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Week Three: The Medieval Church

The History of the Church  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We saw that the Roman Empire had been divided into two main regions (the Western Empire, where Latin was spoken, and the Eastern Empire, where Greek was spoken).
The rise, fall, and comeback of Arianism.

The Medieval Church

From the Fall of Romulus Augustus (476) until the Fall of Constantinople (1453)

The Western Empire

You may remember from last week that in the third century, the Roman Empire had been divided into two distinct jurisdictions, the Eastern Empire and the Western Empire.
Since the period of this divide, Christianity had looked very different between the churches in the East and churches in the West. For example, the church in the West spoke Latin and the church in the East spoke Greek. Therefore, the invasion of the barbarians did not affect of all Christendom in the same way. It had a much deeper impact on this Western church than on the Easter, Greek-speaking branch of Christianity.
We concluded last week with the invasion of the Germanic “barbarians,” who conquered the Western Empire and deposed of the last Emperor of the West, Romulus Augustus in 476. So, in the Latin West, there was a period of chaos. The Empire ceased to exist and its place was taken by a number of barbarian kingdoms.
The West had been conquered by various Germanic Tribes who had been converted to Arianism.
The Vandals invaded Spain, and eventually crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in order to found a kingdom in north Africa.
From that base of operations, they attacked various parts of the Empire, including the city of Rome, which they sacked in the year 455.
The Vandals were Arians , and they persecuted orthodox Christians.
Their kingdom disappeared when the Byzantines (that is, the Eastern Roman Empire whose capital was Constantinople) retook the area in 533.
The main Germanic people to settle in Spain were the Visigoths , who established their capital in Toledo.
They too were Arians , and some their kings persecuted the Orthodox or Catholic Christians. But in 589, their King Recared embraced the Catholic faith.
The main group to settle in Gaul was the Franks .
As a result, the area is known today as “France.”
When they arrived, the Franks were pagan. But soon the influence of the conquered Christians was felt among them, and in 496 King Clovis was baptized as a Catholic Christian—and almost immediately so were most of his subjects.
Two centuries later it was the Franks who stopped the advance of Islam into Europe at the Battle of Tours or Poitiers (732).
The Angles and the Saxons settled in the Romanized portion of Great Britain (toward the north, in what is now Scotland. The Scots were never conquered by the Romans).
By then, Saint Patrick, a missionary from Great Britain, had attained the conversion of a good part of Ireland, which in turn became a missionary center.
Since these were times of pain, death, and disorder, Christian worship, instead of centering on the victory of the Lord and on his resurrection, began to be concerned more over death, sin, and repentance.
Therefore communion, which until then had been a celebration, became a funeral service , in which one was to think more on one’s own sins than on the victory of the Lord.
Much of the ancient culture disappeared, and the only institution that preserved some of it was the Church.
For that reason, even in the midst of chaos, the church became even stronger and more influential, with monasticism and the papacy playing important roles in the process.


The towering figure of early Western monasticism was Saint Benedict , who founded the community of Monte Casino, and in 529 gave it a Rule which would set the course of Western monasticism for centuries to come.
Benedict was born to a wealthy family, and was sent to Rome as a youth to study philosophy and theology. While in Rome, he was disappointed by the carelessness of his peers, and eventually left the city and headed for the wilderness, where he lived in a cave for three years.
People had heard about this strange man named Benedict, and began to go out into the dessert to seek him out. Shocked by his apparent godliness, they asked him to teach them how to follow Christ and live a holy life.
So, Benedict started a community at Monte Casino, a very tall hill between Rome and Naples.


The second mainstay of the church during this period was the papacy.
The title of “pope” has undergone a long evolution, and therefore it is impossible to say exactly who was the first “pope.”
(The word “papa” was both a term of endearment and respect, and in earlier times was applied to any bishop who deserved particular respect, such as Cyprian of Carthage or Athanasius in Alexandria. When the bishops of Rome began receiving that title, it was still being used for other bishops.)
During this period of chaos, the papacy provided a certain measure of stability , and as a result gained much prestige and power.
Here are two of the notable ones of this time period:
Pope Leo the Great (440-461) intervened in the Christological controversies that were dividing the Greek speaking church, and it was he who reports credited with having stopped Attila the Hun practically at the gates of Rome.
Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) was a man of outstanding administrative ability. Besides taking responsibility for the health and welfare of the population of Rome, he intervened in Spain, where he supported King Recared’s efforts to bring the nation to the Catholic faith.
Soon, however, the papacy entered a period of rapid decline. The brief renaissance that had taken place under Charlemagne and his successors was past, and the papacy once again fell pray for the ambitions of powerful Roman families. Several popes were murdered, some even apparently by their successors. Sometimes there was more than one claimant to the throne of Peter. At one point there was even a fifteen-year-old who became pope.

The Byzantine Empire

Meanwhile in the East, the Roman Empire (now called the Byzantine Empire) continued for another thousand years.
There the state was much more powerful than the church, and the former frequently imposed its will on the latter.
There were also in that area important theological controversies that helped clarify Christological doctrine.
The controversies dealt with the question of how Jesus Christ, while being one person can also be at one divine and human.
They came to a head at the Council of Constantinople that we talked about last week.
There was also a controversy relating to the use of images .
Several emperors issued edicts against their use; but many among the people, and especially the monks, insisted on keeping them. Finally, after long debates, the II Council of Nicea declared that worship in the strict sense is due only to God, but that holy images and icons are worthy of veneration. Although this controversy took place mostly in the East, it was also felt in the West, where for some time there was significant opposition to the decisions of this Council.

The Rise of Islam

Beginning in the sixth century, Islam arose as a new threat to the church. It soon conquered vast territories and cities that until then had been important centers in the life of the church—Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, and more.
It all began with a man named Muhammad.
Muhammad (570-632) was believed to be last in the line of prophets which began with Adam and Abraham.
The Islamic faith sought to correct distortions in Judaism and Christianity.
In other words, the Q’uran sought to correct the mistakes allowed in Jewish and Christian Bibles.
Muhammad was born in 570 AD in Mecca, and when his father and mother died as a young boy, he was sent to live with his grandfather who discovered “the well of Zamzam (Hagar’s Well).
Later he is taken in by his uncle, who traveled with a caravan, where at the age of 12, a Christian monk tells Muhammad he will be a prophet.
At the age of 12, a Christian monk tells Muhammad he will be a prophet.
He married a wealthy, widowed woman named Khadijah at the age of 25, and was managing her caravans when he begins having mystical visions.
The angel, Gabriel, told him to ‘recite’ the words he heard (Q’uran’ means ‘recite.’)
The basic gist of the message was this:
Submit to God (Islam means “to submit”)
Give Up Idolatry
In 622, Muhammad was forced to flee from the city of Mecca . Two years later, he returns with an army to not only conquer Mecca, but a majority of the known world.
Beliefs of Islam:
Jesus was a great prophet who was especially chosen by God.
Called him ‘Messiah,’ a title that no other prophet receives.
Claimed he had a special role in the final resurrection of the dead on the day of judgement.
They believed that Jesus’ birth took place under a palm tree, whose fruit nourished his mother.
The Eastern & Western Empire -> Eastern & Western Churches
Believed that Jesus performed miracles and healings, including raising some from the dead, calling down a table from heaven for his disciples that was set with food (Eucharist), etc.
Claimed he was not crucified; God only made it appear thus to his enemies.
Claimed he was a man through whom God chose to reveal the Gospel, but insisted that he never called upon others to worship him.
In 623, Muhammad died, leaving behind 16 wives and no male heir, although he had one son to a Christian wife who died at the age of 2.
He blamed the death of this child on his wife’s faith.
A series of “Caliphs” are elected to replace Muhammad:
Abu Bakr becomes Caliph and leads military campaigns into Mesopotamia before dying in 625.
‘Umar becomes Caliph, and leads armies to take the city of Damascus in 634. At this time, he begins expulsion of Jews and Christians from Arabia. Eventually, ‘Umar is assassinated.
‘Uthman elected Caliph, provides an authorized version of the Qur’an, which he insists must never be translated. Instead, the Arabs must be united and of one culture and language.
These conquests had sad consequences for trade and letters in Western Europe, which became even more isolated from the ancient source of knowledge that was Constantinople.
The result was that Christianity, which until that time had existed mainly around an axis running from east to west across the Mediterranean, now began to revolve around a new line running from north south, from the kingdom of the Franks to Rome.
Also as a result of the advance of Islam, the Byzantine Empire had lost all of its territories in Africa, and most in Asia. Therefore, the missionaries of the Eastern church and the diplomats of the Byzantine Empire went mostly towards the north and northeast, that is, toward central Europe and Russia .
The Rise of Islam (570-630s)
Probably the greatest achievement of Byzantine Christianity was the conversion of Russia, usually dated around the year 988. In most cases, the lands of central Europe related to the church of Rome far more than the church of Constantinople, but the main exceptions were Bulgaria and Russia.
The relation between the East and the West became increasingly tense, until the definitive rupture of 1054.

The Schism of 1054

Over the years, a number of differences had emerged between the Eastern and Western Empires.
In the Western Church:
The Bishop of Rome has primacy
The first difference between the Western and Eastern Church arose in determining who the rightful “Pope” was.
The West linked back to Apostolic Succession, claiming that the Bishop of Rome sits upon the throne of Saint Peter.
The East said that they were the ones keeping Christianity alive while the West was cowering in fear of Islam.
Rejection of Icons
In this, the Western Church was influenced by their Muslim neighbors who insisted that God must not be portrayed in a graven image. Claimed that iconography was idolatry.
The Eastern Church claimed that Icons had been an important part of the Christian faith since the resurrection of Jesus.
Clergy are celibate
In the West, it was believed that ordination was a covenant made with a particular community in the same way that marriage is a covenant made with a particular person. They believed it was impossible to give all in both covenants, and therefore required people to choose to be married or ordained.
The East said, “why not have both?”
Only unleavened bread for Eucharist
It may seem petty to us, but the type of bread used in communion was of immense importance to both the Eastern and Western church theologically.
The East wanted to use leavened bread in the Eucharist because they claimed it was a symbol of divine human unity.
The West claimed that using leavened bread was unbiblical, and said that only unleavened bread is to be used.
Filioque added to Nicene Creed
This last difference comes to a head at what is known as the Filioque controversy.
In the Eastern Church:
The Bishop of Constantinople is Ecumenical Patriarch (“Father of the Whole Church”)
Acceptance of Icons
Married clergy below bishop
Only leavened bread for the Eucharist
Original version of the Nicene Creed

The Filioque Controversy

The Downfall of the Papacy
The Filioque Controversy is the ‘straw that broke the camels back,’ and ultimately is what decided an official Schism in 1054 AD.
Filioque is a Latin term which means, “ and from the son .”
If you remember from the Nicene Creed last week, I brought up a particular phrase that was in brackets, and I said that is because it was added later, and was a source of great contention. That’s where we are now.
The phrase was originally adopted by the Council of Toledo in 589.
The phrase was Anti-Arian in nature. If you think about the circumstances of the West, they had for several years excommunicated the Arians from the Church before Constantine eventually let them back in. Now they were being conquered by these Arian tribes who were converted when the Arians were excommunicated from Rome.
It especially had support from the Spanish churches, and was . . .
Essentially designed to strengthen the divinity of the Son.
In 809, the Frankish bishops declare Filioque orthodos.
In 810, Pope Leo III acknowledges it as orthodox, but won’t use it.
In the 11th Century, it is officially declared as the only version of the Creed to be used in Rome.
The Eastern Church did not like this at all.
The Eastern Church believed that both the Son and the Spirit, while being fully God, originated with the Father.
(Draw Circle as Father, Smaller Circle as Jesus, and another Smaller Circle as Holy Spirit) - Eastern
(Draw Father and Son as Equals with Holy Spirit coming from both of them, uniting them.) - Western
Which one was right? Who knows, I don’t think it’s that important, it seems pretty trivial to me, but it was a big deal to them.
So . . .
In 1054, this led to the first officially split within the Church.
When Cardinal Humbert (of the West), representing the Pope as a diplomat between the two heads of the church, declared that the Patriarch of Constantinople was a heretic, and broke communion with him as well as with the entire church that he represented.
Hence came the Titles of Roman Catholicism (Western Church) and Eastern (Greek) Orthodox (Eastern Church).

The Crusades

This was also the time period in which the Crusades began, beginning in 1095 and lasting for several centuries after.
The Crusades had many different causes, religious as well as economic and political. The most obvious motivations were religious: to recover the Holy Land, and particularly the Holy Sepulcher, from the Muslims; to go in pilgrimate to the holy places of Palestine; and to gain remission of suffering in Purgatory that was promised to the crusaders.
While the Crursades had both economic and political causes, their most obvious motivations were religious:
To recover the Holy Land from the Muslims
To go in pilgrimage to the holy places of Palestine
Gain remission of suffering in Purgatory (promised to Crusaders)
In 1077, the city of Jerusalem is overtaken by the Turks (Arabic Muslims), and access to Jerusalem by Christians is restricted.
No pilgrimages were allowed anymore.
In 1095, the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius Comenius, pleads for help from the Pope.
So, even though the Western Churches had split several decades before this, the Eastern Emperor is seeking help from the Western Church leaders, showing that the Pope had the most political power of the two entities.
Pope Urban II calls for the first crusade at the Synod of Clermont in 1095.
The First Crusade was known as the “ People’s Crusade ,” because it consisted of a band of peasants led by a pastor by the name of Peter the Hermit.
In 1096, the first outfitted forces gather in Constantinople and by 1098, both Antioch and Jerusalem had been reclaimed.
In a very blood display, the Muslims who had lived there were slaughtered in response to the many people who were slaughtered when the lands were already taken.
In the next couple of decades militarized monastic orders emerged, such as the Hospitalliers who sought to aid pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land, and the Templars who were founded on the Temple Mount in 1119.
The Second Crusade began when ‘Imad ad-Din Zengi, a Muslim Governor, took the city of Aleppo in 1128, and decided to take the city of Edessa while Christians were celebrating on Christmas Eve in 1144.
By 1146, Pope Eugenius III called for Crusade.
In 1147, Christian forces gather and make it to Antioch.
In 1148, they launch an attack against Damascus, but are ultimately defeated.
By 1154, the Muslim leaders begin to build mosques and Muslim monasteries and begin to impose restrictions on Christians. They also take Egypt by 1171.
Also in 1171, we see the rise of Saladin, who becomes the Vizir of Egypt and attacks Galilee in 1187, eventually taking Jerusalem. Saladin is the first to officially define the term ‘Jihad’ exclusively to mean “holy war.”
A Third Crusade began in 1187, at the direction of Pope Gregory VIII.
While unable to beat Saladin, a truce is reached with him by 1192, which declares Jerusalem would remain under Muslim rule while Christian pilgrimage would be allowed.
The Fourth Crusade was almost entirely political, consisting of French Venetians who wanted to control ports on the seaboard, and the Emperor Alexius wants the West’s help to take the thrones of Constantinople again. Alexius promises payment for this.
In 1198, Pope Innocent III declares another crusade.
In 1202, the Crusaders arrive in Venice
It was also the least organized of the crusades, as there were . . .
A lot fewer people with too little money
Compromise = Attacking Christian city for plunder
Pope Innocent III forbid them to attack the Christian City, but the chaplains who were there granted them absolution.
In 1203, Troops arrive in Constantinople
Alexius is made emperor
Crusaders realize he has no money
People of Constantinople overthrow Alexius
By 1261, the Latin rule ends in the West, and the Byzantium Empire never recovers, and continues to whither away until it finally succumbs to the Turkish advance, ending with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
Now we’re going to shift gears and talk about some of the renewal movements that took place on the way to the Protestant Reformation, which is where we will begin next week.

Renewal Movements - Monasticism

First, we’re going to talk about Monasticism.
The first Monastic renewal movement was the Dominicans
The Dominican movement began as a result of the work of both Bishop Diego of Osma and Dominic Guzman (1170-1221).
Both of these men preached in southern France, and in response to what was going on around them during the Crusades, thought it best to convert people through practical holiness instead of political and military maneuvering.
Ultimately, it can be said that they . . .
Wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the Catholic Church through preaching and purity of life.
They took extreme vows of voluntary poverty and itinerancy.
The Dominicans were dedicated to public preaching and were a Mendicant order (meaning that they begged for food).
The Franciscans were a movement developed by Saint Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226).
Francis was born into a wealthy family, but after converting to Catholicism in 1208 decided to give away his family’s wealth.
Father disapproved, and he became a mendicant preacher.
Eventually, others began following him and so he developed a simple rule of life, and after much difficulty from the Pope was eventually granted as a separate monastic order in 1223.
An honorable mention here is Saint Clare of Assisi (c. 1193-1253), who was also born of a wealthy family, and broke off an engagement to join Francis’ movement. Later she formed a monastery called Poor Ladies of Assisi right next door to Francis’ monastery.

Renewal Movements - Scholasticism

In this time period, we also begin to see the development of Scholasticism, or theology that was developed in the universities .
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was a student of Augustine, who made use of translations of Aristotle to develop several important works of theological discourse.
Gave us an argument for the existence of God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” In other words, that an actual God is greater than an imagined God, and therefore by definition contemplating such a being must mean that He exists in reality.
Developed substitutionary atonement theory.
Substitutionary atonement says that human sin affronts God’s honor and cannot be overlooked because it would be unjust of God to do so, and therefore righteous nature requires satisfaction.
He claimed that Jesus pays that satisfaction, and accepting Christ’s payment frees humanity from legal debt.
This is in part what the early church believed, but only one part. The original concept of the gospel, which we talked about last week is much more thorough.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Dominican priest who studied at Cologne and the University of Paris.
Wrote Summa Contra Gentiles (Summary Against the Gentiles) in order to aid the conversion of Muslims through theological means.
Wrote Summa Theologia (Summary of Theology)
Created the argument for the existence of God based on the need for a supreme designer, or “first cause.”
He did so in dialogue with Aristotle’s writings who wrote of an “unmoved mover,” but claimed that God is an active creator. He didn’t just step out after creation, which is what Aristotle believed.
Wrote about the organization of creation regarding angels, humans, and the elements of nature.
Claimed human beings were originally free and intended for perfect happiness in God’s presence, but sin corrupted the natural and moral powers of body and soul, and that salvation was only possible only through unmerited grace.
Claimed that God was the sole cause of Grace, given to us initially through the Holy Spirit, and given to us instrumentally through the sacraments.
Claimed that humans must respond to grace.

Renewal Movements - Other

John Wycliffe (1330-1384) studied and taught at Oxford before becoming a royal advisor and leading a reform movement within the church.
Claimed that there had been no legitimate Pope since the Schism in 1054, and emphasized Scripture as the sure authority.
Emphasized the spiritual development of laity.
Claimed that the Bible was the ultimate authority and must be available to all Christians.
Developed the first full Bible translation in English
Eventually condemned by the Catholic Church at the Synod of Canterbury in 1382 as a heretic for opposing the papacy.
Earliest form of congregationalist thinking


Fall of Constantinople
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