The papacy on the periphery

An aspect of papal power in the High Middle Ages which is often overlooked involves the interactions between Rome and such 'fringe' regions as Iberia, Ireland, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Popes of the eleventh century were acutely aware of the importance of cultivating relationships with the expanding periphery. Politically, it was advantageous to encircle the often troublesome realms of Germany and France with sympathetic churches on their borders. Such a policy also continued a traditional association between the apostolic see and the effort to spread Roman Christianity among pagans and 'improper' Christians, visible as early as Gregory the Great's mission to England and especially developed by St Boniface in his evangelising in central Germany. Gregory VII's numerous pastoral letters to the rulers and/or people of Spain, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden reflect this continuing papal interest in the Latin-Christian periphery.39 Popes were especially worried about unusual practices among the faithful along the fringe. Clerical concubinage was a near universal complaint, though local clergy in Scandinavia claimed (unsuccessfully) that they had received papal exemption from this burden!40 Other concerns that prompted papal action included incestuous marriages (Ireland, for one)41 and irregularities in the mass and sacraments; Gregory VII attacked the use of the Old Slavonic liturgy in Bohemia and the Mozarabic rite in Spain,42 while popes of the thirteenth century prohibited the use of beer for the eucharist and spittle for baptism in Norway.43 In many places, such as Poland, the establishment of a fixed parochial structure and the implementation of tithing were of paramount importance.44 Of course, accommodation might ultimately have to be made to peculiar local circumstances, as when Gregory IX agreed to limit

39 Gregory VII, Register, 1.17, 38, 58, 59, 61, 63, 64, 78, 83; 2.6-8, 13, 50, 51, 63, 70-3, 75; 3.18; 4.25, 28; 5.10, 12; 6.13, 29; 7.6, 11, 21; 8.11; 9.2, 14.

40 Diplomatarium danicum, ser. 1, vol. 5, ed. Niels Skyum-Nielsen (Copenhagen: Det danske sprog- og litteraturselskab, 1957), no. 37 (Sweden); Diplomatarium norvegicum, vol. 1, ed. C. C. A. Lange and C. R. Unger (Oslo: P. T. Malling, 1849), no. 19 (Norway).

41 John Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 1998), 17-24. See also Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), Topographia hibernica, ed. J. S. Brewer, Rolls Series 21.5 (London: Longmans, 1867) ('nondum matrimonia contrahunt, non incestus euitant...').

42 Lisa Wolverton, Hastening toward Prague (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), p. 135, and Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950—1350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press; London: Allen Lane, 1993), p. 249.

43 Diplomatarium norvegicum, vol. 1, nos. 16, 26; vol. 6, no. 10.

44 Piotr Gorecki, Parishes, Tithes, and Society in Earlier Medieval Poland, ca. 1100—1250 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1993).

death-bed gifts to churches on the Baltic island of Gotland 'owing to the sterility and poverty of the land'.45

In governing the fringe, Rome frequently made use of archbishops. Although this institution was under assault by the Gregorian papacy in other parts of Europe, the popes of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries viewed archbishops as partners in the implementation of church reform 'in remotis partibus' rather than as rivals. Numerous metropolitan sees were founded at this time, such as the four Irish provincial centres of Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Tuam, and the three Nordic archiepiscopal churches of Lund, Nidaros/Trondheim and Uppsala. Metropolitan bishops frequently won the designation of 'native legates', responsible for implementing clerical reform and preaching Holy War against nearby infidels. Legates 'a latere' also played a prominent role in frontier regions. The visitations and councils of emissaries like John of Abbeville (Spain), John Paparo (Ireland), Nicholas Breakspear (Norway), Gregorius de Crescentio (Denmark), William of Sabina (Livonia), James of Liège (Poland) and Jacob of Pecorara (Hungary) created a lasting memory of papal authority on the periphery, even if their specific mandates mouldered from neglect.

Papal attention was also devoted to Christianity's 'others' in the High Middle Ages. Already in the Later eleventh century, Gregory VII sent a remarkable letter to the Muslim ruler of 'Mauretania Sitifensis' (Algeria) asserting that Christianity and Islam worship the same god and are bound together by the tradition of Abraham.46 Gregory's concern and that of many of his successors was with the welfare of remnant churches under Muslim rule, and while they preached crusade in the Holy Land and Iberia, popes more often counselled patience to Christians in Africa. In the thirteenth century, papal interest was increasingly focused on Asia. In part this was motivated by a desire to make contact with Nestorian churches along the Silk Road, which were not necessarily eager for papal assistance, but it also extended to missionary work among non-Christians. As Gregory IX stated, only when the gospel was preached to all peoples would the 'plenitudo gentium' be achieved and the salvation of Israel commence.47 Innocent IV and Nicholas IV stand out in connection with the Mongol missions. As a canonist, Innocent elaborated the first coherent theory ofLatin relations with the infidel world, accepting the

45 Diplomatarium danicum, ser. 1, vol. 5, no. 105.

46 Gregory VII, Register, 3.21.

47 See the bull 'Cum hora undecima', in Acta Honorii III et Gregorii IX, ed. Aloysius L. Tâutu, Pontificia Commissio ad redigendum Codicem Iuris Canonici Orientalis, ser. 3, vol. 3 (Vatican City: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950), no. 210.

natural-law rights of non-Christians to property and political power but asserting a papal duty over the souls of all people, including the Mongols.48 Here too the friars were unsurprisingly important, though their endeavours under Innocent met with little success. One reason for the missionaries' difficulty was the belief among the shamanistic Mongols that they were divinely destined to rule over all lands, including those of Christians and Muslims, and the perception in central Asia, based on contact with Nestorian communities, that Christians were subject and contemptible. Under the Franciscan Pope Nicholas IV, apostolic interest in the East peaked once again, resulting in the Minorite mission of John of Monte Corvino, who was dispatched in 1291 and worked as archbishop with the help of a small group of suffragan friar-bishops in Khan Baliq (Beijing) until his death between 1328 and 1330.49

By the second half of the thirteenth century, the vision of the eleventh-century reform popes had to a great extent been fulfilled. Forged in theology, under-girded by law, and implemented in church politics, the ambitious notion that the pope was not simply the bishop of Rome, but the universal ordinary had been accepted by most Christians. Such acceptance would not last long, however. The fight between Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII at the turn of the fourteenth century demonstrated the power of the incipient nation-state with its claims to monarchical sovereignty over the church. This was followed by the Avignon papacy, which, rightly or wrongly, was perceived as unforgivably decadent and unconcerned with holiness, as seen in John XXII's assault on the Fraticelli. What confidence people might still have had in the apostolic see was further eroded by the Great Schism. As the great age of Christian humanism advanced, with its tireless reform efforts on a local level and its powerful vision of episcopal government in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the papal church of the 'Gregorian' era receded into the distance.

48 See especially James Muldoon, Popes, Lawyers, and Infidels: The Church and the NonChristian World, 1250-1550 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1979), 3-71.

49 See Peter Jackson, 'The Mongols and the Faith of the Conquered', in Reuven Amitai and Michael Biran, eds., Mongols, Turks, and Others: Eurasian Nomads and the Sedentary World (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005), 245-90. On the Franciscans in the East, see John R. H. Moorman, A History of the Franciscan Order, from its Origins to the Year 1517 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), 235-9, 429-32. On the Mongol missions in general, see Felicitas Schmieder, Europa und die Fremden: Die Mongolen im Urteil des Abendlandes vom 13. bis in das 15. Jahrhundert (Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 1994), esp. 129-51.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment