Roman Empire, the Holy
Roman Empire, The Holy, is the designation familiarly given to the mediaeval and modern Roman Empire of the West, and especially to that empire after the imperial sceptre had passed into the hands of German sovereigns. For a whole millennium — from the coronation of Charlemagne to the abdication of Francis of Austria — the Roman empire occupied in Western Europe the first place, in dignity and prestige, of all secular governments. Though its actual power had continually fluctuated, and its influence on the affairs of the world had rapidly waned after the retirement of Charles V, it remained an imposing memorial of ancient grandeur and dominion, and was honored as a "clarum et venerabile nomen." "Heir of the universal sway of Rome, the holder of it claimed to be the suzerain of all earthly kings. First and oldest of European dignities, its very name had a sound of dignity." Passing over the widely extended and thoroughly organized empire of Charlemagne, and the rapid decay of eminence and power, under his successors of the Carlovingian line, and confining attention to the Germanic dynasties, the Holy Roman Empire maintained a lofty and potent ascendency over all kings and temporal rulers in the West for three centuries, extending from the first Otho, the Great, to the death of that "stupor mundi," the dazzling, energetic, and lordly Frederick II. During this long and agitated period, the empire and the papacy marched abreast in constant discord and furious contention; the one acknowledged to be supreme in the secular order, the other reverenced as supreme in the spiritual order. The rivalries, the jealousies, the animosities, the virulent antagonisms, of these transcendent sovereignties — each endeavoring to secure its own position and predominancy by the depression of the otherfilled the centuries with strife, with acrimonies, and with perplexities worse than the bloody warfare which they engendered. For one brief interval in the subsequent ages, after long and dreary eclipse, the Holy Roman Empire, under an emperor of the house of Hapsburg, threatened to regain a more arrogant control, a vaster domain, a more solitary domination, than it had possessed under the first Caesars or had claimed under the first Constantine. But Charles V, the most powerful of emperors since Charlemagne, was the last of emperors crowned in Italy. He was frustrated of the dreams that had been nursed for him by both his grandfathers, and that had been eagerly cherished by himself throughout a long and busy reign. His energies were engrossed and wasted, his enormous resources consumed, and his authority paralyzed by discords in his numerous scattered kingdoms and principalities, and by the divisions and civil wars produced by the Protestant Reformation, and favoring its extension. Worn out and baffled, he renounced his thrones in despair. He retired shattered in health, in spirit, and in confidence, to fritter away the last months of a grand existence — amid the lovely scenery around the monastery of Juste. Thenceforward the empire continued to wane and shrivel up, till finally extinguished by the conquests and confederations of the emperor Napoleon.
An institution of such long duration, of such splendid pretensions, of such intimate association with the ecclesiastical system of Christendom, of such profound influence upon both the temporal and the spiritual fortunes of humanity — an institution which transmitted the consummate result of all ancient civilization almost to our own day — merits careful appreciation, and requires it the more urgently because its name has already ceased to be familiar, and because its fortunes and vicissitudes are often slighted as the vanished "phantoms of forgotten rule."
I. Origin of the Name. — The name of The Holy Roman Empire cannot be distinctly traced in either its origin or its application. It is obscurely involved in the institution of the empire throughout all the phases of its existence. It may readily be discerned in pagan Rome. It is implied in the constitution of the reanimated Empire of the West. In more modern times it frequently appears in treaties and imperial documents, in diplomatic papers, and in the official transactions of the imperial chancery. But it was never of obligatory or habitual employment. It does not occur in the Act of Abdication of Francis I in 1806, nor in the earlier Pragmatic, which paved the way for the abdication and prescribed his official titles as emperor elect. It has not been found in any of the numerous chronicles, specially examined for the present inquiry, which record the coronations from Charlemagne to Rodolph of Hapsburg. It has not been detected by us in the capitularies and edicts, nor in the Libri Feudorum. There is nothing on the subject in Pfeffel's Abrege Chronologique, notwithstanding the well-merited commendations bestowed by Gibbon upon that painstaking and useful treatise. There is no explanation in Muratori nor in Gibbon. It would be vain, of course, to expect the solution of any real difficulty from The Middle Ages of the superficial and blundering Hallam. It is strange, however, that no elucidation of its origin and use is given by Bryce in his work specifically entitled The Holy Roman Empire. All these European writers had ready access to authentic sources of information which are usually beyond the reach of inquirers in America.
The interpretation of the name is not far to seek, though a long, elaborate, and dubious research would be required to determine the times, conditions, and circumstances of its ordinary employment, if there ever was any fixed rule on the subject. The city of Rome and the imnperium Romanum were always regarded as sacrosanct, even under the republic. The argumentation of Augustine, in his memorable treatise De Civitate Dei, revolves mainly upon the pagan allegation of the intimate dependence of Rome on the guidance of her gods. Under the empire, the city was fervently adored as diva Roma, urbs divina, and the sacred fire was kept ever burning in her honor. Such a perpetual fire was maintained in the imperial palace. Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus, holding the holiest of offices at the time of his assassination, and had been chief of the religion many years previously. On his murder, he was deified, and became Divus Julius. On the death of Lepidus, Augustus united the office of Pontifex Maximus to his other titles. He, too, was deified. Subsequent emperors retained the pontificate, and many were worshipped as Divi while still alive. The pontificate was held even by Christian princes; and the epithet "sacred" was applied in both the Latin and the Greek vocabulary of the court to their persons, their families, their functions, their ministers, and all their surroundings. This practice was not weakened by the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the state. Comes sacri cubiculi, sacri fisci, sacrarum largitionum, sacri palatii, etc., were regular offices under the constitution of Constantine. We find even "the sacred inkstand" and "the sacred ink." It should be remembered, too, that the "tribunicia potestas, " which was one of the principal constituents of imperial authority, had always been "sacrosanct" (Liv. 4, 3, 6, et Not. Vat. ad 27, 38, 3, ed. Drakenborch). The organization and ceremonial of the old Roman empire were habitually adopted or travestied by the barbarian kingdoms (see Cassiodor. Epp. Var.) before they were repeated by the Western emperors. In the attestation of the Acta de Pace Constantioe, 1183, of Frederick Barbarossa, the notary signs himself, "Ego Odelinus, sacri palatii notarius, " in exact correspondence with the language of Justinian in the confirmation of the code: "Vir gloriosissimus, quaestor sacri palatii nostri...." Hence it is not surprising to find in the West, as in the East, the phrase "sanctus Imperator," though it does not become one of the formal titles.
When Charlemagne received the imperial crown at Rome on Christmas day, 800, he received it with all the attributes of the imperial sovereignty of Rome. The sanctity of the office, derived from the several confluent tendencies which have been specified, was not the least marked of these attributes. This sanctity was further heightened by the circumstances and the purposes of his appointment, and by the relations of himself and his family to the orthodox Christianity of the West. One of his highest duties and honors was to be the "advocatus ecclesiae," the protector of the pope against domestic and foreign enemies — the temporal sovereign of the Christian faith and of Christendom. He was solemnly anointed. It is stated by a late chronicler that he was hailed, in the acclamations of the people, as "a Deo coronato." So Justinian had declared: "Deo auctore nostrum gubernante imperium" (De Concept. Dig. § 1). When Otho I was crowned in 962, the pope conveyed the dignity "benedictione et consecratione." It is a mistake to suppose that when Charles merged the patriciate in the empire, he took merely a title of higher dignity. It is an equal mistake to suppose that he only revived or renewed the long dormant Empire of the West. He was crowned sole emperor of the Roman world at the time of a supposed vacancy of the imperial throne, which had always been deemed elective, and of exclusively masculine tenure: "Quia muller excoecato imperatore Constantino filio suo imperabat" (Sigebert Gemblacensis, ad ann.; comp. Palgrave, English Commonwealth, p. 489493, who long preceded Fustel de Coulanges [Rev. des Deux Mondes, Jan. 1, 1870]).
The expediency, the propriety, or the necessity of this transference of the empire from the East to the West, though in three years restricted to the revival of the Western Empire, sufficed for the resurrection of the latter empire and for the distinct constitution of the Christendom (Christi dominium) of Western Europe. The epithet of "holy" does not seem to have been attached formally to either empire at this time, though probably in use. The title of the emperor, in the West as in the East, continued to be "Imperator Romanus, semper Augustus." But the idea of sanctity under the setting, as under the rising, sun seems to have been ever present to the minds of men. Hence the designation "Imperator sanctus" is found in the Edict of Verona, Oct. 29, 967, of Otho I, Imp.; and his son Otho II, Rex (Pertz, Mon. Hist. Germ. 4, 33). It was not until after the thorough feudalization of the empire under the Germanic successors of the Carlovingians, and the bitter conflicts and inveterate rivalries of emperors and popes, that the sanctity of the empire needed to be prominently asserted as the counterpart and counterpoise of the sanctity of the papal throne. But pagan and Christian, Eastern and Western, habits and associations had combined to invest emperor and empire with an air of recognized holiness. These influences and tendencies were preserved and augmented by the circumstances attendant on Charlemagne's coronation, and were increased by the ideal character which the empire subsequently assumed.
II. Theory of the Holy Roman Empire. — There would be manifest impropriety in entering here into the consideration of the constitution or the history of the second Western empire. But the theory of the empire, its great contention with the papacy, and the grave consequences thence resulting to the ecclesiastical and religious fortunes of Europe are apposite, and even indispensable, to the present Cyclopoedia . The notices, however, must inevitably be both brief and jejune.
The significance of great historical events and institutions does not reveal itself till they have passed away or declined. It must be gathered by retrospection from the consequences — not expected from contemporaneous appreciation. Charlemagne was constituted emperor by the implied election of the Roman people, and by the consecration of the pope, as the ruler of the Christian world; as the official defender of the Church; as the upholder of orthodox Christianity against heresy and schism; as the champion of the faith and of the faithful against the infidel and the barbarian; as the patron, promoter, and guardian of missionary enterprise for the conversion of the heathen. In this character he was not merely the first among temporal princes, but supreme over them all. He was clothed with a religious character in order to act as the carnal instrument of the spiritual and ecclesiastical authority. He was chief of Christendom to preserve the Christian society from intestine disorders and external perils. He was head of the temporal order, but with distinct spiritual attributions. The pope was head of the spiritual order, but with some temporal jurisdiction, by the grant of Pepin and the confirmation of Charlemagne. Each, in his sphere, was the vicegerent of Heaven for the government and guidance of the world. This is very cogently presented by Bryce: "Thus does the emperor answer in every point to his antitype, the pope, his power being yet of a lower rank, created on the analogy of the papal, as the papal itself had been modelled after the empire. The parallel holds good even in its details; for just as we have seen the churchman assuming the crown and robes of the secular prince, so now did he array the emperor in his own ecclesiastical vestments the stole and the dalmatic; gave him a clerical as well as a sacred character; removed his office from all narrow associations of birth and country; inaugurated him by rites, every one of which was meant to symbolize and enjoin duties in their essence religious" (The Holy Roman Empire, 7, 106-116).
It must, indeed, have been very evident, or must have been recognized by an instinct more profound than evidence, that the preservation of civilization; the protection of society against Saracen, Saxon, etc.; the perpetuation of Christian faith; the maintenance of religious order and civil discipline, of morality and culture among the nations, of unity in the brotherhood of faith, of tranquillity throughout the Christian realm required, amid the still rampant paganism and the internal and external dangers of the time, that there should be consolidation of Christian government; that there should also be union between the temporal and spiritual authorities; and that agreement and harmony should prevail between the two orders of rule. This was exemplified by the coronation of the emperor in Rome by the pope, by the assent of the emperor to the election of the pope. It is equally evident that these two powers — each in some sort supreme, yet each, also, in some sort subordinate to the other — would decline into jealousies and discords and furious antagonisms when the great dangers which enforced their union had been mitigated or removed, and when causes of difference, which were sure to arise, should eventually arise.
The splendid dreams of humanity are visions of the night which are dissipated by the realities of the day. It was a magnificent, but never realized, conception that as there should be "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," so there should be a single Christendom, with one administrator of spiritual interests and one governor of temporal society, that all nations might be one realm of Christianity and all Christians might be secured by the combined might of all, under the guidance and disposition of one secular control. It was a brilliant dream. It has left but the cloud behind. It may afford a hope or a promise of accomplishment in very dissimilar form in future centuries. For brief periods there was a remote approximation to its achievement. For long periods it was frustrated and often, perhaps, forgotten ("breves et infaustos populi Romani armores").
III. Relations of the "Holy Roman Empire" to the "Holy Roman Church." — The Holy Roman Empire lasted for more than a thousand years. Its eminence and its relations to the papacy changed variously and greatly during this long lapse of time. Pfeffel, who is occupied with the history of Germany rather than with that of the empire, divides the former into nine periods, beginning with Sigovesus A.D. 600, and ending with the extinction of the male line of Hapsburg in 1740. Six of these periods must be left unnoticed for various reasons, which there is not room to state. The fourth, or Carlovingian, period has, indeed, been considered more fully than our space would justify. The great struggle between the emperor and the pope took place during the fifth, sixth, and seventh periods, under the Saxon, Franconian, and Suabian houses (962-1254); and from this struggle issued the religious and political complications of modern Europe and of the modern world. To these periods, then, attention will have to be confined, and to them it can be but inadequately directed.
When Otho I was crowned at Rome in 962, he was in a position which permitted, and almost necessitated, the revival of the imperial pretensions, which had long been dormant, while that supreme dignity was squabbled over by Burgundian or other princes. There was occasion for the coercion of a strong hand, external to Rome and free from papal affiliations. For three quarters of a century the papacy had been the spoil of factions, and had been held by the nominees, tools, or scions of turbulent nobles and depraved women. It was the age of Alberic and Marozia, and of that late fiction papissa Joanna. The interposition of some foreign control was imperatively required. The treachery of John VIII necessitated the assumption by Otho of the right to regulate papal elections, and the imposition of an oath upon the cardinals and the Roman people to admit the imperial supremacy. This was manifestly a usurpation by the secular authority, but the state of affairs demanded it. Naturally, as good order increased in the Church and the sense of spiritual duties and responsibilities revived, this subordination was impatiently borne; and a steady effort, ultimately successful under Gregory VII, was made to render the Church independent of the empire, and superior to it in dignity as in sanctity. Here, then, was a wager of battle, not likely to be forgotten or neglected by either party, which led to the humiliation of Henry IV at Canossa, and to the exile of Gregory VII.
While Henry was yet a child, and after Hildebrand had acquired predominance in the Roman curia, though not yet pope, Alexander II had been induced to issue a decree against the lay investiture of clerical beneficiaries. The decree was renewed by Hildebrand as pope, and became the chief ground of controversy with the empire after Gregory's death. The quarrel was not closed in Germany till the Diet of Worms in 1122, and in England till after the assassination of Thomas a Becket. It broke out afresh between Germany and the pope, but was merged in other contentions. The principles involved in the question merited the zeal and energy displayed on either side, but did not justify the spiritual or secular pretensions advanced or the procedures employed. Ambition, jealousy, and passion soon dominated over the war of parties.
The question, simply stated, was whether the Church or the empire — the ecclesiastical or the secular authority — should have the right of conferring ecclesiastical benefices. It would require an extended exposition of the political, social, and religious constitution of those times to furnish any satisfactory exhibition of the significance and bearings of this dispute. Such knowledge must be sought in the pontifical and imperial histories; the leading topics alone can be indicated here. The feudal system was in full vigor. Even the Church was feudalized. Society was molded into a regular hierarchy of gradations from the lowest vassal to emperor and pope. The political and the ecclesiastical organizations were arranged on parallel lines. The political and the social system would be broken and rendered impotent by permitting the interference of an extrinsic power, in the bestowal of dignities, honors, and commands. If these were conferred by the pope or by his deputies, the occupants would be withdrawn from their allegiance to their temporal head and from their obligations to the State. But the experience of the age proved that if these appointments were received from the empire or secular government, they would be granted and sought for worldly motives and selfish considerations; would be lavished upon feudal nobles and their relatives; would be used for private feuds and temporal purposes; and would be severed from the due services of religion. Archbishoprics and bishoprics, abbacies and canonries, with their rich domains, would be grasped by warlike, rapacious, corrupt, and truculent barons who would scorn their religious vocation and the cure of souls. This is proved by the aspect of the Church in every country, and even in Rome, under the later Carlovingians and the earlier Germanic emperors. Neither of the coordinate powers could yield the point in issue without grave peril to itself and graver peril to society. The basis of settlement, which afforded a temporary or apparent solution of the problem, was very plausible, but could not be satisfactory in practice to either contestant. The settlement was that ecclesiastical dignities and offices should be conferred by the Church by delivery of the ring and crosier, and that the temporalities attached thereto should be bestowed by the sovereign per sceptrum. That this arrangement could not secure peace is demonstrated by the quarrel between Henry II and Thomas a Becket.
The vast importance of the dispute will appear more manifest if it be presented in its most abstract form: Should the clergy be dependent upon the State? In the condition of society at that time — still semi-pagan and more than semi-barbarous — morality, religion, civilization, and Christianity would have been ruined by being sacrificed to the worldly appetencies of princes and subjects; the reign of violence and blood would have been unchecked; the heathen invaders of the empire had been with patient effort brought into subjection to a higher law than force; the work of centuries would have been undone by the subjugation of the spiritual authority which alone enforced moral restraints. Should Church dignitaries be released from all subordination to the State and depend solely upon the head of the Church? Then would ensue chronic discord between the supreme regulators of society; utter impotence of the secular authority for the protection of the nations or for the maintenance of order; the most unrestrained license in the high places of the Church; neglect of Christian sentiment, precepts, duties; luxury, sensuality, and rottenness; with arrogant tyranny over thought and feeling on the part of the ruling caste; and with the abject servility of superstition and ignorance on the part of the laity, who would be lewd in every sense of the word. The question, in its ultimate tendency, was whether Christendom should be subjected to the tyranny of the sword or to the tyranny of the crosier. This was the dilemma. Its character is illustrated by the whole history of Europe from the 9th century to the 15th. SEE INVESTITURES.
The war between the two supreme powers was inevitable; it was even necessary. The question could not be settled without war; it could not be settled by war; but the bitter and long-continued contention prevented either power from becoming absolute, and finally paralyzed both. The conflict about investitures broke out afresh, as has been said, but soon changed its form. Under the Suabian emperors it was complicated with the resistance of the Lombard League to the empire; still later, with the effort of the popes to exclude the imperial supremacy from Italy, or, at least, to restrict it to the valley of the Po. Hence sprang the savage strife of Guelphs and Ghibellines, which extended its pernicious influence beyond the period (f the Renaissance. But the second act of the great drama ended with the Council of Lyons in 1245, and with the death of Frederick II in 1250, leaving the papacy ostensibly possessed of resistless dominion, the empire crushed, shattered, mangled; introducing, at the same time, chronic wars into Italy, and anarchy and divisions into Germany, from which that great country has not yet recovered. Into the instructive details of these mighty and ominous transactions there is no time to enter. A few words on the effects of the struggle must terminate these summary and inadequate remarks.
IV. Consequences of the Strife between the Church and the Empire. — The disastrous issues of this unseemly contention were immediate, continuous, and progressive. None but the most prominent can be specified now, and they must be noted without being discussed. The deadly duel was ruinous to both combatants. It weakened fatally both the papacy and the empire; but it prevented the permanent predominance of either. It frustrated any harmonious agreement for the joint direction of the growing Christian community. It precluded the establishment of wholesome reciprocal restraint over the spiritual and the temporal authority. The imperial supremacy over the nations ceased to be anything more than a hollow pretence. The imperial control even over the Germanic principalities and municipalities was almost annihilated. There was neither unity nor union. The capacity of the empire to shield Christendom from attack was sacrificed. The proof of this was given by the great Mongol invasion, by the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, by the fearful ravage and encroachment of the Turkish sultans. Germany was thrown into chronic convulsions and feudal anarchy till the accession of Rodolph of Hapsburg. These discords, which consumed the strength and divided the energies of the country, descended to the field of Sadowa. They have not been buried by the coronation at Versailles. Italy was lacerated and corroded by unceasing wars, under Hohenstauffen, Angevin, Arragonese, and Bourbon princes. City was arrayed against city, family against family, kinsman against kinsman. Lawlessness, rapine, murder, treachery, and the licentious usurpations and tyrannies of chiefs of Condottieri were domesticated throughout the beautiful peninsula.
The Church, though triumphant, was more disastrously injured: it was smitten in the house of its friends. There was a separate life in the bruised and dissevered members of the imperial system. They might recombine in altered relations, or be refashioned as distinct entities. Such change was incompatible with ecclesiastical unity or pontifical supremacy.
The papacy seemed to have asserted and assured its absolute dominion at the Council of Lyons. It was deluded. It lost, with the excommunication and death of its imperial opponent, prestige, influence, and respect. It fell into imbecility and corruption. The flight of Innocent IV from Rome was the prelude to the Babylonish captivity, and to the French pontificate at Avignon. This, again, generated the Great Schism. with the consequent alienation of the nations, especially of England and Germany, which had little share in the ecclesiastical spoils. As early as 1137, the emperor Lothaire II had overawed pope Innocent II by declaring that in case of the pope's continued opposition, "Imperium ab illo die et deinceps scissum a pontificio omnibus modis sciret." Twenty-four years afterwards — at the Council of Toulouse, held to decide between Alexander III and the anti- pope Victor — a party, favorable to neither, boldly proposed to "avail themselves of the present opportunity to shake off the yoke of the Roman Church." The great councils of the 15th century — Pisa, Constance, Basle, Ferrara, Florence — still further undermined the pontifical supremacy; and the last resulted in the final severance of the Greek and Latin churches, which rendered ecclesiastical unity impossible; and in the overthrow of Constantinople and the Byzantine empire.
During the two centuries of imperial impotence, avarice, vice, crime, tyranny, extortion, sensuality, had permeated the ecclesiastical hierarchy in all lands, rendering certain and necessary the religious reformation so often demanded, so earnestly required by the Council of Constance, so hopelessly sought within the pontifical fold.
The great revolutions of society are never due to a single cause, nor to a brief catalogue of causes. Many tendencies combine, in most complex and shifting modes, to determine the result; yet, certainly, the conflict between the Holy Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Church contributed most potently to the disintegration of both, to the dissipation of the wondrous medieval dream, and to the religious and political constitution of our modern civilization.
V. Literature. — It would be absurd to present any apparatus bibliographicus for a subject such as The Holy Roman Empire, the literature of which embraces all the chronicles, all the secular and ecclesiastical historians, all the scholastic and diplomatic documents relative to the constitution and relation of Church and State for many centuries. It may suffice to mention some of the lighter and more accessible treatises which discuss important parts of the subject: Pfeffel, Abrege Chronologique de l'Histoire et du Droit Public d'Allemagne (Paris, 1776, 2 vols. 4to); Putter, Dissertationes de Instauratione Romans Imperii; Butler, Notes on the Chief Revolutions of the States composing the Empire of Charlemagne (Lond. 1807, 8vo); Lehueron, Inst. Mirov. et Carlovingiennes (Paris, 1843, 2 vols.); Milman, Hist. Latin Christianity; Greenwood, Cathedra Petri; Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire (4th ed. Lond. 1873); Waitz, Deutsche Kaiser von Karl dem Grossen, etc.; Döllinger, Das Kaiserthum Karls des Grossen, etc.; Höfler, Kaiserthum und Papstthum; Moser, Romische Kayser. (G.F.H.)