Holy Wars and Religious Intolerance in Medieval Europe

This post will discuss some brief points on a few different aspects of politics and religion in medieval Europe during the eleventh and twelfth century. It was during this time frame that the Fourth and Fifth Crusades were launched and the Catholic Church was still growing in strength and power. Heretics still abounded and the Church still felt that there was a good chance of ridding the world of them and creating a world for Christendom.... and only Christendom. This post will discuss some of the people behind the politics and the Catholic religion which would struggle and fight until they created the Great Schism of the church. Enjoy! :)

The Spanish Reconquest (Reconquista) is the name given to a long period of war (500+ years) in which several European countries successfully fought to regain the areas of the Iberian peninsula that had come under the control of 'Muslim' leaders – in a sense, this is a very nice name for a long and arduous crusade or holy war between the European Christians and their leaders and the Muslim strongholds in the lands of Spain and Portugal. Another complication that must be mentioned is that these areas were also home to other Christian sects such as the Albigensians that were not accepted by the Catholic church- one thing has been clear throughout history and that is... that the Catholic church was not tolerant against any kind of difference in belief- whether it was a matter of doctrine (like the Arians) or a matter of the whole faith (like the Muslims), there was no acceptance that was considered for any of these groups.... all were wrong and should be stamped out, period. It was during the time of the High Middle Ages, that the 'fight' for this peninsula became linked with other Crusades and the fight for 'Christendom'. This fight for the Catholic church, for Christianity, and for conformity of belief would become evidenced in the future Spanish Inquisition as well as future pogroms and massacres of Moors and Jews in these areas.

One truly interesting group of people were the Albigensians. They were groups of individuals who believed in certain set of tenets of Christianity that were labeled 'heresy' by the Catholic Church. One of the heretical doctrines that the Arians believed in was dualism – the idea that there are two gods; a good God and a bad God that are constantly at war over the souls of men. Other beliefs are that the resurrection of the body wouldn't happen as the nature of flesh is evil, that earth is hell and a place of punishment that cannot last as the soul is divine and must eventually be released from punishment.... and that war or acts of aggression that follow the Mosaic code such as eye for an eye or capital punishment were absolutely unacceptable. They also believed that material possessions were equated with the 'evil' god and so most members of this belief system led relatively ascetic lives absent of marriage and children... which suggest that this movement may have died out by itself if it had been left alone. Also called the Cathars, Albigensians were found mostly in regions of Italy and Southern France. They were eventually targeted- the lucky devils- by the Catholic church due to the rising popularity of their movement. Pope Innocent III proclaimed a crusade against this movement in 1209 and by the fourteenth century, the movement was pretty much extinguished.

The Investiture Controversy is a great example of the struggle that was happening between these secular rulers and religious leaders during this period. The term investiture means to install a person into an 'office'- in this case, a religious office. In the past, the pope had been appointed by secular leadership (The Holy Roman Emperor). But as the papacy began to develop (or attempt to develop) into its own political power and attempt to create the kingdom of 'Christendom', this power in the hands of a secular leader was not considered acceptable by reformers inside the church. In a nutshell, the controversy was really based on who truly had the power to appoint the clergymen in the 'high' church positions. Secular rulers still had the power to appoint some high clergy such as bishops, archbishops, etc... in their territories, but the appointment of the pope was a 'prize' that the Holy Roman emperor didn't like losing. Pope Gregory VII then passed a papal decree that all high church offices would be given only by the appointment of other high clergy – keeping it 'in the church' so to speak. This particular directive was not just an inconvenience to secular rulers- it directly threatened the power of all secular rulers to have some control over the church in their territories. When the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV complained, the pope excommunicated him- the first time this punishment had been given to an active secular ruler and it had huge political ramifications. King Henry's vassals and nobles no longer had to abide by their oaths of loyalty to him... and were actively encouraged to rebel against him. To save his kingdom, King Henry had to submit to the pope to have his excommunication lifted, but the disagreement wasn't really over and an actual confrontation was planned as Henry IV along with some of his loyal nobility marched on Rome to fight and depose Pope Gregory... who died while trying to escape. However, the death of the pope didn't end the controversy which would continue to crop up over the next several decades... and even was the topic of a meeting with the elders of the church and secular leaders to try to discuss and solve the problem in 1122.

Pope Innocent III was quite an active man and took his 'job' of persecuting heretics very seriously. Disappointed by the results of the 3rd and 4th Crusade, he was determined to have another Crusade that was better planned and had more Papal involvement in the process. He also wanted to have more guidelines and an understanding of how to deal with the heretics in the holy lands and in Christian Europe. So the issuance of a papal bull by Pope Innocent III in April 1213 had the effect of gathering individuals together for what would be known as the Fourth Lateran Council. This council gathered together in November of 1215 and the pope presented seventy decrees on what he felt were the most important points of Catholic dogma that were then altered or agreed upon (mostly agreed upon). Then, measures and definitive points at which discipline were called for were developed and accepted to deal with the heretics in the Christian lands... and finally, the conditions and goals of the next Crusade (5th) were laid out and regulated. And so the beginnings of another Crusade were laid out.

One of the most confusing and divisive 'wars' that the Catholic church participated in (and certainly underlines how political and powerful the leadership position in the church was) was an internal conflict called the Great Schism. This is a term used to describe a several decade long break in the Catholic Church due to secular politics and other factors. Philip IV of France was quite a cruel and ruthless leader. His greed caused him to look for possible ways to increase the amount of money in his treasury and in 1297, Philip IV started a tax on the clergy... which was not well received by Pope Boniface VIII. These leaders ended up in a fight in which the Pope excommunicated King Philip... who then tried to have the pope arrested. When Pope Boniface died, he was replaced by a French cardinal who became Clement V. This man was very much under King Philip's control and as a result of this, the french king moved the pope to Avignon from the traditional place of Rome. This action is seen by some to be the beginning of the Great Schism. This 'event' occurred between the years of 1378 and 1415 and was the culmination of the struggle between the European kings and the Popes to gain the most political power. As monarchs in both England and France became stronger, the power that the Popes had in those kingdoms was weakened. In 1302, the pope's response was to issue a Papal Decree called the 'Unam Sanctum'. This degree declared that the authority of all secular rulers was subject to the spiritual and political authority of the pope. The French King Philip IV didn't accept this 'decree' and he sent an army to fight and capture the pope. Philip did defeat Pope Boniface, but Boniface died soon after and a new Pope was chosen. This pope, Clement V, was easily controlled by King Philip and the Papacy was moved to Avignon from 1309- 1377. Other European leaders were not happy with this move and felt that the Pope was virtually a 'prisoner' of the French king. In 1378, the papacy moved back to Rome under the direction of Pope Urban VI. This didn't really solve the original problem that had caused the break in the first place... so it comes as no surprise that this is not the end of the story. :) Pope Urban VI thought that many of the high church officials were corrupt and put a lot of pressure on these individuals to change as well as changing some of the rules. Some French cardinals were not happy with this pressure and the difficulty that they were getting so they went to the current king of France to ask for his support in moving the papacy back to Avignon. This discussion with the French king, as both the cardinals and the King recognized that the Pope would not be budged, simply came up with a different solution. The French cardinals picked a new pope, Clement VII... and placed that pope in Avignon. This act effectively split the church into two great and differing sides. If you lived in England or anywhere in the Holy Roman Empire, then chances were you supported Pope Urban VI in Rome. If you lived in France or in territories held by France's allies, then chances are you supported the new Pope Clement VII. After a time other church officials tried to solve the problem by calling the two 'current' popes deposed and picking a third pope... surprise, the problem increased as now there were THREE popes to deal with. Anyone in the 'common population' must have found this situation to be at best, confusing... and at worse, laughable and not very 'holy'. This horrible situation was only resolved with a church meeting in Switzerland held in the years 1414-1415 which is called the Council of Constance. At this gathering, it was decided that the third pope in Pisa would be gotten rid of and pressure was placed on the Roman pope and the Avignon pope to step down which they finally did. The council then selected a new pope – Martin V- and that pope was placed in Rome. It was decided that Rome was the best place for the pope to be because that is where the apostle Peter built the first church so the symbolism was quite powerful. Even with this situation now resolved, the consequences of the Great Schism would live on for some time. Secular leaders had now been giving the opportunity and success of controlling religious matters in their territories and not a single one was willing to give that control back to Rome. This problem with the numerous popes destroyed the international political power that the papacy had gained over the last several years and the pope's prestige had been very badly tarnished. Also, other religious movements were to crop up with tended to focus on a person's relationship with God- a direct relationship... rather than the relationship that had been focused on in the Catholic church (your relationship with the priests and the pope who then opened your relationship to God.)

The Catholic church never seemed to gain its strength or power back fully after the Great Schism. Many popes tried to consolidate and create more power and there were more Crusades and pogroms against different groups deemed as heretics by the church. And the society around it was slowly coming closer to openly question the Catholic church, what makes a relationship with God, hierarchy, etc.... Those are questions that we as a people still struggle with today. We still do not have easy answers and we have our own way of dealing with heretics in our lives- luckily, they tend to be more discriminatory than violent... a small blessing but shows we have a long way to go as a race. What are your thoughts on these questions?


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