An Account of some Canons in divers Ages of the Church relating to the Duties and Labours of the Clergy.
I Will go no further, in gathering Quotations to show the sense that the Fathers had in these matters: these are both so full and so express, that I can find none more plain and more forcible. I shall to these add some of the Canons that have been made both in the best and in the worst Ages of the Church, obliging Bishops and other Clerks to Residence and to be contented with one Cure. In that at Sardica that met in the Year 347 consisting of above 350 Bishops two Canons were made, (the 11th and the 12th) against Bishops who without any urgent necessity, or pressing business, should be absent from their Church above three weeks, and thereby grieve the Flock, that was committed to their care: And even this provision was made because Bishops had Estates lying out of their Dioceses; therefore they were allowed to go and look after them, for three weeks, in which time they were to perform the divine function in the Churches to which those Estates belonged.
Many provisions were also made against such as went to Court, unless they were called by the Emperors, or went by a Deputation from the Church upon a public account. There is not any one thing more frequently provided against, than that any of the Clergy should leave their Church, and go to any other Church, or live any where else without the Bishops leave and consent: nor is there any thing clearer from all the Canons of the first Ages, than that they considered the Clergy of every Church as a body of men dedicated to its service, that lived upon the Oblations of the Faithful, and that was to labour in the several parts of the Ecclesiastical Ministry, as they should be ordered by the Bishop.
In the 4th General Council at Chalcedon Pluralities, do first appear: for they are mentioned and condemned in the 10th Canon, which runs thus, No Clerk shall at the same time belong to two Churches; to wit, to that in which he was first ordained, and that to which as being the greater, he has gone, out of a desire of vain glory; for such as do so, ought to be sent back to that Church in which they were at first ordained, and to serve there only; but if any has been translated from one Church to another, he shall receive nothing out of his former Church; nor out of any Chapel or Alms-house belonging to it: and such as shall transgress this definition of this General Council are condemned by it, to be degraded. I go next to a worse Scene of the Church to see what provisions were made in this matter about the 8th Century, both in the East and in the West: The worse that those Ages and Councils were, it makes the Argument the stronger, since even bad men in bad times, could not justify or suffer such an abuse.
In the year 787 the Second Council of Nice was held that settled the worship of Images. The 15 Canon of it runs thus. No Clerk shall from henceforth be reckoned in two Churches, (for every Church had a Catalogue of its Clergy, by which the dividends were made) for this is the Character of Trafficking, and Covetousness, and wholly estranged from the Ecclesiastical Custom. We have heard from our Saviour's own words, that no man can serve two Masters: for he will either hate the one or love the other, or cleave to the one and despise the other: Let every one therefore according to the Apostles words, continue in the Vocation in which he is called, and serve in one Church: For those things which filthy Lucre has brought into Church matters are contrary to God. There is a variety of Employments, for acquiring the necessary supplies of this life: Let every one that pleases, make use of these, for furnishing himself: For the Apostle says these hands Ministered to my necessities, and to those that were with me. This shall be the rule in this Town, which is guarded by God, but in remote Villages an Indulgence may be granted by reason of the want of men.
It is upon this that the Canonists do found the first of the two reasons, for which only they allow that a Dispensation for holding two Benefices may be lawful, one is, the want of fit and sufficient men for the service of the Church. The foundation of the other will be found in the Canon, which I shall next set down.
It is the 49th Canon of the sixth Council at Paris, under Lewis the Good, in the Year 829. this Council came after a great many, that had been held by Charles the Great, and his Son for purging out abuses, and for restraining the Primitive Discipline. These Councils sat at Frankfort, Ments, Aken, Rheims, Chalons, Tours, Arles, and this of Paris was the last that was held upon that design. In these, all the Primitive Canons relating to the Lives and Labours, and the government of the Clergy, were renewed. Among others is that of Chalcedon formerly mentioned: but it seems there was no occasion given to make a special one against Pluralities, before this held at Paris, which consisted of four Provinces of France, Rheims, Sens, Tours, and Rouen. The Canon runs thus: As it becomes every City to have its proper Bishop; so it is also becoming and necessary that every Church dedicated to God, should have, its proper Priest. Yet Covetousness which is Idolatry (of which we are much ashamed) has so got hold of some Priests and caught them captives in its Fetters, that they, blinded with it, know neither whither they go nor what they ought to be or do; so that they being kindled with the fire of Covetousness, and forgetful of the Priestly Dignity, neglecting the care of those Churches, to which they were promoted, do by some presents given or promised, procure other Churches not only from Clerks, but from Lay-men, in which they do against Law undertake to perform the Ministry of Christ. It is not known whether their Bishops are consulted in this matter, or not; if they are, without doubt their Bishops become partakers of their sin: but if they presume to do it without consulting them, yet it is to be imputed to the Bishops negligence. There is scarce a Priest to be found who warreth worthily, and diligently in that Church in which he is dedicated, to the Divine Service: but how much less will he be able to do that worthily in two, three or more Churches? This practice brings a reproach on the Christian Religion, and a confusion on the Priestly Order. The Covetousness of the Clergy is censured by their people; the worship of God is not performed in places consecrated to him; and as was observed in the former Chapters, the Souls of the people are thereby much endangered· Wherefore we do all unanimously appoint, that no Bishop suffer this to be done in his Parish (or Diocese, these words being used promiscuously) any more, and we Decree, that every Church that has a Congregation belonging to it, and has means by which it may subsist, shall have its proper Priest: for if it has a Congregation but has not Means by which it may subsist, that matter is left to the Bishop, to consider whether it can or ought to be supported or not. But it is specially recommended to their care to see that under this pretence, no Priest may out of Covetousness hold two or three Churches, in which he cannot serve, nor perform the worship of God. The last provisions in this Canon are the grounds upon which the Canonists found the second just cause of dispensing with Pluralities, which is when a Church is so poor, that the Profits which arise out of it cannot afford a competent maintenance to a Clark: but then the question arises what is a Competent Maintenance: this, they do all bring very low, to that which can just maintain him: and they have so clogged it, that no pretence should be given by so general a word, to Covetousness, Voluptuousness, or Ambition. And indeed while we have so many poor Churches among us, instead of restraining such Pluralities, it were rather to be wished that it were made easier than by Law it is at present; either to unite them together, or to make one man capable of serving two Churches, when both Benefices make but a tolerable subsistence, rather than to be forced to have a greater number of Clerks, than can be decently maintained; since it is certain, that it is more for the Interest of Religion and for the good of Souls, to have one worthy man serving two Churches, and dividing himself between them; than to have Clerks for many Benefices, whose scandalous provisions, make too many scandalous incumbents, which is one of the greatest Diseases and Miseries of this Church.
But a due care in this matter has no relation to the accumulation of Livings, at great distances, (every one of which can well support an Incumbent) upon the same Person merely for the making of a Family, for the supporting of Luxury or Vanity, or for other base and Covetous designs. But I go next to two of the worst Councils that ever carried the name of General ones, the third and the fourth of the Lateran that we may see what was the sense of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century in this matter; notwithstanding the Corruption of those Ages. The Thirteenth Canon of the Third Lateran Council, runs thus.
Forasmuch, as some whose Covetousness has no bounds, endeavour to procure to themselves divers Ecclesiastical Dignities, and several Parish Churches, against the Provisions of the Holy Canons; by which means, though they are scarce able to perform the Office of one, they do claim the Provisions due to many: We do severely require, that this may not be done for the future: And therefore, when any Church or Ecclesiastical Ministry is to be given, let such a one be sought out for it, as shall reside upon the place, and shall be able to discharge the Care in his own Person: If otherwise, he who receives any such benefice, contrary to the Canons, shall lose it, and he who gave it shall likewise lose his right of Patronage.
This Canon not being found effectual to cure so great an abuse. The Twenty Ninth Canon of the Fourth Council in the Lateran, was penned in these Words.
It was with great Care forbidden in the Council of the Lateran, that any one should have divers Ecclesiastical Dignities, and more Parish Churches than one, which is contrary to the Holy Canons. Otherwise, he that took them should lose them, and he that gave them should lose the right of giving them: But by reason of some men's Presumption and Covetousness, that Decree has had little or no effect hitherto; we therefore desiring to make a more evident and express Provision against these abuses, do appoint that whosoever shall receive any Benefice, to which a Care of Souls is annexed, shall thereupon by Law be deprived of any other such Benefice, that he formerly had; and if he endeavours still to hold it, he shall lose the other likewise; and he to whom the right of the Patronage of his first Benefice did belong, is empowered to bestow it upon his accepting another; and if he delays the bestowing it, above Three months, not only shall his right devolve to another, according to the Decree of the Council in the Lateran, but he shall be obliged to restore to the Church, to which the Benefice belongs, all that which he himself received during the vacancy. This we do likewise Decree as to Personages; and do further appoint that no Man shall presume to hold more Dignities or Parsonages than one in the same Church, even though they have no Cure of Souls annexed to them. Provided always that Dispensations may be granted by the Apostolical See, to Persons of high Birth, or eminently learned (sublimes & literatas personas) or dignified in Universities, for so the word literati was understood, who upon occasion may be honoured, with greater Benefices.
It was by this last Proviso, that this as well as all other Canons, made against these Abuses became quite ineffectual; for this had no other effect, but the obliging People to go to Rome for Dispensations; so that this Canon instead of reforming the Abuse, did really establish it, for the Qualifications here mentioned were so far stretched, that any Person that had obtained a Degree in any University, came within the Character of lettered or learned, and all those that were in any dependence upon great Men, came likewise within the other Qualification of high Rank and Birth.
This was the Practice among us, during the Reign of Henry the 8th. and he when he was beginning to threaten the See of Rome, in the matter of his Divorce, got that Act to be passed, which has been the occasion of so much Scandal and Disorder in this Church. It seems to one that considers it well, that the Clauses which qualify Pluralities were grafted upon another Bill against Spiritual Persons taking Estates to Farm, with which that Act begins: And that in the carrying that on, such a temper showed it self, that the other was added to it. It contained indeed a Limitation of the Papal Authority, but so many Provisions were made, that the Nobility, Clergy, and the more eminent of the Gentry, Knights in particular, were so taken Care of, that it could meet with no great Opposition in the Parliament; but from the state of that Time, and from several Clauses in the Act it self, it appears, it was only intended to be a Provisional Act; though it is conceived in the Style of a perpetual Law. By it then, and by it only (for I have not been able to find that any such Act ever passed in any Kingdom or State in Christendom, many having been made plainly to the contrary in France, declaring the Obligation to Residence to be of Divine Right) were the Abuses, that had arisen out of the Canon of one of the worst Councils that ever was, authorized and settled among us; as far as a Law of the Land can settle them. But after all, it is to be considered that a Law does indeed change the Legal and Political Nature of things, it gives a Title to a Free-hold and Property: But no Humane Law can change the Moral or Divine Laws, and cancel their Authority. If a false Religion is settled by Law, it becomes indeed the legal Religion; but is not a whit the truer for that. And therefore, if the Laws of the Gospel oblige Clerks to Personal Labour, as was formerly made out; An Act of Parliament may indeed qualify a Man, in Law, to enjoy the Benefice, whether he labours in it or not, but it can never dissolve his Obligation to Residence and Personal Labour.
But to bring this Chapter to an end, I shall only add Three Decrees that were made by the Council of Trent, in this matter, that so it may appear what Provisions they made against Abuses, which are still supported by Laws among us: A part of the 1st: Chap. of Reformation that past in the Sixth Session, runs thus:
This Synod admonishes all that are set over any Cathedral Churches, by what Title soever, that they taking heed to themselves, and to all the Flock, over which the Holy Ghost has set them, to Govern the Church of God, which he has purchased with his own Blood, do watch and labour and fulfil their Ministry, as the Apostle has commanded: And they must know that they cannot do this, if as Hirelings they forsake the Flock committed to them, and do not watch over those Sheep, whose Blood will be required at their Hands, in the last Day. Since it is certain that no excuse will be received, if the Wolfe devours the Sheep, when the Shepherd does not look after them. Yet since to our great Grief it is found, that some at this time neglect the Salvation of their own Souls, and preferring Earthy things to Heavenly, are still about Courts, and forsaking the Fold, and the Care of the Sheep trusted to them, do give themselves wholly to Earthly and Temporal Cares; therefore all the Ancient Canons, which by the Iniquity of Times, and the Corruptions of Men were fallen into desuetude, are renewed against Non-residents.
To which, several compulsory Clauses are added, which are indeed slight ones, because the Execution of them was entirely put in the Pope's Power, and the Punishment did only lie, if a Bishop was absent Six Months in a Year.
This Decree did not satisfy those who moved for a Reformation; so a fuller one was made in the 23d Session, 1st Chap. in these Words:
Whereas, by the Law of God, all those to whom the Care of Souls is committed, are commanded to know their Sheep, to offer Sacrifice for them, to feed them by the Preaching of the Word of God, the Administration of the Sacraments, and by the Example of a good Life, to have a tender Care of the poor, and all other miserable Persons, and to lay themselves out upon all the other Functions of the Pastoral Care; which cannot be performed by those, who do not watch over, nor are present with their Flock: Therefore this Synod does admonish and exhort them, that they remembering the Divine Precepts, and being made an Example to their Flock, may feed and govern them in Righteousness and Truth. Upon this they declare that all Bishops, even Cardinals themselves, are obliged to Personal Residence, in their Church and Diocese, and there to discharge their Duty: Unless upon some special Provisions.
By which indeed a Door is opened to as many Corruptions as the Court of Rome thinks fit to dispense with. Yet without this, none may be absent above two, or at most, three Months, in the whole Year; and even that must be upon a just reason, and without any prejudice to the Flock; and they leave this upon the Consciences of such as withdraw for so long a time, which they hope will be Religious and Tender in this matter, since all Hearts are known to God, and it is no small Sin to do his Work negligently.
They declare the breaking this Decree to be a Mortal Sin, and that such as are guilty of it, cannot with a good Conscience enjoy the mean Profits, during such their Absence; but are bound to lay them out on the Fabric, or give them to the Poor: and all these Provisions and Punishments, they do also make against the inferior Clergy, that enjoyed any Benefice, to which the Cure of Souls was annexed, and the execution of that, is put in the Bishop's Hands, who is required not to dispense with their Residence, unless upon a very weighty occasion, above two Months; and in this they give the Bishop so full an Authority, that no Appeal or Prohibition was to lie against his Sentence, upon non-Residents, even in the Court of Rome. In these Decrees, though the Papal Party hindered a formal Declaration of the Obligation to Residence, by Divine Right, that so room might still be left for the Dispensing Power; yet they went very near it, they applied Passages of Scripture to it, and laid the charge of mortal Sin upon it.
In the last place, I shall set down the Decree that was made in the 24th Session, Chap. 17 against Pluralities, in these Words:
Whereas the Ecclesiastical Order is perverted, when one Clerk has the Offices of many committed to him, it was therefore well provided by the Holy Canons, that no Man should be put in two Churches. But many led by their depraved Covetousness, deceiving themselves, but not God, are not ashamed to elude those good Constitutions, by several Artifices, and obtain more Benefices than one at the same time: Therefore the Synod being desirous to restore a proper Discipline for the Government of Churches, does, by this Decree, by which all Persons, of what Rank soever, even Cardinals themselves, shall be bound; appoint, that for the future, one Man shall be capable of receiving only one Ecclesiastical Benefice. But if that is not sufficient for the decent maintenance of him that has it, then it shall be lawful to give him another simple Benefice, provided that both Benefices do not require Personal Residence. This Rule must be applied not only to Cathedrals, but to all other Benefices whether Secular, Regular, or such as are held by Commendam, or of what sort or order soever they may be. And as for such as do at present possess either more Parish-Churches than one, or one Cathedral, and another Parish-Church, they shall be forced notwithstanding of any Dispensations or Unions that may have been granted them, for term of Life, to resign within the space of Six Months, all that they do now hold, except one Cathedral, or one Parochial Church; otherwise, all their Benefices, whether Parochial, or others, shall be by Law esteemed void; and as such they shall be disposed of to others. Nor may those who formerly enjoyed them, receive the mean Profits, after the term of Six Months, with a good Conscience. But the Synod wishes that some due Provision might be made, such as the Pope shall think fit, for the necessities of those who are hereby obliged to Resign.
These were the decrees that were made by that pretended general Council: And wheresoever that Council is received, they are so seldom dispensed with, that the Scandal of Non-Residence, or Plurality, does no more cry in that Church. In France, though that Council is not there received, yet such regard is had to Primitive Rules, that it is not heard of among them. Such Examples are to us Reproaches indeed: And that of the worst sort, when the Argument from the neglect of the Pastoral Care, which gave so great an Advantage at first to the Reformers, and turned the Hearts of the World so much from their Careless Pastors to those who showed more Zeal and Concern for them, is now against us, and lies the other way. If the Nature of Man is so made, that it is not possible, but that Offences must come, yet, woe be to him, by whom they come.