The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250

By Colin Morris | Go to book overview

2
THE PATTERN OF SOCIAL CHANGE

It is not possible in studying the medieval world to distinguish clearly between the history of the church and that of secular society. The chronicler Otto of Freising, remembering St Augustine's distinction between the city of God and the earthly city, thought it could hardly be applied to his own times: 'because not only the whole people, but also the princes, with a few exceptions, were catholics, it seems to me that I have written the history, not of two cities, but only of one, which I call the church'.1 The great changes which we shall have to study in the organization and spirituality of the church were responses to the transformation of society, and at the same time they helped to bring the transformation about. What is more, the actual concepts which we must use in understanding the period were themselves moulded by ecclesiastical writers. Such groups as the knights (milites) or the poor (pauperes) may seem to us to be sociological phenomena, but to twelfth-century writers they were theological and moral conceptions, significant for the function which they fulfilled in the divine purpose for the world. Social changes cannot be examined separately from the religious thought which helped to bring them about and shaped the information we receive about them. The purpose of this chapter is to consider these wider changes before turning to those developments which are more specifically ecclesiastical.


i. The Extension of Economic Activity: the Countryside

In the eleventh century a great part of the countryside in western Europe was still unpeopled. River valleys were unprofitable marshlands, and low-lying coasts, notably those of Flanders, Holland, and northern Germany, were covered with sand-dunes and salt-marsh. Still more characteristic of the landscape were the great forests. Even in the more thickly settled areas such as England or northern France,

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1
Otto of Freising, Chronica, v. prol., ed. A. Hofmeister ( Hanover, 1912), 229.

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