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page 2

Political Organization In The Early Middle Ages


page 3

The Church In The Early Middle Ages


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Conclusion to Pages 1, 2 & 3


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The Making Of Modern Britain

page 6

Beginnings of the French Nation

page 7

Re-conquest of Spain

page 8

Government in Germany & Italy

page 9

The Crusades

page 10

The Rise of Trade and Towns

page 11

The Church in the Middle Ages I

page 12

The Church in the Middle Ages II

page 13

The Intellectual Synthesis Of The High Middle Ages

page 14



Additional Topics

Dancing In The Middle Ages

Castle Life

Cultural Expression

Dynamics of the Middle Ages

Influences of Christianity

Monks and Monasticism

Monetary System

Peasant's Life

The Rise of Towns


The Middle Ages

Date:      1992


The Church In The High Middle Ages


The Church In The High Middle Ages


     When the German king Otto the Great revived the Roman Empire in the West

in 962, his act reemphasized the concept of the dual leadership of pope and

emperor. Otto claimed to be the successor of Augustus, Constantine, and

Charlemagne, although his actual power was confined to Germany and Italy. At

first the papacy looked to the German king for protection against the unruly

Italian nobles who for a century had been making a political prize of the

papacy. From the church's viewpoint, however, this arrangement had its

drawbacks, for the German kings continued to interfere in ecclesiastical

affairs and even in the election of popes.


     During the eleventh century controversy arose between church and state

over the problem of lay investiture. Theoretically, on assuming office a

bishop or abbot was subject to two investitures; his spiritual authority was

bestowed by a church official, and his feudal or civil authority by a layman -

a feudal lord or a king. In actual fact, however, feudal lords and kings came

to control both the appointment and the installation of church officials. As

noted earlier, this practice was most pronounced in Germany, where control of

the church was the foundation of the king's power. The German church was in

essence a state church.


Gregory VII And The Investiture Struggle


     The most ambitious advocate of church reform was Pope Gregory VII

(1073-1085), who claimed unprecedented power for the papacy. Gregory held as

his ideal the creation of a Christian commonwealth under papal control. In the

Dictatus Papae ("Dictate of the Pope") Gregory claimed:


     That the Roman pontiff alone is rightly called universal.

     That he alone has the power to depose and reinstate bishops.

     That he alone may use the imperial insignia.

     That all princes shall kiss the foot of the pope alone.

     That he has the power to depose emperors.

     That he can be judged by no one.

     That no one can be regarded as catholic who does not agree with

          the Roman church.

     That he has the power to absolve subjects from their oath of

          fealty to wicked rulers. ^2


[Footnote 2: Pope Gregory VII Dictatus papae, quoted in M. W. Baldwin,

Christianity Through the Thirteenth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1970),

pp. 182-183.]


     In 1075 Gregory VII formally prohibited lay investiture and threatened to

excommunicate any layman who performed it and any ecclesiastic who submitted

to it. This drastic act virtually declared war against Europe's rulers, since

lay investiture had been employed since the emperor Constantine's time. The

climax to the struggle occurred in Gregory's clash with the German emperor

Henry IV. Henry was accused of simony and lay investiture in appointing his

own choice to the archbishopric of Milan and was summoned to Rome to explain

his conduct. Henry's answer was to convene in 1076 a synod of German bishops,

which declared Gregory a "false monk" and unfit to occupy the office of pope.

In retaliation, Gregory excommunicated Henry and deposed him, absolving his

subjects from their oaths of allegiance.


     At last, driven by a revolt among the German nobles to make peace with

the pope, Henry appeared before Gregory in January 1077 at Canossa, a castle

in the Apennines. Dressed as a penitent, the emperor is said to have stood

barefoot in the snow for three days and begged forgiveness until, in Gregory's

words: "We loosed the chain of the anathema and at length received him into

the favor of communion and into the lap of the Holy Mother Church." ^3


[Footnote 3: Quoted in J. H. Robinson, Readings in European History, vol. 1

(Boston: Ginn and Co., 1904), p. 283]


     This dramatic humiliation of the emperor did not resolve the quarrel, nor

do contemporary accounts attach much significance to the incidentpublic

penance was not uncommon in those days, even for kings. After the episode at

Canossa, Henry returned to Germany and crushed his opponents; in the short

term the whole incident cost Gregory the support of the German nobility. Yet

the pope had made progress toward freeing the church from lay interference and

increasing the power and prestige of the papacy.


     The problem of lay investiture was settled in 1122 by the compromise

known as the Concordat of Worms. By the terms of this agreement, the church

maintained the right to elect the holder of an ecclesiastical office, but only

in the presence of the king or his representative. The candidate, such as a

bishop, was invested by the king with the scepter, the symbol of his

administrative jurisdiction, after which he performed the act of homage and

swore allegiance as the king's vassal. Only after this ceremony had taken

place was the candidate consecrated by the archbishop, who invested him with

his spiritual functions, as symbolized by the ring and pastoral staff. Since

the kings of England and France had earlier accepted this compromise, the

problem of lay investiture ended.


The Papacy's Zenith: Innocent III


     Under Innocent III (1198-1216), a new type of administrator-pope, papal

power reached its zenith. Unlike Gregory VII and other earlier reform popes,

who were monks, Innocent and other great popes of the late twelfth and

thirteenth centuries were lawyers, trained in the newly revived and enlarged

church, or canon law. Innocent was like Gregory VII, however, in holding an

exalted view of his office:


          The Lord Jesus Christ has set up one ruler over all

          things as His universal vicar, and as all things in

          heaven, earth and hell bow the knee to Christ, so should

          all obey Christ's vicar, that there be one flock and one

          shepherd. ^4


[Footnote 4: Quoted in Margaret Deanesly, A History of the Medieval Church,

590-1000 (London: Metheun Co. Ltd., reprinted with corrections, 1972), p.



     So successful was Innocent III in asserting his temporal and spiritual

supremacy that many states formally acknowledged vassalage to the pope. In the

case of King John of England, a struggle developed over the election of the

archbishop of Canterbury, and Innocent placed England under interdict for five

years and excommunicated John. Under attack from his barons, John capitulated

to Innocent by becoming his vassal, receiving England back as a fief, and

paying him an annual monetary tribute. Innocent forced Philip Augustus of

France to comply with the church's moral code by taking back as his queen the

woman he had divorced with the consent of the French bishops. As for the Holy

Roman Empire, Innocent intervened in a civil war between rival candidates for

the throne, supporting first one, then the other. In the end Innocent secured

the election of his ward, the young Hohenstaufen heir Frederick II, who

promised to respect papal rights and to go on a crusade.


Church Administration


     The universality and power of the church rested not only upon a

systematized, uniform creed but also upon the most highly organized

administrative system in the West. At the head was the pope, or bishop of Rome

(see ch. 5). He was assisted by the Curia, the papal council or court, which

in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries developed an intricate adminstrative

system. Judicial and secretarial problems were handled by the papal Chancery,

financial matters by the Camera, and disciplinary questions by the

Penitentiary. Special emissaries called legates, whose powers were superior to

those of the local churchmen, carried the pope's orders throughout Europe.


     The church was ahead of secular states in developing a system of courts

and a body of law. Church or canon law was based on the Scriptures, the

writings of the church Fathers, and the decrees of church councils and popes.

In the twelfth century the church issued its official body of canon law, which

guided the church courts in judging perjury, blasphemy, sorcery, usury (the

medieval church denounced the taking of interest), and heresy. Heresey was the

most horrible of all crimes in medieval eyes. A murder was a crime against

society, but the heretic's disbelief in the teaching of Christ or His church

was considered a crime against God.


     The papacy's chief weapons in support of its authority were spiritual

penalties. The most powerful of these was excommunication, by which people

became anathema, "set apart" from the church and all the faithful. A person

who was excommunicant could not act as judge, juror, notary, witness, or

attorney. That person could not be a guardian, an executor, or a party to any

contracts. When one died as an excommunicant, one received no Christian

burial; and if by chance he or she was buried in consecrated ground, the body

was dug up and thrown away. An excommunicant who entered a church during Mass

was to be expelled, or the Mass discontinued. After the reading of a sentence

of excommunication, a bell was rung as for a funeral, a book closed, and a

candle extinguished, to symbolize the spiritual death of the guilty person.


     Interdict, which has been termed "an ecclesiastical lockout," was also a

powerful instrument. Whereas excommunication was directed against individuals,

interdict suspended all public worship and withheld all sacraments other than

Baptism and Extreme Unction in the realm of a disobedient ruler. Pope Innocent

III successfully applied or threatened the interdict eighty-five times against

disobedient kings and princes.


     From the reign of Innocent III until the end of the thirteenth century,

the church radiated power and splendor. It possessed perhaps a third of the

land in Europe, and all secular rulers and church prelates acknowledged the

power of Christ's vicar, the pope. Innocent III and his successors could and

did "judge all and be judged by no one."


     Yet while the church's wealth enabled it to perform educational and

charitable functions that the states were too poor and weak to provide, this

wealth also encouraged abuses and worldliness among the clergy. Cracks were

appearing in the foundation even while the medieval religious structure

received its final embellishments. Weaknesses were evident in the lessening of

religious zeal in the later crusades, in the need for renewed internal reform,

and in the growth of heresy.


Monastic Reform


     A religious revival, often called the medieval reformation, began in the

tenth century and reached full force in the twelfth and thirteenth. The first

far-reaching manifestation of the revival was the reformed Benedictine order

of monks at Cluny, founded in 910. From the original monastery in Burgundy

radiated a powerful impulse for the reform of the feudalized church. The

Cluniac program began as a movement for monastic reform, but in time it

influenced the enforcement of clerical celibacy and the abolition of simony,

the purchase and sale of church offices. The ultimate goal of the Cluniac

reformers was to free the entire church from secular control and subject it to

papal authority. Some three hundred Cluniac houses were freed from lay

control, and in 1059 an attempt was made to rid the papacy itself of secular

interference by the creation of the College of Cardinals, which henceforth

elected the pope.


     The medieval reformation gained momentum late in the eleventh century

with a second wave of monastic reform brought on by the failure of the Cluniac

reform to end all the abuses associated with the monastic life. Among the new

orders were the severely ascetic Carthusians and the very popular Cistercians.


     The Cistercian movement received its greatest impetus from the zealous

efforts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153). The order's abbeys were

situated in solitary places, and their strict discipline emphasized fasts and

vigils, manual labor, and a vegetarian diet. Their churches contained neither

stained glass nor statues, and the puritanical Bernard denounced the

beautification of churches in general.


     The Cistercian order had founded 343 abbeys in western Europe by the time

of Bernard's death in 1153 and more than double that number by the end of the

century. Yet in one important sense these austere new monastic orders were

failures. Being exclusively agricultural and dwelling apart from society,

these orders were unsuited to cope with religious discontent in the towns and

the consequent increase of heresy.




     Heresy, the deliberate belief in doctrines officially condemned by the

church, flourished particularly in the towns, where an increasing

consciousness of sin and a demand for greater piety went largely unheeded by

old-style churchmen. This fertile ground produced many heresies, among which

the Albigensian and Waldensian were major ones.


     Harking back to an early Christian heresy, the Cathari ("Pure") or

Albigensians - so called because Albi in southern France was an important

center - went to extremes in regarding the world as the battleground for the

opposing forces of good and evil. The Albigensians denounced many activities

of the state and the individual, even condemning marriage for perpetuating the

human species in this sinful world. The Albigensians went on to denounce even

the church as an institution, since it too was a part of the earth and thereby

inherently evil.


     The Waldensians derived their name from Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons

who gave his wealth to charity and founded a lay order, the Poor Men of Lyons,

to serve the needs of the people. He had parts of the New Testament translated

into French, held that laymen could preach the Gospel, and denied the

effectiveness of the sacraments unless administered by worthy priests.


     For ten years, Innocent III tried to reconvert these heretical groups.

Failing, in 1208 he instigated a crusade against the prosperous and cultured

French region of Toulouse, where the Albigensian heresy was widespread. The

crusade began with horrible slaughter to the cry of "Kill them all, God will

know his own." Soon the original religious motive was lost in a selfish rush

to seize the wealth of the accused. In time the Albigensian heresy was

destroyed, along with the flourishing culture of southern France, and the

Waldensians were scattered. Until the rise of Protestantism, the church was

generally successful in its efforts to crush heresy.


The Inquisition


     In 1233 a special papal court called the Inquisition was established to

cope with the rising tide of heresy and to bring about religious conformity.

Those accused were tried in secret without the aid of legal counsel. Those who

confessed and renounced heresy were "reconciled" with the church on

performance of penance. Those who did not voluntarily confess could be

tortured. If this failed, the prisoners could be declared heretics and turned

over to the secular authorities, usually to be burned at the stake.


     A rationalization for torture was that the soul was considered

incomparably more important than the body, so therefore it was believed that

torturing a suspected heretic was justifiable if confession could save the

soul from the greater torments of hell. The use of torture, secret testimony,

and the denial of legal counsel prevailed in all courts that followed Roman

legal procedure. But some of the church's courts of inquisition, and in

particular the Spanish courts, abused their authority and became almost

fanatical in their prosecution of suspected heretics.


The Franciscans And Dominicans


     As a more positive response to the spread of heresy and the conditions

that caused it, Innocent III approved the founding of the Franciscan and

Dominican orders of friars ("brothers"). Instead of living an isolated

existence in a remote monastery, the friars moved among the people,

ministering to their needs, preaching the Gospel, and teaching in the schools.


     The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi (1182?-1226), who

rejected riches and spread the gospel of poverty and Christian simplicity.

Love of one's fellow human beings and all God's creatures, even "brother

worm," were basic in the Rule of St. Francis, which was inspired by Jesus'



     The second order of friars was founded by St. Dominic (1170-1221), a

well-educated Spaniard who had fought the Albigensians in southern France.

There he decided that to combat the strength and zeal of it opponents, the

church should have champions who could preach the Gospel with the dedication

of the Apostles. Dominic's order of friar-preachers dedicated themselves to

preaching as a means of maintaining the doctrines of the church and of

converting heretics.


     The enthusiasm and sincerity of the friars in their early years made a

profound impact on an age that had grown increasingly critical of the

worldliness of the church. But after they took charge of the Inquisition,

became professors in the universities, and served the papacy in other ways,

the friars lost much of their original simplicity and freshness. Yet their

message and zeal had done much to provide the church with moral and

intellectual leadership at a time when such leadership was badly needed.


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