The Catholic Church played a significant role in the rise and development of Medieval Europe. Every aspect of society was controlled by the church, and to that end the church integrated itself into the lives of the people. As spectacular was the rise, so was the fall. The ascendency of the church was marked with violence, piety, and attempts by popes to both usurp power and dominate the ruling class. The decline was marked by the Babylonian captivity, and the scandal that it created, and the Great Schism and its aftermath. The Christian Church was established as a ruling path after the fall of the Roman Empire.
There was very little government, so people relied on the church for direction and guidance. The rise of the church began relatively with the building of the Hagia Sophia by the Emperor Justinian. The building of the church touched off a storm of building that led to the rise of the church in both the east and the west. Many of the spiritual foundations of the Western Church were built around events that occurred in the east. The Emperor Constantine was very much interested in the development and spread of Christianity, but he also saw inherent weaknesses in the system that needed to be corrected.
As controversies developed, Constantine would convene councils to handle the problems, and would create new church doctrine. One of these issues was the creation of a faith statement that set out exactly what the beliefs of the Christian faith were. The other controversy was the Iconoclastic controversy. This involved the use of icons in the church and in the practice of Christianity. The Second Council of Nicaea roundly denounced iconoclasm, choosing instead to venerate the long tradition of using sacred objects and icons in the church. The church was also established in what was referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance.
During this time, education became extremely important, and it was also during this time when the church became the primary way men and to some extent women were able to become literate. When men or women committed their lives to Christ, they took upon themselves an opportunity to learn the scriptures as they applied their lives to Christ. Violence also marked the rise of the church. One of the most popular ordeals to place people under was the ordeal of hot iron. This involved branding a person with a hot iron that was “blessed” by the priests. The person was branded, and then the wound was covered.
If the wound was festered, the person was judged guilty, and if the wound was healing, the person was judged innocent. The other, most violent incident in the history of Christianity is the Crusades. The seven crusades that were launched were some of the most violent encounters ever experienced by humankind. The Crusades were launched by the fall of Jerusalem to the Seljuq Turks. The Christians retook the city, but it fell again three years later. The violent struggle was detailed by several authors, both Muslim and Christian. A Muslim author noted that the Franks were “superior in courage, but nothing else (page 256).
” As some have remarked, Christianity can sometimes be a violent religion, and the violence certainly reared its ugly head during the time of the Crusades. There were also two controversies that fueled the direction of the church. One controversy was a test of wills between Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV. The controversy involved the investiture of clergy. Henry felt that he should have the ultimate say in who should be selected to serve in his country, while Gregory felt that the selection of clergy should lie in the hands of the Papal authority.
The controversy led to the excommunication of Henry by Gregory, and led to Henry going to Canossa to ask Gregory for penance. In return for being readmitted in the church, Henry had to swear an oath of allegiance to Gregory. Henry then tried to reestablish his authority, but was unable to do so. Gregory tried to support a rival king, but since Henry’s power was growing, Gregory’s attempt to build a king was thwarted. A solution to the problem was not found during the lifetime of Henry and Gregory. It was not until the Concordat of Worms in 1122 was a compromise reached.
The essence of the compromise was that while the Pope would select the prelates for each region, the emperor had the right to be at the investiture of the prelates and to assign them their lands. While not everyone was happy, the compromise worked well and allowed the church to continue to play a significant role in the lives of the people. The Babylonian Captivity was another controversy that raged within the church. However, unlike the investiture controversy which existed as a test of wills between a pope and a king, the Babylonian Captivity involved the pope being almost subservient to the king.
When the king of France came into conflict with the Pope, he usurped the pope and replaced him with one of his choosing. He then moved the pope to Avignon, which was where he remained for 68 years. The controversy was ended after there were three popes which were removed and replaced by one pope who again resided in Rome. The self-imposed exile from Rome damaged the church irrevocably and hastened its decline and loss of supremacy. The church gave much impetus to the direction of medieval civilization. If one were to be honest, the church was medieval civilization.
From the creation of monasteries and convents to the blatant interference of popes in the affairs of state, the church ran medieval civilization to its very core. To a large degree, the medieval church even was the main employer of artisans, architects and builders during this time. The building of the grand cathedrals like Notre Dame and Chartres took many years, and it would sometimes even take five generations before a church was completed. There was also the political impetus given by things such as the investiture controversy and the papacy of Innocent III.
Innocent was probably one of the most influential popes of the medieval world. Not only did he manage some of the Crusades, he was also a highly influential pope who was an able administrator and also believed strongly in the supremacy of the papacy. He felt that the medieval rulers should be accountable to him and that he should be the feudal lord and the kings should be the vassals. This statement was very succinctly worded by Innocent in his writing called “The Sun and the Moon. ” In it, he compares the pope to the sun and the king to the moon.
He states that while the sun is the stronger of the lights and rules the day, the king was the weaker light of the moon. The day was construed to mean the kings, while the moon was construed to mean the people. This was expressed very strongly when King John was excommunicated by Innocent and England was placed under interdict. The controversy was over money that John took from the church that Innocent felt he was not entitled to. By the time the controversy ended, Innocent had his way. John capitulated and became Innocent’s vassal and Innocent became lord over all of England. Why is all of this important? Why do we need religion?
Religion is meant to be a guiding light, a moral standard by which we should all live. Many writers stress how important religion is, and as we have seen, it can be a source of order and comfort when all around one is chaos. Religion also gives us a set of moral principles on which to stand. As noted in Magna Carta and the Rule of Saint Benedict, the classification of rules and order and faith can be a way to spread a moral system to people that need desperately to believe in something. Religion is also a comfort during troubling times, and can be something for the people to look to when things become uncertain.
Religion is a certainty, an absolute, and something that can be unshakeable. We can learn much from the rise and decline of the supremacy of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe. We can learn first and foremost that it takes men and women of incredible faith to build an empire. It also takes men in leadership roles to make decisions that have positive impacts on the society. When the decisions are bad, we see the morals of the society begin to give way to a secularism that defiles the intentions that came before. When leaders are strong, it gives people security to get through the difficult times.
When leaders are weak, people are less secure in the future and things begin to fall apart. The medieval period tells us that we as people need to continue to grow as people and not stagnate. The time period is interesting and well worth learning from, and we need to continue to do so. If we continue to grow as people, we will no longer have the educational and social stagnation that so defined the period sometimes referred to as the dark ages.
Works Cited Rogers, Perry. Aspects of Western Civilization: Volume 1 Problems and Sources in History. 6th.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. Print. Chapter 8-Icon, Scimitar and Cross: Early Medieval Civilization (500-1100) Rogers, Perry. Aspects of Western Civilization: Volume 1 Problems and Sources in History. 6th. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. Print. Chapter 9-The Sword of Faith: The High Middle Ages (1100-1300) Rogers, Perry. Aspects of Western Civilization: Volume 1 Problems and Sources in History. 6th. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. Print. Chapter 10-The Waning of the Middle Ages