Simony and investitures

A major theme in the religious upheaval is the struggle against Simony (the purchase of Church office), which broadened into a general conflict between Popes and Kings for control of the episcopate. It had for a long time been perfectly normal for strong rulers to choose bishops and abbots, though it would be wrong to regard this as a formal ideological or administrative system or assume that the power could always be exercised successfully. Bishops and abbots controlled great economic, and therefore also political and military power, however, so it was natural for rulers to want men who would work with them. It could also be in their interest to enhance episcopal and abbatial power, since bishops and abbots did not have sons. A grant to a lay noble, on the other hand, might be rewarded by loyalty for one generation, but then by opposition from the heirs and successors. With ecclesiastical offices the ruler had the chance to exercise patronage every time the holder died. Moreover, prospective bishops and abbots might be expected to give the ruler a financial sweetener in return for their promotion.

It is possible that the cash aspect was relatively new in the eleventh century. It has been plausibly linked with the rapid expansion of the money economy. At any rate the reformers thought it outrageous. They came to feel that the whole system of lay control in the Church was improper, furthermore, and to push for the election of bishops by the clergy of the cathedral. A system of this kind was introduced for the papacy itself by the Lateran synod's election decree of 1059 (previously either German Emperors or Roman noble families had tended to control the choice of Popes). The same synod decided that no cleric or priest should obtain a 'a church' at lay hands either gratis or for payment. This was a very general programme, apparently aimed at all appointments by laymen, not only those tainted by simony. Indeed, it would seem to have included the appointment of parish priests, which was commonly in the hands of a powerful local layman.

In the last part of the eleventh and the early twelfth century the conflict over lay control focused on the question of investitures—the conferring of symbols of office on the bishop by the Emperor or King. The compromise solution eventually reached by the Pope and the Emperor was to embody a conceptual distinction between the religious and the temporal power of the bishops in the inauguration rituals: the King or the Emperor ceased to confer the ring and staff which symbolized spiritual power, but did confer secular power through his sceptre. At the same time the problem of episcopal appointment was settled, rather to the Emperor's disadvantage, by the rule that the cathedral clergy should elect bishops. In Germany they should do so in the Emperor's presence (so they would be unlikely to ignore his wishes), but not so in Italy, where the Emperor had hitherto exercised real power (in part of course precisely by controlling episcopal appointments). Similar solutions had been reached earlier elsewhere in Christendom, notably in England.

The system of appointment by cathedral clergy led to numerous disputed elections, not only because of intervention by secular rulers but also because there was no clear rule that the numerical majority should prevail. The upshot was frequently an appeal to the Pope, who might well then appoint someone entirely different. Although the reformed papacy did not at this stage aim to control episcopal appointments, the system began, in effect, to evolve in that direction. In the meantime the appeals contributed to the expansion of papal bureaucracy and judicial activity.

Papal government and law

From the twelfth century onwards in particular, many other kinds of disputes ended with an appeal to the Roman curia. Papal successes against secular rulers meant that increasingly the Pope, rather than the King or Emperor, became the supreme court of the Church. It was a period when litigation generally was increased by a quantum leap. It was not inevitable that so many lawsuits should go to the Pope. Bernard of Clairvaux thought it was bad for the papacy. A king like Henry II of England would have been glad to hear ecclesiastical cases himself. For instance, he settled the dispute between the Abbey of Battle and the Bishop of Chichester over the abbey's exemption from episcopal authority. This was before the death in 1170 of Thomas Becket (at the time of the Battle Abbey dispute, indeed, royal chancellor and a king's man). After Becket's volte face on becoming Archbishop, appeals to the Pope were among the issues which stood between him and the King. Becket's murder and Henry II's penance put an end to his opposition on this score. Throughout the middle and later decades of the twelfth century more and more litigants took their cases to Rome. The papacy coped by ad hoc delegation of its supreme judicial authority for the duration of a given case to local men whom it trusted. Papal judgements set precedents and collections of them were made, at first informally, for future reference.

In part as a result of the expansion of papal justice, Church law became an academic discipline in the course of the twelfth century. It was studied with the help of two techniques typical of the intellectual life of the age. First, there was interpretative commentary on an accepted textbook (for Church law it was the Decretum of Gratian). The other technique (used skilfully by Gratian in this work) was to confront and reconcile authoritative texts which seemed incompatible. Universities developed out of schools in which these techniques were practised as a means of teaching Church law (or 'Canon Law') and other subjects.

Scholasticism and universities

Arguably the most successful application of these techniques was to theology. Here Peter Abelard's Sic et non—in which he juxtaposed the apparently contradictory authorities without providing the solution—provided a sharp stimulus. Peter Lombard's Sentences (which owed a lot to Abelard) would eventually become the theological counterpart of Gratian's Decretum: the standard textbook for creative commentary. Schools in Northern French cathedral towns, between which scholars and students could move freely, were the main institutional setting, and took the intellectual initiative away from the monasteries. Paris (where Abelard among others had taught and where the Lombard became permanently established) became the dominant school of theology and of 'Arts' (which consisted, above all, of philosophy), as Bologna was of law. In the thirteenth century they can both be called universities. Others were also establishing themselves, notably Oxford, where the fascinating intellectual maverick Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253) mixed science with theology in interesting ways. He stands outside the problemsolving tradition, which may be called 'scholasticism', that can be traced from Abelard, through the Lombard, to great thirteenth-century scholastics like Thomas Aquinas. (It should be added that both Aquinas, the problem-solver and synthesizer, and Grosseteste, with his 'provincial mind' and individualistic genius, made major contributions to the assimilation of Aristotle into Christian thought—Grosseteste by translating the Nicomachaean Ethics, and Aquinas by working the pagan philosopher's newly discovered ideas into the fabric of his theological system.)

The rapid growth of academic centres like Paris may have been fostered indirectly by the outcome of the reformer's war on simony. Once money had ceased to be an easy means of getting a good church benefice, other roads to promotion became attractive. The successful study of theology or Church law was an obvious one. No doubt it brought a man into a network of recommendations and of friendships between the talented that could only advance a career. It was probably also assumed (then as now) that academic study brought with it 'transferable skills' which were sought after in the administrators, counsellors and diplomats of up-to-date rulers. In consequence many civil servants were 'clerics' (cf. the modern 'clerk') and unmarried. In England this remained true until at least the second half of the fourteenth century. A fortiori it was necessary to remain unmarried and a cleric if one wished to make a career as an academic theologian. As for canon lawyers, in

Italian universities it was possible for a married layman to achieve eminence in the discipline, but north of the Alps, marriage was out.

Clerical celibacy

Commitment to celibacy had become in practice de rigueur for professional academics of all kinds in Northern Europe even before it had become a strong moral imperative for, say, cathedral canons. It may have been because of the convention of academic celibacy that the self-sacrificing Heloise was at first unwilling to marry Abelard: she feared to ruin his career.

Outside academe clerical marriage was still socially respectable at the time of their affair, but attitudes were changing. Since the eleventh century reformers had been campaigning against the marriage of priests, which had long been forbidden in theory but normal in practice. Together with the attack on simony, it had been a principal plank in their platform. The papal synod of 1139 struck a blow against the social respectability of the status quo by saying that it did not deem such unions, which were contracted in violation of Church law, to be valid marriages. This applied to subdeacons, deacons, and priests (as well as to bishops, of course, for whom marriage had never been admissable). To say that the unions were copulation rather than marriage must have been a serious deterrent to a respectable girl interested in, say, a cathedral canon. If such unions were sinful, but valid, one would be a wife in the end (and sins could be forgiven). To be a mistress was a different matter. Clerical marriage became clerical concubinage. Here we have a sharp contrast with the Eastern Church, where the norm was for parish priests to be married (though bishops had to be celibate, with the result that they would normally be recruited from monks). The Western reform movement of the central Middle Ages, even if only partially successful, accentuated this difference between the two traditions.

One of the ways in which the papacy tried to promote clerical celibacy seems to have been to encourage the clergy to live in communities. At the Lateran synod of 1059 a fierce clause against clerical concubinage is followed by a clause telling chaste priests to share a common table and dormitory at the churches they served. They are urged to strive to live 'the apostolic, that is the common life' (clause 4).

Religious movements before Innocent III

The 'apostolic life' ideal was clearly the slogan for its age: the idea spread like wildfire. It seems unlikely that this was due to papal propaganda alone. A possible explanation is that feasts of the apostles had enjoyed an especially prominent place in the liturgical calendar since at least the tenth century. Their holy days were also holidays from work—a rare privilege in the early Middle Ages, despite a vague idea current among scholars that days like these were common. With every allowance made for areas too remote for the Church's structuring of the year to impinge on lay consciousness, and for all kinds of mental confusion, a high proportion of the laity must have grasped that apostles had a special status among saints. Perhaps the papacy only activated a latent assumption.

The multiplication of communities of 'regular' or Augustinian canons doubtless owed much to the conception of the common life as the life of the apostles. Otherwise it is hard to generalize about this loosely defined 'order', except that it was rather more flexible than the forms of monastic life available at the time. Throughout the Middle Ages Popes were able to use it as a broad institutional framework for quite different forms of religious life. Premonstratensians, Dominicans, and the later Canons of Windesheim were all at least theoretically attached to it. However, there were other forms of the apostolic life ideal which took on a life of their own and threatened the papacy itself. People reflected that the apostles had lived lives of extreme poverty and that they had been sent out to preach by Christ. To imitate the apostles one must abandon one's goods and go out to preach. Thus in the late twelfth century a merchant of Lyons gave away his wealth and began to evangelize together with some followers. They went to the papacy for approval of their way of life, but permission to preach was made dependent on local episcopal approval, which was denied. So the group broke away and became the Waldensian movement, which exists to this day.

The ideals of poverty and preaching proved transferable even to the Cathars, whose fundamental beliefs may not have been Christian in origin (they thought for instance that everything material or physical was evil). Their leaders were poor preachers who doubtless looked a lot more like apostles than did the Catholic parish clergy. These leaders were the 'perfect ones' whose reception of the sacrament called Consolamentum had committed them to living out the logic of dualist principles by abstention from all sex and all foods resulting from it. In the twelfth century the Catholic Church seemed to be losing ground steadily to the Cathars, who were strong in northern Italy and virtually dominant in southern France.

The only orthodox preachers that could be found to combat them whose spiritual stature seemed comparable to the Cathar 'perfect ones' were Cistercians. The Cistercian order, a product of the early twelfth century, was a revival, not so much of the life of the apostles, as of the primitive Benedictine ideal, as they understood it: manual labour, a big role for lay brothers, less involvement in administration of manors, simpler liturgy and rural and deserted locations. One may note, however, that in at least one important respect the Cistercians departed from ancient Benedictine tradition, by discontinuing the practice of admitting child 'oblates' into the order. The general trend away from this practice in other orders in the twelfth century may perhaps be attributed to the massive influence of the Cistercians, who were the most dramatically successful of the many orders—whose forms of life varied from the eremitical (e.g. the Carthusians) to the military (e.g. the Templars)—which appeared between the Gregorian Reform and the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. The Cistercian order took off due to the religious prestige of Bernard of Clairvaux, who diffused within it and outside it a style of affective spirituality that would colour the piety of the West for centuries.

Since a major point of the Cistercian life was to pray and work away from the rest of the world, they were not an obvious choice for the task of antiheretical preaching. No doubt they were chosen because of the admiration that their austere life aroused (though this very austerity, combined with a religious dedication to work, was to bring the order immense corporate wealth which left observers less impressed). In any case, the Cathars seemed more powerful than ever by the start of the thirteenth century, as did the Waldensians and other heretical groups imbued with 'apostolic' ideals.

The friars

One may reasonably think that the crisis facing the authorities of the medieval Church by c.1200 might have exploded with a force comparable to that of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was skilfully defused by Pope Innocent III, whose evident policy it was to bring apostolic movements within the fold as religious orders. A section of the Waldensians and a movement known as the Humiliati were incorporated in this way into the Church's structure. So too were the Franciscans, though St Francis himself was so committed to the idea of ecclesiastical obedience that one should avoid the temptation to present him as a heretical leader manqué: he remained cooperative even when he thought his movement was not turning out as he had wanted. At about the same time, St Dominic was starting a movement consciously designed to combat heresy. It would show that the orthodox could live the apostolic life of poverty and preaching better than the heretics. Its members would also acquire the intellectual equipment whereby to win conviction by undergoing a thorough theological training.

Not everyone can have approved of Innocent III's policy of creating new religious orders, and the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 ruled that the process should stop; but the Franciscans had already been given approval and the Dominicans were categorized as Augustinian Canons, so the two orders survived and rapidly established themselves in most of the towns of Europe. The same Lateran Council had hoped to establish a system of preachers to assist the bishops. They never materialized in the form envisaged, but the friars did the preaching instead, especially in towns but also in areas accessible from them. They were also much in demand to hear confessions, especially since the Council of 1215 had made annual confession obligatory for all the faithful. Some critics said that preaching and hearing confessions were the task of the bishop and parish priests, and that religious orders should stick to prayer, etc. The papacy overrode the criticisms.

Some Paris university masters had taken a high profile in what amounted to a debate about the structure of the Church and the Pope's power to transform the system. These men had a more immediate and local problem with the friars. The Dominicans, and (less predictably) the Franciscans, had rapidly come to dominate academic theology at Paris university and elsewhere, putting the other professors (or 'masters') in the shade. The two most famous theologians of the thirteenth century were a Franciscan and a Dominican: Bonaventure and Aquinas. The sheer intellectual merit of the friars and strong papal backing left their academic opponents without any cards in their hands.

Popes had great confidence in the capacities of the friars, and used them in a variety of ways, notably for the preaching of crusades and as inquisitors. The inquisition in this period was not so much an institutional organ as a series of ad hoc commissions, so that its destructive effect varied enormously. Although it was a principle of medieval theology, and indeed papal teaching, that nobody could be compelled to accept the faith in the first place, heretics were generally regarded indiscriminately as persons who had understood and accepted Catholicism in its entirety and abandoned it out of moral perversity. This unsophisticated psychology of religious conviction could lead to savage repression. In fourteenth-century Bohemia, for instance, a great many Waldensians paid for their beliefs with their lives.

Popes also used friars to control or direct the communities of religious women which had appeared in large numbers, above all apparently in the Low Countries and the Rhineland, by the first half of the thirteenth century. Some communities belonged to religious orders proper—it should be noted that both the Dominican and the Franciscan orders had female branches-but there were other communities which did not fit so easily into familiar ecclesiastical categories. Popes had to provide priests to hear their confessions, preach to them, and generally guide their spiritual lives. The friars seemed natural candidates though they did not necessarily always want the job. One friar who preached to religious communities was Meister Eckhart. In the context of this work he developed ideas about spiritual perfection and the extinction of individual personality which have much in common with Buddhist and Hindu principles. It is likely enough that he felt that women like the ones he was directing had a greater likelihood than most of the Church, even than ascetics, Popes and prelates, or Franciscans who had abandoned any kind of material ownership, to reach the ranks of God's elite; and we need not assume that these women felt inferior to anyone.

It has been plausibly argued that the spirituality which developed in female communities under the influence of Eckhart was another, if rather special form of the 'apostolic life' ideal. The apostles were absolutely poor. Women could not perhaps imitate them by abandoning all property and begging on the streets. They could however achieve spiritual poverty by abandoning their individuality.

The apostolic ideal, which could take so many forms, was thus a powerful and unpredictable force (rather like the ideas of 'liberty' and 'equality' in more recent times), and Innocent III probably changed history by channelling much of the force into the Franciscan and Dominican Orders. The impetus would even take them to China, for missionary work was an important part of their understanding of the ideal. For a time there was a Franciscan archbishop of Peking. The Dominican William of Rubruck tells a rather self-congratulatory but charming story of how he convinced a Muslim, a Hindu and a Nestorian Christian in a four-cornered debate at the court of the Great Khan of the Mongols. Within Europe itself it was the persuasive skills of the friars, as well as the Inquisition, which recaptured religious initiative from heretical movements.

The Albigensian Crusade and the Fourth Crusade

From the early thirteenth century on the Cathars, in particular, lost ground rapidly. The spirituality of Christ's physical humanity—as a baby, on the cross—to which Francis of Assisi brought a special intensity, was diametrically opposed to the Cathar denial of all value to the body. Each had their attractions but religious public opinion was turning towards a positive evaluation of the body. This is reflected, for instance, in the marriage preaching of the mendicant orders, in which marriage is presented as holy if difficult. This attitude was poles apart from that of mainstream Catharism, for which marriage was evil (though permitted, paradoxically, in the amoral world of those who had not received the Consolamentum and become perfect). Even before Franciscan and Dominican propaganda could have had much effect, the Cathars suffered a crippling blow from a crusade of (principally) Northern French knights, launched by Innocent III after the murder of a papal legate, when the situation in Southern France seemed about to slip right out of orthodox control. This is known as the Albigensian Crusade (the southern French city of Albi was a Cathar stronghold). It is not counted among his successes by most modern writers, for it was soon out of his own (apparently well-meaning) control and turned into what came close to being a political conquest of the south by the north.

The Fourth Crusade of 1204 had followed a somewhat similar pattern. Sent to defend the Latin East, it was diverted to the conquest of Constantinople from the Greeks. The commercial interests of the Venetians and their financial hold on the Crusade, together with a high degree of anti-Greek prejudice, built up over the preceding century, seem to have brought this about, and Innocent III was presented with a fait accompli. The Latin Empire and Patriarchate that resulted would not last nearly so long as the resentment felt by Greek Christians, which echoes to this day.

Development of doctrine: practice and theory

A significant spin-off in the West of the tension and conflict with Greek Christians was the articulation by the papacy of ideas about issues on which it might not otherwise have uttered. Papal inerrancy was one such issue. At a time when canonists and theologians did not apply Luke 22:32 to Peter's successors, so far as is known, Innocent III does so in a letter of 12 November 1199 to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Here Innocent says that in praying that Peter's faith should not fail, etc., Christ was signifying clearly that his successors would at no time ever deviate from the faith (Haluscynskyi 1944:189). Innocent may have been influenced by a letter which would have been an obvious precedent, written by his predecessor Leo IX in 1053 to another Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius (cf Migne 1882:744-69).

The doctrine of purgatory is a rather different case. Although its origins go back to before the Middle Ages, its place in the religious life of the West was transformed out of all recognition in the twelfth century, without, however, any explicit papal approval (except perhaps indirectly through the growth of indulgences). But in the thirteenth century papal approval was given first by Innocent IV, and then at the second Council of Lyons in 1274, when the doctrine was included in the profession of faith of the Greek Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus. In both cases the context was an effort on both sides to achieve the reunion of Greek and Latin Churches.

This was achieved in 1274. Though the political exigencies of the Byzantines have been stressed in the historiography of the subject, close examination of the negotiations preceding this outcome suggests that it was not a matter of simple expediency. The Greek Emperor and Pope Gregory X (d. 1276) seem to have made genuine efforts at mutual understanding. The offensive heavy-handedness of Gregory's successors worked to destroy all this. The influence of the King of Sicily and Naples, who aimed to conquer Constantinople, on a Pope whom he had helped to get elected, Martin IV, seems to have been the decisive negative influence on the Latin side. A leading modern authority has judged that the Union was 'wilfully and irresponsibly broken off by the pope' (Beck 1980:202).

It could be argued that in accepting the doctrine of purgatory and other Latin developments, Michael Palaeologus and the Greek Christians who agreed with him in 1274 were implicitly accepting too that the formulation of belief was not static, but incremental. Whether or not they would have put it that way, it should be noted that this was a period in which the development of doctrine not only occurred (the coining of the term 'transubstantiation' and its adoption by the Council of 1215 had been another case) but was recognized as a concept. Its occurrence in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas is well known (2a 2ae q I a 10; Mirbt 1934, no. 262, 200-1). He argued that the Pope could, as it were, update the creed by deciding questions as they arose.

A considerably earlier articulation of the idea of development arose out of the papal settlement of a practical question about the permanence of marriage. It is an example of the interesting overlap between theological doctrine and canon law in the period. Pope Alexander III (d. 1181) ruled that a marriage could be dissolved by entry into a religious order if marriage had not yet been consummated (Corpus Juris Canonici, Decretal. Gregor. IX. Lib III. Tit. XXXII Cap. II, Friedberg (ed.) 1881: col. 579). Sometime later a leading Paris theologian, Stephen Langton (later Archbishop of Canterbury) commented that until that decision had been made, no-one would have believed that it was within the Pope's power to take it (Powick 1928:140). In other words, the papal judgement had drawn the boundaries of indissolubility in an unexpected way. This went far beyond the idea of annulment on grounds of impotence, where the Church's view was that a marriage had never existed in reality. Alexander III's decision related to genuine marriages where consummation was possible but had not yet occurred. Incidentally this decision could be regarded as part of a general tendency within orthodox Catholicism of the time to put a positive emphasis on sex within marriage (though pleasure as the motive for rather than side-effect of sex was widely regarded as a venial sin).

In the early fourteenth century the Dominican theologian John of Naples raised the analogous question of whether entry to sacred orders did, or did not, dissolve a previous marriage. He concluded that since there was nothing explicit on this point in the Law (of the Church) a Decretal or constitution on this matter was to be devised (John of Naples 1618: Quaestio XL, Punctum II, 343). A papal decision did in fact follow, ruling that even if the marriage had not been consummated, it was not dissolved by Holy Orders, unless the man were to enter a religious order (Corpus Juris Canonici, Extravag. loann. XXII. Tit. VI.i, Friedberg (ed.) 1881:1212-13.) The question of whether the Pope could in principle alter the rule so that Holy Orders dissolved a prior unconsummated marriage is perhaps left open by this decision. Here we are in the border territory between canon law and doctrine.

The papal judgement begins with language reminiscent of two other documents relevant to the idea of development from early fourteenth-century Popes in that it proposes to put an end to Concertatio, dispute or disagreement. The first of the two documents in question is by Pope John XXII, who was also responsible for the ruling on Holy Orders after marriage. John seems to have been imbued with the idea that it was a role of the papacy first to encourage a fairly free intellectual debate on major religious issues, and then finally to settle the matter by a papal decision. It is possible that he had in mind the model of an academic disputation, in which the participants debated freely until the master, who had listened to all their arguments, gave his determinatio at the end. At any rate it has been plausibly argued that John XXII aimed to shift the theological centre of gravity from Paris to the papal court at Avignon.

The debate which he settled in 1322 (Mirbt 1934, no. 379:219), 'wishing to put an end to this dispute' (concertationi), had by no means been argued out in an atmosphere of academic calm, however, and his decision was not to be followed by a tranquil consensus. The dispute was about the poverty of Christ and the apostles. It should be distinguished from a dispute which he had decided immediately before, leaving much bitterness, between the 'Spiritual' and 'Conventual' wings of the Franciscan order. The Spirituals believed that the order had let slip the original Franciscan ideal by watering down in practice the poverty they were committed to. The Spirituals were also attracted by the prophetic ideas of Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202), who was understood by some to have announced an age of the Holy Spirit, to follow on the ages of the Father (Old Testament) and the Son (Christ onwards), in which New Spiritual Men—the Spiritual Franciscans themselves—would take over the religious leadership of the Church. Popes who opposed them risked being characterized as the imminently awaited Antichrist. John XXII came down firmly against these Spirituals.

Whatever the differences between Spirituals and Conventuals about the practical implications of their poverty principle, however, they tended to agree that the order legally owned nothing even as a corporation, and that in this they were closer to Christ and the apostles than any other order. To make this theory work, the Pope had to be the legal owner of all their buildings, books, and everything else they had. Not everyone in the Church agreed that absolute corporate poverty was a supreme ideal in itself, however, or that Christ and the apostles did not even collectively possess anything. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, argued firmly against the idea. In his eyes the ideal religious order would own some things collectively, though individual members would be absolutely poor. John XXII was an admirer of the Dominican Thomas, and may have been influenced by his thought when he officially decided against the Franciscan understanding of apostolic poverty. Unlike the conflict between 'Spirituals' and 'Conventuals' within the Franciscan order, which had seemed to be destabilizing the Church, this was a decision which he might well have been able to avoid. So far as the circumstances are understood today, there was nothing to prevent him from staying on the sidelines of the debate between Franciscans and Dominicans. He seemed to have wanted to bring the problem into focus, and to have himself stirred up a debate which inevitably became charged with passionate emotion, especially on the Franciscan side. He makes it clear, however, that he is not crystallizing an existing belief of the Church. He stresses the previous lack of consensus among academics (viros scholasticos). Furthermore he goes on to say that the view he is condemning should be judged erroneous and heretical henceforth (deinceps).

The word deinceps is used in a similar manner (in 1336) by John XXII's successor Benedict XII, when he settled the debate about the Beatific Vision by declaring that the saints and those who had completed their penance in purgatory did not have to wait until the resurrection of the body before they saw God face to face (Mirbt 1934, no. 382:221-2). For Benedict XII it was particularly important to emphasize that the binding character of his statement was new, since his predecessor (John XXII again) had held the contrary as a private theologian, and stirred up a fierce controversy Though the whole business had been a propaganda present to John's opponents on the question of apostolic poverty, one may surmise that John had been pursuing the idea that doctrinal progress should be pushed forward by lively debate on unsettled issues which should finally be decided, to be sure, by a papal determinatio. Benedict XII emphasized that John had not lived to give his determinatio as Pope, and painted a picture of a flux of mutually contradictory theological views. This state of affairs was harmful to souls, he said, so by his apostolic authority he would give a definition 'by this constitution which will be valid for ever'. On the one hand, then, Benedict XII did not claim to be stating officially what most Catholics would have said already. On the other hand, his new formulation was meant to last forever.

A Byzantine development: Palamism and Hesychast spirituality

This notion of development is itself an interesting development, and its legitimation in terms of papal succession from St Peter is distinctive among the forms of Christianity, but the practice of doctrinal dispute settlement by a magisterium is not in itself unusual, however that magisterium was constituted. In the case of the later medieval Byzantine Church the magisterium took the form of a sort of permanent synod of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the bishops around him, supplemented now and again by special assemblies to which representatives came from farther afield.

It was an assembly such as this which in 1351 finally endorsed the theology of Gregorios Palamas (1296-1359), the theological theorist of Hesychast spirituality. Hesychasm was a method of prayer. The idea was to put oneself in a state of readiness to receive the grace of God by repeatedly reciting a brief prayer while holding one's breath. Palamas developed his theology in response to an attack on Hesychasm. On the one hand, he believed that a direct experience of God is possible to Christians, of a kind quite different from that accessible to pagan philosophers (his opponent tended to play down the difference). On the other hand, he distinguished sharply between God's unknowable essence and his energy or energies. It was the latter which could be experienced.

The close connection between theological system-building and spirituality is a salient feature of Palamism, whose history sufficiently refutes any notion that Byzantine religious and intellectual life was static in the later Middle Ages. Another symptom of its remarkable vitality is the growing curiosity about Latin theology in some quarters around the middle of the fourteenth century. The Summma contra Gentiles of Thomas Aquinas was translated by Demetrios Kydones, to be followed by large parts of the Summa Theologica.

Demetrios Kydones also conducted a vigorous controversy over the method of Thomas with his former teacher Meilos Kabasilas.

Late medieval Western academic and pastoral theology

In the West the theology and philosophy of Thomas must have seemed rather old-fashioned to many intellectuals by this time, though Dominicans kept up the tradition. William of Ockham tried to cut away what he viewed as the metaphysical fat of earlier theological systems, including the idea of general essences, which were reduced in his system to concrete mental signs in a person's mind. (This is usually called Nominalism.) He and other fourteenth-century theologians also moved away from synthesis to more specific investigations, and showed a particular interest in questions about the absolute power of God. A hundred years ago the limited interest felt in Thomistic theology by the fourteenth-century academics on the cutting-edge might have been presented in an article like the present one as symptomatic of the general decline of the medieval Church. Such a view would be misleading. Though it ceased to be normal for the best minds to devote themselves to vast theological syntheses, the research of the last half-century or so has produced plenty of evidence of theological creativity. Perhaps the most important reason for avoiding generalizations about decline is that a vast amount of the evidence for late medieval thought remains unexplored. The manuscripts are on the whole a tougher proposition than their twelfth- or thirteenth-century counterparts and the theology can get highly technical, but as it comes to be better understood there may be exciting surprises for historians of ideas.

As for the thought of Thomas Aquinas, it may have seemed passé to many academic theologians on the cutting-edge, but its influence was enormous at the level of pastoral popularization. John of Freiburg's popular handbook for priests hearing confessions draws heavily on Thomas, whose ideas were thus brought into contact with the consciences of ordinary people. Furthermore, preliminary soundings suggest that his theology also infiltrated popular preaching in the fifteenth century. (In Thomas' own time academic theology of this systematic kind seems not to have been much used in preaching to the laity or even indeed in preaching to the university clergy.) The decline of Thomistic theology has thus been exaggerated, perhaps in reaction to the unscholarly assumption that his thought enjoyed the same status in the Middle Ages as it would do in the Catholic Church from the last decades of the nineteenth century.

This spread of what one might call 'pastoral Thomism' is one aspect of a wider trend—the fast-rising standard of religious education among the lower clergy and the laity. The friars had already made a big impact in the thirteenth century and continued to do so in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (indeed, in the fifteenth-century preachers like Bernardino of Siena led dramatic religious revivals). This 'competition' was probably in itself an incentive to parish priests to improve themselves—there was room for it since, in the absence of seminaries or theological colleges, the normal method of training seems to have been an informal kind of apprenticeship. At the beginning of the fourteenth century Boniface VIII made it easier for parish priests to get time off to study at university, without their parish being left unmanned, and even before this the situation had been changing by a stream of 'self-help' handbooks, designed to assist priests to teach themselves the art of pastoral care. This literature was designed to equip the lower clergy to carry out all aspects of their job, including preaching the basics of the faith to the laity. In parishes far from towns, out of reach of the preaching of the friars, the possession of one of these manuals by a parish priest might make all the difference to the lay parishioners' grasp of their religion.

Positive Thinking As The Key To Success

Positive Thinking As The Key To Success

Download this Guide and Discover How To Find And Monetize on Your Expertise And Strengths. Inside this special report, you'll discover: How positive thinking is one of the key factors in a successful life. Five ways and tools to help you stay positive. Use these to help you keep on track. Case studies that'll inspire you to stick to your dreams. Plus much, much more.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment