Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/256

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clans and districts massing into nations, semi-independent jurisdictions merging themselves into a single dominant Power. The necessity and the salutary effect of this evolution are proved by the happier fortune of the nations which conformed to it. England, France, Spain, the Scandinavian North, and after a while Russia, became great Powers. Where the movement towards coherence was but partial, as in Germany, the nation remained feeble and distracted; where it proved mainly abortive, as in Italy, the country fell under the sway of the foreigner.

In one important portion of Italy, the impulse towards unity was practically effective, and produced results extending far beyond the narrow stage to which it was in appearance confined. The growth of the Temporal Power of the Papacy is as much a phase of the general tendency towards coalescence which we have described as is the beating down of the feudal aristocracy in England, or the consolidation of France under Louis XL The conduct of the Popes in incorporating petty independent or semi-independent principalities with the patrimony of St Peter did not materially differ from the line of action adopted by Louis or Henry towards their over-powerful vassals. In all these cases the sovereign was urged on by the spirit and necessities of his age, and contended with the influences that made for disintegration, as in former times he might have contended with the Saracens. There was indeed nothing of the spirit of the crusader in him; and yet, unconsciously, he was leading a crusade against a state of things salutary in its day, but which, at the stage to which the world had progressed, would have fettered the development of Europe. In the case of the Popes, however, one obvious consideration compels us to consider their policy and its consequences from a point of view elsewhere inapplicable. They were spiritual as well as secular sovereigns. Their actions were never confined to a merely political sphere, and could not fail to produce the most important effects upon the greatest spiritual institution the world has ever seen,—an institution which at one time had seemed to pervade the entire social as well as religious fabric of the Middle Ages, and to concentrate every civilising influence within itself.

One distinction between the consolidating activity of a merely temporal sovereign and that of a Pope, though obvious, must not be left without notice, since it accounts in a measure for the special obloquy which the Popes have incurred for obeying the general instinct of their time. The monarch was exempt from all suspicion of nepotism, the interests of his heir were inseparable from the interests of the State. Granted that the former were in fact the more influential with him, the circumstance was really immaterial: he could neither work for himself without working for his successor, nor work for his successor without working for himself. The Pope, on the other hand, as an elected monarch, could not have a legitimate heir, while he was by no means precluded from having nephews or still nearer relatives whose interests