canon law was full of admirable precepts respecting the virtues and qualifications requisite for incumbents, but in practice they were a dead letter. Alexander III. was moved to indignation when he learned that the Bishop of Coventry was in the habit of giving churches to boys under ten years of age, but he could only order that the cures should be intrusted to competent vicars until the nominees reached a proper age, and this age he himself fixed at fourteen ; while other popes charitably reduced to seven the minimum age for holding simple benefices or prebends. No effectual check for abuses of patronage, of course, could be expected of Rome, when the curia itself was the most eager recipient of benefit from the wrong. Its army of pimps and parasites was ever on the watch to obtain fat preferments in all the lands of Europe, and the popes were constantly writing to bishops and chapters demanding places for their friends.
That pluralities, with all their attendant evils and abuses, should be habitual under such a system follows as a matter of course. In vain reforming popes and councils issued constitutions prohibiting them ; in vain indignant moralists inveighed against the scandals and injuries which they occasioned, the ruin of the temporalities, the sacrifice of souls, and the general contempt excited for the Church. Forbidden by the canon law, like all other abuses they were a source of profit to the Roman curia, which was always ready to issue dispensations when the holders of pluralities found themselves likely to be disturbed in their sin ; or they could be used for purposes of statecraft, as when Innocent IV., in 1246, by skilful use of such dispensations broke up the menacing combination of the nobles of France. In fact, learned doctors of theology were found to defend the lawfulness of the abuse, as was done in a public disputation about the year 1238 by Master Philip, Chancellor of the University of Paris, who was a notorious pluralist himself. His fate, however, was a solemn warning to others. On his death-bed his friend, William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris,
- S. Bernard. Epistt. 271, 274, 276.— Can. 2, 3, Extra Lib. i. Tit. xiii.— Thomas-sin, Discip. de Église. P. iv. Lib. ii. cap. 38. — Gaufridi Vosiensis Chron. ann. 1181. — Concil. Turon. ann. 1231. c. 16. — Concil. Lugdun. ann. 1274 c. 12. — P. Cantor. Verb, abbrev. cap. 55, 60, 61.— Innocent. PP. IIL Regest. xi. 142.— Even a pontiff such as Innocent III. was not above intruding his dependants upon the churches everywhere. His registers are full of such missives.