Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gen Eds H7a: Church Schisms in the Middle Ages

So finally we begin the seventh unit of world history: "The Age of the Church and Jihad."

These are posts in the World History part of my "General Education in a Nutshell" series. This series involves ten subjects you might study in a general education or "liberal arts" core at a university or college. The first topic in the overall series was philosophy. So far in the world history section:
Schisms in the Church
1. Most historians, both Catholic and Protestant, would agree that the Roman Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages was not particularly true to its professed identity. Some have said in recent years that Luther would not have withdrawn from the Roman Catholic Church of today. But the church of the late Middle Ages was often corrupt, inconsistent to its own values, and typified by the kinds of power and money struggles of any purely human organization.

The problem, it would seem, is the way in which political power and religious authority became intertwined, a strong argument in itself for the separation of church and state, of religion from political leadership. As the papacy became more politically powerful, those with political ambition found it more and more desirable. Rather than seeking the office to do good, they sought it to have power and wealth.

No one should be able to get rich off of religious or political office while they are in office. It's too dangerous a conflict of interest and often leads to disaster for the governed.

Simony became rampant in the Middle Ages. This was the practice of buying your way into religious position--"pay for play." It is no wonder that churchmen like John Wycliffe (1320-84) and Jan Hus (1369-1415) began to protest the church's leaders and practices. In their day, they did not have the political power to launch a "protesting" movement that could successfully reform or escape the power of the Roman Catholic Church. It would take over a hundred more years for Luther to do that. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415. Wycliffe escaped such punishment while he was alive, but his bones were dug up and burned in 1428.

The ability to obtain positions of power should not be a matter of wealth. Anyone in theory, no matter how much status or power he or she has, should be able to reach the highest offices on merits rather than money or legacy. This is why limits on the amount of money that can be used to advance a candidate for office seems to make sense.

2. You might say that the Roman Catholic Church was born in 1054 when a series of events led the Western church to excommunicate the Eastern church, with the Eastern Church excommunicating the Western church in turn. [1] This event is called the Great Schism between the East and West of the church catholic, the church universal.

The power of the "bishop of Rome" had steadily grown over the centuries in comparison to other leaders of the Christian church in key cities of the Mediterranean. Leo the Great was the first to use "Pope" regularly in his title (Pope from 440-61). [2] Around the year 600, Pope Gregory I established the bishop of Rome as the "first among equals," the "servant of the servants of God" (Pope from 590-604).

At that time, there were prominent bishops in Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria  as well (the "Pentarchy"). With the Muslim conquests of the 600s, only Rome and Constantinople remained as the primary bishops of Christianity. The split in 1054 was really over who was the greater authority of the two. As usual, there was a presenting issue that brought the underlying issue to the surface, namely, the right of the western church to add the words "and the son" to the Nicene Creed without the East's permission.

The original Nicene Creed of 381 said, "I believe... in the Holy Spirit... who proceeds from the Father." The western church had long added the words "and the Son" to its version. The Eastern church objected that Rome did not have the authority to add to the creed without a universal ("ecumenical") meeting ("council"). The situation came to a head in 1054 with both sides excommunicating the other.

The result is that we have the Eastern Orthodox Church in the east and the Roman Catholic Church in the west. Both claim to be "catholic" or universal churches, so the word "Roman" becomes necessary after that point when we are speaking of the Catholic Church based in Rome.

3. Some aspects of the Roman church that Protestants later objected to came to the fore in the five hundred years after the Great Schism. For example, the celibacy of priests was not an absolute practice of catholic Christianity until after the split from the East. In the eastern church, you can still become a priest if you are married, although you cannot remarry if your wife dies after you are a priest and a "patriarch" cannot be married.

The Crusades also took place after the great split. The Muslim invasions of the west in the 600s and 700s took all of Turkey and Africa, not to mention Jerusalem and the Holy Land. In 1095, Pope Urban II came to the rescue of the Eastern church (perhaps hoping to reunify it) as the Muslim Seljuk Turks were advancing in the direction of Constantinople. By 1099, Jerusalem had also been restored to Christian control.

This version of the First Crusade sounds noble, but war always brings atrocities. The overall intentions might be good--or not--but on the level of individual versus individual, atrocities always take place. There is always the death of the innocent. There is always rape and plundering. In the lead up to the First Crusade, for example, the "People's Crusade" or the "German Crusade" involved the murder of thousands of Jews in Germany (1096).

The Muslims would reassert themselves and a Second Crusade took place from 1147-49 to try to regain lost ground, but it did not succeed. The Crusaders were defeated by the Seljuk Turks. Then in 1187 Jerusalem fell again to Saladin, the greatest of the Seljuk Turks. This led to the Third Crusade in 1189-92, the "Kings Crusade." This is the crusade in which Richard the Lionhearted of England (of Robin Hood fame) participated.

The Third Crusade saw great military success, but Jerusalem was not retaken from Saladin. In 1192 unarmed Christian pilgrims were however granted access to Jerusalem in a treaty with the great Kurd.

The desire to retake Jerusalem led to the Fourth Crusade (1202-4), but these crusaders never even made it passed Turkey. Instead, they turned aside and sacked the Christian city of Constantinople in 1204. The Fifth Crusade (1213-21) never made it past Egypt and was defeated. A Sixth Crusade (1228) restored Jerusalem for a few years (and banished Jews once again from the city). A Seventh Crusade failed to get back Egypt and was led by King Louis IX of France (1248-54). He tried again on an Eighth (1270) and a Ninth (1271-72), both of which were failures. Here endeth the crusading.

4. There was a time in the Middle Ages, when the popes were not located in Rome but in France (1309-77). As background, one of the most powerful Popes of the Middle Ages was Pope Boniface VIII (Pope from 1294-1303). He issued a papal decree (called a papal bull) in 1302 which declared that the Pope was supreme over all human authority, including political authority, in effect declaring himself the final authority on earth over every other human being. [3]

Boniface excommunicated lots and lots of people. His conflict with the King of France at the time (Philip IV "the Fair") was particularly fierce, as Philip began to tax the lands of the church in France. Dante puts Boniface in the eighth ring of hell in his Inferno, the ring for those who commit simony, fraud, and hypocrisy. After Boniface's death, the next pope lasted scarcely eight months and left Rome for his own protection.

The next pope was elected by force and moved the papacy to France, where it would basically stay under the control of the French king for some 68 years. This is the period of the Avignon Papacy, since all the popes were French and served from the French city of Avignon. This period is also sometimes called the "Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy."

Boniface had tried to assert the power of the Pope more than ever before, and the end result was a more or less enslaved papacy for almost 70 years. Here is a lesson. When you go all in, if you lose, your loss may also be total.

5. Pope Gregory IX returned to Rome in 1377, the year before his death. As the cardinals sought a successor, a mob formed around the papal enclave demanding that the next pope be a Roman pope rather than a French one. Pope Urban VI was selected. The problem is that he wanted reform, many of the same kinds of reform that Jan Hus wanted and was preaching on in the empire of Bohemia at the time (today, the Czech Republic).

His bullish manner was so offensive that the cardinals wanted to reverse their selection. Another pope (or perhaps, anti-pope) was selected at Avignon, beginning what is known as the Western Schism. There would be two popes from late 1378 until the Council of Constance in 1417--the one in Rome now considered legitimate and the one in Avignon now called an antipope.

6. The Council of Constance (in southern Germany) was called in 1417 to end this Schism. By this time there were actually three people claiming to be Pope, since a council in 1409 had claimed to depose the other two and impose a new one. The remaining popes abdicated, and a new Pope, Martin V, was elected. This was also the council that condemned Jan Hus to the stake.

Take Aways:
  • No one should be able to get rich off of religious or political office while they are in office. It's too dangerous a conflict of interest and often leads to disaster for the governed.
  • The ability to obtain positions of power should not be a matter of wealth.
  • War always brings atrocities--rape, murder of the innocent, stealing
  • When you go all in, if you lose, your loss may also be total.
  • Great conflicts often cannot be resolved until both sides are willing to give up their rights and claims.

Next week: History 7b: Kings Rising in the Middle Ages

[1] To excommunicate is to kick someone out of the church and, in effect, to consign them to hell.

[2] Other bishops also called themselves Pope at this time as well, and it was not until after the great split between east and west that the Pope of Rome insisted only he had right to the title.

[3] Unam Sanctum.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

I'm no historian, but this was a good job. Thanks.