A World History of Christianity

By Adrian Hastings | Go to book overview

4
The medieval West

Benedicta Ward and G. R. Evans


The medieval idea of the Church

Biblical images of the Church were a powerful influence on the way it was understood in the Middle Ages. To see Christ as the Bridegroom, the Church as the Bride, is to borrow the imagery of the Song of Songs. That idea influenced thinking about the pastoral role of the Church’s ministers. Traditions of spirituality adapted the image in miniature, taking the soul to be the Bride.

It was also important to medieval ecclesiology that the Bible sees Christ as the ‘Head’, the Church as the ‘Body’. Images of the body assume that different parts have different functions; that they cannot change places; that one part (the Head) directs the rest. This fitted in well with medieval assumptions about the natural, God-given shape of society. Each person was born to a place in it, and would live his or her life best by remaining in that place. This was not a recipe for social change, and it encouraged a strongly hierarchical pattern in both secular and religious arrangements.

By the early thirteenth century the dominant idea had shifted. The Church was now beginning to see itself more as a parent to children in the faith. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 spoke of the Church as ‘mother and teacher’ (mater et magistrd). ‘Mother Church’ taught the faithful what they ought to believe and nurtured their spiritual development so as to fit them for heaven. This assumption went with an enlargement of papal claims to plenitude of power, which by the thirteenth century had made the Pope a figure seen by many as standing in Christ’s place as Head.

There was a reaction against this assertion of an authority which seemed to press ever further beyond the boundaries set by the biblical images, and the last medieval centuries saw polarization between dissidents those who argued that this dominant papal figure was actually Antichrist

-110-

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A World History of Christianity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Maps x
  • Preface xi
  • The Contributors xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Emergence of Christianity 7
  • 2 - 150-550 25
  • 3 - The Orthodox Church in Byzantium 66
  • 4 - The Medieval West 110
  • 5 - India 147
  • 6 - Africa 192
  • 7 - Reformation and Counter-Reformation 238
  • 8 - Eastern Europe since the Fifteenth Century 282
  • 9 - Latin America 1 328
  • 10 - China and Its Neighbours 369
  • 11 - North America 416
  • 12 - Christianity in Western Europe from the Enlightenment 458
  • 13 - Australasia and the Pacific 508
  • Bibliography 537
  • Index 582
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