Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages/Book IV/Letter of John of Salisbury concerning the Council of Pavia

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(b.) Letter of John of Salisbury concerning the Council of Pavia. June, 1160.

To his master and dearest friend Randolf de Serres, John of Salisbury sends greeting and whatever there is better than that. I do not doubt thee to be a sharer, my beloved, in our difficulties; for the cause which troubles us is not different or dissimilar, although it affects us differently and dissimilarly. For we, from near by, receive in our hands the arrows of raging fortune, and always before our eyes there is matter for continual labour and grief and sorrow. Our bitter lot gives us no time or place for happiness or rest, hardly is even a faint hope of solace left to us. And that is from God; for now, indeed, we despair of human help. Want of means, indeed, oppresses me on account of weight of debt and of the importunity of my creditors; but grief obliterates this care, and the inroad of a stronger and a public fear swallows up all that is private. Thou thyself dost feel also what I feel; what I say, thou dost, I think, say to thyself in continual meditation; and, with circumspect mind thou dost anticipate the sad word which I am about to speak. For thou also, unless thou dost put off thyself, art with viligant and continual care occupied with our labours and griefs, inasmuch as thou art troubled with the misfortune of our common master. For whilst thou dost look upon the disasters of the universal church from whose breasts we are nourished, dost weigh the matter, dost measure the dangers,—the meditation adds grief to grief, grief such as thou canst not bear. Nevertheless in all this thou hast been more gently treated than I. for thou having obtained the lot of a more independent condition, art not compelled to be present and to weep at every breath and at every hour, and at every complaint of a desolate family; nor dost thou by any means fear that there is hanging over thee either exile or the necessity of committing some infamous crime. For thou (lost live under a prince who is thought of with joy and benediction.[1] We, however, fear beyond measure lest the German emperor circumvent and subvert with his wiles the serenity of our prince.[2] It seems to me to make very little difference whom the presumption of the little Pavian convention supports, unless that the election of Alexander, if any one doubted of it, is confirmed by the very testimony of the opposing party. To pass over the rashness of one who has presumed to

judge the Roman church which is reserved for the judgment of God alone, and who, when he ought to have been excommunicated—as the disgraceful treatment of the cardinals at Vesançon shows—cited through a peremptory edict before his judgment seat two men, and, having already made up his mind as to the sentence, greeted one with the name of his old office and dignity, the other with the appellation of Roman pontiff, revealing to the senators and people his secret inclination: whatever has been done at Pavia is found to be contrary, as well to common fairness, as to the lawful constitutions and sanctions of the fathers. Of course the absent were condemned, and in a case which was not investigated, nay, which had no right to be investigated there, or in that way, or by such men, — impudently and imprudently and iniquitously, a sentence was hurriedly given.

But perhaps one ought to say "those who absented themselves," rather than "the absent." Surely so, for those men ignore or pretend to ignore the privilege of the holy Roman church. Who has subjected the universal church to the judgment of a single church? Who has constituted the Germans judges of the nations? Who has conferred authority on these brutal and impetuous men of electing at their will a prince over the sons of men? And, indeed, their fury has often attempted this, but, God bringing it about, it has often had to blush, prostrate and confused, over its iniquity. But I know what this German is attempting. For I was at Rome, under the rule of the blessed Eugenius, when, in the first embassy sent at the beginning of his reign, his intolerable pride and incautious tongue displayed such daring impudence. For he promised that he would reform the rule of the whole world, and subject the world to Rome, and, sure of success, would conquer all things,— if only the favour of the Roman pontiff would aid him in this. And this he did in order that against whomever he, the emperor, declaring war, should draw the material sword,—against the same the Roman pontiff should draw the spiritual sword. He did not find any one hitherto who would consent to such iniquity, and, Moses himself opposing—i.e. the law of God contradicting—he raised up for himself a Balaamitic pontiff, through whom he might curse the people of God; the son of malediction (Antichrist), therefore, for the designation and reception of whom, through many generations, from the first father of the family down to him for whom it was reserved, the name and cognomen of "accursed" has been invented. And perhaps, for the purging and proliation of the Roman church, the attack of the Germans, like that of the Canaanite, has been left to hang over it forever, — in order that for her own improvement he should make her uneasy, himself being conquered and giving way; and that she herself, after her triumph, should be restored more pleasing and more glorious to the embraces of her Spouse. And so to the renown of the fathers,—witness the Lateran palace where even lay men read this in visible pictures—to the renown of the fathers, the schismatics whom the secular power thrusts in are given to the pontiffs as a foot stool, and posterity looks back with triumph to their memory. . . . . . . . . . .


  1. Louis VII. of France.
  2. Henry II. of England.