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Old August 24th, 2011, 11:13 PM   #1

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The Role of the Christian Church After the Fall of the Roman Empire


There are different points of view about this, some being that the church kept barbarism from completely taking over, to the other extreme saying that the church took advantage of the lack of authority to extend its power. Whatever the case, when the Roman Empire fell, it was the church that salvaged some books, cultural practices and history records. How do you view the role of the church in Western Europe during this period?
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Old August 25th, 2011, 01:40 AM   #2

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Both can be right : The church did save the knowledge of ancient times, and this allowed it to take a dominant position in the society of the middle ages. But this only occured centuries after, in the 10th century. Before that, it was used by rulers (They were chistians but with a simple faith. They were not interested in theological or moral problems), and hence inferior to political power. But it then became aware of its power because political power depended entirely on the administration and the knowledge of the church. Hence, the zenith of the church political influence was the period between the 11th and the 13th century.

Under Charlemagne, the Church is hugely important but the "political" ruler is the leader of the church for temporal matters (the pope is of minor importance). This is a form of Caesaropapism. It preserves knowledge but it does not have the ressources to spread it (Charlemagne created his own academy but it was not a great success). This changed, again in the 11th century with the creation of the first universities.
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Old August 25th, 2011, 05:47 PM   #3
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I view the role of the church in the early middle ages as very crucial, since the church established a common ground for all Europe. If the church was not present during this period, the "Dark Ages" might have lasted much longer due to warfare and downright hatred for one another.

As Christians, Europeans slowly learned to respect one another as brothers.
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Old August 25th, 2011, 05:52 PM   #4

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Originally Posted by OzymandiasIII View Post
I view the role of the church in the early middle ages as very crucial, since the church established a common ground for all Europe. If the church was not present during this period, the "Dark Ages" might have lasted much longer due to warfare and downright hatred for one another.

As Christians, Europeans slowly learned to respect one another as brothers.
You can say that. They also, however, learned to inflict self punishment, be it through witsthanding cold, hunger, or even whipping themselves as members of the church sometimes did.
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Old August 25th, 2011, 06:03 PM   #5
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You can say that. They also, however, learned to inflict self punishment, be it through witsthanding cold, hunger, or even whipping themselves as members of the church sometimes did.
That is true. The early church was far from a perfect institution. It did not come close to Roman efficiency until much later in time. However, as the only centralized form of power and influence, the church did a good enough job of keeping some sort of order, however archaic it might seem, which eventually lead to a more united Europe. A Europe that would eventually conquer the world.
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Old August 25th, 2011, 06:18 PM   #6

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True, and I suppose it offered sanctuary to men who were more scholarly oriented. Men who were not inclined to fight could be left alone by even the most ruthless barbarians if they lived in the church. The rules of St. Benedict of 526 certainly brought positive regulations for the lives of the monks. I wonder, however, if restricting marriage hurt the church more than it helped it?
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Old August 25th, 2011, 06:38 PM   #7
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That is a question that is debated even today. The way I see it, keeping celibate sounds like a way to concentrate on the Scriptures and the Law. However, as imperfect humans, I can see how trouble might arise if or when the carnal needs of humans made themselves present in the monks.

I'm not sure how things were for the monks sexually in the early period of the middle ages, but I do know that towards the beginnings of the Reformation, many of the clergy had turned to decadence and sin. I have even heard of there existing brothels to cater to the needs of these "holy" men.
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Old August 26th, 2011, 04:29 AM   #8

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True, and I suppose it offered sanctuary to men who were more scholarly oriented. Men who were not inclined to fight could be left alone by even the most ruthless barbarians if they lived in the church. The rules of St. Benedict of 526 certainly brought positive regulations for the lives of the monks. I wonder, however, if restricting marriage hurt the church more than it helped it?

The church restrictions on marriage were a huge improvement on many levels at that time :

- Before the proclamation of marriage as a sacrament and of monogamy as a norm, it was very common to see wives repudiated and forced to live in misery thereafter. There were also concubines whose situation was even worse.

- The priests were not allowed to marry but were allowed to have a concubine during the early middle ages, provided that they had only one until her or their death. But this caused big problems within the church because many charges were inherited by sons of priests. This could cause tensions (between two sons for example), and did affect the quality of the clergy.

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That is a question that is debated even today. The way I see it, keeping celibate sounds like a way to concentrate on the Scriptures and the Law. However, as imperfect humans, I can see how trouble might arise if or when the carnal needs of humans made themselves present in the monks.

I'm not sure how things were for the monks sexually in the early period of the middle ages, but I do know that towards the beginnings of the Reformation, many of the clergy had turned to decadence and sin. I have even heard of there existing brothels to cater to the needs of these "holy" men.
The story of Abelard and Heloise (12th century) is interesting in this regard. Abelard was a monk and one of the most learned theologian and philosopher of his era. He gave lessons in schools and he had a student of 15 years old called Heloise. She was quite beautiful, but her charm came from her wisdom, knowledge and wit. Abelard was at first happy to study with her and teach her some of his own knowledge. But as he said in his letter, quickly, he noticed that she occupied her thoughts more than his studies, and that his own hand more often caressed Heloise's breat than the pages of his manuscripts. Finally, they married and Heloise became pregnant. The uncle of Heloise, another cleric, fulbert, got angry and castrated Abelard, something that horrified people (fulbert was then suspended two years from his functions).

The writings and correspondence of Heloise of Argenteuil and Pierre Abelard shows us a true love story between a sincere monk (he was nothing less than lustful), and it was indeed passionate love. And it did interfere with his calling as a monk, though this is not the reason of Fulbert's reaction. So yes, some monks may have suffered from this. Abelard was a particular case, however, as he was not only a monk but also a teacher, so he had prolonged contacts with his students, one of which was Heloise. Most monks did not meet many women or if they did, they did not have the occasion to stay for a long time with them and get to know them better.

As for the end of the story, Heloise would comment later on this, saying that she regretted nothing but the end of that love story, that she enjoyed every moment she spent with Abelard, and that even if she had tried, she would not be able to hate the moments they spent together.

Last edited by clement; August 26th, 2011 at 04:45 AM.
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Old August 26th, 2011, 10:17 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by OzymandiasIII View Post
I view the role of the church in the early middle ages as very crucial, since the church established a common ground for all Europe. If the church was not present during this period, the "Dark Ages" might have lasted much longer due to warfare and downright hatred for one another.

As Christians, Europeans slowly learned to respect one another as brothers.
The "Dark Ages" would be better termed "The era of the church."

BTW
The peoples of Europe may have had conflicts over living space before the arrival of the Romans, but it wasn't until the "church" imbuded the populace with factious hatred (Catholic vs Arian, Catholic vs Nestorian, Christian vs Zoestorian, Christian vs Jew, Christian vs pagan Christian vs enlightenment and on and on and on and on) that the "Dark ages descended upon Europe. And the "Dark ages" didn't go away until the Christian zealotry of the Crusades had dissipated.

Last edited by Eratosthenes; August 26th, 2011 at 11:55 AM.
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Old August 26th, 2011, 11:51 AM   #10

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The "Dark Ages" would be better termed "The era of the church."
Not at all. As Clement has described above, the overarching power of the church was really quite limited at this time, and it did not became a serious supra-national (if that term is even applicable) body until the central middle ages. For most of the "Dark Ages" the church was a prisoner to various local principalities. Episcopal authority began and ended on the temporal borders of local lords. Rome itself had only limited interest in the continent and looked east to Byzantium until the middle of the eighth century; Gregory the Great's missionary efforts are an aberration.
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