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By H. W. C. Davis
Text in [square brackets] was added especially for this online publication by Ellopos
V - THE PAPACY BEFORE GREGORY VII
An institution is not necessarily discredited when we discover that it has grown from small beginnings, has been applied under new conditions to new purposes, and in the course of a long history has been defended by arguments which are demonstrably false. The child, no doubt, is father of the man; but the man is something different from, and may well be something better than, his infant self. We must not attach undue importance to the study of origins. On the other hand we cannot afford to neglect them. However slight the fibres by which the present is rooted in the past, to observe them is to realise the continuity of human development - the most important, the most obvious, and the most neglected of the lessons that history can teach. It is true that the roots, however strong and however deeply set, are insufficient to account for the characteristics of the plant which springs from them. But it is also true that neither plants nor institutions can altogether shed the husk of their immaturity. They are not entirely adapted to the conditions under which they reach their full development. The Papacy in the zenith of its power and renown is partly new and partly old. When we consider the papal theory, as it floated before the mind of a Gregory VII or an Innocent III, it produces in us the same impression of symmetry, logical consistency and completeness, which we experience on entering for the first time one of the great medieval churches.
But when once we have grasped the design of the architect, we shall usually find that he has conformed in some respects to unmeaning traditions inherited from an earlier period, and further that his work incorporates the remnants of an older, simpler structure. Here are pillars of massive girth altogether disproportionate to the delicate arches which they carry; there an old tower has been buttressed to make it capable of supporting a new spire. For all the builder's cunning, we can yet distinguish between the new and the renovated. So it is with the papal apologia in the great days of papal policy. A sentence from the laws of ancient Rome dovetails with an axiom stolen from the philosophers of the Porch or the Academy. Fables of Gallic or Egyptian origin are invoked to corroborate the canons of Nicene and Chalcedonian synods. A text from a Hebrew prophet is interpreted by the fancy of an African expositor. The fabric composed of these incongruous elements has in truth a unity of purpose; but the design is so disguised and so perverted by the recalcitrance of the materials, that we are irresistibly impelled to ask how and why they came to be employed.
Cf. Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Ancient Rome * Ancient Greece * The Making of Europe
Davis' Medieval Europe in Print or for Amazon Kindle