Part of the tenth and eleventh century revival was a movement, largely successful, to free the monasteries from the control of lay lords and diocesan bishops. The power of lay lords had been one of the sources of the decay in the monastic life. To circumvent it, increasingly monasteries were removed from the power of the feudal nobility and were placed directly under the Pope. Theoretically the Pope could not divert their properties to other uses than those prescribed by the founder and was the guardian rather than the pro prietor. Nor could he legally use the income from the endowments for himself or his favourites. The proportion to be given to him was usually fixed by the donor in the founding charter.
The diocesan bishops had proved a source of annoyance to the monasteries. In principle each bishop, had extensive powers over all the ecclesiastical activities and institutions in his diocese. In monasteries he could hold services, consecrate altars, ordain such of the monks as were raised to the priesthood, and exercise discipline through excommunicating the obdurate or interdicting services.
Restrictions on these functions had been begun as early as the sixth or seventh century. In the tenth and eleventh centuries on behalf of house after house the episcopal authority was further reduced or annulled by Papal action. In many instances even the right of ordination was taken from the diocesan bishop. While episcopal ordination was still necessary, the monastery might ask any bishop whom it chose to administer the rite.
The kings also increasingly granted to monasteries immunity from the jurisdiction of royal officials and took the houses under their special protection.
This movement to free monasteries from all local secular or ecclesiastical interference and so to ensure them liberty to pursue the full Christian life was to continue into at least the thirteenth century. Thus there arose autonomous communities each with its own endowments in land, independent of the secular order and from the economic structure about it, for unhampered and full conformity to the Christian ideal in individual and group living as the monks and other Catholic Christians of the time understood it.
Here were centres of life from which issued impulses which helped to raise the level of the Christianity of almost all of Western Europe. The rude barbarians who had been converted in mass were taught something of the meaning of the faith which they had professed to accept. They were challenged by it. Many did not respond or responded only to react against it. Indeed, the grossness, superstition, stark depravity, cruelty, and callous self-seeking of millions in medieval Europe is one of the striking features of the age. On the other hand, thousands rose to the appeal. Never has the contrast between sinner and saint been greater. Not all life was transformed, but all aspects of Western Europe were profoundly affected.
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