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of the people that God, in these trials, would invariably interpose in behalf of the innocent, and against the guilty, and thus be no respecter of persons; while at the same time these ecclesiastics themselves, whenever they could advance the temporal interests of the church, would always respect both persons and crimes. Ordeals, then, according to the preceding remarks, are those peculiar forms of trial in which the plaintiff and defendant appealed directly to God for an immediate and visible confirmation of the truth.
One of the most singular species of trial of this kind ever practiced by any nation is that which is observed by the Greenlanders. This ceremony generally takes place during the celebration of their sun-feast a great festival kept by these people at the winter solstice, or about the 21st of December. They make this feast the occasion of universal joy, in anticipation of the returning sun, when they are always favored with a better season for hunting and fishing, by which they principally live. When any quarrel arises between them, a circle is formed by the persons assembled, and the contending parties are placed in the midst. These antagonists then commence singing and dancing most lustily, and he who can sing and dance longest gains his cause, is declared innocent, and receives the laurel from the attentive spectators, who constitute a kind of jury, and reward the victor. After this, the combatants again become mutually reconciled and contented. They call this a singing combat.
A second species of ordeal, besides those by fire and water, which are likewise used by them, obtains among the inhabitants of modern Mingrelia, the celebrated region of ancient Colchos. It is also observed in nearly all its circumstances by the Hindoos. A grain of rice is prepared and charmed by a round of enchanting ceremonies performed by the priest. This the persons at variance are then obliged to swallow. He who is successful in the deglutition of this little grain is pronounced innocent, and conducted home in triumph, while the other man is severely punished. It is stated in the Modern Universal History, vol. vii, p. 129, that a method nearly similar to this is found also in the kingdom of Pegu.
Not very different from the above is the medicinal trial instituted to determine the justice of a cause by the laws of the SiamA small pill is taken, composed of materials of an emetic property, having been previously consecrated by the minister of religion. He who retains this pill is esteemed righteous, or acquitted of the charge; if both retain it, the trial is considered incomplete; and if both reject it, they are together declared guilty. The consequences of this mode will naturally suggest to the reader the wildbeast ordeal practiced by the same people, and sometimes adopted when the other had failed. The appellant and accused are at once thrown to a tiger let loose on the occasion; if either party is left unmolested by the furious animal, he is accounted not guilty; if both are destroyed, their guilt is announced to have been mutual, and their destruction, of course, is their punishment; but if neither is injured, the trial is pronounced defective, and they resort to a more infallible process. Did not the casting of Daniel into the lions' den probably suggest this practice originally?
According to the Asiatic Researches, which contain so much use
ful information respecting that dark and populous quarter of the world, vol. i, p. 389, the Hindoos have nine different kinds of ordeals among them. The number of these trials, if nothing else, ought to be sufficient to convince them of their inutility and absurdity. If one mode is enough to accomplish the proposed object, why have so many? And if two or more methods are inadequate to some cases, why hazard the reputation and lives of their accused criminals on such doubtful institutions?
They have, first, the trial by the balance. Something of this nature was used not many years ago in England and Scotland for the conviction of witches. In 1707 a woman of sixty years of age was accused of witchcraft, at Oakly, near Bedford; and after having been cruelly abused in various ways by the unfeeling populace, she was at length weighed against a large church Bible: and as she was considerably preponderant was honorably acquitted! See "Demonology and Witchcraft," by Walter Scott.
They have, secondly, the trial by fire; thirdly, by water; fourthly, by poison; fifthly, by the sacred water, in which an idol has been washed; sixthly, by rice; seventhly, by boiling oil; eighthly, by red-hot iron; and, ninthly, by images.
The ancient inhabitants of Europe who took possession of the country after the fall of the Roman empire had the trial by the judicial pottage and the hallowed cheese, which I will describe more at length; and when the Catholic priests had begun to work such astonishing miracles by means of the bones, and clothing, and other remains of the sainted dead, the contention was often settled with dice, laid on relics, covered with woollen cloth!
The method of criminal purgation referred to above was used by the ancient Saxons and others; but it is not now practiced by those who first observed it, nor by their descendants. It was called the trial by corsned, which signifies the cursed morsel, or morsel of execration. It was confined in some places nearly exclusively to the clergy. They, perhaps, concluded they could more easily escape the detection of their crimes when guilty, and more readily make their pretended innocence apparent to the credulous rabble in this way than in any other. But, probably, the principal reason why this species of ordeal was adopted as a test of guilt by the priests is the fact, that something like it was instituted by divine authority in the laws of Moses. I allude to the waters of jealousy, which will soon be explained.
- The corsned, on some occasions, was nothing but a small piece of bread, and on others a bit of cheese, weighing about an ounce. This pittance of common food, which was to work so great a miracle, was consecrated by the priest with all the "sanctimonious seeming" so characteristic of the Catholic clergy. In the prayer of consecration the curse of God was solemnly implored to rest upon the accused person, if guilty, and his peculiar blessing, if innocent. It is said if the man had actually committed the crime alleged against him, he immediately became pale and convulsed; but if not, he was evidently strengthened and nourished. It is also affirmed that the sacrament of the Lord's supper was likewise administered to the person after he had received the morsel of bread and cheese. But subsequently to the invention of transubstantiation, or at least to
the time when this doctrine was first imposed on the church as an article of faith, which happened at the fourth Lateran Council, convoked by Innocent III., in 1215, the eucharist very seldom accompanied this ceremony. It was thought that this was making rather a profane use of the body and blood of Christ; but one should suppose the pious priests were always holy enough to take the sacra
Blackstone remarks in his Commentaries, book iv, p. 345, that "the remembrance of this custom still subsists in certain phrases of abjuration retained by the common people, as 'I will take the sacrament upon it;' 'May this morsel be my last,' and the like." The same writer farther observes, "Our historians assure us that Godwin, earl of Kent, in the reign of King Edward the Confessor, abjuring the death of the king's brother, at last appealed to his corsned, 'per buccellam deglutiendum abjuravat,' which stuck in his throat, and killed him."-Book iv, p. 345.
The earl of Kent, alluded to in the above extract, was the most powerful nobleman in the kingdom. That he murdered Alfred, the king's brother, there was sufficient evidence to prove; but that he appealed to the trial by corsned, in its ordinary meaning, cannot be established by the contradictory evidence of the historians of those times. It appears that when he had returned to the realm, which he was obliged to leave after his revolt against his sovereign, whom, however, he finally brought to his own conditions, the king pardoned his offense, and again took him into his favor. But while engaged in a friendly repast at the royal table, still protesting his innocence, a piece of bread "stuck in his throat," which he wished it might do if he were guilty. It caused his death. This was generally looked upon as a judgment from Heaven; and no doubt from this circumstance the story of the corsned arose.
The ordeals by water, fire, the cross, and single combat, will now be more particularly considered.
And, first, the ordeal by water. This, in one of its forms, (by the waters of jealousy,) is certainly the most ancient of those of which we have any account in sacred or profane history; for it was instituted by divine appointment A. M. 2514, B. C. 1490. Many of the laws of Moses are exceedingly singular; and were they now to be enforced, none would appear more so to a modern jurist than the "law of jealousies," as it is termed in the fifth chapter of Numbers. In a very few criminal cases, if suitable evidence could not be obtained, the Jews had recourse to the "Urim and Thummim❞— Mr. Horne thinks only in one case-the violation of an oath taken by the whole people, or the leader of the host in their name. But this was done to discover, not to convict, the guilty party. See "Horne's Introduction," on Jewish courts of judicature and legal proceedings, vol. ii, part ii, chap. iii, sec. 1.
But when a man suspected his wife of conjugal infidelity, of which, however, there was no direct testimony, she was to be tried in that peculiar, and, it may be added, dreadful manner which will now be briefly stated. When the spirit of jealousy came upon the husband he was required to take his wife before the priest, accompanied with the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal, as a suitable offering prescribed by the law, without oil or incense, for it brought "iniquity.
to remembrance." The priest then took holy water out of the laver of the temple in an earthen vessel, and put into it a quantity of dust from the floor of the tabernacle, to express the baseness of her crime. The woman was next "set before the Lord," with the offering of memorial in her hand; while the priest uncovered her head, holding in his hand the bitter that caused the curse. After a very solemn oath of adjuration pronounced by the priest, to which the accused replied, with equal solemnity, "Amen! amen!" the most fearful curses were written on a piece of parchment, and washed off into the bitter water. This liquor she was obliged to drink after the barley meal had been taken out of her hand, and offered on the altar before the Lord. If guilty of the offense with which she was charged by her husband, a remarkable punishment immediately followed; but if innocent, she was blessed, and returned in peace. For the words of the oath, punishment, and blessing, see Num. v, 19–28.
From this account the reader will perceive that as this trial was of divine appointment, so the Lord alone had the entire direction of its issue; for while the water drunk by the woman was of itself perfectly harmless, if the consequences ensued which are mentioned by Moses, they must have been caused by infinite purity and justice.
This, then, was properly judicium Dei, or the judgment of God; and though the ordeals of heathens and barbarous Christians have likewise been called so, they were not such in reality.
It is remarked by Dr. Clarke, as an observation of the Jewish rabbins, that after the Babylonish captivity the Israelites refused to resort to this method of obtaining evidence in the case of accusations of this kind, because these offenses had become so numerous they were afraid, by too frequent a repetition of this judicial process, they might profane the name of the Lord!
The intelligent reader is aware that the ordeals by water were performed in different ways. The Jewish mode, in all its circumstances, was not adopted by any nation, either savage or civilized; but it will require very little penetration to perceive that the corsned of the Saxons, the consecrated rice of the Mingrelians, Hindoos, and others, and the medicinal pill of the Siamese, were mere variations of the ancient Mosaic custom.
Sometimes cold, and on other occasions hot water was employed; but in all cases an oath was made by the party, and a number of ceremonies were performed by the priest. When hot water was used, a vessel was filled with the liquid, and a stone or a cross was laid in the bottom, and the accused person was required to take it up with his naked hand and arm. In many instances the arm was well wrapped up in a cloth, tied and sealed, and not opened for three days. If, on the third day, there were no marks of scalding on the part immersed in the water, the person was released and acquitted. But this part of the ceremony was occasionally omitted, and the immediate effects of the heat were taken as proof of guilt. Some individuals had their arms secured in this way for three days before the time of trial, that they might be prevented from counteracting the effects of the heat by drugs or sorceries.
In several parts of the East Indies the offender is obliged to plunge his hand into boiling oil or melted lead, as a test of innocence; if he escape uninjured, no disgrace or punishment follows.
In cold-water ordeals there was likewise no uniform process established. The person accused of an offense was, however, usually thrown in a state of nudity into a pond or river, with his right foot and left hand bound together. If he floated on the surface, without making any exertions either to sink or swim, he was esteemed guilty, as it was thought the pure water would not receive into its bosom a guilty mass of human corruption; but if he sank, he was pronounced innocent. Hence a poor wretch now and then was drowned to convince the magistrate that he had not committed the alleged crime. This, in different parts of Europe, one hundred and fifty years ago, was a very common way of trying a witch. The individual suspected of witchcraft was wrapped up in a sheet; her thumbs and great toes were united by a small cord, and she was thus cast into the water. If she floated, she was immediately taken out and executed. See "Demonology and Witchcraft," by Walter Scott.
Blackstone mentions a peculiar species of water ordeal which is said to prevail among the Indians on the coast of Malabar. When a person is accused of any enormous sin, he is required to swim across a large river abounding with crocodiles; if he escape unhurt, he is reputed not guilty. "Grotius," says the same author, and the remark is confirmed by Dr. Clarke, "gives us many instances of water ordeal in Bythinia, Sardinia, and other places." In a few modern eastern nations the quarreling parties are made to dive into deep water; and he who tarries under the surface longest gains his
It is difficult to determine when the ordeal by water, whether by cold or hot, was first adopted; for the reader will remember that it was instituted originally by the inspired Jewish lawgiver. But a majority of writers, ancient and modern, attribute its invention to Pope Eugenius II., who ascended the papal chair in A. D. 824. Yet Mr. Bower, a learned Jesuit of Scotland, who wrote a history of the popes in 7 vols. 4to, mentions nothing of the kind in his history of that pontiff And there is evidence that the trial was not only practiced, but established by law, more than a hundred years before the days of Eugenius. It is also certain that this pope merely authorized the requisite prayers and protestations to be drawn up which were to be observed on the occasion. This fact, it is likely, led to the mistake made by those writers in asserting that Pope Eugenius was the inventor of the whole trial.
It was inserted in the laws of Ina, one of the West Saxon kings, in the beginning of the eighth century. In 787, Agobard, archbishop of Lyons, a man of wisdom, prudence, and considerable literary merits, wrote against it, as he did also against the worship and use of images. In 829 it was condemned and abrogated by Lewis I., of France, commonly called the Debonaire, and son of the celebrated Charlemagne. But it was still a part of the judiciary of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries. So deeply rooted was this custom, and so blinded were the people by superstition.
It was favorably noticed by the Council of Mentz, which was assembled by Rabarrus, the archbishop of that city, in 848, or, according to others, 847. It was condemned by the Council of Valentia, in 855, the decrees of which were confirmed in 859 by the Council of Langres, and in 860 by the Council of Tousi. In 895 it was