THE MEDIEVAL CHURCH
BEGINNINGS OF RELIGIOUS REFORM. THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE. SCHOLARS AND LEADERS
During this period, and especially toward its close, gleams of religious light began to shoot over the age, for tokens of the coming Reformation. Five great movements for reform in the church arose, but the world was not ready for them, and they were repressed with bloody persecution.
The Albigenses or Cathari, “puritans,” grew up to prominence in southern France, about 1170. They repudiated the authority of tradition, circulated the New Testament, and opposed the Romish doctrines of purgatory, image-worship, and priestly claims; although they held some peculiar views allied to the ancient Manicheans, and rejected the Old Testament. Pope Innocent III, in 1208, called for a “crusade” against them, and the sect was extirpated by the slaughter of almost the entire population of the region, Catholic as well as heretic.
The Waldensians were founded about the same time, 1170, by Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons, who read, explained, preached and circulated the Scriptures, to which he appealed against the usages and doctrines of the Roman Catholics. He established and order of evangelists, “The Poor Men of Lyons,” who went through central and southern France, gaining followers. They were bitterly persecuted; but, driven out of France, found hiding places in the valleys of northern Italy, and in the face of centuries of persecution have endured, and constitute a part of the comparatively small group of Protestants in Italy.
John Wyclif began the movement in England for freedom from the Roman power and for reformation in the church. He was born about 1329, and was educated at the University of Oxford, where he became doctor of theology, and the leading spirit in its councils. He attacked the mendicant friars, and the system of monasticism; rejected and opposed the authority of the pope in England; wrote against the doctrine of transubstantiation, i.e., that in the mass the bread and wine are transformed into the veritable body and blood of Christ; regarding them merely as symbols, and urged that the church service be made more simple, according to the New Testament pattern. In other lands he would have suffered martyrdom, but in England he was protected by the most powerful among the nobles; and though some of his doctrines were condemned by the University, he was allowed to retire to his parish at Lutterworth and remain undisturbed as a priest. His greatest word was his translation of the New Testament into English, finished in 1380; the Old Testament, in which he was aided by friends, appeared in 1384, the year of Wyclif’s death. His followers were called Lollards, at one time numerous, but under Kings Henry IV and Henry V were persecuted and finally extinguished. Wyclif’s preaching and his
translation prepared the way for the Reformation.
John Huss, in Bohemia(born 1369, martyred 1415), was a reader of Wyclif’s writings, and preached his doctrines, especially proclaiming freedom from papal authority. He was made rector of the University of Prague, and for a time held a commanding influence throughout Bohemia. The Pope excommunicated him, and laid the city of Prague under and interdict while he remained there. Huss retired, but from his hiding-place sent forth letters reaffirming his views. After two years he consented to go before the Council of the Roman Catholic Church at Constance, in Baden on the border of Switzerland, having received a safe conduct from the Emperor Sigismund. But the pledge was violated upon the principle that “faith was not to be kept with heretics.” Huss was condemned and burned to death in 1415, but his fate aroused the reforming element in his native land, and has influenced Bohemia through all the centuries since his day.
Jerome Savonarola (born 1452) was a monk of the Dominican order at Florence in Italy, and Prior of the Monastery of St. Mark. He preached, like one of the old prophets, against the social, ecclesiastical, and political evils of his day, filled the great cathedral to overflowing with multitudes eager not only to listen, but to obey his teachings. For a time he was the practical dictator of Florence, and effected a seeming reformation. But he was excommunicated by the pope, was imprisoned, condemned, hanged, and his body burned, in the great square of Florence. His martyrdom was in 1498, only nineteen years before Luther nailed his theses on the cathedral door at Wittenberg.
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 has been fixed upon by historians as the dividing point between medieval and modern times. The Greek Empire never recovered from the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, but the strong defenses, natural and artificial, long protected the city against the Turks, who succeeded the Arabians as the leading Mohammedan power. Province after province of the great empire was shorn away, until only the city of Constantinople was left, and in 1453, it was finally taken by the Turks under Mohammed the Second. In one day Church of St. Sophia was transformed into a mosque, and Constantinople became, as it remained until 1920, the city of the Sultans and the capital of the Turkish Empire. Angora (Ankara) became the Turkish capital after World War I. The Greek Church continues with its patriarch, shorn of all but ecclesiastical authority, residing in Constantinople (Istanbul). With the fall of Constantinople, 1453, ends
the period of the Medieval Church.
Let us mention very briefly some of the scholars and leaders of thought in the period which we have studied. During the thousand years of the Medieval Church many great men arose, but we name only four of them as the intellectual leaders of their age.
Anselm was born 1033 in Piedmont in Italy, and at first, like many others, was a wandering scholar in various lands, but became a monk at the Monastery of Bec in Normandy, and was made abbot in 1078. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Church of England by William Rufus in 1093; but strove against William and his successor Henry I, for the liberty and authority of the church, and for a time suffered banishment. He was the writer of many theological and philosophical works, and has been called “a second Augustine.” He died in 1109.
Peter Abelard, born 1079, died 1142, as philosopher and theologian, was the boldest thinker of the Middle Ages. He may be regarded as the founder of the University of Paris, which was the mother of the European universities.
His fame as a teacher drew students by the ten thousand from every part of Europe, and many of the great men in the generation succeeding his own were influenced by his thought. His daring speculations and independent opinions more than once brought him under the ban of the church. Even more famous than his teachings and writings has been the romantic story of his love-affair with the beautiful Heloise for whom he broke his monastic vows. They were married, but afterward compelled to separate. Both entered convents; Abelard died an abbot and Heloise an abbess.
Bernard of Clairvaux(1090-1153) came of a noble French family. He was educated for the court, but renounced it for the convent. In 1115 he established at Clairvaux a monastery of the reformed Cistercian order, and became its first abbot. His branch of the order took root in many countries, and its members were commonly known as Bernardines. Bernard was a remarkable union of the mystic and the practical thinker. He preached and promoted the Second Crusade in 1147. A broad-minded gentle-hearted man, he opposed and wrote against the persecution of the Jews. Some of his hymns, as “Jesus, the very thought of Thee,” and “O Sacred Head, now wounded,” are sung in all the churches. Only twenty years after his death he was canonized as St. Bernard. Luther said “If there ever lived on earth a God-fearing and holy monk, it was St. Bernard of Clairvaux.”
The greatest mind of the Middle Ages was that of Thomas Aquinas, who lived 1225 to 1274, and was called “Universal Doctor,” “Angelical Doctor,” and “Prince of Scholastics.” He was born at Aquino in the kingdom of Naples and against the will of his
family, the counts of Aquino, entered the Dominican order of monks.
While a young student he was so silent as to be nicknamed “the dumb ox”; but his master, Albertus Magnus, said “This ox will one day fill the word with his bellowing.” He became the most celebrated and highest authority of all the medieval period in philosophy and theology, and his writings are still often quoted, especially by Roman Catholic scholars. He died in 1274.
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