Christian Cyclopedia

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Western Christianity 500–1500.

1. The period of ca. 1,000 yrs. from the 6th to the 16th cents. is sometimes called Middle* Age(s) (a term that acquired some overtones of barbarism and superstition, but which is essentially time-oriented, referring to the middle bet. ancient times and the “last times”; as hist. unfolds it becomes increasingly meaningless).

2. Ca. 500 Christianity was largely limited to the Mediterranean basin. By 1000 it had spread throughout Eur., fostered by popes, princes, and monks. See Augustine of Canterbury; Celtic Church; Clovis I; England, A 2; France, 1; Palladius (5th c.); Patrick; Popes, 4.

3. In the 7th and 8th cents. missionaries from Eng. evangelized Belg., Holland, and the coasts of the North Sea. See Boniface; Columban; Netherlands, 1; Suidbert; Symbolism, Christian, 4; Willibrord.

4. On the conversion of Saxony see Germany, A. On Scandinavia see Ansgar; Denmark, Kingdom of; Iceland; Norway, Early Christianity in; Sweden, Conversion of, to Christianity. On Christianization of E Eur. see Charlemagne; Czechoslovakia, 1–2; Hungary; Poland.

5. During much of the Middle Ages, Eur. Christianity was involved in feudalism, an economic and pol. system in which wealth was reckoned on basis of land, and the ch. and clergy, by holding lands (or estates, called feuds) under several forms of tenure, became an integral part of the soc. and economic fabric. Bps. and abbots often functioned as secular princes having obligations of service to other lords and in turn receiving homage from inferior vassals. Theoretically each ch. was under jurisdiction of a bp., but many were controlled by lay lords. This led to the investiture* controversy. In some cases the church's victory led ecclesiastics to try to dominate secular princes. By the end of the Middle Ages both the prelates and the Holy Roman emperors (see Holy Roman Empire) had been discredited by this power struggle.

6. On the rise of the papacy see Gregory III; Papacy, 1–4. When Charlemagne was crowned by the pope 800, a new alliance bet. popes and W emps. began which largely ignored E emps. and patriarchs and marked the beginning of the Holy Roman empire. In course of time popes came to be regarded as final arbiters in matters of dogma and discipline. They retained sole right to create cardinals, ratify election of bps., authenticate relics, canonize saints, and absolve grave sins.

7. The pope's advisors came to be called cardinals* (a term of uncertain derivation). In the 8th c. their number was increased from 25 (unchanged since the 6th c.) to 28. Since 1059 they are the papal electors.

8. Most potent of the church's means of enforcing ch. discipline* was the interdict*; excommunication* was another. Day-by-day ch. govt. on the local level was carried on by bps. (see Bishop), whose chs. were called cathedrals (see Cathedral). For assistants to bps. see Archdeacon; Canon, 2; Chapter. Theoretically bps. were to be elected by canons, asked for by the people, and consecrated by the abp.; practically there often was external pressure from influential princes which dictated the choice.

9. Basic unit of ch. organization was the parish,* which was served by a priest.* Educ. of priests, derived from other priests, monasteries, or bps., often left much to be desired.

10. Canon* law was formulated gradually and enforced by ch. tribunals (see also Curia, 2 g). On councils see Councils and Synods.

11. Perhaps the most formative pre-Reformation influence on the W Ch. was monasticism.*

12. Medieval theol. primarily preserved tradition, most profoundly influenced by Augustine* of Hippo.

13. Medieval theol. was marked by adoptionist (see Adoptionism), eucharistic,* Filioque,* iconoclastic,* and predestinarian* controversies. The number of RC sacraments* was not defined till 1547. Superstition, ignorance, and abuses beclouded the light of the Gospel. Man sought serenity and stability in the practice of a groping faith.

14. Scholasticism* was the dominant philos. movement in the later Middle Ages. Mystics (see Mysticism) emphasized contemplation in reaching for the Infinite.

15. Struggle for power with secular rulers led to the Babylonian Captivity of the popes (see Christian Church, History of the II 3) and the conciliar* movement. These and other factors, including financial abuses, led to decline of the ecclesiastical hierarchy by the end of the 15th c. Primary object of M. Luther's* reform efforts was not removal of outward abuse (much, if not most, of which was corrected by the Council of Trent*) but restoration of the Gospel, difference in definition of which caused continuing cleavage bet. Luths. and RCs CAV

See also Latin Christianity.


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod


Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

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