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Yuri Koszarycz

The Understanding of Church in the West (11th - 13th Centuries)

Innocent III considered a crusade to regain the Holy Land to be an urgent task of his pontificate. What he did not count on was the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, who never did reach Jerusalem. The triumphalism with which Innocent greeted the establishment of primacial authority in Constantinople demonstrated his global view of the Church as an institutional force.

If the Fourth Crusade represented the low point of Innocent's pontificate, then the Fourth Lateran Council called by him in 1215 was the high point of his pontificate (Brooke, 1971; Granfield, 1981; Powell, 1965). It was the first genuinely universal Council in the Medieval West; not only Bishops but Abbots and Provosts as well as the secular powers were invited. Representation was accorded to all the various Orders within the Church and all "Doctors" received the power to vote. In one sense, the thirteenth century Church thus believed that the supreme magisterium of the Church belonged to the Church as a whole and not exclusively to the Bishops. The Council dealt mainly with the preservation of faith, particularly against heretics. Decrees were enacted on preaching, education of the clergy, elections, marriage and tithes. "The assembly was an impressive testimony of the standing and function of the papacy as the monarchic instrument of governing Christendom" (Ullman, 1972: 232).

Theology within the Church of the 12th and thirteenth centuries was still very much influenced by the writings of Augustine:

    In theology and philosophy it was not only his teaching that was of paramount influence; his whole outlook on the world of men and things, above all his characteristic blending of the natural and the supernatural, or rather his acceptance of human life as it is in fact lived by the Christian, a human creature and yet a child of God, impressed itself upon the whole fabric of medieval religious thought so as to seem not merely one interpretation, but the only possible outlook (Knowles and Obolensky, 1969: 250).

Augustine's world-view was unquestionably accepted, and the Church as a physical and political reality was seen as being in mystical communion with Christ. Christ was its head, and all those who are joined by the Spirit, visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly make up the Body, with the Holy Spirit being the Soul of this communion. Augustine himself saw the earthly Church as an inferior part of the total Church, and as Dulles expresses it: Augustine saw it as "the communion of saints that exists imperfectly here on earth and perfectly in the blessed in heaven" (1978: 105).

Yet, these four centuries also saw the extra-ordinary contribution of great saints and great intellectuals such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, Peter Lombard, Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure, Thomas of Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Catherine of Sienna to the philosophy, theology and spirituality of the Western Church. These, and other scholars of the time influenced Church teaching in a way not experienced since St. Augustine. Table six, at the end of this module, presents a time-line which indicates the richness of these centuries for the development of Christian learning and spirituality.

Thomas Aquinas believed that "the Church essentially consists in a divinising communion with God, whether incompletely in this life or completely in the life of glory" (Dulles, 1978: 47). For Aquinas, the unifying force that bonded the earthly and heavenly together was the Holy Spirit, for through grace and the commitment to Christ human nature could be sublimated and an interior union with God made possible. In this way grace perfected nature (Knowles and Obolensky, 1969: 363). Thomas applied Aristotelian principles of philosophy in his theological arguments. In this way he endeavoured to build a bridge between faith and knowledge. Yet within his own lifetime the intellectual insights of Aquinas were not appreciated:

    His conception of the relationship of faith and intelligence was both too profound and too radical, and by the end of the century in which he died, men in the theological faculties of the universities were beginning to lose confidence in the power of human intelligence to understand God and his works. As is always the case, loss of confidence in the power of human intelligence marked the beginning of the decline of a great culture (Dwyer, 1985: 182).

These centuries can be viewed through many windows; they also witnessed the establishment of the Carthusians, the revival of the Cistercians, the founding of the Carmelites, Franciscans and Dominican order. The ideal that one should live a life as closely related to that of heaven was promoted by reformers such as Bernard of Clairvaux and by the monastic orders at Cluny, where the ideal monk was seen as "a dedicated servitor who by means of an almost perpetual stream of vocal prayer and praise helped to form the earthly counterpart of the heavenly choir" (Knowles and Obolensky, 1969: 255). Bernard believed and taught that the Church must serve and nor demand service; must be poor, not seek enrichment. To Pope Eugene (1145 - 1153) he had written: "If we are to think highly of ourselves, we should perceive that a burden of service is laid upon us, not the privilege of lordship bestowed" (Nigg, 1959: 205).

It is interesting to note that under the Dominicans and the Franciscan Friars (both groups won the patronage of Innocent III) an alternative model of Church began to emerge. During his pontificate, Innocent was increasingly confronted by a slightly better educated population, who were becoming increasingly critical of a legally fixed and judicially enacted brand of Christianity. It is interesting to note, when considering his acceptance of the Franciscans and Dominicans, that he seemed to be sympathetic to such non-conformists and their emphasis on pastoral work and apostolic poverty. His attitude seems quite enlightened as long as their was no sin against "divine majesty" and no compromise with the orthodoxy of faith. The twelth and thirteenth century saw the building of many cathedrals to contain relics and major works of religious art. The wealthy were major contributors, many buying favours and indulgences through their patronage:

    In one sense the glorious cathedral was the epitome of everything that was wrong with the late Middle Ages: signs of privilege and wealth, segregation from the masses and vast centers of relic collecting, money-making shrines and vast commercial enterprises inflicted on the common people by nobility and wealthy aristocrats (Bausch, 1981: 213).

In terms of models of Church, Innocent III's pontificate presents a contradiction: A Church which was so structured that all power and authority came from one person; a Church which was brutal and violent through the Crusades and the Inquisition; a Church which showed service to the poor and needy through the Franciscans and Dominicans; a Church that stood for no opposition in its theological authority; a Church that patronised the establishment of centres of higher learning where men such as Thomas Aquinas would develop new ways of theological reflection.

In a very real sense, Innocent's reign saw the zenith of the papal monarchy with its centre in the curia. The Church as a community of the faithful had been replaced by a narrower hierarchical church, comprising clerical orders in ascending ranks jealously guarding their rights and privileges. Even the reforming Fourth Lateran Council had its program imposed upon it by Innocent, and in reality it was to the papacy that the people looked to reform the Church. Innocent's pontificate presents for church historians a dramatic dichotomy - the institutionalised church beginning to give birth to the servant Church. Bausch quotes Professor Knowles in a final assessment of this pontificate:

    Innocent III's pontificate is the brief summer of papal world government. Before him the greatest of his predecessors were fighting to attain a position of control; after him, successors used the weapons of power with an increasing lack of spiritual wisdom and political insight. Innocent alone was able to make himself obeyed when acting in the interests of those he commanded. We may think, with the hindsight of centuries, that the conception of the papacy which he inherited and developed was fatal, in that it aimed at what was not attainable and undesirable, the subordination of the secular policy to the control of a spiritual power, but this conception was as acceptable and desirable to his age as has been to our own the conception of a harmonious and peaceful direction of the world by a league or union of nations.

    ...It is impossible to dismiss the whole of Innocent's government of the Church as an exhibition of power politics to the exercise of an ambitious and egotistical man or even as an achievement of mere clearsighted efficiency. He appears rather as one who was indeed concerned to use and extend all the powers of his office to forward the welfare of something greater, the Church of Christ throughout Europe, and the eternal welfare of her children...The judgement which sees in him no more than a mitred statesman, a papal Richelieu, a loveless hierocrat, does not square with evidence. The man, who in the midst of business, could recognise and bless the unknown and apparently resourceless, radical Francis was not only farsighted but spiritually clearsighted. He died when the world still needed him, when he might have saved the papacy...He died at Perugia; his court left him, and his robes and goods and very body were pillaged by his servants (Bausch, 1981: 225 - 226).

This same theocratic monarch who began the reform by allowing a place for the Franciscan and Dominican Orders "saved the Church from petrification in a rigid hierarchy; it made possible its adoption to the requirements of a new social environment - namely the rising towns with their urban proletariat... it allowed room for new lively spirits of deep religious feeling, which earlier policy had driven out of the Church" (Barraclough, 1968: 129).

The 12th and 13th centuries were a time of change not only in the ecclesiastical but also secular spheres. It was an age which witnessed the reign of Frederick Barbarossa, the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, the ascendancy of the Hapsburgs to power, and the institution of the Papal Inquisition. The society of the period was hierarchical in structure, being made of established estates or orders, each having its duties, rights and obligations, its privileges, honours, prerogatives and functions. Canon law became a power that produced not only a highly organised, political and central papacy, but also a power that so influenced societal law, that it gave rise to a new secular order and a culture that was almost totally ecclesiastical (Congar, 1969: 29).

The thirteenth century witnessed the foundations of universities in Paris, Padua, Naples, Prague, Vienna, Heidelberg and Cologne, as well as a re-discovery of the writings of Aristotle who greatly influenced the thinking of medieval scholars - Thomas Aquinas in particular. "These universities quickly rose to importance and became famous throughout Europe. They were given special privileges by the Popes, including freedom from interference by the local bishop" (Dwyer, 1985: 178). These universities were to play a vital role in the intellectual life in the centuries to follow. Previously, judgements of orthodoxy had been pronounced by regional bishops' councils, and were sometimes followed by appeals to Rome. However in the thirteenth century universities began to take on a magisterial role. For example, the doctrinal decrees of both the Council of Lyons in 1245 and 1274 were submitted to the universities for approval before being published.

This century witnessed the uprooting of the papacy from Rome and its re- establishment in Avignon for a period for almost seventy years. The fourteenth century ended in witnessing a papacy in turmoil and disarray, forced into a schism which saw three rival popes enthroned simultaneously in confusion and conflict.

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