It was in a population subject to such tempests of emotion, and groping thus blindly for something higher and better than the hopeless degradation around them, that the Mendicant Orders came to gather to themselves the potential religious exaltation of the time. That they should develop with unexampled rapidity was inevitable.
Everything favored them. The papal court early recognized in them an instrument more efficient than had yet been devised to bring the power of the Holy See to bear directly upon the Church and the people in every corner of Christendom ; to break down the independence of the local prelates; to combat the temporal enemies of the papacy, and to lead the people into direct relations with the successor of St. Peter. Privileges and exemptions of all kinds were showered upon them, until, by a series of bulls issued, between 1240 and 1244, by Gregory IX. and Innocent IV., they were rendered completely independent of the regular ecclesiastical organization. A time-honored rule of the Church required that any excommunication or anathema could only be removed by him "who had pronounced it, but this was revolutionized in their favor. Not only were the bishops required to give absolution to any Dominican or Franciscan who should apply for it, except in cases of such enormity that the Holy See alone could act, but the Mendicant priors and ministers were authorized to absolve their friars from any censures inflicted on them. These extraordinary measures removed them entirely from the regular jurisdiction of the establishment ; the members of each Order became responsible only to their own superiors, and in their all-pervading activity throughout Europe they could secretly undermine the power and influence of the local hierarchy, and replace it with that of Rome, which they so directly represented. This independent position, however, had only been reached by degrees. Papal briefs of 1229 and 1234, enjoining them to show proper respect and obedience to the bishops, and empowering the bishops to condemn any friars who abuse their privileges of preaching for purposes of gain, show that complaints of their aggressions had commenced thus early, and that Rome was not yet prepared to render them independent of the hierarchy ; but when the policy had once been adopted it was carried to its fullest development, and the cycle of legislation was completed by Boniface VIII., in 1295 and 1296, by a series of