Popular Piety

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An increase in expression of popular piety became prevalent at the end of the 11th century during the call for the first crusade by Pope Urban II. Popular piety refers to seeking a closer more personal relationship with God that was based off of emotion and love. This emotive Christianity reflected a shift in the attitudes of medieval society that were continuing to change due to other historical factors happening from the 12th through 15th centuries. The growth of popular piety, the ongoing threat of heresy, the Black Death, and the decline of papal leadership all influenced how medieval people understood their place in Christianity, and how they expressed those feelings. This paper will examine how these developments influenced medieval piety, and will demonstrate how those influences are reflected in several medieval sources. The growth in the expression of popular piety resulted from an emotionless and more rational way of viewing Christianity. Instead of basing their Christian views on logic and reason, more people started to base their religion off of faith and emotion. They wanted more individuality and to seek a more personal relationship with God through acts of prayer and devotion. For example, this is reflected when people start to look within themselves and examine their feelings of intention and contrition. Rather than viewing Christ as a judge, they began to view him as a loving figure. People used an emotional focus of devotion by looking within and being introspective to evaluate their feelings on God. Bernard of Clairvaux said that it did not matter if you were a believer or a non-believer but everyone was “bound to love God for the sake of God” (Bernard of Clairvaux 156). He challenged people to look within themselves and evaluate their relationship with God because in his view, people are bound to God because he “gave Himself to us for no desert of ours” (Bernard of Clairvaux 156). His words reflect the growing attitude that people should seek...
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