Church or Government

The Power of the Church: Excommunication
The Church had the power of excommunication. Excommunication
meant one would be banned from the Church, and would no longer be
permitted to receive the sacrament of Communion. Beginning in the
Roman period, bishops or groups of bishops would excommunicate
people who were doing things the Church was opposed to.
There were serious consequences: First, if one was
excommunicated, one could not get his or her soul clean for God and
would not go to Heaven after the Last Judgment. Second, no
Christian was allowed to talk to anyone who was excommunicated,
give them food, rent them an apartment, or in any way have anything
to do with them. Even the person’s family was not supposed to
associate with him or her. Most people were Christians, and this
could be life-threatening for ordinary people.
Some famous examples of men who were excommunicated are the
Roman Emperor Theodosius, King Henry II of England, Emperor
Henry IV of Germany, and King John of England.
The Power of the Church: Interdiction
The Pope used the threat of excommunication to wield power
over political rulers. For example, a disobedient king’s quarrel
with a Pope might result in excommunication. This meant the
king would be denied salvation. Excommunication also freed all
the king’s vassals from their duties to him. If an excommunicated
king continued to disobey the Pope, the Pope could then place
an interdiction on the king’s lands.
The word interdict usually refers to an ecclesiastical penalty
in the Roman Catholic Church. The most common usage is
a penalty which suspends all public worship and withdraws
the church's sacraments in a territory or country.
An interdiction on a kingdom would cause all the churches to be closed, and almost all the
sacraments not to be allowed (i.e. preventing marriage, confession, Anointing of the Sick, and the
The Power of the Church: Interdiction
Certain offenses incur an automatic interdiction
Physical violence against a bishop
Attempting to possess authority or participate in
the celebration of the Eucharist in a religious
ceremony in Mass while being a deacon or lay
Hearing and/or attempting to justify confessions
while being a deacon or lay person
Falsely accusing a priest of soliciting adultery
while in confession
Attempting to marry while having a lasting
eternity vow of chastity
The Power of the Church
After the Fall of Rome the Church replaces the structure of Roman
government as the centralized power of Medieval Society. The
Church Hierarchy that developed from the Fall of Rome remained in
place and church authorities exercised power on the local level.
During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church remained the single
most powerful organization in Western Europe.
Reasons for the Church’s Power
The Role of Faith
People were very religious.
They believed the Church
had the power to send a
person to Heaven or Hell.
Most Europeans felt united
by their common faith.
Power and Wealth
Many nobles left land to the
Church when they died, hoping
to gain entry into heaven. The
Church became Europe’s largest
landowner. Church wealth also
increased through tithes.
The Church was the main
center of learning. Church
officials were usually the only
people who could read, since
they were the most educated
Church or Government?
A tithe (from Old English teogotha "tenth")
is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a
voluntary contribution or as a tax or levy,
usually to support a Christian religious
In the Middle Ages, a tithe was a tax paid
to the Church that was equivalent to 10%
of a person’s income. It could be paid in
money, but more often was paid in crops.
Today, tithes (or tithing) are normally
voluntary and paid in cash, checks, or
stocks, whereas historically tithes could be
paid in kind, such as agricultural products.
There are still European countries today
that allow some churches to assess a
mandatory tithe which is enforced by law.
A tithe barn was a type of barn used in England
in the Middle Ages for storing the tithes provided
to the Church officials.
Church or Government?
The Church created a system of justice to guide people’s
conduct in the place of a centralized government. Canon law,
or law of the Church, governed the actions of all medieval
Christians, from peasants to kings, in matters such as marriage
and religious practices. The Church also established courts to
try people accused of violating canon law.
In order to consolidate power, Pope Gregory VII banned the
practice of lay investiture, a ceremony in which kings and nobles
appointed Church officials. When the Holy Roman Emperor of the
time protested, he was excommunicated, and eventually asked the
Pope for forgiveness.
Church or Government?
Church Hierarchy
The Catholic clergy is organized in a strict, sometimes overlapping
Pope: Head of the church, he is based at the Vatican. The pope is
infallible in defining matters of faith and morals.
Cardinal: Appointed by the pope, 178 cardinals worldwide,
including 13 in the U.S., make up the College of Cardinals. As a
body, it advises the pope and, on his death, elects a new pope.
Archbishop: An archbishop is a bishop of a main or metropolitan
diocese, also called an archdiocese. A cardinal can concurrently
hold the title. The U.S. has 45 archbishops.
Bishop: A bishop, like a priest, is ordained to this station. He is a
teacher of church doctrine, a priest of sacred worship, and a
minister of church government. The U.S. has 290 active bishops,
194 head dioceses.
Priest: An ordained minister who can administer most of the
sacraments, including the Eucharist, baptism, and marriage. He can
be with a particular religious order or committed to serving a
Deacon: A transitional deacon is a seminarian studying for the
priesthood. A permanent deacon can be married and assists a
priest by performing some of the sacraments.
Gothic Architecture
The style of architecture during the Middle Ages was
called Gothic.
For nearly four hundred years Gothic style dominated the
architecture of Western Europe. Gothic architects
designed town halls, royal palaces, courthouses and
hospitals, they fortified cities and castles to defend lands
against invasion, and they created bridges and hostelries
to facilitate communication. But it was in the service of
the Church that the Gothic style attained its most
meaningful expression, for the Church was the major
builder of the Middle Ages, providing the widest scope for
the development of architectural ideas and calling forth
the best talents.
The considerable size of many Gothic monuments meant
that they were expensive to construct, and size
sometimes also delayed the completion of the work.
Gothic Architecture
The size of the Cathedrals required the use of a “Flying Buttress”. A
buttress is a support -- usually brick or stone -- built against a wall to
support or reinforce it. A flying buttress (shown below) is a freestanding buttress attached to the main structure by an arch or a
half-arch. Used in great Gothic, the flying buttress allowed master
builders to create taller and visually lighter structures that reached
toward the heavens.
Gothic Architecture
Another feature of Gothic architecture was stained-glass. Since the walls themselves were no longer the primary
supports, Gothic buildings could include large areas of glass. Huge stained glass windows and a profusion of smaller
windows created the effect of lightness and space. Because most lay people (people who are not Church officials)
were illiterate, the windows would illustrate Bible stories. Also, the mass was said in Latin, not the vernacular or
common language of the people, so it was one of the few ways for the people to understand the religion.
In addition to religious figures, many Gothic cathedrals are heavily ornamented with strange, leering creatures.
These gargoyles are not merely decorative. Originally, the sculptures were waterspouts to protect the foundation
from rain. Sculptures also illustrated lessons from the scriptures.
Because of the statues, windows, and other decoration, Churches have been referred to as “Books of Stone”
was still
used after
the Middle
Ages. St.
Cathedral in
is a local
built in
The term "monasticism" (monachos, a solitary person) describes a way of life chosen by religious
men or women who retreat from society for the pursuit of spiritual salvation.
Monasticism spread quickly to western Europe. The
Rule of Saint Benedict, compiled in the first half of the
sixth century, laid the foundation for the form of
monastic life most commonly practiced there. The
rule—with its stress on moderation, obedience to the
monastery's leader (the abbot), and a prescribed
program of prayer, work, and study—synthesized many
of the teachings of the desert hermits and early
Christian writers.
Around the cloister could generally be found the
library, chapter house , dormitory, refectory, kitchen,
cellar, infirmary, and other spaces essential to the
daily monastic regimen. The Benedictine order
enjoyed long periods of wealth and power
A monk is a man who is a member of a brotherhood. He devotes his life
to a discipline prescribed by his order. Monks and nuns live in a
monastery. A monastery is a kind of half church half hospital. They take
care of people there and they pray and meditate. It can also be like a
school for kids. They would teach them how to read and write.
They usually wore brown
robes with hoods around
their heads. They were
also well educated and
could usually read and
write Latin. Many monks
devoted themselves to
learning. Some of the first
encyclopedias and
histories were written by
monks and then copied
over by hand.
Medieval Monastery
Monks were often the only source of Bibles in medieval times. Bibles
were also copied by hand because the printing press was not yet
Church Gains Influence: St. Benedict
Saint Benedict was not the
founder of Christian monasticism.
He became a monk as a young
man and thereafter learned the
tradition by associating with
monks and reading the monastic
literature. He was caught up in
the monastic movement but
ended by channeling the stream
into new and fruitful ways. This is
evident in the Rule which he
wrote for monasteries and which
was and is still used in many
monasteries and convents
around the world
Benedict of Nursia, was an Italian monk and author of a rule for monks that became the basis of the Benedictine order.
He went to Rome to study, then withdrew to Subiaco to live as a hermit; after three years he was renowned for his
holiness. He founded a community of monks made up of cells of 13 monks each. This he eventually left, and at Monte
Cassino, in an old pagan holy place, he started the first truly Benedictine monastery, although the benedictine order did
not come into being until Carolingian times.
The fruits of Benedict’s experience appear in the Rule of St. Benedict (in Latin), which became the chief rule in
Western monasticism. The Rule’s 73 chapters are full of a spirit of moderation and common sense. They set forth the
central ideas of Benedictine monasticism.
Church Gains Influence
St Augustine
St. Augustine was an influential elite of the early 5th century who greatly
influenced with intellectuals. Early on in life, he was interested in Greek
philosophical traditions, but later converted to Christianity and tried to outline
the religion in terms that were familiar and acceptable to the upper classes.
As a result of his work, Christianity became an intellectually respectable
alternative to Hellenistic philosophies and other religions.
Church Councils
Early Christian communities were not highly organized and did not
agree on all teachings of the religion due to different interpretations.
After establishing the hierarchy, the Church organized councils to
discuss issues that were debated among Roman Christians and
Nestorians, Arians, and other groups. At the Council of Nicaea was
to resolve disagreements in the Church of Alexandria over the nature
of the Trinity: in particular whether Jesus was of the same or of
similar substance as God the Father. It was decided that God is a
single "Being" who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a
communion of three persons: Father (the Source, the Eternal
Majesty); the Son (incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth); and the Holy
Spirit. The Council of Nicaea was historically significant because it
was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an
assembly representing all of Christendom, or the Christian world
Medieval Art
Medieval art covers a vast scope of time and place, over 1000
years of art history in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
It includes major art movements and periods, national and
regional art, genres, revivals, the artists crafts, and the artists
Art historians classify Medieval art into major periods and
movements. They are Celtic art, Early Christian art, Migration
Period art, Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque art, Gothic art,
Byzantine art and Islamic art. In addition each "nation" or
culture in the Middle Ages had its own distinct artistic style and
these are looked at individually, such as Anglo-Saxon art or
Viking art. Medieval art was of many crafts, such as mosaics
and sculpture; and there were many unique genres of art, such
as Crusade art.
Medieval artists in Europe depended, in varying degrees, upon artistic heritage of the
Roman Empire and upon the legacy of the early Christian church. These sources were
mixed with the vigorous "Barbarian" artistic culture of Northern Europe to produce a
remarkable artistic legacy. Indeed the history of medieval art can be seen as the history of
the interplay between the elements of classical, early Christian and "Barbarian" art.
Medieval Art
The purpose of Medieval art was to glorify the life and death of Jesus
Christ, to provide peasants with a depiction of God’s kingdom and a vision
of a glorious afterlife and to assure that the Church remained a dominant
force in the lives of its citizens.
Most religious artists after the fourth
century, when Christianity dominated as the
chief religion of the Roman world, chose to
reject the ideals of perfection in form and
technique. Rather, these monastic artists
sought to present images which would draw
the spectator into the inner eye of their
work, pointing to its spiritual significance.
This attitude towards art reflected the religious ideals of the monk artist. The
monastic values of the day advocated a rejection of the physical body and the
material world, certainly the representation of man in art replicated these
ideals. Man and Woman were not represented as images of physical
perfection. Rather their appearance was nondescript; their function was to
represent a historical or biblical character in a symbolic tableau from the Old or
New Testament.
The predominating features of these characters conveyed religious
ideals. Consequently, certain features, uplifted hands and eyes, for example,
became stock elements in medieval art.
Power of the Church
Gothic Architecture
Explain what it meant to excommunicate an individual.
Examine the examples provided of Gothic architecture.
Describe the featured characteristics.
What does the use of excommunication indicate about the power
of the Church?
How did medieval architects accomplish such monumental
Describe the function monasticism played in medieval
How did the life of a monk differ from other members of
medieval society?
Why might be a society’s reaction to interdiction? How might it
affect the power of a monarch?
Medieval Art
Why are cathedrals referred to as “Books of Stone”?
Role of the Medieval Church
Evaluate the examples of medieval art provided. What are some
common themes?
Church or Government ?
Define a “tithe”. How was it usually paid?
In what ways did the Church behave like a government
rather than a religious institution?
Explain the purpose and goals of medieval art? Do you think it
succeeded in achieving these goals?
Label the church hierarchy.
Church Gains Influence
Evaluate the role the following individuals played in
the Medieval Church:
St. Benedict
St. Augustine
What two features made the Council of Nicaea
significant to the unity of the Christian Church?
On the back of this page, draft a thesis statement on the role of the Church in medieval society
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