Chapter 6: Revival and Involvement in Medieval Europe, A.D. 950-1350
Not long after A.D. 950 a recovery began from the low ebb of the preceding half-century. Within a few decades the Scandinavians, led by their rulers, became professedly Christian — those in the West conforming to Rome and those in the East to Constantinople. The same decades witnessed a similar movement of the Magyars, with adherence to Rome. In Western and in much of Central Europe formal paganism was theoretically on the way out. Not far from the same time efforts were begun to bring the nominal Christianity closer to the standards set forth in the New Testament. They were seen in reforms in monastic communities, in the emergence of new types of monasticism, and in the endeavor to make the Papacy an instrument for helping the European peoples and the entire structure of the Church more nearly to approximate these standards. Efforts proliferated to approach the goals held up in the New Testament. Some Christians remained within the Catholic Church. Numbers of others were denounced by that church. In every aspect of the collective life earnest souls strove to bring conformity to the ideals of the faith: in the State, in the realm of the intellect, in economics, in the family, and in the relations between the sexes. Heroic attempts were also seen to win European peoples not yet in Christendom and to plant the faith outside Europe.
These movements saw striking contrasts between ideals and results. The culture which developed had features unmistakably bearing the impress of the Gospel. On the other hand were repudiations of these ideals, either covertly or openly. Fully as striking were fruits of movements undertaken with what professed to be Christian motives but actually in stark contradiction to the fruits valued by the New Testament.
In the four centuries between 950 and 1350 Christianity was confined to Europe, chiefly Western Europe, to a few enclaves in Western Asia and North-east Africa, remnants of the pre-Moslem churches in these areas, and to minorities scattered across Asia. The area which might be called Christendom was only a small segment of the globe and was mostly the western peninsula of the land mass of Eurasia. It embraced but a slight percentage of even civilized mankind, a percentage smaller than in the fourth and fifth centuries.
Progress in the "Conversion" of Western and Central Europe
In the second half of the tenth century the Scandinavian hordes who as pagans had laid waste much of Europe began their outward conformation to Christianity. Hints of the transition appeared as early as the first half of the ninth century. As we have seen, Louis the Pious, son and successor of Charlemagne, promoted a mission to the Danes and Swedes. In 878 Alfred the Great required a Danish invader whom he had defeated to receive baptism as a price of peace, and eventually many of the Danes in England adopted the religion of the country. In 882 a Viking chief accepted baptism at the behest of one of the later Carolingians and was assigned territory on the lower Rhine. In 911 the first of the Vikings to rule as duke in Normandy was baptized in return for the confirmation of his title by the King of France. After ebbs and flows in the tide of conversion, in the first half of the eleventh century Canute, King of Denmark and England, gave the weight of his office to the spread of the faith. He made a pilgrimage to Rome and is said to have commanded all his Danish subjects to learn the Lord’s Prayer and to go to Communion three times a year.
Some Norwegian raiders were baptized while in England. One of them, Olaf Tryggvason, who in 995 became King of Norway, sought to extend his authority by giving the local chiefs the option of baptism or battle. In the first half of the eleventh century the formal conversion of the land was completed under another king, Olaf Heraldsson. Much of the instruction in the newly accepted religion was by priests and bishops whom Olaf invited from England. Also in the eleventh century the faith was carried to Norwegian settlers in Iceland and Greenland.
Roughly contemporaneously with the firm planting of Christianity in Norway, the mass acceptance of the faith made progress in Sweden, likewise under the leadership of the kings and through clergy from England. However, not until the twelfth century did Christianity become dominant in Sweden. There, at Uppsala, on the site of the chief pagan temple of the country, a cathedral was erected.
In the second half of the tenth century Christianity was firmly planted in Kiev, the chief town of the Scandinavian principality in what later became Russia. Christianity had been introduced slightly earlier, but Vladimir, a vigorous ruler, led his people in the adoption of the faith. In contrast with Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, where the new Christian communities looked to Rome, the Christianity of Kiev was derived from Constantinople. In view of the prestige of that city in the river valleys which had their outlet into the Black Sea and through the Bosporus to the Mediterranean, this was to be expected.
The movement of the Magyars into the Church took place in the closing decades of the tenth and the opening decades of the eleventh century. The chief agent was Stephen, who became king in 997 and reigned until his death in 1038. As in several other countries in Europe, the adoption of the new faith was associated with the strengthening of the power of the monarch. Also as among some other peoples, the death of the masterful king was followed by a pagan reaction which was an attempt both to return to ancestral ways and to revive local autonomy.
The Slavic peoples in Central Europe were badly divided politically. As we have noted, in the second half of the ninth century Cyril (Constantine) and Methodius were sent from Constantinople to the Slavs in Central Europe. Partly through them Christianity gained a foothold in Moravia. The German clergy, affiliated with Rome, sought to dominate the nascent Christianity. Indeed, even as late as the twentieth century rivalries continued in Central Europe between the two wings of what had been the Catholic Church — the one owning allegiance to Rome and the other, Orthodox, affiliated, although more loosely, with Constantinople. Not until the thirteenth century did the majority of the Serbs call themselves Christians. Their ecclesiastical ties were chiefly with Constantinople and its Ecumenical Patriarch. In Poland the spread of the faith became marked in the second half of the tenth century. It occurred mainly through the Germans and was associated with the growing political power of that people. West of the Poles and along the lower courses of the Elbe and Oder and their tributaries were Slavs whom the Germans called Wends. They were divided into several tribes. About the middle of the tenth century Germans, who were now officially Christian and among whom the Saxons were politically dominant by armed force began the extension of their authority over the Wends. As had Charlemagne in the ninth century in his policy towards their ancestors, the Saxon rulers identified submission to their rule with the acceptance of baptism. Protracted and sanguinary fighting followed. Only in the twelfth century was the adherence of the Wends to Christianity completed, partly through the efforts of earnest missionaries, partly by German political supremacy, and partly by compulsory transfer of Wends into German and therefore officially Christian areas and the settlement of Germans in the former Wend territories.
Among non-Slavic, non-German peoples on the shores of the Baltic the faith was spread chiefly through conquest. The Prussians and those in the later Estonia and Latvia were "converted" mainly by Germans, partly through arms of two crusading orders, the Knights of the Sword and the Teutonic Knights and partly by settlers. The "conversion" was completed in the thirteenth century. North of the Gulf of Finland, Christianity prevailed through Swedish conquest and settlement. The Finns, an Asiatic people, were subdued. Swedes, now professedly Christian, moved in and constituted a controlling minority. Here, too, "conversion" was finally accomplished in the thirteenth century. In the preceding century, in the early days of the Swedish invasion, some missionaries came from England.
Christianity was challenged by the "conversion" of Western and Central Europe. To what extent, if at all, would these so-called Christians be shaped by the faith which they now professed? The "conversion" of the peoples of that small portion of the earth’s land surface which lay north of the Mediterranean and west of the Dnieper Valley (for by 1350 only the fringes of Europe east of that valley had begun to be touched) had required nearly a thousand years. Even of that small portion of the globe much south of the Pyrenees had been conquered by the Moslem Arabs. The prospect was not promising. By long tradition these peoples were far from Christian in their customs. The Germanic folk (including the Scandinavians) glorified the warrior and had an aristocracy recruited from the warriors, a cultural feature that, indeed, continued into the eighteenth and in part into the twentieth century. They had gained the mastery by migrations which had been preceded and completed by armed conquest, usually utterly ruthless. "Conversion" had been obtained by the example and often at the behest of the rulers. Often it had been imposed by force. During the four centuries from 959 to 1350 force had been dominant also in the initial stages of the "conversion" of non-Germanic peoples.
Conquest had been followed by partial acceptance of the culture of the Mediterranean world as represented by the Roman Empire. Conquest by the "barbarians" had been limited to the northern shores of the Mediterranean and to regions which bordered on them in the north and immediately to the east. By the time most of the conquest and occupation had been accomplished, that portion of the Mediterranean world was officially Christian. But the culture of the area was a mixture of pre-Christian and Christian elements and had only partially — except for small minorities only slightly — conformed to Christian ideals. In the contact with the civilization of the Mediterranean the inherited customs and institutions of the invaders tended to disintegrate, with a decline in the traditional forms of social control and in morals. Under such unfavorable circumstances, how far could Christianity bring these rude barbarians to accept the ideals set forth by Christ and His Apostles as recorded in the New Testament?
Not all the conditions were unfavorable. The inherited mores of these peoples had partly disintegrated. Their culture was in marked transition and therefore malleable. Western and Central Europeans now regarded themselves as Christians. Here was both challenge and opportunity.
The "conversion" of the peoples of Western Europe was paralleled by the slow rolling back of the tide of Islam in that area. In the Iberian Peninsula it began in the eighth century. The professedly Christian kingdom carried on intermittent war with the Moslem states. By the middle of the thirteenth century Islam was driven back politically to the small state of Granada, in the extreme south-east. The conquest of Sicily in the eleventh century by the Normans, now Christian, brought the extinction of Islam on that island.
Christianity among Minorities in Eastern Europe and in Asia
In the four centuries between 950 and 1350 Christianity won converts in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. But, in contrast with Western and Central Europe, the numerical gains were only among minorities.
In the first half of the thirteenth century the Mongols created the largest empire the world had yet seen. It stretched from the China Sea into Europe. In Europe it embraced much of the area north of the Caspian and Black seas. The Mongols who ruled that region became Moslems but tolerated the existing Christianity. To escape Mongol rule many Christians migrated northward, where numbers of monks established themselves and began to spread the faith.
In Central and Eastern Asia the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries witnessed the renewal of the spread of Nestorian Christianity. Several peoples, led by their rulers, accepted that form of the faith. Under the initial stages of Mongol rule some advances were made. The Mongols conquered a people who were Nestorians and as a result some of the Mongol princes had Nestorian wives. Favored by the Mongols, Nestorians and some contingents of other Eastern Churches established themselves in China. A few courageous Roman Catholic missionaries made their way to Central Asia, India, and China. But in Central Asia the Mongols became Moslems and in China and their native haunts they adopted Buddhism. The existing Christian communities, minorities as they were, dwindled.
The Shaping of Western Europe
From 950 to 1350 striking progress was made in meeting the challenge and the opportunity presented by the formal acceptance of Christianity by the "barbarians" in Western and Central Europe. In all its aspects the resulting culture was more nearly shaped by Christianity than had been that of the Roman Empire in the five centuries when the peoples of that realm were adopting the Christian name.
As was to be expected, the effects were more profound in those who were brought into the Western wing of the Catholic Church than among those who looked to Constantinople. In Western Europe the disintegration of the Roman Empire and of the associated civilization had gone much further than in the portion of that realm which had its capital on the Bosporus. Thus in Western Europe culture was more in a state of flux and more easily remolded than was the civilization of the eastern heir of the Empire. This meant that the "barbarians" who conformed to the Eastern wing of the Catholic Church had to adjust themselves to a regime which, while profoundly alerted, kept much of the pattern inherited from pre-Christian days with its domination of religion by the State. Therefore the Christianity they adopted had different effects from those of the Christianity transmitted through the Western wing. And more aspects of the culture of the peoples who looked to Rome as their religious center than of that of the former "barbarians" who had Constantinople as their religious capital bore the impress of Christianity.
Deepening of the Christianity of Europe by Monastic Movements
Fresh monastic movements were both an expression of and a channel for the deepening of the effects of Christianity on the peoples of Western and Central Europe. Even before the death of Charlemagne monastic reform had begun. Charlemagne’s successor, Louis the Pious, supported it and ordered a stricter observance of the Benedictine rule in his domains.
In the first half of the tenth century a revival centered in the monastery of Cluny, north of Lyons. Cluny was founded in 910. It stressed the Opus Dei — the services of worship — lengthened and elaborated, and in the first half of the twelfth century erected what was said to be the largest church in Western Europe. Cluny enforced a strict discipline. To prevent corruption by lay proprietors, as had been the fate of many earlier foundations, it was placed directly under the Pope. Cluny had a notable succession of able abbots. Daughter houses were erected and others sought affiliation. The abbots traveled widely among the Cluniac houses to hold them to their professed standards. Significantly, the abbots and many of the monks were from the aristocracy. Since a conviction was widespread that full obedience to Christ was best achieved and entrance to eternal life attained through the monastic life, hundreds, many of them from the upper classes, were attracted by the rigorous discipline of Cluny with its emphasis on silence and dedication to worship. By the twelfth century the houses embraced in the movement numbered more than three hundred. Their growth and their endowment by pious benefactors were evidence of a widespread longing to meet the requirements of the Christian faith. In time the high devotion which inspired the movement was dulled and the Cluniac regimen became routine. But before that stage had been reached, men caught up in the initial enthusiasm were seeking to lift the level of the entire Church in the West.
Contemporaneous with Cluny but not organizationally connected with it were other attempts at raising the level of the professed Christianity. They also stressed monastic reform. Men inspired by them endeavored to improve the quality of the parish clergy and through them of the rank and file of Christians. One such movement in England in the tenth century had as its outstanding representative Dunstan (c. 909-998). Of aristocratic stock, Dunstan was monk and abbot of Glastonbury, a monastery which claimed foundation by Joseph of Arimathea, to whom the New Testament ascribes the burial of Jesus and who unsupported late tradition says came to Glastonbury. Dunstan was eventually bishop of two sees and then Archbishop of Canterbury. He coöperated with others of like mind in strengthening monastic discipline, in lifting the moral and educational level of the parish clergy and through them curbing the drunkenness and sexual promiscuity of the upper classes and of the rank and file of the populace. He endeavored to bring Danes and English together in a common Christian fellowship. In his archiepiscopal court he sought to reconcile enemies. The story of Dunstan could be paralleled again and again on the Continent. Thus a younger contemporary, Bernard of Menthon (923-1008), of a wealthy noble family, became a priest and archdeacon, was the means of converting a neighboring savage mountain folk who robbed travelers crossing the Alps, and to serve those who passed by its doors founded the monastery in the pass which still bears his name. The monastery of Bec, in Normandy, founded in the first half of the eleventh century, was a center of learning and of the training of monks who did much to raise the discipline of the Church in wide areas. For example, from it came Lanfranc and Anselm, successively Archbishops of Canterbury, who stood resolutely for the Church against forces which sought to use it for selfish ends. Anselm we shall meet again as one of the greatest intellectual forces of the period.
As it grew older many a monastery tended to decline from the fervor which had given it birth. Often lay lords attempted to divert the houses and their revenues from their avowed purpose. Efforts were made to preserve their original spirit. Increasingly common was the removal of a monastery from lay and even episcopal control in order to place it directly under the Pope. When the Papal see was filled by high-minded, able men, this made for an independence which could be wholesome. But corrupt, worldly, or weak Popes used their power to appoint as abbots men who had the emoluments of the office but seldom if ever were in residence.
Again and again movements arose which sought afresh to embody the monastic ideal of what constituted the full, uncompromising Christian life. The twelfth century witnessed as its most widespread new monastic endeavor the founding of the Cistercians, from Citeaux (Latin Cistercium), the mother house, in what is now North-eastern France. In general the Cistercians conformed to the Benedictine pattern, but they had a rule of much stricter poverty than did most Benedictine houses. They established their monasteries far from other human habitation, where the monks, aided by lay brothers, with their own hands cleared the land and erected their buildings. The churches were more austere than those of the Cluniacs. The Cistercians observed the rule of silence except in their common worship and for necessary communication. In contrast with the practice of many monasteries which recruited numbers of their members from boys dedicated to them in childhood and reared within their walls, the Cistercians would admit no novice below the age of sixteen and thus sought to assure an intelligent personal commitment.
Near their outset a marked impulse was given the Cistercians by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the most influential figure in the religious life of Europe of his generation. Bernard was born not far from Citeaux to devout parents of the nobility. Deeply religious from childhood, in his early twenties he entered Citeaux, bringing with him five of his brothers and about a score of others who had been won by his enthusiasm. In 1115 at the age of twenty-five, Bernard became the first abbot of a new foundation, at Clairvaux, in a rugged mountain valley, about a hundred miles west of Citeaux. He retained the post until his death. Like many other Christian mystics he was a man of action. He was an eloquent preacher, traveled extensively, and interested himself in the Church at large. Partly because of him, hundreds sought membership in the Cistercians.
From a seventeenth-century reform of the Cistercian abbey of La Trappe, in Normandy, at that time decadent, came the Trappists, with an even more austere way of life than the original Cistercians. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Trappist houses multiplied — evidence that their form of dedication still had an appeal.
Less numerous than the Cistercians were the Cartesians, begun late in the eleventh century at Chartreuse, in a valley of the Alps, slightly west of Grenoble. In the last decade of the century the founder, Bruno, began two other monasteries, in Calabria in Southern Italy. Like the Cistercians, the Carthusians followed an austere regimen. Unlike the Cistercians and somewhat after the manner of the early anchorites in Egypt, they adopted a semi-solitary rule. Each monk had a separate hermitage where he meditated, prayed, and worked. The hermitages were grouped together around a church and a refectory. Three times daily and on feast-days and Sundays the monks met in the church for common worship. Once a week and on Sundays they had a common meal in the refectory. Weekly they came together for recreation and a walk outside their grounds. In England, where they were introduced in the twelfth century, their communities were known as charterhouses.
We must not take the space even to mention other monastic orders which were founded in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. We should, however, call attention to a similar movement, that of the canons regular. They were clergy who were not monks, strictly speaking, but who lived together in community, serving churches or cathedrals, somewhat after the manner of Augustine and his friends, and followed a rule (regula, thus "regulars"). Many were known as Augustine Canons. Some communities differed from monasteries chiefly in leaving their members free to exercise their functions, mainly preaching, outside monastic walls. They multiplied in the twelfth century and eventually spread widely. One order of Augustine Canons was founded in 1120 at Premontre by a friend of Bernard of Clairvaux; its members were called Premonstratensians. In its austerity the Premonstratensian rule resembled that of the Cistercians.
The thirteenth century was marked by the appearance of another kind of monastic movement, that of the mendicant orders, the friars. The members took the standard monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Like the older orders they lived in communities. But unlike the others, with the partial exception of the canons regular who, as we have said, might have parishes and preach, they sought to bring the Gospel by word and example to the nominally Christian masses and to non-Christians. To some degree their origin and growth coincided with the increase in the urban population, a feature of the thirteenth century, but that association was not necessarily responsible for their beginning and their popularity The two largest of the mendicant orders were the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Several others came into existence, notably the Augustinians. The first two were the only ones which in the twentieth century continued to be prominent.
The Franciscans, officially the Ordo Fratrum Minorum, or the Order of Little Brothers or Brothers Minor, were begun by Francis of Assisi (1181 or 1182 to 1226). Like Benedict of Nursia, Francis always remained a layman. Also like Benedict, he was an Italian. But in contrast to the other he was past his early youth before he entered the way of life for which he is remembered. A native of Assisi, a hill town in the upper valley of the Tiber and opposite Perugia, he was the son of a prosperous merchant. Ardent, charming, sensitive, he led some of the scions of the local aristocracy in their revelries. Late in adolescence illness and disappointment contributed to the inception of his religious pilgrimage. To the distress and anger of his father, he gave himself to the ministry of the lepers and the poor and to the repair of a decrepit chapel whose crucifix had contributed to the love of Christ which was to dominate his life. In 1209, then in his late twenties, Francis felt himself called to be an itinerant preacher, imitating Christ and obeying Him to the letter, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, subsisting on whatever food was given him, and radiating the love of Christ. Others were attracted and went about two by two preaching and helping peasants in their work. In 1210, the year after he began his preaching, Francis and eleven companions went to Rome, where they sought and obtained Papal permission to continue preaching. Francis was a radiant spirit, joyous, loving all living creatures. He urged love for God, neighbors, and enemies, the forgiveness of injuries, humility, and abstention from the vices of the flesh. He called his companions the Minor, or Humbler Brethren, enjoining on them complete poverty. Soon Clara, a girl of sixteen from a wealthy family in Assisi, joined him and began a second order, of women; the Poor Ladies or Poor Clares. Within a few years the third order developed, made up of those who remained in the world and owned property but followed a disciplined life of food and drink, receiving the sacraments and remaining loyal to the Catholic Church.
The Franciscans had a rapid growth. They provided a channel for following what many regarded as the full Christian way of life rather than the nominal Christianity professed by the majority of the population. Francis was no organizer. Before his death, to his great grief many of his followers were compromising the rule by which he attempted to restrain departure from what he deemed the poverty commanded by Christ. To his distress they established themselves in the universities which were beginning to emerge. One of the early companions of Francis, elected the second minister general, within less than a decade after the death of the founder gave the order a comprehensive structure, extended its mission, and raised large sums to erect in Assisi a huge memorial church to Francis.
The course of the Franciscans was stormy. The order mounted in membership and spread to many countries. A minority — Zealots or Spirituals — sought to keep to the pattern enjoined by Francis. Others demanded the complete relaxation of the rule of poverty. In between were moderates who, willing to maintain something of the primitive poverty, built houses in the universities and sought influence in the Church.
The Dominicans, or Order of Preachers, were founded by Dominic (c. 1170-1221), a Spaniard. Unlike Francis, Dominic was a priest and a student. As an Augustinian Canon he was attached to a cathedral. Ascetic, a man of prayer, remembered as always joyful, he might have remained one of the obscure but worthy clergy honored in his lifetime by a small circle of intimates but quickly forgotten. Not until he was in his mid-thirties was he confronted with the challenge to which his response brought him unsought fame. The challenge was the religious situation in what is now the South of France. There the moral and intellectual quality of the Catholic Church was low and the Cathari, an heretical religious movement of which we are to speak more in a moment, were deeply rooted. With the endorsement of the Pope a crusading army was engaged in stamping them out. Traversing the country barefooted and in extreme poverty, preaching, Dominic sought to win the Cathari to the Catholic faith and to improve the quality of the Catholic Church. In 1214 or 1215 he was given a house in Toulouse where he and a small company sharing his purpose lived in community. In 1215 he gained Papal permission to constitute them a new order. At first they followed the regimen of the Augustinian Canons, but soon Dominic adopted some of the features of the Franciscans, notably the rule of poverty which forbade not only personal but corporate possessions, except monastic buildings and churches, and prescribed begging as the means of obtaining food. By the time of Dominic’s death the Order of Preachers was said to have more than five hundred members in sixty houses. Dominic was especially concerned to have houses in the universities.
From their inception the friars were missionaries. At times friction arose between them and the bishops and parish clergy, for the latter resented their preaching in towns and countryside which in theory had been assigned to these earlier representatives of the clergy. Before the middle of the fourteenth century both orders had missions among non-Christians in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. Both had been in India and the Franciscans had penetrated to China.
The Rise of Movements which the Catholic Church branded as Heretical
The surge of religious devotion which gave birth to the monastic movements also found expression in other movements. These too sought to conform fully to the standards set by the New Testament but, unlike monasticism, were denounced as heretical by the Catholic Church. We can take the space to mention briefly only the more prominent. In contrast with the monastic movements, initiated, with the exception of the Franciscans, largely by members of the aristocracy, their original leadership was chiefly in the newly emerging urban population. They seem to indicate that the faith was penetrating to non-aristocratic elements of the populace and was stirring them to fresh expressions of the religion their forefathers had accepted under the direction of their princes. Significantly, almost all of both kinds of movements — monastic and heretical — had their origin and their major rootage in areas which had once been within the Roman Empire. Few made their first appearance among the "barbarians," now officially Christian, outside the former boundaries of that realm. Although many were begun and drew much of their strength from the descendants of the Germanic invaders, in the former Roman realms these "barbarians" had been partly assimilated to the culture into which pre-Christian Roman and Christian elements had entered.
We have already mentioned the Cathari ("Pure"), also known as Albigenses, (from Albi, one of their chief centers). The Cathari were a religious movement which flourished in the twelfth and the fore part of the thirteenth century in what are now Northern Spain, Northern Italy, and Southern France. They were a Western European wing of a dualistic religion resembling Manichaeism and having elements of Christian origin which also flourished among the Slavs east of the Adriatic and was represented in Constantinople. Their chief stronghold was in Southern France. There the Catholic clergy were largely corrupt and gave an impression of the faith represented by their Church which provoked criticism. The Cathari insisted that they were faithful to the New Testament, especially to the Gospel of John. They rejected parts of the Old Testament, saying that these were the work of the Devil. They declared that the Church of Rome was evil and that theirs was the true Church of Jesus Christ. Dualists, they taught that the material world is evil and the immaterial world good. Those of their numbers who fully followed their teachings were called the "perfect." They were to be celibate and were not to eat the products of reproduction such as eggs, milk, or meat. In their worship the Cathari followed simple ceremonies including preaching, readings from the Scriptures, and a common meal of bread. They had a vernacular literature, including translations from the Bible. They were ardently missionary and won followers not only in the areas where they were strongest but also in Northern France and Flanders, chiefly among artisans in the cities. Beginning about 1179, at the command of Popes, including the most prominent Pontiff of the period, Innocent III, a crusade was launched against the Cathari. Political motives entered. Kings of France and nobles of Northern France were glad of an excuse to reduce the prosperous South and to profit by its wealth. Peaceful preaching, such as that of the Dominicans, was employed. The Inquisition, strengthened by the Popes and Church councils, was invoked. As a result, before the middle of the thirteenth century the Cathari ceased to be a major menace to the Catholic Church.
The other most widely spread movement branded by the Catholic Church as heretical was that of the Waldenses — also known as the Poor Men of Lyons and as the Poor in Spirit. Their founder was Peter Waldo, a rich merchant of Lyons who, seeking salvation, in 1176 took to heart the advice of Jesus to the rich young ruler, paid off his creditors, provided for his wife and children, gave the remainder to the poor, began begging his daily bread, and traversed the countryside and the cities preaching the Gospel as he found it in a vernacular translation of the New Testament. He attracted adherents, who followed his example. They sought authorization from the ecclesiastical authorities, including the Third Lateran Council (called by the Roman Catholics the Tenth Ecumenical Council), were refused, and, along with the Cathari, were condemned (1179). Yet they multiplied. Numbers went about two by two, preaching, subsisting on what was given them. They said that women and laymen could preach, that the Church of Rome, being corrupt, was not the head of the Catholic Church, that only priests and bishops who lived as did the Apostles were to be obeyed, that prayers for the dead were useless, that sacraments administered by unworthy clergy were of no effect, that taking life is against God’s law, that every lie is a deadly sin, and that oaths, as in courts, are clearly contrary to Christ’s command. Their only forms of prayer were the "Our Father" and grace at meals. Increasing rapidly in several parts of Western Europe, they divided into several sections and were not uniform in teaching or organization. The Waldenses were in the tradition of earlier twelfth-century leaders, such as Peter of Bruys and Arnold of Brescia, who led a life of poverty, denounced the clergy for unworthy luxury and grasping for political power, and condemned many of the current customs of the Church. All were persecuted by the ecclesiastical authorities and were eventually stamped out. A few of the Waldenses survived in remote Alpine valleys and in the sixteenth century conformed to the Reformed wing of Protestantism. Profiting by the protection of the secular, anti-clerical Kingdom of Italy, late in the nineteenth and in the twentieth century some moved into the cities. Others sought refuge in Latin America.
Attempts at a Thoroughgoing Reform of The Catholic Church in Western Europe
Attempts to make the nominally Christian peoples of Western Europe fully to conform to the standards of their faith were not confined to monastic movements and to groups which the Catholic Church branded as heretical. The attempts were also by earnest men who remained within the Catholic Church and sought to purify its entire life and impact. Like the monastic movements they grew to large proportions in the tenth century and in the thirteenth century seemed, if not fully successful, to be achieving distinct progress. They sought especially to improve the character of the clergy, from bishops through parish priests, for if the level of the laity was to be raised their pastors must lead. The clerical evils which were most vigorously denounced were simony (the purchase and sale of ecclesiastical offices), nicolaitanism (laxity in sexual relations, including clerical marriage and concubinage) and the lay control of ecclesiastical appointments, with the requirement of loyalty to the secular lord.
The reform began locally and eventually captured the Papacy. We have noted it in England. Roughly contemporary with the awakening in that land of which Dunstan was the most prominent figure was one in the Rhine Valley. In the second half of the tenth century and in the first half of the eleventh it was augmented by the policies of monarchs who bore the designation of Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation. The first to hold the title was Otto I (King of the Germans 936-973), on the female side descended from Charlemagne. He extended his authority into Italy and in 962 while in Rome was crowned Emperor by the Pope. He sought to use the Church to strengthen his power. To this end he created great ecclesiastical states in Germany, for, since their princes, being bishops and celibate, could not be hereditary, by controlling their election he could use them to support the royal authority. Otto III, grandson of Otto I, was brought to the throne at the age of three by his father’s death (983). Reared under ecclesiastical influence, he not only dreamed of restoring the Roman Empire to its pristine glory but was as well deeply concerned for the purity and welfare of the Church. He brought about the election to the Papacy of his tutor who, as Sylvester II, struggled to eradicate simony and clerical marriage and concubinage. Otto III was followed by Henry II, who, ardently religious and later, with his wife, canonized, collaborated with Pope Benedict VIII, a friend of the Abbot of Cluny, in promoting reforms. After an interval of fifteen years filled by the able but secular-minded Conrad II, Henry III came to the throne in 1039 and in 1046 was crowned Emperor. Henry III succeeded in ridding the Papacy of three competitors, each of whom claimed to be the legitimate Pontiff, and obtained the election of Leo IX (reigned 1048-1054)
Attempts by the Papacy, Reformed, to Raise the Religious Level of Christendom
Leo IX, related by blood to the Emperor, had been a soldier and had had an excellent record as an administrator. With him the full tide of reform swept into the Papacy. A friend of the Abbot of Cluny and of the ardent reforming hermit and Abbot Peter Damien, he traveled widely, fighting simony, enforcing clerical celibacy, and insisting that bishops be elected by their people and the clergy and not appointed by the lay lords. He himself, although chosen by an assembly in Germany at the instance of Henry III, refused to assume the functions and title of Pope until after he had entered Rome garbed as a humble pilgrim, his election was confirmed, according to long-established precedent, by the people and clergy of the city. He improved the cardinalate, the body of leading clergy in and near Rome, by appointing to it men of reforming zeal outside Rome and its environs, thus making it more representative of Western Europe as a whole.
The mastery of the Papacy by the reformers was not easily accomplished. Local factions sought to resume the control of the office to which the low ebb it had sunk to had been largely attributable. They set up men who claimed the title but were not able to win the support of more than a minority.
The leading role in keeping the Papacy on its reforming course was taken by Hildebrand (c. 1023-1085). Reared in Rome, in his early twenties he became a monk, probably in a branch Cluniac house in that city. It was he who was chiefly instrumental in obtaining the election of Nicholas II. In a pontificate which lasted only from 1059 to 1061, Nicholas took important actions. Outstanding was a decree declaring that the Papal election should be by the cardinals, that it need not be in Rome, that the Pope was not required to be a Roman, and that, in case of necessity, he might exercise his functions from another center than Rome. These principles were never abrogated. The Roman nobles, combined with others who disliked reform and with German bishops who wished to reassert the power of the Holy Roman Emperor in the choice of a Pope, elected an Italian bishop. Throughout most of the pontificate of Nicholas II this rival constituted a problem. Factions fought in the streets of Rome and each expended large sums to win the support of the Roman populace.
As a successor to Nicholas II Hildebrand obtained the election of a reformer, a friend of Peter Damien, who as Alexander II reigned from 1061 to 1073. Supported by Hildebrand and Peter Damien, he actively and effectively made the weight of his office felt in several phases of the life of Europe. He gave his approval to the invasion of England by William the Conqueror (1066), and his legates intervened in ecclesiastical affairs in many countries. Appeals to Rome were encouraged, thus augmenting the authority of the Holy See.
Alexander II was followed by Hildebrand. As Gregory VII he reigned from 1073 to 1085, and under him the powers of the Papacy were further strengthened. He strove to keep all bishops under Papal authority and stood out against their investiture by lay princes. He compelled archbishops to come to Rome to receive the pallium, the symbol of the formal recognition of their office, and thus ensured their recognition of the prerogatives of the Pope. His greatest struggle was with the King of Germany, Henry IV. The issue was the right of investiture. Could the monarch appoint the bishops and compel them to swear fealty to him? The Pope held that this subordinated the Church to the State and tended to corrupt the faith. Gregory enlisted support in Germany which threatened Henry with the loss of his throne. To placate the Pope Henry came to Canossa, a castle in Italy where the Pope had ensconced himself on his way to Germany to enforce his deposition of the King. There Henry stood for three days barefoot, asking mercy. The dramatic spectacle of the mightiest prince in Western Europe abjectly suing for pardon from a monk appeared to ensure the victory of the principle for which the Pope contended. However, before the death of either, the outcome of the struggle seemed to be reversed. Henry placated his domestic enemies, induced a synod to declare Hildebrand deposed, had one of his creatures chosen as Pope, took Rome, and had his Pope crown him Emperor. Hildebrand was rescued by Normans from the South and died in exile among them.
The contest between the Catholic Church and lay rulers was not confined to the Popes and the Germans. It was prominent in most of the countries of Western Europe and took several forms. In England it was spectacular between the Kings and the Archbishops of Canterbury, especially between William II and Henry I and Anselm (roughly contemporary with that between Henry IV and Gregory VII) and between Henry II and Thomas Becket in the next century.
Paschal II (reigned 1099-1118), a monk of Cluny, the second after Gregory VII, sought to resolve the conflict between Church and State by ordering that all ecclesiastics surrender their temporal possessions to the Emperor and that the latter renounce his power of investiture. Paschal wished the clergy to live by tithes and voluntary offerings and thus approach the clerical poverty advocated by some of the reformers. Protests were so emphatic that under pressure from the Crown Paschal reversed his stand and conferred the right of investiture on the Emperor. To this, too, the bishops were opposed and the decree was annulled. A compromise was reached in the Concordat of Worms (1122), but it did not terminate the struggle. In Italy the continuing conflict, complicated by other issues, helped to prevent the political unification of that land.
Had the civil monarchs early scored a complete victory, in Western Christendom the Church would have been divided into many national churches and Christianity would have been fully subordinated to secular interests. Eventually this was the outcome. By the seventeenth century in the states predominantly Roman Catholic the Church was subordinate to the Crown. In Protestant lands it was even more under the control of the princes. As a result, Christianity entered the revolutionary age, which beginning late in the eighteenth century transformed Europe, handicapped by alliances with a political structure that was being rapidly undermined.
For a time after the death of Hildebrand, under the impulse of the reform movement, the power of the Papacy mounted. Urban II came to the See of Peter in 1088, three years after the death of Gregory VII, and occupied it until 1099. A Cluniac monk educated by the founder of the Carthusians, he vigorously pressed the reforms and enhanced the prestige of his office. Even Paschal II, who followed Urban, and whose involvement in the investiture controversy detracted from his memory, by extensive travels did much to improve the quality of the Church. Adrian IV (reigned
1154-1159), the only Englishman ever to hold the office, compelled the powerful Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) to hold his stirrup as a sign of vassalage. Alexander III (reigned 1159-1181), after having to face claimants to his office who had the support of Frederick I and having three times been compelled to leave Rome, in 1177 in a memorable scene in Venice had the satisfaction of seeing that monarch kneel and kiss his feet.
The outstanding Pope of the era was Innocent III (reigned (1198-1216). Under Innocent the Papacy reached a peak in the political life of Europe which it was never again to attain and made its authority felt in the Roman Catholic Church to a degree not to be surpassed until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Innocent believed that in all mankind under the guidance of the Roman Pontiffs the Christian ideal was to be attained. He wrote that Christ had "left to Peter the governance not of the Church only but of the whole world." The Popes, he maintained, as had others who held the office, were the divinely commissioned heirs of Peter. Innocent was the guardian of Frederick II, the infant grandson of Frederick I. He intervened in contests for the crown of Germany, insisted that the Pope had the right to pass on the validity of elections to the imperial office, crowned the King of Aragon in Rome as his vassal and induced the Kings of Castile and Navarre to bury their quarrels and to unite against the Moslems. He brought King John of England to heel, first excommunicating and deposing him and then restoring him to favor on the condition that that hapless monarch become a vassal of the Pope. Under Innocent the Kings of Portugal, Poland, Hungary, and Serbia also became Papal vassals. Innocent compelled Philip Augustus, the powerful King of France, to take back his divorced wife and to restore to the Church confiscated lands. In ecclesiastical affairs he brought more of the Eastern churches under the control of Rome than had been done before or has since been achieved. He insisted that in the Catholic Church as a whole only the Pope could transfer a bishop from one see to another, could create new dioceses, or could change the boundaries of existing dioceses. He attempted to enforce clerical celibacy, forbade pluralism, (the holding of two or more church offices and drawing the income from them), endeavored to exclude lay interference in ecclesiastical affairs, affirmed the right of Rome to review important cases under canon law and thus increased appeals to the Holy See, ordered that tithes for the support of the Church be given precedence over all other taxes, and took vigorous measures for the suppression of heresy.
Innocent III called and dominated the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as the Twelfth Ecumenical Council. In its legislation it was the most important in the series between Chalcedon (451) and Trent (1545-1563). It brought together about fourteen hundred patriarchs, bishops, abbots, and priors and promptly endorsed measures previously prepared under Papal direction. Among other actions it sought to improve the education and morals of the clergy, endeavored to raise the level of marriage and family life, provided for confession to the parish priest at a minimum of once a year, reaffirmed the obligation of all Christians to take Communion at least at Easter, forbade charging interest on loans, stressed the supremacy of the Papacy, condemned specific heresies, and tried to heal the schism between the Eastern and Western wings of the Catholic Church. The Fourth Lateran Council made doctrinal pronouncements, among them the affirmation of transubstantiation. The precise manner in which Christ is present in the mass had long been in debate. Now the issue was officially determined.
After the time of Innocent III the power of the Papacy declined. To be sure, Boniface VIII (reigned 1294-1303) in the bull Unam Sanctum (1299) declared "that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." But in practice the authority of the Holy See was more and more flouted.
The Papacy at Avignon; "The Babylonian Captivity"
In the closing decades of the thirteenth century the Papacy became the victim of national and dynastic rivalries. French influence became strong. Germany was falling apart into semi-independent states, and the contests between the Popes and the Holy Roman Emperors lapsed. A few able Popes sought to restore the dignity of the office, but their reigns were too short to permit effective action. Boniface VIII quarreled with the King of France and was about to excommunicate him when the King’s supporters made him prisoner. He did not long survive the humiliation but died a few days after his release. His successor, the head of the Dominicans, reigned less than a year.
After an election which was deadlocked between French and Italian factions, a French archbishop, a friend of the King of France, was chosen (1305). Presumably because of the bitter dissensions in Italy, he never set foot in Rome. After a few years he fixed his residence in Avignon, a city on the left bank of the Rhone, immediately across that river from the then France. He appointed a number of Frenchmen to the cardinalate and annulled recent decrees unfavorable to the King of France. The next four Popes resided at Avignon. The fifth went to Rome for a time but, disheartened by the disorder in that city, returned to Avignon. His successor, who reigned from 1370 to 1378, eventually sought to make his headquarters in Rome but to escape the riotous upheavals there he left and soon died in a neighboring city.
The Avignon period, lasting about seventy years, is usually referred to as the Babylonian Captivity. French influence was strong. Some of the Avignon Pontiffs were men of high character and desired much-needed reforms. The decades saw a continuation of the Franciscan and Dominican missions in what is now Southern Russia and in India and China. However, on the whole the Avignon years were marked by mounting corruption in the Papal court. A magnificent palace was erected for the Pontiff. Cardinals and others associated with the curia lived in luxury. To sustain the costly structure various devices were employed to compensate for the decline of Italian revenues. The burden was distributed where possible over all countries which professed allegiance to the Holy See and was the source of widespread complaints. In seeking to make their office a means of elevating the character of the entire Church, the great reforming Popes had stimulated the growth of a bureaucracy at headquarters which under less able successors, some of them far from single-minded, attracted men who desired prestige, wealth, and power. The result, a decline in morals at the very center of administration, was reflected in much of the rest of the Church. Earnest Christians were scandalized as the Bishops of Rome absented themselves from their historic see.
Developments in Theology
The centuries which witnessed the mounting vigor in the Catholic Church in Western Europe were also marked by striking efforts to think through afresh basic issues of the Christian faith. For the most part they were made by scions of the Germanic peoples who had been won to that faith during and following their settlement in the Roman realms. All the major creative figures were born and reared in what had formerly been the Roman Empire. Most of the men best remembered were from the early and most creative years of the monastic movements through which those who wished to commit themselves fully to the Christian faith sought to express that purpose. In general the leaders in this intellectual ferment and the majority of their followers were called schoolmen. Their theology and philosophy are known as scholasticism. Inevitably, heirs as they were of the Greco-Roman world in both its pre-Christian and its Christian stages, the schoolmen utilized the forms of thought developed by the Greeks, the creeds shaped in the early centuries, of the faith, the writings of the Church Fathers of those years, and always with reference to the Bible. Some were also influenced by the contemporary Moslem philosophers and theologians, chiefly as they came in contact with them through the Iberian Peninsula. Notable among the latter was the daring Averroes (or Averrhoes) of the twelfth century. The schoolmen were impressed too by current Jewish thought, particularly by Maimonides (1135-1204), a warm admirer of Aristotle. Through them, as through the monastic and popular, often "heretical," movements, and through the Papacy and other ecclesiastical organizations, Christianity was being assimilated by the Germanic peoples, and these peoples were placing on it a distinctive stamp.
Outstanding was Anselm (c. 1033 or 1034 to 1109). Of mixed Lombard and Burgundian stock, Anselm was born in North Italy. A contemporary of Gregory VII and Urban II, as a youth he was deeply stirred by the religious awakening of which they were symbols and leaders. In his early manhood he crossed the Alps and soon became a member of the monastic community of Bec, then in the first flush of the devotion which gave it birth. Against his wish he was elected its abbot, succeeding the founder. Equipped with a first-class mind, he disciplined it to penetrating thought on fundamental problems of the Christian faith. Seeing no conflict between faith and reason, he had the conviction long familiar among Christian thinkers that he believed that he might understand — that prerequisite to valid theology is a commitment of the whole man to the Christian faith. He was convinced that when that commitment is made, the foundations on which Christian faith rests can be demonstrated to be in accord with reason. In compact, carefully formulated statements he gave what seemed to him conclusive proof that God exists and that He must be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He also explained why, as he saw it, God became man. Much of his writing was done in the monastery where he had administrative duties and while in exile on the Continent because of his unwillingness to submit, as Archbishop of Canterbury, to the demands of the English Kings William II and Henry I.
A younger contemporary of Anselm was the brilliant Abélard (or Abailard, c. 1079-1142). A scion of Breton nobility, Abélard early had a thirst for study. Enjoying controversy, asking provocative questions, he proved immensely popular as a teacher. At the height of his career he was on the staff of the cathedral school in Paris. A love affair with the beautiful and educated Heloise, niece of a canon of the cathedral, issued in lifelong tragedy for them both. Abélard wrote extensively. One of his more famous books was Sic et Non (Yes and No). It was meant to stimulate thinking, and it did so by propounding questions on science, ethics, and theology, and giving quotations from the Scriptures and the Fathers which could be used to support contradictory answers. Abélard rejected the view of original sin set forth by Augustine. He also formulated a theory of the atonement which differed from that of Anselm. Anselm held that the moral order of the universe could be preserved only by making adequate compensation for sin and that this had been accomplished by Christ, who is God and man. Abélard, in contrast, maintained that God is love and in Christ, Who he agreed with Anselm, is both God and man, had voluntarily assumed the burden of man’s suffering brought by sin and thus had sought to awaken in man response to His love. Bernard of Clairvaux, a mystic and not a theologian, the opposite of Abélard in temperament, assailed the latter for views which he held weakened the faith of good Christians. As a result, Abélard was condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities and was excommunicated. Eventually he and Bernard were reconciled and he spent his later years in prayer and reading.
We must pass over with only the barest mention Hugo (or Hugh) of St. Victor (1096-1141), son of a Saxon count, and a contemporary of Abélard, who wrote extensively on the Bible and religious subjects. He held that philosophy and theology are distinct but saw no necessary conflict between them. Nor can we do much more than name Peter Lombard (c. 1110-1160), a younger contemporary of Abélard and a protégé of Bernard of Clairvaux who died as Bishop of Paris. We mention him because his Four Books of Sentences, known briefly as Sentences, for many generations constituted a major textbook in theology. Not professing originality, the Sentences set forth in a systematic and comprehensive fashion the theology held by the Roman Catholic Church supported by appropriate selections from the Church Fathers.
The high tide of the theological activity of the period and of the schoolmen coincided with the early years of the mendicant orders. Its outstanding figures were either Franciscans or Dominicans. The incentive came partly from the religious devotion which was stimulated by them and channeled through them and partly from the intellectual ferment associated with the study of Aristotle and the writings of such non-Christians as Averroes and Maimonides. In the universities which were emerging, many, stirred by these powerful minds, were questioning the Christian faith. The schoolmen made it their mission to restate the Christian faith in terms of this challenge.
The Franciscans had a leading part. Alexander of Hales (died 1245), English born and reared, was the first of the schoolmen to write a systematic theology which took account of Aristotle. He was one of the teachers of Bonaventura (John of Fidanza, 1221-1274). A native of Italy of whose parents and ancestry little is known, Bonaventura was a distinguished head of the Order of Brothers Minor but is best remembered as a theologian. He won a place for the Franciscans at the University of Paris and held a chair in that institution. In contrast with Alexander of Hales, he was more influenced by Plato as seen in Augustine and Dionysius the Areopagite than by Aristotle. A mystic, he maintained that our highest knowledge of God comes through union with God in meditation and prayer rather than through logic.
With their early emphasis on scholarship, the Dominicans made what proved to be the most influential continuing contributions to theological thought. Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great, c. 1193 or 1206 to 1280) was a German, possibly of the nobility, born in Swabia, an area which had been on the border of the Roman Empire. After studying in Italy, he taught in Paris and Cologne. As a bishop (an office taken reluctantly at the command of the Pope), he reformed the life in his diocese. He was a teacher of the younger and even more famous Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274).
Thomas Aquinas was born in Italy, of the high nobility. His mother was of Norman and his father of Lombard stock, his father being a nephew of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. From childhood Aquinas was deeply religious and aspired to be a monk. His family, because of the prestige attached to the office, wished him to accept the headship of the famous Benedictine abbey of Monte Casino, where he had received part of his boyhood education and where his uncle had been abbot. Instead, to their distress, he insisted on joining the Dominicans, then without the acclaim which eventually came to them. He taught in various places. Deeply committed as a Christian, he was a man of prayer. He wrote prodigiously, and with a clarity as well as a depth which made his works of lasting significance. His Summa Contra Gentiles was designed to equip missionaries in their arguments with Moslems, the major body of non-Christians with whom the Catholics of the period were in contact. His Summa Theologiae (less correctly Summa Theologica) was left uncompleted by his early death. Aquinas believed that all truth is one and from God. Some truth, he held, including the existence of God, can be verified by man’s reason. Much can be known only through God’s revelation and can be apprehended only by faith. The goal of man, so Aquinas declared, is the vision of God. Although corrupted by sin, man of himself can cultivate four virtues — prudence, justice, courage, and self-control. The distinctly Christian virtues — faith, hope, and love — can come only through God’s grace. Through grace a new birth is wrought in the Christian by the creative act of God. Grace, Aquinas maintained, both stirs man to repentance and enables him to repent. It is primarily through Jesus Christ, he said, that God’s grace is mediated to man. God became incarnate through Christ, the God-man. Aquinas believed that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and venerated her as the mother of Christ. But, in contrast with the Franciscans, he did not hold that Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin — the immaculate conception. As we shall see, Roman Catholics continued to differ on that issue, and not until the mid-nineteenth century was the immaculate conception declared to be dogma, to be believed by all the faithful. Aquinas combined the views of Anselm and Abelard on the atonement. In his generation Aquinas, taking account of Aristotle, enabled many earnest intellectuals, troubled by the use made of that philosopher by sceptics, to see that without violating their integrity of mind they could remain Christian. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries his writings performed the same function for many who were perplexed by the science of that day.
Concurrently with the decline in the vigor in the Christianity of Western Europe which began to be marked after the high tide of the late thirteenth and the early fourteenth century, schoolmen questioned the formulations arrived at in the creative years. The absence of the appearance of significant new monastic movements and of "heresies" as potent as those of the Cathari and the Waldenses, and the waning of the Papacy, culminating for the time in the Avignon Papacy, were paralleled by developments in scholastic theology which seemed to herald the breakdown of that approach as a bulwark of the Christian faith. The first important indications were in the theology of Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308). We know little about the origin and family background of Duns Scotus. He was born somewhere in the British Isles, but whether in Ireland, Scotland, or the North of England was long debated. We know that he was a Franciscan and that he lived and taught in Oxford, Paris, and Cologne. He wrote in a cryptic style which has made understanding difficult. The fact that the word "dunce" is derived from his name is an indication of opinions of later critics — and the critics of the scholastic method — of what seemed to them to be futile hairsplitting. We have from the pen of Duns Scotus no systematic treatment of philosophy or theology. Much of our knowledge of him comes from his attack on positions with which he disagreed. He was particularly critical of Aquinas. Aquinas held that nothing God does is out of accord with reason. By the use of his reason, therefore, man can know much about God. Even though some of God’s acts, such as the incarnation and the work of Christ, could not have been discovered through reason, they are not contradictory to reason. Duns Scotus maintained that God is completely free and is not bound by reason. He did not mean that God is capricious, but he believed that it was God’s will and not His reason which brought the world into being. He held that although men are tainted by original sin they have not lost the power of free decision. He would not say, with Anselm, that if God wished to forgive men’s sins He was bound to become incarnate and die on the cross, nor did he hold, with Aquinas, that the incarnation and the crucifixion were the wisest way to achieve man’s salvation. Instead, he said that they were the way chosen by God. He declared that it is the Christian’s duty to believe what the Church teaches and to conform to what it commands, even when that is not supported by reason and to men appears irrational.
Younger than any of the preceding was the Englishman William of Occam (c. 1280-c. 1349). William of Occam early became a Franciscan and is said to have studied in Oxford, possibly with Duns Scotus, and in Paris. He protested against what he believed were the subtleties of the schoolmen and attempted to simplify philosophy and theology. In contrast with the greatest of the schoolmen he maintained that through his reason man cannot prove the existence, unity, or infinity of God nor immortality. Right and wrong, he held, depend on the will of God. William of Occam recognized the authority of the Church in spiritual matters and said that, although they cannot be proved, such tenets of Christianity as the existence of God and the immortality of the soul must be believed because they are taught by the Church and the Bible. He gave up hope of reconciling the wisdom of man with the wisdom of God.
Not all theologians agreed with William of Occam and the debates went on. But the trend was towards the bankruptcy of reason when addressed to the basic Christian convictions.
Christianity and other Aspects of the Culture of Medieval Europe
As we have seen, long before the year 1350, except for the Moslems in the Iberian Peninsula and the Jews, Christianity had become the professed religion of the overwhelming majority in Western and Central Europe. We have noted the several ways in which that religion had displayed marked vigour and the distinctive forms it had taken in stimulating monastic movements and "heresies" and in furthering the growth of the Papacy and the development of theology. It remains to summarize the extent to which Christianity shaped other aspects of the civilization of the region.
Here the results were ambiguous and often contradictory. Every aspect of that civilization gave evidence of attempts at conformity to the high and seemingly unattainable standards set forth in the New Testament. Yet striking failures were seen, and at times appeal was made in the name of the faith to undertake enterprises which issued in actions and results utterly at variance with the Gospel.
How far was religion shaped by Christianity? Systematic efforts were put forth to bring the ostensibly Christian masses to an understanding of the faith and conformity to it. Geographically the region was divided into parishes grouped in dioceses supervised by bishops and their assistants. Each parish had one or more priests, charged with the duty of teaching their parishioners and, by catechizing, preaching, and the administration of the sacraments bringing them to a knowledge of the faith and to conformity with it. Through the sacraments the Church followed the Christian from the cradle to the grave. Of the seven sacraments six were primarily for the laity: baptism, confirmation, penance (with confession to the priest), Holy Communion, marriage, and extreme unction. The seventh, ordination, was, obviously, only for the clergy. The observance of the Christian calendar, with its special days and seasons, furthered community participation. To Sunday, Advent, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost others were added, among them Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, saints’ days, and All Souls’ Day (for prayers for the dead). As early as the thirteenth century we hear of the Angelus, at first only in the evening, with its ringing of a bell in recognition of the incarnation and with a petition to the Virgin. The bishops confirmed the faithful, ordained the clergy, and through various assistants, such as archdeacons, supervised clergy and laity. Pilgrimages to sacred shrines were popular. The coming of the friars brought more preaching. The Franciscans gave a marked impulse to the use of breviaries. As the name indicates, the breviaries were abridgements, a compilation of prayers, hymns, and passages of Scripture for the use of clergy, monks, and lay folk. They seem first to have appeared in Carolingian times, and Benedictines early developed them. Friction arose because the friars did not respect parish boundaries and competed with the resident priests. Prayers for the dead led to endowments, presumably perpetual, for the saying of masses for the repose of the souls of the departed. From this custom came the multiplication of chantries and of the priests assigned to them.
Yet there were contradictions. Numerous beliefs and customs inconsistent with the Gospel survived from pre-Christian religions, often thinly disguised under Christian names. A large proportion of the priests were poorly educated. Many were married or had concubines. Numbers engaged in business and in hunting. Bishops were often political administrators rather than pastors and spiritual leaders. Some bishops were warriors. With rare exceptions, as they grew older monasteries lost the initial dedication which had brought them into existence and in their common life became comfortable and routine or worse. Although some Popes attempted to protect them, the Jews were discriminated against and confined to ghettos, and at times anti-Jewish massacres broke out. The economic factor entered, but an excuse often given was that the Jews had killed Christ. Countless individuals who dissented from the Catholic Church were burned. The burning was done by the civil and not the ecclesiastical authorities, but it was in the name of Christ. A reason given was that "heretics," by teaching doctrines which imperiled the eternal welfare of souls, were even more dangerous than murderers who took physical life. But the fact could not be gainsaid that the Christian religion was given as a reason. A faith whose primary command is love and which professes to be based upon the self-giving love of God in Christ was then, as in later centuries, in a variety of ways used to justify barbarities starkly contradicting that love.
Something of the same contrast was seen in the political aspects of Western and Central Europe. The kings were professedly Christian and were crowned with Christian ceremonies of which participation in the Communion was a central feature. Aquinas echoed a widespread conviction when he declared that a ruler exercises his power as a divine trust and that a monarch who has betrayed that trust has lost his right to the obedience of his subjects. As we have suggested, the dream cherished by many of the choicest spirits was of a Christian society, the Corpus Christianum, of which the Popes and the Holy Roman Emperors were the heads, each with distinct but complementary functions. At least as some Popes conceived it, all mankind should be brought into the Corpus Christianum. The Christian conscience put forth valiant efforts to curb and redirect to its ends the traditions of the former "barbarians" by which the rulers emerged from the professional warriors and retained their power by prowess in battle and skill in directing their subjects in military objectives. Thus arose chivalry; when the young noble reached man’s estate and formally assumed his arms, the Church blessed his sword with the prayer that he would devote it to the defense of widows, orphans, and the servants of God. The Christian knight was to keep his plighted word, be loyal to his lord, fight the infidel, and at his death make his confession and receive the Communion. The Church attempted to forbid jousts and tournaments, a favorite pastime of the aristocracy, for they entailed the shedding of blood. For example, the Second Lateran Council (1139, called the Tenth Ecumenical Council) forbade them. Toward the end of the tenth century agitation began for the Peace of God, which sought to exempt from attack all persons and places consecrated to the Church — churches, monasteries, clergy, monks, and virgins. Later were added those protected by the Church — peasants and their implements, the poor, pilgrims, and merchants on their journeys. Here seems to have originated the principle, in theory and to a degree in practice honored until World War II in the twentieth century, that in war non-combatants are not to be attacked. Early in the eleventh century the Truce of God was added. It sought to prohibit the chronic fighting of the nobility over the week-end and during Advent and Lent as hallowed by events associated with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Many synods endorsed the Peace of God and the Truce of God, and several dioceses formed what were known as confederations of peace. In the twelfth century, as a phase of the reform movement, agitation arose for a Papal prohibition of all wars among Christians, for the adjudication by the Pope of all disputes between princes, and for the penalty of excommunication on those who did not abide by his decision. Again and again Popes and Church councils condemned such crude practices of administering justice as trial by fire and water and by battle.
Many bishops were appointed by their princes to help in administration. Some were worldly, but others sought to bring Christian principles to bear upon the discharge of their duties. Some bishops participated actively in national affairs in other capacities. Among them was Stephen Langton (died 1228), who in the University of Paris won recognition as a theologian. Appointed by Innocent III to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, he was notably free from self-seeking. He was a peacemaker between King John and the Pope, had an important share in the negotiations leading to the Magna Carta and to its reaffirmation, and was a mediator between the nationalism of the English and the demands of the Pope. In representative bodies which shared in government, such as the emerging English Parliament and the Estates General of France, the clergy had seats and at least in theory endeavored to see that recognition was given to Christian standards.
A thought-provoking contrast in the effects of Christianity on the political life of Western Europe is seen in the Crusades, initiated (1095) by Urban II. Urban II, zealous reformer, successor of Gregory VII, and even more successful than the latter in carrying through reforms, presided at the Council of Clarmont, called by him to enact reform legislation. The Council gave formal approval to many of the measures taken by Urban and Gregory in their effort to raise the level of the Christianity of Western Europe. It also made the Truce of God obligatory in all Christendom. Apparently with no thought of inconsistency, in a powerful sermon Urban II urged the great company of warriors who were present to turn their swords from fighting their brethren to fighting the Moslems, at that time in possession of the places held sacred by Christians and oppressing the pilgrims who thronged them. He also wished the warriors to succor the Eastern wing of the Catholic Church. The cross was worn as a symbol of dedication, and plenary indulgence — that is, remission of the temporal penalties for sin — was promised to those who engaged in the enterprise with singleness of heart. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other sacred places were taken, with great slaughter of Moslems, and the crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem was set up.
The fall of Edessa, a stronghold of that kingdom (1144), was the occasion for the Second Crusade. Bernard of Clairvaux employed his eloquence in urging princes and warriors to join in it. His palpable sincerity and the reverence inspired by his reputation for sanctity contributed to the enrollment of thousands. However, many of the participants perished before reaching Syria, and the survivors were foiled in their attempt to take Damascus. The Third Crusade, in which Philip Augustus of France and Richard "the lion-hearted" of England participated and Frederick Barbarosso lost his life, was undertaken in the effort to retrieve the defeat (1187) and near annihilation of the warriors who were supporting the Kingdom of Jerusalem, followed by the loss of Jerusalem and many of the Christian strongholds. The recapture of Acre was the chief result. The fourth Crusade, called by Innocent III, stormed Constantinople (1204) — although that had not been the Pope’s wish — placed one of its leaders on the imperial throne, and seemed to promise the reunion under the Pope of the Western and Eastern wings of the Catholic Church. A few years later (1229) by diplomacy and force the sceptical Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II obtained possession of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth and was crowned King of Jerusalem. However, in 1244 Jerusalem once more fell to the Moslems and was not again to be in "Christian" hands until the twentieth century.
Originally to protect the Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land great crusading orders arose — the Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights. Their members took the customary monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
The crusading spirit persisted. For several generations the Popes invoked it, partly against Moslems and partly, as in the case of the Cathari, against those whom they labeled as heretics or against others of their foes. The Teutonic Knights employed their might to "convert" non-Christians on the shores of the Baltic and ruled there for centuries.
The net effect of the Crusades was to weaken the Byzantine Empire, to deepen the gulf between the Eastern and Western wings of the Catholic Church, and permanently to embitter relations between Christians and Moslems. The Crusades are a striking example of that perversion of the devotion evoked by Christianity which has been seen again and again.
In the intellectual life of Western Europe in the four centuries covered by this chapter Christianity was potent. Not only did it stimulate thousands, including a number of first-class minds, to wrestle with basic problems of theology and the closely related philosophy. It was as well the major inspiration in education. Around cathedrals, notably in Paris, schools clustered. They were in part for the training of the clergy, but students with other purposes were also attracted. The twelfth century saw the emergence of the first universities, several of them developments from earlier schools. Some universities specialized in medicine and some in canon law, but several centered on the preparation of clergy. Most of the educated were clergy. Pioneers in science were found in the universities. Among the most distinguished were Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus, who had been enlisted in the early enthusiasm of the mendicant orders. To what extent the stimulus to their creative thinking stemmed from that commitment it would be impossible to determine. Nor is it possible to say whether the foundation of the science of later centuries, based as it has been on the conviction that the universe is orderly, is from the Christian belief in the creation and governance of the world by God and from the discipline given the European mind by the debates in theology and the associated philosophy.
We need also note the effect of Christianity on literature. The most famous of the European poets of the period, Dante (1265-1321), wove his greatest work, the Commedia, about the Christian faith.
In art and architecture Christian purposes and Christian themes were a major inspiration. The cathedrals and parish churches were for the worship of God. Much of the painting and the sculpture had Christian subjects.
Christianity had a marked although not a dominant effect on the economic life of Western Europe. Much of the clearing of the land and putting it into cultivation was by monastic communities. In principle charging interest on loans was forbidden to Christians, but ways of circumventing the prohibition were devised. Indeed, for more than a century the Templars were great international bankers. In industry and trade attempts were made, presumably from motives of Christian origin, to fix a just price for manufactured goods and for labor.
Many other aspects of society bore the impress of Christianity. By classifying matrimony with the sacraments the Church sought to give sanctity to the marriage tie. The validity of individual marriages and of divorce were among the functions of the church courts and were regulated by the law of the Church. The manumission of slaves was encouraged by the Christian faith. In 1179 the Third Lateran Council formally decreed what had long been a widespread conviction, that no Christian should be enslaved by another Christian. For such care of the poor, the sick, and the stranger as existed the Christian conscience was chiefly responsible.
Far from conforming fully to the ideals of the faith as Western Europe of these centuries was, in that small fraction of the earth’s surface Christianity had more nearly free course over a longer period of time than in any other part of the world. That the faith entered into the formation of Western civilization and so into the global revolution produced by that civilization in the twentieth century is clear. But precisely to what degree it was responsible for that civilization and its distinctive characteristics cannot accurately be determined. For example, to what extent, if at all, is the activism which is so prominent in Western civilization ascribable to Christianity? Later we shall see that Christianity was a source of democracy in its various expressions and that it was potent in the idealism and the humanitarianism among peoples both of Europe and of the larger Europe which arose from migrations. But we shall also note that from these peoples came the largest-scale exploitation of other segments of mankind and the most widely destructive wars in history.
Developments in the Eastern Churches
While Christianity was entering into the formation of Western European peoples, what was happening to the Christianity embodied in the Eastern Churches? Clearly, Western Europeans, malleable as they were because of the weakening of the Greco-Roman tradition and the disintegration of the inherited cultures of the invaders by contacts with such of that tradition as survived, were in large part shaped by that religion. But what developments were seen in the churches centered in Constantinople and in those segments of the pre-eighth-century Christendom in which a portion of the Roman Empire continued without interruption?
Here we need to remember four concomitant facts: (1) In the surviving portion of the Roman Empire the pre-Christian tradition of the control of religion by the State persisted. In the professedly Christian State the Church was not so fully dominated by the State as the pre-Christian religions had been, but it was not so nearly autonomous as in the West, and occasional struggles towards autonomy were less prominent and less successful than in the West. (2) The Greco-Roman culture had not been as badly shattered as it was in the West and hence was less readily moulded. (3) The non-Chalcedonian churches survived. (4) On all the churches the pressure of Islam mounted. As a result, the churches, especially those of the non-Chalcedonian tradition, became increasingly ghetto communities, on the defensive. To preserve their existence they sought to hold firmly to what had been transmitted from the past and were resistant to change.
The Eastern and Western wings of the Catholic Church continued to drift apart until the rupture became so unmistakable that attempts to heal it had only temporary and partial success. A major obstacle was the insistence of the Popes that, as successors of Peter, they were the rightful heads of the Catholic Church. In 1054 that claim led to a formal breach when legates of the reforming and vigorous Leo IX laid a sentence of excommunication on the altar of St. Sophia when it was ready for the Eucharist, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, in return, excommunicated the legates. The Crusades widened the gulf. The attempts to bridge it were made in part by Byzantine Emperors who sought support from the West in their perennial resistance to the Moslem advance. In the mid-thirteenth century and again in 1274 success appeared to be in sight, but in the East the popular resentment against Latins blocked it.
In the Eastern (or Orthodox) wing of the Catholic Church monasticism persisted, but it was far less activist than in the West. No great orders arose comparable to the Cluny movement, the Cistercians, the Carthusians, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans. Monks seldom if ever engaged in preaching or pastoral care of the laity but tended to withdraw from the world. Monasteries arose in mountain fastnesses, notably on Mount Athos, on a peninsula jutting south from Macedonia into the Aegean. From the eleventh into the fourteenth century a major theological controversy arose over a monastic mystical practice known as Hesychasm. Eventually Hesychasm won the endorsement of the Orthodox but it was frowned on by the Roman Catholics. That it loomed so large and continued to be characteristic of Orthodox monasticism was evidence of a retreat from the world and emphasis upon a special form of mysticism which was alien to the West and which widened the gulf between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics.
The Byzantine form of Christianity continued to spread in non-Moslem territories north and west of Constantinople and looked to the Ecumenical Patriarch in that city as its ranking bishop. As we have said, the spread was most marked among the Bulgars, the Serbs, and the Russians.
Of the non-Chalcedonian churches, minorities from several were brought to an acknowledgement of Papal supremacy and either retained their liturgies and clerical forms or were fully assimilated to Roman customs. Relatively secure in their mountain fastnesses, the Ethiopians and most of the Armenians preserved their independence of Rome, Constantinople, and Islam. For a time the Nestorianism was widely represented in Central and East Asia, but only among minorities. The Coptic Church survived, but in spite of periodic persecution and less spectacular attrition.
In the mid-fourteenth century Christianity was in somewhat better condition than four centuries earlier. It had completed the winning of the professed allegiance of the large majority of the "barbarian" invaders in Western and Central Europe and had spread beyond the former confines of the Roman Empire there and in much of what we know as Western and Northern Russia. Small minorities in Central Asia and dwindling remnants in Northern Africa held to it. In Western Europe it had had a major share in the acculturation of the Germanic and Slavic peoples and had shared in the emergence of a civilization which was an heir of the Greco-Roman pre-Christian and "Christian" world. It had given rise to vigorous religious movements, especially in what had been the western portion of the Roman Empire.
But in the mid-fourteenth century Christianity appeared to have passed its zenith. In the West it was threatened, in part by unanticipated perversions of its inherent vitality. In the East, after a pause, the tide of Islam was again surging and was threatening the remnants of such churches as had survived its first onrush. From the standpoint of historical and global perspective, in A.D. 1350 Christianity counted for less in the total life of mankind than it had eight and a half centuries earlier.