Church And State In The Middle Ages

Even for the West the limits of the period cannot be drawn sharply. In the West, as in the East, some of the characteristics acquired by Christianity under the Christian Empire before c.400 were carried over into the succeeding period: notably the interestingly ambiguous relation between religion on the one hand and secular culture and government on the other. In many (if not most) religions, there is no real distinction between Church and State, religion and culture, except in modern times when it has been unconsciously and widely implanted by Western influence. Christianity, however, grew up out of a Jewish tradition quite distinct from (even if influenced by) the dominant rhetorical culture of the Roman Empire. More important still, perhaps, the Church's own structures of hierarchical authority were well developed before the Empire turned Christian. In its formative phase, Christianity had faced the indifference or hostility of classical culture, and imperial authority; thus to regard them as essential and intrinsic aspects of the religion would involve an almost unthinkable volte face. On the other hand, classical culture was almost irresistibly attractive and the conversion of the Empire seemed like a miracle. Greek philosophy had supplied conceptual weapons to Christian apologists from St Paul onwards, and the legitimacy of imperial authority per se had some scriptural authority behind it (Rom. 13). The outcome was an attitude of mind which sought to distinguish, but not separate, secular and sacred (with respect both to culture and to government). In any case, there was never any practical possibility of popes controlling Europe politically, even in the thirteenth century. Conversely, the papacy provided a counterweight to royal and imperial domination of religious affairs in the West, especially in relation to the post-Carolingian German Empire between c.1100 and c.1300, but also to a real if varying extent outside these limits. Even the Eastern Emperor's control of his church was to some degree hemmed in, during the early Middle Ages (notably during the Acacian schism and the Iconoclastic controversy) by the tendency of his opponents to look to Rome. In the later Middle Ages, on the other hand, Greek Emperors pushing for union with Rome faced fierce opposition from monks and many others in the East. Although the Byzantine Emperors legislated for the church in their territory, and exercised enormous influence over religious affairs, they were not thought to possess overriding authority in this sphere. The Patriarch of Constantinople was by no means necessarily a tool of the Emperor: witness the opposition to the fourth marriage of the Emperor Leo VI, or the strong patriarchs of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

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