Of Presentations to Benefices, and Simony
I do not intend to treat of this Matter, as it is a Part of our Law; but leaving that to the gentlemen of another Robe, I shall content myself with offering an historical account of the progress of it, with the sense that the ancient Church had of it, together with such reflections as will arise out of that.
At first the whole body of the Clergy, in every City, Parish or Diocese, was as a family under the conduct and authority of the bishop, who assigned to everyone of his Presbyters their peculiar District, and gave him a proper maintenance out of the stock of the oblations of the Faithful. None were ordained but by the approbation, or rather the nomination of the People, the Bishop being to examine into the worth and qualifications of the persons so nominated. In the first ages, which were times of persecution, it is not to be supposed that ambition or corruption could have any great influence, while a man in holy orders was as it were put in the front, and exposed to the first fury of the persecutors. So that what Tertullian says on this head will be easily believed, that those who presided over them were first tried, having obtained that honor, not by paying a price for it, but by the testimony that was given of them; for the things of God were not purchased by money, he alluding probably to the methods used by the Heathens to arrive at their pontifical dignities.
But as soon as Wealth and Dignity was by the bounty of Christian Emperors made an appendix to the sacred function, then we find great complaints made of disorders in Elections, and of partiality in ordinations, on which we see severe reflections made by the best men both in the Eastern and Western Churches. They not only condemned the Purchasing elections and holy orders with money, but all the train of solicitations and Intercessions, with all flattery and obsequious courtship in order to those things.
They indeed laid the name of Simony chiefly on the purchasing of orders by money, which was attempted by Simon of Samaria, commonly called Simon Magus; but they brought other precedents to show how far they carried this matter. Balaam's hire of divination, Gehazi's going after Naaman for a present, and Jeroboam's making Priests of those who filled his hands, are precedents much insisted upon by them to carry the matter beyond the case of a bargain before hand; everything in the way of practice to arrive at holy orders was all equally condemned. When things were reduced into methodical divisions, they reckoned a threefold Simony; that of the hand when money was given, that of the mouth by flatteries, and that of the service when men by domestic attendance and other employments did, by a temporal drudgery, obtain the spiritual dignity.
Chrysostom expresses this thus; If you do not give Money, but instead of Money, if you flatter; if you set others at work, and use other artifices, you are as guilty. Of all these he adds, that as St. Peter said to Simon, thy Money perish with thee, so may thy ambition perish with thee? St. Jerome says, We see many reckon orders as a benefice, and do not seek for persons, who may be as pillars erected in the House of God, and may be most useful in the service of the Church, but they do prefer those for whom they have a particular affection, or whose obsequiousness has gained their favor, or for whom some of the great Men has interceded; not to mention the worst of all, those who by the presents they make them, purchase that dignity.
A corruption began to creep into the Church in the fifth century, of ordaining vagrant clerks, without any peculiar title, of whom we find St. Jerome often complaining. This was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in a most solemn manner. The orders of all who were ordained Presbyters, Deacons, or in the inferior degrees, without a special title either in the city, in some Village, some Chapel or Monastery, are declared null and void; and, to the reproach of those who so ordained them, they are declared uncapable of performing any function? But how sacred soever the authority of this Council was, it did not cure this great evil; from which many more have sprung.
A practice rose not long after this, which opened a new scene. Men began to build Churches on their own grounds, at their own charges, and to endow these; and they were naturally the masters, and in the true signification of the Roman word, the patrons of them. All the churches in the first matricula were to be served by persons named to them by the bishop, and were to be maintained by him out of the revenue of the church; but these were put upon another foot, and belonged to the proprietors of the ground, to the builders and endowers. They were also to offer to the bishop a clerk to serve in them. It seems they began to think that the Bishop was bound to ordain all such as were named by them. But Justinian settled this matter by Law, for he provided that the Patriarch should not be obliged to ordain such as were nominated by the Patron, unless he judged them fit for it. The reason given is, that the holy things of God might not be profaned. It seems he had this in his eye, when by another law he condemns those who received any thing for such a nomination, for so I understand the patrocinium ordinationis.
The elections to most sees lay in many hands, and to keep out not only corruption but partiality from having a share in them, he by a special law required, that all persons, seculars as well as ecclesiastics, who had a vote in elections, should join an oath to their suffrage, that they were neither moved to it by any gift, promise, friendship, or favor, or by any other affection, but that they gave their vote upon their knowledge of the merits of the persons; it will easily be imagined that no rule of this kind could be much regarded in corrupt ages. Gregory the Great is very copious in lamenting these disorders, and puts always the threefold disorders, and puts always the threefold division of simony together. Manus, oris, & ministerii. Hincmar cites the Prophet's words, he that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes: in the vulgar it is from every bribe, applying it to three sorts of simony. And in that letter to Louis the third King of France, he protests he knew no kinsman, nor friend, and he only considered the life, learning, and other good qualities necessary to the sacred ministry. Those ages were very corrupt, so that the great advantages that the Popes had, in the disputes concerning the investitures into Benefices, were taken from this, that servile obsequiousness and flatteries were the methods used in procuring them; of which it were easy to bring a great and copious proof, but that it is needless.
I shall only name two provisions made against all these sinistrous practices. One was among us in a Council at Exeter, in which this charge is given, let all men look into their own consciences, and examine themselves with what design they aspire to orders; if it is that they may serve God more virtuously and more acceptably, or if it is for the temporals, and that they may extort Benefices from those who ordain them, for we look on such as Simoniacs. In the Council of Basel, in which they attempted the restoring the freedom of elections, as a means to raise the reputation of the sacred function, they appointed that an oath should be taken by all electors, that they should not give their voice for any who had, as they were credibly informed, endeavored to procure it to themselves either by promising or giving any temporal thing for it, or by any prayer or petition either by themselves, or by the interposition of any other, or by any other way whatsoever directly or indirectly. This would go as far, as those who took it considered themselves bound by an oath, to secure elections from corruption or practice.
I will go no further to prove that both Fathers and Councils, in their provisions against Simony, considered the practices of application, importunity, solicitations and flatteries, as of the same nature with Simony. And therefore, though our law considers only Simony, as it is a bargain in which Money or the equivalent is given or promised, yet the sense of the Church went much further on this head, even in the most corrupt ages. The canon law does very often mention simony in its threefold distinction, manus, linguae, & obsequii; it being still reckoned a duty both in the giver and the receiver, that the gift should be free and voluntary.
In the Church of Rome a right of patronage is, according to their superstition, a matter of great value; for in every Mass the Patron is to be remembered by a special Collect, so that it saves them a great charge in a daily Mass said for them. To us this effect ceases; but still it is a noble piece of property, since a Patron has the nomination of him that has a care of souls, committed to him; but as it is in itself highly valuable, so a great account is to be given for it, to him who made and purchased those souls, and in whose sight they are of inestimable value, and who will reckon severely with such patrons as do not manage it with a due care.
It is all one what the consideration is on which it is bestowed, if regard is not in the first place had to the worth of the person so nominated; and if he is not judged fit and proper to undertake the cure of souls. For with relation to the account that is to be given to the great bishop of souls, it is all one whether money, friendship, kindred, or any carnal regard, was the chief motive to the Nomination.
I know it may be said, no man but one in holy orders is capable of being possessed of a benefice, and in order to that he is to be examined by the bishop, though already ordained, before he can be possessed of it. But the sin is not the less, because others come in to be partakers of it. Still a Patron must answer to God for his share, if he has nominated a person without due care, and without considering whether he thinks him a proper person for undertaking so great a trust.
I will not carry this matter so far as to say, that a Patron is bound to choose the fittest and most deserving persons he can find out; that may put him under great Scruples, and there being a great diversity in the nature of Parishes, and in the several abilities necessary for the proper duties of the pastoral care, it may be too great a load to lay on a man's conscience an obligation to distinguish who may be the fittest person. But this is very evident, that a patron is bound to name no person to so important a care, as the charge of souls, of whom he has not at least a probable reason to believe that he has the due qualifications, and will discharge the trust committed to him. Some motives may be baser than others; but even the consideration of a child to be provided for, by a cure of souls, when the main requisites are wanting, is in the sight of God no better than simony. For in the nature of things it is all one, if one sells a benefice, that by the sale he may provide for a child, and if he bestows it on a child, only out of natural affection, without considering his son's fitness to manage so great a trust. Perpetual advowsons, which are kept in families as a provision for a child, who must be put in orders whatever his aversion to it, or unfitness for it may be, bring a prostitution on holy things. And parents who present their undeserving children, have this aggravation of their guilt, that they are not so apt to be deceived in this case, as they may be when they present a stranger. Concerning these they may be imposed on by the testimony of those whom they do not suspect; but they must be supposed to be better informed as to their own children.
It is also certain, that orders are not given by all Bishops, with that anxiety of caution that the importance of the matter requires. And if a person is in orders, perhaps qualified for a lower station, yet he may want many qualifications necessary for a greater cure. And the grounds on which a presentation can be denied, are so narrow, that a bishop may be under great difficulties, who yet knows he cannot stand the suit, to which he lies open, when he refuses to comply with the patron's nomination.
The sum of all this is, that Patrons ought to look on themselves as bound to have a sacred regard to this trust that is vested in them, and to consider very carefully what the nature of the Benefice that they give is, and what are the qualifications of the person they present to it; otherwise the souls that may be lost by a bad nomination, whatsoever may have been their motive to it, will be required at their hands. At first the right of Patronage was an appendant of the estate in which it was vested; and was not to be alienated but with it, and then there was still less danger of an ill nomination. For it may be supposed that he who was most concerned in a parish, would be to a good degree concerned to have it well served. But a new practice has risen among us, and for ought I have been able to learn, it is only among us, and is in no other nation or church whatsoever. How long it has been among us, I am not versed enough in our law books to be able to tell. And that is the separating the advowson from the estate to which it was annexed; and the selling it, or a turn in it, as an estate by itself. This is so far allowed by our law, that no part of such a traffic comes within the statute against simony, unless when the benefice is open. I shall say nothing more on this head, save only that whosoever purchases a turn, or a perpetual advowson with a design to make the benefice go to a child, or remain in a family, without considering the worth or qualifications of the person to be presented to it, put themselves and their posterity under great temptations. For here is an estate to be conveyed to a person, if he can but get through those slight examinations upon which orders are given, and has negative virtues, that is, he is free from scandalous sin, though he has no good qualities, nor any fixed intentions of living suitably to his profession, of following the studies proper to it, and of dedicating himself to the work of the ministry; on the contrary, he perhaps discovers a great deal of pride, passion, covetousness, and an ungoverned love of pleasure, and is so far from any serious application of mind to the sacred functions, that he has rooted in him an aversion to them.
The ill effects of this are but too visible, and we have great reason to apprehend that persons who come into the service of the Church with this disposition of mind, will despise the care of souls as a thing to be turned over to one of a mechanic genius, who can never rise above some low performances; they will be incessantly aspiring higher and higher, and by fawning attendances, and the meanest compliances with such as can contribute to their advancement, they will think no services too much out of their road, that can help to raise them. They will meddle in all intrigues, and will cry up and cry down things in the basest methods, as they hope to find their account in them. I wish with all my heart that these things were not too laborious, and that they did not lay stumbling blocks in men's way, which may give advantages to the tribe of profane libertines to harden them in their prejudices against, not only the sacred functions, but all revealed religion in general. I shall end this head, leaving it on the consciences of all Patrons, and obtesting them by all that is sacred, to reflect seriously on this great trust, that the law has put in their hands; and to consider what account they are to give of it in the great day.
But if Patrons ought to consider themselves under strict obligations in this matter, how much more ought they to lay the sense of the duties of their function to heart, who have by solemn vows dedicated themselves to the work of the ministry? What notion they have of running without being sent, who tread in those steps? Do not they say, according to what was threatened as a curse on the posterity of Eli, put me, I pray thee, into one of the Priest's offices, that I may eat a piece of Bread. Do they not feel these words as a character of what they say within themselves, when they come up to the Altar? Can they not trust God, and go on sitting themselves in the best manner they can for holy functions, waiting for such an interposition of Providence as shall open a clear way to them, to some station in the church; not doubting, but that if God by a motion of his Spirit called them to holy orders, he will raise up Instruments to bring that about, and put it in the heart of some one or other to give or to procure to them a post, without their own engaging in that sordid merchandise, or descending to any though less scandalous methods, which bring with them such a prostitution of mind, that they who run into them, cannot hope to raise themselves the esteem due to the sacred function, which is the foundation of all the good they can do by their labors. If things turn cross to them in a post, to which such endeavors may have brought them, what comfort can they have within them? Or what confidence can they have in God? When their own consciences will reproach them with this, that it is no wonder if what was so ill acquired, should prosper no better. When they come to die, the horror of an oath falsely taken, which they palliated by an equivocating sense, will be a terrible companion to them in their last minutes. When they can no more carry off the matter by evasions or bold denials, but are to appear before that God, to whose eyes all things are naked and opened. Then all the scandal they have given, all the souls they have lost or neglected, all the reproaches that they have brought on their function, and on the church, for which perhaps they have pretended no ordinary measure of zeal, all these, I say, will come upon them as an armed man, and surround them with the sense of guilt, and the terrors of that consuming fire that is ready to devour them. Men who have by unlawful methods, and a prevaricating oath come into a benefice, cannot truly repent of it, but by departing from it. For the unlawful oath will still lie heavy on them, till that is done. This is the indispensable restitution in this case, and unless this is done, they live on and die in the sin unrepented of. God is not mocked, though men are. I will leave this here, for I can carry it no higher.
As for those who have not prevaricated in the oath, but yet have been guilty of practice and methods to arrive at Benefices, I do not lay this of relinquishing their benefices on them. But certainly if they ever come to right notions of the matter, they will find just ground to be deeply humbled before God for all their practices that way. If they do truly mourn for them, and abstain from the like for the future, and if they apply themselves with so much the more zeal to the labors of their function, and redeem the meanness of their former practices by a stricter Course of Life, by their studies and their diligence, they may by that compensate for the too common Arts by which they arrive at their posts.
I know these things are so commonly practiced, that as few are out of countenance who tread in such beaten paths, so I am afraid they are too little conversant in just notions to feel the Evil of them. It is no wonder if their labors are not blessed, who enter on them by such low and indirect methods. Whereas men who are led by an over-ruling providence into stations, without any motions or procurement of their own, as they have an unclouded call from God, so they have the foundation of a true firmness in their own minds. They can appeal to God, so they have the foundation of a true firmness in their own minds. They can appeal to God, and so have a just claim to his protection and blessing. Everything is easy to them, because they are always easy within. If their labors are always blessed with success, they rejoice in God, and are by that animated to continue in them, and to increase their diligence. If that is denied them, so that they are often forced to cry out, my leanness, my leanness, I have labored in vain; they are humbled under it; they examine themselves more carefully, if they can find anything in their own conduct that may occasion it, which they will study to correct, and still they persist in their labor; knowing that if they continue doing their duty, whatever other effects that may have, those faithful shepherds, when the chief shepherd shall appear, shall receive from him a crown of Glory that fadeth not away.
To all this I will only add somewhat relating to bonds of resignation. A bond to resign at the pleasure of the patron carries with it a base servitude, and simony in its full extent. And yet because no money is given, some who give those bonds do very ignorantly apprehend that they may, with a good conscience, swear the oath of simony. There is but one way to cure the mischief of this great evil, which can have no effect, if bishops will resolve to accept of no resignation made upon such Bonds. Since by the common law a Clerk is so tied to his bishop and to his cure, that he cannot part with it without the Bishop's leave. By this all these bonds may be made ineffectual. Other Bonds are certainly more innocent, by which a Clerk only binds himself to do that which is otherwise his duty. And since the forms of our courts are dilatory and expensive, and there is not yet a full provision made against many abuses which a good Patron would secure a Parish from, I see no just exception to this practice, where the Abuse is specially certified; so that nothing is reserved in the patron's breast, by general words, of which he, or his heirs, who perhaps may not inherit his virtues as they do his fortunes, may make an ill use. It is certain our constitution labors yet under some defects, which were provided against by that noble design brought so near perfection in that work entitled Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum, which it is to be hoped will be at some time or other taken up again, and perfected.
The affinity of the former matter leads me to give an account of somewhat relating to myself. When I was first put into the post which I still hold, I found there were many market towns in the diocese very poorly provided. So since there are about fifty dignities and Prebends belong to the Cathedral, I considered how by the disposing of these I might mend the condition of the incumbents in the market towns, and secure such a help to their successors. And by the advice of some very eminent Divines and Canonists, this method was resolved on, that when I gave a prebend to any such Incumbent, he should give a bond that if he left that benefice, he should at the same time resign his Prebend, that it might go to his Successor. This went on for some years with a universal approbation.
But when a humor began to prevail of finding fault, this was cried out upon as a grievance, bordering upon simony. I upon that drew up a vindication of my practice from great authority, out of Civilians and Canonists. But upon second thoughts I resolved to follow that saying of Solomon's, leave off contention before it be meddled with or engaged in. So to lay the clamor that some seemed resolved to raise, I resolved to drop my design, and so delivered back all the bonds that I had taken.
I will offer nothing either in the way of vindication or resentment, being satisfied, to give a true relation of the matter, leaving it to the reader's Judgement to approve or censure as he sees cause. And thus I conclude this Chapter, which I thought was wanting to complete my design in writing this Treatise.