The Catholic Church played an important role in the development of medieval European society. It took an active part in the development and control of various spheres of public life. In the political sphere, the church regulated interstate relations, acting as an arbiter in the disputes of the rulers of states, appointing loyal or under-influence kings and emperors, plotting religious wars against other faiths, and spreading its influence on new territories, exemplified by the Crusades. Being a large landowner, the Catholic Church received huge funds in the form of church tithes, accumulating wealth, and often became a creditor of the kings who squandered the treasury of feasts and wars.
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The Role of the Catholic Church Developed Over Time (5-17 centuries) Just As The European Powers Developed
Fascinating and contradictory in itself, the evolution of the Catholic Church is intimately interconnected with the historical path of development, that the European civilization has passed through. In the early stages of its’ establishment, the Church was largely dependent on state in terms of recognition and protection. Fundamental books about the early history of papacy abound with phrases like “the emperor had the Pope arrested” or “courtiers accused the Pope of treason” (Duffy, 7).
But, as it could be seen throughout the history, Vatican papacy progressively developed into a potent authority, shaping the fate of not only the European states, but also spreading its’ influence far beyond. From the very beginning the Church gradually gained and enlarged an impact on state affairs and society in Europe. Monasteries were responsible for education and science through maintaining libraries, scriptoriums, setting up and running schools and universities.
First hospitals were organized by religious institutions. Always being one of the greatest land-owners enabled the Church of having significant impact on economy. Military campaigns of medieval Europe were to a large extend either organized or inspired by Vatican. Suffice it is to mention the Crusades, Reconquista, that were ideologically aimed at securing and regaining originally Christian lands. Many armed conflicts of those times, where papacy was involved, took place within the very heart of Europe, namely the French Wars of Religion, Reformation Era Wars.
The balance of powers and relations between European statehoods was constantly under the influence of the Church of that time. This was due to the impact of both the official clerical hierarchy, and also the widespread network of religious orders. Many of the latter were even more military in their nature, than truly religious ones. To conclude, the Catholic Church did indeed shape the history of Europe, “truly has built the Western Civilization” (Woods), with its role tremendously having increased over time.
- Duffy, Eamon. Saints and Sinners. 1st ed., Yale University Press, 2014.
- Woods, Thomas E Jr. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. 1st ed., Regnery Publishing, 2005.
- Goff, Jacques Le. Medieval Civilization 400 – 1500. 1st ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 1991.