Christianity in Medievel Times
The history of mankind has been plagued with death and violence. Power seems to be the goal for all man. Since the beginning of the age of man, there had to exist a form of government and control to somewhat subdue the human race. Power was the method of choice for most ruling men of glory. Religion when fueled by superstition, which took hold thousands of years ago was indeed a great instrument for power and control of mankind. Christianity in its prime during the Middle Ages or medieval period gave the papacy and its popes such a means of power and self-glorification to control and subdue the surrounding communities even in times of war. Such was the case in the Christian crusades. The Christian Catholic Church played an enormous role in rule and government as it did in marriage and family. It went as far as to incorporate the practices and traditions of the pagans for the purpose of conversion, changing life as we know it even to this day. The reality is that no matter a person may go through in life, we carrying our beliefs and thoughts with us wherever we go and we don’t simply let go of what we believe in. The same is evident in the period of the Middle Ages. The question at hand is which is truly mightier the word or the sword? Wars, violence, and forceful oppression may break down a people’s optimistic outlook temporarily but as can be seen in the Middle Ages people never lose hope and prove without a doubt that the beliefs, thoughts and ideas carried a bigger influence on the development of the period in time we call the Middle Ages. Moral values and traditions almost always begin in the home and then spread out to the community. This was one form of control that Christianity had on its followers. This same principal or concept was observed in one of the teachings of Jesus Christ that stated “treat others as you would want to be treated.” It is clear that the Christian Catholic church had a strong moral hold on marriage and family.
Even when the violence of war was all around the influence of a person’s faith and religion gave new meaning to the marriage. It was what a person believed in that gave made binding a man and a woman into a type of contract between the two. It was expected that the women would submit to the man’s authority as head of the household. The man was also expected to be true and loyal to his wife although that was not always the case. Marriage was also instituted for the purpose of reproduction. The marriage was expected to yield children. As all things are naked in God’s eyes so everything is exposed to the church. Nothing was kept secret. Even the marriage bed was to be blessed and observed by the Christian priest because once again it too had a purpose. The church would now set its own rule for the governance of a marriage and would have “its lawyers also set the legal terms of marriage.”
With the Christian church having such control on the marriage and family unit it had an even bigger role to play in politics. In the early political crusades as one might call it, consider the role of the Catholic papacy. Popes not only had authority over the church but also had the means of controlling armies in Rome. They could bless both the king and his men. In the calling of such political campaigns, “popes feared that the spread and dominance of heresy in certain parts of Europe might undermine the Catholic faith” so much that, “when authorizing crusades against their political enemies, papal anxiety was focused on the survival and growth of the papal states.” The Pope was seen as not only a spiritual leader but the head of all Christian societies during the Middle Ages. Nicholas II who ruled from 1058-1061 took particular interest in the power and influence of the papacy. During this time period he “recognized that the Normans had come to stay in southern Italy and had deliberately south them out as protectors of the papacy…the papal states, therefore allowed popes to assert themselves as temporal lords in their own right, with all that entailed in terms of revenues and land.” These terms not only increased the pope’s power over providence but also gave the papacy stronger “bargaining power with temporal princes and magnates, who respected them as powerful lords as well as spiritual leaders.” The Middle Ages were a period of strong decisive action where military might have had the final say so. However , more true was the influence of the Catholic Church. The papacy was having more and more of an influence in political and military factors. To ensure that this political power would remain with the papacy, popes had to be seen as legitimate enforcers and rulers capable of taking command of armies and carry out acts of war. One important thing note is that when the Hundred Year started no kings were involved. It is also important to note that England won all the great battles, but it was France that ultimately won the war.
Often popes used the so called theory of the Two Swords as an instrument against their enemies during the crusades. This theory connected both spiritual and temporal power propounded by Pope Gelasius I during the fifth century and in the twelfth century by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard believed that Gelasian decree meant that the temporal sword was wielded for the good of the Catholic Church and translated therefore in this way:
Both swords, that is, the spiritual and the material, belong to the Church, however, the latter is to be drawn for the Church and the former by the Church. The Spiritual Sword should be drawn by the hand of the priest; the material sword by the hand of the knight, but clearly at the bidding of the priest and at the command of the emperor.
Once again the influence of religious beliefs here was eminent in medieval times. Calls for crusading were prominent in the latter stages which gave Christian believers hope of attaining salvation with their personal efforts in the crusades. The cross became the official symbol of Christianity and therefore was used in leading the Christian crusaders into battle and also used by the priest and bishops to bless those going into battle. The impact that thoughts and ideas had on the Middle Ages is obvious. Spiritual and religious beliefs were dominant over physical force and oppression because people kept there faith and believed in a higher authority. There were wars and power changed hands from the Pope to the King. Popes were not only seen as divine but also held on high and viewed as a force to be reckoned with in terms of military power and bargaining strategy. The marriage bond and the family unit were all controlled and examined by the church. These concepts and ancient philosophies have survived and been carried through the centuries. The Christian church has survived because of its ability to both control and adapt. It has adapted by incorporating other rituals and traditions, especially those of pagan origin into its own as can clearly be seen in such holidays as Christmas and Easter. It control can also be seen its ability to bless and manipulate those in power. Christianity today has an ever growing following with over five hundred denominations and it main political and religious figures are still seen as divine by most Christian believers.
Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Confucious,” last modified March 31, 2013, accessed October 1, 2013, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/confucius/
Lansing, Carol and Edward D. English, Editors. A Companion to the Medieval World Malden: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009,
Rist, Rebecca. The Papacy and Crusading in Europe, 1198-1245New York: Contnuum Books, 2009
Norman Housley, Fighting for the Cross: Crusading to the Holy Land (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008, 53-55.
Bernard of Clairvaux, “De consideratione,” PL 182, cols 776-7.See Bernard of Clairvaux Five Books on Consideration. Advice to the Pope, trans. J.D. Anderson and E. T. Kennan (Kalamazoo, MI. 197), Book 4, 3. 7. P. 118.
Luke 6:31, Holy Bible
Bibliography: Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Confucious,” last modified March 31, 2013, accessed October 1, 2013, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/confucius/ Lansing, Carol and Edward D. English, Editors. A Companion to the Medieval World Malden: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009, Rist, Rebecca. The Papacy and Crusading in Europe, 1198-1245New York: Contnuum Books, 2009 Norman Housley, Fighting for the Cross: Crusading to the Holy Land (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008, 53-55. Bernard of Clairvaux, “De consideratione,” PL 182, cols 776-7.See Bernard of Clairvaux Five Books on Consideration. Advice to the Pope, trans. J.D. Anderson and E. T. Kennan (Kalamazoo, MI. 197), Book 4, 3. 7. P. 118. Luke 6:31, Holy Bible