FROM 500 AD to 1500 AD


Uncivilised tribes overran the Roman Empire at the end of the fifth century, and the very existence of Christianity in the West was at risk.

For the next several centuries, the church tackled paganism, heretical doctrines within and the Christian Community, assaults, changing political task forces, and ethnic variety, which threatened its continued survival and accepted new ways of enacting its undertaking in the world. In this state of interaction, the church prospered and evangelised extensive new territories, but although the empire had vanished in the West, the old Roman sense for order and structure remained in the church.

Under the leadership of Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, 590-604 AD, the Roman papacy assumed direction of the church in the West. Rome continued to give directions for the church through this period. An underlying principle was developed for the increasing power of the papacy, which created a strong official procedure to support popes and their efforts to govern the church all the way through the West.

Stability succeeded at the local level as well, and a community system slowly built-up under the protection of cathedrals, monasteries, and local nobility. Monasteries were places for Christian worship, learning, social and economic development, and works for aid organizations during this period.

Gregory the Great, other popes, a select few of monastic figures, and theological leaders of the early medieval period had helped to unite European Catholicism with a stable and popular spirituality.

Roman Catholics in this era were wrongly taught to see salvation as a reward granted by God in view of the accumulation of good points, and the people regarded the church as possessing a treasury of this merit. Christians were increasingly educated erroneously, that the saints in heaven might intercede for them and help them toward salvation with their prayers, for a monetary fee. The adoration of relics and the pilgrimages were among other practices thought to help the faithful on their way toward salvation. Those who had apparently not acquired sufficient merit at the time of death might do so in purgatory after death.

In the sixth century Pope Gregory the Great dispatched Augustine of Canterbury to England to evangelise its kingdoms and bring them into the orbit of Latin Christendom. Evangelists travelled to China.

In 622 AD the rise of Islam and the Muslim expansion began, which proved a formidable challenge to both eastern and western Christianity, under the prophet Muhammad.

From the middle of the seventh through the early eighth centuries Muslim armies swept from the eastern Mediterranean, across north Africa, and through Spain. This placed ancient centres of Christianity under Muslim rule. The event brought Christianity into contact with Islamic life and deepened the division between the separated eastern and western portions of the church.

Complex theological debates raged among the people about the nature and person of Christ. Rome and Constantinople continued the struggle for supremacy of the Christian world.

One amazing event was the forged Decretals or decrees in 850 AD that were used to support the claim for the pope's total dominance in church and state. These documents of Church Laws were pre-dated by 500 years, as well as the 'donation of Constantine' another forged document about the giving of power to the popes. Pope Nicholas 1 (858-867) was the first to base his claims upon them.

In the ninth century, Christians began to gather new energy in the West. The German ruler Charlemagne created a large empire in the centre of Europe and the Coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor occurred in 800 AD. The German church provided learning and reform throughout the continent.

By the ninth and tenth centuries, European theologians were again debating issues which included the problem of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and predestination. Four Councils had been held.

At the beginning the ninth century Byzantine missionaries were sent to the Slavic peoples living north of the Orthodox Churches. Bulgaria and Serbia were also evangelised and Russia was converted in the tenth. Denmark and Norway were forcibly converted in the tenth century and Sweden was declared Christian by its king in the eleventh century.

An exchange of condemnations in the year 1054 is often considered the event that made the so-called Great Schism between East and West official. Both churches excommunicated each other. The western Church made claims regarding the succession of popes from the Apostle Peter.

Also in the eleventh century Anselm of Canterbury began a probing exploration of how faith might be supported by reason, an inquiry that would set the stage for later medieval developments. In the same century Europeans began the series of Holy Crusades to recapture the Holy Lands for Christian control. The first Holy War seemed to achieve its goals but the successive crusades were disasters.

Constantinople, the Capital City for The Church in the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) was captured in Fourth Crusade in 1204 AD.

Theologians in the East continued to pursue theological controversies. A number of eastern churches did not, in fact, accept the decisions of the Councils previously held which taught that in the one person of Christ there were two natures, one human and one divine. Later on in the early middle ages, the Orthodox churches of the East were agitated by a prolonged controversy over the proper use of icons.

Renowned theologians of the era spoke out about the controversy, but a decision was made approving the worship of icons, which became a vital element in eastern devotional life. Throughout this period monasticism in the East prospered, as did mystical theology. These developments and other factors, including continuing debate over the place of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity and the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed, caused East and West to drift farther apart. This clause had stated that The Holy Spirit proceeded forth from both the Father and The Son. Celibacy was another issue that divided east and west communities. West supported celibacy and the east agreed to marriage within their priesthood.

In the same era, Christians began the effort to retake Spain from Muslim control and throughout this period Christians were energetic in evangelism. They consistently converted the pagan tribes that had invaded Europe. Heretical invaders were likewise converted to an equally unorthodox Roman Catholicism doctrine. The Celtic churches of Ireland and Scotland were early missionary bases.

The late middle-ages was a period of both vitality and decline. Theology, monasticism, the papacy, the arts, and popular devoutness flourished. At the same time, decadence and corruption dramatically weakened the church. By the end of this era, many voices throughout the church were calling for urgent reform.

Theology in the West enjoyed a richly creative period in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Students of The Scriptures worked in the newly founded universities.

In the thirteenth century Thomas Aquinas brought western theology to a high point when he attempted to construct faith and reason in a new way. Other theologians continued to develop traditions associated with philosophies. Many students were strongly attracted by the newly reintroduced philosophy of Aristotle as a basis for theological inquiry.

Later theological advancements included the appearance of the teaching that emphasized the omnipotence of God and the unforeseen event of historical patterns.

Eastern theology at this time was absorbed with matters relating to the devotional life and mystical traditions and many recorded their support of the monastic practice of prayer.

In the West, the popes of this period, including Innocent III, 1198-1216 AD, often made extreme claims for their authority over both church and state. By the end of the middle ages, however, it was clear that the popes were without control over either church or princes.

Monastic reformers created new orders, and pledged themselves to the ideal of apostolic poverty. This was a confrontation to the wealth of the church and its corrupting effects. Francis of Assisi formed the Franciscans with the intention of practicing poverty and evangelism. Dominic de Guzman founded the Dominicans as another mendicant order. It became known not only for its self-discipline, but also for the concern for the church's accepted view.

The decline of papal power began with Boniface V111 in 1303 AD.

In the fourteenth century the popes resided at Avignon, France, and were under the direct control of French monarchs. Later, there emerged several rival popes, each claiming to be the successor of Peter. During this time the church acquired great wealth and an appetite for even more. This led to abuses all of which related to the buying and selling of offices in the church. Clergy and monks regularly gathered money from believers through the sale of rights offered with the duplication of masses, pilgrimages, relics, and indulgences.

The Roman Church had three popes, all claiming to be the true successors of St Peter.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries John Wycliffe in England and the Czech John Huss called for both theological and practical reform of the church. Others looked to the councils of the church to undertake the cause of reform.

By the end of the fifteenth century, it was apparent that Roman Catholicism had not succeeded in reforming the church. To this distress was added the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in the East in 1453, the Fall of Constantinople by the Turks. This placed the Orthodox churches under the domination of Muslim overlords.

As the century came to a close, calls for reform and renewal throughout the Christian Kingdom grew urgent.


QUESTIONS 1] What caused The Great Schism between East and Western Christian Communities? 2] Did the Councils compromise? 3] What was the Eastern Capital of The Empire? 4] Did wealth corrupt the Church in the Western Empire?


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