1694-1778 Voltaire.

The works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) online

. (page 12 of 18)
Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) → online text (page 12 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


not in the garb of a warrior, as Goslin, bishop of
Paris, had done on a like occasion, but in the charac-
ter of a pontiff who exhorted a Christian people,
and a king who watched over the security of his
subjects. He was a Roman by birth, and the courage
of the first ages of that republic seemed revived in
him, at a time of general cowardice and corruption,
like one of those noble monuments of ancient Rome,
which are sometimes found among the ruins of the
modern : nor were his courage and care unseconded ;
his people adding their effects to his, received the
invaders of their country on their landing with the
greatest bravery; and a tempest having dispersed
most of their ships, a part of those barbarians who
had escaped shipwreck were made slaves. The pope
made an excellent use of this victory by employing
the very hands which had been armed for the
destruction of his city, in repairing its fortifications,
and beautifying the public edifices. Notwithstand-
ing this check, the Mahometans continued in posses-
sion of the coast between Capua and Gaeta; but
rather like freebooters than disciplined conquerors.



Spain. 189

In the ninth century then I see the Mussulmans
formidable both at Rome and at Constantinople ; the
masters of Persia, Syria, the whole coast of Africa,
as far as Mount Atlas, and of three-fourths of the
kingdom of Spain : but without forming any nation,
like the Romans, who in extending their conquests
as far, still made but one people.

About the year 815, a little after the death of
Charlemagne, and under the famous caliph Al-Ma-
mun, Egypt was independent, and the city of Grand
Cairo was the residence of another caliph. The
prince of Mauritania Tinjitana, under the title of the
" Miramolin," was absolute sovereign of the empire
of Morocco. Nubia and Libya were under the domin-
ion of another caliph. The race of Abd-er-Rahman,
who had founded the kingdom of Cordova, could not
hinder other Moors from erecting that of Toledo.
All these new dynasties reverenced the caliph as a
descendant from their prophet; and in like man-
ner as the Christians went in crowds on a pilgrimage
to Rome, so did these Mahometans repair from all
parts of the world to Mecca, which was under the
government of a sherif, or xerif, appointed by the
caliph ; and it was principally to this pilgrimage that
the caliph, who was master of Mecca, was indebted
for that respect and veneration paid him by all the
princes of the Mahometan belief. But these princes
wisely distinguishing their religion from their politi-
cal interest, stripped the caliph at the same time that
they paid him homage.



190 Ancient and Modern History.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE EMPIRE OF CONSTANTINOPLE IN THE EIGHTH
AND NINTH CENTURIES.

WHILE the empire of Charlemagne was thus dis-
membered, and the inundations of the Saracens and
Normans laid waste the whole Western Empire, that
of Constantinople still existed, like a large tree, vig-
orous, though grown old, stripped of some of its
roots, and buffeted on every side by storms and
tempests. This empire had nothing left in Africa,
and had been despoiled of Syria and a part of Asia
Minor. It still continued to defend its frontiers
towards the eastern coast of the Black Sea against
the Mahometans ; and sometimes conquering, some-
times conquered, it might, by being continually used
to war, have been able at last to strengthen itself
against them : but towards the coast of the Danube,
and the western borders of the Black Sea, it was
ravaged by other enemies. A nation of Scythians,
called the Avari, or Avars, also the Bulgarians,
another tribe of Scythians, from whom the prov-
ince of Bulgaria has taken its name, spread desola-
tion over all the fine country of Rumania, where
the emperors Adrian and Trajan formerly built such
beautiful villas, and those noble highways of which
there are only a few causeways now remaining.

The Avars, particularly, spread themselves over
Hungary and Austria, falling sometimes upon the



Constantinople. 191

Eastern Empire, and at others on that of Charle-
magne. Thus, from the frontiers of Persia to those
of France, the globe was a prey to almost continual
incursions.

While the frontier of the Greek Empire was every
day suffering encroachments and devastations, its
capital was the theatre of revolutions and crimes. A
mixture of Greek artifice and Thracian ferocity
formed the reigning character of that court: and
indeed what a spectacle does Constantinople exhibit
to the view ! The emperor Maurice and his five sons
massacred ! Phocas assassinated, as a reward for his
murders and incestuous proceedings! Constantine
poisoned by the empress Martina, who has her
tongue pulled out, while the nose of her son Herac-
leonas is cut off before her face ! Constans knocked
on the head in the bath by his own servants ! Con-
stantine Pogonatus putting out the eyes of his two
brothers ! Justinian II., his son, while about to act
the same scene at Constantinople thatTheodosius had
done at Thessalonica, is mutilated and laid in irons
by Leontius, at the instant that he is going to put
to death the principal citizens ! Leontius soon after-
wards treated in the same manner as he had treated
Justinian ! This same Justinian restored again, and
coolly looking on while the blood of his enemies
washes the public market-place, and afterwards
dying himself by the hands of the common hang-
man ! Philip Bardanes dethroned and condemned
to lose his eyes ! Leo the Isaurian, and Constantine



192 Ancient and Modern History.

Copronymus, dying indeed in their beds, but after a
bloody reign, as unhappy for the prince as for his
subjects! The empress Irene, the first woman who
mounted the throne of the Caesars, and the first, too,
who murdered her own son to attain the imperial
dignity! Nicephorus, her successor, hated by his
subjects, taken prisoner by the Bulgarians, beheaded,
and thrown for food to the beasts of the field, while
his skull is used as a cup by his conquerors ! Lastly,
Michael Curopalatus, contemporary with Charle-
magne, confined in a cloister, dying a less cruel,
though not less shameful death than his predeces-
sors ! In this manner was the empire governed dur-
ing the space of two hundred years. What history
of private robbers, publicly executed for their crimes,
can be more horrid or disgusting?

But we must proceed, and view, in the ninth cen-
tury, Leo the Armenian, a brave warrior, but an
enemy to image worship, assassinated at mass, while
he is singing an anthem : his murderers, applauding
each other for having killed a heretic, repair to
the public prison to release from thence an officer,
surnamed Michael the Stammerer, who had been
condemned to die by the senate, and, instead of being
executed, is invested with the imperial purple. This
was the same, who falling in love with a nun, made
the senate entreat him to marry her, without any one
bishop daring to interfere ; and this fact is the more
worthy of our attention, as, almost at the same time,
we see Euphemius the Sicilian prosecuted for a like



Constantinople.

marriage; and that, a little time afterwards, the
lawful marriage of the emperor Leo the Philosopher,
was condemned in this very city of Constantinople.
In what country then must we look for laws and
manners at this time ? Certainly not in our western
hemisphere.

The old quarrel about image worship still dis-
turbed the repose of the empire ; the court was some-
times for it, and sometimes against it, according as
they found it suit with the disposition of the multi-
tude. Michael the Stammerer began his reign with
the consecration of images, and ended it by the
demolition of them.

His successor, Theophilus, who reigned about
twelve years namely, from 829 to 842 declared
himself against this worship. Writers tell us that he
did not believe in the resurrection, that he denied the
existence of evil spirits, and would not acknowledge
the divinity of Christ. It is not unlikely that an
emperor might think in this manner; but then are
we to believe, I do not mean with respect to princes
only, but even to private men, the evidence of their
enemies, who, without proving one single fact, vilify
the religion and morals of men who do not happen
to think like themselves?

This Theophilus, the son of Michael the Stam-
merer, was almost the only emperor who had peace-
ably succeeded his father for above two centuries.
During his reign the image worshippers underwent
a greater persecution than ever. These long per-
Vol. 24 13



194 Ancient and Modern History.

secutions show us plainly that the people were
divided among themselves.

It is remarkable that two women were the restor-
ers of images : one was the empress Irene, the other
Theodora, widow of Theophilus.

Theodora, mistress of the empire of the East, dur-
ing the nonage of her son Michael, persecuted in her
turn the enemies of image worship : but in this she
carried her zeal, or her politics, still farther than
the other party had done : for in Asia Minor there
were a great number of the Manichaean sect, who
lived quietly and peaceably, because the fury of
enthusiasm, which seldom rages but at the first
establishment of a sect, was over with them: now
these people were grown rich by industry and trade ;
and, whether the design was upon their treasures,
or their opinions, the most severe edicts were issued
against them, and enforced with the extremest cru-
elty. Persecution revived their original fanaticism,
and thousands of them died under the torture, while
the rest, driven to despair, threw off all subjection,
and took up arms in their own defence. In 846 forty
thousand of them went over to the Mahometans, and
from the peaceable, inoffensive Manichaeans, became
implacable enemies to the empire; and, joining with
the Saracens, carried desolation and havoc through
all Asia Minor, to the very gates of the imperial
city, which had been depopulated by a dreadful
plague in 842, and had become an object of pity.

The plague, properly so called, is, as the small-



Constantinople.

pox, a disorder peculiar to the people of Africa, and
is brought over to us from those countries in mer-
chant ships. It would soon overspread all Europe
were it not for the wise precautions taken in our
seaports; and it was very probably owing to the
negligence of the government in this particular that
it found entrance into the imperial city.

And this very inattention exposed the empire to
another scourge : the Russians embarked at the port
now called Azov, on the Black Sea, and came and
ravaged all the seacoast of the Pontus Euxinus. The
Arabs, on the other hand, pushed their conquests
beyond Armenia, and into Asia Minor. At length
Michael the younger, after a reign of cruelty and
misfortunes, was assassinated by Basilius, whom he
had raised from the most abject condition, and made
partner with him in the empire.

Basilius's administration was not more fortunate
than that of his predecessor : this reign is the epoch
of the grand schism which divided the Greek Church
from the Latin.

The miseries of the empire were not greatly
repaired under Leo, called the Philosopher, not from
his being an Antoninus, a Marcus Aurelius, a Julian,
an Haroun-al-Raschid, or an Alfred, but on account
of his being learned. He passes for the first who
opened the Turks a way into the empire, who, a long
time afterwards, made themselves masters of Con-
stantinople.

It is doubtful whether the Turks who after-



196 Ancient and Modern History.

wards fought against the Saracens, and incorporated
with them, were their support and the destroyers of
the Greek Empire had already sent colonies into
the countries bordering on the Danube. We have no
authentic histories of these emigrations of barba-
rians.

This is, in all likelihood, the manner of life which
mankind had led for a long succession of years : no
sooner was a country cultivated than it was invaded
by a hungry people, who again in their turns were
driven out by others. Do we not find that the Gauls
made descents on Italy and penetrated as far as Asia
Minor, and have not twenty different nations come
from Great Tartary in search of new lands ?

Notwithstanding all the disasters that had befallen
Constantinople, it continued for a long time to be
the most opulent and best peopled of all the Chris-
tian cities, and the most eminent for the polite arts.
Its situation alone, by which it has the command of
two seas, necessarily made it a place of trade. The
plague in 842, notwithstanding the great havoc it
made, was but a temporary scourge: cities which
are the seats of commerce, and where the court holds
its residence, are quickly repeopled by the continual
concourse from other neighboring nations. Neither
the mechanic nor polite arts can be lost in a great
capital, which is the residence of the rich.

All these sudden court revolutions, and the crimes
of so many emperors, murdered by one another, are
storms which never fall upon private heads, who



Italy and the Popes. 197

are left to cultivate in peace the professions which
no one envies them.

The riches of the empire were far from being
exhausted; we are told, that in 857, Theodora,
mother of the emperor Michael, when, much against
her will, she was obliged to part with the regency,
and was treated nearly in the same manner by her
son as Mary of Medici was of late days by Louis
XI II., gave the emperor to understand that there
was in his treasury a hundred and nine thousand
pounds weight of gold, and three hundred thousand
of silver.

It was in the power then of a wise administration
to have still supported the power of the empire.
It was contracted indeed, but not dismembered, often
changing its emperors, but always united under the
person who swayed the sceptre, and was besides
richer, better furnished with resources, and more
powerful than that of Germany. Yet it is now no
more, and the German Empire still exists.

CHAPTER XX.

ITALY AND THE POPES DIVORCE OF LOTHARIUS,
KING OF LORRAINE AFFAIRS RELATING TO THE
CHURCH IN THE EIGHTH AND NINTH CENTURIES.

THAT we may not lose the chain which links together
so many events, let us recall to mind with what pru-
dence the popes conducted themselves under Pepin
and Charlemagne; how dextrously they stifled all



198 Ancient and Modern History.

religious disputes, and in what manner each of them
secretly established the foundation of the pontifical
grandeur.

Their power had become very great since Gregory
IV. repaired the port of Ostia, and Leo IV. fortified
Rome at his own expense. But all the popes could
not be great men, nor could every conjuncture prove
alike favorable to them. Every vacancy of the papal
see caused the same disturbances at Rome as the
election of a king does in Poland. The pontiff-elect
was obliged at the same time to manage the Roman
senate, the people, and the emperor. The Roman
nobility held a great share in the government ; and,
at that time, had the choosing of two consuls every
year, and the making a prefect, which was a kind of
tribune of the people. They had a court of twelve
senators, and these had the nomination of the prin-
cipal officers of the duchy of Rome. This municipal
government possessed sometimes a greater, some-
times a lesser degree of authority. The popes of
Rome had rather a high degree of credit than any
real legislative power.

However, if they were not sovereigns of Rome,
they lost no occasion of exercising a supreme author-
ity over the western Church. The bishops set up for
judges of kings, and the popes claimed judicial
authority over the bishops; but nothing can give
us a clearer insight into the numberless disputes
about authority, the farrago of religious supersti-
tion and weakness, the knavery that prevailed in all



Italy and the Popes. 199

their courts of justice, and the insufficiency of the
laws themselves, than the story of the marriage and
divorce of Lotharius, king of Lorraine, nephew of
Charles the Bald.

Charlemagne had repudiated one of his wives and
married another, not only with the approbation of
Pope Stephen, but actually in consequence of that
pontiff's pressing solicitations. The kings Gontram,
Caribert, Sigebert, Chilperic, and Dagobert, had had
several wives at a time, without the least murmur
being made; and if it was a scandal, it was not
attended with any disturbance. Lotharius having
married Teutberga, daughter of a duke of Burgundy
Trans jurane, resolves to put her away on her being
accused of incest with her own brother, and to marry
his mistress Valrada. What follows of this story is
singularly romantic: at first the queen proves her
innocence by the trial of boiling water: her cham-
pion plunges his hand into a vessel of boiling water,
from the bottom of which he brings up a consecrated
ring, without appearing to be the least hurt, upon
which the king complains of some trick being used in
the trial. It is certain, if any such thing was done,
that the queen's champion understood the secret of
preparing the skin against the action of the boiling
water ; which, it is said, may be done by rubbing the
part a long time with a composition of spirit of vit-
riol, alum, and the juice of onions. None of the
members of our Academy of Sciences have been at
the pains to inform themselves relative to this pre-



200 Ancient and Modern History.

tended method of trial, with which every mounte-
bank is well acquainted.

In 862 the success of this trial passed for a mir-
acle, and the very decision of the Almighty himself ;
and yet this Teutberga, justified by Heaven,
acknowledges to several bishops, in the presence of
her confessor, that she was really giilty of the
crime laid to her charge. There is not the least prob-
ability that a prince, who was desirous to part with
his wife on suspicion of adultery, would ever have
thought of accusing her of incest with her brother
unless the fact had been publicly known. People
seldom think of looking for crimes of so far-fetched
and extraordinary a nature and so difficult to be
proved: besides, in those days, what we call the
point of honor was entirely unknown. Both king
and queen were covered with shame in this affair;
he by his accusation, and she by her confession. The
two national councils met on this occasion and
agreed to the divorce.

Pope Nicholas I. dissolved the two councils and
deposed Gontier, archbishop of Cologne, who had
been the most strenuous in the affair of the divorce :
upon which Gontier writes circular letters to all the
churches, in these terms : " Though the lord Nich-
olas, who is called pope, and who looks upon himself
as pope and emperor, has excommunicated us, we
have withstood his foolish proceedings." And, in
another part of his letter, addressing the pope him-
self, he says : " We do not acknowledge your cursed



Italy and the Popes. 201

sentence; we despise it; and even cast you out of
our communion, being satisfied with that of our
brethren the bishops, whom you contemn," etc.

A brother of the archbishop of Cologne carried
this protest to Rome personally, and laid it on St.
Peter's tomb with sword in hand ; but, in a little time
afterwards, the political state of affairs being
changed, the same archbishop changed also, and
repaired in person to Monte Cassino, where he pros-
trated himself at the feet of Pope Adrian, the suc-
cessor of this Nicholas, whom he thus addressed:
" I declare," said he, " before God, and in the pres-
ence of His saints, and to you my lord Adrian, sov-
ereign pontiff, and to the bishops who are under your
jurisdiction, and to all this assembly, that I humbly
submit to the sentence of deposition canonically
denounced against me by Pope Nicholas," etc. We
may easily conceive how greatly an example of this
kind must have strengthened the authority of the
Church of Rome ; and the nature of the times ren-
dered these examples frequent.

The same Nicholas I. excommunicated the second
wife of Lotharius and ordered that prince to take
his first wife back again. All Europe took part in
these transactions. The emperor Louis II., brother
of Charles the Bald, and uncle of Lotharius, instantly
declared himself, in the strongest manner, for his
nephew against the pope. This emperor, who resided
in Italy, bid defiance to Nicholas ; this brought on
an effusion of blood, and the flames of war were



202 Ancient and Modern History.

lighted up in Italy. Negotiations were set on foot
and the different parties entered into cabals. Teut-
berga repaired to Rome to plead her cause there;
Valrada, her rival, undertook the same voyage, but
dared not proceed with it. Lotharius, finding him-
self excommunicated, went there in person to ask
pardon of Adrian II., successor to Nicholas, fearing
lest his uncle Charles the Bald, who had taken arms
against him under the banner of the Church, should
seize on his kingdom of Lorraine. Adrian II., when
he gave him the sacrament at Rome, made him swear
that he had not made use of the rights of marriage
with Valrada, after the order which Pope Nicholas
had sent him to abstain from it. Lotharius accepted
this oath, received the sacrament, and died a short
time afterwards. The historians of those times have
not failed to assert that his sudden death was a pun-
ishment on him for his perjury, and that those of his
domestics who had taken the same oath with him
all died within the year.

The prerogative assumed on this occasion by
Nicholas I. and Adrian II. was founded on the- false
decretals, which were even at that time regarded
as the universal code. The civil contract by which
a couple were united having become a sacrament,
was subject to ecclesiastical decision.

This adventure was the first scandal that happened
relating to the marriage of crowned heads in the
empire of the West. Since that we have seen the
kings of France, Robert, Philip I., and Philip Augus-



Italy and the Popes. 203

tus, excommunicated by the popes on the same occa-
sions, or even for marriages contracted between very
distant relations. The national bishops did, for a
long time, assume the right of being judges in these
causes : the pontiffs of Rome always referred these
causes to them.

We shall not pretend to examine in this place how
far this new law was useful or detrimental, as we
do not write in the character of a civilian or a con-
troversialist : but it is certain that these proceedings
occasioned much scandal and disturbance to all the
Christian provinces. The ancient Romans and the
people of the East were much happier in this point.
The rights of the father of a family, and the secrets
of the marriage-bed were never laid open to the eye
of the public curiosity: they were wholly unac-
quainted with these kinds of processes relating to
marriages and divorces.

This descendant of Charlemagne was the first who
ever went three hundred leagues from his own king-
dom to plead his cause before a foreign judge and
to know what woman he was to love. His subjects
were on the brink of falling victims to these unhappy
differences. Louis the Debonnaire had been the first
example of the power of the bishops over the
emperors. Lotharius of Lorraine fixed the epoch of
the pope's authority over the bishops. Upon the
whole, then, we may gather from the history of
these times that there were very few rules for soci-
ety among the western nations ; that the kingdoms



1O4 Ancient and Modern History.

were very weak in laws; and that the Church was
very willing to give them new ones.

CHAPTER XXI.

PHOTIUS AND THE SCHISM BETWEEN THE EASTERN
AND WESTERN CHURCHES.

THE weightiest affair in which the Church was then
engaged, and which is to this very day of the great-
est importance to her, was the origin of the total sep-
aration of the Greek and Latin churches. The patri-
archal chair of Constantinople being, as well as the
throne, the object of ambition, was equally subject
to revolutions. The emperor Michael III., being
dissatisfied with the patriarch Ignatius, compelled
him to sign his own dismission, and put one Photius
in his place, who was an eunuch of the palace, a man
of great quality, prodigious genius, and universal
knowledge. He was master of the horse to Michael,
and minister of state. The bishops, to prepare the
way for ordaining him patriarch, made him pass
through all the requisite degrees in six days' time.
The first day he was made monk, because the monks
were at that time considered as constituting a part of
the hierarchy ; the second day he was made lecturer,
the third sub-deacon, the next deacon, then priest,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18

Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) → online text (page 12 of 18)