The Late Development Of Christendom

The term 'medieval Christendom' is normally applied to the Latin West, and tends to call to mind an 'Age of Faith' beginning with the conversion of the barbarian conquerors of the Western Roman Empire, reaching its apogee under papal leadership between the late eleventh and the early thirteenth century, then sliding into the decline which would in the end provoke the Reformation. That schema is not particularly accurate. Only from the beginning of the thirteenth century did Greek Christianity become separated unambiguously from Latin 'Christendom', although the drastic transformation of the Western Church from the mid-eleventh century—the battle for a celibate clergy independent of the laity, the crusades, new religious orders, and close papal government—had widened the gap between the two sectors. For all the religious energy of the period beginning circa 1050, it is unclear whether an articulate version of Christianity was available to the laity en masse before the mid-thirteenth century if not later, so one cannot straightforwardly describe the whole period as an Age of Faith (even if one leaves aside the history of dissidence and unbelief). Moreover, the strong papacy which had orchestrated religious change from the eleventh century did not degenerate into a merely political institution in the last medieval centuries. Except perhaps during the Great Schism from 1378 to 1417 the institution remained close to the mainstream of theological development and religious enthusiasm. In a sense, therefore, Christendom only really came into being in the later stages of the period covered by this chapter. One may, of course, use 'Christendom' as a term of convenience for the medieval period in its religious aspect, provided one bears in mind the foregoing qualifications, as also the more obvious point that the period from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century does not have much meaning as a unit in the history of Greek Christianity.

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