ployed the same weapons against rebels, whom, on refusal to acquiesce in sacred decisions, they interdicted from the communion in their mys- terious rites. The Romans made still more use of the like spiritual arm. Among them, excommunicated persons were forbidden to assist at or at- tend the sacrifices, and they were afterwards delivered over to the demons and furies of bell, with certain imprecations. This operation was called the diris devovere, and in course of time came to be a famous means of keeping troublesome spirits within due bounds. Nevertheless, the art was still in its infancy among the Druids as well as the priests of Jupiter ; and it was only some time after the foundation of the Papacy that excommunication grew to be that terrific unseen force before which all Europe was trembling.
It is particularly to Pope Gregory VII., otherwise Hildebrand, that the perfecting of this spiritual weapon is due. Other Popes had made use of it before him, but in a timid manner, and, therefore, with little effect; but he was the first who made the rulers of the earth crouch be- fore it, thus forming that mighty "sword, whose handle is at Rome, but whose point is everywhere." It was in the year 1075, at the period when the Conqueror was busy remodelling England after Norman fashion, that the first visible manifestation of this new power took place. Kaiser Henry IV. of Germany, the ruler of Central Europe and of Italy, the mightiest Prince of his time, had offended Hildebrand by disposing of several rich bishoprics without the consent of the Court of Rome ; and the irritated Pope forthwith sent legates to the Emperor to call him to account for his misdeeds. Henry IV. was engaged in celebrating Christmas with great pomp at Goslar, in the' Harz mountains, when the barefooted friars, the envoys of Hildebrand, boldly appeared before him, and, undaunted by the splendour and the armed forces around, in threaten- ing words desired the Kaiser to proceed forthwith to Rome to justify himself before the Pope. Henry got furious on hearing such language addressed to him. The friars were chased ignominiously from the Court, and the Emperor instantly ordered a Synod to assemble at Worms, on the Rhine, to chose another Pope in Gregory's place. The clergy of all ranks willingly obeyed the Emperor's decree, for they all hated Hilde- brand for his strict enforcement of ecclesiastical discipline, and above all, for his zeal in enforcing celibacy. After short deliberations, the Synod at Worms destituted Gregory, and another council of Italian Bishops, at Piacenza, subscribed the act of destitution. But Hildebrand was not so easily to be daunted; and, without taking the least notice of the resolu- tions either of Worms or Piacenza, he replied to the Kaiser by a solemn bull of excommunication, accompanied by another decree, which liberated his subjects from their oath of allegiance, and declared the throne void.
Henry retorted by having Hildebrand condemned to death, " not the Pope, but the false monk ;" and for the execution of this decree he im- mediately assembled an army to march to Rome. But a strange spectacle, and one for the first time witnessed in history, now presented itself—the soldiers refuied to follow their leader, the people to obey their Lord. The dignitaries of the State without exception, and even the whole of the clergy were willing and almost eager to stand by the Kaiser and to chastise the insolence of the head of the Church ; but the people refused. The people everywhere obeyed the commands of the Popo ; and many a priest who declined to discard his wife and children in obedience to the new commands of celibacy, was hunted from place to place like a wild animal, and not unfrequently barbarously mutilated.
The Emperor found himself standing alone, hopeless and helpless, in his struggle with the head of the Church ; and, despairing of keeping his crown in any other manner, he resolved on the desperate step of seeking pardon at the feet of his enemy. At the beginning of January 1077, in the middle of an uncommonly severe winter, the Emperor set out for Italy, only accompanied by his wife and a few trusty servants. They travelled through Burgundy, intending to cross the Alps at the Mont Conjs. But the passage, dangerous even in summer, was a thousandfold so at this season of the year. No horses or mules were to be bad, and it was with the greatest difficulty that a guide could be found to lead the august tra- vellers across the snow and ice. In parts of the way, the Emperor had to creep on all fours over the dangerous precipices, and 1 fair and blooming spouse had to be tied up in a skin and let down or/ _pee over the steep rocks. Such was the journey of Henry the Four 1, the Kaiser of Ger- many and Italy, the scion of a race of kings, to meet an individual of no estate, a monk of unknown origin. The troubles of Henry IV. were not even yet finished after he had crossed the Alps ; for the Pope, hearing that the proud Emperor had at last obeyed his summons, now refused to see him, on the ground that he had been too backward in coming. The real fact was that Hilde- brand was slightly afraid of meeting his imperial foe, knowing as he did that Henry's power was greater in Italy than in Germany ; or rather that his own power was less, the Italians having never shown much res- pect for the Papal dignity. Gregory VII., therefore, had no sooner be- come acquainted with the Kaiser's arrival, than he took refuge in the strong castle of Canossa, near Reggio, the seat of the Margravine Mathilde of Tuscany. This Princess, one of the most accomplished ladies of her time, and a fervent admirer of the bold Hildebrand, who, Jupiter- like, was flinging his thunders at the great ones of the earth, was also a
distant relation of Henry IV. ; and, at his ape* she interceded to ob- tain for her visitor an interview to the Kaiser. At first, the Pope was, or pretended to be, unmoved by the solicitations of Mathilde ; but, after repeated entreaties, he at last promised to see Henry, under con- dition that the latter should enter, alone and unarmed, into the outer court-yard of the Castle, there to change his imperial garments, for the
humble dress of a penitent, and so to await the final decision of the head of the church. Henry consented to all. Unaccompanied, he presented himself at the drawbridge of Canoasa, tore off his purple ; and bare- footed and bareheaded, and without any other covering than a coarse woollen shirt, be took up his post under the windows of the sovereign Pontiff. There he stood in rain and cold, for three days and threg nights, taking no nourishment but dry bread, and unceasingly implonne the successor of St. Peter to free him from the ban. It was on the morning of the fourth day only that Henry was allowed to enter the castle, and he received absolution under the condition that he would quietly return to Germany, and not again take upon himself the Im- perial dignity until after final permission had been obtained from Rome. This Henry promised with solemn oath, and then he was ordered to de- part forthwith. Such were the effects of a Papal excommunication in the eleventh century—less than eight hundred years ago. Hildebrand's immediate successors did not handle the Papal thunder with any great ability, and it was not until the beginning of the thir- teenth century that the anathema settled again successfully on the head of a crowned king. The head this time was that of John, King of Eng, land, the third of the Royal Plantagenets. King John offended the head of the church in exactly the same manner as Henry IV., and the conse- quence was a swift interdict from Pope Innocent III., in the year 1212. The decree of the Pope had no sooner been published in England, than conformably to its orders, divine service ceased in all the churches of the land, the bells were taken down, all ecclesiastical functions were sus- pended, and no one was interred in consecrated cemeteries, or with reli- gious rites. The dead were buried on the road side ; marriages were celebrated on a tomb-stone ; no festivity, banquet, nor even the eating of animal food, was allowed; nobody was permitted to salute a friend, nor to shave, nor to dress in coloured garments ; in short., the whole realm was ordered to bear the visible appearance of lying under the curse of God. Unlike the state of things in Germany a century and a half before, the clergy this time obeyed the Papal mandate. Thanks to Hildebrand's severe measures, celibacy had meanwhile become general ; the clergy were thus severed from sympathy with society ; and the ecclesiastical hierarchy was established on a firm basis, forming an iron phalanx. The Papal interdict was promulgated by the priests from one end of England to the other, in spite of King John's energetic efforts to the contrary. It was of no use that the Sheriffs were directed to mark the clergy who obey- ed the interdict, and to drive them from the kingdom ; of no use that the incomes of the dignitaries ofthe church were confiscated, their houses taken possession of, and they themselves plundered and ill-treated. Notwithstand- ing all these defensive measures, the contest was kept up on the part of the Church with ever-increasing vigour; so much so, that when, at the end of twelve months, the Pope saw John still unsubdued, though decidedly unpopular, he went to the extremest step of his assumed authority, "the major excommunication," By a new Papal bull, issued in the year 1213, King John was made over bodily to the Evil One, deposed, his life declared forfeit, and his crown given to Philip, King of France. At the same time, Innocent III. summoned all the nobility of Europe to a crusade against England, promising them rich booty, as well as a re- mission of their sins, for so glorious an undertaking. On the news of these proceedings, King John, with no great faith in the fidelity of his own troops, began to tremble ; and be invited Pandulf, the Papal Legate, over to England, to treat for peace. The King and Pandulf had an in- terview on the 13th of May, 1213. The ecclesiastic artfully increas- ing John's terror by a description of the French forces ready to invade the island. The King made solemn vow completely to submit to the Papal authority. Two days after, on the eve of Ascension, in the house of the Templars, near Dover, publicly the King took off his crown, and, laying it at Pandulf'a feet, he signed a document declaring that he yielded the kingdom of England to the Pope, for the remission of his own sins and those of his family. He further pledged himself to pay 700 marks annually to his sovereign Lord the Pope, as a quit-rent for holding England under him, and 300 more for Ireland; and, kneeling. down at the feet of Pandulf, he took the oath of homage to Innocent III. and his successors, in the form required from subjects. The Papal Legate conducted himself with all the insolence of a mean and successful conqueror. He trampled under his feet, as in imperial disdain, the money which John gave him as pledge of his submission, and kept the crown of England full five days from the trembling King. He then re- turned to France, laden with a far larger amount of coin than he had trampled on. Pandulf had a second victory for the Papacy in France. He ordered King Philip to abstain from any attacks upon a kingdom which had now become a part of-St. Peter's patrimony. Philip was naturally much provoked at finding that when he was invited to conquer and take possession of the crown of England, it was only intended that he should be used as a tool for terrifying King John into submission to the Pope ; and he strongly protested against thus losing 60,0007., which he had been tempted to expend in hiring and fitting out ships, and collect- ing victuals and arms. But his protests were answered only by a menacing attitude of Pandulf, and a hint that the terrors of the Papal interdict might descend on his own head no less than on that of John. Whereupon, King Philip was quiet instantly. Philip of France, it ap- pears, knew his time better than either Henry of Germany or iohn of England, and preferred bending to breaking before the thunderbolts from the Vatican.
For generations afterwards, the Kings of Europe, like Philip, bent their heads into the dust before the successors of Hildebrand and Inno- cent III., trembling lesa to confront the mightiest of armies, than a Papal bull of excommunication. Gradually, however, in the course of ages, the mysterious force expended itself, vanishing eilently from the hands which held it, unknown almost to its possessors. This last fact is one of the most curious phenomena in the whole history of the Papacy. As we may see from present events, the heads of the Catholic Church continue firm to their belief in the efficacy of the great weapon of ex- communication, and continue to use it with great earnestness, in spite of the incredulous smile of nearly the whole of civilized Europe. So it is now, and so it was fifty ypars ago, when the last direct and nominal Ban was fulminated from the precincts of the Vatican at the head of a reign- ing sovereign. This latter episode is a very instructive one at the ac- tual moment, when a partial repetition of it seems to be on the point of preparation.
It is well known that, in the course of his Italian wars, Napoleon I. entered into occupation of the Pontifical States, intending at first to form with them an Italian confederacy, under the protectorate of France. and finding this impracticable, incorporating them with the Empire. The decree of annexation had no sooner been published, when Pio VII. NI suddenly into an ungovernable rage, and declared his intention of
excommunicating the Emperor. It was represented to him in the Sacred College, that this measure would have little or no effect in the state of things then existing, but that of making its author ridiculous in the eves of the world ; but the Pope, his mind evidently still full of Gregory VII. and Innocent III., insisted on executing his design ; and, accordingly the French Emperor was solemnly excommunicated, by a bull, dated June 10, 1809. The immediate consequence was what all, except his Holiness himself, might reasonably have imagined; a General of Gen- darmerie, Baron Rade; got orders from Napoleon to take Pio VII., "the troublesome old man," away from Rome ; and the command was executed in the easiest and quietest manner, without the world's seeming to care in the least for either Pope or Popedom. The whole affair, indeed, was finished in a very droll and not over poetical way, as we learn from the autobiographical memoirs of Cardinal Pacea, the Antonelli of the period, who shared his master's fate. On the morning of the day appointed for the "removal," the 6th of July, 1809, General Radet, with a detach- ment of fifty men, entered the Quirinal Palace, and threading his way through its intricate passages, set foot at last in the throne- room where Pie VII., expecting the arrival of the troops, was sitting in grand pontifical habits, surrounded by all his Cardi- nals. His Holiness evidently intended to make the affair a stu- pendous drama ; but General Radet thought otherwise ; and, Frenchman- like, was rather inclined for a comedy. Without being allowed to make any long speech, Pio VII. was positively but firmly invited to step down stairs, in company with Cardinal Paces, his Prime Minister, and to enter a carriage ready for him. The carriage was of a kind called bastarda, a low and not very showy vehicle ; and the Pope and Cardinal having got into it, "both doors were fastened with lock and key by a gendarme, and two more having mounted in front of the dickey, the order to drive off was given." We take the passage textually from the Cardinal's Me- moirs, as well as the following. " The Pope, a few minutes afterwards, asked me whether I had with me any money, to which I replied- ' Your Holiness saw that I was arrested in your own apartments, so that I have had no opportunity of providing myself' We then both of us drew forth our purses, and, notwithstanding the state of affliction we were in at being thus torn away from Rome and all that was dear to us, we could hardly compose our countenances on finding the contents of each purse to consist, that of the Pope of one papetto, that of mine three grossi." Sum total, in British coin, one shilling and fivepence- halfpenny !
Thus ended the last great excommunication of which history gives ac- count. The last, in good truth; for the recent much talked-of Bull from Rome is properly considered no interdict at all, as it execrates everybody in general, and nobody in particular. Its sole merit consists in finally concluding in a historical point of view, the history of excom- munications. Pio VII., having been locked up in a bastards, and Pio IX. still worse, having been left quite alone, at the mercy of the Monde (ci- devant Univers), it is scarcely possible now that there should be found another Pope ambitious enough to repeat the experiment of fulminating ecclesiastical curses, under the dead certainty of their proving, as the law would express it, "Damnum absque lu] une."
Moreover, it would appear to be technically defective. The Paris cor- respondent of the Globe, a man as learned and acute as he is warm in his sympathies with all liberal progress, has been recognized by our Par- liament as an authority in such subjects, and he pounces upon a very curious point of law ecclesiastic brought to light by congenial spirits in Italy :— " Tile doctors of canon law at the various universities in the Italic king- dom have subjected the anonymous broadaheet posted at Rome by the apos- tolic Cursor or Cursitor to technical scrutiny, and pronounce it invalid ab initio, and of no effect in foro interno for flagrant contradiction with pre- existing bulls, which annul it by anticipation. Here is the ' case and opinion' as returned by the faculty :- " Boniface VIII., in the thirteenth century, granted Count Amedeua V. of Savoy the privilege that no Pontifical delegate or sub-delegate, even al- though invested with full powers by the Holy See, should ever promulgate any sentence of excommunication against him, without a special mandate from the Holy See. Pope Julius II. confirmed this privilege in favour of Duke Charles III. Leo X., by a brief dated 6th of June, 1515, confirmed these privileges to all the princes of the house of Savoy. In 1529, Charles III. obtained from Pope Clement VII. a brief securing then; with important clauses of inviolability. In this brief; bearing the date of the 13th of Fe- bruary, it is declared that not even the Holy See shall have the power, by any. bull, to derogate from the said privilege, unless the brief in question be in word for word in the soul bull, and this for an urgent and suffi- cient reason therein expressed; and, moreover, this Pontifical derogation must be intimated to the reigning Prince of Savoy at three distinct times, and by three distinct bulls; and that the derogations otherwise effected shall have no force or importance, so that the reigning house and its sub- jects need not eonsider them valid, but may firmly resist them, without in- curring any censure for such resistance, &c. From all which it appears that the apostolical letter of the 20th of March, 1860, has no effect whatever in any province of the state, and may therefore be lawfully resisted.' "