The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250

By Colin Morris | Go to book overview

CONCLUSIONS

The period of church history which we have studied in this volume allows no facile summary with which to end. It is fair to talk about the programme of the reforming papacy, but not easy to see its consistent application in subsequent generations. In many areas of activity, we see not one change but a series of successive transformations, as Cluniacs and Cistercians and friars emerged in turn as the most admired version of the religious life, or as the pendulum of Paris theology swung from speculation to pastoral care and back again. Although the institutions of the thirteenth-century church are far more familiar to our eyes than those of two centuries before, there is no simple tale of 'modernization' to be told here. Sometimes the currents apparently flowed the wrong way: Thomas Merton could use the spirituality of the early Cistercians as a key to an understanding of our own dilemmas, but few now would feel affinity to the well-oiled order of the mid-thirteenth century. To contemporaries the changes seemed so far-reaching that German thinkers sought to find room within the conservative Augustinian view of history for a concept of real historical progress, and Joachim of Fiore came to see history as a series of ages in which revolutions were worked by the power of God. None of this points to the formulation of neat conclusions. Yet it remains true that during these 200 years the Roman Church had never enjoyed such authority in the western churches as a whole, and arguably it was never again (perhaps not even in the sixteenth century) going to display such initiative in creating and encouraging new movements. There is therefore an obligation, at the end of this long haul, to offer the reader some oversimplifications about the way in which papal direction had shaped church history.

One aspect is relatively easy to describe. The zone of control covered by western Christendom had undergone some significant changes. Within Europe only Lithuania retained an official pagan cult, and the frontiers of the Christian states had advanced to the

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