Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/723

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which were resolutely maintained in spite of repeated papal condemnation. Thus not only did the Church inspire there less awe than elsewhere in Europe, but throughout the Middle Ages there had been special causes of antagonism actively at work.

If Italy had suffered bitterly from the Tedeschi, Germany had no less reason to hate the papacy. The fatal curse of the so-called Holy Roman Empire hung over both lands. It gave the Emperor a valid right to the suzerainty of the peninsula; it gave the papacy a traditional claim to confirm at its discretion the election of an Emperor. Conflicting and incompatible pretensions rendered impossible a permanent truce between the representatives of Charlemagne and St Peter. Since the age of Gregory VII the consistent policy of Rome had been to cripple the Empire by fomenting internal dissension and rendering impossible the evolution of a strong and centralised government, such as elsewhere in Europe was gradually overcoming the centrifugal forces of feudalism. This policy had been successful and Germany had become a mere geographical expression—a congeries of sovereign princes, petty and great, owning allegiance to an Emperor whose dignity was scarce more than a primacy of honour and whose actual power was to be measured by that of his ancestral territories. The result of this was that Germany lay exposed defenceless to the rapacity and oppression of the Roman Curia. Its multitudinous sovereigns had vindicated their independence at the cost of depriving themselves of the strength to be derived from centralised union. Germany was the ordinary resource of a Pope in financial straits, through the exaction of a tithe, the raising of the annates, or the issue in unstinted volume of the treasure of the merits of Christ in the form of an unremitting stream of indulgences which sucked up as with a sponge the savings of the people. Nor could any steady opposition be offered to the absorption of the ecclesiastical patronage by the Curia, through which benefices were sold or bestowed on the cardinals or their creatures, and no limits could be set on appeals to the Holy See which enlarged its jurisdiction and impoverished pleaders by involving them in interminable and ruinous litigation in the venal Roman Courts.

It was in vain that in 1438 the Roman King Albert II endeavoured to emulate Charles VII of France by proclaiming a Pragmatic Sanction defining the limits of papal authority. He died the next year and was followed by the feeble Frederick III, during whose long reign of fifty-three years the imperial authority was reduced to a shadow. It was probably to procure a promise of papal coronation that, in 1448, he agreed to a Concordat under which the reservation of benefices to the Pope, as made by John XXII and Benedict XII, was assured; the election of bishops was subjected to papal confirmation with the privilege of substituting a better candidate by advice of the Sacred College; canonries and other benefices falling vacant during the six uneven