The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250

By Colin Morris | Go to book overview
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13
CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIAL IDEAS

i. The Basis of Christian Social Action

The formation of Christendom did not only mean the building of more, and more splendid, churches for worship; it also involved the making of moral directives to shape the life of society. The twelfth century saw a sustained attempt to apply Christian principles to the conduct of social affairs in a way unparalleled since the days of Ambrose and Augustine. It represented a development of the ideals of the reforming popes, with their concern to purify priesthood and worship. The thinking about the ethics of lay action during the twelfth century forms a bridge between the cultic concerns of the Gregorians and the personal pastoral aspirations of the thirteenth century. The Gregorians themselves provided a starting-point for the new development by their definition of the duties of the clerical order and its separation from the laity, for this almost necessarily involved a redefinition of the duties of lay people within the kingdom of God. We shall see shortly that a sharp, even extreme, separation between clergy and laity was characteristic of medieval social thinking, which in that important sense remained in the Gregorian tradition. A further reason for the new thinking was the growth of differentiation between lay functions and careers and the greater self-awareness of laymen with their new specialist skills. In addition, the study of canon law and the emergence of skilled theologians and administrators made contemporaries much more aware of the social teaching which was to be found in patristic writing. The picture sometimes drawn of medieval society as neglecting questions of poverty, violence, family life, or commercial morality is frankly absurd: although the suppositions and possibilities of twelfth-century people were different from those of our own century, they were clear-minded about social problems and determined in the application of solutions.

A more serious concern about lay ethics was promoted by a new

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