The Church and the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages were a period in Europe dating from the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, around the 5th century. However, the fixing of dates for the beginning and end of the Middle Ages is arbitrary. According to the Norton Anthology, "Medieval social theory held that society was made up of three 'estates': the nobility, composed of a small hereditary aristocracy,...,the church, whose duty was to look after the spiritual welfare of that body, and everyone else..."( Norton 76).

According to Microsoft Encarta, "No one definitive event marks the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. By the end of the 5th century the culmination of several long-term trends, including a severe economic dislocation and the invasions and settlement of Germanic peoples within the borders of the Western empire, had changed the face of Europe. For the next 300 years western Europe remained essentially a primitive culture, albeit one uniquely superimposed on the complex, elaborate culture of the Roman Empire, which was never entirely lost or forgotten in the Early Middle Ages"(Microsoft).

The only universal European institution was the church, and even there a fragmentation of authority was the rule; all the power within the church hierarchy was in the hands of the local bishops. The church basically saw itself as the spiritual community of Christian believers, in exile from God's kingdom, waiting in a hostile world for the day of deliverance. The most important members of this community were found outside the hierarchy of the church government in the monasteries that dotted Europe.

According to Microsoft Encarta, "The early Middle Ages drew to a close in the 10th century with the new migrations and invasions, the coming of the Vikings, and the weakening of all forces of European unity and expansion" (Microsoft). These acts resulted in violence and dislocation which caused isolation, population to diminish, and the monasteries again became outposts of civilization.

During the high Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church became organized into an elaborate hierarchy with the pope as the head in western Europe. He establish supreme power. Many innovations took place in the creative arts during the high Middle Ages. Literacy was no longer merely requirement among the clergy. New readings were addressed to a newly literate public that had both the time and the knowledge to enjoy the work.

The late Middle Ages were characterized by conflict. Towns and cities began to grow in alarming numbers; the new towns wanted to have their own self-control. They wanted to be free of outside leadership. One result of this struggle was the intensification of political and social thinking.

In the late medieval period, there was a ugre for the direct experience with God, whether through private, interior ecstasy or mystical illumination. Christ and the apostles presented an image of radical simplicity, and using the life of Christ as a model to be imitated, individuals began to organized themselves into apostolic communities. There was a growing sense of religion and a need to be with Christ and his followers.

During the Middle Ages, the Church was a major part of everyday life. The Church served to give people spiritual guidance and it served as their government as well. Now, in the 20th century, the church's role has diminished. It no longer has the power that it used to have. Television has become more powerful than the church. The church still plays an important role in my life. I attend mass on every Sunday, and I uphold the morals and values that the Catholic church promotes today.

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