A History of the Church in the Middle Ages

By F. Donald Logan | Go to book overview
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7

REFORM, THE EAST, CRUSADE

The seventy-five years from the middle of the eleventh century witnessed crucial events in the long history of the church. Forms were cast that would shape integral features of the Christian church as it lived its life in the centuries to come. The papacy, long in scandalous decline, woke up or, rather, was awakened to assume a role of active leadership. In the exuberance of its new awakening the popes disastrously but effectively severed the church from the Christians of the East, as disagreement became schism, and schism became permanent, yet not so permanent that, when threatened by Turkish invaders, Eastern Christians would not call upon the West for help. That help was the First Crusade. A church with a strong papacy, often in struggle with secular rulers, a church separated from its Greek-speaking brethren and a church embracing an ideal of war against the infidels—these were henceforth to be benchmarks of the medieval church.


Eleventh-century reform

The need to renew the Christian ideal, to reaffirm the essential meaning of Christianity, to revive the human spirit by a return to the pristine elements of Christian living was not limited to any one period in history and was as old as Pentecost and the early church. Ideals of their nature are goals never attained yet striven for, the horizon never reached yet still the destination one heads towards. A central belief of the Christian religion is the universality of the effects of original sin: human nature, while not depraved, was seriously weakened by the sin of Adam. The frailty of human nature, in this schema, excepted neither pope nor bishop nor priest. It was a church of men and women, children of Adam and heirs to his weakened humanity. In such a world, failure was a constant fear and a frequent reality. Almost integral to the Christian religion as it was lived was the need of reform, renewal, revival—the terms are really synonymous—which, at times, became so intense and so widespread as to constitute a movement. Such a movement occurred in the eleventh century.

Traditional historiography has labelled this movement as either the ‘Gregorian Reform’ or the ‘Hildebrandine Reform.’ Both names refer to Pope Gregory VII (1073-85), who, before he became pope, was called Hildebrand. These are

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