Langton, Stephen

, archbishop of Canterbury in the thirteenth century, a native of England, was educated at the university of Paris, where he afterwards taught divinity, and explained the Scriptures with much reputation. His character stood so high, that he was chosen chancellor of that university, canon of Paris, and dean of Rheims. | He was afterwards sent for to Rome by pope Innocent III. and created a cardinal. In 1207, the monks of Canterbury having, upon a vacancy taking place in that see, made a double return, both parties appealed to the pope, and sent agents to Rome to support their respective claims. His holiness not only determined against both the contending candidates, but ordered the monks, of Canterbury, then, at Rome, immediately to proceed to the election of an archbishop, and, at the same time, commanded them to choose cardinal Stephen Langton. After various excuses, which the plenitude of papal power answered, by absolving these conscientious monks from all sorts of promises, oaths, &c. and by threatening them with the highest penalties of the church, they complied; and Langton was consecrated by the pope at Viterbo. As soon as the news arrived in England, king John was incensed in the highest degree both against the pope and monks of Canterbury, which last experienced the effects of his indignation. He sent two officers with a company of armed men to Canterbury, took possession of the monastery, banished the monks out of the kingdom, and seized all their property. He wrote a spirited letter to the pope, in which he accused him of injustice and presumption, in raising a stranger to the highest dignity in his kingdom, without his knowledge. He reproached the pope and court of Rome with ingratitude, in not remembering that they derived more riches from England than from all the kingdoms on this side the Alps. He assured him, that he was determined to sacrifice his life in defence of the rights of his crown; and that if his holiness did not immediately repair the injury he had done him, he would break off all communication with Rome. The pope, whom such a letter must have irritated in the highest degree, returned for answer, that if the king persisted in this dispute, he would plunge himself into inextricable difficulties, and would at length be crushed by him, before whom every knee must bow, &c. All this may be deemed insolent and haughty, but it was not foolish. The pope knew the posture of king John’s affairs at home he knew that he had lost the affections of his subjects by his imprudence his only miscalculation was respecting the spirit of the people for when, which he did immediately, he laid the kingdom of England under an interdict, and two years after excommunicated the king, he was enraged to find that the great barons and their | followers adhered with so much steadiness to their sovereign, that, while he lay under the sentence of excommunication, he executed the only two successful expeditions of his reign, the one into Wales, and the other into Ireland a proof that if he had continued to act with firmness, and had secured the affections of his subjects by a mild administration, he might have triumphed over all the arts of Rome. Such, however, was not the policy of John; and in the end, he submitted to the most disgraceful terms. In 1213, cardinal Langton arrived in England, and took possession of the see; and though he owed all his advancement to the pope, yet the moment he became an English baron, he was inspired with a zealous attachment to the liberties and independence of his country. In the very year in which he came over, he and six other bishops joined the party of the barons, who associated to resist the tyranny of the king; and at length they were successful in procuring the g eat charter. Langton was equally zealous in opposing the claims of the papal agents, particularly of the pope’s legate, who assumed the right of regulating all ecclesiastical affairs in the most arbitrary manner. In the grand contest which took place between king John and the barons about the charter, the archbishop’s patriotic conduct gave such offence to the pope, that, in 1215, he laid him under a sentence of suspension, and reversed the election of his brother Simon Langton, who had been chosen archbishop of York. Yet in the following year we find Langton assisting at a general council held at Rome; and during his absence from England at this time, king John died. In 1222, he held a synod at Oxford, in which a remarkable canon was made, prohibiting clergymen from keeping concubines publicly in their houses, or from going to them in other places so openly as to occasion scandal. In the following year, he, at the head of the principal nobility, demanded an audience of king Henry III. and demanded of him a confirmation of the charter of their JiberTheir determined manner convinced the king that their demand was not to be refused, and he instantly gave s lor the assembling of parliament. The archbishop shewed, in several instances, that he was friendly to the legal prerogatives of the crown; and by a firm conduct, in a case of great difficulty, he prevented the calamity of a civil war. He died in 1228, leaving behind him many works, which prove that he was deserving the character of | being a learned and polite author. He wrote “Commentaries” upon the greatest part of the books of the Old and New Testament. He was deeply skilled in Aristotelian dialectics, and the application of them to the doctrines of Scripture. The first division of the books of the Bible into chapters is ascribed to this prelate. The history of the translation of the body of Thomas a Becket was printed at the end of that archbishop’s letters, at Brussels, 1682; and there are various Mss. of his in our public libraries. His letter to king John, with the king’s answer, may be seen, in d'Achery’s Spicilegium.

M. la Rue, in his “Dissertation on the Lives and Works of several Anglo-Norman poets of the Thirteenth Century,” has placed our metropolitan at the top of his list; and has taken the first proof of his poetical talents from the stanza of a song, introduced in one of his sermons, written upon the holy virgin. In the same ms. which contains this sermon, are two other pieces attributed to the cardinal. The first is a theological drama, in which Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace, debate among themselves, what ought to be the fate of Adam after his fall. The second is a Canticle on the “Passion of Jesus Christ,” in 123 stanzas, making more than 600 verses, in which the historical details are brought forward in a quick succession, and in a manner as interesting as the subject. But as the author was provided with all the facts, and had nothing left to his care but the versification, there is less imagination and poetry in this piece than in the preceding, the idea of which is borrowed from Ps. Ixxx. v. 10, and which he has worked up with equal taste and delicacy. 1

1 Wharton’s Anglia Sacra. Cave, vol. II. Tanner. Dupin. Henry’s Hist, of Great Britain. Archojologia, vol. XIII.
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