To What Extend Was the Papacy Successful in Asserting Its Dominance over the Western Church?

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Emily KinghornMedieval Europe: Jan Vandeburie Word Count: 1,906 To what extent was the papacy successful in asserting its dominance over the Western Church? The extent to which the papacy asserted dominance over the Western Church has been greatly disputed amongst historians. Certain historians would argue that there is little to suggest that the pope had control from inside other than papal reform to prevent unrest and, would argue that in fact the real conflict was between him and individual states and that he had to deal with multiple reforms and claims that failed. However, there are Historians who would suggest that, in fact, the papacy was successful in asserting its authority over the Western Church due to the religious significance of the Pope’s position which on occasions caused individual kings to submit to his power. Furthermore, it can be argued that although the Pope was the figure head of the Church and had power, he had to rely on the support and co-operation of Kings if he was to be able to keep control over the Western Church and therefore it could be said that he was not as dominant as one would think. The Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle, and is the figure head of the Catholic Faith and as part of this role had a great deal of authority in Catholic doctrine. With this position of power the Pope was able to create and annul laws and decrees at will, which would then be followed by individual kings and states. One very important example of this was the Magna Carta created in 1215 which Pope Innocent III publicly condemned. Clanchy states that Innocent used the Magna Carta to highlight his authority as Pope, “To emphasize the authority of papal monarchy Innocent cited the text from Jeremiah.” From this, one can see how being the Pope means that there are certains aspects in which are automatically under papal control, such as in the case of creating or abolishing laws helping to assure dominance over the church. As well as this, reforms were proof of the papacy’s ability as it highlighted how it could freely and at its own accord change aspects of the way the church was ran. For example, the introduction of the papal election not only reinforces that the Pope has control over the church but also increased his authority. Introduced by Gregory VII, the Papal election was reformed meaning that after the Pope dies the Cardinals, “shall afterwards call in to themselves the cardinal clergy; and then the remaining clergy and the people shall approach and consent to the new election,” meaning that the Pope will have the full support and backing of the Cardinals. Reforms of the church not only increased the Papacy’s power but also showed its ability to keep the church in line whilst showing how it can evolve whilst remaining dominant. Furthermore, the it can be said that the Papacy must be successful in asserting its dominance as according to historians such as R.W. Southern the medieval church was essentially a state, “In the extensive sense the medieval church was a state” as it had all the characteristics of a state such as laws, taxes, and a “great administrative machine” headed by the Pope as its ruler. The control that the church had over the people’s lives was total, in that the Papacy controlled every aspect. For example peasants would work for free on church land, and paid 10% of whatever earnings they had for the year to the church itself. This can only be enforced by strict rules and laws, which are followed out by all and also supported by the rulers of states, who then, come under the command of the Papacy. So, to achieve this “state like church”, the Papacy must have been strong and dominant, otherwise it would not have worked effectively. Another way in which the Papacy was successful in asserting its dominance over the Western Church was that the Kings often submitted to its will over affairs, and it is not possible to control states churches without being able to...
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