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Frank and Flor Gant
Essay: Mideval Church and State
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Written July 2002

The medieval development of the church and the state put two powerful entities at odds with each other.  Rome had had emperors for hundreds of years when Christianity came onto the scene.  Although initially Christians were persecuted, Roman emperors soon accepted, and even joined, Christianity.  Once Christianity was accepted though, an unforeseen problem arose, the church began to change.  Slowly, over several hundred years, the church changed so much that eventually there was no longer any Christ in Christianity -- man had taken over the religion and put himself at its head, replacing Christ as its leader.  Once this happened, things would only get worse.  The two most powerful organizations in the Middle Ages, the church and the state, fought, struggled, and schemed against each for hundreds of years.

In the late eleventh century, Gregory VII became pope and soon ran up against the Emperor, Henry IV, and the Investiture controversy began.  The rulers of Germany, England, and France were all in dispute with Gregory about the right to appoint bishops, abbots, and other church personal and to invest them with the symbols of their office.  Each side wanted to appoint their own person to these offices when they became vacant.  Gregory and Henry fought bitterly for years, first one sending the other into exile, then the other returning to drive the first out of the kingdom.  The battle lasted well after Gregory and Henry died, until finally in 1122, the controversy ended with the pope coming out on top and being able to appoint those of his choice to the offices of the church (Investiture Controversy 2001).

A series of events, the first beginning in 1096 and the last ending in 1270, has left a blood-stained mark on all of Christianity, even to this day; these events are called the Crusades.  The original purpose of the crusade was "to defeat the Moslems who threatened Constantinople, to save the Byzantine Empire, to reunite the Eastern and Western branches of the church, to reconquer the Holy Land, and in doing all this to win heaven" (Gonzalez 1984:292). 

The first crusade was a total bloodbath; it lasted 3 years and thousand of men, women and children died.  During one battle, the Turks were being defeated so badly that they retreated, leaving behind all their provisions and the women accompanying them.  The crusaders, having captured the women, boasted that they "did nothing evil to them, but simply speared them through" (Gonzalez 1984:294).  When the crusaders reached Jerusalem, they defeat the Arabs, killing all the men; but this time they weren't so 'nice' to the women.  This time the women were raped by these good Christian men before they were killed, the babies were thrown against walls and the Jews who had taken refuge in the synagogue were burned to death as the building was set on fire (Gonzalez 1984:295-6).

In all, there were eight crusades; thousands upon thousands of people were murdered.  Did the church attain its goal of winning heaven?  I, for one, think not.

In 1309, the pope moved from Rome, Italy to Avignon, France.  The papacy remained there for almost 70 years; all the popes living there during those years were no more than puppets for the king of France.  This time period was called the "Babylonian Captivity of the Church."  The popes, during this time, not only heeded the kings of Frances wishes, they started giving important church positions to their relatives, a practice that lasted for 300 years (Gonzalez 1984:332-4).

All in all, the Roman church in the Middle Ages made a real mess of things.  It started needless wars, murdered innocent people, and twisted the affairs of state into knots.  The state would have been much better off without the church of Rome butting in.

Bibliography

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Vol. 1. 1984. New York: HarperCollins.

Investiture Controversy. Nelson's New Christian Dictionary. Ed. George Thomas Kurian. 2001. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.