The Foundations of Christian Society in Western Europe summary




The Foundations of Christian Society in Western Europe summary


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The Foundations of Christian Society in Western Europe summary


Chapter 17



The Foundations of Christian Society in Western Europe




                During the early middle ages (500–1000 C.E.) Europe recovered from centuries of invasion and the collapse of Roman hegemony.  Three foundations of European society came out of the early medieval years.  First, while no European state was powerful enough to restore centralized imperial rule, the age did witness a return to political order.  A decentralized, political structure rose instead.  Second, increased agricultural production led to economic recovery and expanded trade.  Third, the Christian church inspired religious leadership and cultural unity in western Europe.




The Quest for Political Order


                After the fall of Rome several Germanic tribes established small states, but none of them came close to extending their authority and centralizing power.  Spain fell to the Visigoths while the Ostrogoths and eventually the Lombards controlled Italy.  The Burgundians and Franks divided up Gaul and the Angles and Saxons moved into England.  Of these tribes, the Franks would have the greatest influence.  With the rise of the Franks the center of political power moved north of the Mediterranean basin.  Clovis (481–511), the most powerful Frankish leader, extended his empire through military conquest.  More important, however, was his decision to convert to Christianity.  This decision worked to unite his peoples as well as strengthen his tie to the popes.  Unfortunately, Clovis would be the last effective Frankish king for centuries.


                Beginning in the eighth century the Carolingians, named after Charles “the Hammer” Martel, temporarily restored order.  Charles Martel’s grandson, Charlemagne (768–814), would prove to be the most powerful Carolingian king as well as one of the most influential European rulers of all time.  While primarily known for his military successes in conquering northeastern Spain, Bavaria, and northern Italy, there are were many aspects to Charlemagne’s personality.  Through the use of the missi dominici he worked to restore political order.  Despite, and maybe because of, his own limited education, Charlemagne tried to bring about educational reform.  On Christmas Day 800 he received an imperial crown from Pope Leo III.  Historians still debate Charlemagne’s role in the crowning.  The unified empire barely outlived the reign of Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious (814-840).   Political power fell to the counts and local authorities, and the empire fractured.


                Invasions by Muslims, Magyars, and Vikings certainly hastened the process of political fragmentation.  Of these invaders the Vikings, who raided Russia, Germany, England, Ireland, France, Spain, and Constantinople, would prove the most troublesome and influential.  Around the year 1000 they even established a short-lived colony in Newfoundland.  After the collapse of Charlemagne’s empire, regional kingdoms rose to take its place.  King Alfred (871–899) unified England.  In the German lands King Otto I of Saxony (936–973) defeated the Magyars and extended his kingdom into northern Italy.  The Holy Roman Empire began when Otto received an imperial crown from the pope in 962.




Early Medieval Society


                In the absence of centralized imperial rule, the decentralized political system rose to provide some order.  Historians once used the term feudalism to refer to the political and social order of medieval Europe, although many are moving away from it because it oversimplifies a remarkably complex world.  Local authorities such as counts increased their power after the fall of the Carolingian empire.  At the heart of this system was the reciprocal lord-retainer relationship.  As part of the agreement the lord provided the retainer with justice and protection.  The lords granted to the retainers benefices, usually sections of land called fiefs.  In return the retainer owed the lord loyalty, obedience, and military service.  From a simple beginning this system eventually developed into a complex structure, with individuals acting as both lords and retainers in the evolving pyramid.  While the system had the potential for chaos, it also provided the opportunity for the kingdoms of England and France to develop into powerful states.


                The military contingent of the feudal system comprised only a small percentage at the top.  The vast majority of the population lived as serfs on the manors of the nobles.  The serfs, while not chattel slaves, existed as semifree individuals and were legally tied to the manors of the great nobles.  Their obligation to the nobles in labor service and produce made them the agricultural foundation of the feudal system.  Before the reinvigoration of European cities the manors, mainly self-sufficient, served as the main form of agricultural organization.  Innovations such as a heavier plow, along with watermills and new methods of crop rotation, eventually allowed for increased agricultural production.  This, in turn, sparked increased trade and urbanization as well as an increase in population.  By the year 1000 the European population had returned to the Roman high in 200 C.E. of 36 million.


The Formation of Christian Europe


                Its conversion to Christianity provided Europe with a unifying force as well as an invaluable connection to the ancient world.  Clovis’s conversion to Christianity intricately tied the Franks to Roman Catholicism as well as papal policies.  The northern German kings, including Charlemagne, viewed themselves as protectors of the papacy.  In return for his support Charlemagne received the imperial crown.  Charlemagne used the monasteries and church officials to further his own educational reforms.  The church, in turn, benefited from Charlemagne’s efforts to spread the faith.  A series of strong popes, most notably Gregory I (590–604), oversaw a strengthening of papal power.  The notion of papal supremacy was one of the foundations of Gregory’s thought.  The schism in 1054 between the popes and the patriarchs of Constantinople is representative of the growing strength and independence of the Roman church.  Christianity also spread through the growing popularity of monasticism.  Church leaders such as St. Benedict (480–547) and St. Scholastica (482–543) instituted rules that strengthened the social mission of the monasteries.  The monasteries served as orphanages, hospitals, and schools as well as agricultural and scholastic centers.

Chapter 20



Western Europe during the High Middle Ages




                Europe made great advances in the centuries after the year 1000 C.E.  From a chaotic, bloody, and largely isolated land during the early middle ages, Europe saw the rise of a powerful political, economic and cultural world during the high middle ages.  While the dream of re-creating Roman unification may have been the ideal, European political leaders never passed beyond the establishment of regional states.  The population rose rapidly as a result of agricultural advancements.  Vibrant economic growth developed hand in hand with the establishment of long-distance trade and urbanization.  Philosophy and theology reflected the excitement of the age.  Maybe the best proof of an expanding and powerful Europe was the crusades, as the Europeans began to play a much more aggressive role in the world.




The Establishment of Regional States


                Although Roman unification never returned, the rise of powerful regional states brought a greater sense of stability to Europe.  Otto I of Saxony conquered large sections of Germany, Poland, and the Czech lands and received an imperial crown from Pope John XII in 962.  While the resulting Holy Roman Empire had the potential to restore unity, its incessant battles with the papacy left the empire internally divided and externally weak.  The church versus state controversy, highlighted by the investiture contest, reached its peak with the struggle between Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) and the Holy Roman emperor Henry IV (1056–1106).  Their confrontation at Canossa marked the high point of the medieval papacy and left the Holy Roman emperors weakened.  Frederick Barbarossa (1152–1190) also saw his power limited when the popes forced him to withdraw from Lombardy.  In the end, the Holy Roman Empire never lived up to the glories inherent in its name.  Similar processes, of lesser or greater success, were also at work elsewhere.  The Capetian monarchy in France may have begun with Hugh Capet in 987, but it took centuries for the French kings to centralize authority.  The process would move quicker in England, mainly because the Normans transferred existing centralized institutions across the Channel after William’s conquest in 1066.  The Italian states, both secular and ecclesiastical, remained politically weak and divided even as they began to develop economically.  Islamic control over the Iberian peninsula faded with the rise of Castile, Aragon, and Portugal.


Economic Growth and Social Development


                Economic advancement mirrored and in fact outpaced the political development of Europe during the high middle ages.  An increase in agricultural production played a huge role in this process.  The clearing of forests and draining of swamps led to more arable land.  Improved techniques, such as new crops, and technological advances, such as the horseshoe and horse collar, increased productivity.  The result was a marked increase in population.  The European population rose from around 29 million in 800 C.E. to over 79 million in 1300.  This population explosion provided the impetus for a resurgence of towns and trade after the earlier decline following the fall of Rome.  Labor specialization was a natural result of the new urbanization.  Italy, with the rise of Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Naples, was the chief recipient of the revival of towns.  These Italian city-states also founded colonies in the major ports of the Mediterranean.  The Hanseatic League was a similar trading network that promoted trade in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.  Improved business techniques, such as letters of credit and partnerships, played as much of a role in this evolution as they did in economic and trading expansions in other parts of the world.

                Europe also transformed socially during these pivotal centuries.  The three estates, or classes, were represented by the old saying about “those who pray, those who fight, and those who work.”  By its very definition, the system was politically, socially, and economically unequal.  Nevertheless, the rise of chivalry did demonstrate a transformation of medieval society as the nobles were expected to achieve high ethical standards.  Women such as Eleanor of Aquitaine avidly supported troubadours, a concept drawn from the Islamic world, who played on these courtly values.  This social transformation was most noticeable in the cities, which increasingly won charters of incorporation and thus independence from noble control.  Guilds, which regulated the sale and quality of goods as well as the training of apprentices, expressed the growing influence of the urban working classes.  Women also possessed more freedom in the cities.  The majority of guilds accepted female members.


European Christianity during the High Middle Ages


                Not surprisingly, the Christian church and doctrine provided the inspiration for most of the literature, art, and music of the high middle ages.  Growing economic prosperity provided the means for the rise of the cathedral schools, which ensured a more structured environment for learning than had been available in the earlier centuries of the middle ages.  These cathedral schools promoted a formal curriculum based on the study of Latin, the liberal arts, and the writings of the early church fathers.  The early universities in Bologna, Paris, Salerno, Rome, Naples, Seville, Salamanca, Oxford, and Cambridge expanded on these educational opportunities.  At the same time European scholars came into contact with many of the works and ideas of Aristotle from Byzantine and Islamic sources.  Thinkers such as St. Thomas Aquinas attempted to reconcile Christian beliefs with the intellectual logic and rigor of Aristotle.  If God could be proven rationally, then the Christian did not have to depend on blind faith alone.


The precise logic of St. Thomas Aquinas mattered much less to the average Christian than did the growing popularity of the observance of the sacraments and devotion to the saints.  The Virgin Mary proved to be the most popular saint during the high middles ages.  Relics and pilgrimages also were popular.  The Dominicans of St. Dominic and the Franciscans of St. Francis rebelled against the materialism of many Christians and instead encouraged spiritualism and service.  Other groups, most notably the Waldensians and Cathars (Albigensians), criticized the church and operated so far outside the mainstream Catholic world that they were branded heretics.  The Waldensians criticized the immorality of many members of the clergy and promoted the right of the laity to preach.  The Cathars called for an ascetic lifestyle and a rejection of the Catholic church.


The Medieval Expansion of Europe


                For good or bad, maybe the best proof of Europe’s rise was its expansion, in regard to both exploration and military invasion, into other lands.  The Vikings sailed to Iceland, Greenland, and eventually to Newfoundland.  Back home the Scandinavians converted to Christianity.  Through a combination of military might and religious zeal, military-religious orders such as the Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights spread Christianity to the Slavic peoples of the Baltic region. The expansion also stretched south into the Mediterranean world.  In the eleventh century two brothers, Robert and Roger Guiscard, gained control over southern Italy and Sicily, respectively.  By 1492 the reconquista was complete and the Iberian peninsula was back under Christian control.  The crusades, whether against non-Christian Slavs, Cathar heretics, or Muslims in Palestine, were part of this expansion.  Pope Urban II’s call in 1095 for European knights to retake the holy land provided the inspiration for the crusades.  The only crusade that reached its goal was the the first crusade, which captured Jerusalem in 1099.  The victory proved fleeting, however, because the Islamic leader Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187.  Later crusades fell far short of their goals, with the disastrous fourth crusade managing only to sack Constantinople.  The political and religious failures of the crusades would be made up for by increased economic and commercial opportunities resulting from greater contact between the Europeans and the eastern Mediterranean.




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