Church discipline and the ways in which it was implemented offers an important window on to the relations between churchmen and lay people. But historians need to understand what ‘discipline’ meant within a medieval context: rather than seeing it solely as to do with repression, it was a key concept in the productive government and shepherding of the Christian community, directed toward salvation. This chapter examines the historiographical challenges of understanding church discipline across the whole middle ages, focussing particularly on the role of the bishop; and it argues that aspects which are often thought to date only from the later middle ages can in fact be found much earlier.
Amy G. Remensnyder
This chapter examines the geographical, conceptual, and spiritual boundaries between Christendom and Islam in the middle ages, focussing on Iberia and the Levant. It notes that the demarcated divisions on modern maps may mislead us: medieval people did not conceive of the separation of faith and space in such clearly bounded ways. It explores the ideologies of Christian conquest, exploring how in the Christian kingdoms of Iberia, a notional Visigothic past of Christian dominance was drawn upon in much later centuries, creating a belief in a justified ‘reconquest’, while in the Levant, Latin settlers articulated a deep Christian past for what they increasingly called the ‘Holy Land’. The chapter also discusses the techniques by which conquered lands were made ‘Christian’—through church building for example, but also through the imaginative boundaries between Christian and Muslim. However, the lived reality was always more complex, as Christians, Muslims and Jews had long co-existed in these regions and the physical boundaries between Islam and Christendom were porous.
David J. Collins S.J.
This chapter reviews major themes in the history of Western Christianity from the onset of the Western Schism (1378) to the opening of the Council of Trent (1345). Topics include late medieval reform movements, trends in lay religious belief and activity, the papacy and conciliarism, the dominant schools of philosophical and theological thought, heresy and orthodoxy, Renaissance humanism, the early Protestant Reformation and contemporaneous Catholic renewal, and the relationship between Church and state. The scope of the chapter encompasses developments within Western Christianity as well as in its relationship to Eastern Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as its expansion into Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The chapter also considers the effects of general historiographical developments over the last century on church history, such as overarching trends within intellectual and institutional history on the one hand and social and cultural history on the other.
Grado Giovanni Merlo
Noting that ‘heresy’ is an identity and label which is imposed rather than self-ascribed, this chapter places at its centre the notion of ‘non-conformity’ within Christianity, tracing the recurrent tendencies of individuals and groups to find themselves in opposition to ecclesiastical authority, usually because they wish to embrace a form of Christianity harking back (in theory at least) to a more apostolic and evangelical form than that adopted by the medieval Church. The chapter discusses a variety of different 'heretical' groups, but also the developing attitudes and actions of the Church against their perceived threat. Throughout the chapter we are reminded that ‘heresy’ is a contested space within which ecclesiastical authority, political power, and spiritual ideals intersect.
For many historians, western Christendom between 1100 and 1500 can be characterized by the defining of Christian identity and the forging of Christian unity against an abstracted, caricatured non-Christian ‘Other’. This chapter argues that there are, however, greater complexities to how Christianity represented Jews, Muslims, and pagans; and that the nature of the ‘otherness’ they embodied was not straightforwardly negative or unknown. Although Jews, Muslims, and pagans were all identified as ‘infidels’ and denied hope of salvation, medieval Christian attitudes toward these groups were neither monolithic nor static. Depictions of Jews, Muslims, and pagans—and the policies applied to them—arose out of a complex interplay of symbol, discourse, and very real material circumstances. Moreover, the ‘otherness’ of the ‘Other’ repeatedly breaks down upon close examination: Christians, Jew, Muslims, and pagans were often considerably less different from each other than polemic and rhetoric seem to suggest.
This chapter considers processes of conversion in the medieval Church, from the Roman empire to the Duchy of Lithuania, but with a particular focus on the northern European kingdoms that converted between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. One must consider whether conversion was achieved primarily through politics, force, culture, or other means; and the chapter demonstrates a variety of routes taken. It tracks with particular care the intersection of religion with politics, and argues that the spread of Christianity can be thought of as creating a kind of ‘empire’, based on religious and cultural unity (even if politically disunited). Moreover, the centralizing tendency in Christianity—its focus on one God and one faith—may have helped to facilitate the consolidation of power for various rulers, particularly in northern Europe.
This chapter notes the early dominance of kings and emperors within the narrative of ‘the Church’, and argues that rather than thinking of early Christianity as a ‘royal religion’, we can more helpfully analyse ‘Christian political discourses’, to understand better how religion operated within the complex politics of early medieval societies. In areas where the legacy of the Roman Empire was minimal, Christianity gave to early rulers and chieftains an idea of kingship, informed by a Roman language of command but simultaneously infused with Old Testament models suitable to tribal realities (issuing laws, rewarding obedience, punishing rebellion). However, where the Empire remained a living legacy, Christianity was not needed in this role, as imperial models of rule still pertained; in these regions, the Church was more keen to present itself as an institution that stands beside (but independent of) government. Over time this shifted, with greater interpenetration of the two realms; and with this growing closeness, elements of sacrality began to become available to kingship itself, and Carolingian kings in particular began to ‘reform’ the Church. However, this conjunction of empire and Church also meant that discourses of Christian behaviour could be used for political critique, as well as legitimation.
Church lords were among the most powerful owners of property in the middle ages. We have learned much about the cultural and social histories of the medieval Church in the past generation, but we still have much to learn about its economic development. Ecclesiastical lordships were far more complex, diverse, and constructive than they might have appeared to an earlier generation of scholars. Strategies adopted by many churchmen between 1100 and 1400, often influenced by pressures and resistance exerted by peasants, monarchies, and city-states, brought about major transformations in the nature of ecclesiastical lordship. At the same time canon lawyers developed a vigorous legal tradition of ecclesiastical patronage. Nevertheless, the tension between the ideal of apostolic poverty and the reality of church property led to conflict, especially within the Franciscan Order. Many church lords responded constructively to the challenges of economic crisis in the later middle ages, but church property remained a divisive issue well into the early modern period.
‘Civic religion’ is a modern term, but useful nonetheless in framing the particular context of religion in medieval towns and cities, where greater social and political stratification paradoxically made an emphasis upon communitas and unity all the more important. This chapter examines various ways in which the social and political intersects with the religious within the medieval city, looking at institutions such as hospitals and confraternities, figures such as bishops and saints, and practices such as processions and ‘carnival’. It argues that theology and religious institutions gave medieval city-dwellers a framework, language, and tools through which they could pursue their social, economic, political and spiritual goals.
Ronnie Po-chia Hsia
This chapter considers the changes wrought by the Reformation, in an attempt to sketch continuities and changes from the Christianity of the middle ages. It looks to the further geographical changes that began in the late fifteenth century with the discovery of the New World; to the radical shifts in Christian practice in Protestant lands, and the more subtle changes in Catholic countries; and notes throughout the complex relationships between secular power, the papacy, and religion in the post-Reformation period.