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History of Christianity I - Part 2

Terms in this set (33)

...1. The Church is catholic - the Church is universal in scope; the Church is the house of God and covers the whole world, not just Africa and the Donatists; Augustine believed that the Donatists had attempted to usurp the glory of God by limiting the Church to themselves
2. Separation is evil - Augustine believed the Donatists had divided the Church by schism; for Augustine there is no salvation outside of the church
3. Holiness of the Church - the critical issue was the Donatists insistence that the Church must be pure; the Donatists rejected the entire Catholic Church as unholy because of its communion with some of those that had handed over copies of the Scripture. Augustine argues against the notion that the Church consists of just the righteous. The Church is a mixed body, including the clergy. The Donatists misunderstand the nature of the Church and its place in the world before the final separation in the last day. In the Church, says Augustine, the offences are frequent because there is not yet the perfection; the toleration of the chaff is useful. The Church is both wheat and tares. Augustine rejects the Donatists claim to be an "ecclesius sanctum", a holy Church pointing to the crimes of the Circumcellions (a militant fringe of the Donatists) and their abuses. Augustine accuses the Donatists of the sin of pride, to think that they are the ones who make people righteous. Jesus is the one who makes people righteous.
4. Preeminence of charity - it is the lack of charity, love for the brethren, that condemns the Donatists. "You adore Him in the head but you blaspheme Him in the body." Christ never separates himself from the body; the body has no life separated from the head; the denial of charity toward the brethren is hatred of the Holy Spirit; without charity they have no saving faith.
5. Sacrament of baptism - if both churches claimed to be the true Church, it would seem to follow that both would claim to be the sole possessors of the true sacraments. For the Donatists this was true but not for Augustine. Augustine believed that Donatist baptism was valid in a qualified sense. It was only truly efficacious when one is joined to the Catholic Church. A Donatist who rejoins the Catholic Church is not to be rebaptized; Augustine distinguished between the valid administration of a sacrament and the grace received in a sacrament. The full benefit of your baptism will not come into effect until you are reconnected to the Catholic Church. Augustine must deny the notion of rebaptism lest he grant the Donatist position on the sacraments as inseparably connected to the personal holiness of the clergy. The validity of baptism is not dependent on the piety of the clergy doing the baptizing. Augustine recognizes Donatist baptism because it was received in its true form through its previous connection to the Catholic Church. The Donatists had come out of the Catholic Church and so had taken with them the true sacrament. Yet the generation and the remission of sins in baptism are only a reality in the unity of the Catholic Church.
6. Pastoral concern - Augustine believed that there was only one holy, catholic and apostolic church which is indivisible; these people have broken the Body of Christ; they have separated themselves from the blessing of Jesus; the Head and the Body cannot be separated. This pastoral concern motivates him.
...Monasticism came about as a reaction by some to the worldliness they saw in the church. In the 3rd & 4th centuries two forms of monasticism emerged: the solitary life of a hermit (anchoritic monasticism) and communal life (cenobitic monasticism). Monastics had a theology of discipline directed toward a more spiritual life. They practiced separation (from the world), denial (of self), abstinence (from sex, food, drink, pleasure-seeking), perfection, prayer and charity.They used both the OT (dietary laws, fasting, abstaining from sex, the example of John the Baptist), Platonism (downplayed the place of the body; the body is the place of struggle with evil), Stoicism (freedom from the bedlam of society) and the NT (Jesus was single; had no place to lay his head; owned no property; spent much time in prayer. Drew on the communal lifestyle depicted in the book of Acts and Paul's celebration of celibacy).
Their goal was "apatheia" (freedom from inner turbulence- to be free of distraction by scattered desires, mastery of uncontrolled passions which made them better able to love God and their neighbor) and purity of heart (desire the good; desire God as one's treasure). They relied upon Evigrius's teaching from the "Praktikos" (The Practices) which set out the 8 evil thoughts:
1. Gluttony - must learn self-control; ability to share with others
2. Impurity (lust) - internal war with the passions
3. Avarice (greed) - need for material goods; less to give
4. Sadness (dejection) - self-pity; comparison to others
5. Anger - concerns relationships with others; grudges; anger irritates the soul; it can seize the mind at times of prayer
6. Sloth (acedia) - idea of boredom/ apathy; despair of progress in spiritual life; spiritual depression
7. Vainglory - most subtle; when we long for others to notice us and our spirituality; makes one more prone to lust; inward focus on "me"
8. Pride - taking credit for progress in spiritual life; forgetting God
In "The Practices" was also found the "Habitual Reminders":
1. Lent stability to the wandering mind:
a. Lectio Divina - divine reading and meditation on Scripture
b. Prayer - contemplation (resting silently) - after reading and meditating on Scripture, silent waiting on God to speak
c. Vigils (waiting) - holy place or event
2. Helps to extinguish the flames of desire:
a. Fasting - hunger reminds of Christ's sacrifice
b. Toil - fatigue diffuses the passions
c. Solitude - undivided attention
Benefits of Monasticism
A. A stronghold against heresy - they studied the writings of the Fathers and the Scriptures
B. Evangelized the barbarians
C. Kept learning alive - tended to be well educated
D. Held up the ideal of commitment and service - tried to live the faith out consistently
E. Stable Christian communities
F. Long-Term Impact - "godliness requires training" - must exert effort to grow in godliness
Negative aspect - 2 classes of Christians: those who are really committed (monks) and the rest of us.
..."Caesaropapism" - distinctive of the Eastern Church; the idea that church and state are intended by God to be a very close fellowship in union; ultimately the head of the Church is going to be the emperor; the patriarch in Constantinople is the spiritual leader, yet in many ways it is the emperor; in the West the Popes were constantly fighting against this. The state enforced orthodoxy; the unity of the empire required this; the Eastern emperors called councils to resolve problems in the Church. Emperors issued decrees on ecclesiastical matters; nominated the patriarch of Constantinople; no patriarch could hold office without the consent of the emperor
1. Apophatic Theology (apophasis - denial) - Eastern theological tradition; describe God by what He is not
a. God is an incomprehensible mystery
b. Human language incapable of describing God
c. "God cannot be grasped by the mind" - Evagrius
d. (Pseudo) Dionysius the Areopagite - mystic, probably a Syrian monk; talks about progressive deification "God became man so that men might become gods"; 3 steps identified with the mystical journey to union with God: purgation, illumination and union. Progressive movement of emptying yourself (purgation) of sin, illumination (spiritual enlightenment-a light that breaks into the soul) and then union with the divine (communion with God is otherworldly)
2. The Divine Liturgy
a. Theology through worship - the primary experience of the Christian life; this is where one encounters (experiences) God
b. Mystery - worship the incomprehensible God
i. "Only the one who prays is truly a theologian"
ii. "Theology in Color"
c. Veneration of Icons - St. John of Damascus (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith)
i. Kissing and bowing a cultural issue in East
3. Holy Tradition
a. Voice of God in Apostolic Tradition
b. Tradition = Scripture, Councils, Fathers, Canon Law, Icons
c. 7 Ecumenical Councils authoritative
d. Skeptical of private interpretation
4. Orthodox Spirituality
a. Theosis (apotheosis) - progressive deification "God became man so that men might become gods"; 2 Peter 1-"we have become partakers of the divine nature"; the goal of human existence is to dwell in God
...Scholasticism was an attempt to integrate theology and philosophy into one system; to harmonize faith and reason (using understanding to support faith). In western Europe at the height of the Middle Ages all education was in the hands of the church, and the great thinkers were all monks and clergy. Their thinking was carried on against the background of what had gone before—the classical philosophy of ancient Greece, the Bible and the teaching of the early Christian writers. What the scholastics or 'schoolmen' did was to put it into a logical system. Their quest of faith was a quest for logical formulation.
Anselm of Canterbury - forerunner of the Scholastic movement; his famous statement was "Credo ut intelligam" -"I believe so that I may understand" (faith seeking understanding). He argued for the existence of God from the nature of being itself in his Ontological Argument (in Proslogion) - there is something than which a greater cannot be thought to exist (there is something that is the greatest of all in conception-that nothing greater can exist); since existence in reality is better than just existence in the mind, therefore this being that is greater than any other thought must exist in reality; Anselm also developed a theory of the Atonement in Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man), "Satisfaction Theory" - "Satisfaction which cannot be given by anyone but God, and ought to be given by no one but man, must be given by a God-man." sin runs up a debt with God which humans can never themselves repay. But Christ's death was of such worth that it 'satisfied' God's offended majesty and earned a reward. Hence the Father gives humanity salvation on account of the merits of Christ.
Peter Abelard was one of the pioneers of Scholasticism; his theological Method - Christian Rationalism - the use of reason to do theology; I only believe what I can understand; Abelard's book Sic et Non (Yes and No) (1122) set the stage for discussing the relationship between faith and reason in Christian theology.
"Moral Influence" Theory of Atonement - rejected Anselm's view; he said that God is love and forgives out of love, He took no pleasure in the death of Christ; Christ is our example (died for us because he loved us); awakens love in us
Abelard's desire to reconcile faith and reason in the context of Christian theology set the stage for the work of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.
Thomas Aquinas - affiliated with Dominican order; studied under Albert the Great; was called "dumb ox"; his "Summa Theologiae" - 60 volumes; applied Aristotle to theology using questions, objections, authorities, logic
The Five Ways - proofs for God's existence: the argument from movement, the argument from causality (cosmological argument), the argument from existence (ontological argument), the notion of perfection, the argument from order (teleological argument)
Doctrine of Analogy -use of human language to talk about God; if language for God is univocal (same meaning on human and religious level), can't use; if language for God is equivocal (one meaning on human level and another meaning on religious level), pushed to extreme we are not talking about the same thing at all; Thomas said language about God is analogical (similar meaning)
Reason and Faith - inversion of Augustinian perspective; must begin with reason then add faith; natural theology (natural law) - the truths that can be discerned from nature/reason; Thomas never questions any accepted doctrines of the Church - his primary thrust was to use reason to further understand the doctrines; Thomas always looks to the past (Fathers, Scripture)
His innovations would become orthodoxy - "Thomism" of permanent value, Papal encyclical (1879)
a. "Substance" (the substance of the bread and wine actually change into the substance of the body and blood of Christ) - the essence of a thing and "accidents" - the outward characteristics of a thing (the accidents, bread and wine, don't change)
Relationship of Grace & Merit - grace is a substance that God infuses into the human soul (only to the elect); this grace must be exercised through acts of charity which accrues merit for us; this merit must overcome the sin in our lives; grace must come first by a sovereign work of God, but there are things we must do; indulgences bought merit of past saints
...The Waldensians would emerge in the 12th Century and disagreed with the church on issues like indulgences, purgatory, prayer to the saints, and the lack of biblical teaching. In 1211 more than 80 Waldensians would be burned at the stake by the church and in 1215 were declared heretical by the 4th Lateran Council. They would experience centuries of persecutions because of inquisitions which gave the church authority to target and destroy heretical groups. Another reformer God raised up in the 14th Century was John Wycliffe. This brilliant reformer known as the morning star of the Reformation had major problems with several positions of the church. He began speaking out in Oxford against the church on issues like indulgences, Papal Authority, transubstantiation, church and state, and the authority of Scripture. He said that if the Pope had the authority to forgive sins then he should go ahead and forgive everyone. He also said you can't buy righteousness and believed the Pope was the anti-Christ. Wycliffe also had a real passion to teach the Bible to his parishioners in their own language and spent the last years of his life translating the Bible from Latin to English. Wycliffe's followers (the Lollards) would be around until the protestant reformation. Wycliffe died in 1384 and was condemned by the church at the council of Constance in 1415 at the same time one of his protégés John Hus was condemned. Hus also believed Scripture to be the authoritative word of God and should therefore be preached in the language people could understand. Hus was burned at the stake after he was condemned for standing up for these important issues. Martin Luther said "we are all followers of John Hus."
The Paulicians were a Christian group who appeared in the eastern parts of the Byzantine Empire after 650. Their founder, Constantine, rejected the formalism of the Orthodox state church which dominated the religious life of the Empire. He based his teaching on the written word of God alone, but held that only the Gospels and letters of Paul were divinely inspired. An evil deity, he declared, had inspired the rest of the New Testament and the Old Testament.
The Paulicians claimed that this evil deity was the creator and god of this world. The true God of heaven, they said, was opposed to all material things. In order to save people's spirits from the evil of the physical world, the true God sent an angel who appeared to be a man, Jesus. From this dualistic view came the Paulicians' ideas about the Scriptures and church.
Since the Old Testament both declared that God created the world and provided the basis for the theocratic principles of the Byzantine union of church and state, they believed that it must have been produced by the evil spirit. Since the Orthodox church involved so much that was physical and material, such as the sacraments, priesthood, images, liturgy and secular influence, it, too, must have come from the same evil spirit. The Paulicians also claimed that the church's appeal to the authority of the apostle Peter showed that he was a messenger of that spirit.
The origin of the Paulicians' ideas is unclear. They are similar to some of the earlier ideas of Marcion and especially the Manicheans, but not identical with either of these systems.
Constantine changed his name to Silvanus (Silas), which was the name of one of the associates of Paul. After Silvanus was stoned to death, the next leader of the sect took the name of Titus. He was burned alive. Other leaders adopted the names of Timothy and Tychicus. This attempt to associate themselves with the apostle Paul probably led to their name of 'Paulicians'.
During the 'Iconoclastic Controversy' of the eighth century, the persecution of the Paulicians eased. One emperor, Constantine Copronymus, may even have been a Paulician. But in the ninth century, the Empress Theodora ordered the massacre of tens of thousands of Paulicians, who were most numerous in the area of Armenia.
In response to persecutions, the Paulicians organized armies which proved skilful in battle. Therefore, the emperors moved many Paulicians from their Armenian homeland to the Balkans (present-day Bulgaria). They meant the Paulicians to defend the Empire against threats from the Slavs and Bulgars.
The Paulicians, it turned out, had a greater impact on the Bulgars in the religious than in the military field. They preached their beliefs to these recent converts to Christianity. Some of the Bulgars adopted Paulician ideas into a new religious system that acquired the name 'Bogomilism.'
The Bogomils
The organizer of the new movement, it appears, was a priest named Bogomil. His name means 'beloved of God.' Around the middle of the tenth century Bogomil began to teach that the first-born son of God was Satanael. Because of his pride, this deity was expelled from heaven. He made a new heaven and earth, in which he placed Adam and Eve. Satenael and Eve became the parents of Cain, who was the source of all evil among humans. Moses and John the Baptist, according to Bogomil teaching, were both servants of Satanael. But God sent the Logos, his second son, to save humanity from the control of Satanael. Although Satanael killed the incarnate Logos, Jesus, his spiritual body was resurrected and returned to the right hand of God. Satanael was in this way defeated.
In contrast to the Paulicians, the Bogomils adopted a rigidly ascetic life-style. They despised marriage, although they permitted it in the case of less-than-perfect believers. They condemned the eating of meat and drinking of wine. They rejected baptism and communion as Satanic rites, since they used material things.
Bogomilism flourished in Bulgaria while it was an independent country in the tenth, and again in the thirteenth centuries. Bogomil ideas probably spread to western Europe where they influenced the Cathars and Albigensians. When the Turks destroyed the Bulgarian Empire in 1393, the sect of the Bogomils disappeared. Paulicians continued to exist in Armenia into the nineteenth century.
The medieval papacy attained the peak of its authority and influence under Innocent, who was pope 1198-1216. He had a unique ability to apply abstract concepts to concrete situations. His aristocratic background together with his outstanding personal abilities, sharpened by a precise training in canon and civil law as well as theology, fitted him to become a cardinal. In papal service he demonstrated unusual skill in dealing with the enormous variety of religious and secular problems which arose.
Innocent's diplomatic skills enabled him to wield papal authority to a remarkable degree throughout Christendom, although not always with the success he desired. He successfully upheld papal political power in Italy when it was gravely threatened by the union of the kingdom of Sicily with the German Empire. But Pope Innocent was unable to rescue King John from his rebellious English barons.
Because he believed the pope had unique authority as the 'Vicar of Christ' and as the successor of Peter, Innocent claimed the right to set aside any human actions since these were contaminated by sin and therefore came within his competence. Consequently he decreed an election for the German kingship null and void because, while one candidate had the majority of the votes, Innocent's candidate had the 'saner' votes.
The Fourth Lateran Council, called by Innocent in 1215, was the fitting climax to his career. This general council symbolized the mastery of the papacy over every feature of Latin Christendom (and seemingly over Greek Christendom, since the fourth Crusade had led to a short-lived Latin Empire of Constantinople between 1204 and 1261). Innocent's council confirmed the shameful isolation of Jews from society at large, requiring among other things that they wear a special badge. Sadly the Jews were increasingly confined to living in ghettos.
Bernard (1090-1153), the Abbot of Clairvaux, was the most influential Christian of his age. He bridged two worlds: the ages of feudal values and of the rise of towns and universities. He was the first of the great medieval mystics, and a leader of a new spirit of ascetic simplicity and personal devotion.
Born near Dijon to a noble family, Bernard took on the ideals of feudalism and chivalry characteristic of his class. However, he was also moulded by the Gregorian and Cluniac reforms, and was educated in the studies of the trivium (rhetoric, grammar and logic). At the age of twenty-one he entered the monastery of Cîteaux, the centre of the Cistercian order, in the wild valley of the River Saône. In 1115 he led a dozen Cistercians to found the new house of Clairvaux in the Champagne region.
Bernard wished to turn his back on the world and its comforts, and lead a life of prayer and self-denial. He emphasized God's love and believed that Christians come to know God by loving him. Bernard preached that physical love, which was natural to man, could be transformed by prayer and discipline into a redeeming spiritual love, the passion for Christ.
He was so exceptional that the world he wished to escape constantly sought him out. Aggressively self-righteous, he did not hesitate to criticize and correct the powerful leaders of his age. In 1130 he intervened in a controversy over the selection of a new pope. Bernard unhesitatingly backed the claimant he considered morally more worthy, and scolded the rest of Europe into doing likewise. He made peace between King Louis VII and his feudal subjects, wrote a rule for the order of Knights Templar, condemned the scholastic rationalism of Peter Abelard and preached the second Crusade.
Privately Bernard practised the most rigorous self-denial until, in August 1153, worn out by strenuous asceticism, he died. His writings remain a source of comfort and inspiration to thousands of modern Christians.
Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), a popular youth who led a carefree life, was destined for a career as a knight, until converted through illness, a pilgrimage to Rome, a vision and the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:7-10*. He was the son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant, and his father was angry because Francis interpreted the gospel to mean that goods should be freely given to the poor. Leaving home in a ragged cloak and a rope-belt taken from a scarecrow, he wandered the countryside with a few followers, begging from the rich, giving to the poor, and preaching. His charm, humility, and kindly manner attracted many followers.
In 1210 Francis obtained approval from Pope Innocent III for his simple rule devoted to apostolic poverty and began to call his associates the Friars Minor ('Lesser Brothers'). The new group, which followed its founder in preaching and caring for the poor and sick, met yearly at Portiuncula near Assisi. A society for women, the poor Clares, began in 1212 when Clare, an heiress of Assisi, was converted and commissioned.
To encourage missionary activities, Francis tried to go to Syria (1212) and to Morocco (1213-14) but was thwarted by misfortune. In 1219 he travelled to the Middle East, where he tried unsuccessfully to convert the Sultan of Egypt.
While Francis was absent, problems arose among the members of his order in Italy; upon his return he was forced to deal with them. Cardinal Ugolino was asked to be the protector of the order, and the appointment of a politically-minded brother, Elias of Cortona, as vicar-general led to a change in the character of the movement. In 1223, Pope Honorius III confirmed a new rule which allowed for an elaborate organization. Francis, holding to his original ideals, laid down his leadership and retired to a hermitage on Monte Alvernia, where he allegedly received the stigmata (bodily representations of the wounds of Christ). In spite of illness, pain and blindness he composed his 'Canticle to the Sun', his Admonitions and his Testament before submitting gladly to 'Brother Death' in 1226.
Francis did not turn to nature as a refuge from the world, as many monks did, but rather saw in created things objects of love that pointed to their Creator. For this reason he enjoyed the solitary life, and it is reported that even birds and animals enjoyed his sermons. However, his major concern was the growing cities, where he spent most of his time preaching the gospel while living in utter poverty among ordinary people. He is revered by many Christians as one of the most noble, Christ-like figures who ever lived.
Anselm (1033-1109), one of the great archbishops of Canterbury, is today remembered chiefly as a philosopher and a theologian. Anselm was part of the Norman conquest of England. Taking monastic vows in 1060, he succeeded Lanfranc as prior of Bec, in Normandy, in 1063. Thirty years later he succeeded Lanfrane as Archbishop of Canterbury. His time as archbishop was marked by conflict with King Rufus and his successor King Henry I. He was exiled more than once. As archbishop, he was known as a reformer, encouraging regular church synods, enforcing clerical celibacy and suppressing the slave trade.
Anselm was one of the early scholastic theologians. He taught that faith must lead to the right use of reason: 'I believe, in order that I may understand.'
It was Anselm who first put forward the 'ontological argument' for the existence of God. This was an attempt to prove God's existence by reason alone, starting with the idea of the most perfect being ... God is 'that than which no greater can be conceived'. But if 'that than which no greater can be conceived' is greatest in every respect except for existence, then clearly it would be inferior to the greatest being which did actually exist.
Anselm himself expressed the argument in several different forms. Even today it is the subject of intense debate among the philosophers. But most thinkers agree that it contains something of a conjuring trick. For it treats existence as if it were a quality which a thing might or might not have. The thing is either there or not there. And the only way of knowing is to ask for some tangible evidence.
Anselm's greatest work in theology was his Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). Anselm replied that sin runs up a debt with God which humans can never themselves repay. But Christ's death was of such worth that it 'satisfied' God's offended majesty and earned a reward. Hence the Father gives humanity salvation on account of the merits of Christ. Anselm's work showed deep insight into humanity's need of atonement. But he expressed it in terms of the thinking of his day. The New Testament speaks of Christ dying for us; Anselm tried to explain it by means of medieval ideas of merit and rewards.
In western Europe at the height of the Middle Ages all education was in the hands of the church, and the great thinkers were all monks and clergy. Their thinking was carried on against the background of what had gone before—the classical philosophy of ancient Greece, the Bible and the teaching of the early Christian writers. What the scholastics or 'schoolmen' did was to put it into a logical system. Their quest of faith was a quest for logical formulation.
Scholasticism gets its name from the medieval monastery and cathedral schools. It covers the period from the ninth century to the end of the fourteenth—from Eriugena to William of Ockham. Anselm, Peter Abelard, Hugh of St Victor, Peter Lombard, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus are among the great schoolmen. The Sentences of Lombard was one of the most popular scholastic works. Often the schoolmen disagreed violently among themselves. The 'Nominalists' were opposed to the 'Realists'; and Thomas Aquinas who became the great philosophical theologian of the Catholic church was regarded in his own day as a dangerous innovator.
What the schoolmen had in common was not so much a monochrome set of beliefs—although all belonged to the church—as a certain style and way of thinking. It has been said that there was no such thing as philosophy in the Middle Ages—only logic and theology. But it could equally be said that the theology which interested the schoolmen was basically philosophical. Moreover, their way of doing it was to examine the logical links and implications of ideas.
The work of Thomas Aquinas has been compared to a lake into which many streams flowed and from which many drew, but which was not itself a water-source. His originality lay in two things: the way in which he drew together what had gone before, and the rigorous way in which he explored question after question.
Aquinas would start with a problem. He then would quote his authority. This could be a text of Scripture, a passage from one of the early Christian writers or a quotation from 'the philosopher'. The latter was never named; he did not need to be. It was Aristotle, the Greek philosopher from the fourth century BC, whose writings had been rediscovered and translated into Latin in the twelfth century. From now on his ideas set the tone. The Islamic philosophies of Avicenna and Averroes, as well as contemporary Jewish thinkers, were also taken into account. Only when he had taken note of all the relevant points both for and against would Aquinas give his own answer.
Anyone who has attempted to work his way through a passage of Aquinas (or any of the other great medieval writers) cannot fail to be impressed by the rigour, complexity and subtlety of the thought. The schoolmen were no fools; they belong to the intellectual giants of the human race. At the same time they were often attempting the impossible. Much of their work was devoted to reconciling what cannot be reconciled. For the early Christian authorities to whom they appealed were by no means infallible. And Greek philosophy could at times only be harmonized with biblical theology by trimming the one to fit the other. But, perhaps above all, they sometimes operated with out-dated concepts. So many of the questions that they wrestled with have turned out to be pseudo-questions, in the light of our scientific view of the world, and modern critical philosophy.
In one sense the Middle Ages were an age of faith. The questions that the schoolmen asked all had a theological bearing. But ironically the questions which so preoccupied them were a hindrance to hearing the message of the Bible about God and his love in Christ.
A dynamic, popular teacher, Peter Abelard's life was one of constant personal turmoil and confrontation with authority. His stormy career in many ways reflects the public and personal turbulence of the world in which be lived. Contrary to the stereotype of the medieval philosopher and theologian, he did not live in the proverbial ivory tower, nor make his important intellectual contributions to Christianity in a saintly manner.
Born in Brittany in 1079, Abelard studied as a young man with some of the most respected theologians of his day. However, he soon became convinced that he knew more than his teachers. He arrogantly challenged and quarrelled with them on a variety of subjects. He finally withdrew to set up his own lectures, to which large numbers of enthusiastic students flocked in order to hear the young, rebellious upstart.
A brilliant lecturer and slashing debater, Abelard's reputation grew until he became known as Paris's brightest intellectual star. However, his celebrated love affair with the beautiful and talented Héloise almost shattered his academic career and cut short his intellectual influence. In 1115, at the age of thirty-six, Abelard agreed to tutor the teenage niece of Fulbert, a canon of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A tender relationship developed—which resulted in a son whom they called Astrolabe. Later, to pacify her irate uncle, Abelard agreed to marry Héloise secretly. (This was possible since he was at this time only in minor orders, which permitted him to take a wife, though this practice was frowned upon for those in his position).
Despite all of their precautions, ugly rumours circulated. Héloise agreed to retire to a local convent rather than further damage her lover's academic reputation. Fulbert considered this an evasion of responsibility, and retaliated by hiring a band of thugs who broke into Abelard's chambers one night and castrated him.
Following this humiliation, Abelard became a Benedictine monk. He soon resumed his teaching and once again became involved in bitter controversy. In 1121, the Council of Soissons condemned his views on the Trinity without a hearing. For the next twenty years he lived a harassed existence as he moved from place to place, followed hither and yon by both the authorities and large numbers of students. Finally, around 1136, he returned to Paris for the last time, where he enjoyed renewed popularity and wrote several important works. He helped to make Paris one of the intellectual capitals of Europe.
During this last period in Paris, Bernard of Clairvaux accused Abelard of polluting the minds of his students with heretical ideas. In 1141, several statements selected from his writings were condemned at the Council of Sens. He decided to appeal to the pope, but died near Cluny on his way to Rome in 1142.
Abelard was the major Christian thinker of his period. Particularly after becoming a monk, he struggled with many of the problems which were to emerge as the major theological issues of the next centuries.
For example, Abelard's book Sic et Non (Yes and No) (1122) set the stage for discussing the relationship between faith and reason in Christian theology. Also, by pointing out that established authorities often conflicted, Abelard called attention to the fact that they needed to be sorted out, clarified and reconciled. He believed that genuine Christianity was both reasonable and consistent. He began a search for the ultimate authority in the faith and practice of the church, which was to culminate in Luther's return to Scripture in the early sixteenth century. Moreover, his desire to reconcile faith and reason in the context of Christian theology set the stage for the work of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. He was one of the pioneers of Scholasticism, but also wrote poems, hymns and an autobiography.
Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury 1162-70, struggled with King Henry II (1154-89) over the conflicting claims of church and stage in England. Becket had been nominated by Henry who hoped to make good the crown's superior rights over those of the church. From being the king's dutiful minister he became the uncompromising champion of the church.
The issues were the independence of the church courts, which claimed exclusive authority over anyone in holy orders, the right of appeals to Rome, and the alienation of church lands. Henry II attempted to establish his jurisdiction over clergy guilty of criminal offences, and to forbid appeals to Rome in the famous Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164. The resulting conflict drove Becket into exile in France.
A truce was finally arranged in 1170, and Becket returned to Canterbury for Christmas. Immediately upon his return, he excommunicated several English bishops who had supported the king, who in turn violently criticized Becket. Four royal knights, impelled by the king's anger, appeared at Canterbury on 29 December, and murdered the archbishop before his own high altar.
Christian society throughout Europe was shocked and at once a cult developed around the martyred Becket. In 1173 he was canonized by Pope Alexander III, and Canterbury became one of the three great Western shrines for pilgrims. The king did a public penance.
Becket's courage and defiance in the face of armed knights, and his commitment to 'the liberty of the church', which he felt he had been called upon to defend in the face of a weak pope and a rapacious king, were remarkable. From Chaucer's Canterbury Tales to T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas of Canterbury remains a central figure in the story of the Christian conscience.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), the greatest scholastic theologian of the Middle Ages, was born into a wealthy noble family in Aquino, Italy. Thomas was a fat, slow, pious boy who at the age of five was sent to the abbey of Monte Cassino. He was brought up there until the age of fourteen when he went to study at the University of Naples. Impressed by his Dominican teacher, he decided to enter that order. His family was angered by his decision, and tried to dissuade him by tempting him with a prostitute, kidnapping him and offering to buy him the post of Archbishop of Naples. All of these attempts were unsuccessful and he went to study at Paris, the centre of theological learning.
Although nicknamed the 'Dumb Ox' because of his bulk, seriousness and slowness, Thomas demonstrated his brilliance in public disputation. He studied under Albert the Great in Paris and Cologne, returning to Paris in 1252. He spent the rest of his life teaching there and in Italy.
A prolific writer, Thomas's works fill eighteen large volumes. They include commentaries on most of the books of the Bible and on Peter Lombard's Sentences, discussions of thirteen works of Aristotle, and a variety of disputations and sermons. His two most important works are the Summa Theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles. Together they represent an encyclopedic summary of Christian thought, the first based on revelation, and the second designed to support Christian belief with human reason. Both works use Aristotelian logic in unfolding the connections and implications of revealed truth.
Thomas was challenged by secular Aristotelian thought which came to western Europe through the Muslims in Spain. Although an enthusiastic student of the new knowledge, he insisted on separating what was acceptable to Christianity from what was not. Following Aristotle, Thomas emphasized that all human knowledge originates in the senses. Aquinas emphasized that philosophy is based on data accessible to all men; theology only on revelation and logical deduction from revelation. His famous 'Five Ways' were attempts to prove God's existence by reasoning based on what can be known from the world. But this 'natural theology' teaches very little about God, and nothing that is not also clear in Scripture. He developed one of the most internally-consistent systems of thought ever devised, but it did not receive universal acceptance even in his own day. Some of his statements were condemned by the University of Paris in 1277, and a group of scholars, including Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, criticized him for not recognizing that reason and revelation often contradict one another.
Years later, however, Thomas's work gained the prominence in Roman Catholic thought which it has retained to the present time. At the Council of Trent (1545-63) the Roman Catholic reformers used the works of Aquinas in drafting their decrees; and in 1879 the pope declared Thomism (Aquinas's theology) eternally valid.
The church and the papacy were naturally alarmed by the rapid growth of the Cathars, a heretical sect. In 1208 Pope Innocent III launched a crusade against it in Southern France. The crusade was successful, destroying Cathar political power by 1250, and ruining the civilization of the area in the process. After the crusade, the Inquisition was established in 1231-33 to root out heresy by relentless persecution. However, the preaching of the newly-established friars was also effective in winning people from Catharism, and in Italy this was probably the chief cause of its disappearance in the late fourteenth century. The Cathars should in no sense be regarded as medieval Protestants, as writers have sometimes mistakenly suggested.
The Cathars (Greek Katharoi, 'Puritans') flourished in western Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and, like the earlier Manicheans, they believed in two gods, a good god who created the invisible spiritual world, and an evil god who created the visible material world. Matter, including the human body, was evil and was ruled by the evil god, whom the Cathars identified with the God of the Old Testament. He had, they claimed, imprisoned the human soul in its earthly body, and death merely caused the soul to migrate to another body, human or animal. Salvation could be attained only by breaking free from this miserable cycle, and Christ, the Son of the good God, had been sent by him to reveal to the human race the way of this salvation. Christ was a life-giving Spirit, whose earthly body was only an appearance.
The Cathars accepted the New Testament and various Christian teachings, but of course they rejected the incarnation and the sacraments since they completely separated spirit and matter. The one Cathar sacrament, which p 323 they believed enabled the soul to escape from the evil material world, was the consolamentum, or spiritual baptism, administered by the laying-on-of-hands. This they held was the baptism instituted by Christ, which gave to recipients the Holy Spirit, removed their original sin, and enabled them on death to enter the pure world of spirit and be united with the good God. The consolamentum had been handed down from the apostles by a succession of 'good men', but the church had perverted Christ's teachings and ordinances, and was enslaved by the evil god of matter.
The Cathars were divided into two classes, the Perfect, who had received the consolamentum, and the Believers, who had not. The former lived in strict poverty as ascetics, involving chastity, frequent fasts, vegetarianism and the renunciation of marriage and oaths. They received unquestioning obedience and great veneration from the Believers, as the Perfect alone could pray directly to God. Most Believers delayed receiving the consolamentum until they were in danger of death, as the rigour necessary among the Perfect was too much for them.
After 1100, and especially after 1140, Catharism spread through western Europe, gaining its greatest strength in northern Italy and southern France, where it developed an advanced organization. The French Cathars were called 'Albigensians', being most numerous in the district of Albi. The holiness and simplicity of the Perfect undoubtedly contrasted with the riches of the Catholic church and the corruptions of many of its clergy, and large numbers must have found that Catharism answered their spiritual needs in a way that Catholicism did not. By 1200 it seemed possible that southern France might become entirely Cathar, as the Cathars were protected by the sophisticated and anti-clerical merchants and nobles, notably the Count of Toulouse. It was this threat that provoked Innocent's crusade.
A wealthy merchant of Lyons, who came to be known as Peter Waldo or Valdes, experienced conversion about 1175 or 1176. He gave away his worldly goods and decided to follow the example of Christ by leading a simple life of poverty and preaching. He had translations made from the Latin New Testament into the vernacular, which formed the basis of his evangelism.
Similarly dedicated men and women rallied to him, and this ideal of illiterate lay folk living in simple poverty was given the approval of Pope Alexander III at the Third Lateran Council (1179). The pope added a condition, however, that they must first obtain the permission and supervision of local church authorities before engaging in preaching. The Waldensians spread the message of the Bible and exalted the virtues of poverty. By so doing they were a living condemnation of the wealth and laxity of the established church. Waldo's original aims were entirely orthodox.
When the Archbishop of Lyons prohibited their scriptural preaching around 1181, the Waldensians responded by preaching even more zealously. In taking upon themselves the role of the church, by expounding the Bible, they shared a trait common to many other medieval dissenters. By living lives of poverty they only emphasized the worldliness of many clergy. The 1181 condemnation was echoed in an excommunication of 1184 at Verona, this time by Pope Lucius III, who also directed that the Waldensians and other similar groups should be eliminated by episcopal inquisition and secular punishment. In not much more than a decade, what had begun as an enthusiastic popular movement had been branded as heresy. Before long Waldo himself faded from the picture, although the movement he founded went on increasing in membership and self-confidence, to survive both medieval and modern persecution.
The Waldensians fled from Lyons rather than submit. They started to organize the movement as a church with bishops, priests and deacons. Eventually they began to claim to be the 'true' church. They spread throughout two regions of Europe notorious for unorthodox beliefs, Lombardy and Provence. These were also regions of Cathar strength; their growth was something the reigning pope, the powerful Innocent III, would not allow.
Although some Waldensians were re-converted to the established church following a debate in 1207, and Innocent readily received them back and gave them his special protection, this success was not to be repeated. In 1214 he described the Waldensians as heretics and schismatics, and in 1215, at the great Fourth Lateran Council, Innocent III repeated the general denunciation of heretics, including Waldensians.
As for the Waldensians, such outbursts by the pope only tended to convince them that the Catholic church was the 'Whore of Babylon', and need not to be acknowledged. The Waldensians had expanded so far geographically and doctrinally, that in 1218 they called a general council at Bergamo (Italy) where certain doctrinal differences between the Waldensians of Lombardy and France were discussed. By the end of the thirteenth century, though hounded by the newly-strengthened Inquisition, the Waldensians had infiltrated practically the whole of Europe except for Britain, and had become one of the most common and wide-spread persecuted movements.
What Waldensians believed
The doctrines which distinguished the Waldensians and which the church considered heretical were—however simple in origin—many and varied; and some altered during the later Middle Ages. The greatest objection to the Waldensians, who began within the church, was that they ended by rejecting that church altogether. The unauthorized preaching of the Bible, and the rejection of the intermediary role of the clergy were the two fundamental issues which gained the Waldensians the description of heretics.
One of the most convenient sources of their doctrines is a treatise written about 1320 by Bernard Gui, a famous inquisitor of Southern France, at a time when the Waldensians were still among the strongest of dissident movements. Obviously, he writes as a critical outsider. Gui emphasized that the Waldensians rejected ecclesiastical authority, especially by their conviction that they were not subject to the pope or his decrees of excommunication. They rejected or re-interpreted for themselves all the Catholic sacraments except confession and absolution and the eucharist. In theory all Waldensian men or women could administer these sacraments, and the eucharist was usually held only once a year. There seems also to have been some kind of Waldensian baptism.
All Catholic feast-days, festivals and prayers were rejected as human creations and not based upon the New Testament. They made exceptions in the case of Sundays, the feast-day of Mary the mother of Christ, and the Lord's Prayer. Gui accused them of setting themselves up as an alternative church in which the 'priest' was simply the good individual, rather than someone in clerical orders. This seemed to him somewhat more serious than that other great Waldensian hallmark, missionary preaching in the local language with a strong New Testament emphasis.
Gui also noted the refusal on the part of Waldensians to take oaths, except under very special circumstances, since they said that the Bible prohibited this. The Waldensians denied purgatory, for which they could find no basis in the New Testament. This led them to reject the Catholic belief in the value of alms and prayers for the dead. For the Waldensians, if the dead were in hell they were beyond hope and, if in heaven, they had no need of prayer. Similar reasoning led them to reject as well prayers to images of the saints.
As to organization, Gui found the Waldensians to be divided into superiors and ordinary believers, a distinction similar to that found among the Cathars. The superiors were expected to lead more austere lives, to depend on the alms of their followers, and to evangelize as ceaselessly wandering preachers in the tradition of the apostles.
The points noted by Inquisitor Gui in the fourteenth century were again and again brought out by other later inquisitors well into the fifteenth century, with certain features apparently becoming more radical. For example, by 1398 the Waldensians were accused of rejecting the entire physical paraphernalia traditionally associated with the church: buildings themselves, cemeteries, altars, holy water, liturgies, pilgrimages, indulgences—all were deemed unnecessary. The trend towards radicalism also appears in their rejection of all 'saints' not named in the New Testament. The Waldensians meanwhile elaborated their organization. The Waldensian 'clergy' continued to devote themselves to the single distinctive feature of preaching in the local dialect.
Where Waldensians prospered
Although the Waldensians spread throughout Europe, they had greater influence in some regions than in others. They were strongest in central and eastern Europe. Waldensian beliefs themselves were sometimes influenced by contact with other dissident movements. In southern France, for example, the inquisitors often discovered that Cathar rejection of the created world was combined with the traditional Waldensian rejection of the established church. French Waldensians continued to be harassed to the end of the Middle Ages. This culminated in a crusade against them in 1488 in the Dauphiné. In Italy they likewise continued to hold out against the Inquisition, taking refuge especially in Piedmont, where they were also attacked in 1488.
In their main region, central and eastern Europe, their work was later to influence the course of the Reformation. The inquisitors were active and—at least when papal-imperial politics allowed it—successful in seeking out Waldensians throughout these areas in the later Middle Ages. Peter Zwicker and Martin of Prague, for example, were the leading persecutors in Bohemia, Moravia, Brandenburg, Pomerania, and Austria in the decades round about 1400. Other regions of central and eastern Europe, including northern Germany, Poland and Hungary, were similarly scoured by inquisitors in the later fourteenth century.
During the fifteenth century, in spite of repeated campaigns against them, there was much coming and going of Waldensians in central Europe, and some interchange of ideas between the Bohemian Hussites, the English Wyclifites who were also to be found in this area, and the Waldensians. Though there were sporadic attempts to unite Hussites and Waldensians, these failed because of fundamental differences in doctrine. Nevertheless, such activity provided the charged atmosphere in which the great religious changes of the sixteenth century would occur, when many Waldensian beliefs entered the mainstream of the Protestant movement.
Jan Hus (1374-1415) achieved fame as a martyr to the cause of church reform and Czech nationalism. Jan was ordained a priest in 1401, and spent much of his career teaching at the Charles University in Prague, and as preacher in the Bethlehem Chapel, close to the university.
In his writing and public preaching, Hus emphasized personal piety and purity of life. He was heavily indebted to the works of Wyclif. He stressed the role of Scripture as an authority in the church and consequently lifted preaching to an important status in church services. In the process he became a national hero. In his chief work, On the Church, he defined the church as the body of Christ, with Christ its only head. Although he defended the traditional authority of the clergy, he taught that only God can forgive sin.
Hus believed that neither popes nor cardinals could establish doctrine which was contrary to Scripture, nor should any Christian obey an order from them which was plainly wrong. He condemned the corruptness of the clergy and criticized his people for worshipping images, belief in false miracles, and undertaking 'superstitious pilgrimages.' He criticized the church for withholding the cup of wine from the people during communion, and condemned the sale of indulgences.
Hus was at the centre of lengthy struggles in Prague, and his case was referred to Rome. In 1415 Hus attended the Council of Constance in order to defend his beliefs. Although he was travelling under the Emperor's safe-conduct, he was tried and condemned to be burnt at the stake, without a real opportunity to explain his views. However, his heroic death aroused the national feelings of the Czech people, who established the Hussite church in Bohemia until the Hapsburgs conquered in 1620 and restored the Roman Catholic church. The Hussite reform was closely associated with the resistance of the Czechs to German domination.
John Wyclif (about 1329-84) was a prominent English reformer of the later Middle Ages. He came from the north of England, and became a leading philosopher at Oxford University. He was invited to serve at court by John of Gaunt, who was acting a ruler at this time. Wyclif offended the church by backing the right of the government to seize the property of corrupt clergymen. His views were condemned by the pope in 1377, but Wyclif's influential friends protected him.
Wyclif pushed his anti-clerical views further, and began to attack some of the central doctrines of the medieval church. He opposed the doctrine of transubstantiation. He claimed rather that Christ was spiritually present in the eucharist. He held that the church consisted of God's chosen people, who did not need a priest to mediate with God for them.
The reformer was gradually deserted by his friends in high places, and the church authorities forced him and his followers out of Oxford. In 1382 Wyclif, a sick man, went to live at Lutterworth, in the Midlands, where he died in 1384.
Wyclif wrote many books, including a Summa Theologica. He initiated a new translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into English (The Wyclif Bible).
A group of followers soon arose around Wyclif at Oxford. He attracted support by his energetic preaching and lecturing. His followers spread to Leicestershire, and became known as 'Lollards'—which may mean 'Mutterer' or 'mumbler'. By 1395 the Lollards had developed into an organized group, with their own ministers and popular support.
The Lollards stood for any for the ideas set out by Wyclif. They believed particularly that the main task of a priest was to preach, and that the Bible should be available to all in their own language. From the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Lollards were suppressed, particularly when their protest became linked with political unrest. But Lollardy continued to thrive in some parts of England, and prepared the way for the coming of Lutheranism in the next century.
William of Ockham was a thinker of first-rate importance. He was born around 1290, probably in the village of Ockham in Surrey, England, and died in Munich around 1349. After entering the Franciscan order he began theological study at Oxford around 1309, and completed the requirements for the status of Master with his lectures on Peter Lombard's Book of Sentences (about 1318-20).
Apparently denounced as heretic to Pope John XXII by the university's former chancellor, William was summoned to Avignon in 1324. While there, he was embroiled in a controversy about apostolic poverty, which made him more critical of the papacy. He called for a college of popes to rule the church, and claimed that Christ was the church's only head—teachings which looked forward to the conciliar movement. Ockham entirely rejected papal authority in secular matters. In 1328 he fled to the service of the Emperor, Louis of Bavaria, supporting him in his struggles with the papacy.
In philosophy, William elaborated a new form of Nominalist theory. He rejected the prevailing view that 'universals' really exist. He argued that they are simply artificial products of the human mind, necessary for communicating by means of language. Only individual or 'particular' things have real existence. William's Nominalism became known as the 'the modern way' (via moderna) over against 'the old way' (via antiqua) of Aquinas. Since knowledge was based on experience of individual things, natural science took a new significance.
In his many writings, William discussed with masterly logical skill the great themes of philosophy and theology. By the principle known as 'Ockham's razor' he insisted that 'What can be done with fewer (assumptions) is done in vain with more'; the mind should not multiply things without necessity. William made an elaborate criticism of philosophical proofs for the existence of God, although he himself had a strong, positive theology. He stressed that God was known by faith alone, not by reason or illumination, and that God's will was absolutely supreme. In these and other respects William of Ockham paved the way for Reformation theology.