Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/704

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their filthy living were the cause of the bitterest and most indignant complaints.

Even more demoralising were the revenues derived from the sale of countless dispensations for marriage within the prohibited degrees, for the holding of pluralities, for the numerous kinds of “irregularities” and other breaches of the canon law; so that its prescriptions might almost seem to have been framed for the purpose of enabling the Holy See to profit by their violation. Not less destructive to morals were the absolutions, which amounted to a sale of pardons for sin of every description, as though the Decalogue had been enacted for this very purpose. There was also a thriving business done in the composition for unjust gains, whereby fraudulent traders, usurers, robbers, and other malefactors, on paying to the Church a portion of their illegal acquisitions, were released from the obligation of making restitution. In every way the power of the keys and the treasure of the merits of Christ were exploited, without any regard for moral consequences.

Deplorable as was this effacement of the standards of right and wrong, all these were at least voluntary payments which perhaps rather predisposed the thoughtless in favour of the Church who so benignantly exercised her powers to relieve the weakness of human nature. It was otherwise however with the traffic in benefices and expectatives which filled the parishes and chapters with unworthy incumbents, not only neglectful of their sacred duties but seeking to recoup themselves for their expenditure by exactions from their subjects. A standing grievance was the exaction of the annates, which, since their regulation by Boniface IX and the fruitless effort of the Council of Basel to abolish them, continued to be the source of bitter complaint. They consisted of a portion, usually computed at one-half, of the estimated revenue of a benefice, worth twenty-five florins or more, collected on every change of incumbents. Thus the archbishopric of Rouen was taxed at 12,000 florins and the little see of Grenoble at 300; the great abbacy of Saint Denis at 6000 and the little Saint Cyprien of Poitiers at 33, while all parish cures in France were rated uniformly at 24 ducats, equivalent to about 30 florins. As though these burdens were not enough, pensions on benefices and religious houses were lavishly granted to the favourites of Popes and Cardinals; for the Pope was master of all Church property and was limited in its distribution by nothing but his own discretion. Thus the people on whom these burdens ultimately fell were taught to hate the clergy as the clergy hated the Holy See. Of all its oppressions, however, that which excited the fiercest clerical antagonism was the power which it exercised of demanding a tithe of all ecclesiastical revenues whenever money was needed, under the pretext, generally, of carrying on the war with the infidel. As early as 1240, Gregory IX called for a twentieth to aid him in his struggle with Frederick II, and his legate at the Council of Senlis forced the French Bishops to give their assent; but St Louis interposed