Friday, July 01, 2011

MacCulloch, Chapter 11

"The West: Universal Emperor or Universal Pope? (900-1200)" is the title of this chapter.

Abbots, Warriors and Popes: Cluny's Legacy

MacCulloch begins by describing the massive abbey at Cluny in Burgundy and how it represented devotion to "the creation of ever more splendid Benedictine houses" (p. 363). During this same time in England, the powerful influence of Bishop Aethelwold led to the building of cathedral churches which also served as monasteries. Along this line, the author remarks: "One should never underestimate the significance of architecture in Christianity and particularly not in the era of reform which now emerged" (365). MacCulloch also relates the expansion of Christian pilgrimage, especially to Santiago de Compostela located in northwestern Spain. Together, these developments expressed and led to what the author calls a real "Reformation" (366) of the eleventh century.

Along with this "Reformation of the Middle Ages," there was an economic boom that accompanied increased farm production and with it a change in "the nature of the Western Church's ministry to society, making it pay more attention to the needs and obligations of the humble and relatively poor" (368). The need to organize an expanded ministry led to the invention of the parochiae, parishes.

Ministry among the emerging middle classes had a major unintended consequence: unlike the wealthy, these people could not afford full payment for their sins. And this, says MacCulloch, "was where the idea of a middle state between Heaven and Hell, first envisaged in the theology of the Alexandrian theologians Clement and Origen at the turn of the second and third centuries, proved so useful and comforting" (370). By the late twelfth century, people were talking about a place called Purgatory. Something else: new found wealth led to local battles for it, and so it was that the church emerged as arbitrator and peacemaker.

The Vicar of Christ: Marriage, Celibacy and Universal Monarchy

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Western Church "did its best to gain more control over the most intimate part of human existence, sexual relations and marriage" (371). Part of the motivation for this new effort was based on a fear: "Married clergy might well found dynasties, and might therefore be inclined to make Church lands into their hereditary property, just as secular lords were doing at the same time. The result was a long battle to forbid marriage for all clergy" (372-73).

The period also saw the growth of the papacy. A new era came with Gregory VII (reigned 1073-85), the pope "who drew together all the strands of papal self-assertion" (374). The development of the papacy generated "a complex central bureaucracy," the cardinals, as well as canon law and "a staggering heritage of architectural beauty: the cathedrals of medieval Catholic Europe" (376-78). "Perhaps the most perfect of all is the cathedral of Chartes" (380).

The Age of the Crusades (1060-1200)

Overall, I thought this section was inadequate. But maybe that had more to do with my interest in the Crusades than any deficiency in the author. Either way, MacCulloch identifies some of the factors that led to the Crusades. For decades on end, the Church in Spain had been driving out the Muslims; a certain Caliph al-Hakin in Egypt had ordered the demolition of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; and much like the growing phenomenon of pilgrimage, warfare had become a means of accruing spiritual merit.

Cistercians, Carthusians and Mary (1100-1200)

Here MacCulloch describes the reaction away from the lavish institutional Church. In short, the Carthusian monastic order emphasized "simplicity and self-denial" (389), while the Cistercians focused on separation from the world and built austere churches, unlike those of "Clunaic splendor" (390). Last but not least during this time was the further development of the cult of Mary. When the Greek theotokos (God-bearer) was translated into Latin, the expression signified something more like "Mother of God." Such language led to the full adoption of Mary's perpetual virginity; to the development of the doctrine of her immaculate conception (which refers to the conception of Mary and is different from the doctrine of the virginal conception of Christ); and to the origin of the story of Mary's assumption. In Catholicism, it's not just "something," it's a lot of things about Mary.

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