Page 1247

1247 FEUDAL ASCENDENCY-FEUDAL FRANCE.

Another feature of the religious history

of these times was the spread of various

heresies. The doctrines of the Church were

denied or assailed by many of the clergy.

Persecutions for opinion's sake were already

frequent. Sects of fanatics, anxious by some

extraordinary method and discipline of life

to merit the special favor of heaven, arose

in different parts of the country. Of these,

the characteristics were some almost intolerable form of penance, or unusual rigor of

restraint upon the natural appetites. It was

the peculiar tenet of one of the heretical

sects to fast to the last extreme, with total

abstinence from all animal food. Under

this severe self-denial the devotees of the

community were presently wasted until they

were more like wan specters than men of

flesh and blood. To be so reduced in body

was regarded as the highest evidence of

sanctity, and the haggard visage was thought

to be the only countenance worthy the name

of Christian.

Turning from these peculiar aspects of the

religious history of the eleventh century, we

note the rise of Chivalry. This institution,

like Feudalism, of which it was a concomitant

development, grew naturally out of the social

condition of Western Europe. As early as

the days of Tacitus the sentiment of honor

was noticeable as a characteristic of German life. Under a system where the man

was every thing and the state was little it

was necessary to the very existence of tribal

society that truth and devotion should prevail over the intriguing and treacherous

spirit. In such a state trust was an antecedent of action.

When the Frankish tribes gained possession

of Gaul, and, giving over the wandering life,

fixed their residence on the soil, they began

almost from the very first to cultivate those

sentiments which they had come to regard as

the best traits of German character. When

the Frankish youths were first presented with

the weapons which they were to wear in manhood, they were made to take an oath that

they would be brave, valiant, and honorable

soldiers. Even in those early times the worst

stigma which could be affixed to the tribal

name was a dishonorable act on the part of

its chief. Such were the fundamental facts

upon which the chivalrous institutions of the

Middle Ages were founded.

In the beginning of the eleventh century,

Frankish society having then taken on a

definite form and Feudalism having become

the basis of the state, the Church discovered

in the chivalrous sentiments of the Franks

the means of giving a new impulse to religion. Many of the pious nobles who had

been actual warriors by profession were

induced to become ideal soldiers of the Cross.

They consecrated their swords to the cause

of virtue, truth, and religion. They took

upon them vows to defend the innocent

and uphold the weak. They became the

sworn foes of oppression, the enemies of

wrong-doing wherever and whenever found.

The old warlike impulses thus found a vent,

and the restless energies of the barbarian

character, still present in the descendants of

the Teutones, flowed in a newer and broader

channel. Just at the time when the consciousness of Western Europe was reviving

from its long, barbaric sleep, just at the time

when the human imagination began to

paint an aureole about the gross head of

the feudal chieftain, Chivalry came with

its refinement of thought and generosity of

action to add new radiance to the morning of

civilization.

The noble principles and high ideals which

thus began to gain an ascendancy in mediaeval

society soon became organic in an institution. An Order of Knighthood was established as the conservator of the new heroism of nascent Europe. Laws and regulations

were adopted and a discipline established

for the better development of chivalrous

sentiments and the proper direction of knightly

ardor. The order opened its portals to none

but men of noble birth. The vulgar peasantry was absolutely excluded. What dreams

of heroism and generosity, of honor, virtue,

and truth, of the rescue of the helpless and

the defense of the weak, could agitate the

unimaginative brains of ignoble serfs? So

reasoned and queried the suzerain, the royal

warrior, the baronial lord and his aspiring

sons, riding forth to tournament or going

abroad in search of heroic and adventurous

excitement.

The ceremonial of knighthood was interesting and elaborate. The aspirant to

knightly honors, after a period of probation,

came at length to the day when he was to

be admitted among the noble order. The