The Simplified Wealth of Nations of Adam Smith, Book 5, Chapter 1w: The Decline of the Church
Chapter 1w: The Decline of the Church
The gradual improvements of arts, manufactures, and commerce which destroyed the power of the great barons destroyed the whole temporal power of the clergy in Europe.
In the produce of arts, manufactures, and commerce, the clergy, like the great barons, found something for which they could exchange their rude produce.
They discovered ways of spending their whole revenues on their own persons without sharing with other people.
Their charity became gradually less extensive.
Their hospitality became less profuse.
Their retainers dwindled away.
The clergy, like the great barons, wished to get more rent from their landed estates to have more to spend for their own private vanity and folly.
But this could only be done by granting leases to their tenants, who became independent.
In this way, the ties of interest which bound the inferior ranks of people to the clergy were gradually broken and dissolved.
They were even broken and dissolved sooner than those which bound the inferior ranks of people to the great barons.
Most church benefices were much smaller than the estates of the great barons.
The possessor of each benefice was able to spend its revenue on himself much sooner.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, the power of the great barons was in full vigour in most of Europe.
But the clergy's temporal power over the people was very much decayed.
By that time, the church's power was very nearly reduced in Europe to what arose from her spiritual authority.
Even that spiritual authority was much weakened when it stopped being supported by the clergy's charity and hospitality.
The poor no longer looked on the clergy as:
the comforters of their distress and
the relievers of their indigence.
They were provoked and disgusted by the richer clergy's vanity, luxury, and expence.
215 The European sovereigns tried to recover the influence they once had in the disposal of the church's great benefices.
They restored the ancient right of:
the deans and the chapters of each diocese in electing the bishop.
the monks of each abbacy in electing the abbot.
The re-establishment of this ancient order was the object of several statutes enacted during the 14th century.
Particularly, it was the object of:
the statute of provisors in England and
the Pragmatic sanction established in France in the 15th century.
To render the election valid, the sovereign should:
consent to it beforehand, and
approve of the person elected.
The election was still free.
But he had all the indirect means of influencing the clergy.
Before the reformation, the pope's power in the collation of the great church benefices was most effectively and universally restrained in France and England.
In the 16th century, the Concordat gave French kings the absolute right of presenting to all the consistorial benefices of the Gallican church.
216 Since the establishment of the Pragmatic sanction and of the Concordat, the French clergy were shown less respect to the decrees of the papal court than the clergy of any other Catholic country.
In all the disputes between their sovereign and the pope, they have almost constantly sided with the sovereign.
This independence of the French clergy on the Roman court was principally founded on the Pragmatic sanction and the Concordat.
In the earlier monarchies, the French clergy was as much devoted to the pope as any foreign clergy.
Robert was the second prince of the Capetian race.
When he was most unjustly excommunicated by the Roman court, his servants threw the victuals to the dogs.
They refused to taste anything he touched.
The clergy presumably taught them to do so.
The excommunication of Robert II of France
217 The claim of collating to the great benefices of the church was a claim frequently shaken and sometimes overturned by the Roman court.
In this way, some of the greatest Christian sovereigns were restrained, modified, or given up in Europe even before the reformation.
The clergy had now less influence over the people, so the state had more influence over the clergy.
The clergy had less power and inclination to disturb the state.
218 The Roman church's authority was declining when the disputes which gave birth to the reformation began in Germany and soon spread throughout Europe.
The new doctrines were very popular everywhere.
They were propagated with all that enthusiastic zeal which commonly animates the spirit of party when it attacks established authority.
The teachers of those doctrines were perhaps not more learned than the divines who defended the established church.
They generally were better acquainted with:
ecclesiastical history, and
the origin and progress of the opinions on which the authority of the church was established.
They thereby had some advantage in every dispute.
Their austerity gave them authority with the common people.
The people contrasted the strict regularity of their conduct with their own clergy's disorderly lives.
They had more popularity and arts in gaining proselytes than their adversaries.
The church had long neglected those arts as useless.
The reason of the new doctrines recommended them to some people.
Their novelty recommended them to many people.
The hatred for the established clergy recommended them to even more people.
The zealous, passionate, and fanatical, though rustic, eloquence recommended them to the most people.
219 The success of the new doctrines was almost so great that the princes who were on bad terms with the Roman court were able to overturn the church in their own dominions.
The church lost the respect and veneration of the inferior ranks of people.
It could not resist.
The Roman court was disobliged with the smaller princes in northern Germany.
It probably considered them too insignificant to be worth managing.
The princes universally established the reformation in their own dominions.
The tyranny of Christiern II and of Troll, the Archbishop of Upsala, enabled Gustavus Vasa to expel them both from Sweden.
The pope favoured them.
Gustavus Vasa easily established the reformation in Sweden.
Christiern II was afterwards deposed from the Danish throne where his conduct made him as odious as in Sweden.
The pope still favoured him.
Frederic of Holstein took the throne and followed the example of Gustavus Vasa.
The magistrates of Berne and Zurich had no quarrel with the pope.
They established the reformation in their respective cantons very easily.
Some of the clergy in those cantons rendered the whole order odious and contemptible.
220 In this critical situation, the papal court was at pains to cultivate the friendship of the powerful French and Spanish sovereigns.
Back then, the Spanish king was the Emperor of Germany.
With their assistance, they were able to suppress the reformation's progress in their dominions with great difficulty and bloodshed.
It was well enough inclined to be complaisant to the king of England.
But it offended a greater sovereign, Charles V, king of Spain and emperor of Germany.
Henry VIII did not embrace most of the reformation's doctrines.
Yet the prevalence of the reformation enabled him to:
suppress all the monasteries, and
abolish the authority of the Roman church in his dominions.
The patrons of the reformation were somewhat satisfied that he went so far but not any further.
They possessed the government in the reign of his son and successor.
Without any difficulty, they completed the work which Henry VIII begun.
221In some countries where the government was weak, unpopular, and not firmly established, as in Scotland, the reformation was strong enough to overturn the church and the state which supported the church.222 There was no general tribunal among the followers of the reformation in Europe like that of the court of Rome or an ecumenical council which could settle disputes.
Disputes between the followers of the reformation in different countries could never be decided.
Many disputes arose among them.
The most interesting were about the government of the church and the right of conferring ecclesiastical benefices.
These gave birth to the Lutheran and Calvinistic sects, the two principal parties of the reformation.
223 The Lutherians and the Church of England:
preserved the episcopal government,
established subordination among the clergy,
gave the sovereign the disposal of all the bishoprics and other consistorial benefices within his dominions,
made the sovereign the real head of the church, and
favoured and admitted the right of presentation in the sovereign and all lay patrons, without depriving the bishop his right of collating the smaller benefices within his diocese.
From the beginning, this system of church government was favourable to peace, order, and submission to the civil sovereign.
The Church of England always valued herself on the unexceptionable loyalty of her principles.
Under such a government, the clergy naturally endeavour to recommend themselves to the sovereign, the court, and the nobility.
They court those patrons:
sometimes by vile flattery,
frequently by cultivating those arts which gain them the esteem of people of rank and fortune by:
their useful and ornamental knowledge,
the decent liberality of their manners,
the social good humour of their conversation, and
their contempt of the hypocritical austerities which fanatics pretend to practise, so that:
the clergy will be venerated, and
the common people will abhor the men of rank and fortune who do not practise austerities.
Such a clergy are very apt to neglect their influence and authority over people of lower ranks.
They are listened to, esteemed, and respected by their superiors.
But before their inferiors, they are frequently incapable of effectively defending their own moderate doctrines against the attacks of the most ignorant enthusiast.
224 The Calvinists [followers of Huldrych Zwingli], on the contrary:
allowed the people of each parish to elect their own pastor, and
When this was done vigorously, it:
caused disorder and confusion, and
corrupted the morals of the clergy and the people.
established perfect equality among the clergy.
This produced perfectly agreeable effects.
225 As long as the people could elect their own pastors, they were under the influence of the most fanatical clergy.
The clergy became fanatics to preserve their influence in those popular elections.
encouraged fanaticism among the people, and
preferred the most fanatical candidate.
A small matter as the appointment of a parish priest frequently created a violent contest in all neighbouring parishes which joined the quarrel.
When the parish was in a great city, it divided all the people into two parties.
When that city was a city-state or a capital of a small republic like Switzerland or Holland, disputes of this kind threatened to create:
a new schism in the church, and
a new faction in the state
In those small republics, the magistrate had to present to all vacant benefices in order to preserve the public peace.
Scotland is the most extensive country where this presbyterian church government was established.
The rights of patronage in Scotland were abolished by the act which established presbytery in the beginning of William III's reign.
This act allowed certain classes to buy the right of electing their own pastor for a very small price.
This act established a constitution which was allowed for 22 years.
It was abolished by the 10th of queen Anne, ch. 12 because of the disorders it created.
However, in an extensive country as Scotland, a tumult in a remote parish was unlikely to disturb the government.
The 10th of queen Anne restored the rights of patronage.
In Scotland, the benefice is given to the person presented by the patron.
The 'cure of souls' is the ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the parish.
Sometimes, the church requires a certain concurrence of the people before she confers the cure of souls on the presentee.
She sometimes delays the settlement until this concurrence can be procured, to preserve the peace of the parish.
The old fanatical spirit in the clergy or in the Scottish people are perhaps kept up principally by the tampering of the neighbouring clergy to procure or to prevent this concurrence.
226 The equality which the presbyterian form of church government establishes among the clergy, consists in:
The equality of authority or ecclesiastical jurisdiction
The equality of benefice.
In all presbyterian churches, the equality of authority is perfect, but the equality of benefice is not.
The difference between benefices are seldom so big to tempt the possessor to flatter his patron in order to get a better benefice.
In all the presbyterian churches where the rights of patronage are established, the established clergy try to gain the favour of their superiors by nobler and better arts, through:
their life's regularity, and
the faithful and diligent discharge of their duty.
Their patrons even complain of their independence.
They think the clergy is ungrateful for past favours.
But at worst, they are perhaps just indifferent.
This naturally arises from the consciousness that no further favours of the kind are ever to be expected.
The presbyterian clergy of Holland, Geneva, Switzerland, and Scotland are perhaps the most learned, decent, independent, and respectable men in Europe.