, Research Paper
Medieval times were shaped greatly by religious and secular motives to form centralized power and control. The religious leaders, in particular, were very influential in this process of centralization. The methods used to attain this power were directed at various aspects of their influence in order to realize the greatest control possible.
The concepts of power and control are difficult to define because they present themselves in a variety of different ways in a variety of contexts. The Pope had the ability to affect how people thousands of miles away thought and acted. This was an extremely powerful and unique capability. The ability to control another’s actions is an invigorating and highly desirable experience for those in control.
When a person or group of people, in this case the Christian leaders, possess power and control they act to increase their power. It is often believed that things are not to remain static, either your empire grows or it declines. If you wish to avoid the latter, you must pursue the former.
In order for a build up of central authority to occur, religious leaders knew they needed to address a variety of areas. Each of these areas represented a certain power and facet of life that was directly related to the influence of the Christian faith.
The universities deep within the Christian sphere of influence were near the heart of the religion. They represented a group of people learned in the ways of the world, more so than almost any other group of people. Having the universities under their control gave them the “scientific” backing they needed in order to be authorized to do with your empire as they saw fit. The religious leaders could do as they pleased continue efforts to increase centralization.
In his Regulations for His College, Robert de Sorbon presents many rules that are based on religious practices. In theory, a university does not require religion to be a part of its institution, but in medieval times they were inseparable.
The most obvious example of this influence is the rules against eating meat on religious holidays. This shows that religion has penetrated university way of life to the core of its values and practices. As you performed your everyday tasks as a student, you were constantly reminded of the religious influence present all around you.
A more subtle effect of the Christian influence was the inclusion of religious moral and ethical principles in the university philosophy. Many of the rules involving room use, clothing, and women paralleled monastery life. These people, although not directly involved with the religious world, were completely within the Christian paradigm.
The universities’ close ties to both the religious and secular world gave them increased power as well. In 1070, St. Anselm used logic to “prove” the existence of God. By supporting the theology of the church, he received respect for his work.
Christianity’s most dedicated believers were vital to their plan for increased centralization. The standardization of practices in monasteries was an attainable and straightforward method of increasing the churches control. If each monastery was less able to form its own character and rituals, the Pope and other high religious leaders would gain power. Instead of controlling what occurs in a few monasteries, they advanced that authority to almost all of them, giving them greater influence on the religion as a whole.
As St. Benedict quoted of the apostle in his Rules of St. Benedict, “Test the spirits, to see whether they come from God.” He is stating that one must sacrifice all of their personal desires and needs for God. If the Pope is in control of the monasteries, he is ultimately in control of the monks.
The monasteries allowed the high Christian authorities to develop standard religious practices and conformity among their most devout followers. Unlike the other areas of Christian influence, the monks were people who had already confessed their faith in Christ and were willing to do whatever the church desired. The way of the church was the way of God and they would do whatever possible to become closer to God.
The increased influence over monasteries allowed the church to use those monasteries as connections to their other, less devout, followers. Many people could not read and required the more educated to tell them about God and religion. If the monasteries were standardized religious temples spread throughout the Christian Empire, the commoner could find out about Christian beliefs and laws more easily.
In addition to the orthodoxy instituted in the universities and monasteries, other areas needed to be addressed in order to increase centralization. One of the most important of these was the way in which heretics and other people far from the Pope’s control were dealt with.
In medieval times, communication techniques were far more rudimentary than those we take for granted today. A message to someone on the other side of France could take weeks or longer. This made it difficult for the Pope to have control of things that were not near to him. The way in which the Pope dealt with matters far from his home played an important role in how centralized and controlling his churchdom could become.
No circumstance was more enlightening to the topic of the Pope’s control over his domain than the treatment of heretics. A heretic was a person who did not acknowledge Christianity as the one true religion and refused to conform. A revealing example of this is the church’s treatment of the Albigensians in the early thirteenth century.
We learn the story of the Albigensians, not through their own writings because those have all been lost or destroyed, but from the writings of their opponents. We must remember the inaccuracies that must be part of a biased, na ve perspective.
The Albigensians, or Cathars, lived in the Southern part of France, far removed from both the Pope and the King of France. This resulted in an alternative form of religion that when left alone satisfied the needs and wants of the Albigensians. They lived in a world different from that of northern France and developed a different spiritual mindset.
The Pope realized that in order for him to increase his centralized power, he must eliminate those who did not worship the same God as he. Instead of accepting these people for their own way of life, the Pope wanted his views to be the only ones were accepted. He achieved this goal by means of a crusade. The crusade allowed him to rally support for Christianity and his power as Pope.
Unlike the monasteries and universities mentioned earlier, the Pope’s actions toward heretics were at the forefront of the expansion of the Christian way and of the centralization of power in Europe. In many respects, centralization of power is defined by the distance at which the overbearing power is held. As the Pope was able to command crusades against non-believers further and further away, he increased his centralized power.
The story of the Albigensians is not so much about the Albigensians themselves, than about the way the high-ranking church officials dealt with them. Anyone who did not agree with the orthodox views of the church was treated as a direct threat to the clergy’s power and control. They dealt with many situations similar to the way they treated the Albigensians, with brutal force. As Professor Wintroub explained, the Pope spent some time dealing with leaders in southern France, but the eventual outcome was that the Pope’s way eventually won out.
As the Christian way of life surpassed other modes of thinking, the Pope was able to consolidate his power and increase the centralization. This was made easier because of the other steps he had taken including the influence he possessed in the universities and the standardization of the monasteries. They provided him with the means to use his authority in areas far from his residence.
The final and most important method of the church’s assertion of legal and social control was their dealings with the King of France. The Pope realized that to have control of the King was to have control over his empire. This would be the most significant method for increasing centralization of power in Europe.
In “The Coronation of Richard the Lion Heart,” Roger of Wendover describes the role the church played in the coronation of a new king. This was very significant because the acceptance of a new king provides insight into how he further establishes power.
The coronation is a highly religious ceremony with many religious officials present. This signifies the church’s acceptance of the new king and, more importantly, their role as the controller of the king’s throne. If they have a say in who becomes king, they possess a certain aspect of the power of that position. With this power so integrated into the secular world, they could combine this authority with their own to assert their centralized control further.
The church asserted its authority in a variety of ways in order to increase centralized control. They addressed topics and people that spanned a wide range of issues and ways of thinking. The system of thought worked from the firmly Christian cities and religious centers where the basis for the expansion of power found its support and energy. The way of thought present in the monasteries, other religious centers, and universities led to the ability to deal with those that did not have the same spiritual beliefs as the Christians and provided them with motives for fighting in crusades.
These methods produced a large, somewhat standardized religious empire that rivaled that of the king. Once this was achieved, they were able to further the centralization of power by possessing various forms of control over the king.
The Pope and other high religious leaders, in the years following the turn of the first century, desired increased centralized control in order to possess greater power both personally and for the Christian faith as a whole. They realized that in order to do so, they had to reaffirm their power over the way of thinking of their people and foster the expansion of thought to other lands far from their religious centers. Once they achieved a great deal of success with these goals, they were able to attain a sphere of influence that was perpetuated further by their overseeing of the king’s practices. As a result, the church was able to increase its central authority.