The Early Middle Ages (500C1050 CE)

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1 Session 2 MONKS AND POPES The Early Middle Ages (500C1050 CE) I. INTRODUCTION A) Ours is not a monastic age. It is, however, impossible to understand medieval Christianity without dealing in a central way with monasticism. B) Today we will look at three things: 1) the development of the monastic movement, 2) the rise and fall of the popes, and 3) the First Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne. C) Celtic Monasticism 1) Two forms of Christianity emerged in the very Early Middle Ages: Celtic Christianity and Roman Christianity. Behind these two approaches to Christianity were two forms of monasticism: Celtic (Irish) and Benedictine (Roman). 2) Columbanus (ca CE) and Columba ( CE) were prominent Irish monastic leaders. Columbanus went from Ireland to Gaul (France) where he established a number of monasteries. Columba ( CE) went from Ireland to the island of Iona in 563 and established a monastery there that became a center of missionary outreach to Scotland and northern England. 3) Celtic (Irish) monasticism, more technically known as the Gallican-Celtic model, traces its roots back to the desert fathers of Egypt. a. John Cassian, an Eastern Christian monk, established this model in Europe. He spent some time in a monastic community in Egypt and then came west, establishing some monasteries in the area of Marseilles in Gaul (France). b. He passed on his understanding of Egyptian monasticism in his Institutes and Conferences (see Bainton, pp ), and these appear to be the foundation of Irish monasticism. c. The Celtic version of Christianity suffered a major blow when the Synod of Whitby in 664, when the King of England decided to adopt the Roman form of Christianity [READING: The Synod of Whitby ] D) Benedictine Monasticism [READING: The Rule of St. Benedict ] 1) About a century after Cassian, Benedict of Nursia (Italy, 529 CE), established a monastery at Monte Cassino. 2) [possible student presentation on St. Benedict and Scholastica] 3) The pattern of monastic life that he established, known as Benedict s Rule (see Bainton, pp ), was destined to become the model for Western monasticism

2 a. This occurred, at least in part, because when Monte Cassino was sacked by the Lombards in 589, the monks fled to Rome where Pope Gregory the Great became acquainted with this Rule and made it the basis of the monastic life of his own monks. b. In 599, Pope Gregory sent a Benedictine monk, Augustine of Canterbury to England as a missionary. Thus, the Benedictine model became established in England. c. In the eighth century, when Boniface in turn went from England to Germany as a missionary, it was the Benedictine model that he carried with him and which, with papal support, he propagated in Germany and France. d. With the support of the papacy and the backing of important rulers like Charlemagne, plus the willingness of most monks to adopt the more moderate Benedictine Rule, the Benedictine model became the standard model for monasticism in the West. II. MONASTIC LIFE A) The lives of the monks were extremely disciplined. In order to regulate their life together, the monks were required to give up all possessions and to take vows of obedience, chastity, and stability. The external pattern of life was as follows: 1) arise at 2:30 a.m. 2) spend three hours in prayer and meditation 3) put in four hours of study and then some five hours of manual labour 4) eat the one meal of the day and have an hour s rest 5) retire for the day at 6:30 p.m.. B) To focus on these externals, however, is to miss the point, for at the heart of monasticism was corporate worship. 1) The center of the monastic Rule was the Divine Office, that is, the recitation of the eight required offices of the day: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, Compline, and the night office of Matins. 2) This work of prayer and worship was the monks chief work; it was their reason for existing. 3) As a result, the monks were seen as Aholy and their prayers were believed to be particularly effective. Henry Mayr-Harting writes: AThere is rather a lot of evidence that what laymen especially valued was the propitiatory function with God of beautiful worship, with splendid chants, vestments woven by the most skilful artisans, and lavish expenditures of gold on the book covers seen in the church and on the

3 altar crosses. This was a heroic age of gift giving to reward the soldiers of (The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, p. 114.) 4) According to Henry Mayr-Harting, monastic worship shaped the religious feeling of early medieval society more than did any other single factor. 5) Along with the power that was associated in the minds of the common people with the monastic worship and ritual (holiness was seen as a form of power!), there was also the power they attributed to the holy men and women who were involved in this worship. a. Holy people were seen to be able to manipulate supernatural power, and so the monks and nuns, and particularly the abbots and abbesses (along with the bishops, of course) were often seen and venerated as such holy people. b. Wonders and miracles were attributed to them, and even dead holy persons continued to exude power. 6) Thus, we see the emergence of holy places as shrines, the cult of saints, and the veneration of relics blossoming in this period and often associated with persons who had been part of the monastic stream of Christianity. C) The primary purpose of monasteries and convents was to honour and adore God, and to implore God s favour. D) Important secondary aspects of monasticism that have had an impact on church and society and that helped to shape the Middle Ages: 1) Monasticism was instrumental in establishing the church s missionary work among the unconverted. a. However, monasticism was not intended for this. In fact, the first Benedictine monasteries were situated in remote areas not the least to be remote from the barbarians as well. b. But it was soon learned that monasteries planted in foreign soil could have a significant impact on missionary work. c. Soon the papacy was sending out small groups of monks who would attempt to obtain a tract of unused land from a barbarian chieftain and establish a monastery, which would be an attractive and powerful centre of divine worship and prayer. 2) They would clear the land, drain the swamps, and farm the land, often becoming extensive and wealthy landowners and agriculturists who provided leadership in implementing new methods in agriculture and in management of large estates. 3) They established schools for boys that kept learning alive. In their own study and in their libraries they passed on some of the fruits of the earlier classical ages of Greece and Rome and of early Christianity. In their scriptoriums they copied and transmitted texts from one generation to the next

4 4) The monastic movement offered an alternative way of life for women as well as men. St. Benedict s sister, Scholastica, established a convent a few miles from Monte Cassino. a. In this period and later such convents for women appear to have been particularly for women of the nobility (as indeed the monasteries were for noblemen). The widows of kings and rulers are often recorded to have withdrawn to life in a convent. 5) Specifically, the practice of private penance was developed in the Benedictine monasteries. a. Public penance, which was the model of the early church, was severe: one could not marry or remarry while doing penance, take on any public responsibilities in church or state, take any legal action, or engage in commerce. i. As a result, such penance was often avoided and asked for only on one s deathbed. b. In the fourth and fifth centuries a new form of penance appeared in the monasteries. This form of penance was carried out in private between a penitent and a spiritual director. i. This model was developed particularly in the Irish and Celtic monasteries but spread quickly and soon became the norm. ii. It was also seen as something that could be repeated, and this too was a positive element. c. In the course of time penance would emerge as the key sacrament of the Middle Ages. 6) Of equal or perhaps greater importance was the impact of monasticism on the lifestyles of the secular clergy. (Secular clergy lived in the world; regular clergy lived under a rule.) i. By the seventh and eighth centuries when there were often more clergy in a particular place (around a large church or cathedral, and then later in the emerging towns and cities), these clergy would choose to live a communal life, adopt much of the worship life of the monastery, and like the monks (ideally) be celibate. ii. At a great synod held at Aachen in 817 CE, the communal life was made a general rule for the clergy as far as it was possible. 7) Even for the laity the monks were held up as a model, and for many lay people they functioned as such. a. The laity tried to access the holiness of the monks and nuns in various ways, including supporting the monks by the giving of alms

5 III. THE PAPACY 1) The papacy in this period experiences great highs and terrible lows. B) Some Significant Popes in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries 1) Major popes that we should note: 2) Leo I (the Great), pope from CE [possible student presentation] a. was successful politically in Rome. b. He persuaded the Huns to withdraw beyond the Danube in 452 and secured concessions when the Vandals took Rome in 455. c. He also had some success theologically: at the Council of Chalcedon (451), his Tome was recognized as the standard of Christological orthodoxy. d. He was somewhat less successful in making good on his claim as pope to plenitudo potestatis (fulness of power). Leo made the claim that it implied universal authority, but such claims were not recognized in the East. 3) Pope Gelasius I ( CE). a. This was not a high point of actual papal power but he made a very clear claim to power. (See the document in Bainton, p. 108.) b. For much of the fifth and sixth centuries the papacy is caught up in a decline occasioned by repeated barbarian invasions and by interference from the Eastern Empire (which was technically the ruler of Italy and operated on the principle of the superiority of the secular over the sacred). 4) Pope Gregory I (the Great, pope CE) [READINGS: The Pope as Administrator, The Pope as Pastor ] [possible student presentation] a. With Gregory we see the emergence of the temporal power of the papacy, more by default than as a result of a grasping for power. i. With the collapse of the imperial power in the West and without any significant leadership from the Lombards who were the current Germanic tribe dominating Italy, the popes were almost forced to step in to fill the power vacuum. ii. Gregory became quite involved in the political and economic realms: (a) he used papal revenues to purchase grain and even brought in produce from the extensive papal lands in Italy to feed the starving Roman people. (b) He took the initiative In dealing with the barbarian Lombards, making treaties with them and ransoming persons held captive by them. iii. As a civil administrator, Gregory made a great reputation for himself. (See Bainton, pp. 95)

6 b. But Gregory clearly saw himself as much more than an administrator or provider of food for the citizens of Rome. C) Papal Decline i. Although he does not appear to have made the kind of universal claims that Leo the Great had made, he did see himself as patriarch of the West. ii. In this role, he played an important part as a theologian and teacher of the West, not as a theological innovator, for that is the last thing that he wanted to be, but as a transmitter of Augustine to the Middle Ages. 1) Following Gregory the Great, there is again an extended period of decline in the papacy for close to two centuries: from the beginning of the seventh through much of the eighth centuries, as a result of barbarian invasions and interference from or lack of support from the Eastern Emperor and church. How will the papacy regather its authority and power? Ironically, it will depend on the strength of a political ruler who will provide civil order for the papacy to grow and expand its influence. 2) Late in the eighth century the alliance between the Frankish monarchs (Pepin the Short, Charlemagne, etc) and the papacy gave the papacy renewed strength and credibility. 3) Pope Leo III ( CE) crowned Charlemagne as emperor The Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, 800 CE. a. Pope Leo III s action of crowning Charlemagne greatly distressed both the Eastern Empire and the Eastern Church. The trouble was, at that point they were too weak to resist this action. At this point, the eastern and western churches and empires are split in all but reality. 4) Papal prestige and power outlasted the Carolingian empire. a. A high point in the ninth century was the reign of Pope Nicholas I ( CE). i. It is in his reign that we encounter what is now known as "The [Forged] Donation of [READING: The Donation of Constantine ], and extremely important document of the Medieval and Reformation eras. (a) It was revealed in the Renaissance to be a fake, but throughout the Middle Ages it was accepted as authentic by both the papacy and its detractors. ii. But even this document could not halt the rapid decline of the papacy of the later ninth and tenth centuries. Gonzalez speaks of it falling to the lowest depths of its entire history. See pages for gory details! Revival will come again in the eleventh century. The leader of that revival will be a reform minded monk by the name of Hildebrand, who takes the name Pope Gregory VII

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