This presentation is the first of two parts and is a limited survey
of the changing concepts of Christian ministry from the Patristic
period to about 1500.
Part II will be devoted to the Continental Reformation of the 16th
century and include England and Scotland.
These sweeping historical perspectives, I hope, will enable readers
and students to grasp the continuity of the story, of course, but
also to appreciate the often subtle and often unintended influences
and consequences of great and small actions that accumulate over
time. The unintended influences and consequences reshaped and reconfigured
the ministry of the Christian Church in the West during the almost
900 years of the Middle Ages.
The accumulation of decisions change the shape of the Church's ministry
through the centuries, influence her worship, shape her liturgy,
redirect the Christian purposes of ordinary men and women, reconstitute
the work of cure of souls and determine the content of her preaching.
For purposes of organization and clarification, therefore, I have
organized our material into three discrete sections. But also I
have unashamedly let the materials freely move about in a conversation
between and among the centuries and ages under review. I think we
can keep the players straight, though.
First, our survey begins with a brief overview from the Age of the
Church Fathers, specifically St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine.
Second, attention is drawn to the Middle Ages (600-1500 AD), which
prepares the ground for the Reformation of the 16th Century. This
section covers 900 years, is developed in greater depth than the
Patristic materials and prepares one to place the Reformation in
a board context. Some might argue that the Reformation was an inevitable
necessity in the return of Christendom to her roots.
Third, in Part II, a study of the Continental Reformation (1500-1600)
absorbs most of our attention but the Reformation in England and
Scotland cannot and will not be slighted.
The scope of our work will, of necessity, touch on far more than
the office of the minister. The office of minister or priest or
pastor requires or inherently creates the expectation that the office-holder
performs or undertake a range of duties, obligations and responsibilities
consistent and as a result of being ordained to the pastoral office.
These duties, obligations and responsibilities may pertain to worship
and liturgy or church organization and, ultimately, the role of
the parish priest or minister in society. But, collectively, the
duties, obligations and responsibilities become the core model of
what the minister (1) should be as well as (2) what the minister
should do or (3) what the minister should be about in the conduct
of the office.
During the course of this presentation, the reader or listener will
observe that the office of minister develops and developed, adapts
and adapted according to the demands and needs of the age and under
strange, particular, unexpected, unwanted and sometimes peculiar
In this winnowing process, seeking to separate the wheat of Christian
faith from the chaff of worldly power and prestige, The Way becomes
reduced to Christendom quite early, creating a hazardous enterprise
to the faith of early Christianity and the practice of authentic
holiness and piety in every age.
Seen in a larger context and to a large extent, the evangelical
developments in ministry and associated topics, occasioned by the
appearance of the Reformation of the 16th century, served as a correction
to the excesses that had crept into the Roman Catholicism and its
ministry. Our story, then, begins in the Patristic period.
I. The Ministry in the Middle Ages and Its Patristic Roots.
Changes in the office of minister toward the end of the late Patristic
period are accurately portrayed in the John Chrysostom's essay,
"On the Priesthood."
"On the Priesthood" represents a major shift in the thought
of the time. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) defends the monastic life
as easier to perform than to "assume the onerous tasks of a
parish minister" (82).
In Book IV of "On the Priesthood," Chrysostom explains
that "those who allow themselves to be forced into the clerical
office, no less than they who enter upon it from ambitious motives,
are sorely punished hereafter for their sin." Parish ministry
Explaining his reasoning for accentuating the role of the parish
minister, Chrysostom recalls the stories of Eli and Moses and their
problems with rebellious sons and a rebellious people, respectively.
Chrysostom argues, quite simply, the life of the monk is safer,
easier and comparably free from concerns of this world than rigors
encountered in the world of the cleric, who lives in a parish and
In the Patristic age, most notably in the third or fourth century,
the monk, either living the emetic or cenobite life, was believed
to be the most rugged form of Christian devotion and life. Chrysostom's
essay appears to challenge that notion, indicating a shift is advance
in which the parish minister now faces a future in which the tests
of the desert will be less a challenge than the tests of the parish.
But, suggesting the in values, St. John Chrysostom's argues, "the
priesthood had come to be regarded as more arduous [of the two]
and monasticism was defended as the safest way to heaven, for [there]
one might not rise too high, neither fall so low" (82) as in
In a sense, the monastic life was a quiet ground on which to climb
a ladder to heaven. The priest, attempting to climb the ladder to
heaven, was actually climbing a rickety religious scaffold and could
lose his footing or perhaps his soul on part of the perilous climb.
In the late 3rd or early 4th century, one may rightly conclude Chrysostom
sees the office of the minister as the more arduous and hazardous
journey of faith when compared to the monastic life. If so, it seems
his observation of the difference between the parish priest and
the monk fits the conditions one encounters in another important
and representative figure of the age, St. Augustine.
St. Augustine (354-430), of Hippo in North Africa, was an outstanding
preacher, able administrator (bishop), a pastoral counselor of note
and a seminal theologian who, in the future, would, along with the
Apostle Paul, influence the course of the Reformation of the 16th
century. Like the Apostle Paul, Augustine knew the trials of serving
Churches and troubled congregations.
Peter Brown writes in Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, the congregation
that Augustine served in a small African town of the fourth century
could "be narrow, puritanical" and tightly knit in which
the mother played a dominant role.
Brown observes that
the congregations who heard Augustine preach were not exceptionally
sinful. Rather, they were firmed rooted in long-established attitude,
in the way of life and ideas, to which Christianity was peripheral.
Among such men, the all-demanding message of Augustine merely suffered
the fate of a river flowing into a complex system of irrigation:
it lost its power, in the minds of its hearers, by meeting innumerable
little ditches, by being broken up into a network of neat little
Brown contends that in this period, also, the religious imagination
of Augustine's hearers was rigidly compartmentalized. That is, there
were two spheres, two worlds in which they lived. The two worlds
were -- and-- are this world and the next.
Each of the two worlds had a ruler, and while the Creeds might affirm
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and
earth," the worshipers held that a different ruler governed
Augustine did not have to contend with some pagan gods, as those
who were thought to reside on sacred mountains, Mt. Olympus in Ancient
Greece or the sacred precincts of Rome, but other gods that were
Rather than worship strange deities or idols, Augustine's hearers
were captive to "faceless" powers, the daily concerns
of a man. The daily concerns of a man included "his illnesses,
his anxieties, his ambitions, his acute sense of the object of malign
influences -- a supreme God, whom pagan and Christian philosophers
alike had conspired to make too grandiose and too remote from the
humble business of living at peace in this world."
Furthermore, Brown contends,
Augustine found himself checkmated by this split in the imagination
of his hearers. Christianity, they had been told, was otherworldly.
They would keep it so. Christ was eminently suitable as a god of
the next world: He was to be worshipped for eternal life; His rites
and emblems -- baptism and the sign of the Cross -- would be infallible
pass-words to open the next world to the believer. But this world
had to be controlled by traditional and well-tried means: by astrologers,
by soothsayers and by amulets.
Chrysosthom's and Brown's observations (about the tasks of ministry
facing St. Augustine) regarding the challenges facing a minister
in the late Patristic period are invaluable for our task as one
anticipates the Reformation of the 16th century.
Unfortunately and reluctantly and belatedly, I acknowledge the same
frustrations and challenges continually are at work in the conduct
and performance of ministry in almost every period we study, and
this is true of the 21st century, too.
This unanticipated course of action should not be surprising if
one remembers the chaotic career of St. Paul of the New Testament.
And based on 40-years' experience in the parish ministry, the issues
we encounter seem so strangely relevant and so fresh and so frustrating.
But it has always been that way because we live east of Eden.
Life for people, living in the age of early Church -- an age of
anxiety at Dodd's calls it -- through the Patristic period and extending
throughout most of the Middle Ages and at the time of the 16th century
Reformation, was often harsh, rigorous and uncompromising.
Added to the uncompromising demands to keep body and soul together,
whether monk, priest, parish minister, pastor or lay member, or
whatever role one held in society, Martin Luther's Ein feste Berg
speaks of "a world with devils filled." The Devil intruded
and invaded every sphere of life of clergy and lay, and the demoniac
was equally alive in the desert with the fathers and with the people
who live in the Patristic period, the Middle Ages, the age of the
Reformation and in our time, too.
Threats were perceived everywhere: some were divine, some were earthly.
What were his indispensable functions? Desert monks wrestled with
demons and devils. Some monks confessed that if they thought they
could escape the demons of sexual lust by living in the desert.
But they soon learned the great temptations, including lust, were
merely heightened and greatly enhanced in the solitude and loneliness
of the desert wastes of North Africa, the Holy Land and elsewhere.
There was simply no escape from being a fallen human being, an ancestor
of Adam or Eve, or living East of Eden.
For reasons that will become clear later in this presentation, the
life of a solitary monk gave rise to monastic communities that dotted
the landscape of Europe. In the process of change in the early 3rd
century, the office of monk or priest was transformed as new duties
called forth-new responsibilities, some of which we thrust on the
clergy from necessity.
II. Functions of the Priest and the Influence of the Environment
in which he lived.
If the monk had a code or a rule for living, so did priests of
local parishes. Property becomes an issue that requires rules, too.
And though property was held in the name of the bishop , that is,
a corporation, priests "should not meddle in business and if
they did, they were shunned" (83). Apparently, the rule of
shunning a brother became a necessity because of temptation to spend
too much time with property or goods. And the Church will quickly
become very wealthy with land, serfs, and animals.
Thus, a priest was not expected to be a merchant or a magistrate
or a military warrior. And, of course, exceptions were made but
rarely so. But that too will change.
Meanwhile, the monk, to demonstrate the difference between the monk
and parish priest, moved toward scholarship and cloistered monastic
life, which will play a major role in the preservation and transmission
of culture. The cultural artifacts, including manuscripts and arts
of several kinds, become precious tools for learning and become
the basis for recovery of learning after the so-called Dark Ages
of Europe begins to draw to a close. So how and why did this later
First of all, the monk who had received high praise by Chrysostrom
acquired new duties, enlarged obligations and a score of new functions.
In St. Jerome of Bible translation fame and a monk himself, the
worlds of scholarship and monasticism combined naturally.
The of the Benedictine Order, founded by St. Benedict of Nursia
(c. 480-c.550), surfaced in a niche of time, as the world was in
convulsion or soon to be. The monastic movement was in position
to salvage human beings, preserve and cultivate learning. Meanwhile,
other issues confronted the Church and, in the process, reshaped
her ministry. In the absence of the authority of the state, the
Church stepped into the breach.
Clearly, the known world was in flux and into that void the Church
stepped perhaps not with confidence, but resolutely with a sense
of administration provided by leadership of Pope Gregory I (590-604).
Pope Gregory the Great is remembered for his ability as an administrator
or CEO, who developed a business plan for administering the Church's
vast holdings, the ones the Lombards let remain in the hands of
Suddenly the Pope becomes the quartermaster of his domain, supplying
lumber and lead, and supplying the inhabitants of Rome with grain,
and supporting a great concourse of nuns who, too, are refugees
to the Eternal City. In order to manage this vast estate in the
hands of the Church required development of a bureaucracy and a
hierarchy of managers.
Bainton writes that reading the correspondence of Augustine and
the correspondence of Gregory is striking in the contrasts. The
latter reads like a business administrator or a dean of a university,
for every letter from the pen of Gregory renders a decision. On
the other hand, the correspondence of Augustine deals with the cure
of souls. A major shift in the emphasis of the ministry surfaces.
Earlier, the development of monastic life was in keeping with the
spirit of the time -- when the world was thought to be falling apart
long before it did. And, of course, safety in a time of turmoil
was thought to be found in the desert and away from the great cities
with their cesspools of corruption! -- and this retreat to the desert
naturally drew men and women to communities or to the solitary life.
With the sacking of Rome in 453 AD, streams of high-born Roman matrons
embraced the monastic life, dedicating themselves to ministering
in hospital to sufferers of the most loathsome diseases (84). Consequently,
with a dependable supply of monks and nuns, the monastic cell, once
a place of desert solitude, now became expanded to "encompass
the study, the hostel, and the hospital" (84).
It was during this time and earlier during the decline of Rome that
the Church throughout the crumbling Empire acquired enlarged functions,
based on a high degree of universality and centralization, which
became the model for the high Middle Ages, Bainton suggests.
Suddenly, as it were, the Bishop of Rome, the successor to Peter
and Paul, was deemed by the middle of the fourth century to become
the perpetual successor to Peter, the first pope of the Roman Catholic
Church. The apostle Peter was no longer simply leader of the disciples
but was the first bishop of Rome or the Holy Father of the Roman
Each papal successor after the middle of the fourth century "wielded
the power of the keys," a concept that surfaces in the discussion
on forgiveness, confession, repentance, penance and the issues of
pastoral care in the 16th century.
As a result of the barbarian invasions in the West, the traditional
functions of the priest continued, of course, but once forbidden
tasks now fell into his lap, as if by default. The default occurred
when there was no one to fill the gap between state administration,
however so humble the task, and the priest's relentless spiritual
duties, functions and obligations.
It was at this point that the lines between laity and clergy diverge
precipitously and accentuate. The laity assumed a larger role in
founding, supplying, and reforming of churches. The monks extended
their functions when they became priests.
Meanwhile, the priests became celibate and thus the regular and
secular clergy were less to be distinguished. The term "regular"
was applied to the monastic because they followed a regula or rule.
The term "secular" applied to parish clergy because they
served in saceculo, in the world. The word "secular" had
not acquired the connotation of secular in the sense of worldly
as we have come to think of it.
The invasion of barbarians altered the social structure and effectively
destroyed public order. Goods and life were menaced. The Norsemen
continued their major thrusts; the Danes in the West and the Magyars
in the East conquered lands and established barbarian kingdoms,
and proceeded to wage war against each other, that is, baron fought
baron for territory.
These disorders, as Bainton calls them, demanded the building of
some walled promontory. The irruption of Islam in the sixth century
commenced and made the Mediterranean an Islamic sea.
Commerce declined with the result of a return to an agriculture
economy with a system of exchange and barter rather that in coin
In Gaul and later in Northern Germany, secular clergy soon became
endowed with large estates, that is, as much as one-third to one-half
of the kingdom. Rulers like Charles Martel (c. 690-741) frequently
expropriated lands he conquered and passed along the spoils as donations
to the bishop. Bishops became obscenely wealthy, and the bishop
waved away any conflict of interest between the kingdom of good
and wealth and the kingdom of gospel and poverty with the claims
that he was acting for the Church. Interestingly enough, large blocks
of time were needed to oversee and manage the Church's growing property
Into such a world, a world of change, the Benedictine order that
had begun as a regime of manual labor for each of the brothers now
acquired lands, too, and the serfs now worked for the monks.
The monks, to their credit, did not thrown them off the newly acquired
lands, but this shift in the social structure of the early Middle
Ages will portend grave consequences for the monk and his ministry
in the future.
Now, the monk might become a squire, or if so inclined, the monk
might become a scholar with a white hand, indicating no manual labor
was part of his monastic vocation any longer, but the monastic vocation
had become an exercise of the mind and perhaps enriching and refreshing
Furthermore, it was during the high Middle Ages, when the new monastic
orders "produced wine, wool and grain beyond their needs"
and began to dispose of the surplus in the trade channels that opened.
The monks outfitted convoys on the roads and organized flotillas
of goods on the rivers. Altogether they were the most enterprising
businessmen of their day (87).
It was at this time also that the functions of government slowly
became the functions of the Church.
If Roman citizens were captured by barbarians who had gold if not
the bishop of Rome? And if he thus dealt with the barbarians, how
inevitable that he should make arrangements and [sign] treaties
with their rulers? Little wonder that Pippin, the king of the Franks
in 754, recognized the actual conditions when he conferred upon
the pope the keys to ten cities that over them he might exercise
civil rule. This date is commonly taken to mark the beginning of
the estates of the Church over which the people was temporal lord
until 1870. His authority was restored in 1929 over the diminished
area of Vatican City.
In the north, churchmen likewise assumed the functions of government.
Since the clergy were the only literate class available, the kings
of the Franks drafted them as civil servants. As civil servants,
clergy soon began to function in a combined role, namely, a high
ecclesiastic and a prime minister or chancellor of the realm. Bainton
mentions King Henry II was simply amazed that his favorite Thomas
a Becket refused to conform to the king's wishes.
bishops and abbots became rulers in their own domains when the feudal
system became established and taxes, military levies, and the administration
of justice devolved on the holders of the land. So long as the churchmen
held vast estates they could not escape obedience and service to
their overlords and protection of their underlings. They had become
prince-bishops and prince-abbots.
About the year 1000 AD, deflection from the Christian ideal become
endemic throughout Christendom, as the Church, through its ecclesiastical
leadership, now engaged in warfare.
In the days of invasion, which happened during this frightful period,
abbots removed their cassocks and donned armor to repel raiders
Monasteries were circled with walls. Sometimes nuns entered the
fray, and in the conflict of baron with baron the churchmen behaved
like his neighbor.
Illustration of this is found in the action of King Henry II in
Germany. A robber baron so devastated the archdiocese of Treves
that the archbishop fled. The Emperor selected a hardfisted noble,
raced him through the grades of the Church's hierarchy until he
became the "new" archbishop of Treves. The newly minted
archbishop promptly distributed the goods of the Church to the knights
who formed a standing army and repulsed the marauder.
This illustration is not unique, because the aversion of monasticism
to war collapsed, Bainton notes, with the founding of the Hospitaliers,
Knights of St. John, and the Templers with the enthusiastic blessing
of Saint Bernard (1090-1153), Abbot of Clairvaux.
Why did war replace the holiness sought by the monastic orders?
Bainton writes, it was seen as the will of God.
The Church was fired with zeal to Christianize every fabric of society
and to accomplish this end first of all by emancipating and purifying
the Church herself.
The Gregorian reformers were deeply aware of all of the corruptions
inherent in the very processes of Christianization. The Church had
to be of people in order to win the people and in so doing all to
readily became like the people. The warring of bishops and abbots
was understandable enough in a disorderly society and might be condoned
as self-defense. Yet all too often it became predatory. The immense
episcopal baronies had originated innocently out of the very necessities
of the situation. Then they had become so lucrative as to temp the
avaricious and the ambitious. The manning of churches by lay patrons,
at first a boon, had become a bane, when though their power of lay
investiture they consecrated superfluous sons in order to enlarge
their domains. The centralizing of political authority in the hands
of the emperor was stabilizing but if to this end he determined
episcopal appointments his eye might be less directed to saintliness
than to amenability. The marriage of clergy was supported by the
sanction of eminent churchmen such as St. Ambrose but introduced
the possibility of a hereditary episcopacy.
To cure all of these ills two drastic reforms were launched. The
one aimed at the independence, the other at the purity of the church.
The clergy were to be emancipated from lay control. They were not
to be subject to the civil courts. The Church should administer
justice for churchmen. The tonsured were to be exempt from lay authority,
and even though guilt of theft, rape, and murder should enjoy the
benefit of clergy. The practice of assigning all ecclesiastics to
the bishop's court is discernible in England only after the conquest
and was a result of the Gregorian reform. Popular sentiment supported
this exemption because the secular courts were so severe. On a single
gallows one might see twenty men hanging for trivial offenses. The
bishop could not impose the death penalty. He might adjudge the
accused guilty and turn him over for punishment to the civil power.
Commonly, however, he extracted only purgation. He might condemn
the culprit to an ecclesiastical prison, but still, there would
be no taking of life.
If the clergy had been willing to surrender the considerable land
holdings, which amounted to one-half of the land, the Church would
have been free from lay interference completely but, unfortunately,
the Church lands had been donated in strips and patches. A king
might enjoy a title but his kingdom was an unmanageable domain.
While the Church might be free from lay interference, the Church
was not entirely independent. The Church have been, of course, if
the Church had been willing to renounce its considerable endowments
of land and property. The Church was not willing to trust her future
to temperamental sovereigns and petty kings. He who owns the gold
makes the rules!
But the Church had a unique problem. If bishops were not to be appointed
by lay patrons nor swear allegiance to rulers and the Crown, by
whom then were they appointed, inducted and invested with the office
The Church's unique problem was solved with the introduction of
the College of Cardinals. This new ecclesiastical organization had
been urged in the 9th century when the clergy of France, who desired
a central organization of Church government and the enhancement
of the papacy as a defense against kings and the high-mindedness
of overlords, lay and clerical, presented a Decretal.
Not until the 11th century, however, was the idea implemented, and
the Cardinals established with the function of choosing popes quite
independently of lay directives, so Bainton writes.
By this time, the Church hierarchy is not only elaborated but also
levels or graduations of clergy are accentuated. It was at this
time also that the altar was moved to the rear of the apse, so that
the bishop, who presided, no longer stood behind the communion table
or altar but took his place with the other clergy in the choir stall.
Though he retained a throne, reminding one that he was essentially
a king within an ecclesiastical kingdom, his diocese, he was now
seated with the other clergy.
The bishop being seated with the clergy also heightened the distinction
between the clergy and the laity. This was done, in part, with gestures,
that is, two postures at communion. The bishop or priest stood;
the people kneeled. And there came to be two positions. The priest
at the altar or communion table; and the people behind the altar
rail. Only the priest partook of both elements, the bread and wine.
The laity had access only to the bread.
The imposition of celibacy did not occur until nearly 1000 AD. The
Bishop of Mans, for example, married and his wife's name was Episcopissa.
In 966, Rutherius , a bishop, declared that
all clergy in his area were married and some of them more than
once. If the decree prohibiting repeated marriages were enforced
only boys would be left in the Church. He endeavored to institute
a reform but was driven to seek the sanctuary of an abbey. At the
same time, for centuries an incompatibility had been sensed between
sexual relations and ministry at the altar and the married priest
was enjoined to abstain during the period of his ministrations.
The Gregorian reform, partly for practical reasons to break up
the system of hereditary bishoprics and partly for ascetic reasons
because virginity was rated higher than marriage, undertook to make
the reform universal. Opposition was intense but the rule became
While celibacy was being enforced for reasons of the superiority
of virginity and practically to break-up hereditary bishoprics,
clergy adopted special dress to demark them as a special class.
The purpose of the dress was to enhance their prestige and standing
in the community and to guard their morals by setting them apart.
Some complaint was registered, however, "of those clad in scarlet,
wearing rings, 'with short tunics, ornamentally trimmed, with knives
and basilards hanging from their girdles. The rules prescribed that
the head must be tonsured, the beard closely trimming, sleeves must
be short, coats long, and colors somber.'" While no specific
uniform was mandated as street attire, the most distinguishing characteristic
of clergy was the tonsure.
It may surprise modern readers that the civil authorities registered
the strongest objections to one of these reforms. On the one hand,
civil authorities were not too concerned with dress, unmarried clergy,
though some loss of revenue was noted. On the other hand, the strongest
objection of the civil authorities was the abolition of lay investiture.
Plainly stated, the objection was: "How can the king be sovereign
in his own domain if he could not count on unqualified obedience
from subordinates who controlled one-half of the land?"
To grasp the enormous amount of land under the control f the Church,
the See of Peter would rule France, Germany, England and Spain and
Further implications were drawn from these reforms. Clergy were
exempt from the civil courts. This exemption of clergy constituted
a serious threat to the equal administration of justice throughout
the realm where the ratio of clergy to laity was estimated as somewhere
between 1 to 50 and 1 to 25.
Opposition was cowed into submission, but only for a few centuries.
Henry II of England (1133-1189), king of England, founder of the
Plantagenet dynasty and of the Angevin Empire, who resisted clerical
immunities and had the Archbishop killed , did penance at the Archbishop's
tomb to obtain the blessings of the Pope and get into the Holy Father's
good graces once more.
Henry IV, king in Germany and Roman emperor (1050-1106), hurled
defiance at Pope Gregory VII when the pope categorically insisted
on the imposition of clerical celibacy and the abolition of lay
For being unwilling to submit graciously, the emperor was excommunicated
and his subjects were released from oaths of obedience. Suddenly,
the king had no subjects. In order to recover his scepter, he had
to stand as a supplicant in the snow at Canossa.
From the 13th century triumph of Pope Innocent III (1160-1216),
the success of the Gregorian reform was accomplished. A culture
had emerged properly designated as Christendom.
Bainton identifies the fashioning of Christendom's first stage as
the conversion of the north peoples. Example abound from Druids
who scarcely beyond human sacrifice and Teutons, worshipping Thor
within the sacred oak. These examples have been introduced earlier
but are repeated as a reminder of the extent of Christian claims
An especially moving sermon by Paulinus is recorded when "he
pointed to a swallow flitting through the Saxon banqueting hall
from darkness to darkness as a parable of the life of a man, were
it not that Christ has shed light and hope on the darkness beyond."
At the opposite end of the Empire, St. Cyril (826-869) and St. Methodius
(c. 815-885), The "Apostles to the Slavs," were brothers
who came from a Greek senatorial family in Thessalonica. The younger
brother, originally Constantine, did not assume the name Cyril until
he became a monk in 868.
In 862, the Emperor Michael III sent the two brothers as missionaries
to what is now Moravia, where they taught in the language of the
people. Almost immediately, the brothers immersed themselves in
the language of the people, and Cyril invented an alphabet call
Glagolithic or Cyrillic and became the founder of Slavonic literature,
adopting Slavonic also for the celebration of the Liturgy and circulating
al Slavonic version of the Scriptures. A few years later they journeyed
to Rome. In Rome, Cyril died in a monastery shortly after taking
monastic vows and was solemnly buried in the church of San Clemente.
St. Methodius was then consecrated bishop and returned to Moravia.
But though he was given full Papal authority, he was defied by the
German bishops and imprisoned for two years. Pope John VIII secured
his release, but he deemed it expedient to withdraw the permission
to use Slavonic as the regular language, though the alphabet used
by the Slavonic peoples of the Eastern Church was a treasure and
a lasting gift of these missionaries to the Slavs.
In Prague, July 5 is a public holiday in honor of St. Cyril and
St. Methodius. There is a baroque Church (Resslova 9) with a pilastered
façade and a small central tower that was built in the 1730s.
During World War II, in May 1942 specifically, parachutists who
assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi governor of Czechoslovakia,
hid in the Church's crypt along with members of the Czech Resistance.
Their hiding place revealed and rather than surrender to the Germans,
the men took their own lives. Some of the outer structure still
shows the evidence of bullet holes made by German machine guns during
the siege. On the outer wall of the crypt, one may find a memorial
plaque recalling this bit of 20th century history.
The following day, July 6, there is a public holiday to commemorate
the death of Jan Hus or Huss, an important Reformer and a predecessor
of Luther and the other Reformers of the 16th century.
St. Cyril and St. Methodius, part of the extensive missionary outreach
of the Christian Church, spoke eloquently and effectively regarding
the death-conquering Christ. In a barbaric and pagan culture, the
message of the death-conquering Christ was effectively reinforced
by the intercession of saints whose relics were part of the missionary's
equipment. Among polytheistic people the saints became successors
of the gods.
The missionary enterprise adapted to the needs of this wild and
unpredictable frontier mentality long before the American West came
into view, as the missionaries brought with them, in addition to
the scripture (St. Boniface) and relics, the demands of the Gospel.
The demands of the Gospel were laid on this unbridled people through
the use of the penitentials of varying kinds but essential ways
to get a grip on the people and get them to conform, as nearly as
possible, to the ethical demands of the Gospel.
As Bainton remarks, "Not only were penalties imposed on earth
but punishments and rewards offered in the life to come. The Pauline
doctrine of justification by faith apart from works was too precarious
a word to commit to these undisciplined hordes."
Students of Christian history recognize that conversion was by peoples
and tribes rather than individuals. This practice may strike modern
hearers or readers as odd, especially since we are more accustomed
to the "demand for a personal commitment" to the Gospel
and, in adults, an understanding of faith as a prerequisite to baptism
In this context and linked to the missionary enterprise of the time,
however, the sage wisdom of the eminent historian of the Christian
Church, Kenneth Scott Latourette speaks to this issue and other
issues in A History of Christianity.
The conversion of the bulk of the Saxons was through the vigorous
use of armed force by Charlemange. Charlemange was determined to
bring the Saxons into his realm and in 772 reduced much of the region
to ostensible submission. As part of the process of integration
under his rule he insisted upon baptism. He could not always be
in the Saxon territories and during his absences repeated revolts
broke out. As often as these occurred he returned with fire and
sword. He did not depend entire upon armed force. Many of the recalcitrant
he moved into the Rhineland among a professed Christian population,
thus to facilitate assimilation. He encouraged missionaries, many
of them Anglo-Saxons, to come to these kinfolk of theirs and baptize
and instruct them. He divided the land into dioceses and had bishops
set over them, thus giving the area a comprehensive ecclesiastical
. . . . . . .
Whether by force or by quiet instruction by missionaries, the Saxons
became staunch adherents of their Christian profession. In the next
period they were to become the bulwarks of the faith.
Before the year 950 beginnings had been made in the conversion of
the Scandinavians, the last wave of pagan invasion which was to
scourge Western Europe. Willibrord made an effort to plan the faith
in Denmark, but without success.
. . . . . . .
Before 950 some of the Scandinavians who settled within "Christendom"
accepted baptism. This was the case in England.
. . . . . . .
From the preceding summary, all too brief, of the conversions of
peoples of Western Europe, it will be l seen how largely it was
by mass movements of entire tribes or peoples, lead by the chieftains
or kings. As the numerical triumph of Christianity in the Roman
Empire had been completed by mass conversion encouraged and latterly
enforced by the Emperors, so that in these much small units which
made up Western Europe in this period, that faith was adopted as
the religion of the community, usually at the command or at least
with the energetic assistance of the prince.
We must note the contrast between the theology officially held
in the Church in the West and the practice, a contrast which was
to continue down to our own day, not only in the Catholic Church
of the West, but also in the large wings of its major offshoot,
Protestantism. The theology was Augustinian and in theory held that
only through God's grace could any one be saved, that the recipients
of grace were predestined and that presumably, as Augustine had
held, their number was infallibly fixed. As a corollary of predestination
all chosen by God would be saved through irresistible grace and
the perseverance of the saints. Those not chosen would not be saved,
regardless of what they or others, such as missionaries, might attempt
to do. In apparent contradiction of that conviction, whole tribes
and peoples were baptized and given Christian instruction and the
other ministries of the Church.
There seems to be no evidence that any of the missionaries were
troubled by this paradox. If they were, they might have taken refuge
in the finds of the Synod of Orange in 529, findings which had Papal
approval and which held that by the grace transmitted through baptism
all who had received that rite can, if they labor faithfully, do
those things which "belong to the salvation of the soul."
Since through mass conversions baptism was practically universal
and was given in infancy to successive generations, it followed
that all might be saved if they worked together with God, performing
those things which were held to be commanded by Him through the
As Bainton points out, conversion of individuals, rather than by
tribe or peoples creates a problem for individuals, who suffer "a
complete social dislocation and, disowned by their own people, have
had to find a home within a European or Europeanized community.
This was not the course adopted in the winning of the West. Commonly
kings and queens were converted and at their behest whole peoples
received the waters of baptism. Such was of necessity highly superficial
and genuine Christianization had to come forward."
It was now the real work of ministry begins. For instance, the monks
and the monasteries, long adapted to rural life and the rural economy,
ministered to people in simple ways, from draining swamps to training
their children. In some instances, monks served parish churches.
While the monks cherish and even prize seclusion and the solitary
life and even prize contemplation, the monk was not withdrawn entirely
from the social fabric of community or society.
There was no pope in the 12th century as influential as the monk
St. Bernard (1190-1153 AD), Abbot of Clairvaux. Surviving letters
and sermons of St. Bernard show him rebuking monks for their foibles
with an itch of singularity, who enjoy better the singing of one
psalm alone in the choir when the other brothers of the monastery
are asleep than an entire Psalter in the company of the brothers.
These "critical" issues indicate, however, the world is
settling-down and society is becoming more stable, but the needs
of ordinary people are increasing whether in cities, towns, villages,
Whereas the urban centers often had a cathedral and corps of responsible
clergy for the cure of souls, the majority of the population lived
in villages or in ecclesiastical terms, vicarages. The term vicarages
arose because the incumbent was commonly a substitute for a more
permanent minister or priest. Change was afoot, though.
In the early Middle Ages, a landlord frequently built a chapel and
appointed a rector, assigning certain lands for his support. From
this arrangement grew the tithe system. But the incumbent was often
expected to be the landlord's private chaplain, hunting and hawking
companion, and sometimes did not reside on the housing provided
and may have even not resided on the property but delegated any
ministerial functions to a vicar. The vicar was the one who did
the work of ministry.
Bishops, recognizing the problems, attempted to emancipate the rural
churches from lay control. Bainton observes,
One expedient was to assign [vicars] to monasteries, which became
themselves, the rectors and the recipients of the revenues. Sometimes
they undertook to provide for the cure of souls from their own ranks,
but of this arrangement there was grievous complaint inasmuch as
the only baptismal font was located at the monastery, and the villages
might be a dozen miles away. In case of extremity an infant might
die on the road. Therefore a substitute for the rector, the vicar,
was assigned to the parish. His living [however] was precarious
since the monastery continued to appropriate approximately two-thirds
of the income [for its own purposes whatever they might be] . .
.. The bishops fought the monasteries on behalf of the vicars and
themselves, and if there was no monastery in the picture, the bishop
made his own levy.
. . . . . . . .
On the Continent the bishop [himself] often took one-fourth or
one-third of the income.
There was an effort to restrict a bishop to not more than a bushel
of barley, a keg of wine, and a pig worth sixpence. To thwart this
enterprise in his personal fortunes, the bishop pled obligations,
for bishops had heavy obligations and social responsibilities.
One bishop reported that he had to entertain three hundred guests
on a single day, not to mention 60 to 80 beggars. The expense of
defraying the costs of scholars could not be undertaken through
an ordinary church living. Since the average vicarage apparently
comprised, in England, 4000 acres, one asks, "Why could not
this support a vicar?" He had to cultivate his own glebe ,
the cultivated land he used that was expected to yield one-half
of his support. There are reports that some vicars were reduced
to theft in order to survive.
If the vicar is a farmer with only crude tools for cultivation,
it is little wonder any scholarship time was available for high
quality sermons and there was little time for study and learning.
Quite likely, there were some bright fellows around but their energy
was devoted to survival.
Yet, compared to the villagers, the parish priest or vicar was the
most instructed person in the community. To him, his flock turned
as counselor, teacher, lawyer, doctor and friend. His major ministerial
practice was administration of the sacraments and especially the
Latin Mass. If he found it difficult to parse the Latin of the Mass,
he nevertheless knew enough to instruct his little flock in the
rudiments of faith and conduct.
Speaking of the sacraments as central to his ministering tasks,
of course, the administration of baptism was though essential to
salvation. If a priest was not present to administer the sacrament
to a newly born child, a midwife might administer the sacrament
using Latin, good or bad, or even English or some other vernacular
if the intent was to baptism.
For the adults, however, the sacrament of great importance was the
Mass. Latin was the language, so the laity did not understand the
lines or words of the Mass. So went the liturgy, intoned by the
priest, and the words of the service were simply inaudible, and
especially so the Canon of the Mass.
While the priest was performing the liturgy ('the work of the people"),
a congregation was urged to spend time with private devotion. In
effect, two parallel services were underway simultaneously: the
priest conducting the Mass, the laity doing their devotions.
At dramatic moments, little bells rang to draw attention to the
liturgy, such as the Elevation of the Host, and the little dramatic
acts were readily intelligible in spite of the fact the spoken words
by the priest often were not. Yet if one were observant or simply
alert through years of repetition and memory, the medieval Christian
could think about the sanctuary, richly endowed with symbolism,
candles, incense, gold, silver, precious jewels, relics, and these
visual and sensory symbols became '"a book to the lewd [ignorant]
people that they may read in the imagery and painture that clerks
read in books.'"
Thus, as one tours medieval Churches and pauses to observe and read
the stained glass windows, the rose windows, the elaborate carving
and sculpture, one senses that importance of imagery and rich symbolism
directed, in part, toward the ordinary and simple Christian. These
artifacts were the chalkboard, books, television and other contemporary
media of the Middle Ages, and will continue to serve in the Reformation
of the 16th century but with changes.
Close examination of the scenes in the windows and ornamentation
in medieval Roman Catholic Churches engages the observant modern
visitor. The 21st century visitor and perhaps worshipper is grasped
by the central focus of the sanctuary and standing in the nave recognizes
his or her eyes are directed toward the theology of the Medieval
Roman Catholic Church: the Passion, the continuing sacrifice of
With the Passion of Christ placed at the center of worship and the
liturgy, the sacramental life of the Roman Church takes visible
and audible shape. As Bainton explains,
[the ordinary Christians] knew the Mass arose from the [Lord's]
Supper, which the Lord shared with his disciples before he suffered.
They knew that it re-enacted the suffering of the Lord. On the altar
the cross of Calvary was again set up. If he who there suffered
was God then the Incarnation had to be repeated. The very bread
and wine change not to the sight of the eye, the touch of the hand,
or the taste of the mouth but in substance into the very flesh and
blood of God.
As Bainton explains,
the Passion meant the forgiveness of sins [and] communion with
the ever-dying and ever-risen Lord. The Mass was celebrated not
simply on behalf of those attending but also for the souls departed
whose bodies lay beneath the stones in the cathedral floor. Here
the Church Militant met with the Church Triumphant and earthly pilgrims
were rapt into the company of the saints in heaven.
If one understands the rationale of the Roman Catholic Church
its elaborate sacramental system and recognizes the enormous influence
the Mass held throughout the Middle Ages, then, one begins to grasp
the role the sacrament of penance played, as it involved contrition,
confession and satisfaction. Penance precedes communion and thus
the private confession invites potential problems.
As we observed in the lecture on pastoral care, the priest met the
parishioner in the confessional and subjected the man or woman to
a detailed spiritual examination in faith and morals.
Bainton translates, modernizes the language and quotes from John
R.H. Moorman's Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century
with respect to the confessional office.
The clergy were taught to probe into the secret places of a man's
life so that his confession might be full and nothing kept back
from God. Some of the questions which he [the priest] was told to
put to the penitent were very searching. "Have you taught your
children the [Apostles'] Creed and the Lord's Prayer?" "Have
you without devotion heard any predicacion?" "If your
children are 'shrewes' have you tried to teach them good manners?"
"Have you ridden over growing corn?" "Have you left
the churchyard open so that beasts go in?" "Have you eaten
with such main that you have cast it up again?" This indeed
was a searching cross-examination, from which no one could hope
to emerge faultless.
Confession, Bainton argues, expunged sins. And the sacramental
life of the Roman Catholic Church, some practices reaching into
the pagan past and remote pagan antiquity, were now invested with
Christian symbolism and teaching the faithful the meaning of the
seasonal round, what we know as the Church or Christian year.
An example of the seasonal round may be observed in how Christmas
(Christ-mass) was observed. At Christmas,
Children stole into the church to see the crib . . . At Candlemas
the congregation marched around the church with lighted candles.
All received ashes [made from the previous year's Palm branches
if such existed or perhaps ashes from some other source] on Ash
Wednesday that they might understand the defilement of sin. On Maundy
Thursday, great men washed the feet of the poor. On Good Friday
men crept to the Cross in humble adoration of Him who had died for
them. On Easter Eve the new fire was hallowed from which the Pascal
candle was lighted. At Rogationtide the fields were blessed and
religion consecrated daily toil. At Whitsuntide the dove descended
from the roof of the church, while clouds of incense perfumed the
air. At Corpus Christi time were the glad processions of those rejoicing
in Emmanuel, God with us. At Lammas the loaf . . . was presented
as an act of thanksgiving. On All Hallows five boys in surplices
changed "Veniti omnes virgines sapientissimae" in honor
of those who had gone in to the marriage supper of the Lamb. On
St. Nicholas Day or Holy Innocents [Day] a boy pontificated, reminding
all of the command to turn and become as little children.
In discussing the Christian year and before passing to other ecclesiastical
pursuits it is appropriate mention carnival, "a period of feasting
and merry-making immediately preceding Lent."
The carnival served as a break from the labor and routine that encompassed
so much of medieval life. The history of carnival begins in pre-Christian
Greece and Rome and in Babylonia and Egypt.
The festivals that began the carnival tradition include the Roman
The pagan Roman Saturnalia was held in honor of
Saturn, who in one of his many forms was the god of sowing. His
wife, Ops, was also honored as the goddess of crops and the harvest.
This festival in honor of the sowing of seed for the coming year
and commemorating the happy, classless reign of Saturn was celebrated
December 17, and lasted seven days. Social rank was temporarily
forgotten, and slaves dined with masters.
Gifts were exchanged between people of different social positions,
and feasting, drinking, and sexual activity were unrestricted. Over
the Saturnalia reigned a king chosen by lot, who was burned in effigy
at the conclusion of the festivities.
These agriculture festivals were quite popular in antiquity, and
festivals continued during the early medieval period. As with many
pagan traditions, the Roman Catholic Church, rather than attempted
to eradicate them, permitted their continuance but endowed with
As example of reinterpretation of a pagan tradition is that the
Saturnalia became carnival (from caro vale, "good-bye flesh").
However, the more probable derivation of carnival comes from carnem
levare, "to put away flesh-meat." Hence, in the Roman
Catholic Church calendar, Lent was a time when fasting and abstinence
from meat was enjoined on the people.
Pope Paul II (1464-1471AD) ordered a variety of race be held in
Rome and introduced masked balls. The Church attempted to curb the
pagan excesses that naturally carried over into the festival observance.
But, as The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, explains,
"Such seasons of feasting and dancing early degenerated into
riots, hence the transference of the word to secular festive occasions"
The art of preaching in the Middle Ages has drawn attention from
a variety of scholars and has produced an equal variety of interpretations.
Pope Gregory the Great's The Pastoral Rule instructs the parish
priest or friar in their pastoral office on how to behave themselves.
is to be discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech, a near
neighbor to everyone in sympathy, exalted above all in contemplation;
a familiar friend of good lives through humility, unbending against
vice of evil doers through zeal for righteousness; not relaxing
in his care for what is inward from being occupied in outward things,
not neglecting to provide for outward things in his solicitude for
what is inward.
A pastor is counseled to adapt the Word to the hearer in the pew.
But the medieval preacher in most parishes was not able to live
up to Gregory's admonitions regarding preaching. Jacob of Voragine,
a prominent figure in 13th century Italy, recognized times had changed
from the lofty aspirations for ministry under Pope Gregory the Great.
Indeed, the problem might be with the fishermen, who has been reduced
to the role of hunter. In the early days of the Church, he observed,
the preacher threw a net and drew in a multitude. Now, the preacher
is more like a hunter, who with much labor and outcry, catches a
single fish. If in fishing the catch is not large, the reason may
lie with the fish, for the fish avoid the net of preaching.
Jacob of Voragine notes,
They fish at the wrong time, they fish too deep with poor tackle
or broken nets, or they fish in the
Wrong place. Those who fish among riches, pleasures, and honor,
are fishing in the wrong place. Those who look for death-bed repentances,
or try to instruct others when they themselves are ignorant are
fishing in the wrong time. They who look for money or honor throw
their hooks too low, and those who preach in word while their lives
do not correspond, fish with broken nets.
The office of ministry appears to be in the midst of swift transition
during the late Middle Ages. Latourette remarks investigations of
parish clergy and their ministry by archbishops and bishops
showed substantial numbers of the parish priests did not understand
the Latin of the service which they conducted, not even that of
the Mass. Very few were familiar with the Bible. The rise and multiplication
of universities in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries might
have been supposed to bring improvement, especially since in some
of them the major subject was theology. However, canon law seems
to have been more studied than theology, for it was a better road
to preferment. Then, too, not many parish priests were university
graduates. University men tended to go into the higher ranks of
clergy or into teaching, or to be absorbed in the central administrative
structure of dioceses and the Papacy. Not all metropolitan cathedrals
had occupants for chairs of theology, which were required in principle.
Based on the evaluation of ministry in the late Middle Ages by
several historians of the period, the verdict is clear. Ministry
is a high calling indeed, but it just as easily become a haven for
the morally lax, the greedy, the scoundrel, the sexual predator
and the incompetent occupant in the office of ministry.
John Cyrc (Mirk), a 15th century author in England, issued a booklet,
Instructions for Parish Priests. It is a marvelous summary of the
desirability of a morally secure priest, who life and living matches
the words he utters from the pulpit.
The opening section of the booklet is a reminder to the priest that
his preaching will be in vain if his life is evil.
For little of worth is the preaching
If thou be of evil living.
The priest and preacher must be morally pure, avoid untrue oaths
and do not get drunk.
Taverns also thou must forsake
And merchandise thou shalt not take.
Wrestling and shooting and such manner game
Thou must not use without blame.
Hawking, hunting and dancing
Thou must forgo for anything
Cutted clothes and peaked schoon [shoes]
Thy fame they will for-done
Markets and fairs I thee forbid
But it be for more need.
In honest clothes thou must gone [go]
Basilard and baudrick wear thou none.
Beard and crown thou must be shave
If thou would thy order save.
Of meat and drink thou must be free
To poor and rich by thy degree.
Gladly thou must thy Psalter read
And of the day of doom have dread.
And ever do good against evil
Or else thou might not live well.
Women's service thou must forsake
Of evil fame lest they thee make.
. . . Thus this world thou must despise
And holy virtues have in vise [view]
If thou do thus, thou shallt be dear
To all men that seen and hear.
Thus thou must also preach
And thy parish gladly teach
When one hath done a sin
Look he lie not long therein
But anyone that he him shrive
Be it husband, be it wife
Lest he forget by Lenten's day
And out mind it go away.
The poem then goes on to discuss excommunication, baptism, the Mass,
behavior in church and worship, payment of tithes, articles of belief
and how to conduct confession. Bainton expresses the thought that
one may "infer from these instructions that although preaching
was enjoined, it was either not too highly regarded or else considered
too simple to elaborate."
The practice of ministry itself was complicated and confused during
this time, as one or more wandering priests, ordained, but not adequately
controlled by bishops, intruded in parishes, administered the sacraments
in disregard for the parish priest. Then, there were, as Latourette
assistant clergy, deacons or sub-deacons. There were parish clerks.
There were chantry priests. These last said masses on behalf of
the souls of the dead and were supported by endowments left by pious
benefactors for that purpose. Frequently they had other duties and
were really assistants to the rector. All too often their time outside
that spend in saying mass was flittered away in idleness or worship.
In some parishes there were also chaplains in charge of the chapels
which were erected to serve those who lived at inconvenient distances
from the parish church. Again and again members of the mendicant
orders disregarded parish boundaries and conflicts ensued with the
secular clergy. However, by their preaching and example, especially
during the flush of devotion in the early days of the orders, the
friars helped to raise the level of intelligence and living of the
rank and file if the laity. This they did both as a result of their
direct impact upon them and indirectly by stimulating the seculars
to be more faithful in their ministry.
In the course of time, instruction of the great body of laity appears
to have increased over the centuries. Much of this improvement appears
to have been done through preaching.
Preaching, once the responsibility of bishops, was now done by parish
priests, the mendicant friars and, in some dioceses, energetic bishops
were given tangible encouragement in the conduct of their office
and carrying out their responsibilities.
In 1281, John Peckham, a highly educated Franciscan, Archbishop
of Canterbury, had his provincial synod command the priests to preach
each quarter, instructing their parishioners in the articles of
faith, the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins , the seven principle
virtues and the seven sacraments . In more than one country books
of sermons were prepared and circulated to assist the priests in
their preaching. Instruction also came through religious plays that
were given in churches and churchyards. It was further through paintings
on the walls of churches, sculpture, and stained-glass windows.
Finally, a word about the use of Church buildings and the congregation
in worship and between times. Given the fact that the cathedral
or Church building was the only large covered building in the community,
it was used for a variety of purposes, including buying and selling.
The deportment of the ordinary folk seems to have been uniform whether
in worship or in the marketplace set up inside the sanctuary.
Even during the services gallants ogled the
ladies, women gossiped, pickpockets stole
and prostitutes solicited. The preacher was
driven to meretricious devices for attracting
attention such as suspending eggs of ostriches in
the churches. When the congregation dozed, a preacher cried, "'There
was a king named Arthur,'" and as the ears pricked up, he castigated
the hearers for listening only when titillated by tales.
Tales indeed if one appreciates the staging of the sermon and
the role the participants in the sermon were expected to play. Gibes
at women were especially relished, but the woman had their revenge
if they so chose, because they outnumbered the men in worship rather
substantially in numbers.
One manual for preachers relates a story that remains interesting
to modern hearers. It seems a man wished to dispose of his wife
without bring guilt upon his head. He left on a journey and left
instructions for two boxes of candy. He instructed his wife under
no conditions was she to touch the box which he knew was poisoned
and she did not. On his return, as expectantly hoped for, he found
she had died.
How this story fit the sermon of the day is unknown but certainly
it, and similar stories, must have gripped the listeners for a few
seconds, and with varying degrees of appreciation.
If the women were subjected to too much of this sort of story, their
revenge was relieved by castigating the men for gluttony, drunkenness,
swearing and the like.
As Western Christianity in the late Middle Ages came to a close,
Bainton offers a summary that merits masterful reading that merits
thoughtful attention. Though he mentions movements that I have not
covered, he anticipates issues that surface in the early stages
of the Reformation of the 16th century.
I summarize the main points of Bainton's essay, which serve as
a masterful and artful summary of the changing role of ministry
and church order during the Middle Ages, but not forgetting Chyrsostom
and Augustine in the process.
1. The great Gregorian reforms achieved much success at the price
2. The peace campaign ended in crusades and crusades fell into disrepute
when the very dregs of Europe enlisted for the Holy Land, when Christian
princes were willing to sell Christian slaves to the Turks, when
financing the crusades was a racket, and when disasters made men
doubt whether after all Dieu le Veult.
3. The imposition of clerical celibacy in the Middle Ages met
only restricted success. Many of the clergy refused to abandon their
wives but this gallant gesture degenerated into a system of clerical
concubinage condoned and even taxed by the [Roman Catholic] Church.
4. A medieval prince-bishop frivolously remarked that as a bishop
he was celibate but as a prince he was the father of a large family.
5. The Papacy was invaded by laxity, witness the license of the
Renaissance Popes. Nothing happened outside Rome that did not occur
6. The prevalence of irregularities is revealed in the story that
word reached a concubinous vicar of the impending visit from the
bishop to terminate the relationship. The vicar's lady, carrying
a basket, intercepted the bishop on the way, who inquired where
she was going. She replied that she was taken a present to the bishop's
lady at her lying in. The bishop paid his call without raising the
On another occasion when after a revival in Wales when the clergy
resolved to put away their concubines, the bishop actually forebade
them because he would lose the revenue derived from the tax on such
infractions of the canon law.
5. Though the high watermark of the Papacy was the 13th century,
it was a time when sectarian movements began to surface. For instance,
a group known as the Cathari came in contact with another Gnostic
group the Bogomili of Bulgaria. The crusades brought them into contact
with each other. The Cathari thought of themselves as Christian,
employed the Gospels and outdid the most monkish of monks in their
6. Then there is the case of Peter Waldo, the product of a rising
mercantile class in southern France in the 12th century. He sold
his goods, gave to the poor and dedicated himself to a life of poverty.
He was doing well in the eyes of Mother Church, but he felt the
urge to acquaint himself with the Scriptures and began to preach.
Since he was an unauthorized layman, he was subjected to theological
examination. Contemporary records show he was asked a series of
questions. "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?"
"Yes," he replied. "Do you believe in Jesus Christ,
His only Son, our Lord?" "Yes," he responded. "Do
you believe in the Virgin Mary?" "Yes" was the answer.
"Do you believe in the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God?"
"Yes," Waldo responded. A cry of consternation went up,
for the expression "the Mother of God" meant Waldo was
a Nestorian heretic. He was refused permission to preach but he
defied the order and thus became the founder of a schismatic sect.
7. A generation after the Waldo affair, St. Francis found himself
in an identical position, but Pope Innocent III, perhaps mindful
of the blunder of his predecessor, granted a quasi permission, and
Francis became a saint in the RCC and the father of a great preaching
8. The veritable symbol of the late Middle Ages is Dante Alighieri
who even better than the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, conveyed
the mood of life lived sub specie aeternitatis. Dante, a layman,
was an imperialist, not a papist. That is, he favored the emperor
rather than the Pope. As such, he was exiled from Florence but his
political theory expressed desire to restrict the RCC severely to
the political sphere. Highly versed in the universal language of
the RCC, the Latin, nevertheless, he composed his great poem of
medieval faith in the language of common folk.
The Divina Commedia, written in the Italian vernacular, expressed
Dante's mind, for he desires to see the continuance of the great
Christian society under two luminaries, the Church and the State.
Yet Dante is critical of particular Popes as were the pre-Reformation
prophetic reformers and their movements.
In the tradition of the Spiritual Franciscans, Dante portrays Christ
upon the Cross, deserted by all save La Donna Poverta.