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3. The Crusades Through The Renaissance (c.1000-c.1500)

The Crusades

Causes. To recover the Holy Land from Mohammedanism; to search for new trade routes to the East; Papal prestige.

Results of Crusades. More attention to the humanity of Jesus. Western narrowmindedness came in contact with E. learning, intellectual awakening, expressed by Scholasticism, Gothic architecture, art, mathematics, and science.

Extending over a period of 200 years (1096-1270) the eight crusades, and a children’s crusade, could be considered failures, for the Holy Land was not conquered and Mohammedanism was not retarded. However, when viewed from the perspective of the enlightenment they brought back to Europe, they were worth all their cost.

Medieval “Heresy”

A tendency for more free thought in the Middle Ages as the Crusades loosened up alternative points of view. Also a revival of Aristotle as a result of the Spanish Moslem philosopher, Averroes. Many were accused of heresy during the Middle Ages:

Manichaean. Based on old Persian dualism of light and darkness, good and evil always at war with the other. Elements of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity. Believed that salvation was based on knowledge of one’s bondage, coupled with severe asceticism, including vegetarianism.

Pantheist. Belief that God and universe are identical—complete omnipresence. Christian thinkers of pantheistic leanings are John Scotus Erigena (800-877) who held God unfolds the Son and throughhim the world, which returns again to its Source; Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) who taught that that which is real in all things is the divine, that in the soul of man is a spark of God, that with God dominant the soul is filled with love and righteousness. He was accused of heresy in 1326 but died during the proceedings. His most eminent disciple was Johann Tauler (1300-61) also a German mystic, who emphasized the inward and vital in religion, condemning dependence on the external ceremonies and works; with emphasis rather on God being born within. Jacob Boehme (1573-1624) emphasized both the inner divine spark with the necessity of regenerating the outer, fallen world. Unity students will find much in common with these spiritual trailblazers.

Albigensians. Taught Jesus was a spirit who did not suffer or rise again; He simply taught man the true doctrine. Rejected sacraments, doctrine of hell and resurrection of the body, believed all matter bad,, used no meat, milk, eggs or animal produce, and even recommended the extreme of suicide by starvation. Although condemned by several Councils their number increased; later were cruelly massacred.

Waldensians. Took name from Peter Waldo (d. 1217). Very ascetic. Believed the Bible the sole rule of belief and life. Criticized church and its worldliness. Set up own community and worship and were persecuted for their exclusivity.

Medieval Scholasticism

Best defined as an intellectual penetration into the inner meaning of Christian doctrine. It was influenced by Augustine, who said, “Understand so that you may believe, believe so that you may understand.” Much attention given to reason, as illuminated by God. Main figures were:

John Scotus Erigena (800-877). Later suspected of heterodoxy, who reconciled Neo-Platonist idea of emanation with Christian idea of creation. He held that for God, evil is non-existent; that sin bears the punishment in itself.

Berengar of Tours (999-1088). Was more orthodox. Believed man owed debt to God for which God requires satisfaction. His Cur Deus Homo, “Why God Became Man” contributed to theology of the Atonement.

Peter Abelard (1079-1142). Led a stormy life, source of many novels and biographies. Held that all creeds should be philosophically examined, that there was no Original Sin, and that the incarnation and death of Jesus should merely be held up as an ideal to awaken love in us. Severely criticized by orthodoxy.

Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274). Held to the primacy of faith over reason, yet reconciled the two. The “santliest of the learned and most learned of the saints.” Was a monk, professor, prolific writer. His most famous work, the Summa Theologia, showed Aristotelian influence, yet he held to the seven Sacraments of RC and transubstantiation. He was declared the “Doctor of the Church” by Pius V, and made patron of all Catholic Universities in 1880. He tried to reconcile reason and revelation.

The Inquisition (1232)

The persecution of heresy by ecclesiastical courts. State officials entrusted to hunt out heretics, invited tattlers. Special questioning under torture with penance for those who recanted, or death by burning if they did not. The inquisitors defended their action in that they believed those burned would recant in burning, and save themselves from eternal flame. The Spanish Inquisition of the 15th c. was directed against Protestants, estimated 2000 burned. Burning was supposed to be used because of a Biblical prohibition against spilling blood.

The Friars

Theoretically monks, but differed in that they went outside to minister to needs. They were not confined to a house supported by benefactors, but were “vagabonds of the gospel.” Intense social concern, which speaks to Christianity of our time.

Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Lived a life of complete self-abnegation and poverty. His life was characterized by deep humility, childlike faith in God, love of nature, his joy in contrast to ascetics. In his complete renunciation he would not even own a Bible. He rejected formal teaching in schools, wished all to be as it was under Jesus’ leadership. Had no intention of founding a religious order, which evolved after his death; i.e., the Franciscans.

Dominic of Castile (1170-1221). Theologically educated, yet deeply impressed by Francis. During a famine in 1191 he sold all his possessions to help the poor. Labored to bring those accused of heresy back, even at danger of his own life. Humble, he refused a bishopric three times. The Dominican Order Was begun in his lifetime.

Medieval Mystics

Closely related to the Scholastics, the mystics sought a personal assurance more real than the pronouncements of the church, a book, or human reason—a personal encounter, an intimate, vital, first-hand feeling of union, a relationship with God. Many were criticized or condemned for heresy as mentioned above. Outstanding were Eckhart, and Tauler mentioned already, and these:

Henry Susso (1295-1336). Of Cologne, student of Eckhart. Devoted his life to “eternal wisdom” at the age of 18. Admired by, and influenced a Kempis. The writing, Theologica Germanica, emanated from a group called Friends of God, German mystics who leaned strongly toward mysticism, viewing the Christian life as a personal union of the soul with God, and characterized by their lack of concern for the externals of churchly life.

The Brethren of the Common Life.. A non-monastic community of mystics, more group minded than Eckhart, which produced the Imitation of Christ, the most famous book of the Middle-Ages, attributed to Thomas a Kempis, who was mystically devoted to Christ.

Amalrich of Bena (d. 1204). Taught in Paris; was influenced by Erigena and Neo-Platonism; concluded that God is all, that He is incarnate In the believer as in Christ. He held that earlier Christianity was no longer valid since the coming of the Holy Spirit. Forced to recant by Pope Innocent III. For more information on the mystics in Christian history see Evelyn Underhill’s, Mysticism

Forerunners Of The Reformation

The Conciliar Movement. Sought to bring the papacy under the jurisdiction of the whole church and to be constitutional. The papacy declined after Boniface VIII was tried and sent from Rome to exile. France controlled the papacy thereafter for 70 years when the papal residence was moved to Avlgnon—called the “Babylonian captivity” of the papacy. The Avignon Popes however were luxury lovers, and Catherine of Siena talked the pope into returning to Rome in 1377. For a while there were popes in each place until the Avignon Pope was finally expelled in 1408. The Conciliar Movement’s attempt to bring constitutional order failed as the Roman Pope asserted his primary authority once again.

Erasmus (1466-1536). Advocate of reform. His method was by education within the church. The power of invective was at its height as Erasmus satired the church, but he was averse to metaphysical speculation. Printed the Greek NT (1516) which was universally accepted. Taught that one should be a Christian gentleman and follow Jesus’ example of loving-kindness.

John Wyclif (1329-84). Advocated radical reform. Criticized temporal possessions of the church, papal tributes; contested many doctrines; believed every man should be free to read and interpret the scriptures for himself; translated the Latin Bible into English. He traced corruption from Constantine when popes became wealthy. Died naturally, but the Council of Constance condemned his views; burned his remains.

John Hus (1375-1415). Great reformer of Bohemia, preacher of Bethlehem chapel in Prague. Crucial relation with “Good King” Wenceslas, who approved of the indulgence traffic of pope. Hus disapproved and called the pope the anti-Christ. Condemned at the Council of Constance and was burned outside the city walls. Czech revolt followed.

Savonarola (1452-98). Attacked the wickedness of Florence with church and state both his target. Refused to go to Rome when summoned for his anti-cleric teachings and was eventually tortured and killed.

The Renaissance

Between Dante’s death (1321) and Machiavelli (1527) a new rebirth of classical learning took place called the Renaissance. Several factors were involved: (1) With the Crusades people learned the interests of others. (2) With the rebirth of classical learning there was a new concern for the Latin and Greek classics. (3) Humanism evolved and attention was on man and his potential. (4) The issues of heaven and hell no longer preoccupied men’s minds. (5) Florence with its beautiful natural landscapes recaptured Greek love of beauty flourishing under the Medici family who were patrons of the arts.

Church received impact from Renaissance: (1) Papacy became humanistic, patron of arts. (2) Distrust of traditionally accepted Christian documents and customs ensued. (3) Contempt for superstition, ignorance and asceticism prevailed.

Class Assignments

  1. What were the beneficial effects of the Crusades?
  2. How has St. Francis of Assisi influenced Christian culture?
  3. In what way did the proponents of the Inquisition defend their actions?
  4. Discuss the results of Wyclif’s translation of the Bible.
  5. Why was the Renaissance of great importance?