Many assumed the clerical character for no other reason than that it might screen them from the punishment which their actions deserved, and the monasteries were full of people who entered them to be secure against the consequences of their crimes and atrocities.—Rymer’s Foedera, vol. xiii. p. 532.
EFFORTS AT REFORM.
To restrain and humble this gigantic power was the desideratum of ages. For two hundred years had men been laboring to curb and tame it. From theologians and universities, from kings and emperors, from provinces and synods, from general councils, and even the College of Cardinals—in every name of right, virtue, and religion—appeal after appeal and solemn effort after effort were made to reform the Roman court and free the world from the terrible oppression. Wars on wars were waged; provinces on provinces were deluged with blood; coalitions, bound by sacred oaths, were formed against the giant tyranny. And yet the hierarchy managed to maintain its assumptions and to overwhelm all remedial attempts. Whether made by individuals or secular powers, by councils or governments, the result was the same. The Pontificate still triumphed, with its claims unabridged, its dominion unbroken, its scandals uncured.
A general council sat at Constance to reform the clergy in head and members. It managed to rid itself of three popes between whom Christendom was divided, when the emperor moved that the work of reform proceed. But the cardinals said, How can the Church reform itself without a head? So they elected a pope who was to lead reform. Yet a day had hardly passed before they found themselves in a traitor’s power, who reaffirmed all the acts of the iniquitous John XXIII., who had just been deposed for his crimes, and presently endowed him with a cardinal’s hat!
When this pope, Martin V., died, the cardinals thought to remedy their previous mistake. They would secure their reforms before electing a pope. So they erected themselves into a standing senate, without which no future pope could act. And they each took solemn oath, before God and all angels, by St. Peter and all apostles, by the holy sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, and by all the powers that be, if elected, to conform to these arrangements and to use all the rights and prerogatives of the sublime position to put in force the reforms conceded to be necessary.
But what are oaths and fore-pledges to candidates greedy for office? The tickets which elected the new pope had hardly been counted when he absolved himself from all previous obligations, disowned the senate of cardinals he had helped to erect, began his career with violence and robbery, plundered the cities and states of Italy, religiously violated all compacts but those which favored his absolute supremacy, brought to none effect the reform Council of Basle, deceived Germany with his specious and hollow concessions, averted the improvements he had sworn to make, and by his perfidy and cunning managed to retain in subordination to the old regime nearly the whole of that Christendom which he had outraged!