Links: The Medieval Period

General Information on Icons — Icons are crucial for an understanding of Eastern Christianity, which really began to have a separate identity in what we call the “medieval period.”  This is a helpful site on the topic, formatted as questions with answers.

Icon Blog — You may also find helpful this “Reader’s Guide” to understanding icons.  When iconographers create an icon, Eastern Christians say that they “write” the icon; as a result, one must learn how to “read” them, and this blog can help!

Description of Hagia Sophia — Here you’ll find a description of Hagia Sophia (the great church of Constantinople/Istanbul) from Procopius, a sixth-century figure who was alive when Hagia Sophia was built.  At the bottom of the page, there is a link to learn more about the destruction of the city in 1204 — that is interesting.  But the other link (“Hagia Sophia”) is dead, so don’t bother with it.  Also interesting is this link, which provides the history of the church up to the present, as well as a contemporary description.

A Full List of Popes — It’s impossible to think of medieval Christianity without thinking of the popes of Rome.  You’ll find many names in our textbook; however, if you’d like a full list of the popes — from Peter to Francis — check out this link to the Catholic Encyclopedia.  Each pope’s name also links to his biography  You’ll occasionally see the word “antipope” — that’s the word used when there was more than one pope claiming the office at one time.

Boniface and the Oak Tree — Early medieval Christianity also saw the development of Christian traditions among the Germanic/Teutonic peoples and the Celts.  The Germanic tradition included the work of several missionary monks, including the famous Boniface.  This link tells of his life — scroll down to chapter 6 for the famous story of the oak tree he cut down in the name of God.

The Life of St. Patrick — Similarly, the Celtic tradition of Ireland and Scotland had its famous characters, chief among them the man known as St. Patrick.  This link gives you his biography, written by a 7th-century monk.

Pope Gregory I on Mission Work in England — One of the important influences on British Christianity was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons.This is a rather famous section from the Ecclesiastical History written by Bede, the seventh-century English monk, regarding Gregory’s sending missionaries to the Angles and Saxons.  Note the pope’s instructions regarding native worship: don’t destroy everything, but see how it can be converted to the worship of the True God.  For more on Bede’s text, see this link.

Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne — One of the towering figures of early medieval Christianity is the Frankish king Charlemagne.  Happily, we have a biography of him from his contemporary Einhard.  Here’s a link to Einhard’s work, with a handy, click-able table of contents at the top, so you can scan for something that you’d like to read about.

Vikings in England — Not long before the turn of the second millennium CE, folks we call “Vikings” appeared on the shores of Western European lands, including Great Britain.  Here’s a link (including a nice map) that describes the Vikings’ raids into England, and the effects of those raids.

Gothic Architecture — An important development in medieval art was Gothic architecture, but you may not remember as much about it as you’d like.  Here’s a little more information, with images, about this style of architecture that became so influential and widespread in the High Middle Ages.  The language is somewhat technical, but I think it gets its information across.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris — One of the most famous examples of Gothic architecture is the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  This link is the official website of the Cathedral — in the English version.  You might find especially interesting the tab called “Cathedral for Art and History” — lots and lots of images there, including panoramic views of the structure.

More on the Crusades — One of the darkest episodes in all of church history is the Crusades.  Here’s more information on that movement.  The site is nicely organized, but it can be a little challenging to tell what is a link and what is just a heading, but it’s still useful.

Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae — This is a free online version of the great Dominican’s Summa Theologiae, perhaps the most famous single work of theology in all of Christian history.  It has a table of contents and links to each section, so that you can get an idea for how big this work is, and you can also peruse different articles within it.

Quodlibet Disputations — One of the great contributions of the medieval period to the modern world is the university.  However, medieval universities weren’t always peaceful places, as regular “disputations” were held — something like academic debates

.  These disputations can be revealed in written form in a variety of texts, but one that is interesting is what is called the “quodlibets” of medieval writers.  “Quodlibet” literally means “whatever,” and it refers to a semi-annual tradition in some universities where students could come and ask “whatever” question they wanted — essentially a “stump the professor” session.  Some of these sessions were recorded.  This link has translations of some of the quodlibets of Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval teacher.  Peruse the table of contents for something interesting to you.

More on the Waldensians — Here you can find more information on the Waldenses, or Waldensians, that group that was accused of heresy and also provided an important forerunner to Luther’s Reformation.  This site is run by Anabaptists, who are not historically related to the Waldensians.  But they do have some affinities with them, and so they have an investment in understanding this group more fully.

Two Perspectives on the Inquisition — This link is to the old version of the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on the Inquisition.  For material connected the Inquisition’s work against heresy (its original function), scroll or click down to the section called “The suppression of heresy by the institution known as the inquisition.”  For an interesting Jewish perspective on the Inquisition, see this link.

More on Indulgences — This site is an interesting one, as it considers famous historical trials.  One of those trials is that of Martin Luther, and one of the resources it includes is a page called “Questions & Answers Concerning Indulgences.”  For a modern Catholic perspective sympathetic to the use of indulgences, see this link.

The Borgia Family — You may have heard of the Borgia family, who were involved with “political corruption and immorality” to “unbelievable heights,” as one church history textbook has it.  If you’d like to know more about them, including Roderigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), see this link.

John Wycliffe’s English Translation of the Bible — Another important forerunner to the Protestant Reformation was the work of John Wycliffe, who among other things advocated the use of the Bible in the vernacular to aid in people’s understanding.  If you would like to read some of Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, see this link.  Granted, it is written in a form of middle English, so it might be challenging.  You might start with a book with which you’re familiar — like maybe “Romaynes” or “1 Corinthis,” or perhaps one of the Gospels.

Image credit (Girolamo Savonarola; edited by the blogger): https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the Reformation period)

Noll, Ch. 5: The Coronation of Charlemagne (800 CE)

One of the signal events of the early Middle Ages is the subject of Noll’s chapter 5: Pope Leo III’s coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800.  As Noll says at the beginning of the chapter, this event was important for a variety of reasons: it says something about the growing power and influence of the popes by this time; it says something about the changing face of Western Europe, as a Germanic tribe (Franks) had surpassed the Romans as the dominant political force on the continent’s mainland; and it speaks about the growing web of links between the secular powers and the spiritual powers (the church) of the day.

coronation of charlemagne

For many American Christians, that last item is most important. Charlemagne’s rule was significant because it was during this period that a political philosophy was built that still holds sway in many places and hearts. That philosophy essentially says this: that there are secular powers in the world (mayors, governors, presidents), and they have rules, enforce laws, and are installed by certain ceremonies. Their job is to take care of the people in the realm that God has given them: secular matters, like protecting the borders, maintaining peace, and levying taxes. There are also spiritual powers in the world (churches, priests, bishops, etc.), and they also have rules, enforce laws, and are installed by certain ceremonies. Their job is to take care of the people in the realm that God has given them: spiritual matters, like forgiving sins, conducting worship, and maintaining Christian morals.

Ideally, those two powers work together for the sake of the people and the kingdom – in a parallel sort of way – but most of the time, there is tension between them. For example, what is the best way to maintain good morals in a country? Is it effective preaching or laws that have teeth? Or who gets to appoint the leaders in the church? Is it the church itself and its people, or the secular leaders who keep everyone safe so that they can actually have church services? As you can see, this philosophy has challenges, but it shaped church-state relations until the Reformation in most of Europe, and even to the present day in the United States.

You may find helpful this link to Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne, mentioned in the chapter: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/einhard.asp#Charlemagne%20Crowned%20Emperor

Here are a few issues/questions to discuss on the chapter:

  1. The first long section of the chapter is devoted to the papacy. At this time, secular power had begun to accrue to the papacy, and with that power came the possibilities of influence and also various temptations.  Given the challenges that spiritual leaders (like bishops and ministers) face, what is the best balance between spiritual piety and worldly influence in a church’s leaders?  How do we negotiate that tension?
  2. Follow-up: you have probably heard the classic quote that goes like this: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Based on what you have read and what you know from other sources, do you think the papacy affirms this idea, contradicts it, or nuances? Why do you think this is the case?
  3. Gregory the Great is one of the popes who has been highly admired by non-Catholics, including in the present day, just as many Protestants and even non-Christians admire the current Pope Francis. Is it consistent to reject the Catholic view of papal authority, and yet to still admire specific popes? Why or why not?
  4. One of the weaknesses of many church history books is the relative short shrift they give to the importance of Islam in the history of Christianity.  How did you respond to Noll’s presentation of Islam in the section “The Rise of Northern Europe?  Was this new information?  Was it surprising? What does it make you think about, in light of the current uneasiness regarding the place of Islam in American life?
  5. “Christendom” is the word we use to describe the established position that Christianity enjoyed within western culture.  Google a bit on manifestations of Christendom, and then answer these questions: How does Christendom still manifest itself in the circles you inhabit in America?  How do you see it passing away?
  6. In modern America, many Christians of Western- and Northern-European descent follow religious practices sharply differing from those of their ancestors. If you are from this background, how does it feel to think that you would most likely not have the faith that you have today, if it were not for the rise of “Christendom”? That your faith depends on your ancestors to some degree, even if your practice of Christianity sharply differs from theirs?

Image credit for Jean Fouquet’s Crowning of Charlemagnehttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sacre_de_Charlemagne.jpg (cropped by the blogger)

Suggested next click: Chapter 6

Liturgy / Worship as a Unifying Force

CharlemagneMany of you will have heard of Charlemagne, the great Frankish (Germanic) ruler of the late seventh and early eighth centuries.  Charlemagne influenced Western Europe in many ways, both in the church and in the state, but I’m thinking today about a quest he made for unity in his empire.  As you may know, Charlemagne’s efforts included conquering lands, repelling invaders, securing his borders, reviving culture, etc.  But the unity that he achieved in a political way wasn’t totally secure, because people could always rebel.

However, there was also a spiritual question, in that there was a spiritual power down in Rome that people had begun to call the “pope” — the spiritual “father” of all Christians, in the eyes of some.  One big question for Charlemagne concerned how political and spiritual powers would co-exist: who is in charge?  Is it the pope or the emperor?  Or some combination of the two?  Could this question even lead to a breakdown in the unity of the empire?

One tactic that Charlemagne used to unify his empire was to unify the worship that existed throughout the empire.  In other words, he attempted to standardize the Christian worship of his “Carolingian” empire.  You might think that would be easy, but you’d be wrong.  Besides all the difficulties of communication across hundreds of miles in those days, there were some very specific, distinct, and already ancient worship traditions associated with lands in his empire: in Spain, in northern Italy (centered in Milan), and in Gaul (now France).

So what was Charlemagne to do?  Should he take one of these local traditions and make it “empire-wide”?  Actually, what he did was to send messengers to Rome to find out how they “did worship” there.  He knew that Rome was a very ancient Christian city, and he viewed Roman traditions as the most authoritative.  It’s not unlike the reasoning employed by King Oswy at the Synod of Whitby in the late 600s — but that’s a story for another day.  (Feel free to research it, if you like!)

I don’t think this move on Charlemagne’s part is just an interesting historical footnote.  I think that many of us have experienced the same kind of cultural cohesiveness that comes from a common worship tradition.  Those of us in the Churches of Christ may know what this is like.  Until recently, all over the Bible Belt, people in Churches of Christ sang many of the same hymns, heard much of the same prayer language, and experienced similar preaching.  This was comforting: if one was traveling, one could visit an unfamiliar Church of Christ and yet feel right at home.

More broadly, and more recently, the most common way this unity happens nowadays concerns modern worship music.  As you know, there’s been an explosion of modern worship music in the last 20 years, and whether you are in a Bible church, a community church, a Baptist church, etc., there’s a good chance that you’ll hear songs you know.  Does this create unity outside the church walls?  Maybe.  But it certainly creates unity as we share worship experiences together.

lifting hands

Closest to home, as members of the our university community, we all experience communal worship on campus (in our daily “Chapel” gatherings).  Some of us like the all-music “Praise Day,” some prefer the more contemplative “Come to the Quiet,” and still others like the aptly-named “Small Group” Chapels.  But we all know the experiences, and we all know the standard complaints that students levy against required worship.  Despite those complaints, though, one reason that the University administration preserves the Chapel requirement is that, while our students come from different worship backgrounds, worship as a bonding social experience is very powerful in community-building.  This bonding occurs on a sociological level – there are human-level phenomena working here – but we believe it also happens in a spiritual way.  We believe that the Holy Spirit binds us together as Christians, and one way the Spirit does this is through our worship.

So, the next time you’re bored in a worship service, I’d encourage you to think a bit about what’s actually happening during that service, and why lifelong Christians often find hymn-singing to be so powerful in their later years.  God is binding us together, as the old song goes, with cords that may not be able to be broken.

Image credits : http://www.traditioninaction.org/History/HistImages/CharlemagneImages/A03_DurerPortrait.jpg and http://erniecarrasco.com/2015/02/08/worship-vs-emotion/