Popular religious movements

Movements other than monastic for the full practice of the Christian life both inside and outside the Church.

The abounding vitality of Christianity in Western Europe in the four centuries between the years 950 and 1350 did not find its only expression through monasticism, vigorous and increasingly rich in its variety though that was. It also displayed itself in many minority movements which arose, like monasticism, from a desire for a more thoroughgoing commitment to the Christian faith. Some of them were ardently missionary, seeking to win others from the nominally Christian population. Many remained within the Catholic Church. Others were outside it, either by their own choice or because they were expelled for what that Church deemed their heresies. These movements are the subject of this chapter. In the following chapter we shall deal with the efforts to raise the entire Church in the West, which meant practically all of Western Europe, to a higher plane of life, and to do this through a comprehensive ecclesiastical structure.

As we enter upon these extra-monastic minority movements, we must remind ourselves again of the general situation in Western Europe during these centuries. Here was an area, still sparsely settled when compared with the Europe of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, or even with the China and India of that day, but which was emerging from a prolonged series of foreign invasions. Cities, though small and unsanitary, were growing, commerce was increasing, distinctive art, architecture, and literature were appearing, and the first beginnings were being seen of that expansion of European peoples which was to be so outstanding a feature of the history of the world after the fifteenth century.

There had been a mass conversion of this Europe to Christianity. Much of it had been while the Roman Empire was still intact, well before the year 500. Some of it had been that of the barbarian invaders as they settled within the former borders of the Roman Empire. Several of the mass conversions, especially in the period after 950, either had carried or were carrying the boundaries of Christendom far beyond those of the Roman Empire at its widest extent. Could this mass conversion become more than nominal? Could either the entire body of these professed Christians, together with their collective life, be lifted to an approximation to the high standards set forth by Christ, or, if not, could substantial elements be brought towards those standards? We have seen how the effort was made through monasticism first to draw minorities from this mass of ostensible Christians into ideal Christian communities and then, increasingly, especially beginning with the thirteenth century through the friars, groups presumably completely dedicated to Christ, to lift all of Western Christendom to a higher level and to carry the Christian message to other parts of the world. In the next few pages we will go on to the non-monastic movements at which we have hinted.

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