Vol. 5, Chapter XVI. Popular Worship and Superstition

130. The Worship of Mary

Literature: The Works of the Schoolmen, especially, Damiani: de bono suffragiorum et variis miraculis, praesertim B. Virginis, Migne, 145. 559 sqq., 586 sqq., etc. — Anselm: Orationes et meditationes, de conceptu virginis, Migne, vol. 158. — Guibert of Nogent: de laudibus S. Mariae, Migne, 166. 537-579. — Honorius of Autun: Sigillum b. Mariae, Migne, 172. 495-518. — Bernard: de laudibus virginis matris, Migne, 183. 55 sqq., 70 sqq., 415 sqq., etc. — P. Lombardus: Sent., III. 3 sqq. Hugo de St. Victor: de Mariae virginitate, Migne, 176. 857-875, etc. — Alb. Magnus: de laudibus b. Mariae virginis, Borgnet’s ed., 36. 1-841. — Bonaventura: In Sent., III. 3, Peltier’s ed., IV. 53 sqq., 105 sqq., 202 sqq., etc.; de corona b. Mariae V., Speculum b. M. V., Laus b. M. V., Psalterium minus et majus b. M. V., etc., all in Peltier’s ed., XIV. 179-293. — Th. Aquinas: Summa, III. 27-35, Migne, IV. 245-319. — Analecta Hymnica medii aevi, ed. by G. M. Dreves, 49 Parts, Leipz., 1886-1906. — Popular writers as Caesar Of Heisterbach, De Bourbon, Thomas à. Chantimpré, and De Voragine: Legenda aurea, Englished by William Caxton, Kelmscott Press ed., 1892; Temple classics ed., 7 vols.

F. Margott: D. Mariologie d. hl. Th. v. Aquino, Freiburg, 1878. — B. Häusler: de Mariae plenitudine gratiae secundum S. Bernardum, Freiburg, 1901. — H. von Eicken: Gesch. und System d. mittelalt. Weltanschauung, Stuttg., 1887, p. 476 sqq. — K. Benrath: Zur Gesch. der Marienverehrung, Gotha, 1886. — The Histt. of Doctr. of Schwane, pp. 413-428, Harnack, II. 568-562, Seeberg, Sheldon, etc. — Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, I. 108-128. The artt. in Wetzer-Welte, Empfängniss, IV. 454-474, Maria, Marienlegenden, Marienfeste, vol. VIII., Ave Maria, Rosenkranz, and the art. Maria, by Zöckler in Herzog. — Mrs. Jamieson: Legends of the Monastic Orders. — Baring-Gould: Lives of the Saints, Curious Myths of the M. Ages. — Butler: Legends of the Saints.

Ave coeleste lilium, Ave rosa speciosa

Ave mater humilium, Superis imperiosa,

Deitatis triclinium; hac in valle lacrymarum

Da robur, fer auxilium, O excrusatrix culparum.

Bonaventura, Laus Beatae Virginis Mariae.

The worship of the Virgin Mary entered into the very soul of medieval piety and reached its height in the doctrine of her immaculate conception. Solemn theologians in their dogmatic treatises, ardent hymn-writers and minnesingers, zealous preachers and popular prose-writers unite in dilating upon her purity and graces on earth and her beauty and intercessory power in heaven. In her devotion, chivalry and religion united. A pious gallantry invested her with all the charms of womanhood and the highest beatitude of the heavenly estate. The austerities of the convent were softened by the recollection of her advocacy and tender guardianship, and monks, who otherwise shrank from the company of women, dwelt upon the marital tie which bound them to her. To them her miraculous help was being continually extended to counteract the ills brought by Satan. The Schoolmen, in their treatment of the immaculate conception, used over and over again delicate terms which in conversation the pure to-day do not employ.

Monastic orders were dedicated to Mary, such as the Carthusian, Cistercian, and Carmelite, as were also some of the most imposing churches of Christendom, as the cathedrals at Milan and Notre Dame, in Paris.

The titles given to Mary were far more numerous than the titles given to Christ and every one of them is extra-biblical except the word “virgin.” An exuberant fancy allegorized references to her out of all sorts of texts, never dreamed of by their writers. She was found referred to in almost every figurative expression of the Old Testament which could be applied to a pure, human being. To all the Schoolmen, Mary is the mother of God, the queen of heaven, the clement queen, the queen of the world, the empress of the world, the mediatrix, the queen of the ages, the queen of angels, men and demons, the model of all virtues, and Damiani even calls her “the mother of the eternal emperor.”

Monks, theologians, and poets strain the Latin language to express their admiration of her beauty and benignity, her chastity and heavenly glory. Her motherhood and virginity are alike subjects of eulogy. The conception of physical grace, as expressed when the older Notker of St. Gall called her “the most beautiful of all virgins,” filled the thought of the Schoolmen and the peasant. Albertus Magnus devotes a whole chapter of more than thirty pages of two columns each to the praise of her corporal beauty. In his exposition of Son_1:15, “Behold thou art fair, my love,” he comments upon the beauty of her hair, her shoulders, her lips, her nose, her feet, and other parts of her body. Bonaventura’s hymns in her praise abound in tropical expressions, such as “she is more ruddy than the rose and whiter than the lily.” Wernher of Tegernsee about 1178 sang: — 

Her face was so virtuous, her eyes so Bright,

Her manner so pure, that, among all women,

None could with her compare.

In a remarkable passage, Bernard represents her in the celestial places drawing attention to herself by her form and beauty so that she attracted the King himself to desire her. Dante, a century and more later, enjoying paradise in the company of Bernard, thus represented the vision of Mary: — 

I saw the virgin smile, whose rapture shot

Joy through the eyes of all that blessed throng:

And even did the words that I possess

Equal imagination, I should not

Dare, the attempt her faintest charms to express.

Paradiso, Canto XXXI.

The Canticles was regarded as an inspired anthology of Mary’s excellences of body and soul. Damiani represents God as inflamed with love for her and singing its lines in her praise. She was the golden bed on which God, weary in His labor for men and angels, lay down for repose. The later interpretation was that the book is a bridal song for the nuptials between the Holy Spirit and the Virgin. Bernard’s homilies on this portion of Scripture are the most famous collection of the Middle Ages. Alanus ab Insulis, who calls Mary the “tabernacle of God, the palace of the celestial King,” says that it refers to the Church, but in an especial and most spiritual way to the glorious virgin. Writer after writer, preacher after preacher, took up this favorite portion of the Old Testament. An abbess represented the Virgin as singing to the Spirit:“My beloved is mine and I am his. He will tarry between my breasts.” The Holy Spirit responded, “Thy breasts are sweeter than honey.”

To Mary was given a place of dignity equal or superior to Christ as the friend of the sinful and unfortunate and the guide of souls to heaven. Damiani called her “the door of heaven,” the window of paradise. Anselm spoke of her as “the vestibule of universal propitiation, the cause of universal reconciliation, the vase and temple of life and salvation for the world.” A favorite expression was “the tree of life” — lignum vitae — based upon Pro_3:8. Albertus Magnus, in the large volume he devotes to Mary’s virtues, gives no less than forty reasons why she should be worshipped, authority being found for each one in a text of Scripture. The first reason was that the Son of God honors Mary. This accords with the fifth commandment, and Christ himself said of his mother, “I will glorify the house of my glory,” Isa_60:7; house, according to the Schoolman, being intended to mean Mary. The Bible teems with open and concealed references to her. Albertus ascribed to her thirty-five virtues, on all of which he elaborates at length, such as humility, sincerity, benignity, omnipotence, and modesty. He finds eighty-one biblical names indicative of her functions and graces. Twelve of these are taken from things in the heavens. She is a sun, a moon, a light, a cloud, a horizon, an aurora. Eight are taken from things terrestrial. Mary is a field, a mountain, a hill, a stone. Twenty-one are represented by things pertaining to water. She is a river, a fountain, a lake, a fish-pond, a cistern, a torrent, a shell. Thirty-one are taken from biblical figures. Mary is an ark, a chair, a house, a bed, a nest, a furnace, a library. Nine are taken from military and married life. Mary is a castle, a tower, a wall. It may be interesting to know how Mary fulfilled the office of a library. In her, said the ingenious Schoolman, were found all the books of the Old Testament, of all of which she had plenary knowledge as is shown in the words of her song which run, “as was spoken by our fathers.” She also had plenary knowledge of the Gospels as is evident from Luk_2:19: “Mary kept all these sayings in her heart.” But especially do Mary’s qualities lie concealed under the figure of the garden employed so frequently in the Song of Solomon. To the elaboration of this comparison Albertus devotes two hundred and forty pages, introducing it with the words, “a garden shut up is my sister, my bride” Son_4:12.

Bonaventura equals Albertus in ransacking the heavens and the earth and the waters for figures to express Mary’s glories and there is a tender chord of mysticism running through his expositions which is adapted to move all hearts and to carry the reader, not on his guard, away from the simple biblical statements. The devout Franciscan frequently returns to this theme and makes Mary the subject of his verse and sermons. He exhausts the vocabulary for words in her praise. She is prefigured in Jacob’s ladder, Noah’s ark, the brazen serpent, Aaron’s rod, the star of Balaam, the pot of manna, Gideon’s horn, and other objects of Hebrew history. To each of these his Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary devotes poetic treatment extending in cases to more than one hundred lines and carrying the reader away by their affluence of imagination and the sweetness of the rhythm.

Imitating the Book of Psalms, Bonaventura wrote two psalteries, each consisting of one hundred and fifty parts. Each part of the Minor Psaltery consists of four lines, its opening lines being “Hail Virgin, tree of life; Hail Virgin, door of liberty; Hail Virgin, dear to God; Hail Virgin, light of the world; Hail Virgin, harbor of life; Hail Virgin, most beautiful.” In the Greater Psaltery, Bonaventura paraphrases the one hundred and fifty psalms and introduces into each one Mary’s name and her attributes, revelling in ascriptions of her preeminence over men and angels. Here are several selections, but no selection can give any adequate idea of the liberty taken with Scripture. The first Psalm is made to run, “Blessed is the man who loves thee, O Virgin Mary. Thy grace will comfort his soul.” The Twenty-third runs, “The Lord directs me, O Virgin mother of God — genetrix dei — because thou hast turned towards me His loving countenance.” The first verse of Psa_121:1-8 reads, “I have lifted up my eyes to thee, O Mother of Christ, from whom solace comes to all flesh.”

Tender as are Bernard’s descriptions of Christ and his work, he nevertheless assigns to Mary the place of mediator between the soul and the Saviour. In Mary there is nothing severe, nothing to be dreaded. She is tender to all, offering milk and wool. If you are terrified at the thunders of the Father, go to Jesus, and if you fear to go to Jesus, then run to Mary. Besought by the sinner, she shows her breasts and bosom to the Son, as the Son showed his wounds to the Father. Let her not depart from thine heart. Following her, you will not go astray; beseeching her, you will not despair; thinking of her, you will not err.

So also Bonaventura pronounces Mary the mediator between us and Christ. As God is the lord of revenge — Dominus ultionum, — he says in his Greater Psaltery, so Mary is the mother of compassion. She presents the requests of mortals to the Second Person of the Trinity, softening his wrath and winning favors which otherwise would not be secured.

Anselm, whom we are inclined to think of as a sober theologian above his fellows, was no less firm as an advocate of Mary’s mediatorial powers. Prayer after prayer does he offer to her, all aflame with devotion. “Help me by thy death and by thine assumption into heaven,” he prays. “Come to my aid,” he cries, “and intercede for me, O mother of God, to thy sweet Son, for me a sinner.”

The veneration for Mary found a no less remarkable expression in the poetry of the Middle Ages. The vast collection, Analecta hymnica, published by Dreves and up to this time filling fifteen volumes, gives hundreds and thousands of sacred songs dwelling upon the merits and glories of the Virgin. The plaintive and tender key in which they are written is adapted to move the hardest heart, even though they are full of descriptions which have nothing in the Scriptures to justify them. Here are two verses taken at random from the thousands: — 

Ave Maria, Angelorum dia

Coeli rectrix, Virgo Maria

Ave maris stella, Lucens miseris

Deitatis cella, Porta principis.

Hail, Mary, Mother of God, Ruler of heaven, O Virgin Mary … Hail, Star of the Sea, Lighting the wretched Cell of the Deity, Gate of the king.

Where the thinkers and singers of the age were so ardent in their worship of Mary, what could be expected from the mass of monks and from the people! A few citations will suffice to show the implicit faith placed in Mary’s intercession and her power to work miracles.

Peter Damiani tells of a woman who, after being dead a year, appeared in one of the churches of Rome and related how she and many others had been delivered from purgatory by Mary in answer to their prayers. He also tells how she had a good beating given a bishop for deposing a cleric who had been careful never to pass her image without saluting it.

Caesar of Heisterbach abounds in stories of the gracious offices Mary performed inside the convent and outside of it. She frequently was seen going about the monastic spaces, even while the monks were in bed. On such occasions her beauty was always noted. Now and then she turned and gave a severe look to a careless monk, not lying in bed in the approved way. Of one such case the narrator says he did not know whether the severity was due to the offender’s having laid aside his girdle or having taken off his sandals. Mary stood by to receive the souls of dying monks, gave them seats at her feet in heaven, sometimes helped sleepy friars out by taking up their prayers when they began to doze, sometimes in her journeys through the choir aroused the drowsy, sometimes stretched out her arm from her altar and boxed the ears of dull worshippers, and sometimes gave the staff to favored monks before they were chosen abbots. She sometimes undid a former act, as when she saw to it that Dietrich was deposed whom she had aided in being elected to the archbishopric of Cologne.

To pious Knights, according to Caesar of Heisterbach, Mary was scarcely less gracious than she was to the inmates of the convent. She even took the place of contestants in the tournament. Thus it was in the case of Walter of Birbach who was listed and failed to get to the tournament field at the appointed hour for tarrying in a chapel in the worship of Mary. But the spectators were not aware of his absence. The tournament began, was contested to a close, and, as it was thought, Walter gained the day. But as it happened, Mary herself had taken the Knight’s place and fought in his stead, and, when the Knight arrived, he was amazed to find every one speaking in praise of the victory he had won. Thomas of Chantimpré tells of a robber whose head was cut off and rolled down the valley. He called out to the Virgin to be allowed to confess. A priest, passing by, ordered the head joined to the body. Then the robber confessed to the priest and told him that, as a young man, he had fasted in honor of the Virgin every Wednesday and Saturday under the promise that she would give him opportunity to make confession before passing into the next world.

All these collections of tales set forth how Mary often met the devil and took upon herself to soundly rebuke and punish him. According to Jacob of Voragine a husband, in return for riches, promised the devil his wife. On their way to the spot, where she was to be delivered up, the wife, suspecting some dark deed, turned aside to a chapel and implored Mary’s aid. Mary put the worshipper to sleep and herself mercifully took the wife’s place at the husband’s side and rode with him, he not noticing the change. When they met the devil, the “mother of God” after some sound words of reprimand sent him back howling to hell.

Mary’s compassion and her ability to move her austere Son are brought out in the Miracle Plays. In the play of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the foolish virgins, after having in vain besought God for mercy, turned to the Virgin with these words: — 

Since God our suit hath now denied

We Mary pray, the gentle maid,

The Mother of Compassion,

To pity our great agony

And for us, sinners poor, to pray

Mercy from her beloved Son.

The Church never officially put its stamp of commendation upon the popular belief that the Son is austere. Nevertheless, even down to the very eve of the Reformation, the belief prevailed that Christ’s austerity had to be appeased by Mary’s compassion.

The Virgin Birth of Christ. — The literary criticism of the Bible of recent years was as much undreamed of in this period of the Middle Ages as were steamboats or telephones. Schoolman and priest seem never to have doubted when they repeated the article of the Creed, “Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” Homily and theological treatise lingered over the words of Isa_7:14: “Behold a virgin shall conceive,” and over the words of the angelic annunciation: “Hail, thou that art highly favored. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women …. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” They discussed the conception and virginal birth in every possible aspect, as to the part the Holy Spirit had in the event and the part of Mary herself. Here are some of the questions propounded by Thomas Aquinas: Was there true matrimony between Joseph and Mary? Was it necessary that the angel should appear in bodily form? Was Christ’s flesh taken from Adam or from David? Was it formed from the purest bloods of Mary? Was the Holy Spirit the primary agent in the conception of Christ? Was Christ’s body animated with a soul at the instant of conception?

None of the Schoolmen goes more thoroughly than Hugo of St. Victor into the question of the part played by the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus. He was at pains to show that, while the Spirit influenced the Virgin in conception, he was not the father of Jesus. The Spirit did not impart to Mary seed from his own substance, but by his power and love developed substance in her through the agency of her own flesh.

According to Anselm, God can make a human being in four ways, by the co-operation of a man and woman; without either as in the case of Adam; with the sole co-operation of the man as in the case of Eve; or from a woman without a man. Having produced men in the first three ways, it was most fitting God should resort to the fourth method in the case of Jesus. In another work he compares God’s creation of the first man from clay and the second man from a woman without the co-operation of a man.

Thomas Aquinas is very elaborate in his treatment of Mary’s virginity. “As a virgin she conceived, as a virgin gave birth, and she remains a virgin forevermore.” The assumption that she had other children derogates from her sanctity, for, as the mother of God, she would have been most ungrateful if she had not been content with such a Son. And it would have been highest presumption for Joseph to have polluted her who had received the annunciation of the angel. He taught that, in the conception of Christ’s body, the whole Trinity was active and Mary is to be called “rightly, truly, and piously, genetrix Dei,” the mother of God.

The medieval estimate of Mary found its loftiest expression in the doctrine of the immaculate conception, the doctrine that Mary herself was conceived without sin. The Schoolmen were agreed that she was exempt from all actual transgression. They separated on the question whether she was conceived without sin and so was immaculate from the instant of conception or whether she was also tainted with original sin from which, however, she was delivered while she was yet in her mother’s womb. The latter view was taken by Anselm, Hugo of St. Victor, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and even Bonaventura. The view that she was conceived without sin and thus was never tainted with original sin was advocated by Duns Scotus, who, however, did not go further than to assert for it probability. Bernard, writing to the church of Lyons, condemned it for having introduced the festival of the immaculate conception, which he said lacked the approval of the Church, of reason and tradition. If Mary was conceived without sin, then why might not sinless conception be affirmed of Mary’s parents and grandparents and her ancestors to remotest antiquity. However, Bernard expressed his willingness to yield if the Church should appoint a festival of the immaculate conception.

Bonaventura gave three reasons against the doctrine exempting Mary from original sin; namely, from common consent, from reason, and from prudence. According to the first she suffered with the rest of mankind sorrows, which must have been the punishment of her own guilt inherited from Adam. According to the second, the conception of the body precedes its animation, the word “animation” being used by the Schoolmen for the first association of the soul with the body. In the conception of the body there is always concupiscence. The third argument relied upon the Fathers who agreed that Christ was the only being on earth exempt from sin. Bonaventura did not fix the time when Mary was made immaculate except to say, that it probably occurred soon after her conception and at that moment passion or flame of sin — fomes peccati — was extinguished.

Thomas Aquinas emphatically took this position and declared it was sufficient to confess that the blessed virgin committed no actual sin, either mortal or venial. “Thou art all fair, my love, and no spot is in thee,” Son_4:7.

Nowhere else is Duns Scotus more subtle and sophistical than in his argument for Mary’s spotless conception whereby she was untainted by hereditary sin, and no doctrine has become more closely attached with his name. This argument is a chain of conjectures. Mary’s sinless conception, he said, was only a matter of probability, but at the same time seeming and congruous. The threefold argument is as follows: 1. God’s grace would be enhanced by releasing one individual from all taint of original sin from the very beginning. 2. By conferring this benefit Christ would bind Mary to himself by the strongest ties. 3. The vacancy left in heaven by the fallen angels could be best filled by her, if she were preserved immaculate from the beginning. As the second Adam was preserved immaculate, so it was fitting the second Eve should be. Duns’ conclusion was expressed in these words: “If the thing does not contradict the Church and the Scriptures, its reality seems probable, because it is more excellent to affirm of Mary that she was not conceived in sin.”

The warm controversy between the Thomists and Scotists over the immaculate conception has been referred to in another place. Saints also joined in it. St. Brigitta of Sweden learned through a vision that Mary was conceived immaculate. On the other hand the Dominican, St. Catherine of Siena, prophesied Mary had not been sanctified till the third hour after her conception. The synod of Paris, 1387, decided in favor of the Scotist position, but Sixtus IV., 1483, threatened with excommunication either party denouncing the other. Finally, Duns Scotus triumphed, and in 1854, Pius IX. made it a dogma of the Church that Mary in the very instant of her conception was kept immune from all stain of original sin.

The festival of the immaculate conception, observed Dec. 8, was taken up by the Franciscans at their general chapter, held in Pisa, 1263, and its celebration made obligatory in their churches.

One more possible glorification of Mary, the humble mother of our Lord, has not yet been turned into dogma by the Roman Church, her assumption into heaven, her body not having seen corruption. This is held as a pious opinion and preachers like St. Bernard, Honorius of Autun, Gottfried of Admont, and Werner of St. Blasius preached sermon after sermon on Mary’s assumption. The belief is based upon the story, told by Juvenal of Jerusalem to the emperor Marcian at the council of Chalcedon, 451, that three days after Mary’s burial in Jerusalem, her coffin but not her body was found by the Apostles. Juvenal afterwards sent the coffin to the emperor. Even Augustine had shunned to believe that the body of the mother of our Lord saw corruption. The festival of the Assumption was celebrated in Rome as early as the middle of the eleventh century. The synod of Toulouse, 1229, included the festival among the other church festivals at the side of Christmas and Easter. Thomas Aquinas spoke of it as being tolerated by the Church, not commanded.

The Ave Maria, “Hail Mary, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” made up of the words of the angelic salutation and the words of Elizabeth, Luk_1:28, Luk_1:42, was used as a prayer in the time of Peter Damiani, and was specially expounded by Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas. The petitionary clause, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of death” appears in the sixteenth century and was introduced into the Roman breviary 1568. The so-called Ave, or Angelus, bell was ordered rung by John XXII. (d. 1334) three times a day. When it peals, the woman in the home and the workman in the field are expected to bow their heads in prayer to Mary.

In few respects are the worship and teaching of the Middle Ages so different from those of the Protestant churches as in the claims made for Mary and the regard paid to her. If we are to judge by the utterances and example of Pius IX. and Leo XIII., the medieval cult still goes on in the Roman communion. And more recently Pius X. shows that he follows his predecessors closely. In his encyclical of Jan. 15, 1907, addressed to the French bishops, he says, “In full confidence that the Virgin Immaculate, daughter of our Father, mother of the Word, spouse of the Holy Ghost, will obtain for you from the most holy and adorable Trinity better days, we give you our Apostolic Benediction.” It was the misfortune of the medieval theologians to fall heir to the eulogies passed upon Mary by Jerome and other early Fathers of the early Church and the veneration in which she was held. They blindly followed having inherited also the allegorical mode of interpretation from the past. In part they were actuated by a sincere purpose to exalt the glory and divinity of Christ when they ascribed to Mary exemption from sin. On the other hand it was a Pagan, though chivalric, superstition to exalt her to a position of a goddess who stands between Christ and the sinner and mitigates by her intercession the austerity which marks his attitude towards them. This was the response the medieval Church gave to the exclamation of St. Bernard, “Who is this virgin so worthy of honor as to be saluted by the angel and so lowly as to have been espoused to a carpenter?” The tenderest piety of the Middle Ages went out to her and is expressed in such hymns as the Mater dolorosa and the companion piece, Mater speciosa. But this piety, while it no doubt contributed to the exaltation of womanhood, also involved a relaxation of penitence, for in the worship of Mary tears of sympathy are substituted for resolutions of repentance.


131. The Worship of Relics

Literature: See Lit., § 55. Guibert of Nogent, d. 1124: de pignoribus sanctorum, Migne, vol. 156, 607-679. — Guntherus: Hist. Constantinopol., Migne, vol. 212. — Peter the Venerable: de miraculis, Migne, vol. 189. — Caesar of Heisterbach, Jacob of Voragine, Salimbene, etc. — P. Vignon: The Shroud of Christ, Engl. trans., N. Y., 1903.

The worship of relics was based by Thomas Aquinas upon the regard nature prompts us to pay to the bodies of our deceased friends and the things they held most sacred. The bodies of the saints are to be reverenced because they were in a special manner the temples of the Holy Ghost. The worship to be paid to them is the lowest form of worship, dulia. Hyperdulia, a higher form of worship, is to be rendered to the true cross on which Christ hung. In this case the worship is rendered not to the wood but to him who hung upon the cross. Latreia, the highest form of worship, belongs to God alone. Following the seventh ecumenical council, the Schoolmen denied that when adoration is paid to images, say the image of Peter, worship is given to the image itself. It is rendered to the prototype, or that for which the image stands.

In the earlier years of the Middle Ages, Italy was the most prolific source of relics. With the opening of the Crusades the eyes of the Church were turned to the East, and the search of relic-hunters was abundantly rewarded. With open-mouthed credulity the West received the holy objects which Crusaders allowed to be imposed upon them. The rich mine opened up at the sack of Constantinople has already been referred to. Theft was sanctified which recovered a fragment from a saint’s body or belongings. The monk, Gunther, does not hesitate to enumerate the articles which the abbot, Martin, and his accomplices stole from the reliquary in one of the churches of the Byzantine city. Salimbene mentions a present made to him from one of the churches of Ravenna of the bones of Elisha, all except the head, which had been stolen by the Austin friars.

The Holy Lance was disclosed at a critical moment in the siege of Antioch. The Holy Grail was found in Caesarea in 1101. The bones of the three kings, Caspar, Melchior, and Belthazar, reputed to have been the magi who presented their gifts at the manger, were removed from Milan to Cologne, where they still repose. In the same city of Cologne were found, in 1156, the remains of Ursula and the virgin martyrs, put to death by the Huns, the genuineness of the discovery being attested by a vision to Elizabeth of Schönau. Among the endless number of objects transmitted to Western Europe from the East were Noah’s beard, the horns of Moses, the stone on which Jacob slept at Bethel, the branch from which Absalom hung, our Lord’s foreskin, his navel cord, his coat, tears he shed at the grave of Lazarus, milk from Mary’s breasts, the table on which the Last Supper was eaten, the stone of Christ’s sepulchre, Paul’s stake in the flesh, a tooth belonging to St. Lawrence. Christ’s tooth, which the monks of St. Medard professed to have in their possession, was attacked by Guibert of Nogent on the ground that when Christ rose from the dead he was in possession of all the parts of his body. He also attacked the genuineness of the umbilical cord. The prioress of Fretelsheim claimed to be in possession of two relics of the ass which bore Christ to Jerusalem.

The holy coat, the blood of Christ, and his cross have perhaps played the largest part in the literature of relics. Christ’s holy coat is claimed by Treves and Argenteuil as well as other localities. It was the seamless garment — tunica inconsutilis — woven by Mary, which grew as Christ grew and was worn on the cross. A notice in the Gesta Trevirorum (1105-1124) carries it back to the empress Helena who is said to have taken it to Treves. In the time of Frederick Barbarossa it was one of the glories of the city. On the eve of the Reformation it was solemnly shown to Maximilian I. and assembled German princes. At different dates, vast bodies of pilgrims have gone to look at it; the largest number in 1891, when 1,925,130 people passed through the cathedral for this purpose. Many miracles were believed to have been performed.

The arrival of some of Christ’s blood in England, Oct. 13, 1247, was solemnized by royalty and furnishes one of the strange and picturesque religious scenes of English medieval history. The detailed description of Matthew Paris speaks of it as “a holy benefit from heaven.” Its genuineness was vouched for by the Masters of the Templars and the Hospitallers, and by the seals of the patriarch of Jerusalem, and the archbishops and other prelates of the Holy Land. After fasting and keeping watch the night before, the king, Henry III., accompanied by the priests of London in full canonicals and with tapers burning, carried the vase containing the holy liquid from St. Paul’s to Westminster, and made a circuit of the church, the palace, and the king’s own apartments. The king proceeded on foot, holding the sacred vessel above his head. The bishop of Norwich preached a sermon on the occasion and, at a later date, Robert Grosseteste preached another in which he defended the genuineness of the relic, giving a memorable exhibition of scholastic ingenuity.

The true cross was found more than once and fragments of it were numerous, so numerous that the fiction had to be invented that the true cross had the singular property of multiplying itself indefinitely. A choice must be made between the stories. The first Crusaders beheld the cross in Jerusalem. Richard I., during the Third Crusade, was directed to a piece of it by an aged man, the abbot of St. Elie, who had buried it in the ground and refused to deliver it up to Saladin, even though that prince put him in bonds to force him to do so. Richard and the army kissed it with pious devotion. Among the objects which the abbot, Martin, secured in Constantinople were a piece of the true cross and a drop of the Lord’s blood. The true cross, however, was still entire, and in 1241 it reached Paris. It had originally been bought by the Venetians from the king of Jerusalem for £20,000 and was purchased from the Emperor Baldwin by Louis IX. The relic was received with great ceremony and carried into the French capital by the king, with feet and head bare, and accompanied by his mother, Blanche, the queen, the king’s brothers, and a great concourse of nobles and clergy. The crown of thorns was carried in the same procession. At a later time these relics were placed in the new and beautiful chapel which Louis built, a supposed holy coat of Christ, the iron head of the lance which pierced his side, and the sponge offered to him on the cross, together with other relics.

The English chronicler’s enthusiasm for this event seems not to have been in the least dampened by the fact that the English abbey of Bromholm also possessed the true cross. It reached England in 1247, through a monk who had found it among the effects of the Emperor Baldwin, after he had fallen in battle. The monk appeared at the convent door with his two children, and carrying the sacred relic under his cloak. Heed was given to his story and he was taken in. Miracles at once began to be performed, even to the cleansing of lepers and the raising of the dead.

Some idea of the popular estimate of the value of relics may be had from the story which Caesar of Heisterbach relates of a certain Bernard who belonged to Caesar’s convent. Bernard was in the habit of carrying about with him a box containing the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul. Happening to give way to sensual thoughts, the two saints gave him a punch in the side. On Bernard’s assuming a proper mental state, the thumping stopped, but as soon as he renewed the unseemly thoughts the thumping began again. Bernard took the hint and finally desisted altogether. Caesar had the satisfaction of knowing that when Bernard had these experiences, he was not yet a monk.

The resentment of relics at being mistreated frequently came within the range of Caesar’s experience. One of St. Nicolas’ teeth, kept at Brauweiler, on one occasion jumped out of the glass box which contained it, to show the saint’s disgust at the irreverence of the people who were looking at it. Another case was of the relics of two virgins which had been hid in time of war and were left behind when other relics were restored to the reliquary. They were not willing to be neglected and struck so hard against the chest which held them that the noise was heard all through the convent, and continued to be heard till they were released.

An organized traffic in relics was carried on by unscrupulous venders who imposed them upon the credulity of the pious. The Fourth Lateran sought to put a stop to it by forbidding the veneration of novelties without the papal sanction. According to Guibert of Nogent, the worshipper who made the mistake of associating spurious relics with a saint whom he wished to worship, did not thereby lose any benefit that might accrue from such worship. All the saints, he said, are one body in Christ (Joh_17:22), and in worshipping one reverence is done to the whole corporation.

The devil, on occasion, had a hand in attesting the genuineness of relics. By his courtesy a nail in the reliquiary of Cologne, of whose origin no one knew anything, was discovered to be nothing less than one of the nails of the cross. Such kind services, no doubt, were rare. The court-preacher of Weimar, Irenaeus, 1566-1570, visiting Treves in company with the Duchess of Weimar, found one of the devil’s claws in one of the churches. The story ran, that at the erection of a new altar, the devil was more than usually enraged, and kicked so hard against the altar that he left a claw sticking in the wood.

The attitude of the Protestant churches to relics was expressed by Luther in his Larger Catechism when he said, “es ist alles tot Ding das niemand heiligen kann.” They are lifeless, dead things, that can make no man holy.


132. The Sermon

Literature: A. Nebe: Charakterbilder d. bedeutendsten Kanzelredner, Vol. I. Origen to Tauler, 1879. — J. M. Neale: Med. Preachers, Lond., 1853, new ed., 1873. — J. A. Broadus: The Hist. of Preaching, N. Y., 1876. A bare sketch. — H. Hering: Gesch. d. Predigt. (pp. 55-68), Berlin, 1905. — E. C. Dargan: Hist. of Preaching, from 70 to 1570, N. Y., 1906.

For the French Pulpit: *Lecoy de la Marche: La chaire franc. au moyen âge speciallement au XIIIe siècle, Paris, 1868, new ed., 1886. — L. Bourgain: La chaire franc. au XIIme siècle d’après les Mss., Paris, 1879. — J. von Walter: D. ersten Wanderprediger Frankreichs, 2 parts, Leip., 1903, 1906.

For the German Pulpit: W. Wackernagel: Altdeutsche Predigten und Gebete, Basel, 1876. — *R Cruel: Gesch. d. Deutschen Predigt im MtA., Detmold, 1879. — *A. Linsenmayer (Rom. Cath.): Gesch. der Predigt in Deutschland von Karl dem Grossen bis zum Ausgange d. 14ten Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1886. — Hauck: Kirchengesch. — Collections of med. Ger. sermons. — H. Leyser: Deutsche Predigten d. 13ten und 14ten Jahrhunderts, 1838. — K. Roth: Deutsche Predigten des XlI. und XIII. Jahrhunderts, 1839. — F. E. Grieshaber: Deutsche Predigt. d. XIII. Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. Stuttg., 1844. — *A. E. Schönbach: Altdeutsche Predigten, 3 vols. Graz, 1886-1891; Studien zur Gesch. d. Altdeutschen Predigt. (on Berthold of Regensburg), 3 parts, Vienna, 1904-1906. — A. Franz: Drei Minoritenprediger aus d. XIII. u. XIV. Jahrh., Freib., 1907.

For the English Pulpit: R. Morris: Old Engl. Homilies of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, 2 vols. Lond., 1868-1873. — See T. F. Crane: Introd. to the Exempla of Jacob de Vitry, Folklore Soc., Lond., 1890. — Richardson: Voragine as a Preacher, Presb. Rev., July, 1904.

Although the office of the preacher in the Middle Ages was overshadowed by the function of the priest, the art of preaching was not altogether neglected. The twelfth and the thirteenth centuries have each contributed at least one pulpit orator of the first magnitude: St. Bernard, whom we think of as the preacher in the convent and the preacher of the Crusades, and Berthold of Regensburg, the Whitefield of his age, who moved vast popular assemblies with practical discourses.

Two movements aroused the dormant energies of the pulpit: the Crusades, in the twelfth century, and the rise of the Mendicant orders in the thirteenth century. The example of the heretical sects preaching on the street and the roadside also acted as a powerful spur upon the established Church.

Ambrose had pronounced the bishop’s chief function to be preaching. The nearest approach made to that definition by a formal pronouncement of these centuries is found in the tenth canon of the Fourth Lateran. After emphasizing the paramount necessity of knowing the Word of God, the council commended the practice whereby bishops, in case of their incapacity, appointed apt men to take their place in preaching. Pope Innocent III. himself preached, and fifty-eight of his sermons are preserved. The references to preaching in the acts of councils are rare. Now and then we hear an admonition from a writer on homiletics or a preacher in favor of frequent preaching. So Honorius of Autun, in an address to priests, declared that, if they lived a good life and did not publicly teach or preach, they were like the “watchmen without knowledge” and as dumb dogs (Isa_56:9), and, if they preached and lived ill, they were as blind leaders of the blind. Etienne de Bourbon speaks with commendation of a novice of the Dominican order who, on being urged to go into another order, replied: “I do not read that Jesus Christ was either a black or a white monk, but that he was a poor preacher. I will follow in his steps.”

It is impossible to determine with precision the frequency with which sermons were preached in parishes. Probably one-half of the priests in Germany in the twelfth century did not preach. The synod of Treves, 1227, forbade illiterate priests preaching. A sermon in England was a rarity before the arrival of the friars. A parson might have held a benefice fifty years without ever having preached a sermon. There were few pulpits in those days in English churches.

In the thirteenth century a notable change took place, through the example of the friars. They were preachers and went among the people. Vast audiences gathered in the fields and streets to listen to an occasional popular orator, like Anthony of Padua and Berthold of Regensburg. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Franciscans received formal permission from Clement V., “to preach on the streets the Word of God.”

Nor was the preaching confined to men in orders. Laymen among the heretics and also among the orthodox groups and the Flagellants exercised their gifts. Innocent III., in his letter to the bishop of Metz, 1199, and Gregory IX., 1235, condemned the unauthorized preaching of laymen. There were also boy preachers in those days.

The vernacular was used at the side of the Latin. Samson, abbot of Bury St. Edmunds, preached in English, and Grosseteste in the later years of his life followed his example. Bishop Hermann of Prague, d. 1122, preached in Bohemian. Of Berthold’s sermons which are preserved, five hundred are in Latin and seventy-one in German.

Congregations were affected much as congregations are to-day. Caesar of Heisterbach, who himself was a preacher, tells of a congregation that went to sleep and snored during a sermon. The preacher, suddenly turning from the line of his discourse, exclaimed: “Hear, my brethren, I will tell you something new and strange. There was once a king called Artus.” The sleepers awoke and the preacher continued, “See, brethren, when I spoke about God, you slept, but when I began to tell a trivial story, you pricked up your ears to hear.” Caesar was himself present on this occasion.

The accounts of contemporaries leave no room to doubt that extraordinary impressions were made upon great audiences. The sermons that have come down to us are almost invariably based upon a text or paragraph of Scripture and are full of biblical instruction, doctrinal inference, and moral application. It was well understood that the personality of the preacher has much to do with the effectiveness of a discourse. Although the people along the Rhine did not understand the language of St. Bernard, they were moved to the very depths by his sermons. When his language was interpreted, they lost their power.

Four treatises have come down to us from this period on homiletics and the pulpit, by Guibert of Nogent, Alanus ab Insulis, Humbert de Romanis, and Hugo de St. Cher. Their counsels do not vary much from the counsels given by writers on these subjects to-day. Guibert, in his What Order a Sermon should Follow, insists upon the priest keeping up his studies, preparing his sermons with prayer, and cultivating the habit of turning everything he sees into a symbol of religious truth. He sets forth the different motives by which preachers were actuated, from a desire of display by ventriloquism to an honest purpose to instruct and make plain the Scriptures.

In his Art of Preaching, Alanus counsels preachers to court the good-will of their audiences by cultivating humility of manner and by setting forth useful instruction. He must so impress them that they will think not of who is talking, but of what is being talked about. He advises the use of quotations from Gentile authors, following Paul’s example. After giving other counsels, Alanus in forty-seven chapters presents illustrations of the treatment of different themes, such as the contempt of the world, luxury, gluttony, godly sorrow, joy, patience, faith. He then furnishes specimens of exhortations to different classes of hearers: princes, lawyers, monks, the married, widows, virgins, the somnolent.

Humbert de Romanis, general of the order of the Dominicans, d. 1277, in a much more elaborate work, pronounced preaching the most excellent of a monk’s occupations and set it above the liturgical service which, being in Latin, the people did not understand. Preaching is even better than the mass, for Christ celebrated the mass only once, but was constantly engaged in preaching. He urged the necessity of study, and counselled high thought rather than graceful and well-turned sentences, comparing the former to food and the latter to the dishes on which it is served.

To these homiletical rules and hints must be added the notices scattered through the sermons of preachers like Honorius of Autun and Caesar of Heisterbach. Caesar said, a sermon should be like a net, made up of texts of Scripture; and like an arrow, sharp to pierce the hearts of the hearers; straight, that is, without any false doctrine; and feathered, that is, easy to be understood. The bow is the Word of God.

Among the prominent preachers from 1050 to 1200, whose sermons have been preserved, were Peter Damiani, d. 1072, Ivo of Chartres, d. 1116, Hildebert of Tours, d. 1133, Abaelard d. 1142, St. Bernard, d. 1153, and Maurice, archbishop of Paris, d. 1196. Of the eloquence of Arnold of Brescia, Norbert, the founder of the Premonstrant order, and Fulke of Neuilly, the fiery preacher of the Fourth Crusade, no specimens are preserved. Another class of preachers were the itinerant preachers, some of whom were commissioned by popes, as were Robert of Abrissel and Bernard of Thiron who went about clad in coarse garments and with flowing beards, preaching to large concourses of people. They preached repentance and sharply rebuked the clergy for their worldliness, themselves wept and brought their hearers to tears.

Bernard enjoys the reputation of being, up to his time, the most brilliant luminary of the pulpit after the days of Gregory the Great. Luther held his sermons in high regard and called him “the golden preacher” — der gueldene Prediger. Among the preachers of France he is placed at the side of Bourdaloue and Bossuet. He has left more than two hundred and fifty discourses on special texts and themes in addition to the eighty-six homilies on the Song of Solomon.

The subjects of the former range from the five pebbles which David picked up from the brook to the most solemn mysteries of Christ’s life and work. The sermons were not written out, but delivered from notes or improvised after meditation in the convent garden. For moral earnestness, flights of imagination, pious soliloquy, and passionate devotion to religious themes, they have a place in the first rank of pulpit productions. “The constant shadow of things eternal is over them all,” said Dr. Storrs, himself one of the loftiest figures in the American pulpit of the last century. One of the leading authorities on his life, Deutsch, has said that Bernard combined in himself all the qualities of a great preacher, a vivid apprehension of the grace of God, a profound desire to help his hearers, a thorough knowledge of the human heart, familiarity with the Scriptures, opulence of thought, and a faculty of magnetic description.

Fulke of Neuilly, pastor in Neuilly near Paris, was a man of different mould from Bernard, but, like him, his eloquence is associated with the Crusades. He was a born orator. His sermons on repentance in Notre Dame and on the streets of Paris were accompanied with remarkable demonstrations, the people throwing themselves on the ground, weeping and scourging themselves. Usurers “whom the devil alone was able to make,” fallen women, and other offenders turned from their evil ways. Called forth by Innocent III. to proclaim the Fourth Crusade, Fulke influenced, as he himself estimated, no less than two million to take the cross. He did not live to hear of the capture of Constantinople, to which event unintentionally he made so large a contribution.

The great preachers of the thirteenth century were the product of the mendicant orders or, like Grosseteste, sympathized with their aims and methods. The Schoolmen who belonged to these orders seem all to have been preachers, and their sermons, or collations, delivered in the convents, many of which are preserved, received the highest praise from contemporaries, but partook of the scholastic method. Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura were preachers, Bonaventura being a great preacher. Albertus’ thirty-two sermons on the eucharist, based upon Pro_9:5, constitute one of the first series of discourses of the Middle Ages.

To the mendicant orders belonged also the eminent popular preachers, Anthony of Padua, John of Vicenza, and Berthold of Regensburg. Anthony of Padua, 1195-1231, born at Lisbon, entered the Franciscan order and made Northern Italy the scene of his labors. He differed from Francis in being a well-schooled man. He joined himself to the conventual party, at whose head stood Elias of Cortona. Like Francis he was a lover of nature and preached to the fishes. He preached in the fields and the open squares. As many as thirty thousand are reported to have flocked to hear him. He denied having the power of working miracles, but legend has associated miracles with his touch and his tomb. The fragments of his sermons, which are preserved, are mere sketches and, like Whitefield’s printed discourses, give no clew to the power of the preacher. Anthony was canonized the year after his death by Gregory IX. His remains were deposited, in 1263, in the church in Padua reared to his memory. Bonaventura was present. The body was found to have wholly dissolved except the tongue.

Berthold of Regensburg, d. 1272, had for his teacher David of Augsburg, d. 127l, also a preacher of renown. A member of the Franciscan order, Berthold itinerated from Thuringia to Bohemia, and from Spires to the upper Rhine regions as far as the Swiss canton of the Grisons. He was familiarly known as rusticanus, “the field preacher.” According to contemporaries, he was listened to by sixty thousand at a time. His sermons were taken down by others and, to correct mistakes, he was obliged to edit an edition with his own hand.

This celebrated preacher’s style is exceedingly pictorial. He drew illustrations from the stars and the fields, the forests and the waters. The most secret motives of the heart seemed to he open before him. Cruel, the historian of the medieval German pulpit, gives as the three elements of his power: his popular speech easily understood by the laity, his personality which he never hid behind a quoted authority, and his burning love for God and man. He preached unsparingly against the vices of his age: usury, avarice, unchastity, drunkenness, the dance, and the tournament, and everything adapted to destroy the sanctity of the home.

He urged as motives the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. But especially did he appeal to the fear of perdition and its torments. If your whole body, he said, was glowing iron and the whole world on fire, yet are the pains of the lost many times greater, and when the soul is reunited with the body in hell, then it will be as passing from dew to a burning mountain. The sermons are enlivened by vivacious dialogues in which the devil is a leading figure. Berthold demanded penitence as well as works of penance. But he was a child of his time, was hard on heretics, and did not oppose any of the accepted dogmas.

A considerable number of sermons, many of them anonymous, are preserved from the medieval pulpit of Germany, where preaching seemed to be most in vogue. Among the preachers were Gottfried, abbot of Admont, d. 1165, Honorius of Autun, d. 1152, and Werner of St. Blasius in the Black Forest, d. 1126. Gottfried’s sermons, of which about two hundred are preserved, occupy more than a thousand columns in Migne (174. 21-1133), and are as full of exegetical and edifying material as any other discourses of the Middle Ages.

Honorius and Werner both prepared homiliaria, or collections of sermons which were meant to be a homiletical arsenal for preachers. Honorius’ collection, the Mirror of the Church — Speculum ecclesiae — is made up of his own discourses, most of the texts being taken from the Psalms. The sermons are arranged under thirty-six Sundays or festival days, with as many as three or four sermons under a single head. In one of them he addresses himself to one class after another, calling them by name. One of the interesting things about these model discourses is the homiletical hints that are thrown in here and there. The following two show that it was necessary, even in those good old times, to adapt the length of the sermon to the patience of the hearers. “You may finish here if you choose, or if time permits, you may add the following things.” “For the sake of brevity you must sometimes shorten this sermon and at other times you may prolong it.”

Werner’s collection, the Deflorationes sanctorum patrum, or Flowers from the Fathers, fills more than five hundred columns in Migne (151. 734-1294), and joins, with discourses from patristic times, other sermons, some of them probably by Werner himself. Thirteen are taken from Honorius of Autun. It would be interesting, if there were space, to give specimens of the sermonic literature contained in these collections.

Of the pulpit in England there is not much to be said. It had no preachers equal in fame to the preachers of Germany and Italy. The chief source of our information are the two volumes of Old English Homilies by Morris, which contain an English translation at the side of the Saxon original. The names of the preachers are lost. The sermons are brief expositions of texts of Scripture, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and on Mary and the Apostles, and are adapted to the wants and temptations of everyday life. In a sermon on the Creed the general statement of the introduction is such as might be made by a wise preacher to-day: “Three things there are that each man must have who will lead a Christian life, a right belief, baptism, and a fair life, for he is not fully a Christian who is wanting in any of these.” One of the sermons quaintly treats of the traps set by the devil in four pits: play, and the trap idleness; drink, and the trap wrongdoing; the market, and the trap cheating; and the Church, and the trap pride. In the last trap the clergy are ensnared as when the priest neglects to perform the service or to speak what he ought to, or sings so as to catch the ears of women.

A general conclusion to be drawn from the sermons of this period of the Middle Ages is that human passions and the tendency to shirk religious duties or to substitute the appearance for the reality were about the same as they are to-day. Another conclusion is that the modes of appeal employed were about the same as the earnest preacher employs in this age, except that in those days much more emphasis was laid upon the pains of future punishment.