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This celebrated Prelate, though in point of religious belief he belongs more justly to the Roman communion, as having flourished in the darkest period of Papal usurpation, may yet not improperly be claimed by Protestants as their own, with reference to that spirit of reformation which characterized his exertions. He was eminently distinguished, not only by his piety and purity of morals, and the variety of his learned accomplishments, but by the zealous resistance with which he encountered the tyrannical exactions of Pope Innocent IV., and endeavoured to purify the Church of the gross corruptions, with which it was overspread, through the ignorance and dissoluteness of a degenerate priesthood. It is strange that history should not have preserved more authentic memorials of the early life of so distinguished a man. His birth is involved in great obscurity. There is no certainty as to the year, or the place, where he was born ; or whether he was descended from a respectable family, or of lowly origin. Even his name has been subject to conjectures, as to the point whether it was a family name, or only a title of honour, denoting the extent of his literary acquisitions. The ancient style, indeed, of designating Bishops simply by their Christian names, in itself causes some obscurity in matters connected with their history, and particularly so, when we have to trace them back to a very remote period. #. Prelate, accordingly, is more certainly known to us by his Christian name of Robert, than that of Grosseteste, or Grosthead, which is annexed to it. His biographer, however, considers it probable, from a comparison of the various accounts, that he was born at Strodbrocke, or Stradbrook, in the county of Suffolk, about the year 1175, and of obscure, though, honest parentage; and that he received his rudiments of education in the same part of the country. It is more clearly ascertained, that Oxford t
* See “The Life of Robert Grosseteste, the celebrated Bishop of Lincoln, by Samuel Pegge, LL.D. Prebendary of Louth in that Church; with an Account of the Bishop's Works, and an Appendix.” 4to. London, 1793.
+ The University of Oxford is said to have contained, in 1231, no less than 30,000 students, among whom were many foreigners. They were chiefly accommodated in private houses.
vol. Wii. no. Wii. 3 E
was the University to which he was sent, after having given great promise of himself, by the early development of a vigorous intellect, and a corresponding proficiency in learning. His career at Oxford was marked by the most splendid attainments, which were within the compass of the imperfect knowledge of that period. Leland describes him as a most acute logician, and a consummate philosopher. By another writer he is said to have been “most erudite in all the seven arts * : ” while by another, again, he is commended particularly for his skill in logic and astrology t. These pursuits were in accordance with the taste of the age, and naturally, therefore, formed part of the attainments of one eminent for literary talent. But his knowledge of the Greek language (for which he is also celebrated) is a more extraordinary circumstance. At the time when he devoted himself to the study of the language, the knowledge of the Greek authors, such as it was, was obtained through Latin translations; and it required, therefore, some effort in the person who should venture, almost single-handed, on a more original course of study. In this pursuit he was fortunate in obtaining the assistance of a Greek I named Nicholas, who was his instructor, first at Oxford and afterwards at Paris, where he repaired for the greater advantages which the University there afforded for the cultivation of Greek literature. The sacred language of the Old Testament, also, formed another department of his studies. At that time there were Jews Ś resident at Oxford, who employed themselves in teaching Hebrew to the students. Grosseteste, it seems, availed himself of the help of these, and arrived at a considerable knowledge of the language. That he possessed a very extensive or accurate acquaintance either with the Hebrew or the Greek, it cannot well be supposed, when we consider the incipient state of all learning at this period of our national history. It may be regarded as no small merit in the theologian of that day, to have been able to translate for himself the Sacred Volume, (which appears to have been nearly the amount of his scholarship,) and thus to explore the truths of revelation in their own unadulterated sources. As Paris was, at this time, the principal resort of the learned, and it was the practice even for English divines to repair thither in the prosecution of their studies, Grosseteste bestowed some time at that University in perfecting himself in the knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek languages, as well as of the French. French was then currently spoken in England; but those who sought to acquire the elegancies of the language, visited France: and Grosseteste is said to have been a
*These “seven arts” were, grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy— the first three being sometimes designated by the term trivium-the last four by the term quadrivium. t Astrology then included astronomy. # Certain Greek philosophers are said to have come over from Athens to England in the year 1248, and to have desired to address the King upon the errors of the Latin Church, but that they could not obtain a hearing. $ Jews had resided in Oxford from the reign of William the Conqueror, where they were allotted peculiar places of abode called Jewries.
master of the language, so that he could write fluently in it, and even as a poet. At the same time, he made great advances during his stay at Paris in philosophy and theology—the latter, as is probable, forming his chief object of study. Returning from Paris to Oxford, he commenced reading lectures in philosophy and theology. His lectures, which received universal applause, obtained for him, in conjunction with his general literary merits, the distinguished notice of William de Vere, Bishop of Hereford, in whose family he became an inmate. But he appears to have remained in this situation no long time, as that Prelate died in 1199. Losing thus all prospects of preferment from that quarter, he resumed his post at the University, and continued to read lectures there for several years, until his increasing reputation recommended him effectually to Hugh de Welles, Bishop of Lincoln, to whose diocese Oxford then belonged. His first preferment, accordingly, was the prebend of Clifton, in the Cathedral Church of Lincoln; and this was probably the first which became vacant in the patronage of the Bishop, who was only consecrated in 1209. In 1210 he obtained the archdeaconry of Chester; and, in the course of the following years, was successively archdeacon, of Wilts, then of Northampton, and lastly of Leicester. He also exchanged his prebend of Clifton for the more valuable one of Empingham in the same Cathedral. The date of these successive preferments has not been preserved ; but he was Archdeacon of Northampton in 1221, and of Leicester in 1231. The last appointment he did not retain long. Some time before 1224 he proceeded in divinity, being admitted to the degree of Doctor in that faculty. The Franciscans, or Grey Friars, having obtained a settlement in Oxford in 1224, Agnellus Pisanus, who was at the head of the mission, built a school there, and prevailed on Grosseteste to become their lecturer, both in philosophy and theology. In 1225 Bishop Welles presented him to the rectory of Albodeslegh, or Ashley, in the county of Northampton. He was then only a Deacon, though a Doctor of Divinity; and probably, being about to undertake a cure of souls, entered at that time into the order of Priesthood. He appears, also, to have held afterwards the rectory of St. Margaret's, Leicester, while Archdeacon of Leicester. In 1232, before the feast of All Saints, he was attacked with a violent fever, but soon recovered his health. At this period he had strongly imbibed the enthusiastic notion of the Friars, in whose society he chiefly lived, respecting the merit of personal poverty. He accordingly resigned all his preferments, except the prebend of Lincoln. Oxford, however, was still his chief residence; as we find him subsequently mentioned as Chancellor of the University, by the title of Magister Scholarium vel Scholarum; an office to which he was appointed by his old friend and patron Bishop Welles, On the death of that Bishop, in February, 1235, the see of Lincoln becoming vacant, the Chapter of that Church immediately fixed on Grosseteste as his successor. Their choice was made known to the King, Henry III., who readily sanctioned it. Grosseteste was accordingly consecrated Bishop of Lincoln, at Reading, in June of the same year, by Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of Bath and Wells, of Sarum, London, Ely, and Hereford, assisting at the ceremony". Before his consecration, he shewed the spirit with which he intended to act in his office. A certain monk presented a Deacon to him for institution to a large benefice. The person presented was deficient in learning, and besides did not even appear in a canonical garb, but was without the tonsure, and habited in red, wore a ring, and in his whole demeanour resembled a layman. The Bishop elect, struck with so incongruous a character, refused institution, urging, in answer to a friend who blamed him for his severity, that such correction was the more needful, as the person was immediately intended for a cure of souls. Having entered on his bishopric, he wrote to his Holiness, Gregory IX., and accompanied his letter with a small present. He also addressed letters to other persons high in rank at the papal court, bespeaking their favour in all matters respecting himself and his see. Among his first episcopal acts was an injunction to his Archdeacons to reform certain abuses; which was followed by a personal visitation of the different parts of the diocese. In visiting, he went through the several archdeaconries and deaneries, requiring the Clergy to appear before him at a fixed time and place; admonishing also the people to attend, in order to have their children confirmed, to hear the word of God, and to make their confession. He usually preached himself to the Clergy; but a friar, either a Franciscan or a Dominican, preached to the people. Four friars were afterwards employed in hearing confessions and enjoining penance. During the remainder of the day on which he confirmed, and the following day, the Bishop and his chaplains proceeded to make enquiries and correct abuses t.
* “It was not usual at this time for the suffragan Bishops of the province of Canterbury to be consecrated any where but in the metropolitical church; and the convent of Canterbury interposed their claim accordingly upon this occasion, but consented at last to let the ceremony proceed, lest the labour and charges of the attendance should be lost, and upon condition that this case should not be drawn into a precedent; as likewise under a protestation that they would never agree to any such irregularity in future.” Life of Grosseteste, p. 36. Consecrations, however, still took place in different churches. William de Raley was consecrated Bishop of Norwich in St. Paul's Church, London; Hugh de Patishull, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, at a priory in Surry; Richard de Wendover, Bishop of Rochester, at St. Gregory's, Canterbury; H. de Lexinton, Bishop of Lincoln, in the new. Tenple, London. Ibid.
t Among “ the constitutions” directed by Bishop Grosseteste to his Clergy, we find him abolishing the feast of fools—“Execrabilem etiam consuetudinem, quae consuevit in quibusdam ecclesiis observari de faciendo festostultorum, speciali authoritate rescripti apostolici penitus inhibemus; ne de domo orationis fiat domus ludibrii, et acerbitas circumcisionis Domini Jesu jocis et voluptatibus subsannetur.” Some have confounded this feast with that of the boy-bishop; but Dr. Pegge states, that it was certainly a distinct one, as the latter could only be celebrated where there was a choir. “In the year 1445,” he adds, “Charles VII. of France ordered the masters in theology at Paris to forbid the ministers of the collegiate churches to celebrate the feast of fools at Christmas in their churches, where the clergy danced in masks and antic dresses, and exhibited The Church then amply needed such a process of inquiry, disfigured as it was by the profligacy of conduct which prevailed among the Clergy. The unnatural regulation of the Church of Rome, which imposes celibacy upon all who are admitted to holy orders, under the specious air of a refined chastity, had produced in reality, as such a system ever must produce, the grossest licentiousness. A visitation, consequently, at a time when ecclesiastical authority was in its plenitude, was felt very severely, and even drew forth remonstrances from some persons, who observed to him that it was men, and unprecedented. In 1236 he extended his visitation to the monasteries, and proceeded with great strictness of discipline, deposing several Abbots and Priors, and appointing others in their stead. A circumstance now occurred which occasioned him some perplexity. The King had required Ranulph, the Benedictine Abbot of Ramsey, in the diocese of Lincoln, to become one of his Justices itinerant for the counties of Bedford and Buckingham. As it was contrary to the canons that an abbot or monk should engage in any secular business, the Bishop conceived it would be culpable in him to overlook such an appointment. He wrote, therefore, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, urging that he would interpose with the King to have the appointment revoked, and asking advice as to the line of conduct which he ought to pursue on such an occasion. The advice of the Archbishop was, that he should be quiet and let the matter rest until a Council should be called. But this answer did not satisfy Bishop Grosseteste, who had made up his mind to risk all consequences of acting according to his conscience. Being denounced by the King, upon his opposition, as an enemy to the crown and royal dignity, he wrote again to the Archbishop, demanding a categorical answer to the question, “Whether Ranulph would sin in complying or not: if not, it was a light matter and might be tolerated; but if there was sin in the case, as he was clearly of opinion there was, we cannot, he says, without involving ourselves, permit him to fall into this ditch.” This he pressed strongly upon the Archbishop, and especially from the solemn promise made by Bishops at their consecration, “that they would receive, teach, and observe the orthodox traditions of the
plusieurs mocqueries, spectacles publiques, de leurs corps deguisements, farces, rigmines, with various enormities shocking to decency.” He refers to Wharton's History of English Poetry, p. 247. Marten's Anecdotes, I. col. 1804. Belet de Divin. Offic. c. 72. Gussanvil, post. not. ad Petr. Gall. Christian. c. 96. He mentions also a catalogue of MSS. in which was “officium stultorum ad usum ecclesiae Senonensuum notis musiciis;” that the practice prevailed at Rheims and at Lisieux; that at York, in an inventory, 1536, is a little mitre and ring for the bishop of fools; and that there was an office of Rex Stultorum in Beverley church, prohibited in 1891. (Life of Grosseteste, p. 820.) It was a rejoicing among the Clergy from Christmas-day to Epiphany, and more particularly on the last day of the year; or, according to some accounts, on the Innocent's day, or the octave of the Nativity; when they chose a bishop, or archbishop, of fools, with many ridiculous ceremonies. The custom had also been introduced in convents, The reader will probably recollect the admirable description of the “Abbot of Unreason,” by the Author of Waverley, in the first volume of “The Abbot.”