book review · history · Learning · Philosophy

A brief history of Christianity (part 2 of 4)

Based on Tom Holland’s book Dominion. This section covers c1000 to c1500, including the Latin Reformatio, and the crusades.

In c1025 some clerics in Orleans claimed there was no such thing as the church and are the first to be executed as heretics.

Up to this point priests, unlike monks, had never pledged themselves to celibacy. But the popes incur many scandals. In 1076 there is a backlash against corrupt priests, unworthy of practicing the rites and rituals of the church, led by a preacher named Ramihrd. When he accuses Gerard, Bishop of Cambrai, of being filthy with sin and refuses to take the Eucharist from him, a mob burn him alive.

The Emperor Henry III, installs three different popes in succession with the aim of cleaning up the church. They begin a ‘Reformatio’ or reformation of the church, dispensing papal agents called ‘papal legates’ to set things straight. Hildebrand, the son of a Tuscan Carpenter has a vision of St Paul and is convinced his duty is to clean the church from all filth. By 1073 he is the foremost papal legate. After Henry the IIIs death and while Henry IV is still to young, a new Pope is needed and Hildenbrand is the popular choice to become Pope. He chooses the name Pope Gregory VII.

Corrupt priests are the focus of Gregory’s reforming zeal, upsetting much of the established order. Gregory issues a decree formally prohibiting Kings from conferring bishoprics. Ie separate of church and state. Gregory also states that ‘the Pope is permitted to depose emperors’ challenging imperial authority.

In turn Henry IV, the new king and emperor summons a conference of imperial bishops at the German city of Worms in 1076, ruling the election of Hildebrand invalid, and commanding he step down. Gregory in turn declares Henry IV excommunicated and his subjects relieved of their oaths of loyalty to serve him. Various vassal states, sensing an opportunity desert Henry IV and he is forced to beg Gregory for forgiveness. Gregory does not hesitate to stir up militant mobs against rulers or priests where it will support his Reformatio.

Henry IV renages on his promises and invades Rome in 1084 and Gregory is forced to flee.

But the reforms he puts in place continue. The separation of the ‘religio’ from the ‘saeculum’ or secular, first suggested by Augustine becomes an enduring feature. The vision is of a celibate clergy disentangled from the fallen world, in obedience to militant purity.

Pope Gregory VII also marks the start of a widening schism between the Western Church with the Pope in Rome and the Eastern Church headquartered in Constantinople with their own Pope. (The Byzantian church later to become the Orthodox Church)

In 910 in Burgundy a monastery called Cluny is established, and its founder places it under the protection of the Pope rather than the local bishop or king. Over two centuries they build a great church there. Urban II was abbot of Cluny and then advisor to Gregory before becoming Pope himself in 1087. At a council held in Clermont priests and bishops are formally forbidden to do homage to earthly lords.

And at Claremont on 27 November 1087, Urban takes up the issue of Jerusalem being lost to the saracens. He promises warriors that they can cleanse themselves from sin if they retake Jerusalem. ‘For, if any man sets out from devotion, not for reputation or monetary gain, to liberate the Church of God at Jerusalem, his journey shall be reckoned in place of all penance’. For millennia pilgrims had crossed Hungary to Constantinople and on to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Urban’s decree sets off the first Crusade drawing a great host of warriors from across the Latin west. They defeat the Saracens at multiple points along the way, arriving in Jerusalem in 1099 where the city is taken on 15 July.

But this is also a major change in several political dynamics: warriors fighting under the banner of Christendom rather than a king. By 1122, the new emperor Henry V is forced to sue for peace with the papacy, again at Worms, when the emperor finally agrees that the investiture of bishops belongs to the papacy. It also required that clergy distinguish themselves from ‘laicus’ or the laity by embracing celibacy. This leads to a greater separation of church and state and a greater uniformity of church across all states in Europe, with the priests owing their loyalty to the church and not the state.

Gregory IV had further stated that ‘The pope May be judged by no one’ and effectively that all Christian people , even kings and emperors were subject to his rulings. The Curia, the church law court was the final court of appeal. By rendering itself free of the secular, the Church had itself become a state. The Reformatio establishes across Christendom a single, sovereign hierarchy of the church.

In 1088, one of Urban’s most eminent supporters, the Countess Matilda, sets up a law school in the Italian city of Bologna. She sponsors a scholar and jurist, Irnerius, who discovers and studies a vast corpus of Roman legal rulings. Within decades Bologna sets up twin guilds or a “universitate” attracting young scholars from across the continent, who are studying law, and who go on to populate the Curia (the ruling governing body of the Catholic Church).

In addition to the Roman law, they start collating all of the cannons issued by previous councils of the Church. A monk called Gratian creates a compendium of these laws and papal decrees called the Decretum which came to be know as ‘the Concordance of Discordant Cannons’ due to the many inconsistencies. To make sense of all these inconsistencies Gratian’s corner stone is to follow St Paul’s decree ‘The entire Law is summed up in a single command:”Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ All souls were equal in the eyes of God. If any law was contrary to this it was discarded.

This overturned many age old presumptions: that custom was the ultimate authority; or that the great are owed different justice to the humble; or that inequality was natural and to be taken for granted. The revolutionary objective was to provide equal justice to all regardless of rank or wealth for every individual was equally a child of God.

One example was the problem of a starving pauper steeling from a rich man: according to a growing number of legal scholars he was merely taken what was naturally owed to him in accordance with natural law, it was the rich miser who was the object of divine disapproval. The concept that the rich had a duty to give to the poor had long been established, but it was now met with a matching concept: that the poor had an entitlement necessities of life. And in particular a concept deployed by canon lawyers – ‘a human right’.

Peter Abelard, a combative scholar, who had in 1115 secretly married a student of his Heloise, only to be castrated by her uncle, thereafter retiring to a monastery (and she to a nunnery despite continuing to burn with passion for him), later condemned as a heretic in 1140 for attempting to compile a list of all of the inconsistencies of the church laws, which he wants to iron out, he appeals to the Pope. His key belief is that Gods order was rational, and governed by rules that mortals could aspire to understand. He stated that ‘the constitution or development of everything that originates without miracles can be adequately accounted for’ He takes refuge at Cluny on the way to Rome and dies there in 1142. He is admired by many and described by the abbot as ‘the Aristotle of our age’.

In 1142 that same abbot crosses the Pyrenees to better understand the Saracens. He begins the first translation of the Qur’an into Latin. The king of Castille had taken the city of Toledo in 1085, which housed a great library of Muslim, Jewish and Greek texts. A Venetian cleric Iacopo translates various works of Aristotle, previously thought to have been lost, into Latin by 1147. There is lots of back and forth attempting to reconcile Aristotle with Christian teaching, with at times it being viewed as heretical and at other times brilliant.

This approach of rational investigation becomes orthodoxy upheld by papal Legates over the next century. In 1216 another new order is established by papal decree lead by a Spaniard called Domenic, the Dominicans. The obligation on the Dominicans is to question, to investigate, to evaluate. They use the model of Aristotle in debate.

In 1215 in a statute promulgated by the Pope legally affirms the independence of the university in Paris from the bishop. In 1214 a similar measure establishes the legal status of colleges that had sprung up in the English town of Oxford.

Theology was the foremost ‘science’ studied at the universities. But as Augustine said ‘it is by God’s laws that the whole scheme of things is governed’. Philosophy is increasingly studied, and expands to include ‘natural philosophy’ such as astronomy, animals, plants, and mathematics all became part of the curriculum.

A question tackled by these scholars was “humanity, lost to sin, had been redeemed by Christ. But how?” Was it a ransom paid to Satan? Was it the resolution of a lawsuit between heaven and hell? Abelard gave a more subtle answer: Christ had not submitted to death on the Cross to satisfy the demands of the Devil, but to meet the demands of justice. ‘This is to free us from slavery to sin, to gain for us the true liberty of the sons of God.’ By doing this Christ had affirmed to all humanity that heaven and earth were indeed structured by laws.

Mystery and reason: Christianity embraced them both.

The fourth council convened at the Lateran in 1215 declared ‘there is one Catholic Church of the faithful, and outside of it there is absolutely no salvation. Every heresy that rises against the holy, orthodox and Catholic faith we excommunicate and anathematise. All heretics we condemn under whatever names they may be known.’ Here it was prescribed for the first time that all Christians should make an annual and individual confession of their sins.

However not everyone agreed with the idea of the on Catholic Church, the Reformatio started as a revolution but created a new set of elite rulers. In a pattern that was to continue to be repeated, revolution bred an elite – and this elite bred demand for new revolution.

In particular many clung to the ideal of living as the apostles had done in the book of Acts, holding all of their possessions in community, and living a holy and separate life from the world. They condemned the clergy for failing to practice what they preached.

Waldensians, named after Walden’s, a Lyon merchant who in 1173 sold all his possessions, were refused permission to proclaim their message having appealed all the way to the Pope, and as a result denounced the priesthood. ‘Christ alone was their bishop.’

In contrast in 1206 Francis, in the town of Assisi, aims to create a community within the confines of the Catholic Church. He renounces his wealthy upbringing, handing his clothes to his father becomes a famous monk, serving lepers, preaches to the birds. With 12 friars he arrives in Rome to see Pope Innocent III who grants them the right to create a new order of the church, the Franciscans.

Jerusalem, having been won in 1099, had fallen again to the Saracens In 1187. A campaign lead by the kings of England and France to recapture it fails. A second expedition in 1202 is diverted and attacks the Eastern Christian city of Constantinople and takes and sacks the city in 1204.

Innocent III is convinced much of the ills in the Christian world is due to heresy. In 1207 he declares ‘wounds that do not respond to the treatment of a poultice should be cut away with a knife’. He is particularly concerned about people around Albi and Tolouse, who don’t buy into the idea of the segregation of the clergy from the people and the supremacy of the Church’s order, but instead honour every day people who live piously, that any good Christian may serve the Eucharist and they did not owe priests any service for they were ‘wicked, not good teachers but hired servants.’ In 1208 after the murder of a papal legate, Innocent III decides he has to eradicate the heresy of the Albigensians at the point of a sword:a crusade against Christian heretics. The Town of Beziers is the sight of the first slaughter. When a soldier asks, ‘how are we to distinguish the heretics from the true believers?’, he is told ‘Kill them all, God knows his own’. Even those sheltering in churches were slaughtered. The slaughter of these crusades continues for two decades of terror until it is finally ended under a new Pope Gregory IX in 1229.

Innocent is viewed as successful within the Chuch in his campaign against the Albigensians and also in other areas, particularly in pushing the Saracens south in Spain until by 1230’s they occupy only the southern cities of Córdoba and Seville. The idea that heretics are everywhere, lead by Satan and need to be rooted out, has taken root.

In 1231, the new Pope Gregory IX, authorises a German priest Conrad, not merely to preach against heresy but to search for it – ‘inquisitio’, and though he could not himself pronounce a sentence involving the shedding of blood, he was licensed to compel the secular authorities to impose it. Hence a new bread of officials: inquisitors. The burning of heretics became common place. Conrad claimed that the heretics belonged to the Devil and worshiped Satan, the sort of discussions usually dismissed. Eventually Conrad is ambushed and cut down by a group of German knights who can take the slaughters no more.

A Dominican called Thomas Aquinas (from Aquino) works on a book attempting to reconcile faith with philosophy, including Aristotle, and other philosophers from both Saracen and Jewish backgrounds. He displays a confidence that ‘all Wisdom is Christian no matter where it might be found’.

Despite this rationality, crusaders are still encouraged to view Saracens, heretics and pagans and legitimate targets for eradication. Interestingly however the Jews are exempt because of the scriptural references to them. Innocent III says magnanimously ‘they are not to be severely oppressed by the faithful’. Interesting quote from a pupil of Thomas Aquinas which showed some of the cultural priorities of Jewish parents: ‘A Jew, however poor, if he had 10 sons would put them all to letters, not for gain, as the Christians do, but for the understanding of God’s law – and not only his sons, but his daughters.’ However this did not stop people from claiming the the Jews were in concert with the Devil. In 1144 outside of Norwich, England, a priest blames the death of a young boy on the Jews. Despite the anti Jew rhetoric being repudiated by the Pope himself the anti Semitic sentiment continued to rise. In 1255 another murdered boy in Lincoln is blamed on the Jews, 90 are arrested and 18 hanged. In 1267 a church council bans sexual relations between Christians and Jews. And in 1290 the king of England orders all Jews to leave his kingdom, with the French King following suite in 1306.

In 1303 the king of France, Philip IV, and the Pope Boniface VIII again clash on who is in charge, and Philips agents cease the Pope. Is is freed shortly thereafter but dies within a few months. The new Pope, a Frenchman, abandons Rome and sets up residence in Avignon france in 1309.

What of woman in this time?

In Milan a nun named Maifreda da Pirovano teaches her followers that she is destined to rule as Pope and that all the cardinals would be woman. This was laughable to the church, harkening back to the story of Eve in the downfall of man. Priests had to be celibate to avoid the temptations of women. She was of course executed as a heretic. But there were some positive female role models in the bible: Mary Magdaline whom Christ had first revealed himself to after rising from the dead, and of course most importantly the Virgin Mary, who had ‘redeemed the fault of Eve in bearing Christ.’ Mary takes on a more and more prominent role inChristian art, often depicted with equal dignity with Christ in the simple understandable relationship between a mother and son.

Siena is the city of the Virgin Mary. In Siena, an Ancient Greek marble statue of Venus, lost and buried for centuries is found. It is placed in the great campo on a fountain. Siena is building a great cathedral even larger than their rivals cathedral in Florence. But from that point onwards everything seems to go wrong: a financial crash, the plague in 1348 kills half of the population, a coup, a military defeat by the Florentines. They decide that the statue must have brought God’s wrath and in 1357 they haul it down, smash it and bury the pieces beyond the borders in Florentine territory. Work on the Cathedral is abandoned forever.

Catherine of Siena is a young woman (the illiterate daughter of a dyer) of the city born in 1647. Having been tempted by the Devil with sexual yearnings she becomes the exemplar of a chaste and virgin women setting herself aside as she dreams she is married to Christ himself, the Bride of Christ, witnessed in her dream by St Paul and St Dominic and King David. She defies her parents plan to marry her off, cutting of her hair and lives a life of extreme discipline and fasting and becomes quite famous. She urges Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome from Avignon, and, after he dies, her support of the Italian Pope Urban VI is key to securing his election over a rival from Geneva.

That marriage was a sacrament, a visible symbol of Gods grace (like the Eucharist, baptism etc), was a doctrine that took many centuries for Christians to accept. Historically marriage was about family and political alliances, with those involved having little say in the matter. Cannon Law was now redefining this as something that had to involve the consent of the woman and the man, and redefining it in the long term as something based on mutual attraction and love. Parents could no longer impose their will on children, in fact priests could marry a couple without their parents consent and we see the starting of the development of the idea of freedom of choice, where the rights of the individual start being placed ahead of those of the family. Along with this came much stronger demands on the couple: Man and woman were joined together in marriage as Christ was to the Church, becoming ‘one flesh’. Women were instructed to submit to their husbands, but husbands were instructed to be faithful to their wives. Divorce was very rare. All of these concepts were completely alien to the ancient Romans and Greeks.

The Church also defines further other law as at this time, for example against incest and sodomy. Again led by Paul’s writings on ‘men committing indecent acts with other men, and woman with woman’ and Thomas Aquinas defines this more clearly as a vice/sin in his writings. In several instances, occurrences of the plague and other bad luck in Venice, Siena, Florence are blamed on loose morals and sodomites. Florence was so notorious for its ‘depravities’ that the German word for sodomites was ‘Florenzer’.

The Byzantine Empire in Constantinople expelled the crusaders from its capital in 1261. But it faced a new Muslim enemy, the Ottoman Turks.

The schism between the Eastern and Western churches continues.

In Oxford John Wycliffe denounces both factions as demonic and the papacy itself as lacking any divine foundation. He is now viewed by many as the predecessor to the Reformation. He dies in 1384 though is posthumously denounced as a heretic.

In Prague a movement arises declaring that the Pope is the antichrist as the church is once again rich and corrupt, with a preacher Jan Hus, inspired by Wycliffe is denouncing the German speaking elites and the church hierarchy in Prague and the papacy in 1414. The emperor-elect Sigismund invites Hus to travel to Constance under safe conduct. However he is arrested, put on trial and sentenced to death as a heretic and burned at the stake. In 1419 Hussites storm city hall in Prague and seize control of the churches.

In Tabor, a group of people from all over Bohemia, collect together. The Taborites aimed to set up a new city, in an abandoned castle,a new Jerusalem and pledge themselves to living in community as the apostles did; and to revolution against the church, the emperor and the papacy as they prepared for the Apocalypse as foretold in the bible.

Sigismund and the papacy declare a crusade against the Hussites and advance on Prague at the head of a great army in 1420. The Taborites march to relieve Prague, lead by a man called Jan Zizka, and in a surprise attack Sigismund is forced to withdraw. Zizka is very successful despite having only one eye and then losing that eye during a battle. By 1424 all of Bohemia is under Taborite rule. But the apocalypse, the end of days, fails to come. The really radical Taborites start to fade and the more extreme Taborites are defeated by a force of Hussites in 1434. In 1436, the Hussites manage to negotiate a concord with the papacy!

In 1453 Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Turks. They press their advantage aiming to take Rome and in 1480 capture Otranto (site of the ancient Greek city Hydrus) on the heel of Italy, beheading its bishop and killing some 800 other citizens.

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