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Roman Church

A History Christianity

Edited By: Robert A. Guisepi

 

A History of the Catholic Church

from Its Beginning to the End of the Sixteenth Century 

As both its critics and its champions would probably agree, Roman Catholicism has been the decisive spiritual force in the history of Western civilization. There are more Roman Catholics in the world than there are believers of any other religious tradition--not merely more Roman Catholics than all other Christians combined, but more Roman Catholics than all Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. The papacy is the oldest continuing absolute monarchy in the world. To millions the pope is the infallible interpreter of divine revelation and the Vicar of Christ; to others he is the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies about the coming of the Antichrist.

These incontestable statistical and historical facts suggest that some understanding of Roman Catholicism--its history, its institutional structures, its beliefs and practices, and its place in the world--is an indispensable component of cultural literacy, regardless of how one may individually answer the ultimate questions of life and death and faith. Without a grasp of what Roman Catholicism stands for, it is difficult to make political sense of the settlement of the Germanic tribes in Europe at the end of the Roman Empire, or intellectual sense of Thomas Aquinas, or literary sense of The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, or artistic sense of the Gothic cathedrals, or musical sense of many of the compositions of Haydn or Mozart.

At one level, of course, the interpretation of Roman Catholicism is closely related to the interpretation of Christianity as such. For by its own reading of history, Roman Catholicism began with the very beginnings of the Christian movement. An essential component of the definition of any one of the other branches of Christendom, moreover, is the examination of its relation to Roman Catholicism: How did Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism come into schism? Was the break between the Church of England and Rome inevitable? Conversely, such questions are essential to the definition of Roman Catholicism itself, even to a definition that adheres strictly to the official view, according to which the Roman Catholic Church has maintained an unbroken continuity since the days of the Apostles, while all other denominations, from the ancient Copts to the latest storefront church, are deviations from it.

Like any intricate and ancient phenomenon, Roman Catholicism can be described and interpreted from a variety of perspectives and by one or more of several methodologies. Thus the Roman Catholic Church is itself a complex institution, for which the usual diagram of a pyramid, extending from the pope at the apex to the believers in the pew, is vastly oversimplified; within that institution, moreover, sacred congregations, archdioceses and dioceses, provinces, religious orders and societies, seminaries and colleges, parishes and confraternities, and countless other institutions all invite the social scientist to the consideration of power relations, leadership roles, social dynamics, and other sociological connections that it uniquely represents. As a world religion among world religions, Roman Catholicism in its belief and practice manifests, somewhere within the range of its multicolored life, some of the features of every religion of the human race; thus only the methodology of comparative religion can encompass them all. Furthermore, because of the normative role of Scholasticism in the formulation of Roman Catholic dogma, a philosophical analysis of its system of doctrine is indispensable even for grasping its theological vocabulary. Nevertheless, the historical method is especially appropriate to this task, not only because two millennia of history are represented in the Roman Catholic Church, but because the heart of its understanding of itself is the hypothesis of continuity and because the centre of its definition of authority is the embodiment of divine truth in that historical continuity.

For a more detailed treatment of the early church, see Christianity, history of. The present article concentrates on identifying those historical forces that worked to transform the primitive Christian movement into a church that was recognizably "catholic," namely, a church that had begun to possess identifiable norms of doctrine and life, fixed structures of church authority, and, at least in principle, a universality (which is what "catholic" meant) that extended to all of humanity.

The emergence of Catholic Christianity

At least in an inchoate form all the elements of catholicity--doctrine, authority, universality--are evident in the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles begins by focusing on the demoralized band of the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem; but by the time its account of the first decades is finished, the Christian community has developed some nascent criteria for determining the difference between authentic ("apostolic") and inauthentic teaching and behavior. It has also moved beyond the borders of Judaism, as the dramatic sentence of the closing chapter announces: "And so we came to Rome " (Acts 28:14). The later epistles of the New Testament admonish their readers to "guard what has been entrusted to you" (1 Timothy 6:20) and to "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), and they speak about the Christian community itself in exalted and even cosmic terms as the church, "which is [Christ's] body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). It is clear even from the New Testament that the specification of these catholic features was called forth by challenges from within, not only from without; indeed, scholars have concluded that the early church was far more pluralistic from the very beginning than the somewhat idealized pictures in the New Testament might suggest.

As such challenges continued in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, further specification became necessary. The schema of apostolic authority formulated by the bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200), may serve to set forth systematically the three main lines of authority for catholic Christianity: the Scriptures of the New Testament (alongside the Christianized "Old Testament") as the writings of the Apostles of Christ; the Episcopal centers established by the Apostles as the seats of their identifiable successors in the governance of the church; and the apostolic tradition of normative doctrine as the "rule of faith" and the standard of Christian conduct. Each of the three depended on the other two for validation; one could determine which purportedly scriptural writings were genuinely apostolic by appealing to their conformity with acknowledged apostolic tradition and to the usage of the apostolic churches, and so on. This was not a circular argument but an appeal to a single catholic authority of apostolicity, in which the three elements were inseparable. Inevitably, however, there arose conflicts--of doctrine and jurisdiction, of worship and pastoral practice, and of social and political strategy--among the three sources of authority, as well as between equally "apostolic" bishops. When bilateral means for resolving such conflicts proved insufficient, there could be recourse to either the precedent of convoking an apostolic council (Acts 15) or to what Irenaeus had already called "the preeminent authority of this church [of Rome], with which, as a matter of necessity, every church should agree." Catholicism was on the way to becoming Roman Catholic.

The emergence of Roman Catholicism

Internal factors

Several historical factors, some of them more prominent at one time and others at another, help to account for the emergence of Roman Catholicism from the catholic Christianity of the early church. The twin factors that would eventually be regarded as the most decisive, at any rate by the champions of the primacy of Rome in the church, were the primacy of Peter among the 12 Apostles of Christ and the identification of Peter with the Church of Rome. In the several enumerations of the Apostles in the New Testament (Matthew 10:2-5; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13) there are considerable variations, with further variations in the manuscripts; but what they all have in common is that they list (in Matthew's words) "first, Simon, who is called Peter." "But I have prayed for you," Jesus said to Peter, "that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32 ); and again: "Feed my lambs. . . . Tend my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep" (John 21:15 -17). Above all, when Christ, according to the New Testament, said to the Apostle Peter, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock [Greek petra ] I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18 ), that was, according to Roman Catholic teaching, the charter of the church--i.e., of the Roman Catholic Church.

The identification of this obvious "primacy" of Peter in the New Testament with the "primacy" of the Church of Rome is not self-evident, since; for one thing, the same New Testament remains almost silent about a connection of Peter with Rome . The reference at the close of the Acts of the Apostles to the arrival of the Apostle Paul in Rome gives no indication that Peter was there as the bishop or even as a resident, and the epistle that Paul had addressed somewhat earlier to the church at Rome devotes its entire closing chapter to greetings for many believers in the city but fails to mention Peter's name. On the other hand, the first of the two epistles ascribed to Peter does use the phrase (presumably referring to a Christian congregation) "she who is at Babylon " (1 Peter 5:13 ), which was a code name for Rome . It is, moreover, the unanimous testimony of early Christian tradition that Peter, having been at Jerusalem and then at Antioch , finally came to Rome , where he was crucified (with his head down, according to Christian legend, in deference to the crucifixion of Christ); there was, however, and still is, dispute about the exact location of his grave. Writing around the end of the 2nd century, the North African theologian Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225) spoke of " Rome , from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority of the apostles themselves. How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! Where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like that of John [the Baptist]!"

Alongside this apostolic argument for Roman primacy--and often interwoven with it-- Rome was honored because of its position as the capital of the Roman Empire : the church in the prime city ought to be prime among the churches. As the capital Rome drew visitors or tourists or pilgrims from everywhere and eventually became, for church no less than for state, what Jerusalem had originally been called, "the church from which every church took its start, the mother city [metropolis] of the citizens of the new covenant." Curiously, the transfer of the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople by the newly converted emperor Constantine in 330, which weakened Rome's civil authority, served only to strengthen its spiritual authority: the title "supreme priest [pontifex maximus]," which had been the prerogative of the emperor, now devolved upon the pope. The transfer of the capital also occasioned a dispute between Rome ("Old Rome") and Constantinople ("New Rome") over whether the new capital, as capital, should be entitled to a commensurate ecclesiastical preeminence alongside the see of Peter. The second ecumenical council of the church (at Constantinople in 381) and the fourth (at Chalcedon in 451) both legislated such a position for the see of Constantinople , but Rome refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of that prerogative.

It was also at the Council of Chalcedon, convoked to resolve the doctrinal controversy between Antioch and Alexandria over the person of Christ that the council fathers accepted the formula proposed by Pope Leo I (reigned 440-461). "Peter," they declared, "has spoken through the mouth of Leo!" That was only one in a long series of occasions when the authority of Rome , sometimes by invitation and sometimes by its own intervention, served as a court of appeal in jurisdictional and dogmatic disputes that had erupted in various parts of Christendom. During the first six centuries of the church the bishop of every major Christian centre was, at one time or another, charged with heresy and convicted--except the bishop of Rome (although his turn was to come later). The titles that the see of Rome gradually assumed and the claims of primacy it made within the internal life and governance of the church were, in many ways, little more than the formalization of what had meanwhile become widely accepted practice during these first four or five centuries of its history.

External factors

In addition to the transfer of the capital from Rome to Constantinople, there were at least two other external factors at the beginning of the Middle Ages that contributed decisively to the development of Roman Catholicism as a distinct form of Christianity. One was the rise of Islam in the 7th century. During the decade following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE his followers captured three of the five "patriarchates" of the early church--Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem--leaving only Rome and Constantinople, located at opposite ends of the Mediterranean and, eventually, also at opposite ends of the East-West Schism. The other force that encouraged the emergence of Roman Catholicism as a distinct entity was the fall of the Roman Empire and the migration into Europe of the Germanic and other tribes that were eventually to constitute its principal population. Some of them, particularly the Goths, had already become Christian before even coming into Western Europe . The form of Christianity they had adopted in the 4th century was, however, by the standards of Christian orthodoxy both Eastern and Western, heretical in its doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore the future of medieval Europe belonged not to the Christian tribes but to the pagan tribes, particularly the Franks, once these had become Christian. The Christianity they accepted after their arrival was not only orthodox on the doctrine of the Trinity but it was allied with the authority of the pope. The coronation by the pope of the Frankish king Charles (Charlemagne) as Roman emperor on Christmas Day 800 clearly symbolized that alliance.

The early medieval papacy

During the centuries that marked the transition from the early to the medieval church Roman Catholicism benefited from the leadership of several outstanding popes; at least two of them--both called "the Great" by historians and "Saint" by the Roman Catholic Church--merit special consideration even in a brief article. Pope Leo I was, even for his pagan contemporaries, the embodiment of the ideal of Romanitas in his resistance to the barbarian conquerors. Twice in the space of a few years he was instrumental in saving Rome , from the Huns in 452, when he achieved their withdrawal to the banks of the Danube , and from the Vandals in 455, when his intercession mitigated their depredations in the city. His aforementioned intervention in the doctrinal controversy among Eastern theologians over the person of Christ and the role played by his Tome of 449 in the formula of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 was part of a concerted campaign to consolidate and extend the jurisdiction of the see of Rome over such remote areas as Gaul, Spain, and North Africa--a jurisdiction officially acknowledged by the Roman emperor. Pope Gregory I (reigned 590-604), more than any pope before or after him, laid the foundations for the Roman Catholicism of the Middle Ages. It was he who selected Augustine of Canterbury to bring about the conversion of England to the Christian faith and the Roman Catholic obedience. He asserted the primacy of his see over the entire church, including the patriarchate of Constantinople , and his diplomatic and political skills secured the independence of the Western Roman Catholic Church both from the Byzantine Empire and from the Germanic tribes occupying Italy . Gregory the Great was also one of the most important patrons of the Benedictine monastic movement, to which he owed a considerable part of his own spiritual upbringing (as his biography of Benedict manifests).

Nevertheless, medieval Roman Catholicism would not have taken the form it did without the conversion of the emperor Constantine in 312. As a consequence of that event Christianity moved in a few decades from an illegal to a legal to a dominant position in the Roman Empire . Henceforth every branch of Christendom had to deal with rulers who claimed to profess its faith; conversely, the character of every branch of Christendom could in considerable measure be described on the basis of its way of relating church and state. For medieval Roman Catholicism the centralization of church authority in the pope made the relation of church and state a persistent issue in the very understanding of the nature of the church itself. As the church approached the conclusion of the first millennium of its history, it had become the legatee of the spiritual, administrative, and intellectual resources of the early centuries.

Most of the preceding analysis pertains to the whole of Christendom. The Eastern Orthodox Church has almost as large a share in the developments of the early centuries as does the Roman Catholic Church, and even Protestantism looks to these centuries for its authentication. The Middle Ages may be defined as the era in which the distinctively Roman Catholic forms and institutions of the church were set. The following chronological account of medieval developments shows how these forms and institutions emerged from the context of the shared history of the early Christian centuries.

The church of the early and High Middle Ages

The concept of Christendom

By the 10th century the religious and cultural community that is called Christendom had come into being. In every European state the religion of the state was Roman Catholicism. Christendom fought back against Islam in the Crusades (see below), which failed to repossess the lost territories but strengthened the unity of Christendom and rendered it conscious of its power.

The Middle Ages saw the rise of the universities and of a "Catholic" learning, sparked, oddly enough, by the transmission of Aristotle through Arab scholars. Scholasticism, the highly formalized philosophical and theological systems developed by the medieval masters, dominated Roman Catholic thought into the 20th century and contributed to the formation of the European intellectual tradition. With the rise of the universities, the threefold level of the ruling classes of Christendom was established; imperium (political authority), sacerdotium (ecclesiastical authority), and studium (intellectual authority). The principle that each of these three was independent of the other two within its sphere of authority had enduring consequences in Europe .

The same period saw the growth of monasticism. One may see in this withdrawal from the world a response to the essential conflict between Christianity and Roman civilization; those who refused to accept the prevailing compromise between the religious and secular spheres could find no place in the world of the early Middle Ages. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of monasticism was that this withdrawal did not take the form of heresy or schism. Monasticism found a way of refusing the compromise without departing from the church that had made the compromise.

A period of decadence

This period also revealed the possibilities of corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. Without the accumulated prestige and the precedents established by the 9th-century popes, the claim to primacy would have had difficulty in surviving the subsequent period of papal decadence. In the 870s the imperial government in Italy declined in influence, and the bishopric of Rome , along with other European bishoprics, was increasingly at the mercy of the local nobility, with spasmodic interventions by the 10th-century German emperors.

German kingship entered upon a new epoch in the 10th century. Under Otto I, the Great, the bishops and greater abbots were drawn into royal service and enriched with estates and counties, for which they did feudal homage. Otto conquered northern Italy and extracted from the pope an imperial coronation (962). Both he and his grandson Otto III regarded the papal territory as part of their realm; they appointed and removed popes and presided at synods. Otto III, an enlightened ruler, appointed as pope his old tutor, Gerbert of Aurillac--who took the name Sylvester II--whose brief reign (999-1003) was a shaft of light between two periods in which Roman factions dominated the papacy.

German "protection," however, had its price. When the emperor Henry III descended into Italy in 1046, deposing three rival claimants to the papacy (Sylvester III, Gregory VI, and Benedict IX) and then appointing his own candidate, Clement II (and later several successors), the Roman Church was in grave danger of becoming an imperial proprietary church, similar to those multitudinous lower churches in Europe whose royal or aristocratic owners regarded them, in accordance with age-old custom, as their own private property to be disposed of at will.

France during this period was fragmented into many feudal domains. This allowed the ecclesiastical hierarchy there a certain independence and cohesion, while the growth of the French reform-oriented monastery at Cluny prepared the country for its message of reform. In England there was a unique intermingling of ecclesiastical and royal administration that, in fact, left the church entirely free. On the fringes of Christendom-- Scandinavia , Scotland , Ireland , and northern Spain --there was little hierarchical development.

Popular Christianity c. 1000

The greater part of central Christendom had by the 11th century been divided into bishops' dioceses and individual parishes. But in the northern and western regions the proliferation of small private churches had not yet been wholly absorbed, and the existence of proprietary and exempt enclaves continued to the Reformation and beyond. The priest, in rural districts usually a villein of the lord (subject to the lord but not to others), cultivated his acres of glebe (revenue lands of the parish church), celebrated mass on Sundays and feasts, recited some of the hours (liturgical or devotional services for use at certain hours of the day, according to the monastic daily schedule), and saw that his flock was baptized, anointed, and buried. Lay people normally received communion four times a year--Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and Assumption (August 15). Auricular (privately heard) confession was widespread but not universal.

Education in the early Middle Ages was at a very low ebb outside the monasteries. Cathedral schools were few, and rural priests who could read Latin easily were rare. Almost all literary work came from the monasteries and in Celtic lands (mainly Ireland ) from the half-monastic Culdees (religious recluses). The larger monasteries, such as Cluny or St. Gall ( Switzerland ), were towns in miniature with a variety of social services; they were also the only reservoirs of learning and artistic skill. On the land, pious practices and beliefs often merged into superstition or "white" magic; and marriage customs, together with the complicated degrees of prohibited relationships, provided endless problems in an epoch when the presence of a priest was not necessary for a valid union. In an age of protective lordship, heavenly patrons were highly valued, and the body or relics of a reputed saint made him the persona, a quasi-living protective presence, of a church or abbey. This aspect of belief explains the popularity of pilgrimages to shrines such as that of the Apostles at Rome , St. James at Santiago de Compostela ( Spain ), the Magi at Cologne ( Germany ), and countless others. Monastic piety was expressed not only in the liturgy but also in "little offices" (liturgical or devotional services) of the Blessed Virgin, of the cross, of all saints, and of the dead; the primary reason for a monastery's existence was intercessory prayer--hence the numerous monastic foundations by royal and noble families.

The first reformers: Leo IX and Nicholas II

Leo IX (reigned 1049-54) was the first pope to impose his authority upon the church in general; he achieved this by a tactic of lengthy tours beyond the Alps , punctuated by synods, in which decrees both dogmatic and disciplinary were passed. He also began the practice of appointing non-Romans to curial (papal administrative) posts and sending legates (papal representatives) to carry out his decrees. A man of great energy and spiritual purpose, he must nevertheless bear the responsibility for a disastrous war that ended in capitulation to the Normans and for choosing the rigid and violent Humbert for the mission to Constantinople in 1054, the year from which the Schism between the churches of the East and West is dated. In the years of confusion that followed, the papal election decree of Nicholas II in 1059 stands out: it gave the right and duty of papal election to the cardinals, tacitly eliminating the king of Germany . The same pope shortly afterward renewed earlier decrees on simony and clerical celibacy but avoided the issue of pope and empire.

The reign of Gregory VII

Hildebrand, who succeeded in 1073 as Gregory VII (reigned 1073-85), proved to be one of the greatest of his line and had more influence than any other person of his time upon the external fabric of the church. In his long struggle with the German king Henry IV he suspended and excommunicated his opponent, pardoned him as penitent at Canossa, Italy (1077), excommunicated him again (and was himself twice deposed), and was finally driven from Rome by Henry to die in exile at Salerno (1085). In opposition to Henry's claim to be the divinely appointed vice regent of Christ over the activities of the church, Gregory presented himself as heir to the unlimited commission of Christ to Peter over all souls (Matthew 16:18-19). Beneath these lofty claims lay the ruler's resistance to losing his ancestral right of appointing to office his most influential subjects (who often also held the richest fiefs) and the pope's insistence on the authority of ancient canon law and papal decrees. If the king's claims were inconsistent with the current conception of a free church, the pope's claim and actions were without precedent within the memory or records of his age.

Even more directly influential was Gregory's centralization of the church. Through the appointment of plenipotentiary legates (representatives with full power to negotiate), the immediate control of diocesan bishops, canonical elections, and Roman and local synods, and the publication of canonical collections and polemical manifestos a web was spun in which every thread led to Rome . The scattered priests and the distant bishops were gradually becoming a class, the clergy, distinct from others and with a law and a loyalty of their own. Although Gregory died a lonely exile, his principles of reform had found reception all over Europe , and the new generation of bishops was Gregorian in sympathy and obedient in practice to papal commands in a way unknown to their predecessors.

The Investiture Conflict (1085-1122)

The efforts of the reformers to make the church independent of lay control inevitably centered upon the appointment of bishops by the ruler of the country or region. In ancient canon law, election of bishops had been by clergy and people; entrance upon office followed lawful consecration. Feudalism and royal claims had transformed election into royal appointment, and admission to office was by means of the bestowal, or investiture, by the lord, of ring and staff (symbols of the Episcopal office), preceded by an act of homage. This savored of simony, both because a layman bestowed a spiritual benefice and because money was often offered or demanded. The conservatives appealed to immemorial practice, accepted and even enjoined by the papacy.

Gregory VII, though asserting the principle of freedom, was in fact tolerant of royal appointments free from simony. Pope Urban II (reigned 1088-99) was equally inconsistent, though in other ways he was a reformer. Pope Paschal II (reigned 1099-1118) at once condemned lay investiture, thus precipitating the crisis in England between Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury , and King Henry I. This and a similar crisis in France were settled by a compromise. Election (by the cathedral chapter) was to be free; lay investiture was waived, but homage before the bestowal of the fief was allowed. Meanwhile Paschal, at odds with the German king Henry V, who was demanding imperial coronation, suddenly offered to renounce all church property held by the king if lay investiture were also abandoned. Henry accepted, but the bishops refused the terms; thereupon the King seized the Pope who, under duress, allowed lay investiture. By this time, however, a large majority of the bishops were Gregorians, and the Pope was persuaded to retract. Eleven years later Pope Gelasius II accepted the Concordat of Worms (1122). According to this agreement free election by ecclesiastics was to be followed by investiture (without staff and ring) and homage to the king.

This ended the strife of 50 years, in which pamphleteers on both sides had revived every kind of claim to supremacy and God-given authority. Nominally a compromise, the concordat was in effect a victory for the monarch, for he could usually control the election. Nevertheless, the war of ideologies had exposed the weakness of the emperor who in the last resort had to admit the spiritual authority of the pope, and the struggle left intact the claim of the church to moderate the whole of society.

The Crusades

 

The authority of the papacy and the relative decline of the empire also became clear in the unforeseen emergence of the Crusades as a major preoccupation of Europe . The papacy had been stirred more than once by the disasters befalling Eastern Christians, such as their defeats by the Seljuq Turks at Manzikert (1071) and Antioch (1085) in Asia Minor , when the Byzantine emperor Alexius I appealed for help to Pope Urban II. Although this appeal may have been the decisive motive for the Crusade, there were obvious advantages in diverting the Normans of Sicily and other turbulent warriors from Europe to wage a sacred war elsewhere. Urban's celebrated call to the Crusade at Clermont (France) in 1095 was unexpectedly effective, placing the pope at the head of a large army of volunteers. Even though the capture of Jerusalem (1099) and the establishment of a Latin kingdom in Palestine were balanced by disasters and quarrels, the papacy had gained greatly in prestige. Though Germany as a whole had remained aloof, a pope had for the first time stood out as the leader of a European endeavor. The Crusades, with their combination of idealism, ambition, heroism, cruelty, and folly are a medieval phenomenon and, as such, outside modern man's experience. But they were part of the religious background for two centuries and added greatly to the anxieties, both spiritual and financial, of the papacy.

 

The church of the late Middle Ages

The Proto-Renaissance

The 12th century, or, more correctly, the century 1050-1150, has been called the first Renaissance. A more accurate title would be the adolescence of Europe , in which higher education, techniques of thought and speech, and a fresh attack upon the old problems of philosophy and theology appeared for the first time in postclassical Europe . All these activities were carried out by clerics and controlled by churchmen. The focus of educational activity was the cathedral school, and the new agent of instruction was the semiprofessional, unattached teacher, such as the French philosopher-theologians Berengarius, Roscelin, and Abelard, though monks such as Lanfranc, Anselm of Canterbury, and Hugh and Richard of the Monastery of St. Victor, Paris, still had a share.

Philosophy was revived through the development of logic and dialectic, which were applied to doctrines of the faith, either as formal exercises, Augustinian speculation, or critical reformulation. From 1100 onward theology, in the modern sense of the word (first used by Abelard), emerged. The teachings of Scripture and of the early Church Fathers on the various doctrines were consolidated and organized in works called Sentences. The first handbook of theology was composed by Abelard. Finally, Peter Lombard (bishop c. 1159) published his Four Books of Sentences, which summarized the Christian faith, using the sic-et-non (yes-and-no) dialectic popularized by Abelard and the canon lawyers, and he also pronounced on vexing questions. His classic manual may be said, in modern terms, to have created the syllabus of theological study for the age that followed. Together with the expansion of logic--brought about by the arrival (through Muslim sources) of what was called the new logic of Aristotle--and the emergence of the university, the Sentences ended the era of literary, humanistic, and monastic culture and opened that of the formal, impersonal, Scholastic age.

Reformed monasticism

The most distinctive feature of the century 1050-1150, according to some scholars, was the appearance and diffusion of reformed monasticism. Beginning with a few relatively small quasi-hermit orders in Italy, such as the Camaldolese and the Vallombrosans, the movement spread to France with the extreme eremitical Grandmontines (founded in 1077) and the eremitical Carthusians (founded in 1084) and became as wide as Christendom with the multiplication of the daughter monasteries of Cîteaux (founded in 1098). The keynote of the Cistercians (based at Cîteaux) was exact observance of the Rule of St. Benedict, with emphasis on simplicity, poverty, and manual work. The addition of lay brothers tapped a large reservoir in an age of economic and demographic expansion and the organization of the order--with annual visitations and a general chapter--ensured good discipline and enabled the order to accommodate itself to the strain of a vast family of houses scattered throughout the Latin Church. The success of Cîteaux owed much to the genius of St. Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux from 1115 to 1153, who was for 30 years the untitled religious leader of Europe . Owing to his influence, other new orders, such as the Premonstratensians, the English Gilbertines, and the military Knights Templars, accepted or imitated Cistercian practices. All these and others had a popularity that in any other age would have seemed miraculous, since they practiced austerity. By the end of the 12th century the saturation point for monasticism had been reached all over Europe, save in a few peripheral regions, and the golden age of monasticism had passed.

The papacy at its height: the 12th and 13th centuries

Gregory VII has often been portrayed as an innovator who lacked both authentic ancestors and true successors. It must be affirmed, nonetheless, that the later history of the papacy, modern as well as medieval, was shaped by what he and his followers did, while the continuing disabilities characteristic of the medieval papacy owed much to what they left undone. Thus, the assimilation of the biblical notion of church office as grounded in love for others to the political notions of office as grounded in power and law--a development in process since the 4th century and earlier--reached a point of no return with Gregory. He functioned within a unified Christian society in which "state" and "church" were no longer conceived as distinct societal entities and was thus impelled by its very dynamic to assert a claim to jurisdictional supremacy even over the Christian emperor. For the next two centuries papal history was characterized by a deepening involvement, direct and indirect, in matters political. As a result there were, under Alexander III (reigned 1159-81) and Innocent IV (reigned 1243-54), renewed clashes with the German emperors and, under Innocent III (reigned 1198-1216), extensive and damaging papal interference in German internal affairs. What alarmed these popes was the fear that imperial policy, by encroaching upon papal territorial independence, also threatened the autonomy of papal action. But with Innocent IV, at least, such a fear was matched by his wish to vindicate, even in temporal matters, the papal claim to supremacy.

Though much of the drama of papal history in this period focused upon these conflicts, the impact that the thoroughgoing politicization of church office had upon the nature and structure of ecclesiastical government and the pope's place in it was of more enduring significance. Here again Gregory's pontificate was something of a watershed. Any lingering belief that the pope's primacy might be regarded primarily as one of honor was now dispelled, and any hesitation about implementing the jurisdictional primacy that had supplanted it now disappeared. The need for papal leadership was so widely accepted that throughout much of the 12th and 13th centuries the demand for it came from the local churches themselves. The outcome was an acceleration in the process that had led, by the late 13th century, to a papal exercise of judicial authority going far beyond the mere acceptance of appeals from lower courts; to an arrogation of the wide-ranging legislative powers manifest in the Decretals of Gregory IX (1234), the first officially promulgated collection of papal laws; and to the system of "papal provisions" (direct papal intervention in the disposal of benefices) that was finally to be completed by Benedict XII in 1335.

Papal leadership in the church was eventually replaced by papal monarchy over the church. Positively, this transformation was evident in the reforming legislation of the fourth Lateran Council (1215). The negative aspect was to become increasingly obvious as the 13th century wore on. It was no accident that what turned out to be the permanent schism between the Latin and Greek churches occurred at a time when Leo IX had embarked upon a more active exercise of the papal primacy. The more his successors succeeded in establishing the fullness of their jurisdictional power (plenitudo potestatis) within the Latin Church, the less chance there was of healing the schism. Nor did papal sponsorship of the Crusades, however great the prestige it had brought to Urban II at the time of the First Crusade, ultimately redound to the benefit of the religious life of the church.

Least justified of all was the administrative centralization attendant upon the exercise of the plenitudo potestatis when it was finally measured against the price that had to be paid--notably the corruption spawned by the stringent financial measures (e.g., sale of indulgences, benefices, etc.) needed to support the growing army of clerical bureaucrats at Rome. And on this point one of the things left undone by the Gregorian reformers proved to be crucial. Their failure to uproot the notion of the "proprietary church" explains both the willingness of later canonists to classify the laws governing the disposition of ecclesiastical benefices under the heading not of public but of private law (law pertaining to the protection of proprietary right) and also the tendency of medieval persons in general to regard ecclesiastical office less as a focus of duty than as a source of income or an object of proprietary right. When the 13th-century popes found that direct papal taxation did not yield funds sufficient to support their bureaucrats, they adopted the practice of "providing" them to benefices all over Europe , for the law itself encouraged them to think of such benefices as sources of much needed revenue. Thus arose the characteristic abuses of pluralism (holding more than one benefice) and nonresidence against which church reformers from the mid-13th century on railed in vain and the blame for which they were soon to lay at the door of a papacy that had finally come to be regarded as an obstacle rather than a spur to reform.

The age of faith

Below the level of the papacy, however, a spiritual revival had taken place. The 12th century, perhaps more than any other, was an age of faith in the sense that all men, good or bad, pious or worldly, were fundamentally believers, and religious causes and interests (crusades, monastic foundations, building churches, and assisting education and charities) made up much of the life of the literate and administrative classes. Lay religion was, as never before or since, permeated with monastic ideals. Prodigious numbers of the populace became monks, knights (members of military-religious orders), laborers (lay brothers), and lay people who followed monastic rules, and the favorite lay devotions were short versions of monastic offices. Almost every church--whether cathedral, monastic, parochial, or private--was built or rebuilt between 1050 and 1200. Almost all baronial families founded a monastery, and townspeople not only paid for their cathedrals but often supplied materials and labor.

The pontificate of Innocent III saw the appearance of a totally new form of religious life, that of the penniless or mendicant friar. Francis of Assisi (1181/82-1226), a personality of magnetic originality who believed that he was called by Christ to preach poverty, had no thought of founding an order; but his message and his genius exactly suited his age, and the vast concourse of his followers gradually changed from a homeless, penniless band of preachers and missionaries in Italy into an international body governed by a single general and devoted to the service of the papacy. Dominic of Spain (c. 1170-1221), on the other hand, with a vocation to preach doctrine to heretics and with followers keeping a canonical rule, changed his existing institute into one of friars. Gradually the two groups became similar: international, articulated groups of men bound to an order but not to a community. They took the customary monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience but dropped the vow of stabilitas (stability) in favor of mobility, and they were governed by elected superiors under a supreme chapter and general. Unpredictably, first the Dominicans and then the Franciscans entered and soon dominated the theological schools of Paris and Oxford . Two similar bodies joined them, the Carmelites and Austin Friars, and for almost a century the friars were the theologians, the preachers, and the confessors of the Christian people.

The rise of heresy

Before the middle of the 12th century heresy on a large scale was unknown in the West. The early dissenters were often radical reformers such as the Italian canon Arnold of Brescia (d. 1155), an outspoken critic of clerical wealth and corruption. Then there appeared in northern Italy and southern France the sect, Eastern and Manichaean in origin, later known as the Cathari (the "pure," from the ascetic lives of their leaders). This sect had an organization and liturgical life that imitated Christianity; but it overtly denied many key doctrines, such as the incarnation of Christ, and was dualistic in that it regarded matter and the human body as evil and the spirit as good. Its emphasis on poverty and its genuine solidarity of mutual assistance appealed to many by contrast with the luxury and wealth of the Catholic hierarchy. A little later another type of dissent appeared with the Waldenses (founded by a French reformer named Valdes) of the Rhône Valley and Piedmont . These groups, basically and professedly orthodox, together with the reform-minded Humiliati of Lombardy ( Italy ), practiced poverty, Scripture reading, and preaching. The Cathari were proscribed as heretics by the papacy and were attacked by a crusade and later by the Inquisition, and they gradually disappeared. The Humiliati remained orthodox as a quasi-religious order. The Waldenses, largely through mismanagement by the bishops, drifted away from the church and remained throughout the Middle Ages and after a non-Catholic body. These heretical movements, together with numerous legal disputes between monks and bishops, and bishops and metropolitans (ecclesiastical provincial leaders), imparted a sense of decline and peril to the last decades of the 12th century, which were notably barren of saints and great men. The church was too rich and too set in its hierarchical ways to meet the demands of larger populations and economic stresses, especially in urban conditions. Reformers demanded a spirit of poverty and a fresh wind of spirituality.

 

The golden age of Scholasticism

The 13th century was an age of fresh endeavor and splendid maturity in the realms of thought, theology, and art. Philosophy, hitherto almost exclusively devoted to logic and dialectic, had stagnated in the later 12th century. It was revived by the gradual arrival from Spain and Sicily of translations of the whole corpus of Aristotle's writings, often accompanied by Arabic and Jewish commentaries and treatises. Aristotle, especially in his Metaphysics and Ethics, opened the whole field of philosophy to the schools. After a short period of hesitation his works were used by theologians, at first eclectically and then systematically. The great German philosopher and theologian Albert of Cologne (known as Albertus Magnus) and his more famous pupil Thomas Aquinas rethought the system of Aristotle in Christian idiom, pouring into it a fair dose of Neoplatonism from St. Augustine . Aquinas, in some 25 years of work, set theology firmly on a philosophical foundation. The Italian theologian Bonaventure (1217-74), in an even shorter career, renewed the traditional approach of Augustine and the Victorine monks regarding theology as the guide of the soul to the vision of God. At the same time masters in the arts school of Paris used Aristotelian thought to present a naturalistic system that clashed with orthodox teaching. The condemnations that ensued in 1272 and 1277, coinciding with the deaths of Bonaventure and Aquinas (1274), included some Thomist theses. This apparent victory of conservatism ended the long era in which Greek thought was regarded as right reason and foreshadowed the age of individual systems and the divorce of philosophy from theology.

Ecclesiastical life in the 13th century

The coming of the friars and the legislation of the fourth Lateran Council in Rome (1215)--including requirements of annual confession and communion and a reduction in number of the impediments to marriage--saved the lower classes for the church and silenced many of the critics of the establishment. Well-trained and extremely mobile, the friars were able to reach and hold regions and peoples that the static monks and clergy had failed to move. The 13th century in Europe as a whole was a time of pastoral endeavor in which bishops and university-trained clergy perfected the diocesan and parish organization and reformed many abuses. It was an age of active and spiritual bishops, many of them masters in theology and themselves friars. There also were controversies. The early friars served and were welcomed by the bishops and parish clergy, but clashes soon occurred; the papacy gave the friars exemptions and privileges so wide that the basic rights of the secular clergy were threatened. An academic war of pamphlets led to an attack on the vocation and work of the friars. A compromise was finally arranged by Boniface VIII (reigned 1294-1303) that was just and workable; under a revised form it lasted for two centuries. The bishop could refuse friars entry into his diocese, but once they had been admitted, the friars were free from his control.

Troubles of the church c. 1300

The last quarter of the 13th century was a time of growing bitterness and harshness. The golden age of Scholastic theology had come to an abrupt end. The troubles of the Franciscans--divided into those who stood for the absolute poverty prescribed by the rule and testament of Francis (the Spirituals) and those who accepted papal relaxation and exemptions (the Conventuals)--were a running sore for 60 years, vexing the papacy and infecting the whole church. The Inquisition (the ecclesiastical tribunal instituted in 1229 to deal with heretics) and the papal court incurred odium for their inhumane and inequitable treatment of those suspected of heresy.

Another instance of hardening sentiment is seen in the treatment of the Jews. Between 800 and 1200 the Jewish population had increased significantly in Lombardy , Provence , and the towns of the river valleys of the Rhône, the Rhine , and the Danube . They entered England only after the Norman Conquest (1066.) Apart from heretics such as the Cathari they were the only "foreign body" in Western Christendom and as such attracted the special notice of the ignorant and brutal. There were shocking massacres of Jews when the Crusades were preached, especially in the Rhineland , and after various instances of panic on the part of Christians, Jews were accused of sacrilege and child murder. These, however, were all mob movements, resisted by kings and bishops. Later the Jews suffered from suspicions that were aroused by the Cathari. The fourth Lateran Council gave the Jews a distinguishing badge and forbade their employment by governments. This established once and for all the ghetto system in large towns but did not at first impair Jewish prosperity. Later on the growing class of Christian merchants became jealous and hostile, and in 1290 and 1306 the Jews were expelled from England and France . This swelled their numbers in Germany , thenceforward called "the classic land of Jewish martyrdom." Groups remained in Italy , and the Roman colony was never disturbed. In Spain toleration gave way to widespread persecution and conversion under duress, which left a heritage of sorrow for the future.

The "Babylonian Captivity"

In 1303, despite its resounding claims and its complex governmental machinery, the prestige of the papacy had fallen so low that it was possible for mercenaries in French pay and under French leadership to harass and humiliate the pope with impunity; Boniface VIII, at Anagni was arrested in his own family (Caetani) palace. The aftermath of this "outrage of Anagni" was the "Babylonian Captivity"--the desertion of Rome by the popes and their long residence (1309-77) at Avignon , Fr.--so called after the 70 years of Jewish exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC.

The disputes of the Franciscans, which had crystallized finally upon the teaching of the Spiritual Franciscans that their absolute poverty was that of Christ, were harshly settled (1322) by the irascible octogenarian John XXII (reigned 1316-34). A group of Franciscans, however, led by Michael of Cesena, general of the order, and William of Ockham, became bitter and formidable critics of the papacy. With them for a time was the Italian political philosopher Marsilius of Padua, a Paris master who, in his Defensor pacis (1324), outlined a secular state in which the church was a government department, the papacy and episcopate human institutions, and the spiritual sanctions of religion relegated to a position of honorable nonentity. Between them, Ockham and Marsilius used almost all the arguments that have ever been devised against the papacy. Condemned more than once, Marsilius had little immediate effect or influence, but during the Great Schism of the papacy (1378-1417) and later, in the 16th century, he and Ockham had their turn.

With the papacy "in captivity" and Nominalism capturing the universities, Europe and the church entered upon an epoch of disasters, of which the Hundred Years' War between England and France (began 1337) and the Black Death (1348-49) were the most clearly seen by contemporaries. For all this, Christian life in the first half of the 14th century changed little. Many of the largest parish churches of Europe date from this time, as do many popular devotions, prayers, hymns, and carols; also, many hospitals and almshouses were founded. Though the relations between the friars and the secular clergy had been canonically settled, friction continued. The friars came under wider criticism for worldliness and immorality, but they remained popular. Though heresy and antisacerdotal (anticlerical) sentiment became almost endemic in the cities of Belgium and the Netherlands , the 14th century produced some of the greatest mystical writers of the church's history: Johann Tauler and Jan van Ruysbroeck in the north, Catherine of Siena in Italy , and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing and Walter Hilton in England .

The missionary enterprise during the period 1000-1350 involved three principal fields of work: Spain, central Europe , and Asia . In Spain the absorption of the Mozarabic Church (the Arabic term for Spanish Christians under Moorish rule) and the reestablishment of Catholic practices was accomplished by Spaniards who followed the crusade ideal and by volunteers, partly monastic, from beyond the Pyrenees . In central Europe , Pope Sylvester II (reigned 999-1003) had founded the ecclesiastical hierarchies of Hungary and Poland . The region between these countries and Germany was gradually conquered and Christianized by neighboring bishops and German missionaries. The Baltic lands were won by a mixture of preaching and the swords of the Teutonic Knights (a military monastic order) between 1100 and 1400. Purer in motive and magnificent in design were the efforts of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the Middle and Far East . Both orders preached to the Muslims, and early in the 13th century the Franciscans were in Georgia and Persia and the Dominicans in Syria . In mid-century the Franciscans penetrated Mongolia and established a church in China with an archbishop and 10 suffragan bishops, and under John XXII there was a hierarchy in Persia . All this might well have endured, had not the last of the great invasions (1383), under the Turkic conqueror Timur, or Tamerlane, broken all links between Europe and the East.

From the late Middle Ages to the Reformation

The most decisive--and the most traumatic--era in the entire history of Roman Catholicism was the period from the middle of the 14th to the middle of the 16th century. This was the time when Protestantism, through its definitive break with Roman Catholicism, arose to take its place on the Christian map. It was as well the period during which the Roman Catholic Church, as an entity distinct from other "branches" of Christendom, even of Western Christendom, came into being. There is therefore much to be said for the thesis that Roman Catholicism in the form in which it is known today is, in many fundamental ways, a product of the Reformation.

Late medieval reform: the Great Western Schism and conciliarism

Reformation of the church and the papacy was what the advocates of a return of the papacy from Avignon to Rome had in mind. In the pope's absence, both the ecclesiastical and the territorial authority of the papacy had deteriorated within Italy itself, and the moral and spiritual authority of the papacy was in jeopardy throughout Christian Europe. This condition, so many believed, would continue and even worsen so long as the papacy remained in Avignon . Pope Urban V (reigned 1362-70) attempted to reestablish the papacy in Rome in 1367, but after a stay of only three years he returned to Avignon , only to die soon after his return. It was finally Gregory XI (reigned 1370-78) who, in 1377, permanently moved the papal headquarters back to Rome ; but he died only a few months later. The immediate result of the return to Rome was the very opposite of the restoration of confidence and credibility that, for differing reasons, the prophetic voices and the political calculations of the 14th century had predicted would come from it. For not only had the church during its residence in Avignon come under the political and religious domination of France, which resisted the repatriation of the papacy to Italy, but the weakness of the papacy in Avignon had enabled the college of cardinals and the papal bureaucracy to fill the administrative vacuum by developing a pattern of government that can only be described as oligarchic. The powers that the cardinals had succeeded in appropriating were difficult for the centralized authority of the papacy, whether in Avignon or in Rome , to reclaim for itself.

Meeting in Rome for the first time in nearly a century, the college of cardinals elected Pope Urban VI (reigned 1378-89). But his desire to reassert the monarchical powers of the papacy, as well as his evident mental illness, prompted the cardinals to renege on that choice later in the same year. In his stead they elected Clement VII (reigned 1378-94), who soon thereafter took up residence back in Avignon . (This Clement VII is officially listed as an antipope, and the name was later taken by another pope, Clement VII [reigned 1523-34].) The years from 1378 to 1417 count as the time of the Great Western Schism, so identified to distinguish it from the no less great East-West Schism. The Great Western Schism divided the loyalties of Western Christendom between two popes, each of whom excommunicated the other and all of the other's followers. In the conflict between them, kingdoms, dioceses, religious orders, parishes, even families were split; and the pretensions of a church that claimed to be, as the Nicene Creed said, "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" were seen as a mockery, since the empirical church--whichever it was--was in fact none of these. No one could be absolutely certain about the validity of the sacraments if the integrity and very unity of the church, and therefore of the episcopate, and therefore of the priesthood, were in doubt. Speaking for a broad consensus, the University of Paris proposed three alternatives for resolving the crisis of the institution, which had now become, for laity and clergy alike, a crisis of faith: resignation by both popes, with the election of a single unchallenged successor; adjudication of the dispute between the two popes by some independent tribunal; or appeal to an ecumenical council, which would function as a supreme court with jurisdiction over both claimants.

The third of these, the summoning of a general church council, seemed to the theologians at Paris and to many others to be the preferable route. The first of several reform councils was held at Pisa in 1409 to deal with the schism and with the many other problems of discipline and doctrine that had arisen. Pisa elected Alexander V (reigned 1409-10) as pope in place of both incumbents. But, because neither of the other two would acknowledge the authority of the council and resign, the immediate result was that for a few years, as one cardinal said, the church was treated to "a simulacrum of the Holy Trinity"--the spectacle of three popes. That spectacle and the Great Western Schism itself came to an end through the work of the Council of Constance (1414-18). In addition to the settlement of the question of papal legitimacy, Constance enacted legislation on a variety of reform issues. Among others it stipulated that thenceforth, as a matter of church law, the church council was not to be seen as an expedient to be resorted to in an emergency but as a standing legislative body, a kind of ecclesiastical senate that should meet at brief and regular intervals. The decree of the Council of Constance justified this provision on the principle that the authority of the ecumenical council as the true representative of the entire church was superior to that of the pope, who could not make a similar claim for himself apart from the council. In oversimplified form, this elevation of conciliar over papal authority may be taken as the central tenet of the late medieval movement called conciliarism.

This action also helps to account for the ambiguous position of the Council of Constance in the history of later Roman Catholic canon law, with opinions of canonists and historians differing to this day about which sessions of the council are entitled to the status of a true ecumenical council. An ambiguity even more complex attended the next of the reform councils, which used to be known in history books as the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence but is now sometimes divided into two councils, that of Basel and that of Ferrara-Florence, with the legitimacy of the Council of Basel contested in whole or at least in part. The council opened at Basel in 1431, was transferred by the pope to Ferrara in 1438 (although a substantial portion of its membership remained in Basel , continued discussing and legislating, and was eventually excommunicated as schismatic), moved to Florence in 1439, and held its closing sessions at Rome in 1443-45. While still at Basel , the council reaffirmed the conciliarist teaching of Constance about the superiority of the council to the pope.

Both the Council of Constance and the Council of Florence have additional importance in the history of late medieval reform in Roman Catholicism: Constance for dealing with the problem of heresy within the Western Church , Florence for addressing itself to the relation of Western Roman Catholicism to Eastern Christendom.

Jan Hus

A major item on the agenda of the Council of Constance was the challenge posed to the authority of contending parties, council as well as pope, by the teachings of the Czech preacher and reformer Jan Hus (c. 1372-1415) in Prague . In every century of the Middle Ages there had been calls for reform in the church, and in times of moral corruption or of administrative chaos such calls inevitably became more intense. But the Hussite movement proved to be more than just another protest. It was animated by a definition of the church, rooted in the Augustinian tradition that drew a sharp distinction, if not quite a disjunction, between institutional Christendom as headed by the pope and the true church as headed by Christ. The true church consisted only of those who had been predestined for membership by God and who were true believers and saints; no hypocrite, even one in the highest ecclesiastical position, could belong to that true church.

Despite the accusations of his critics, it seems clear that Hus did not draw from this premise the radical conclusion that sacraments administered by a hypocritical priest or bishop or pope were invalid in themselves; the priestly office and the sacraments retained their objective validity. A prominent element of the Hussite demands, however, was a call for the administration of Holy Communion to the laity "under both kinds--bread and wine--[sub utraque specie]," that is, they demanded the restoration of the chalice; the followers of Hus emblazoned a chalice on their banners. The Hussite program of reform coalesced with the rising nationalism of the Czech people, many of whom saw in the Roman Catholic Church a symbol of Italian and German domination.

In 1411 Hus was excommunicated by Pope John XXIII (reigned 1410-15), now identified as an antipope, but in keeping with the widespread spirit of conciliarism he appealed his case to an ecumenical council of the church. Therefore he was summoned to appear before the Council of Constance and was promised a safe-conduct by Sigismund (1368-1437), the Holy Roman emperor. Once at the council, however, Hus was arrested and incarcerated. He was tried for heresy (particularly because of his doctrine of the church) and condemned, and on July 6, 1415 , he was put to death. His main prosecutors were also the leaders of the reform movement at the Council of Constance, notably Jean de Gerson (1363-1429), chancellor of the University of Paris . The death of Hus was not, however, the end of his movement. A principal difference between Hus and most other medieval reformers was that while they and their followers remained (though sometimes just barely) within the boundaries of Roman Catholicism, the outcome of his agitation was in fact the founding of a new church, one that continued to exist outside the structure of Roman Catholicism. In this respect, as well as in various specific doctrinal and moral teachings, he anticipated the development of the Protestant Reformation a century later, and his 16th-century disciples saw that development as a vindication of his and their position.

Efforts to heal the East-West Schism

At Basel , and then especially at Florence , there were extensive negotiations and discussions over the newly revived proposals for effecting a reunion of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Western Roman Catholicism. Earlier attempts at such a reunion, for example at the Council of Lyon in 1274, had failed. But now the time seemed ripe on both sides for a new effort at negotiation and reconciliation. Christian Constantinople was under increasing threat from the Turks and wanted Western support, moral as well as military. Leaders of the West, regardless of party, saw the prospect of achieving a long-sought rapprochement with the East as a means of restoring the prestige of both the papacy and the ecumenical council, which could then be seen as having resolved both of the major schisms of Christian history--the Great Western Schism and the East-West Schism--in the space of one generation. The patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph II (c. 1360-1439), and the Byzantine emperor, John VIII Palaeologus (1391-1448), both came in person to the Council of Florence for the theological negotiations pointing toward reunion of the two churches.

In the course of the doctrinal discussions between Greeks and Latins all the major points of difference that had historically separated the two churches received detailed attention. The Greeks acknowledged the primacy of the pope, and the West acknowledged the right of the East to ordain married men into the priesthood. The chief sticking point, as always, was the doctrine of the Filioque: Did the Holy Spirit in the Trinity proceed from the Father only, as the East taught, or "from the Father and the Son [ex Patre Filioque]," as the Western addition to the text of the Nicene Creed affirmed? At stake here was not only the dogmatic Trinitarian question itself, over which the disputes between the Latins and the Greeks had been raging since the 9th century, but the authority of one part of the church, viz., the Roman Catholic Church, to make an alteration in the text of an ecumenical creed through unilateral action, that is, without the sanction of a truly ecumenical council representing the entire church. Almost all those present at Florence came to an agreement that the dispute over the Filioque was chiefly one of words, not of content, since it could be amply documented that both versions of the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit had substantial attestation from the teachings of the Church Fathers in both churches. Agreement on the Filioque and on all other points at issue led to the adoption of a document of union, Laetentur Coeli, promulgated on July 6, 1439 (and still commemorated in a plaque on the wall of the Duomo in Florence ). But the reunion came too late for both sides. It was repudiated in the East, both at Constantinople and in the other Orthodox churches, notably the Church of Russia ; and it was soon evident that in the West the internal problems of the church and the papacy had not been laid to rest by this temporary victory. Once again, as so many times throughout Christian history, the reunion of the Eastern and the Western Churches proved to have been a dead letter and an unattainable goal.

Roman Catholicism on the eve of the Reformation

The decline of Scholastic theology

The transition from the Middle Ages to the Reformation was a gradual one, but--at least in hindsight--its direction seems to have become clear already in the 14th and especially in the 15th century. One development that was both a cause and a result of that transition was the decline of Scholastic theology. As practiced, albeit with great divergence of opinion on many issues, by its leading expositors, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, Scholasticism had been the systematization of the Roman Catholic understanding of the relation between the claims of human reason and the authority of divine revelation. To that end it had made use of philosophy, particularly of the newly available works of Aristotle, to describe the natural potentialities of human ways to truth in order then to enthrone Christian theology as "the queen of the sciences."

With good reason have historians seen in that schema of reason and revelation the counterpart in the life of the mind to the schema of church and society set forth, earlier in the century of Aquinas and Bonaventure, by Pope Innocent III (reigned 1198-1216). These historians draw a similar correlation between the waning prestige of the papacy in the late Middle Ages and the shattering of the Scholastic synthesis by the work of such philosophical theologians as William of Ockham. Some of the theological descendants of Bonaventure, less confident of the powers of human reason than he, elevated the primacy of faith and the authority of Scripture to an almost exclusive position as a way to truth, while some of the philosophical descendants of Aquinas appeared, at least to their critics, to be expanding the realm of what was knowable by natural means to the point that the primacy of faith was threatened by an all-engulfing rationalism. All the varieties of Scholastic teaching, moreover, were under attack from those leaders of late medieval Roman Catholic piety who contended that the crisis of faith and of the church called for a return to the authentic religious experience of the primitive church as set forth in the New Testament.

Roman Catholicism and Renaissance humanism

At least some of that skepticism arose within the intellectual and literary milieu of Renaissance humanism, whose relation to Roman Catholicism was far more complex than has often been supposed. The efforts of 19th-century historians of the Renaissance--many of whom were themselves under the influence of both anticlericalism and skepticism--to interpret humanism as a neopaganism in revolt against traditional Christian beliefs have been fundamentally recast by modern scholarship. Not only were many of the popes during the 15th and 16th centuries themselves devotees and patrons of Renaissance thought and art, but a Renaissance figure like Nicholas of Cusa, arguably the greatest mind in Christendom East or West during the 15th century, was at the same time a metaphysician of astonishing boldness and creativity, an ecumenical theologian looking for points of contact not only with other Christians but even with Islam, and a reform cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.

Thus in the light of recent study the humanists emerge as Christians who were working simultaneously for the reform of the church and of literary culture. To achieve those ends, they urged a return to the basics of Christian civilization, that is, to the Greek and Latin classics and to the monuments of biblical and patristic literature. Lorenzo Valla in Italy and then Desiderius Erasmus in the North are by no means isolated cases among the humanists for this blending of Christianity and classical culture. Erasmus ridiculed the Scholastics for their philosophical abstractions and for their bad Latin, and in his anonymous satire Julius exclusus e coelis he lampooned the effort of Pope Julius II (reigned 1503-13) to get into heaven. Erasmus also edited the writings of most of the major Church Fathers in both Latin and Greek. His edition of the Greek New Testament, the Novum instrumentum of 1516, was intended to stimulate a renewal of authentic Christian faith and life, which he himself called "the philosophy of Christ," in a corrupt Roman Catholicism. Significantly, this merciless critic of the current state of Roman Catholicism nevertheless found it impossible to affiliate himself with the Protestant Reformation when it arose, and he died a faithful, if unappreciated, member of the Roman Catholic Church.

The age of Reformation and Counter-Reformation

The specter of many national churches supplanting a unitary Catholic Church became a grim reality during the age of the Reformation. What neither heresy nor schism had been able to do before--to divide Western Christendom permanently and irreversibly--was done by a movement that confessed a loyalty to the orthodox creeds of Christendom and professed abhorrence for schism. By the time the Reformation was over, Roman Catholicism had become something different from what it had been in the early centuries or even in the later Middle Ages.

Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation

Whatever its nonreligious causes may have been, the Protestant Reformation arose within Roman Catholicism; there both its positive accomplishments and its negative effects had their roots. The standing of the church within the political order and the class structure of western Europe had been irrevocably altered in the course of the later Middle Ages. Thus the most extravagant claims put forward for the political authority of the church and the papacy, as formulated by Pope Boniface VIII (reigned 1294-1303), had come just at the time when such authority was in fact rapidly declining. By the time Protestantism arose to challenge the spiritual authority of the papacy, therefore, there was no longer any way to invoke that political authority against the challenge. The medieval class structure, too, had undergone fundamental and drastic changes with the rise of the bourgeoisie throughout western Europe; it is not a coincidence that in northern Europe and Britain the middle class was to become the principal bulwark of the Protestant opposition to Roman Catholicism. The traditional Roman Catholic prohibition of any lending of money at interest as "usury," the monastic glorification of poverty as an ascetic ideal, and the Roman Catholic system of holidays as times when no work was to be done were all seen by the rising merchant class as obstacles to financial development.

Accompanying these sociopolitical forces in the crisis of late medieval Roman Catholicism were spiritual and theological factors that also helped to bring on the Protestant Reformation. By the end of the 15th century there was a widely-held impression that the resources for church reform within Roman Catholicism had been tried and found wanting: the papacy refused to reform itself, the councils had not succeeded in bringing about lasting change, and the professional theologians were more interested in scholastic debates than in the nurture of genuine Christian faith and life. Such sentiments were often oversimplified and exaggerated, but their very currency made them a potent influence even when they were mistaken (and they were not always mistaken). The financial corruption and pagan immorality within Roman Catholicism, even at the highest levels, reminded critics of "the abomination of desolation" spoken of by the prophet Daniel, and nothing short of a thoroughgoing "reformation in head and members [in capite et membris]" seemed to be called for.

These demands were in themselves nothing new, but the Protestant Reformation took place when they coincided with, and found dramatic expression in, the highly personal struggle of one medieval Roman Catholic. Martin Luther asked an essentially medieval question: "How do I obtain a God who is merciful to me?" He also tried a medieval answer to that question by becoming a monk and by subjecting himself to fasting and discipline--but all to no avail. The answer that he eventually did find, the conviction that God was merciful not because of anything that the sinner could do but because of a freely given grace that was received by faith alone (the doctrine of justification by faith), was not utterly without precedent in the Roman Catholic theological tradition; but in the form in which Luther stated it there appeared to be a fundamental threat to Catholic teaching and sacramental life. And in his treatise The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, issued in 1520, Luther denounced the entire system of medieval Christendom as an unwarranted human invention foisted on the church.

Although Luther in his opposition to the practice of selling indulgences was unsparing in his attacks upon the moral, financial, and administrative abuses within Roman Catholicism, using his mastery of the German language to denounce them, he insisted throughout his life that the primary object of his critique was not the life but the doctrine of the church, not the corruption of the ecclesiastical structure but the distortion of the gospel. The late medieval mass was "a dragon's tail," not because it was liturgically unsound but because the medieval definition of the mass as a sacrifice offered by the church to God--not only, as Luther believed, as a means of grace granted by God to the church--jeopardized the uniqueness of the unrepeatable sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. The cult of the Virgin Mary and of the saints diminished the office of Christ as the sole mediator between God and the human race. Thus the pope was the Antichrist because he represented and enforced a substitute religion in which the true church, the bride of Christ, had been replaced by--and identified with--an external juridical institution that laid claim to the obedience due to God himself. When, after repeated warnings, Luther refused such obedience, he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1521.

Until his excommunication Luther had gone on regarding himself as a loyal Roman Catholic and had appealed "from a poorly informed Pope to a Pope who ought to be better informed." He had, moreover, retained an orthodox Roman Catholic perspective on most of the corpus of Christian doctrine, not only the Trinity and the two natures in the person of Christ but baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Many of the other Protestant Reformers who arose during the 16th century were considerably less conservative in their doctrinal stance, distancing themselves from Luther's position no less than from the Roman Catholic one. Thus Luther's Swiss opponent, Ulrich Zwingli, lumped Luther's sacramental teaching with the medieval one, and Luther in turn exclaimed: "Better to hold with the papists than with you!" John Calvin was considerably more moderate than Zwingli, but both sacramentally and liturgically he broke with the Roman Catholic tradition. The Anglican Reformation strove to retain the historical episcopate and, particularly under Queen Elizabeth I, steered a middle course, liturgically and even doctrinally, between Roman Catholicism and continental Protestantism.

The polemical Roman Catholic accusation--which the mainline Reformers vigorously denied--that these various species of conservative Protestantism, with their orthodox dogmas and quasi-Catholic forms, were a pretext for the eventual rejection of most of traditional Christianity, seemed to be confirmed with the emergence of the radical Reformation. The Anabaptists, as their name indicated, were known for their practice of "rebaptizing" those who had received the sacrament of baptism as infants; this was, at its foundation, a redefinition of the nature of the church, which they saw not as the institution allied with the state and embracing good and wicked members but as the community of true believers who had accepted the cost of Christian discipleship by a free personal decision. Although the Anabaptists, in their doctrines of God and Christ, retained the historical orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed while rejecting the orthodox doctrines of church and sacraments, those Protestants who went on to repudiate orthodox Trinitarianism as part of their Reformation claimed to be carrying out, more consistently than either Luther and Calvin or the Anabaptists had done, the full implications of the rejection of Roman Catholicism, which they all had in common.

The challenge of the Protestant Reformation became also the occasion for a resurgent Roman Catholicism to clarify and to reaffirm Roman Catholic principles; that endeavor had, in one sense, never been absent from the life and teaching of the church, but it came out now with new force. As the varieties of Protestantism proliferated, the apologists for Roman Catholicism pointed to the Protestant principle of the right of the private interpretation of Scripture as the source of this confusion. Against the Protestant elevation of the Scripture to the position of sole authority, they emphasized that Scripture and church tradition were inseparable and always had been. Pressing that point further, they denounced justification by faith alone and other cherished Protestant teachings as novelties without grounding in authentic church tradition. And they warned that the doctrine of "faith alone, without works" as taught by Luther would sever the moral nerve and remove all incentive for holy living.

Yet these negative reactions to Protestantism were not by any means the only, perhaps not even the primary, form of participation by Roman Catholicism in the history of the Reformation. The emergence of the Protestant phenomenon did not exhaust the reformatory impulse within Roman Catholicism, nor can it be seen as the sole inspiration for Catholic reform. Rather, to a degree that has usually been overlooked by Protestant historians and that has often been ignored even by Roman Catholic historians, there was a distinct historical movement in the 16th century that can only be identified as the Roman Catholic Reformation.

The Roman Catholic Reformation

The Council of Trent

The most important single event in that movement was almost certainly the Council of Trent, which met intermittently in 25 sessions between 1545 and 1563. The bitter experiences of the late medieval papacy with the conciliarism of the 15th century made the popes of the 16th century wary of any so-called reform council, for which many were clamoring. After several false starts, however, the council was finally summoned, and it opened on Dec. 13, 1545 . The legislation of the Council of Trent enacted the formal (and apparently final) Roman Catholic reply to the doctrinal challenges of the Protestant Reformation and thus represents the official adjudication of many questions about which there had been continuing ambiguity throughout the early church and the Middle Ages. The either/or doctrines of the Protestant Reformers--justification by faith alone, the authority of Scripture alone--were anathematized, in the name of a both/and doctrine of justification by faith and works on the basis of the authority of Scripture and tradition; and the privileged standing of the Latin Vulgate was reaffirmed, against Protestant insistence upon the original Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture.

No less important for the development of modern Roman Catholicism, however, was the legislation of Trent aimed at reforming--and at re-forming--the internal life and discipline of the church. Two of its most far-reaching provisions were the requirement that every diocese provide for the proper education of its future clergy in seminaries under church auspices and the requirement that the clergy and especially the bishops should give more attention to the task of preaching. The financial abuses that had been so flagrant in the church at all levels were brought under control, and stricter rules were set requiring the residency of bishops in their dioceses. In place of the liturgical chaos that had prevailed, the council laid down specific prescriptions about the form of the mass and liturgical music. What emerged from the Council of Trent, therefore, was a chastened but consolidated church and papacy, the Roman Catholicism of modern history.

New religious orders

Some of the outcome, and much of the enforcement, of the Council of Trent was in the hands of the newly established religious orders, above all of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Unlike the Benedictine monks or the Franciscan and Dominican friars, the Jesuits were specifically dedicated to the task of reconstructing church life and teaching in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. They thus came to be called the "shock troops of the Counter-Reformation." In pursuit of that mission they became especially active in scholarship and education, above all in the education of the nobility; through their pupils they sometimes wielded as great an influence in the affairs of the state as in those of the church. Although they were by no means the only religious order in the foreign missions of the church, their responsibility for regaining outside of Europe the power and territory that the church had lost in Europe as a consequence of the Protestant Reformation made them the leading force in the Christianization of newly discovered lands in the Western Hemisphere, Asia, and the islands of the sea. At the beginning of the 17th century, for example, they established in Paraguay a virtually autonomous Jesuit colony.

In addition to the Jesuits, other Roman Catholic religious orders, too, owed their origin to the age of the Reformation. The Capuchin friars renewed the ideals of the Franciscan order, and by their missions both within and beyond the historical boundaries of Christendom they furthered the revival of Roman Catholicism. The Theatines were founded by Gaetano da Thiene and the bishop of Chieti (Theate), Gian Pietro Carafa, who went on to become Pope Paul IV (reigned 1555-59); both through the program of the order and in his pontificate, the correction of abuses in the church assumed primary importance. Despite the attacks of the Reformers on the institutions and even the ideals of monasticism, it was in considerable measure a reformed monasticism that carried out the program of the Roman Catholic Reformation.

The Counter-Reformation

Recognition of the scope and success of the indigenous movements for reform within 16th-century Roman Catholicism, therefore, has rendered obsolete the practice of certain earlier historians, who lumped all of these movements under the heading "Counter-Reformation," as though only Protestantism (or, perhaps, only the historian's own version of Protestantism) had the right to the title of "the Reformation"; hence the use here of the term Roman Catholic Reformation. Yet that does not deny a proper meaning of "Counter-Reformation" as part of the larger phenomenon, for counteracting the effects of Protestantism was part of the program of the Council of Trent, the Society of Jesus, and the papacy during the second half of the 16th century and beyond.

The Counter-Reformation was launched wherever there had been a Protestant Reformation, but it met with strikingly varied degrees of success. Most of the "German lands" in which Luther had worked remained Protestant after his death in 1546, but major territories, above all Bavaria and Austria , had been regained for Roman Catholicism by the time the 16th century was over. The Huguenot Wars between 1562 and 1598 regained France for the Roman Catholic cause, although the Edict of Nantes of 1598 granted a limited toleration to the Protestants; it was revoked in 1685. Perhaps the most complete victory for the Counter-Reformation was the restoration of Roman Catholic domination in Poland and in Hussite Bohemia.

The victory of the Habsburg Counter-Reformation there and the defeat of Czech Protestantism were a consequence of the Battle of White Mountain of 1620 in the early years of the Thirty Years' War. Often called the first modern war, this series of conflicts wrought devastation in the populations of central Europe, Roman Catholic at least as much as Protestant. The conclusion of the war in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 meant for Roman Catholicism the de facto acceptance of the religious pluralism that had come out of the Reformation: Protestantism, both Lutheran and Calvinist, obtained a legal standing alongside Roman Catholicism in what had previously been regarded as "Catholic Europe." In a war that had presumably begun as a "religious war" aimed at the resolution of the confessional impasse brought about by the Reformation, the formation of a military alliance between Cardinal Richelieu of France and the Lutheran king of Sweden, Gustav II Adolf, was a symbol of a process of the secularization of politics in which the old antitheses, including finally the very antithesis between Roman Catholic and Protestant, no longer seemed as relevant as they had once been.

Post-Reformation conditions

The signing of the peace in 1648 may have meant that the era of the Reformation had ended, but for those who remained loyal to the see of Rome it meant that what had been thought of as a temporary disturbance would now be a permanent condition. The church still claimed to be the only true church of Jesus Christ on earth, but, in the affairs of men and of nations, it had to live with the fact of its being one church among several. The Roman Catholic Church was also obliged to deal with the nations and national states of the modern era one by one. To understand the history of modern Roman Catholicism, therefore, it is necessary to identify trends that went beyond geographic boundaries and to consider trends within particular states or regions--such as France , Germany , the New World , or the mission field--only as illustrations of tendencies that permeated the entire life of the church. Most of the development of Roman Catholicism since 1648 makes sense only in the light of this changed situation.

The results of the change became evident in the papacy of the 17th and 18th centuries. On June 6, 1622 , Gregory XV (1621-23) created the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, hence "propaganda"). Its responsibility was, and still is, the organization and direction of the missions of the church to the non-Christian world as well as the administration of the affairs of the church in areas that do not have an ordinary ecclesiastical government (for example, the United States as late as 1908). It has therefore played an important role in the efforts to restore Roman Catholicism in Protestant and, to some degree, in Eastern Orthodox territories.

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