THE PAPAL THEOCRACY IN CONFLICT WITH THE SECULAR POWER
FROM GREGORY VII. TO BONIFACE VIII.
The fifth period of general Church history, or the second period of mediaeval Church history, begins with the rise of Hildebrand, 1049, and ends with the elevation of Boniface VIII. to the papal dignity, 1294.
In this period the Church and the papacy ascend from the lowest state of weakness and corruption to the highest power and influence over the nations of Europe. It is the classical age of Latin Christianity: the age of the papal theocracy, aiming to control the German Empire and the kingdoms of France, Spain, and England. It witnessed the rise of the great Mendicant orders and the religious revival which followed. It beheld the full flower of chivalry and the progress of the crusades, with the heroic conquest and loss of the Holy Land. It saw the foundations laid of the great universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford. It was the age of scholastic philosophy and theology, and their gigantic efforts to solve all conceivable problems and by dialectical skill to prove every article of faith. During its progress Norman and Gothic architecture began to rear the cathedrals. All the arts were made the handmaids of religion; and legendary poetry and romance flourished. Then the Inquisition was established, involving the theory of the persecution of Jews and heretics as a divine right, and carrying it into execution in awful scenes of torture and blood. It was an age of bright light and deep shadows, of strong faith and stronger superstition, of sublime heroism and wild passions, of ascetic self-denial and sensual indulgence, of Christian devotion and barbarous cruelty. Dante, in his Divina Commedia, which "heaven and earth" combined to produce, gives a poetic mirror of Christianity and civilization in the thirteenth and the opening years of the fourteenth century, when the Roman Church was at the summit of its power, and yet, by the abuse - of that power and its worldliness, was calling forth loud protests, and demands for a thorough reformation from all parts of Western Christendom.
A striking feature of the Middle Ages is the contrast and co-operation of the forces of extreme self-abnegation as represented in monasticism and extreme ambition for worldly dominion as represented in the papacy. The former gave moral support to the latter, and the latter utilized the former. The monks were the standing army of the pope, and fought his battles against the secular rulers of Western Europe.
The papal theocracy in conflict with the secular powers and at the height of its power is the leading topic. The weak and degenerate popes who ruled from 900-1046 are now succeeded by a line of vigorous minds, men of moral as well as intellectual strength. The world has had few rulers equal to Gregory VII. 1073-1085, Alexander III. 1159-1181, and Innocent III. 1198-1216, not to speak of other pontiffs scarcely second to these masters in the art of government and aspiring aims. The papacy was a necessity and a blessing in a barbarous age, as a check upon brute force, and as a school of moral discipline. The popes stood on a much higher plane than the princes of their time. The spirit has a right to rule over the body; the intellectual and moral interests are superior to the material and political. But the papal theocracy carried in it the temptation to secularization. By the abuse of opportunity it became a hindrance to pure religion and morals. Christ gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, but he also said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). The pope coveted both kingdoms, and he got what he coveted. But he was not able to hold the power he claimed over the State, and aspiring after temporal authority lost spiritual power. Boniface VIII. marks the beginning of the decline and fall of the papal rule; and the seeds of this decline and fall were sown in the period when the hierarchy was in the pride of its worldly might and glory.
In this period also, and chiefly as the result of the crusades, the schism between the churches of the East and the West was completed. All attempts made at reconciliation by pope and council only ended in wider alienation.
The ruling nations during the Middle Ages were the Latin, who descended from the old Roman stock, but showed the mixture of barbaric blood and vigor, and the Teutonic. The Italians and French had the most learning and culture. Politically, the German nation, owing to its possession of the imperial crown and its connection with the papacy, was the most powerful, especially under the Hohenstaufen dynasty. England, favored by her insular isolation, developed the power of self-government and independent nationality, and begins to come into prominence in the papal administration. Western Europe is the scene of intellectual, ecclesiastical, and political activities of vast import, but its arms and devotion find their most conspicuous arena in Palestine and the East.
Finally this period of two centuries and a half is a period of imposing personalities. The names of the greatest of the popes have been mentioned, Gregory VII., Alexander III., and Innocent III. Its more notable sovereigns were William the Conqueror, Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick II., and St. Louis of France. Dante the poet illumines its last years. St. Bernard, Francis d'Assisi, and Dominic, the Spaniard, rise above a long array of famous monks. In the front rank of its Schoolmen were Anselm, Abelard, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, and Duns Scotus. Thomas à Becket and Grosseteste are prominent representatives of the body of episcopal statesmen. This combination of great figures and of great movements gives to this period a variety of interest such as belongs to few periods of Church history or the history of mankind.
(from Schaff's History of the Church, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)