{9}           Church decay & renewal

ERA 3 << Medieval Church (1): Expansion & Conflicts (AD 600–1000) >> SESSION 2

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 1, chapters 28-29

9.1  Holy Roman Empire

†        9.1.1  Carolingian dynasty

·         Supporter of papacy: The Frankish monarchy, starting with Clovis, became the ardent supporter of the papacy. Charles Martel’s son Pepin the Short founded the Carolingian dynasty [751–987].

†        9.1.2  Charlemagne (742–814)

·         Ecclesiastical changes: Charlemagne, son of Pepin, came to power [768]. He engaged in over 50 campaigns in expanding his empire. Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne “Emperor of the Romans” [800]. Charlemagne appointed bishops, enacted laws to collect tithes, reformed monasticism, and encouraged schools in churches.

†        9.1.3  After Charlemagne

·         Divided empire: The empire covering all western Europe was divided into three [843]. This marked the birth of the modern states of France and Germany and rivalry between them.

†        9.1.4  The rise of feudalism

·         Hierarchy: Feudalism is a system of political organization based on the possession of land. This was the only way to maintain justice and order when centralized authority was weak. It was a hierarchical system.

†        9.1.5  Revival of the Roman Empire

·         German ruler: Otto became the leader of the Germany dukes [936]. He supervised the church by choosing bishops and abbots. Pope John XII crowned him as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire [962]. The struggle between the emperor and the pope began.

9.2  Theological Activities

†        9.2.1  Old & new ideas

·         On predestination: Gottschalk of Orbais, a monk, concluded that the church had departed from Augustine in predestination. He was criticized by his enemies and was declared a heretic and imprisoned in a monastery.

·         On real presence: Paschasius Radbertus declared [831] that the bread and the wine in the communion (mass) are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. This led later to the doctrine of transubstantiation.

9.3  Monastic Reform

†        9.3.1  Benedictine Monastic Order [528]

·         Prayer & study: Benedict of Nursia built a monastery at Monte Cassino [528], and founded the Benedictine Order. The core of monastic life was prayer and studies. The monastery became a teaching centre for children.

†        9.3.2  Benedictine Rule [530]

·         Monastic standard: Benedict’s Rule became the monastic standard for all Western monasticism [817]. The book emphasized poverty and chastity. Main elements were permanence, obedience, discipline, and humility.

†        9.3.3  Cluniac Order [909]

·         Reformers: Berno de Baume founded founded a monastery at Cluny in eastern France. The order called for reform in clerical life. They condemned simony and nepotism. Celibacy was compulsory.

†        9.3.4  Cistercian Order [1098]

·         New reformers: In late 11th-c, when the Cluniac order gradually declined, Robert of Molesme founded a new order at the Citeaux Abbey [1098]. The order was the successor to the Cluniac order, with similar emphasis.

†        9.3.5  Franciscan Order [1209]

·         Missionaries: Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscan Order [1209], taking the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They went among the people to preach to them. The order sent out many missionaries.

†        9.3.6  Dominican Order [1216]

·         Intellectuals: Dominic Guzman founded the Dominican Order [1216]. Their main objective was preaching, teaching, and study. Their recruits received solid intellectual training in their task to refute heresy.

†        9.3.7  Military orders

·         Knights of Saint John: to defend pilgrims. Knights Templars: to defend the Holy Land from Muslims.

9.4  Corruption & Renewal of the Papacy

†        9.4.1  Corruption

·         Control of papacy: Because of the increase in power in the papacy, the election of the pope involved bribery, deceit, or even violence. Pope followed pope in rapid succession, some of them murdered. The selection of popes were controlled at different times by the emperor and Italian families [931–1032].

†        9.4.2  Pressing problems facing the church

·         Problems: [1] Lay investiture: investiture (installation) of bishops and abbots by civil authorities. [2] Simony: buying and selling of ecclesiastical posts. [3] Nepotism: appointments of descendants and relatives to ecclesiastical posts. [4] Corrupt moral: clergies and abbots taking concubines and enjoying luxurious living.

†        9.4.3  Renewal

·         Reforming popes: Leo IX [1049–1054] began reform by abolishing simony and promoting clerical celibacy. However, he was captured by the Norsemen and remained a prisoner until shortly before his death. The next four popes [1055–1073] continued the reforms started by Leo IX.

†        9.4.4  Gregory VII [1073–1085]

·         Confronting the emperor: Gregory VII continued the campaign against simony, clerical marriage, and lay investiture. He clashed with Emperor Henry IV [1056–1106] on the power to appoint ecclesiastical posts. Henry was in danger of losing his empire so he travelled to Canossa [1077] to beg Gregory’s forgiveness. Later, when Gregory supported a rebellion, Henry marched on Rome. Gregory had to flee and died in exile.

†        9.4.5  Conflicts with the empire

·         Continuous conflicts: The wrestle for power continued between the empire and the papacy. Pope Callixtus II negotiated with Emperor Henry V and agreed to Concordat of Worms [1122]. Prelates would be elected freely. The granting of all feudal rights, privileges, and possessions would be in the hand of civil authorities.

·         Councils: The Council of Lateran II [1139] made clerical celibacy compulsory. The Council of Lateran III decided that the college of cardinals could elect the pope.

†        9.4.6  Innocent III [1198–1216]

·         Most powerful pope: He became the most powerful pope in church history. He believed that he was the vicar of Christ, with supreme authority on earth. He exerted his power and influence in France, Germany, England, and many other European countries. He called the Council of Lateran IV which was completed controlled by the pope. All the important decisions on complicated issues were made within 3 days.

†        9.4.7  Council of Lateran IV [1215]

·         Doctrinal decisions: [1] The council promulgated the doctrine of transubstantiation. [2] It condemned lay reform movements. [3] It instituted episcopal inquisition against heresy.

·         Decisions on practices: [1] It decreed that all the faithful must confess their sins at least once a year. [2] It ordered the clergy to abstain from various pastimes. [3] It prohibited any charging for the administration of sacraments. [4] It ordered that every cathedral have a school.


[1] treasure our heritage

Obedience, discipline, and humility in monasticism are Biblical.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

The church still survived even with so much papal corruption.

[3] avoid past errors

Corruption occurred when the church acted like a civil authority.

[4] apply our knowledge

Private control of ecclesiastical offices must not be allowed.

[5] follow past saints

The lifestyle of Franciscans can encourage us to live a simple life.