The Church is a good place to begin. By ‘the Church’ as an earthly institution, Christians mean the whole body of the faithful, lay and cleric alike. In this sense, in Catholic Europe the Church came to be the same thing as society during the Middle Ages. By 1500 only a few Jews, visitors and slaves stood apart from the huge body of people who (at least formally) shared Christian beliefs. Europe was Christian. Explicit paganism had disappeared from the map between the Atlantic coasts of Spain and the eastern boundaries of Poland. This was a great qualitative as well as a quantitative change. The religious beliefs of Christians were the deepest spring of a whole civilization which had matured for hundreds of years and was not yet threatened seriously by division or at all by alternative mythologies. Christianity had come to define Europe’s purpose and to give its life a transcendent goal. It was also the reason why a few Europeans first became conscious of themselves as members of a particular society, Christendom.

Nowadays, non-Christians are likely to think of something else as ‘the Church’. People use the word to describe ecclesiastical institutions, the formal structures and organizations which maintain the life of worship and discipline of the believer. In this sense, too, the Church had come a long way by 1500. Whatever qualifications and ambiguities hung about it, its successes were huge; if also its failures were great, too, there were within the Church plenty of men who confidently insisted on the Church’s power (and duty) to put them right. The Roman Church which had been a backwater of ecclesiastical life in late antiquity was, long before the fall of Constantinople, the possessor and focus of unprecedented power and influence. It had not only acquired new independence and importance but also had given a new temper to the Christian life since the eleventh century. Christianity then had become both more disciplined and more aggressive. It had also become more rigid: many doctrinal and liturgical practices dominant until this century are less than a thousand years old - they were set up, that is to say, when more than half the Christian era was already over.

The most important changes took roughly from 1000 to 1250, and they constituted a revolution. Their beginnings lay in the Cluniac movement. Four of the first eight abbots of Cluny were later canonized: seven of them were outstanding men. They advised popes, acted as their legates, served emperors as ambassadors. They were men of culture, often of noble birth, sprung from the greatest families of Burgundy and the west Franks (a fact which helped to widen Cluny’s influence) and they threw their weight behind the moral and spiritual reform of the Church. Leo IX, the pope with whom papal reform really begins, eagerly promoted Cluniac ideas. He spent barely six months of his five years’ pontificate at Rome, moving about instead from synod to synod in France and Germany, correcting local practice, checking interference with the Church by lay magnates, punishing clerical impropriety, imposing a new pattern of ecclesiastical discipline. Greater standardization of practice within the Church was one of the first results. It began to look more homogeneous.

Another outcome was the founding of a second great monastic order, the Cistercians (so named after the place of their first house, at Citeaux), by monks dissatisfied with Cluny and anxious to return to the original strictness of the Benedictine rule, in particular by resuming the practical and manual labour Cluny had abandoned. A Cistercian monk, St Bernard, was to be the greatest leader and preacher of both Christian reform and crusade in the twelfth century, and his Order had widespread influence both on monastic discipline and upon ecclesiastical architecture. It, too, pushed the Church towards greater uniformity and regularity.

The success of reform was also shown in the fervour and moral exaltation of the crusading movement, often a genuinely popular manifestation of religion. But new ways also aroused opposition, some of it among churchmen themselves. Bishops did not always like papal interference in their affairs and parochial clergy did not always see a need to change inherited practices which their flock accepted (clerical marriage, for example). The most spectacular opposition to ecclesiastical reform came in the great quarrel which has gone down in history as the Investiture Contest. The attention given to it has been perhaps slightly disproportionate and, some would say, misleading. The central episodes lasted only a half-century or so and the issue was by no means clear-cut. The very distinction of Church and State implicit in some aspects of the quarrel was in anything like the modern sense still unthinkable to medieval man. The specific administrative and legal practices at issue were by and large quite soon the subject of agreement and many clergy felt more loyalty to their lay rulers than to the Roman Pope. Much of what was at stake, too, was very material. What was in dispute was the sharing of power and wealth within the ruling classes who supplied the personnel of both royal and ecclesiastical government in Germany and Italy, the lands of the Holy Roman Empire. Yet other countries were touched by similar quarrels - the French in the late eleventh century, the English in the early twelfth - because there was a transcendent question of principle at stake which did not go away: what was the proper relationship of lay and ecclesiastical authority?

The most public battle of the Investiture struggle was fought just after the election of Pope Gregory VII in 1073. Hildebrand (Gregory’s name before his election: hence the adjective ‘Hildebrandine’ is sometimes used of his policies and times) was a far from attractive person, but a pope of great personal and moral courage. He had been one of Leo IX’s advisers and fought all his life for the independence and dominance of the papacy within western Christendom. He was an Italian, but not a Roman, and this perhaps explains why before he was himself pope he played a prominent part in the transfer of papal election to the college of cardinals, and the exclusion from it of the Roman lay nobility. When reform became a matter of politics and law rather than morals and manners (as it did during his twelve years’ pontificate) Hildebrand was likely to provoke rather than avoid conflict. He was a lover of decisive action without too nice a regard for possible consequences.

Perhaps strife was already inevitable. At the core of reform lay the ideal of an independent Church. It could only perform its task, thought Leo and his followers, if free from lay interference. The Church should stand apart from the state and the clergy should live lives different from laymen’s lives: they should be a distinct society within Christendom. From this ideal came the attacks on simony (the buying of preferment), the campaign against the marriage of priests, and a fierce struggle over the exercise of hitherto uncontested lay interference in appointment and promotion. This last gave its name to the long quarrel over lay ‘investiture’: who rightfully appointed to a vacant bishopric - the temporal ruler or the Church? The right was symbolized in the act of giving his ring and staff to the new bishop when he was invested with his see.

Further potential for trouble lay in more mundane issues. Perhaps the emperors were bound to find themselves in conflict with the papacy sooner or later, once it ceased to be in need of them against other enemies, for they inherited big, if shadowy claims of authority from the past which they could hardly abandon without a struggle. In Germany the Carolingian tradition had subordinated the Church to a royal protection which easily blurred into domination. Furthermore, within Italy the empire had allies, clients and interests to defend. Since the tenth century, both the emperors’ practical control of the papacy and their formal authority had declined. The new way of electing popes left the emperor with a theoretical veto and no more. The working relationship, too, had deteriorated in that some popes had already begun to dabble in troubled waters by seeking support among the emperor’s vassals.

The temperament of Gregory VII was no emollient in this delicate situation. Once elected, he took his throne without imperial assent, simply informing the emperor of the fact. Two years later he issued a decree on lay investiture. Curiously, what it actually said has not survived, but its general content is known: Gregory forbade any layman to invest a cleric with a bishopric or other ecclesiastical office and excommunicated some of the emperor’s clerical councillors on the grounds that they had been guilty of simony in purchasing their preferment. To cap matters, Gregory summoned the emperor Henry IV to appear before him and defend himself against charges of misconduct.

Henry responded at first through the Church itself; he got a German synod to declare Gregory deposed. This earned him excommunication, which would have mattered less had he not faced powerful enemies in Germany who now had the pope’s support. The result was that Henry had to give way. To avoid trial before the German bishops presided over by Gregory (who was already on his way to Germany), Henry came in humiliation to Canossa, where he waited in the snow barefoot until Gregory would receive his penance in one of the most dramatic of all confrontations of lay and spiritual authority. But Gregory had not really won. Not much of a stir was caused by Canossa at the time. The pope’s position was too extreme; he went beyond canon law to assert a revolutionary doctrine, that kings were but officers who could be removed when the pope judged them unfit or unworthy. This was almost unthinkably subversive to men whose moral horizons were dominated by the idea of the sacredness of oaths of fealty; it foreshadowed later claims to papal monarchy but was bound to be unacceptable to any king.

Investiture ran on as an issue for the next fifty years. Gregory lost the sympathy he had won through Henry’s bullying and it was not until 1122 that another emperor agreed to a concordat which was seen as a papal victory, though one diplomatically disguised. Yet Gregory had been a true pioneer; he had differentiated clerics and laymen as never before and had made unprecedented claims for the distinction and superiority of papal power. More would be heard of them in the next two centuries. Though his immediate successors acted less dramatically than he, they steadily pressed papal claims to papal advantage. Urban II used the first crusade to become the diplomatic leader of Europe’s lay monarchs; they looked to Rome, not the empire. Urban also built up the Church’s administrative machine; under him emerged the curia, a Roman bureaucracy which corresponded to the household administrations of the English and French kings. Through it the papal grip on the Church itself was strengthened. In 1123, a historic date, the first ecumenical council was held in the West and its decrees were promulgated in the pope’s own name. And all the time, papal jurisprudence and jurisdiction ground away; more and more legal disputes found their way from the local church courts to papal judges, whether

Prestige, dogma, political skill, administrative pressure, judicial practice and the control of more and more benefices all buttressed the new ascendancy of the papacy within the Church. By 1100 the groundwork was done for the emergence of a true papal monarchy. As the investiture contest receded, secular princes were on the whole well disposed to Rome and it appeared that no essential ground had been lost by the papacy. There was indeed a spectacular quarrel in England over the question of clerical privilege and immunity from the law of the land which would be an issue of the future; immediately, it provoked the murder (and then the canonization) of Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury. But on the whole, the large legal immunities of clergy were not much challenged.

Under Innocent III papal pretensions to monarchical authority reached a new theoretical height. True, Innocent did not go quite so far as Gregory.

He did not claim an absolute plenitude of temporal power everywhere in western Christendom, but he said that the papacy had by its authority transferred the empire from the Greeks to the Franks. Within the Church his power was limited by little but the inadequacies of the bureaucratic machine through which he had to operate. Yet papal power was still often deployed in support of the reforming ideas - which shows that much remained to be done. Clerical celibacy became more common and more widespread. Among new practices which were pressed on the Church in the thirteenth century was that of frequent individual confession, a powerful instrument of control in a religiously minded and anxiety-ridden society. Among doctrinal innovations, the theory of transubstantiation, that by a mystical process the body and blood of Christ were actually present in the bread and wine used in the communion service, was imposed from the thirteenth century onwards.

The final christening of Europe in the central Middle Ages was a great spectacle. Monastic reform and papal autocracy were wedded to intellectual effort and the deployment of new wealth in architecture to make this the next peak of Christian history after the age of the Fathers. It was an achievement whose most fundamental work lay, perhaps, in intellectual and spiritual developments, but it became most visible in stone. What we think of as ‘Gothic’ architecture was the creation of this period. It produced the European landscape which, until the coming of the railway, was dominated or punctuated by a church tower or spire rising above a little town. Until the twelfth century the major buildings of the Church were usually monastic; then began the building of the astonishing series of cathedrals, especially in northern France and England, which remains one of the great glories of European art and, together with castles, constitutes the major architecture of the Middle Ages. There was great popular enthusiasm, it seems, for these huge investments, though it is difficult to penetrate to the mental attitudes behind them. Analogies might be sought in the feeling of twentieth-century enthusiasts for space exploration, but this omits the supernatural dimension of these great buildings. They were both offerings to God and an essential part of the instrumentation of evangelism and education on earth. About their huge naves and aisles moved the processions of relics and the crowds of pilgrims who had come to see them. Their windows were filled with the images of the biblical story which was the core of European culture; their facades were covered with the didactic representations of the fate awaiting just and unjust. Christianity achieved in them a new publicity and collectiveness. Nor is it possible to assess the full impact of these great churches on the imagination of medieval Europeans without reminding ourselves how much greater was the contrast their splendour presented to the reality of everyday life than any imaginable today.

The power and penetration of organized Christianity were further reinforced by the appearance of new religious orders. Two were outstanding, the mendicant Franciscans and Dominicans, who in England came to be called respectively the Grey and Black Friars, from the colours of their habits. The Franciscans were true revolutionaries: their founder, St Francis of Assisi, left his family to lead a life of poverty among the sick, the needy and the leprous. The followers who soon gathered about him eagerly took up a life directed towards the imitation of Christ’s poverty and humility. There was at first no formal organization and Francis was never a priest, but Innocent III, shrewdly seizing the opportunity of patronizing this potentially divisive movement instead of letting it escape from control, bade them elect a Superior. Through him the new fraternity owed and maintained rigorous obedience to the Holy See. They could provide a counterweight to local episcopal authority because they could preach without the licence of the bishop of the diocese. The older monastic orders recognized a danger and opposed the Franciscans, but the friars prospered, despite internal quarrels about their organization. In the end they acquired a substantial administrative structure of their own, but they always remained peculiarly the evangelists of the poor and the mission field.

The Dominicans sought to further a narrower end. Their founder was a Castilian priest who went to preach in the Languedoc to heretics, the Albigensians. From his companions grew a new preaching order; when Dominic died in 1221 his seventeen followers had become over five hundred friars. Like the Franciscans, they were mendicants vowed to poverty, and like them, too, they threw themselves into missionary work. But their impact was primarily intellectual and they became a great force in a new institution of great importance, just taking shape, the first universities. Dominicans came also to provide many of the personnel of the Inquisition, an organization to combat heresy, which appeared in the early thirteenth century. From the fourth century onwards, churchmen had urged the persecution of heretics. Yet the first papal condemnation of them did not come until 1184. Only under Innocent III did persecution come to be the duty of Catholic kings. The Albigensians were certainly not Catholic, but there is some doubt whether they should really be regarded even as Christian heretics. Their beliefs reflect Manichaean doctrines. They were dualists, some of whom rejected all material creation as evil. Like those of many later heretics, heterodox religious views were taken to imply aberration or at least nonconformity in social and moral practices. Innocent III seems to have decided to persecute the Albigensians after the murder of a papal legate in the Languedoc and in 1209 a crusade was launched against them. It attracted many laymen (especially from northern France) because of the chance it offered for a quick grab at the lands and homes of the Albigensians, but it also marked a great innovation: the joining of State and Church in western Christendom to crush by force dissent which might place either in danger. It was for a long time an effective device, though never completely so.

In judging the theory and practice of medieval intolerance it must be remembered that the danger in which society was felt to stand from heresy was appalling: its members might face everlasting torment. Yet persecution did not prevent the appearance of new heresies again and again in the next three centuries, because they expressed real needs. Heresy was, in one sense, an exposure of a hollow core in the success which the Church had so spectacularly achieved. Heretics were living evidence of dissatisfaction with the outcome of a long and often heroic battle. Other critics would also make themselves heard in due course and different ways. Papal monarchical theory provoked counter-doctrine; thinkers would argue that the Church had a defined sphere of activity which did not extend to meddling in secular affairs. As men became more conscious of national communities and respectful of their claims, this would seem more and more appealing. The rise of mystical religion was yet another phenomenon always tending to slip outside the ecclesiastical structure. In movements like the Brethren of the Common Life, following the teachings of the mystic Thomas a Kempis, laymen created religious practices and devotional forms which sometimes escaped from clerical control.

Such movements expressed the great paradox of the medieval Church. It had risen to a pinnacle of power and wealth. It deployed vast estates, tithes and papal taxation in the service of a magnificent hierarchy, whose worldly greatness reflected the glory of God and whose lavish cathedrals, great monastic churches, splendid liturgies, learned foundations and libraries embodied the devotion and sacrifices of the faithful. Yet the point of this huge concentration of power and grandeur was to preach a faith at whose heart lay the glorification of poverty and humility and the superiority of things not of this world.

The worldliness of the Church drew increasing criticism. It was not just that a few ecclesiastical magnates lolled back upon the cushion of privilege and endowment to gratify their appetites and neglect their flocks. There was also a more subtle corruption inherent in power. The identification of the defence of the faith with the triumph of an institution had given the Church an increasingly bureaucratic and legalistic face. The point had arisen as early as the days of St Bernard; even then, there were too many ecclesiastical lawyers, it was said. By the mid-thirteenth century legalism was blatant. The papacy itself was soon criticized. At the death of Innocent III the Church of comfort and of the sacraments was already obscured behind the granite face of centralization. The claims of religion were confused with the assertiveness of an ecclesiastical monarchy demanding freedom from constraint of any sort. It was already difficult to keep the government of the Church in the hands of men of spiritual stature; Martha was pushing Mary aside, because administrative and legal gifts were needed to run a machine which more and more generated its own purposes.

In 1294 a hermit of renowned piety was elected pope. The hopes this roused were quickly dashed. Celestine V was forced to resign within a few weeks, seemingly unable to impose his reforming wishes on the curia. His successor was Boniface VIII. He has been called the last medieval pope because he embodied all the pretensions of the papacy at its most political and its most arrogant. He was by training a lawyer and by temperament far from a man of spirituality. He quarrelled violently with the kings of England and France and in the Jubilee of 1300 had two swords carried before him to symbolize his possession of temporal as well as spiritual power. Two years later he asserted that a belief in the sovereignty of the pope over every human being was necessary to salvation.


Under him the long battle with kings came to a head. Nearly a hundred years before, England had been laid under interdict by the pope; this terrifying sentence forbade the administration of any of the sacraments while the king remained unrepentant and unreconciled. Men and women could not have their children baptized or obtain absolution for their own sins, and those were fearful deprivations in a believing age. King John had been forced to yield. A century later, things had changed. Bishops and their clergy were often estranged from Rome, which had undermined their authority, too. They could sympathize with a stirring national sense of opposition to the papacy whose pretensions reached their peak under Boniface. When the kings of France and England rejected his authority they found churchmen to support them. They also had resentful Italian noblemen to fight for them. In 1303 some of them (in French pay) pursued the old pope to his native city and there seized him with, it was said, appalling physical indignity. His fellow townsmen released Boniface and he was not (like Celestine, whom he had put in prison) to die in confinement, but die he did, no doubt of shock, a few weeks later.

This was only the beginning of a bad time for the papacy and, some would claim, for the Church. For more than four centuries it was to face recurrent and mounting waves of hostility which, though often heroically met, ended by calling Christianity itself in question. Even by the end of Boniface’s reign, the legal claims he had made were almost beside the point; no one stirred to avenge him. Now spiritual failure increasingly drew fire; henceforth the papacy was to be condemned more for standing in the way of reform than for claiming too much of kings. For a long time, though, criticism had important limits. The notion of autonomous, self-justified criticism was unthinkable in the Middle Ages: it was for failures in their traditional religious task that churchmen were criticized.

In 1309, a French pope brought the papal curia to Avignon, a town belonging to the king of Naples but overshadowed by the power of the French kings whose lands overlooked it. There was to be a preponderance of French cardinals, too, during the papal residence at Avignon (which lasted until 1377). The English and Germans soon believed the popes had become the tool of the French kings and took steps against the independence of the Church in their own territories. The imperial electors declared that their vote required no approval or confirmation by the pope and that the imperial power came from God alone.

At Avignon the popes lived in a huge palace, whose erection was a symbol of their decision to stay away from Rome, and whose luxury was a symbol of growing worldliness. The papal court was of unexampled magnificence, attended by a splendid train of servitors and administrators paid for by ecclesiastical taxation and misappropriation. Unfortunately the fourteenth century was a time of economic disaster; a much reduced population was being asked to pay more for a more costly (and, some said, extravagant) papacy. Centralization continued to breed corruption - the abuse of the papal rights to appoint to vacant benefices was an obvious instance - and accusations of simony and pluralism had more and more plausibility. The personal conduct of the higher clergy was more and more obviously at variance with apostolic ideals. A crisis arose among the Franciscans themselves, some of the brothers, the ‘spirituals’, insisting that they take seriously their founder’s rule of poverty, while their more relaxed colleagues refused to give up the wealth which had come to their order. Theological issues became entangled with this dispute. Soon there were Franciscans preaching that Avignon was Babylon, the scarlet whore of the Apocalypse, and that the papacy’s overthrow was at hand, while a pope, asserting that Christ Himself had respected property, condemned the ideal of apostolic poverty and unleashed the Inquisition against the ‘spirituals’. They were burned for their preachings, but not before they had won audiences.

Thus the exile in Avignon fed a popular anti-clericalism and antipapalism different from that of kings exasperated against priests who would not accept their jurisdiction. Many of the clergy themselves felt that rich abbeys and worldly bishops were a sign of a Church that had become secularized. This was the irony that tainted the legacy of Gregory VII. Criticism eventually rose to the point at which the papacy returned to Rome in 1377, only to face the greatest scandal in the history of the Church, a ‘Great Schism’. Secular monarchs set on having quasi-national churches in their own realms, and the college of twenty or so cardinals, manipulating the papacy so as to maintain their own revenues and position, together brought about the election of two popes, the second by the French cardinals alone. For thirty years popes at Rome and Avignon simultaneously claimed the headship of the Church. Eight years afterwards there was a third contender as well. As the schism wore on, the criticism directed against the papacy became more and more virulent. ‘Antichrist’ was a favourite term of abuse for the claimant to the patrimony of St Peter. It was complicated by the involvement of secular rivalries, too. For the Avignon pope, broadly, there stood as allies France, Scotland, Aragon and Milan; the Roman was supported by England, the German emperors, Naples and Flanders.

Yet the schism at one moment seemed to promise renovation and reformation. The instrument to which reformers turned was an ecumenical or general council of the Church; some claimed for it an authority over riding that of the Pope. In any case, to return to the days of the apostles and the Fathers for a way of putting the papal house in order sounded good sense to many Catholics. Unfortunately, the idea did not turn out well. Four councils were held. The first, at Pisa in 1409, struck out boldly, proclaiming the deposition of both popes and choosing another. This meant there were now three pretenders to the chair of St Peter; moreover, when the new one died after a few months, another was elected whose choice was said to be tainted by simony (this was the first John XXIII, now no longer recognized as an authentic pope and the victim of one of Gibbon’s most searing judgements). The next council (Constance, 1414-18) removed John (though he had summoned it), got one of his competitors to abdicate and then deposed the third pretender. At last there could be a fresh start; the schism was healed. In 1417 a new pope was elected, Martin V. This was a success, but some people had hoped for more; they had sought reform and the council had been diverted from that. Instead it had devoted its time to heresy, and support for reform dwindled once the unity of the papacy was restored. After another council (Siena, 1423-4) had been dissolved by Martin V for urging reform (‘that the Supreme Pontiff should be called to account was perilous’, he declared), the last met at Basle (1431-49), but was ineffective long before its dissolution. The conciliar movement had not achieved the desired reform and papal power was restored. The principle that there existed an alternative conciliar source of authority inside the Church was for the next four hundred years regarded with suspicion at Rome. Within a few years it was declared heresy to appeal from the pope to a general council.

The Church had not risen to the level of the crisis now upon it. The papacy had maintained its superiority, but its victory was only partial; secular rulers had reaped the benefits of anti-papal feeling in new freedoms for national Churches. As for the moral authority of Rome, that had clearly not been restored and one result would be a more damaging movement for reform three-quarters of a century later. The papacy had already begun to look more and more Italian, and so it was to remain. There were some dismal popes to come in the next two centuries, but that did less damage to the Church than the evolution of their see towards becoming just one more Italian state.

Heresy, always smouldering, had burst out in a blaze of reforming zeal during the conciliar period. Two outstanding men, Wyclif in England and Hus in Bohemia, focused the discontents to which schism had given rise. They were first and foremost ecclesiastical reformers, although Wyclif was a teacher and thinker rather than a man of action. Hus became the leader of a movement which involved national as well as ecclesiastical issues; he exercised huge influence as a preacher in Prague. He was condemned by the council of Constance for heretical views on predestination and property and was burned in 1415. The great impulse given by Wyclif and Hus flagged as their criticisms were muffled, but they had tapped a vein of national anti-papalism which was to prove so destructive of the unity of the western Church. Catholics and Hussites were still disputing Bohemia in bitter civil wars twenty years after Hus’s death. Meanwhile, the papacy itself made concessions in its diplomacy with the lay monarchies of the fifteenth century.

Religious zeal in the fifteenth century more and more appeared to bypass the central apparatus of the Church. Fervour manifested itself in a continuing flow of mystical writing and in new fashions in popular religion. A new obsession with the agony of Christ’s Passion appears in pictorial art; new devotions to saints, a craze for flagellation, outbreaks of dancing frenzy all show a heightened excitability. An outstanding example of the appeal and power of a popular preacher can be seen in Savonarola, a Dominican, whose immense success made him for a time moral dictator of Florence in the 1490s. But religious fervour often escaped the formal and ecclesiastical structures. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries much of the emphasis of popular religion was individual and devotional. Another impression of the inadequacy of both vision and machinery within the hierarchies is also to be found in a neglect of missionary work outside Europe.

All in all, the fifteenth century leaves a sense of withdrawal, an ebbing after a big effort which had lasted nearly two centuries. Yet to leave the medieval Church with that impression uppermost in our minds would be to risk a grave misunderstanding of a society made more different from our own by religion than by any other factor. Europe was still Christendom and was so even more consciously after 1453. Within its boundaries, almost the whole of life was defined by religion. All power flowed ultimately from God. The Church was for most men and women the only recorder and authenticator of the great moments of their existence - their marriages, their children’s births and baptisms, their deaths. Many of them wholly gave themselves up to it; a much greater proportion of the population became monks and nuns than is the case today, but though they might think of withdrawal to the cloister from a hostile everyday existence, what they left behind was no secular world such as ours, wholly distinct from and indifferent to the Church. Learning, charity, administration, justice and huge stretches of economic life all fell within the ambit and regulation of religion. Even when men attacked churchmen, they did so in the name of the standards the Church had itself taught them and with appeals to the knowledge of God’s purposes it had given to them. Religious myth was not only the deepest spring of a civilization, it was still the life of all men. It defined human purpose and did so in terms of a transcendent good. Outside the Church, the community of all believers, lay only paganism. The devil - conceived in a most material form - lay in wait for those who strayed from the path of grace. If there were some bishops and even popes among the errant, so much the worse for them. Human frailty could not compromise the religious view of life. God’s justice would be shown and He would divide sheep from goats in the Day of Wrath when all things would end.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!