Europe in Transition, 1300-1520

By Wallace K. Ferguson | Go to book overview

IX
Popular Piety, Mysticism and Heresy

The changes which occurred in the economic, social and cultural conditions of Western Europe during the fourteenth century and the first half of the fifteenth were inevitably accompanied by significant changes in the religious life of the age. This was moreover a peculiarly troubled period in the history of the Church. The story of the long crisis which lasted through the period of the Babylonian Captivity and the Great Schism has already been told. The history of the papacy and of the internal vicissitudes of the Church as it adjusted to changing economic and political conditions, however, tells us little about the people's faith in these years that tried men's souls, nor about the quality of popular piety and religious aspiration. That is the subject of the present chapter. It is a problem that cannot be treated, of course, without reference to the Church, the institution which still furnished the framework of religious life; but much of the most vital religious experience of this period was to a large extent independent of the official leadership of the ecclesiastical hierarchy or was even in opposition to it, an opposition that in some instances led deeply pious men beyond the frontiers of orthodoxy into the lonely wilderness of heretical speculation.

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