December 4, 2012

Priests and Kings

Bertrand Russell: Power

Both religious and secular innovators … have appealed, as far as they could, to tradition, and [sought] to minimise the elements of novelty in their system.
The usual plan is to invent a more or less fictitious past and pretend to be restoring its institutions.
(p 39)

In the United States at the present day, the reverence which the Greeks gave to oracles and the Middle Ages to the Pope is given to the Supreme Court [— which] is part of the forces engaged in the protection of the plutocracy.
(p 49)

Contents


Priestly Power

Kingly Power


BERTRAND RUSSELL (1872–1970)


Nobel Prize for Literature (1950).

  • Power: A New Social Analysis, George Allen & Unwin, 1938.

    PRIESTLY POWER


    With advancing civilisation … priests become increasingly separate from the rest of the population and increasingly powerful.
    [As] the guardians of an ancient tradition they are conservative …
    [As] possessors of wealth and power they tend to become hostile or indifferent to personal religion.
    Sooner or later [they are] overthrown by the followers of a revolutionary prophet.
    Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed are … examples.
    The power of their followers was at first revolutionary, and only gradually became traditional.
    (p 38)

    In the process they usually absorbed much of the old tradition which they had nominally overthrown.

    The most powerful and important of all priestly organisations known to history has been the Catholic Church. …

    The barbarians had the power of the sword, but the Church had
    • a higher level of civilisation and education,
    • a consistent impersonal purpose,
    • the means of appealing to religious hopes and superstitious fears, and, above all,
    • the sole organisation that extended throughout Western Europe.

    The Greek Church, which had to deal with the comparatively stable empires of Constantinople and Moscow, became completely subordinate to the State …

    For the first six centuries after the barbarian invasion the Western Church was unable to contend on equal terms with the turbulent and passionate Germanic kings and barons who ruled in England and France, in North Italy and in Christian Spain. …
    (p 39)

    The higher clergy were drawn [largely] from the feudal aristocracies, with whom they felt more at one than with a distant and alien Pope whose interferences were resented.
    The lower clergy were ignorant and mostly married, with the result that they were more anxious to transmit their benefices to their sons than to fight the battles of the Church. …

    The first effective government over a large area was not that of the Pope, but that of Charlemagne …

    After the year 1000, when it was found that the expected end of the world had not taken place, there was a rapid advance in civilisation. …
    [The] statesmanship and ruthless energy of Gregory VII (Hildebrand) inaugurated the increase of the papal power which continued throughout the next two centuries. …
    The great days of the Papacy [began] with the accession of Gregory VII (1073) [and] extend to Clement V’s establishment of the Papacy at Avignon (1306).
    Its victories during this period were won … by superstition, not by force of arms.
    (p 40)

    As politicians, men might rail against the Pope, but only heretics questioned the power of the keys …

    The reform movement … which Gregory VII carried to triumph, was directed essentially against the tendency of the Church to become infected with feudalism.
    Kings and nobles appointed Archbishops and Bishops, who themselves … belonged to the feudal aristocracy …
    In the Empire, the greatest men under the Emperor had [originally] held their lands in virtue of their official position …
    [By] the end of the eleventh century they had become hereditary nobles …
    There was a danger of something similar in the Church …

    The reforming party in the Church attacked the cognate evils of simony and … the marriage of priests …
    In their campaign they showed zeal, courage, devotion, and much worldly wisdom …
    [By] their holiness they secured the support of the laity, and by their eloquence they won over assemblies originally hostile. …
    (p 41)

    When it succeeded in imposing celibacy, it made priests more markedly separate from the rest of the world, and no doubt stimulated their power impulses, as asceticism does in most cases.
    It inspired leading ecclesiastics with moral enthusiasm for a cause in which every one believed …
    [And] as the chief means of furthering this cause it involved a great increase of Papal power.

    Power dependent upon propaganda usually demands … exceptional courage and self-sacrifice at the start …
    [But once] respect has been won by these qualities, they can be discarded, and the respect can be used as a means to worldly advancement.

    [In] time, the respect decays, and the advantages which it had secured are lost.
    Sometimes the process takes a few years, sometimes thousands of years … (p 42)
    Arnold of Brescia [Pupil of Abelard]:
    [Clerks] who have estates, bishops who hold fiefs, monks who possess property, cannot be saved
    … Arnold was captured [and] hanged, his body was burnt, and his ashes were thrown into the Tiber.
    Thus it was proved that priests have a right to be rich.

    The cities of Lombardy, especially Milan, were rich and … in the forefront of economic development …
    The Emperor stood for feudalism, to which bourgeois capitalism was already hostile.
    Although the Church prohibited ‘usury’, the Pope was a borrower, and found the capital of North Italian bankers so useful that theological rigour had to be softened.
    [In the] conflict of Barbarossa with the Papacy, which lasted for about twenty years … it was chiefly owing to the Lombard Cities that the Emperor was not victorious.

    In the long contest between the Papacy and the Emperor Frederick II, the ultimate victory of the Pope was due, in the main, to … the opposition of the commercially minded cities of North Italy … and the pious enthusiasm aroused by the Franciscans. …
    (p 43)

    [Urban IV] affords a classic example of the transformation of propaganda power into economic power.
    (p 44)

    Most of the bankers, owing to their large transactions in collecting the papal revenue, were already on the side of the Pope, but in some cities, for instance Siena … at first, sided with [Frederick's son] Manfred.
    Wherever this happened, the Pope informed the Banks’ debtors that it was their Christian duty not to pay their debts …
    [A] pronouncement which the debtors readily accepted as authoritative.

    [Such] means, though they could win the political support of the bankers, could hardly increase their respect for the Pope’s claims to divine authority.

    The whole of the period from the fall of the Western Empire to the end of the sixteenth century may be viewed as a contest between two traditions: that of imperial Rome, and that of Teutonic aristocracy, the former embodied in the Church, the latter in the State.

    After the fall of the Hohenstaufen [in 1268], the Church seemed, for a few decades, to have re-established the rule of Italy over the Western world.
    [The] revenue that flowed from England and Germany to Rome far exceeded what the Roman legions had been able to extract.
    But it was extorted by means of the reverence felt for the Papacy, not by force of arms.

    As soon as the Popes moved to Avignon [in 1306] they began to lose the respect which they had won during the three preceding centuries.
    (p 45)

    King Philip IV, being in financial difficulties, coveted the lands of [the Templars].
    It was decided to accuse them, quite groundlessly, of heresy.
    With the help of the Pope, those who were in France were seized, tortured until they confessed that they had paid homage to Satan and spat upon the crucifix, etc, and then burnt in large numbers, while the King disposed of their property, not without pickings for the Pope. …

    Throughout the Great Schism, each of the two rivals showed an unedifying tenacity of power …
    The Council of Pisa, misguidedly, merely created a third Pope …
    [The] Council of Constance at last succeeded in removing all three and restoring unity.
    But the struggle had destroyed the traditional reverence for the Papacy. …

    The fifteenth-century Papacy … was too worldly and secular, as well as too openly immoral, to satisfy the piety of Northern countries.

    At last, in Teutonic countries, the moral revolt became strong enough to allow free play to economic motives: there was a general refusal to pay tribute to Rome, and princes and nobles seized the lands of the Church.
    But this would not have been possible without the doctrinal revolt of Protestantism, which could never have taken place but for the Great Schism and the scandals of the Renaissance Papacy.
    (p 46)

    And as soon as there existed moral and theological support for opposition to the Church, motives of self-interest caused the opposition to spread with great rapidity.
    [The] power of the Church had been based upon the power of the keys …
    Luther’s [new doctrine of Justification] made it possible for lay princes to despoil the Church without fear of damnation, and without, incurring moral condemnation from their own subjects. …
    (p 47)

    [But] was only after the Papacy had, for a long time, so abused its traditional powers as to cause a moral revolt, that successful resistance became possible.

    The rise and decline of papal power [illustrates] the winning of power by propaganda. …
    Throughout the Middle Ages there were heresies, which would have spread, as Protestantism [later] spread, if the Popes had not, on the whole, deserved respect.

    [Secular] rulers made vigorous attempts to [subordinate] the Church … to the State, which failed in the West though they succeeded in the East.
    For this there were various reasons.

    First, the Papacy was not hereditary …
    A man could not easily rise to eminence in the Church except by piety, learning or statesmanship …
    [Consequently] most Popes were men [of ability.]

    Secular sovereigns might happen to be able, but were often quite the reverse; moreover they had not the training in controlling their passions that ecclesiastics had.
    Repeatedly, kings got into difficulties from desire for divorce, which, being a matter for the Church, placed them at the mercy of the Pope. …

    Another great strength of the Papacy was its impersonal continuity. …
    [It was an institution with] a body of doctrine, and a tradition of statecraft …
    It was only with the rise of nationalism that secular governments acquired any comparable continuity or tenacity of purpose.

    In the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, kings, as a rule, were ignorant, while most Popes were both learned and well-informed.
    [The] feudal system [was] in constant danger of anarchy, and hostile to the newer economic forces.
    On the whole, during those centuries, the Church represented a higher civilisation than that represented by the State.

    But by far the greatest strength of the Church was the moral respect which it inspired.
    (p 48)

    It inherited, as a kind of moral capital, the glory of the persecutions in ancient times.
    [The] mediaeval mind found celibacy very impressive. …
    [In] a world of uncontrolled rapacity, licentiousness, and self-seeking, eminent dignitaries of the Church not infrequently lived for impersonal aims …
    In successive centuries, men of impressive holiness — Hildebrand, St Bernard, St Francis — dazzled public opinion …
    (p 52)

    But to an organisation which has ideal ends, and therefore an excuse for love of power, a reputation for superior virtue is dangerous …
    [In] the long run [it is sure only] to produce a superiority … in unscrupulous ruthlessness. …
    In the end, the Renaissance Church lost all the moral purpose to which it owed its wealth and power, and the shock of the Reformation was necessary to produce regeneration.

    [This] is inevitable whenever superior virtue is used as a means of winning tyrannical power for an organisation.
    Except [for] foreign conquest, the collapse of traditional power is always the result of its abuse by men who believe … that its hold on men’s minds is too firm to be shaken even by the grossest crimes.

    The most important instance of theological survival in spite of defeat in war is the victory of the Church over the barbarians in the fifth century. …
    [Through] the medium of the Church the influence of Rome survived among the barbarians, of whom none before Hitler succeeded in shaking off the tradition of ancient culture.
    (p 50)


    KINGLY POWER


    [The] king is a man
    • who leads his tribe or nation in war,
    • who decides when to make war and when to make peace; [and]
    • [who generally] makes the laws and controls the administration of justice.
    (p 51)

    [War] must have played a great part in increasing the power of kings, since in war the need of a unified command is obvious.
    To make the monarchy hereditary is the easiest way of avoiding the evils of a disputed succession …
    But dynasties do not last for ever, and every royal family begins with a usurper or foreign conqueror.
    Usually religion legitimises the new family by means of some traditional ceremony.
    Priestly power profits by these occasions, since it comes to be an essential support of the royal prestige.
    (p 52)

    [After the fall of the Roman Empire the] barbarian invasion reintroduced monarchy …
    When a Germanic tribe conquered a Roman province, its chief became king, but his most important companions became nobles with a certain measure of independence.
    Hence arose the feudal system, which left all the monarchs of Western Europe at the mercy of turbulent Barons.
    (p 53)

    [In the West monarchy] remained weak until it had got the better of both the Church and the feudal nobility. …
    In England and France, after the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, ordinary citizens were compelled to put their faith in a strong king. …

    The renaissance monarchies had [the] advantage … that education was no longer a monopoly of ecclesiastics.
    The help of lay lawyers was invaluable in the establishment of the new monarchy.

    The new monarchies, in England, France, and Spain, were above the Church and above the aristocracy.
    Their power depended upon the support of two growing forces, nationalism and commerce: so long as they were felt to be useful to these two, they were strong, but when they failed in these respects there was revolution. …

    Commerce, though it supported kings against feudal anarchy, has always been republican when it has felt sufficiently strong. …
    (p 54)

    The alliance between kings and commerce was therefore an uneasy one.
    Kings appealed to ‘divine right’, and sought, as far as possible, to make their power traditional and quasi-religious. …
    In England, the higher aristocracy and the bourgeoisie combined, and installed a king with a merely parliamentary title, who had none of the old magic properties of majesty …
    … George I, for instance, could not cure the king’s evil, though Queen Anne could. …

    The alliance of commerce and nationalism, which began with the Lombard League in the time of Frederick Barbarossa gradually spread over Europe, achieving its last and briefest triumph in the Russian February Revolution.
    Wherever it won power, it turned against hereditary power based on land …
    In the end, kings everywhere disappeared or were reduced to figure-heads.

    Now, at least, nationalism and commerce have parted company [and] in Italy, Germany, and Russia it is nationalism that has triumphed.

    Traditional power [almost always runs] through a certain development.
    Emboldened by the respect which it inspires, it becomes careless [and] believes that it cannot ever lose.
    By sloth, folly, or cruelty it gradually forces men to become sceptical of its claims to divine authority.
    Since these claims have no better source than habit, criticism, once aroused, easily disposes of them.
    Some new creed, useful to the rebels, takes the place of the old one …
    As a rule, a long period of very flagrant misgovernment is necessary before mental rebellion becomes widespread …
    (p 55)

    [In] many cases the rebels succeed in transferring to themselves part or the whole of the old authority. …
    • Augustus absorbed into himself the traditional dignity of the Senate;
    • Protestants retained the reverence for the Bible, while rejecting reverence for the Catholic Church;
    • the British Parliament gradually acquired the power of the king, without destroying the respect for monarchy. …

    The substitution of the republican form of government for hereditary monarchy, where it has been sudden [and complete], has usually led to various kinds of trouble, since a new constitution has no hold over men’s mental habits, and will only be respected, broadly speaking, in so far as it accords with self-interest.
    Ambitious men, therefore, will seek to become dictators, and will only desist after a considerable period of failure. …
    The United States is almost the only example of a new republic which has been stable from the beginning.

    The chief revolutionary movement of our time is the attack of Socialism and Communism upon the economic power of private persons.
    (p 56)

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