The Rise And Fall Of The Papacy Essay, Research Paper
Summary By the middle of the 3rd century the bishops of Rome assumed that their church tradition provided a standard for other, quite distant churches. During the 4th and early 5th centuries, the popes made various claims to special authority and were rarely challenged. Pope Saint Leo I, the Great (440-461), consolidated papal power and successfully intervened in the affairs of other Western church districts. Subsequent popes considered themselves endowed with powers over the whole church, even over the East. Pope Saint Gregory I, the Great (590-604), made the papacy a major political force. In the late 8th and early 9th centuries, the Frankish house of Charlemagne offered protection to the popes and gave them immense territories in central Italy, the basis for the future Papal States. In return, Pope Saint Leo III (795-816) crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman emperor in 800.In the 10th century the papacy fell into the hands of the local nobility, and popes became mere liturgical figures. Pope Saint Leo IX (1049-1054) began papal reforms and emphasized papal authority as the key to restoring church order. Pope Saint Gregory VII (1073-1085) was the strongest advocate of this program, which eventually was called Gregorian Reform. Overall, the papacy was strengthened, reaching a zenith with Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), who became the most important person, secular or religious, in contemporary European society.In the next century papal influence declined and was further damaged in the scandal of the Great Schism. During the Schism, three popes simultaneously claimed the status of legitimate pontiff. In the early 16th century the popes consolidated their political authority in the Papal States and became effective territorial princes. At about the same time, however, German theologian Martin Luther rejected the papacy and denounced the pope as the Antichrist, sparking the Protestant Reformation. Although various Protestant reformers differed on many issues, all agreed that the papacy was an inessential institution. The Christian Church first appeared in history as a fellowship of self-governing communities, scattered all over the empire, and spreading even beyond its borders. During the course of the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries the Catholic Church developed two distinct types of Christianity. The first was shared by all Latin-speaking Christians, who formed the Western Patriarchate of Rome. The second comprised the Syriac, Armenian and Greek-speaking world, which was divided into four Eastern Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.The East emphasised the divergence of gifts, the West the need for uniformity and obedience. It was not always easy for the two sides to understand each other; they often viewed a new problem from totally different standpoints, and sometimes these disagreements ended in an open dissagreement between the two sects of Rome and Constantinople. But the schism invariably ended in reconciliation, for both sides acknowledged that the Church of Christ must include both Eastern and Western Christians, and that their gifts were complementary.Between the sixth and tenth centuries the Church gave barbarian society institutions, laws, and a concept of belonging through written history. A serious split between Rome and Constantinople took place in the ninth century. Its real origin lay in the great political conflict that occurred at the beginning of the century, when in the year 800, Charlemagne restored the Western Roman Empire. In the eyes of the East, the Pope had committed a serious breach of faith when he consented to crown a barbarian like Charlemagne as Emperor of the West. This was a problem because the western Emperor had to recognize the new ruler as his brother-sovereign some thing neither party was satisfied with. Thus two rival political powers had been set up, both claiming to be the only lawful successor the Roman Empire, and it was merely a matter of time before one or other had to be destroyed. The bitter conflict between these two competitors, which ended with the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the fifteenth century, involved the Church also, and was thus the root cause of the schism between the Christian East and West. This would leave an opportunity open for the Crusaders.
For the West, the events of the Crusades began in an aura of optimism but ended with disaster and disunity for the Church. After the death of Charlemagne, the military authority that had supported the Papacy began to decline. The Norman incursions into Italy posed a real threat to the Church, and the Papacy in 1059 acknowledged its inability to face any threat from a Norman invasion. At this time a request arrived from the Eastern Emperor for assistance against encroachments by Moslem forces into the Holy Lands. Urban II called together on the faithful to mount a crusade, appealing to the spirit of faith, to regain the Holy Lands from the sacrilegious hands of Islam while drawing attention to the political benefits of such a venture. Barraclough states that “The Crusades to the Holy Lands were the most spectacular and self-conscious act of Western Christian expansionism which represented a fusion of three characteristics of medieval man: piety, pugnacity, and greed”.In a very real sense, Innocent’s reign saw the zenith of the papal monarchy A narrower hierarchical church had replaced the Church as a community of the faithful, comprising clerical orders in ascending ranks jealously guarding their rights and privileges. Even the reforming Fourth Lateran Council had its program imposed upon it by Innocent, and in reality it was to the papacy that the people looked to reform the Church. Innocent’s pontificate presents for church historians a dramatic dichotomy – the institutionalised church beginning to give birth to the servant Church. In terms of models of Church, Innocent III’s- pontificate resembled a Tyranny: A Church which was so structured that all power and authority came from one person; a Church which was brutal and violent through the Crusades and the Inquisition; and most convincingly a Church that stood for no opposition to its beleifs or its authority. The 12th and 13th centuries were a time of change not only in the ecclesiastical but also secular spheres. Canon law became a power that produced not only a highly organised, political and central papacy, but also a power that so influenced societal law, that it gave rise to a new secular order and a culture that was almost totally ecclesiastical (Congar, 1969). Durin this century the uprooting of the papacy from Rome and its re- establishment in Avignon took place for a period for almost seventy years. However by the end of the fourteenth century the papacy was in turmoil and disarray , forced into another schism which saw three rival popes enthroned simultaneously in confusion and conflict.Religious life suffered as a consequence of the schism, for “Christendom looked upon the scandal helpless and depressed, and yet impotent to remove it. With two sections of Christendom each declaring the other lost, each cursing and denouncing the other, men soberly asked who was saved” (Flick, 1930). Doubt and confusion caused many to question the legitimacy and true holiness of the church as an institution. In the West, the excesses that affected the church ultimately called for radical reform through that movement which we now identify with the Protestant Reformation.This period of moral decline was instrumental in leading to a Western Schism within Christendom, in which three Popes and anti-Popes concurrently contested control over the See of Peter. The popes refused to have negotiations to effect reform, and they failed to bring about reform themselves. ” Thus the papacy emerged as something between an Italian city-state and a European power, without forgetting at the same time the claim to be the vice-regent of Christ. The pope often could not make up his own mind whether he was the successor of Peter or of Caesar. Such vacillation had much to do with the rise and success… of the Reformation” (Bainton, 1952). By the mid-fifteenth century the Church was in urgent need of drastic reform which, when effected, would have lasting impact on the religious and secular history of Europe. Bibliography Barraclough, G. The Medieval Papacy, Thames and Hudson London, 1968. Flick, A.C. Decline of the Medieval Church, vol. I London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1930. Congar, Y. Faith and Spiritual Life, Darton, Longman & Todd, London. 1969. Bainton, R.H. The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952.