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High Middle Ages (1000-1200)

Christianity, 1130-1244: Spiritual Invigoration, the Papal Monarchy, and Heresy

Reconquista, 1000-1250

Study & Essay

At the end of the Investiture Controversy the Papacy was left bruised, but not totally cowed. In the next generation it did much to strengthen its position both within the Church and vis-à-vis secular monarchs. As regards the first matter, during the pontificate of Urban II (1088-1099), several strides were taken. In addition to reforming the papal administration in Rome into a household government, he created the first version of the Curia. It was both a judicial institution and a council of advisers. It consisted of Rome's most prominent clergy and cardinals, and its functions were divided between 1) as body of advisers; 2) a judicial court; 3) a legal-theological forum to decide points of Church doctrine. Thus, the central Papacy's power was built up at the expense of episcopal bishops, councils, and synods; 4) the cardinals also served as Papal legates, and were sent all over Latin Christendom to monitor epsicopal affairs and make sure the Pope's writ was executed.

As regards Papal and Church autonomy vis-à-vis secular rulers, after the Investiture Contest, Popes in theory never relinquished the right to control and appoint their own clergy. An extension of this--which also aided the cause of Papal power versus episcopal officers--was the insistence on clerical immunity from ducal courts, and that clergy were not subject to lay political authority. What emerged from such positions was a parallel ecclesiastical court system, to which laymen could refer certain types of cases. In this hierarchy, the archdeacon's court was inferior to that of a bishop, and the archbishop's courts were increasingly closely supervised by the Papal Curia in Rome, to which there was right of appeal. Canon law was the corpus of reference, and in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, pride of place was held by Gratian's Concordia Discordantum, which had reconciled earlier bodies of canon law. The competency of these courts initially focused on A) crimes involving churchmen; B) disputes in the differing levels of the court; C) marriage, divorce, and legitimacy of children; D) the validity of oaths and certain acts of business; and E) morality matters, which even touched upon witchcraft. Given both their topics and procedures, they soon became popular with laymen--the Church courts were more rational and less brutal than their lay counterparts. This was good for the Papacy, in that court procedures involved a fee, and funds started flowing into episcopates as well as Rome. Additional fees were levied during clerical visits to Rome, ascension to bishoprics or archbishoprics, as well as other events, such as weddings, baptisms, etc. By the second half of the twelfth century, then, the material bases of the Church had expanded tremendously, and were accompanied by Crusade taxes by the end of the century. It was reflected in political power. While Gregory VII had died deserted and a seeming failure against German kings, Innocent III (1198-1216) was able to play king maker in Germany, as guardian of Frederick II. Later, Innocent IV (1243- 54) was the German King's chief nemesis, making sure that his power in central and northern Italy was never secure, and weakening Frederick's successor. Popes were able to compel secular rulers to leave Europe on Crusades, and even went so far as to excommunicate entire realms. It is indicative of the changing face of the Papacy that while popes from 1100-1150 were mostly from a monastic, even Cluniac background, after this period, they become much more juridical in origin. Most were experts in canon law, and councils, as well as Curia meetings became increasingly concerned with legal and technical matters.

During these same years, processes at the center were accompanied by a certain spiritual crisis on the local level throughout Western Europe. The increased power of the Papacy, and its more worldly concerns, both distracted attention from spiritual work, and decreased the connection between clergy and laymen. The consequences expressed themselves in four central ways: 1) monastic decline and re-invigoration; 2) the spread of mendicant orders in the regular clergy; 3) anti-sacerdotalism; and 4) heresy. In terms of monasticism, the great Cluniac monastic reform movement had been a phenomenal tenth and eleventh-century success. Not only had the original monastery grown, but daughter houses had spread throughout Europe into Germany. In fact, it had been too successful. Organizationally it was at its peak, and influential abbots and priors were the princes of the Church having secular rulers' ears. The problem was that the spiritual tenor was declining as worldly esteem and wealth increased. Prayer began to seem soulless, at the same time as a bad religious subculture was emerging, composed of itinerant preachers, self-proclaimed monks, and friars. Though aiming at spiritual perfection, the substance of their beliefs seemed at times to hover around heresy. Two groups in particular remained within the fold of orthodoxy. In 1084 a Reims law professor named Scholasticus grew frustrated with the secular clergy. Adopting the name Bruno, he went to the Grenoble hills, collected hermit followers, and founded the Carthusian order at the Granna Chartreuse monastery. Their rule was rather spartan: they lived in separate cells, ate no meat, with one egg allowed two days out of the week, and wore a hair shirt of sheep skin, in addition to taking vows of silence. By the 1200s it had 100 houses, attracting sincere pietists. The second new monastic group was the Cistercians. It was founded in 1098 near Dijon by Robert deMolesme, and fifty years later, it had branched out into 113 houses. By 1300, it increased this number to 700. The Cistercians espoused unbending simplicity, and their churches were quite unadorned. Not convinced that scholarship was a proper means of work and spiritual uplift, they took on heavy manual labor in the fields, and were keen to reclaim new lands for agriculture. They would thus play a central part in the colonization of eastern Germany in the twelfth century. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was the most famous Cistercian. When the monastery of Citeaux was not strict enough for him, he took a group of followers to Clairvaux and founded his own monastery. In essence, he felt that only monastic renunciation of all elements of the material world--decent living, wealth, obstruse or speculative education--could save a soul. He condemned the Abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, for his luxury and translations of texts such as the Islamic Qur'an, and persecuted Peter Abelard for his insistence on the primacy of reason in faith. St. Bernard was unusual though, in that his extreme renunciation of the world did not prevent him from influencing temporal matters. He wrote the rule for the Knights Templar in Palestine, and was important to Innocent II's accession as pope in 1138. He was also a chief preacher of the Second Crusade in the mid-1140s. These two monastic orders- -the Cistercians and the Carthusians--were Europe's toughest religious groups, and never relaxed.

Though interested in the betterment of the world's spiritual health, monastics were usually not outreach-oriented. They focused on their own betterment. For some, then, the lack of a social program was a major drawback, and this gave rise to the mendicant orders, which did not withdraw from the world, but wandered throughout Europe as a sort of activist monastic phenomenon. The two most representative groups were the Fransiscans and the Dominicans. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) has been called "the most Christ-like man that has ever lived." His humility, spiritual devotion, trust in his fellow man, and mystical piety were legendary. He approached all with love and believed that social care, his own poverty, and human decency could win people over to a new appreciation of the faith. Though secular clergy often bridled at this seemingly ignorant man on the verge of heresy, Pope Innocent III recognized Francis' potential to shore up faith and devotion, and so blessed the growing group as Church servants, a monastic order in the world. Honorius III officially approved the Fransiscans as a Church order in 1223. St. Francis' model of personal holiness, and preaching simple concepts in comprehensible language--in the marketplace if need be--was quite effective in the increasingly urban Europe of his era.

The second group was quite different in origin. St. Dominic was well educated on all aspects of Theology and canon law, and felt that only a supremely educated clergy could overcome backsliding and the threat of heresy. The Spaniard too, however, felt that the true beliefs of the Church, as well as honest Christian feeling, had to be brought to all Christains. The Dominicans were also encouraged in their path by Innocent III, and established houses throughout Europe's cities. What distinguished these orders from the rest of the church was that they were under the direct authority of the Pope. Local bishops and episcopal clergy could not interfere with or hamper their activities. Later in the thirteenth century ideas originating in one group migrated to the other--Fransiscans became more learned over time, whereas Dominicans adopted the rule of poverty. Particularly the Dominicans proved to be effective Church administrators, and came to staff the Inquisition tribunals in the thirteenth century and beyond.

That an inquisition could be established suggested that much more worrying matters were concerning the Church. During the twelfth and thirteenth century, some in Italy and France took their dissatisfaction with the Church beyond increased monasticism and mendicant practices. Some, such as Arnold of Brescia in Italy, were appalled at the material splendor of the Church. They saw no difference between it and the German monarchy encroaching on the Italian communes. This was not anti-Christianity per se, but an anti-clericalism, known today as anti-sacerdoatlism. For this idea's proponents, the Church ought to renounce secular power and material wealth as much as practically possible, adopting the pious poverty of the first Christians. Given the 1100-1250 program of the Papacy, though, this was a blasphemous insinuation, and its proponents were hounded, as Arnold's destruction by Frederick Barbarossa with Church support shows.

Even more ominous was the spread of clearly heretical doctrines in Europe. The two most prominent heresies were the Waldensians and the Cathari. The first started out innocently enough under Peter Waldo in 1173 in Lyons. He collected a group of reforming preachers, yet the Popes Alexander III and Lucius III were not yet of the frame of mind to support such Francis-like movements, and refused Waldo the right to preach the gospel, as he was no priest. Waldo and his associates went on preaching however, based on the biblical admonition to do so. He and his group was thus anathamized at the Third Lateran Council, and were driven from Lyons. Waldensianism soon spread to Lombardy, Provence, France, the Rhineland, and even Poland, becoming more radicalized along the way. Including extreme elements of antisacerdotalism, they came to believe that no one should have a monopoly on the Bible's reading, discussion, or preaching. Anyone sufficiently inspired could preach the Gospels. Further, the sacraments were invalidated by their administration by a morally sinful priest--basically anyone not supporting their views. Finally, they were ultra-pacifistic. More extreme attitudes held that indulgences and prayers for the dead were useless, as there was no purgatory; that officials of the Church, including the Pope, had no special authority, as only God could command obedience; and tithes were meant for the poor and not for the clergy. That almost all of this would offend the Church at every level is clear; that Waldensians were excellent scripturalists able to defeat Catholic clergy in disputations was even more galling, prompting St. Dominic's emphasis on learning.

The second heretical movement was perhaps more dangerous, as it departed from Christianity altogether. It was called Catharism, or Albigensianism, based on the Languedoc-Toulouse area town called Albi, which became its center. It was actually imported from Byzantine lands, where it had been harshly persecuted as Paulicanism. Fleeing the region, its adherents were known as Bogomils in Bulgaria, and its migration to France is somewhat of a mystery, but is assumed to have followed trade routes. Betraying its eastern origins, it postulated a somewhat Manichean dualism. In its conception, there were two Gods, one of good and one of evil. Jehovah, an angel of the God of good, was assigned the task of creating humanity, but decided that his creation should worship him, and thus organized a church focused on him--Judaism. God then sent Christ to redeem men and bring them the truth, but Jehovah foiled him, having Christ crucified. Thus, for the Cathari, the Cross symbolizes defeat. More perniciously in their minds, Jehovah went on to subvert Christ's message to state that only through an organized ecclesiastical structure--the Catholic Church--could Christ's work be done. Thus, the clergy were in essence servants of the Devil, as Jehovah had in the meantime been cast out of Paradise and was Hell's master. Proceeding from this initial postulate, they rejected everything the Church and organized Christianity represented. Also rejected in the extreme was materialism and temporalism. All elements of flesh were evil. The Virgin Mary was not a material being, but a spirit; as all flesh came from the devil, an adherent of Catharism could eat no meat or animal products, and could not undertake sexual intercourse. Woman, of course, were snares set by the devil to entice men into sins of the flesh. As this extreme doctrine was rather difficult to live by on a daily basis, two categories of adherents existed: the prefecti, who observed all strictures and served as the movements clergy; and the credentes, who believed in all aspects of the faith, yet lived a regular life. Most people took on the sacraments and ascended to the prefecti level only when near death or very ill.

The Albigensian heresy caught on in the comparatively more highly cultured regions of southern France--Toulouse and Languedoc--which were more wealthy, better connected to international trade routes, and with more time for spiritual speculation. At times the count of Toulouse protected them, and excommunication as well as the interdict were useless, as the Cathari felt the Church to be an evil irrelevance at best. The only solution seemed to be their physical extermination. In the 1210s, then Pope Innocent III preached a Crusade--not for the East, but for southern France. The Albigensian crusade did not attract any monarchical adherents, but Philip-Augustus allowed its preaching in his domains, and Simon de Montfort was its leader. The fight was very difficult in the 1210s-1220s--the Cathari were not pacifists, and their doctrines had found support among the southern French knights. It also took on the character of a general north-south conflict, with cultural and political undertones. De Montfort captured Beziers, Narbonne, and eventually Toulouse, at which point Pedro of Aragon intervened on his kinsman Raymond's behalf, but was defeated in 1213. De Montfort took the ducal titles of all areas he conquered and the Pope supported this. Raymond made a comeback, however, and Toulouse rebelled in 1218, at which point Montfort died fighting. The conflict did not peter out until 1229. Raymond had reclaimed his regions, so that the Papacy called upon French King Louis VIII to pacify the region. He came south and proclaimed Languedoc annexed to the crown. After he died, his officials carried on, and the Treaty of Meaux (1229) officially united Languedoc to the French monarchy. By its terms Raymond retained the lands until his death.

The thirteenth century, therefore, was an eventful one for the Church. As the Albigensian Crusade indicates, the Pope was increasingly ready to use temporal power as much as possible, even diverting a Crusade from its original purpose. Administratively, politically, and materially, the Papacy was reaching the zenith of its power; spiritually, however, it was forced to recognize the abilities of those emerging from outside its ambit. Furthermore, the Papacy was running the increasing risk of becoming simply a secular power focused on material goals, and out of touch with the European flock.

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