The complex reasons for this religious revival included economic growth, population increase, social change, a widespread ecclesiastical reform movement, the burgeoning of schools and monasteries, and the flowering of literature in Latin and the vernacular. As Herbert Grundmann first observed, an extraordinary religious fervour manifested itself in the search for the apostolic life among increasingly literate groups inside and outside the church.6 Growth of such magnitude took root in the commercial and industrial expansion of the late eleventh century, with the expanded use of money and the growth of towns and cities and their populations. Gaining in size and influence, cities began around ii00 to assert their autonomy against the authority of the landed nobility. Reactions to this economic transformation divide into two broad categories: the attempt to avoid it, as monks and hermits did; and the desire to confront it, witnessed among the canons and certain lay people, who foreshadowed the thirteenth-century friars. Confrontation resulted, as Lester K. Little noted, in the formulation of a new spirituality for urban life.7
The reform movement initiated under Pope Gregory VII (i073-85) had renewed and reformed religious life and institutions while it also promoted the monastic discipline of poverty, chastity, obedience and manual labour as a model for all Christians. This quest to sanctify the world reached from the ideal of the vita apostolica to the elaboration of crusade ideology. Gregory VII and his advisers defined a view of Christendom that set all lay persons below
6 Herbert Grundmann, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages: The Historical Links between Heresy, the Mendicant Orders, and the Women's Religious Movement in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century, with the Historical Foundations of German Mysticism, trans. S. Rowan, with an introduction by R. Lerner (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, i995).
7 L. K. Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978).
the ecclesiastical hierarchy, headed by the pope at Rome but with all the bishops and church leaders under him. The resulting thirst for the vita apostolica produced dramatic growth in Benedictine houses while new orders were founded as well: the Cistercians in i098, the Victorine canons in ii08 and the Premonstratensian canons in 1120.
Lay people also aspired to lead a life marked by poverty, preaching, chastity and manual labour. With the flourishing of scholarship in monasteries and schools, literacy increased overall as clerical and lay 'textual communities' expanded, grounding their spirituality on a common interpretation of Scripture.9 In a predominantly oral culture, preachers wielded a powerful instrument for teaching and public persuasion, attracting crowds, who listened to exhortations advocating the reform agenda.10 The reforms had extensive spillover effects, as they sharpened the distinction between clergy and laity, resulting in hostility and mistrust towards the laity on the part of the church hierarchy. As the laity applied the reform ideals to their own lives, they became more critical of clergy who did not live up to the reforming spirit. Some lay people, claiming for themselves the authority to evangelise, breached the rule of obedience which grounds the monastic life.11
Was this article helpful?