History of Christianity Pt. 3

Written on: October 4, 2020

Article by: Bob Sandiford

Christianity in the Seventh Through Sixteenth Centuries


  • Early on, leadership of Western Roman Empire is substantially provided by Christian Clergy
  • Catholicism spreads through Europe
  • Orthodoxy spreads north and east
  • Islam spreads through middle east and north Africa, and impacts on Europe
  • Holy Roman Empire
  • The crusades
  • Resurgence of education
  • Beginnings of protests against the Catholic church, and groundwork for Reformation

The Pope and the Invaders

Bishops of Rome

  • Lots of land and power – especially with the decline of the Western Roman Empire.
  • Some of the invaders converted from Arian to Catholic Christianity – e.g. in Spain, or from paganism to Catholicism – e.g. in Gaul.
    • However – these conversions were mostly by royal decree – enforced by the king on the people.
    • Still tension between whether the church had authority over the kings, or vice versa.
  • The pope started looking west – into modern day Europe – for help, rather than east to the Eastern Empire.
    • Still tension between the pope and the eastern patriarch over authority.
  • Gregory (590-604) – first pope who had been a monk.
    • Tried to enforce his authority over the Frankish rulers in Gaul, and over the Eastern Patriarch. Not very successfully.
    • Also decided to send monks to Britain, where Catholicism ultimately won over from the Celtic Christian church.
      • Britain was a collection of smaller monarchies at this time – about a dozen – no central government yet.
      • He tried to merge the Celtic church into the Catholic Church, but failed – so ongoing tension between the two branches of Christianity in Britain. (3 issues – date of Easter, form of baptism, and join the mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons).
      • The Celtic church had been around for at least 300 years – it sent bishops to councils in 314, for example.
      • Ultimately they did merge – but it was about half a century later (confirmed in 664), after Catholicism had already become prevalent in Britain.
    • He also emphasized allegorical interpretations of the Bible, interest in saints’ lives, stressing the cult of saints and relics, demonology, and ascetic virtues.
    • He set much of the emphasis within the Catholic Church for the Middle Ages.

Rise of Islam

Muhammed of Mecca (570-632)

  • His teachings took off quickly through Arabia and then beyond.
  • Same time as Gregory was turning away from the Eastern Empire.
  • Islam became medieval Christianity’s greatest opponent.
  • By the 900’s, Islam stretched from Baghdad, across the Middle East and North Africa to Cordova in modern day Spain. Later it spread eastwards, centred on Iraq and into South and East Asia.
  • In territory controlled by Islam:
    • Idol worshippers (i.e. pagans) had to convert or be killed.
    • Jews and Christians (‘People of the Book’) were tolerated, but had to pay a special tax
  • Around the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Islam ran into the Eastern Roman Empire, and Orthodox Christianity.
    • Sieges of Constantinople failed, and a border was established south of that city – but the areas of Palestine and Egypt were taken, removing them from the Eastern Empire.
  • At the western end of the Med, they entered into modern day Spain.
    • Attempts at moving north were foiled by Charles Martel in 732 – and again, a border established basically along the Pyrenees Mountains between modern day Spain and France.
  • Catholic Europe was hostile to Islam.
    • Islam was looked upon as the beast in the book of Revelation, or as the Antichrist.
    • Portrayed Mohammed as an imposter, and Islam as a religion of violence and idolatry.
  • Islam viewed itself as superior.
    • Revelation of Mohammed being the final one, supplanting both Old and New Testaments.
    • Certainly early Islamic civilization exceeded the achievements of Western civilization at the time.
  • Islam was weakened after the death of Mohammed, as two different groups wanted to take control – today, the two groups still exist – Sunni and Shiite.
    • Sunni believes the leader should be elected by Muslims.
    • Shi’a believes Mohammed appointed his cousin, and leadership should be based on family lineage.
  • Further – many Arabian tribes rejected Islam after Mohammed’s death – claiming they had given allegiance to him, not to Islam.

Decline and Resurgence of European Christianity

After Gregory, in the mid Seventh Century, European Christianity went into a decline.

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  • Papacy was under stress from Lombards in Italy (invading tribes), and the Byzantine rulers in the east.
  • Moral, spiritual, and intellectual quality of the clergy declined since the local rulers usually made their own appointments to the clergy.

It was revived in the 8th century by:

  • The church in Britain – by a large number of Anglo-Saxon missionaries.
  • A revived papacy.
  • New royal house in Gaul replacing the earlier Frankish rulers.

Organized religious life became more centred in monasteries. More on this later.

Holy Roman Empire

The new Frankish royal house were called the Carolingians

  • Charles Martel supported the pope in sending missionaries to Germany – in part because he wanted to expand his rule eastward.
    • Charles was the ruler who stopped the Muslims as they tried to move north from Spain.
    • However – Charles took away church lands – originally with church agreement during the fight against Islam, but he never returned them. And, he refused the pope’s call to attack the Lombards in Italy, who were giving the pope a hard time, because they had been allies against the Muslims.
  • Charles’ heir, Pepin, had been raised in a monastery near Paris.
    • He had closer ties with the pope, and together they brought major reform of the Frankish church, which in turn brought about a renewal of religious and intellectual life.
      • A focus was on the non-monastic clergy – to resolve problems of rejection of celibacy, over-eating and drunkenness, hunting, carrying weapons, and frequenting taverns.
      • A new rule for these cathedral based clergy was adopted and spread through the Carolingian realm.
      • Monastic rule was standardized on the ‘Benedictine Rule’, which also spread through the realm.
    • In 751, Boniface – bishop of the German church – anointed Pepin as the new king.
    • Pope Stephen II asked – and got – Pepin’s aid against the Lombards, and Pepin and his sons were made ‘protectors of the Romans’.
    • The lands recovered from the Lombards in north-east and central Italy were given to the pope – these became the ‘papal states’ – territory the pope ruled directly.
      • Helped by a forgery called the ‘Donation of Constantine’ which claimed that Emperor Constantine had bequeathed Rome and the western part of the Empire to the bishop of Rome at the time the capital of the empire moved east to Constantinople. It wasn’t exposed as a forgery until the 1400’s – over 600 years.
  • All this allowed the Roman bishop to continue loosening ties to the Eastern Church and Constantinople, and focus more on Western Europe.
    • This was helped by a major controversy in the Eastern Church at the time – on whether Icons were proper or not. We’ll talk more about this later – but it meant the Eastern Church was more inward focussed for about 150 years.
    • The Roman pope declared the Eastern Church to be heretical during one of the times that approval of icons was in place.
  • Pepin’s son Charles, called ‘the great’, was crowned Emperor in the West on Christmas day, 800 by Pope Leo III.
    • We know him better as Charlemagne.
    • He had already been King of the Franks since 768.
    • His uniting of most of Western Europe was the first time since the classical time of the Roman Empire.

Charlemagne was of mixed mind regarding the pope – legitimacy for his role as Emperor came from the pope, but Charlemagne wasn’t too thrilled by that and worked to subordinate the church to his rule.

  • He did continue the church reform started by his father Pepin – primarily in education.
  • Went back to classical Greek philosophy (translated into Latin), and early Christianity, for its models.
  • Lots of manuscript copying went on – many works are known today only because of these copies, the originals have been lost.
  • Theological differences between Catholic and Orthodox were magnified during this period – use of icons, tonsure styles, celibacy of the clergy, and whether the Holy Spirit descended from the Father through the Son, or whether he descended from the Father and the Son.

Two other significant theological issues rose during this time.

  • The first teaching appeared of ‘double predestination’ – where some people are predestined to salvation, and others are justly predestined to eternal judgment. This was condemned as heresy – but we still have this question being raised today.
  • The second was around the Lord’s Supper. The church clarified it’s teaching about the ‘real presence’ of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist – that the actual body and blood were present – which is today called transubstantiation

Following Charlemagne’s death in 814, there was no clear succession, and the empire was torn apart by civil wars.

  • The pope worked to re-assert his independence from, and authority over, civil leaders.
  • Lay people again started to appoint clergy – which this time led to selling church posts – Simony – regardless of qualification. This caused great corruption and compromise in the church in the following centuries.

Europe and Western Asia in 814 at the death of Charlemagne

By Stolichanin – Europe_plain_rivers.png The map is made according to: “World Atlas”, part 3: Europe in Middle Ages, Larrouse, Paris, 2002, O. Renie Atlas “History of Bulgaria”, Sofia, 1988, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, V. Kamburova “World Atlas”, N. Ostrovski, Rome, 1992, p.55Атлас “История на средните векове”, Sofia, 1982, G. Gavrilov” History in maps”, Johannes Herder, Berlin, 1999, p. 20″European Historical Globus”, R. Rusev, 2006, p.117, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37384682

Darkness over Europe

From the late ninth until mid-eleventh century, western Christianity was weakening

  • The Carolingian empire was divided and fought over.
  • Increased attacks from outside the empire – Moslems in the south, barbarians from central Asia, Norsemen from Scandinavia.
  • The popes no longer had protectors, and struggled at the rise of nobility and city states in Italy.
    • Popes were being appointed by Roman nobility, who appointed relatives or political favorites.
  • Throughout Europe, church property was destroyed by invaders or taken over by nobility as their own.
    • Clergy became indifferent to their duties, and ignorance and immorality increased again.
  • The papacy continued to function through this, though at a reduced level.
    • For example, letters were still being sent dealing with religious issues through Europe, new abbeys were being founded with papal approval, pilgrimages to Rome continued.
  • A strong king rose in Germany in the late 10th century – Otto.
    • He developed strong ties to the church and papacy, gave grants of land, and bishops and abbots (heads of abbeys) were given the same privileges as princes of the kingdom.
    • He helped raise the papacy out of the Italian control.
    • Then Otto basically took control of the papacy himself – new popes needed his or his son’s consent, and Otto appointed a layman as pope.
  • “The end of the world seemed at hand. It was seriously expected by many as the year 1000 approached.”

The Eastern Church

As we’ve mentioned, the Eastern and Western Churches became more and more separate as time went by, from the fifth century (basically right after Constantinople became capital in the east), through the end of the 12th century when they viewed themselves as being independent of each other.

  • Each blamed the other for having abandoned the true Christian tradition.

Efforts had been made from the time of Constantine (when Christianity became legal) to have a single Christian church and body of beliefs and practices.

  • Church councils, controlling the leadership of the church, whether the emperor or the bishops had ultimate authority – all were at least in part attempts to maintain unity.
  • Against this were the various leading bishops (Rome, Carthage, Alexandria, Ephesus), and who was preeminent. Then the addition of Constantinople in the fifth century and its status initially as second behind Rome didn’t sit well with the other bishops.
    • Also, the difference between east and west where generally in the west, the bishop of Rome was viewed to have authority over civil rulers, but in the west, the emperor was preeminent over the patriarch of Constantinople.

As time went on, correct belief became more important than correct behaviour.

  • We see this in the disputes over wording of creeds, arguing over what to us seem to be unknowable, or largely irrelevant issues when compared to being the best disciples of Christ we can be.
  • Over time, this became embedded in ritual, appropriate dress for the clergy, the tonsure (the special hair cut), the liturgy.

The Eastern Church was where monasticism originated

  • They also have ‘rules’ – the ‘Basilian Rule’, from Basil bishop of Caesarea, has remained the basic rule for Orthodox monasteries.

Constantinople, and the Eastern Empire, was under armed attack fairly regularly from the mid-sixth century onwards.

  • Persia and the Avar kingdom of central Europe allied and almost wiped out the empire in 626.
  • Arabs took Syria, Palestine, and Egypt in the mid 600’s.
    • The Islamic Arabs got as far as besieging Constantinople twice, but failed both times.
  • The eastern Empire survived – but much, much smaller in territory.
  • Only Constantinople of the original five patriarchates remained.
    • Rome was now part of the separate, Western empire.
    • Alexandria (Egypt), Antioch (Asia), and Jerusalem (Palestine) were under Muslim rule.

Internally, the Eastern Church struggled with major theological debates.

  • Monophysitism (that Jesus’ humanity was swallowed by his divinity – as opposed to Jesus being both fully human and fully God) had occupied the church for over 200 years. It was finally laid to rest in a council in 681.
  • Then a new dispute arose over what objects are sufficiently ‘holy’ to deserve worship.
    • Icons were the most visible face of this dispute, but it went deeper.
      • Icon – from the Greek for ‘image’ or ‘resemblance’. A religious work of art, such as a painting or carving of the image of Jesus, Mary, saints, or angels.
    • Clergy are set apart by ordination – so they are holy.
    • Church buildings are set apart by dedication – so they are holy.
    • What about martyrs and heroes of the faith – the saints? What about other aspects of Christianity?
  • From the 500’s, the church encouraged the recognition given to monastic holy men, and to Christian icons.
  • Opposition arose as it was recognized that lay people often failed to distinguish between the icon – intended to represent or remind of the original – and the original itself.
    • Some held that veneration given to the icon was passed on to the original – so no difference.
    • Others held that icons were, in essence, idols.
  • Iconoclasts were those who were against icons, and would destroy them.
    • Leadership in the Eastern Church began to sway back and forth on the question – some supporting icons, some being iconoclasts.
  • The Western Church chimed in during one of the periods of iconoclastic leadership in the mid 8th century, when the pope officially condemned iconoclasm.
    • As a result, the Eastern emperor retaliated by taking southern Italy away from the patriarchy of Rome, and into the patriarchy of Constantinople – as we saw on the map of Europe around 814.
  • Ultimately, the Eastern Church embraced icons – formalized in a synod in 843. The argument included aspects such as:
    • An icon’s only significance is as a copy and reminder of the original.
    • To deny that any true icon could portray Christ was to deny the possibility of the Incarnation – looking on the human man Jesus as an icon of the divine Son of God.
    • It is wrong to worship an icon – but an icon can instruct and assist the believer in the worship of the true Christ.
    • And – the synod officially stated that an icon is not an idol.
    • Orthodox churches still celebrate the ‘Feast of Orthodoxy’ on the first Sunday of Lent to commemorate the end of the iconoclastic controversy.

The final split between East and West took place in 1054

  • Repeated attempts to reconcile or reunite have failed.

The Orthodox Church did expand north and east.

  • 860 – prince of Moravia (modern day Czechs) asked for missionaries to instruct his people in Christianity
    • Sent two Greek brothers – Cyril and Methodius – who had grown up near Slavs and knew the language.
    • They had to invent an alphabet for the language, which had never been written – this alphabet is today known as Cyrillic, used in south-eastern Europe and Russia.
    • They translated Scripture and Liturgy.
    • Orthodox Christianity, and Byzantine culture, spread among the Slavic tribes and drove development in these areas for centuries.
  • From there it spread south into Bulgaria, and then into Serbia and Romania.
    • These nations were able to have independent church organizations, though still under the Patriarch.
    • Eastern Europe and Russia developed local churches in their native languages – much different than the straight Latin of the Western church.
  • Around 988, Vladimir of Kiev, a pagan, decided he needed to take up one of the major religions. He had Islam, Judaism, Latin and Byzantine Christianity investigated, and chose the Byzantine based on reports from Constantinople of the worship in the great church of St Sophia.
    • This is somewhat legend – but it does show that the form of worship was more important than the theology or ethics when nations chose Christianity – especially Orthodox Christianity.
    • For most of the next 400 years, the head of the Russian church was a Greek appointed by the Patriarch in Constantinople. As a result, the ties between Russia and Constantinople were strong.
  • In the 13th century, Russia was conquered by the Mongol hordes from the east, and remained under the Khan for over 200 years.
    • Constantinople still appointed the head of the Russian church – but the Khan reserved final approval.
    • During this period, around 1350, monasticism took hold in Russia, and spirituality began to penetrate the lower levels of Russian society.
  • Moscow became the leading city in Russia
    • By mid 15th century, Islamic conquest overran Christianity in Bulgaria and Serbia, and in 1453 captured Constantinople, ending the eastern Roman Empire.
    • Ivan III of Moscow married the niece of the last emperor, and took the Byzantine double-headed eagle as the symbol of his power – which itself was derived from the Roman Empire.
    • The Russian church declared that Moscow had become “The Third Rome.”
      • The claimed the Roman church fell because of heresy, and was succeeded by Constantinople.
      • That city too was punished by God by means of the Turks. “The church of Moscow, the new ‘third Rome’, shines throughout the entire world more brightly than the sun . . . Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands and a fourth can never be.” (A monk writing to Ivan’s son)
    • The Russian national Church claimed to be the chief protector and centre of Eastern Christianity.

Resurgence of the Western church – eleventh century

Lay control of clergy, and invasions from north, east, and south had put the Western church into a pretty bad situation.

The mid eleventh century saw another revival and reform – this time from the monastery at Cluny, France.

  • Monasteries had been active in the centuries before this.
  • The Benedictine rule established in the 600’s became the norm through Europe, especially under Charlemagne.
    • This also became the norm in England.
  • From England, missionary monks from the monasteries evangelized the pagan Germanic tribes.
    • One Benedictine abbey, founded at Fulda in central Germany in 744, became a great cultural and religious centre in the following centuries.
  • By the 8th century, monasteries were drawing their monks increasingly from the nobility.
    • So – we find the Carolingian heirs being brought up in monasteries.
    • This helped change the Benedictine order from the monks sharing in manual labour to an increase in religious and educational activities.
  • Monasteries also started to possess large libraries.
    • The monks copied these – and in fact most ancient Latin poetry and prose is available today only through these copies – most the originals are gone.
  • Monasteries also transitioned from being places for individuals to flee from the world, into places more integrated into society, and performing religious duties on behalf of others – prayer, for example.
  • The European monasteries suffered greatly in the 9th and 10th centuries in the barbarian and Viking attacks on Europe.
    • Many were destroyed, or decayed through lack of staff and funds.
  • Some survived, or had been started when the attacks started reducing.

Back to Cluny and revival and reform, in the 11th century.

  • Cluny was established in France in 909.
    • Cluny itself reorganized from the usual Benedictine rules.
    • Much more emphasis on monks being involved in the daily cycle of worship – almost the whole day long.
    • The Cluniac churches were highly decorated – the intention was to create a service as magnificent and solemn as possible. They were widely admired by both the Church and laity.
    • Further – as Cluny established other monasteries, these new houses were linked organizationally to Cluny, rather than being independent as was usually the case for new monasteries.
    • The Monastery at Cluny, and its dependent monasteries, were relatively free from local lay nobility – Cluny had been established in direct dependence on the pope.
  • From this started a movement through other Monasteries.
  • In large part this was based on recognition of long-ignored canon law – i.e. from Church synods and earlier rulings of the pope.
    • The church should be subject only to the commands of God as revealed through Scripture or canon law.
  • The whole Church, which at this time basically meant all of society, was to be governed by a hierarchy of clergy.
    • The pope was superior to secular rulers, and all were to obey him. (Using ‘Secular’ here just to mean kings and other rulers not part of the church. Not that these rulers weren’t at least nominally Christian.)
  • The selection of the pope was to be with the clergy, not lay people.
  • Simony (buying and selling church offices) was wrong, and must stop. (After Simon the Sorcerer, Acts 8:9ff)
  • Clergy must be unmarried and celibate.

Each of the major areas of Western Europe – England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire (sort of a descendant in theory of the Carolingian Roman Empire) – accepted the pope’s supremacy.

  • For example – the pope sanctioned the invasion of England by Duke William of Normandy in the mid eleventh century – which allowed the reformers to control the Church in England more effectively.
  • The relationship between pope and king and clergy came to an agreement.
    • In England, the king would be present during election of a bishop by the Church – and the new bishop would do homage to the king for the temporal possessions, and then be invested spiritually by the archbishop.
    • France was similar – the king would invest the new bishop with temporal authority, and the Church with spiritual authority.
  • A lot still seems to have political background, though.
    • In 1205, King John of England argued with the pope about the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury (the leading Church office in England).
    • The pope placed England under ‘interdict’ – refused any marriage, baptism, or burials.
    • John retaliated by seizing Church lands and forcing most bishops out of England.
    • The pope in 1212 declared the throne of England vacant, and invited the French to invade.
    • John capitulated – returned Church property, and resigned as king to then be re-crowned by the pope as a feudal retainer, under the pope.


The sacraments – holy doctrines and practices – were further developed during this period.

  • Baptism came to be applied to infants, following the acceptance of original sin and the need for baptism for salvation, along with high infant mortality – infants were baptized pretty much immediately after birth.
    • The older tradition of Easter baptisms of adults fell away.
  • Communion became more and more viewed as the true flesh and blood of Christ, rather than symbols, and transubstantiation was formalized in 1215.
    • (Due to concerns about lay people possibly spilling the wine, i.e. the blood of Christ, lay people only were able to take of the bread.)
  • Also in 1215, seven primary sacraments were pronounced as orthodox:
    • Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance (or Confession), Extreme Unction (now called Anointing of the Sick), Ordination, and Matrimony.
    • Penance – spiritual healing of a baptized person resulting from sins. Contrition, Confession to a priest, absolution (forgiveness) by the priest, and acts of satisfaction or penance.
    • Extreme unction – comfort, peace, courage, and if the sick person is unable to make a confession, forgiveness of sins. Originally administered primarily on a death bed, this has evolved into a practice given during serious illness as well.
    • Grace results merely by the practice of these sacraments, and not so much based on any action of the person receiving them.


New monastic orders also rose – often more ‘mystical’, as the older monastic orders declined and became less well-respected.

  • Cistercians (1097) as an offshoot of Benedictine – emphasized manual labour instead of scholarship, and private rather than corporate prayer – ascetic simplicity and personal devotion. This was a reaction in part against the Cluniac monasteries.
    • Strict rules for rest, work, meditation, food. Was very popular with the people generally.
    • An early influential leader was Bernard of Clairvaux (starting around 1112). Founded more than 65 new monasteries. “He was so persuasive in convincing men to enter the monastery that it is said that mothers hid their sons, and wives their husbands, when he came fishing for the souls of men.”
    • By the end of the twelfth century, the Cistercians had become very wealthy (ironically) and went into decline, though still present. By 1300 over 600 of these monasteries had been founded.
    • The hymn “O Sacred Head” is attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux.

Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries became more widely settled, and security of the monastery from external threats wasn’t as important as previously.

  • New orders started where a group of clergy would live together under a spiritual rule – but their work was to be out among the ordinary population.

New groups of preaching monks – called friars (from the French ‘frere’, brother) – were also developed.

  • They preached in the towns, taught in schools, and eventually dominated many of the new universities which were being started.
  • Franciscans (from Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226) was one of these orders. Also called ‘grey monks’ because of their clothing. They lived lives of poverty. Initially, there was no real emphasis on training, but ultimately they needed to establish schools. Schools established included at the universities of Paris (The Sorbonne, 1256), Oxford, Cambridge, and Bologna. William of Ockham and Roger Bacon were Franciscan scholars of the 13th century.

“Instruments of your Peace” and “A Simple Prayer” are both heavily based on a work of poetry by Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled, as to console;

Not so much to be understood as

To understand;

Not so much to be loved

As to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying that we awaken to eternal life.

  • Dominicans (from Dominic de Gusman, 1170-1221) was another. This order had more of an emphasis on education than did the early Franciscans, and focussed more on preaching and teaching. Also called ‘Black Friars’ for their black cloaks. Much more intellectually based than the Franciscans. Established colleges and seminaries both for their own members, and for anyone else who wanted to attend. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican.
  • Both these orders, and others, continued to serve lepers and other illnesses.
    • Including during plagues – which were fairly frequent.
    • Led to a greater study of medicine.


During the middle ages in Europe, education was almost exclusively in the hands of the church.

  • Schools taught not just religious subjects, but ‘the seven liberal arts and theology.’
    • Latin grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.
    • Some schools specialized in other subjects in addition – such as medicine, law, or theology.
  • New interest arose in Classical Greek philosophy, as well as early Christian writers and the Bible.
    • This came to be known as ‘Scholasticism’, lasting from around the ninth century through to the 15th.
    • Questions would be posed, and research done into these classical works looking for direction and insight.
    • However, a root problem is that the Greek philosophers and the Church Fathers were not infallible, and could be reconciled only by modifying one or the other or both – which happened in various ways, leading to further misunderstanding or false conclusions.
    • Thomas Aquinas tried to harmonize faith and reason by accepting Aristotle as a guide in reason, and Scripture as the rule of faith. He felt that revelation supplements but never contradicts reason.
    • He also saw a clear distinction between the way knowledge is gained in this world (through observation and experience), and in heaven (through mystic knowledge.) The apostles and prophets were privileged to have been able to experience God in the mystic fashion before their deaths, but that this knowledge was limited to them.
      • Or to rephrase – all human knowledge originates in the senses – philosophy is based on data accessible to all men. Theology is based only on revelation and logical deduction from revelation.
      • This doesn’t recognize that reason and revelation often contradict one another – a position the Bible also references.

Prov 12:2, and 16:25: (NIV) There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

  • This is perhaps the beginning of the separation of, and apparent contradiction between, science and faith.
  • Great religious scholars arose and developed new ideas, some of which led to things like transubstantiation, but others that led to greater understanding of topics such as Christ’s redeeming work.
    • Before the 11th century, teaching dating back to Origen was predominant – that through sin, humanity had made itself subject to the devil, the mark being death. God in His grace wished to free men, but was unable to because the devil’s claim was just. To neutralize that claim, a ransom had to be paid in the form of a valuable person over whom Satan had no right – a sinless person. The devil was tricked when Christ was crucified, because the Son of God was sinless; now God can with justice save whomever He pleases.
    • New understanding came that when a person sins, he breaks the right order of the universe, and is alienated from God. Because He is just, God must be given a satisfaction for sin before He can forgive the sinner. Christ was sinless, sent by the mercy of God; He was able to offer to God the satisfaction owed by the human race. This explanation came to be widely accepted in Europe, and changed the whole outlook on the incarnation and the atonement.
  • One outgrowth of the Schools was a shift in scholastic intent – rather than learning and accepting without question the existing teachings and canon principles, “The first key to wisdom is this constant and frequent questioning… For by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth.” (Peter Abelard in the 11th century)
    • This was not well received in all quarters…
  • Another outgrowth was the attempt to prove God’s existence by philosophical argument. Trying to set up a contradictory situation, where the only resolution is to accept God’s existence.
    • Scholastic thought was starting to question things that had gone generally unquestioned for centuries – such as the very existence of God.
  • And a third outgrowth was the laying of the groundwork for modern science in the 13th century.
    • Some scholars came to emphasize observation, experimentation, and measurement for understanding the physical world – behaviour of light, prisms, rainbows and mirrors for example.

Church Building Boom

Architecture, sculpture, painting all developed along Christian based themes and concepts.

Two main approaches to large buildings called cathedrals. (From cathedra, or chair – the place of the bishop’s throne):

  • Romanesque – named after the Romans
    • Massive structures, estimated around 1,600 in France alone during the 11th century.
    • Richly decorated, stone roof requiring massive walls. Few windows, so insides were painted bright colours or decorated with tapestries. Lots of gilding and jewels.
    • Emphasized the horizontal, gives worshipper sense of repose and solidity.
  • Gothic
    • First appeared in Paris in mid 12th century
    • Characterized by delicacy and light – the support structure was moved outside the walls, rather than being the walls. The flying buttress was the key innovation here.
    • Floor plans were generally cross shaped, with the altar facing the east toward Jerusalem.
    • Also – the Gothic arch was developed. Allowed very tall buildings, vertically oriented. Everything sculpted.
    • Allowed for more windows – and stained glass was developed to a high art.
    • Worshippers share a feeling of striving upwards towards Heaven.
  • Cathedrals were used not only for worship, but markets, school, theatre, art gallery, shelter for pilgrims and the sick. In a Christian society, the Christian cathedral was centre to many aspects of life.
    • In fact many cathedrals include sculptures or reliefs of every day life and occupations, along with nature and kings and great nobles. Our modern concept of separation of religion and state would have been incomprehensible then.
  • Art developed to match
    • Based on a shared understanding of Christianity
    • “Pictures and ornaments in churches are the lessons and scripture of the laity.” (William Durand, 13th century)
    • Pictures, statues, architecture, hymns, poetry, legends and theatre were all brought to bear.
    • Symbolism developed – lily for chastity, fire for martyrdom or religious fervour, lamb for Christ.

The Crusades

These were religious wars fought by western Europeans, initially to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims.

  • The Eastern Empire was under attack by various groups – the Muslims were the most successful, as we’ve noted previously.
  • The east called for help from the west – though for a long time, nothing happened.
    • In part because of the growing split between the two branches of Christianity.
  • In 1095, Pope Urban II finally responded. He preached a sermon in France, outlining the ‘horrible tale’ of ‘an accursed race’ which had invaded the lands of Christians. He appealed to the memory of Charlemagne, and commanded, “Start upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre, to tear that land from the wicked race and subject it to yourselves.”
    • The church gave incentives to join – immunity from taxes and debts, protection of crusader’s property and families, and an ‘indulgence’ – which guaranteed the crusader’s entry into heaven.
    • An army was raised of about 50,000, and travelled to Constantinople where they frightened the Emperor. However, at this time, they crossed peacefully over to Asia Minor, and took Jerusalem in 1099.
    • The territory they took lasted for about 200 years – but there were ongoing clashes between the Orthodox clergy and the Catholic crusaders and their clergy.
      • The Orthodox clergy viewed this as ‘their’ territory, redeemed from the Muslims, and wanting to reinstate their version of Christianity.
      • The crusaders and their clergy viewed this as ‘their’ territory – they conquered it, they were going to manage it their way.
    • New religious orders of soldier-monks were formed for defence of the Holy Land. adapted from the Cistercian rule:
      • Knights Templar (early 12th century, suppressed in the early 1300’s).
      • Knights Hospitaller (late 11th century).
      • Teutonic Knights (late 12th century).
      • These had great wealth and power for several centuries.
    • Muslims retook a part of what had been captured by the crusaders.
  • In 1147, a second crusade was encouraged, by Bernard of Clairvaux – the head of the Cistercian monks.
    • It failed miserably, primarily by an ambush outside of Damascus.
    • However, Europeans blamed it on Greek treachery.
  • Up until the late 12th century, Islam was somewhat divided – but then after 1150 the near east was united under one dynasty. Saladin captured Jerusalem and other areas in 1187, leaving only a thin strip of coast under Christian control.
  • The third crusade, led by King Richard the Lionheart, recovered some territory, but not Jerusalem.
  • In 1204, the fourth crusade was sent to take Constantinople itself – which succeeded.
    • Constantinople had not fallen to the Muslims – this was seemingly a revenge for the failure of the second crusade.
    • This occupation lasted about 50 years.
    • This further ruled out any re-establishment of relationship between east and west.
  • Other crusades took place – 7 or 8 main thrusts, but it was an ongoing movement for about 150 years of continual travel to the Holy Land – both for pilgrimage, and to help defend the ‘Christian Territories’ there.
  • Ultimately, Muslim control was re-established over the whole area by 1291.

Expansion North and South

During the 12th and 13th century:

  • Muslims lost much of Spain around 1034 when Cordova fell.
    • Muslims who stayed in the area taken by Christian rulers were treated similarly to Christians in Muslim areas. They could practice their religion and culture, but paid special taxes and tithes.
    • Islam declined – many moved to Africa, others converted to Christianity.
    • Franciscan and Dominican friars were influential in conversions.
  • Christianity was also spreading to the pagan peoples in the rest of Europe
  • From England – to Scandinavia
    • Ironically enough, because of the Norse incursions into England, those from Britain were able to relate to Scandinavians.
    • Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were made Christian lands by decisions of their kings.
    • Still took generations for the church to instruct the people and develop organization.
    • There was resistance and uprising for a time, but eventually old customs disappeared. The Viking fleets ceased terrorizing Europe.
  • Christian missionaries went as far as east Asia.
    • Christian missions extended from Constantinople to Peking (Beijing) by the early 14th century.
    • Ultimately the western Mongols accepted Islam over Christianity, and prevented Christians from travelling through their land.
  • Russia, as we’ve seen, was converted through contact with Constantinople and the Orthodox church.
  • Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia were won to Latin Christianity.
    • Again these were ‘top down’ conversions.
  • By the early 14th century Christianity had spread through Germany, to the Slavs.

Popular Religion in Europe

To the common people, Christianity was very concrete.

  • Focus on the saints, especially Mary, relics and shrines, pilgrimages, and heroic efforts to retake the Holy Land.
  • A lot of pagan tradition endured and was translated into Christian terms. Pagan symbols were transferred to Christian – festivals, or pagan gods were identified with saints. For example, Mary became the pagan ‘Universal Mother’ – she took on the role of Frigga (Norse) or Brighid (Celtic)
  • Emphasis on the humanity of Christ – His life and death, the Stations of the Cross.
    • Mary became the mother and protectress of all people – no sin too dreadful, no transgression too vile to escape her compassion and pleading with her son on behalf of the sinner.
  • Traffic in relics exploded – the official church kept a huge stock.
    • Merchants carried a splinter of ‘the true cross’, knights concealed saints bones or teeth in their sword hilts.
  • Pilgrimage was also huge.
    • The belief that a visit to a great shrine could bring physical or spiritual healing.
    • As the Holy Land became more and more dangerous, other Western shrines came into prominence – Rome, Canterbury and lots of others.
    • People would travel in groups, visiting with each other while travelling. Hostels were spaced along the way. A combination of religious duty and holiday.
  • The liturgy was becoming less meaningful to people.
    • Still done in Latin – which most people didn’t understand. Emphasis was on sound and form, since content was not relatable. Decoration and church form became important substitutes.

Interpreting the Bible

In the 500 or so years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the gradual spread of education, most people in Christian lands were illiterate. Coupled with the expense of books having to be hand copied, the vast majority of Christians had no access to the Bible.

  • Learning and study of Scripture was restricted to the monasteries.
  • Theologians held that Scripture could be interpreted only by the educated few, under the direction of the Church.
    • Remember the then current principles of understanding any passage – literal (events), moral (what you are to do), allegorical (what you are to believe), and spiritual (where you are to aim.)
    • For example, references in Scripture to water carried these meanings:
      • Literal: water, the physical element.
      • Moral: sorrow, wisdom, heresy, or prosperity.
      • Allegory: baptism, nations, or grace.
      • Spiritual: eternal happiness.
    • Seems a good sense of the imagination was a prerequisite…
  • Further, theologians took into account early church fathers, as well as Church Canon Law.
  • Scholastics continued to bypass the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew for just the Latin, and used the multi-sense interpretation, along with reinforcing the traditions of the Church.
  • Reaction against this went even further into mysticism – stressing the devotional study of the Bible aided by allegory. The measure became intuition and ‘feel good’ interpretations.
  • In the 12th century, one theologian stressed the literal sense of Scripture – but still held that the Bible should be used only to affirm what has already been decided as correct belief.
  • Interestingly – Jewish scholars of the time were looking at the OT in a more plain sense approach.
    • Looking to the meaning intended by the original writer.
  • It wasn’t until the 13th and 14th centuries that this style of study was brought to Christian Bible study.
    • This was coupled by scholars starting to learn Hebrew and Greek, and so able to study the original wordings.
    • Lyra, a Franciscan at the University of Paris, prepared the first Bible commentary to be printed, based on this approach. He claimed that though there was validity to the four-fold standard approach, the plain sense of the text always had priority.
  • This was a direct influencing factor to the Reformation movements that started early in the 15th century.
  • John Wycliffe in England (another translator) wrote in the 1400’s “the whole error in the knowledge of Scripture, and the source of its debasement and falsification by incompetent persons, was the ignorance of grammar and logic.”

Persecution and Inquisition

Choice (Latin haeresis, from which the term heresy is derived) has always been an issue in the church, from the time of the apostles onwards.

  • Up to the 11th century, these were usually smaller movements, or individuals, and were treated locally.
    • There were of course exceptions – we’ve looked at a few, such as Gnosticism, Montanism, Donatism, Arianism, as well as the growing differences between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
  • Starting in around the 1100’s in Europe, whole areas began to stray from the Catholic teachings.
    • The pope became active in suggesting that there be official investigators, and called on lay rulers to combat heresy.
    • A church council in 1179 announced a crusade against one heretical group – the Cathars of France, this wasn’t very effective.
  • In 1184, the next pope decreed that bishops should take action against heretic groups such as the Cathars, Patari, Humiliati, Waldensians, and Arnoldists. (Just gives you an idea there were a number of large movements involved.)
    • This decree established the “bishop’s inquisition”, and stated that any suspect, once convicted of heresy, was to be handed over to secular authorities for punishment.
    • The death penalty wasn’t in place yet, though several heretics had been burned at the stake by mobs.
    • And, since Europe was a Christian society, heresy was extended to also mean treason by 1199
  • By the 1220’s, the secular rulers were declaring that the penalty for heresy / treason was death by fire, which in 1231 was repeated by Pope Gregory IX. Execution by secular authority was now officially papal policy.
    • New orders of friars, especially the Dominicans, became favoured papal agents of the Inquisition.
    • In 1252, Pope Innocent IV brought together in one papal bull (decree) the previous papal statements, and also condoned the use of torture during the Inquisition.
  • The Inquisition became a special court with the power to judge intentions, and not just actions as was the norm up to this point in law.
    • There were staff to handle preliminary investigations, prison guards, secret agents, and notaries who recorded evidence for use in the court.
    • The court developed many procedures, but generally they started with the broadest possible charges, and then worked to narrow down to specifics.
  • The court also called for ordinary people to report anyone suspected of heresy, and offered a grace period for all who felt heresy within themselves to come forward and confess. This was the ‘General Inquisition.’
    • After this grace period expired, the ‘special inquisition’ began – suspected heretics were detained until trial.
    • The proceedings were not public. Evidence from two witnesses was sufficient, and their names could be impossible to discover, as were the final charges.
    • There were no defense lawyers for suspects. Lawyers had learned that defending a suspected heretic might result in their own summons to the court.
    • Torture was used to secure repentance.
  • A convicted heretic might face any of a number of sentences, from light (the hearing of a number of masses, or pilgrimage to a local or a distant shrine) to harsher (wearing special symbols or crosses of special design, or being fined or having property confiscated). The heaviest was a sentence in the inquisitorial prison.
    • If a suspect was found guilty, and refused to repent, being ‘unreconciled’, then death at the stake was the sentence. Which the secular authorities carried out, since the church could not shed blood. (Heavy irony there, and very sad at what the church had come to.)
  • In different areas, the Inquisition had different results.
    • Infamously, in the 15th century in Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella made the Spanish Inquisition a royal instrument rather than a church instrument. That lasted into the 1800’s.
    • In Germany, in the 1200’s, one inquisitor was murdered.
    • In France, the Inquisition was used against groups that had previously been part of the church, but were rejected by the church. An example is an offshoot of the Franciscans which wanted a return to the original ascetic and poverty based practices of the original order. Another example was the Waldensians who used only the New Testament as their foundation of faith, and originally had the approval of the pope in 1179. But – they came to reject much of the Catholic Church as being non-Scriptural, and in 1184 the Pope decreed that the Waldensians be eliminated by inquisition. The Waldensians survived and spread – their beliefs ultimately entered the mainstream of the Protestant movement.
    • In some countries such as England and Bohemia, the Inquisition had little effect.
  • Not all Inquisitors were self-serving or went beyond their mandates.
    • Many of the Inquisitors were serious, educated men devoted to what they saw as their duty.

The Church in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

The Papacy continued to gain power, or attempt to gain power during these last two centuries of the Middle Ages leading up to the Reformation.

  • 1296 – The pope limited the ability of kings to tax the clergy.
    • In return, France prohibited the export of gold bullion, and England threatened to remove royal protection from the clergy.
  • Pressure from the secular governments, especially the French, caused more conflict between them and the pope.
    • The pope continued to try to enforce his authority as being over that of the secular rulers, and got lots of pushback as a result.
    • In 1302, the French sent to have the pope come to France and have the pope’s fate decided, though the pope was able to escape that and get to the Vatican. Then the pope excommunicated the French king, but the pope died within a month.
  • France put huge pressure on the cardinals to elect a pope more favorable to France – in 1304, the cardinals were split into pro- and anti-French factions.
    • In 1305, a French bishop was elected as pope as a result of the French pressure.
    • This new Pope, who took the name Clement V, never went to Rome. Partly because he wanted to stay in his native surroundings, partly from pressure from the French king who wanted more direct control over the papacy.
    • He moved the papacy to Avignon in southern France, where it stayed through the 14th century. In 1348, the city of Avignon was purchased by the papacy.
    • Some of these popes had become lavish in expenditure on pomp and ceremony, while others were more focused on the role of being spiritual head of the Catholic Church.
  • During this time, Italy was pressuring for the pope to return to Rome.
    • The Papal States were also suffering since the pope wasn’t local to oversee them.
    • And, Avignon was becoming dangerous. This was the time of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, and roving bands of mercenaries brought trouble.
  • In 1367, the pope returned to Rome under Pope Urban V, who succeeded in regaining control of the Papal States, and restored much of Rome.
    • But pressures were still strong from France – in 1370 he returned to Avignon, where he died that same year.
    • His successor, Gregory XI was able to return to Rome permanently in 1377.
  • Papal government became larger and more bureaucratic.
    • The archives were expanded – there are hundreds of thousands of unexamined documents from this period.
    • New sources of income were developed, including special taxes from the clergy.
    • Other countries objected to the increased Papal interference.
      • For example, England made it illegal for the pope to give foreign clergy roles in the English church.
  • In 1378, an Italian was made pope (had all been French since early 1300’s). Urban VI (1378-1379)
    • But – he was very dictatorial, and some of the cardinals got together and elected a different pope. (Clement VII). Now there were two popes, and there was actually fighting between their factions.
    • This was the beginning of what has come to be called “The Great Schism” – the split right at the top of the Church. As you can imagine, this had significant impact both religiously and politically. Some countries supported one pope, some the other.
    • Clement retired to Avignon in 1381.
    • Urban was still unbending – and in fact had some of his own cardinals tortured to death.
    • This dual papacy continued into the 1400’s.
  • In 1409, a council was called in Pisa.
    • Both popes refused to attend.
    • The cardinals deposed both of them, and elected Alexander V (1409-1410)
    • Neither of the previous two popes recognized this, so now there were three popes.
    • However – the council raised a new issue: the council of cardinals, part of whose role was to elect the pope, viewed itself as superior in power to the pope.
  • Finally in 1415, Alexander’s successor was forced to give up his claim, and Gregory XII resigned, leaving only one pope, though he was deposed and banished to Spain.
    • In 1417, Martin V was elected pope, and returned to Rome in 1420.
    • Strife within the church between the pope and the cardinals continued through the 15th century.
  • The popes in the mid 15th century basically became an Italian power with Italian interests, and less exercise and oversight over Roman Catholicism for a time.
    • Through this time, the need for more and more money led to the return of indulgences, and of Simony.
    • The Sistine chapel was also built at this time.
  • The idea of ‘National’ Churches arose during this time – a combination of the issues with the papacy, and the growth of nations themselves, as Europe started to take on political boundaries that start looking familiar to us today.
  • At the close of the 15th century, the pope was called on to mediate between Spain and Portugal over division of the ‘New World’ between them.

The disillusionment with the papacy opened the way in the minds of many to question the Catholic Church and its beliefs and practices.

  • Condemnation of church wealth was growing – part of the reason for putting down the ‘Spiritual Franciscans’ who wanted a return to poverty was that granting that return would show the rest of the church in a bad light.
  • Society was changing, but the Church was not changing with it.
  • More attacks were made on the doctrine, and on the dogma of the sacramental system.
  • With the increase in education, both in the Church and outside of it, various people are making or getting translations of the Bible and reading it for themselves – it isn’t solely in the hands of the Church clergy.
    • Peter Waldo of the Waldensians in the late 12th century.
    • John Wycliffe in England in the 14th century.

Monasticism was becoming less well supported – many monasteries were closing, or raising money by selling room and board to private individuals and families.

  • Religion was becoming more personal and more individual.
  • The suffering Christ replaced God, the stern judge.
  • In art, the pierced and bleeding Saviour showed up more and more.
  • A rise of Mysticism was taking place – again, a personal experience over the corporate experience.

As the Middle Ages came to a close, a number of significant changes were in store, including

  • Opening up of the New World – which initially had large religious significance, in addition to the wealth it brought to Europe.
  • Opposition to the practices of the Catholic Church, and the coming Reformation.

Questions: Lesson 3

  1. Churches of Christ generally stay away from any type of graphic image in assemblies – going for plain surroundings. Eastern churches especially are very different, with icons prevalent throughout the buildings. What do you think about icons, and what they represent? Does that change when you think about a gold cross on a necklace, or a religious tattoo, or other similar modern symbol of faith?
  1. In the middle ages, the Bible was viewed more as allegory and moral writing, rather than to be primarily read in a plain sense manner. Can you think of anything today that parallels this approach to Bible Study?
  1. In what ways today to we tend to view the Lord’s Supper as a ‘sacrament’? In what ways is it just a normal Christian practice? (Remembering that as a ‘sacrament’, just taking it imparts grace)
  1. What events or practices exist today in our fellowship and culture that can be traced to paganism, even though they have a veneer of Christianity? How should we view these practices?