THE eleventh century is famous as having been the time of two men, of whom the one was conqueror of England, and the other was savior of the Church. Duke William is popularly believed to have had the qualities of a strategist and of a statesman, in addition to rare ability in conducting a pitched fight. Hildebrand is universally admitted to have been the ideal of an ecclesiastical hero: he had one purpose directing all the actions of his life, which was to make the Papal Church the supreme principality; he laid his plots deep, and was quick to seize every possible advantage in executing them; he showed himself many times to be a prudent and far-seeing statesman, a bold, unwavering, and most skilful diplomat. Such are the ordinary descriptions of these men. The question arises, Are there not more profitable studies than those which involve the committing to memory of facts like these? Is there not Natural Science to train young people to observation? Are there not the Mathematics to make them exact in reasoning? Are there not the Languages to improve their taste and make them graceful and strong in expression? There is one faculty, however, that does not receive adequate training by any of these means; and that is the judicial faculty. To weigh probabilities nicely, to decide according to the evidence, or (what is perhaps as praiseworthy) to withhold the decision for lack of evidence, are important things to be learned. History may be made an excellent means of teaching them. To illustrate: -
In a recent lecture Professor Adams declared that the real conqueror of England was Hildebrand. England stood in the way of his cherished plan of bringing the German Empire into subjection to the Church. Her Archbishop of Canterbury even accepted his pall from the anti-pope favored by the Emperor. Therefore Hildebrand deliberately planned the conquest of the island. At the proper time he both protected his Norman tools in front, by excommunicating Harold, and guarded their rear by satisfactory assurances that the French should not aggress upon their native territory. His gain was to be twofold; the favor conferred would bind the powerful Normans more closely to the Church, and another prop would be knocked from under the Empire.
We thus see that the conquest of England was but one of a series of great preparations then being made throughout Europe for the accomplishment of a single purpose. William is reduced to the stature of ordinary men. He now appears to have been little more than a greedy dare-devil, who was capable of performing his master's bidding with alacrity and thoroughness. But Hildebrand becomes incomparably great. The conception of his character startles us by its novelty. Napoleon believed himself to be the creature of destiny, and claimed only the merit of struggling heroically to take each step in a winding path; but Hildebrand saw the end from the beginning, and provided the means of attaining it with the completeness of an engineer who has to tunnel a mountain. Moreover, a convenient key is furnished us to what would else be inexplicable in the history of half a century. Is there a popular rising in Saxony, be sure a 'priest is at the' bottom of it. Is there a conspiracy among the Germanic princes, is there a commotion among the great feudatories of France, does a Norman invade Greece and seek to overthrow the Eastern Empire, behold everywhere the evidence of profound design.
Regard Hildebrand as only an able and resolute man, who took advantage of, though he did not make his opportunities, and there is enough in his character to impress you with a sense of its unusual dignity; nor can you follow the history of the wretched Emperor with unbated breath; he shows his teeth like a hunted rat, now in one corner, now in another; at last he exposes his neck at Canossa to the spring of the cat that for twenty years has patiently waited in the Vatican. But endow him with an instinct amounting to foreknowledge, with a tact in the management of men that turns them into passive instruments in his hands, and renders him long invulnerable to counterplots and adverse chance, and he becomes, in fact, the Fate of his age. His history is no longer one of the several greatest dramas of all history, but it is unique and must stand by itself.
In regard to the correctness of this view, that Hildebrand was the true conqueror of England, several doubts arise spontaneously in the mind of one who has heard merely a general statement of the case. First, is it not better, in the nature of things, to suppose that William and Hildebrand had independent plans, which happened to coincide in some particulars, than to suppose that William was a mere tool of the Roman?
Was not William's aspiration to succeed Ed ward the Confessor known publicly before Hilde brand acquired his paramount influence at Rome
Had Hildebrand refused the aid asked by William, was there not danger that the Emperor would gain the powerful support of the Normans?
Finally, did not William's treatment of the Church after the conquest show an independence of priestly influence from which it can fairly be inferred that Hildebrand no more made use of the ambition of the Norman to promote the interest of the Papacy than William made use of the ambition of the priest to promote his own interest?
From the one point of view Hildebrand was the admiral on the quarter-deck of his flag-ship, thence signalling his orders to different parts of the squadron; and William was one of his captains, who did the work cut out for him admirably well in preserving his own ship and sinking his individual enemy. According to the other view, Hildebrand and William were mighty co-ordinate powers, which, applied at the opposite ends of a lever, must have balanced, but which, working together at the same end, were enough to heave Europe from its bed.
The investigation and deliberation which are necessary to settle such doubts as those given above, and to determine from what point of view the Hildebrandine era is rightly to be regarded, must be admitted to be valuable discipline.