feudalism and the church - Midwest Theological Forum

Collapse, Corruption, And Reform
In Europe And The Church
This period contained some of the worst scandals in the history of the
Church. In response, saintly priests, monks, and nuns brought about some
of the most important reforms in Christian history.
The Carolingian World Collapses
 Louis the Pious, who succeeded his father, Charlemagne, in 814, lacked
the political talent and strength of his father. Upon his death, he made
a disastrous decision of dividing his kingdom among his three sons.
 His sons eventually signed a treaty dividing the empire. Charles was
given the western kingdom including France. Lothar was given the low
countries and northern Italy, and Louis was given the kingdom
comprised of Germany.
 Simultaneously, Christian Europe came under attack from Saracens
(Muslims) from the South, Vikings from the North, and Slavs and
Magyars from the East.
 The papacy suffered from competing interests between emperors,
Church leaders, and Roman nobility.
 Except for Pope St. Nicholas I (858-867), the Popes of this period were
either too weak to resist the emperor and Roman nobility, or too
corrupt to try. This led to a series of short papacies punctuated by
occasional murders.
 One example of such abuse was Pope Formosus, whose corpse was
exhumed by his successor and placed on trial. Found guilty, the corpse
was thrown into the Tiber.
 Another abuse was the eighteen year old Pope John XII whose papacy
was marked by hunting and banqueting as he cultivated new vices, such
as rampant simony.
 In the midst of such corruption there were popes, such as Pope St.
Nicholas, who tried to stem the corruption, and many holy monks and
priests who fought and often suffered for attempting reform in the
 As the Carolingian empire collapsed, a new system of organization
emerged in the West.
 The empire was split into about fifty duchies strong enough to defend
those living in their domain. Even smaller communities grew up
around towns or monasteries. These communities built castles or
fortifications and usually allied themselves around one Lord.
 This system, known as feudalism, was a contractual system between the
king and his vassals (wealthy, landowning lords), and the rest of the
 In return for the lord’s military protection and use of his land, his
vassals would pay him in labor or services. Some vassals would have to
serve in his army.
 A feudal kingdom was a vast pyramid of such arrangements with many
levels of lord and vassal, with the king at the top.
 The Church, as a landowner, was part of the feudal structure. This
system increased the interaction between Church and secular rulers,
and also increased the instances of abuse on the part of secular
authorities toward the Church.
 In exchange for protecting the Church, some secular rulers demanded
the right to make episcopal appointments.
 Both Charlemagne and Eastern emperors had done this in the past,
but they were held in check by a strong central Church.
 However, now that the Pope was under the thumb of the Roman
nobility, some secular rulers took it upon themselves to be the
ultimate authority of the Church in their jurisdiction.
 This secular interference led to simony and nepotism.
 Nepotism is the appointment of family members to positions of
authority, and simony is the selling of ecclesiastical offices.
 It was not uncommon for a lord to sell a bishopric to the highest
bidder, or appoint his own son as bishop.
 When reform came to the Church, these were two of the primary
issues that had to be addressed.
 The Vikings or Norsemen originated in Scandinavia, and wreaked
havoc on Europe for three centuries.
 They were small bands led by local chieftains and were skilled on both
land and sea.
 Those based in Norway concentrated their attacks on England, Ireland,
and Scotland, while those based in Denmark hit nearly every major
European city.
 They occupied the mouth of every major river from which they could
strike out, and soon learned that monasteries were a good source of
 The combination of Viking attacks and internal monastic decay led to a
weakening of the monasteries’ influence on society.
 Much of their learning, both religious and secular was forgotten.
Cluny and Monastic Reform
 In the midst of corruption in the Church there sprung a great monastic
 The monastic reform in Cluny emphasized the ideal of a universal
Church within a political framework, and the dignity of the human
 Cluny gave voice to the widespread desire for reform present within the
majority of clergy and people.
 William the Pious, a strong supporter for reform, donated land in
Cluny for the founding of a new monastery.
 St. Berno, the first abbot, settled at Cluny with twelve companions, and
together they instituted a renewed commitment to the rule of St.
 As their reputation grew, they were recognized as a center of holiness.
 By the death of St. Berno, the Cluniac model had been adopted by five
or six of the neighboring monasteries.
 St. Odo, the first successor, spread the influence of Cluny throughout
southern France and even into Italy.
 Unlike other monasteries, all Cluniac monasteries had only one abbot,
that of Cluny. This prevented abuses, as it kept individual abbots from
using their monasteries for their own advantage.
 Cluniac monks reinstituted a strict adherence to the Benedictine rule.
 They also placed a greater emphasis on the spiritual life of the
individual monk.
 They lengthened the divine office and liturgy, with the goal of an
active, continuous prayer, and a close imitation of the life of Christ.
 Through asceticism and self-mastery, the monks could keep their hearts
on Christ and were better equipped to bear his cross, obtaining the
grace necessary for the conversion of others.
 It was precisely this prayer and self-denial that revitalized and energized
the Church.
 The daily schedule followed by the monks of Cluny allocated a great
portion of time to religious ceremony. Mass and other rites (especially
the Divine office) would require the monks to spend almost the entire
day in prayer.
 As little manual labor as possible was required to allow the monks to
spend more time in prayer.
 Tasks were delegated to lay servants, although in some monasteries, the
monks did most of the work.
 Each monk was required to spend some time at the principal
monastery in Cluny in order to learn first hand the Cluniac spirituality.
 By the year 1100 more than 1450 houses and 10,000 monks were under
the rule of Cluny.
 Many bishops and secular rulers also supported their reform.
 The Pope granted the privilegium to Cluny, making it directly answerable
to the Pope, thus freeing it from the influence of kings, bishops, and
 Several of the monks also became leading churchmen.
 Its influence extended into the twelfth century, and in the thirteenth it
reformed itself under the Cistercian model, which had surpassed Cluny
in its influence.
PART III The New Temporal Orders
The Ottoman Empire (Holy Roman Empire)
No official central authority existed from the end of the Carolingian line
until Otto I (AD 962), who formed the Holy Roman Empire. The
Ottonian line came to fill the role that the Carolingian line had formerly
provided: offering support and temporal protection for the Church in
exchange for the recognition of its emperors. In time, the Ottonian line
became involved in the Controversy of lay investiture.
OTTO I, THE GREAT (936-973)
 The Ottonian line exercised influence over the Church in Germany in three
different ways:
 First, through lay investiture (i.e., the appointment of bishops and abbots by
secular rulers);
 Second, by assertion of royal authority over proprietary churches, which gave
the landowner on which the church stood the right to make ecclesiastical
 Third, by the appropriation of ecclesiastical funds for the royal
 The wealth and power of Germany grew until Otto I was crowned emperor by
the Pope in 962.
 This Imperial title brought Otto I up to the level of Charlemagne.
 Otto III spent the majority of his reign in Rome with Gerbert of Aurillac,
the greatest Latin scholar of his day.
 Gerbert had studied philosophy and mathematics in Spain where the
Muslims had preserved the ancient writings.
 In time Otto III raised Gerbert to the See of St. Peter as Pope Sylvester
II. Together they hoped to build a new empire based in Rome that would
incorporate all of Europe, and Otto soon helped in bringing the Poles
into the empire.
 Although Otto died soon after, their cooperation would cause serious
difficulties for the Church as their joint efforts led to the problem of
temporal interference with ecclesiastic affairs.
 St. Henry II, who succeeded Otto III as emperor, abandoned Otto’s
plans of reinstituting the Holy Roman Empire.
 An ardent Catholic and true reformer, he supported the Cluny monks.
 Like all secular rulers, he was involved in ecclesiastic affairs, but with
grace and dignity.
 Both he and his wife, St. Cunegond, were canonized.
 His heir, Henry III, also used wisdom in dealing with Church affairs. In
a dispute in which there were three claimants to the papacy, Henry III,
with the full authority of the synod, chose Suidgar, a man of spotless
character, to be the next Pope, Clement II.
When the Carolingian line ended in 987, Hugh Capet,
with the blessing of the Church, became the king of France.
The Capetian line would rule France for many centuries.
 In 911, a band of Norseman led by the warrior-king Rollo began to
transform Normandy into a viable kingdom. By 980, they had
transformed this backward part of Europe into a formidable power.
 The Normans imposed vassalage upon the existing nobility, and created
allegiances with the monasteries who helped raise the cultural bar.
 The French Capetian king, Henry I, tried to bring the Norman duke,
William the Conqueror, under his rule, but failed.
 Later, in 1066, William the Conqueror headed the last successful
invasion of England.
 Lanfranc was brought to Normandy by the Viking dukes, where he
entered the monastery at Bec.
 He became a famed educator and prior (his most famous student was St.
Anselm), and under William the Conqueror, Lanfranc became the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
 A strong administrator, he transformed the monastery at Bec from an
impoverished monastery into one of the leading centers of learning in its
 Although his primary allegiance was with Rome, he was able to balance
his duties with both the Church and the state in a remarkable way.
 A reformer, he enforced clerical celibacy and curbed simony, although
he tended to side with secular rulers on the issue of lay investiture.
 William I of England also avoided any conflict with the Pope, and
although he appointed bishops, they were such good and holy men,
that Rome could not disagree.
The Lay Investiture Controversies
Lay investiture dealt with the question: Who should appoint bishops, secular or
religious leaders? Although the issue seems quite simple, it became much more
complex due to the lack of a clear delineation of powers. Bishops and monks
exercised secular authority, and secular rulers had been appointing bishops since
the days of Charlemagne. Although lay investiture had sometimes worked to
the benefit of the Church, overall it had a disastrous effect. Reforming Popes
knew that they had to regain power over the appointment of bishops if they
hoped to reform the corruption in the episcopacy.
 In the eleventh century, the papacy instituted a number of reforms
based on those at Cluny.
 Pope St. Gregory VII was at the center of the reform, aided by several
remarkable men.
 At the funeral of Pope Alexander II in 1073, the crowd is said to have
shouted enthusiastically for Hildebrand as Pope. Although he initially
resisted, he relented and became Pope Gregory VII.
 He was blessed with a penetrating mind, an iron will, much energy, and
relentless perseverance in the face of adversity.
 Within a year of becoming Pope, Gregory VII issued the Dictatus Papae. This
document stated that certain powers rested with the Pope alone. These included:
 The power to convene and ratify a council;
 The power to define tenets of the faith;
 The power to appoint, transfer, and remove bishops from office.
 St. Gregory went further and claimed the right to remove temporal rulers.
 He levied stiff penalties against the practice of simony, and against immoral
practices among the clergy.
 He also sought to codify the laws of the Church.
 While there was little new in what he was saying, the difference with St. Gregory
was that he meant to enforce it. This angered the Holy Roman Emperor and the
 Pope St. Gregory had taken advantage of the papacy’s practice of crowning
the emperor in order to say that the Pope had final say on matters of
temporal rule.
 In defiance of the papal decree, Henry appointed the bishop of Milan.
Pope St. Gregory asked Henry to refrain from carrying out the
appointment. When Henry declined, Pope St. Gregory excommunicated
Henry and deposed him as emperor, releasing his subjects from his rule.
 Henry realized that his only solution was to obtain the Pope’s forgiveness.
He set out for Canossa, Italy, where the Pope was staying.
 He stood barefoot in the snow for three days dressed in sackcloth
before Pope St. Gregory agreed to grant him absolution and restore his
royal status.
 Within a year, Henry had rejected Pope St. Gregory’s authority and had
installed an anti-pope. Pope St. Gregory had to turn to the Normans
for protection. In the end, he had to flee Rome, and died in southern
Italy, in exile.
 The Concordat of Worms (1122) officially ended the investiture matter
with a new understanding between the Church and the Holy Roman
 First, the Concordat left spiritual investiture to the Church alone, and
temporal investiture to civil authorities.
 The emperor renounced all claims to invest bishops with ring and
crosier, and was to permit free elections of bishops.
 The practice of simony was condemned.
 The emperor had, in effect, veto power, as they had the right to invest
bishops with temporal power. If they disagreed with the appointment,
they could refuse such investment, thereby indirectly forcing the
Church to choose another candidate.
 Henry II was the most powerful of the medieval English monarchs.
 The English Church had developed its own courts and laws separate of
the state, which Henry wished to place under the authority of the
 To accomplish this, he chose his trusted friend, St. Thomas Becket,
who had been his chancellor, to be the Archbishop of Canterbury.
 As Archbishop, St. Thomas undertook a life of prayer and penance,
and resisted the king’s efforts to overstep his boundaries in violating
canon law.
 In the Constitutions of Clarendon, Henry II attempted to gain control
over the revenues of episcopal sees and abbeys, and to control the
election of abbots and bishops.
 St. Thomas Becket stood almost alone in England in his absolute
opposition to the Constitutions of Clarendon, which the Pope also
refused to recognize.
 St. Thomas was forced to flee to France.
 Fearing excommunication, Henry feigned reconciliation with St.
 However, soon after, out of desperation, asked if anyone could rid him
of this priest.
 St. Thomas Becket was killed by a band of knights in 1170.
 Henry’s involvement in the murder is uncertain, but devotion to St.
Thomas Becket sprang up immediately across Europe.
 Disgraced, Henry did penance and gave up his program of control
over the Church.
When the German Hohenstaufen emperors tried to reclaim the
Carolingian empire by extending their authority to the Italian
Pennisula, the Church feared that it would lose its independent status
and become a pawn of the German Emperors. From this emerged the
greatest struggle of the Investiture conflict.
 Frederick I, Barbarossa, was the most powerful ruler of the Holy Roman
Empire, who thought his vocation was to revive the Roman Empire.
 He felt that his authority had been bestowed by God and therefore
extended over the Church, even to the extent of appointing the Bishop of
 The Pope threatened Frederick with excommunication and the Italian
nobles also saw him as a threat, but Frederick continued appointing bishops
in violation of the Concordat of Worms.
 Five times he attempted to invade Italy, but disease among his troops, the
fierce resistance of the Italian city-states, the loyalty of many German
princes and bishops to the Pope, and the steadfastness of the Popes
themselves prevented his success.
 Eventually, Frederick would reconcile with the Church before departing on
a Crusade that would end his life.
INNOCENT III (CA. 1160-1216)
AND FREDERICK II (1194-1250)
 The pontificate of Innocent III brought the Church to the height of its
medieval power.
 He immediately showed his understanding of the role of the papacy by
choosing he title “Vicar of Christ,” rather than the usual “Vicar of St.
 He never claimed absolute right over temporal matters, but did exercise
absolute authority over spiritual matters.
 He sought to maintain a balance of power throughout Europe with
himself as the arbitrator.
INNOCENT III (CA. 1160-1216)
AND FREDERICK II (1194-1250)
 When Phillip of France divorced his wife and attempted to marry another
woman, the Pope placed the entire country under interdict, until he returned to
his lawful wife.
 When King John of England tried to control the election of the Archbishop of
Canterbury, John was excommunicated and England placed under interdict.
King John relented making England a vassal of Innocent III. Eventually, he
was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.
 When Frederick I died, Innocent used his influence to make Frederick II the
new emperor, who promised not to try to reunify Germany and Italy, and to
lead a crusade.
 However, Frederick would soon renege on his promises, invading Italy, forcing
the Pope from Rome, becoming friendly with Muslims, and maintaining a
 Pope Gregory IX not only excommunicated Frederick, but anyone who
recognized him as emperor. Frederick eventually had to capitulate, repenting
and dying clothed in the Cistercian habit.
PART V The Cistercians and Carthusians
 The Cistercians, or White Monks, were founded by St. Robert of
Molesme, a Cluniac monk in 1098.
 They followed the Benedictine rule, but with a special emphasis on
austerities, farming, and simplicity of lifestyle. Their white habits were
to emphasize poverty and austerity.
 They were especially important to the conversion of the Slavic tribes of
Poland, Bohemia, and eastern Germany.
 St. Bernard joined the Cistercians in 1113. Known as St. Bernard of
Clairvaux, he is considered the second founder of the Cistercians.
 It was under his leadership that the Cistercians grew dramatically and
their influence spread.
 When he entered the monastery, he brought 30 companions, four of
whom were his brothers.
 He became the first abbot at Clairvaux, whose monastery was austere.
The walls were barren with small windows, and the beds were planks of
wood. The monks ate nothing but bread and boiled leaves and roots
with some salt and oil.
 From a noble family, he had a classical education, and as a monk,
focused his studies on Scriptures and the Church Fathers. He wrote
many works to encourage others, and his central theme was always the
divine life communicated to the world in the person of Jesus Christ.
 Profoundly humble, he refused all promotions, including the
episcopacy and papacy.
 The middle of the twelfth century is called “The Age of Bernard”, and
he counseled rulers, bishops, and Popes, including Pope Bl. Eugene III,
the first Pope who was a Cistercian.
 In his theological debates with Abelard, who advocated certain
theological errors, he left the renowned thinker with no response.
 The Carthusians were founded by St. Bruno at Chartreuse in France.
 Although a priest, St. Bruno served the state as a chancellor.
 Always remaining a model priest, he declined the chance to become a
 Instead, he left his position and went with two friends to live as hermits
in the mountains, where they lived a life of isolation, severe
mortification, and perpetual silence.
 The monastery they founded was unique for its day. The monks did
not live together, but each had his own cell around the cloister. St.
Bruno wanted to bring the ascetic life of a desert hermit back into the
context of the monastery.
 They did not become as numerous as other monasteries, but their
example of the ascetic life helped to revive Christian devotion to
simplicity and prayer.
The period from Charlemagne’s death in the ninth century until the Concordat
at Worms in the twelfth century represents an unstable time in the history of
the Church. The splintering of political unity, threats of external invasion,
and conflicts between religious and civil authority all added to this instability.
Unfortunately, the Church’s monastic and diocesan holdings, tied to the feudal
order, made corruption almost inevitable. Abuses from simony and nepotism,
and weakening of fidelity, celibacy, and piety among the clergy caused problems.
However, reformers in the papacy and monastic life led they way of reform that
would eventually result in the golden age of the High Middle Ages.
The End
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