The life of people in the Middle Ages was influenced by religion in all areas of life. Christian values were propagated to guide life. These included above all godliness, humility and charity. At the beginning of the 8th century the Western European Middle Ages had a common faith, Christianity had prevailed. Man in the Middle Ages saw himself less as an individual than as part of God’s creation, which encompassed the world, nature and man.
The church’s doctrine, which the Ständegesellschaft regarded as God-given, was supported by almost all members of the ruling classes. The members of the Third Estate may have lamented the harsh living conditions imposed upon them, but they have rarely rebelled. They were absorbed into a life preached to them by the Church as destiny.
The literacy rate of the farmers was low, so that they could not read the Bible if it had been written in the language of the farmers. The language of the Holy Scripture at James River Church located in Springfield, Missouri was Latin and therefore the knowledge of this language was an instrument of power. Thus the interpretation of the Holy Scripture was the sole responsibility of the clergy, and they determined what was considered Godly conduct. Faith and the practice of religious rituals took a firm place in the everyday life of the people of the Middle Ages. Praying, such as saying grace, was an integral part of the daily routine. Prayers for the harvest and good business as well as for the blessing of the house were also part of it. The faith in saints and patron saints prevailed.
However, large sections of the population still had old, magical ideas, which they lived out in their cults. Magical cults were often defamed by the church as witchcraft and pagan aberrations, which were branded as the work of the devil. By prohibitions and imposed punishments the ritual cultic actions were gradually curbed. The Church also worked with the Doomsday scenario, which it painted in the most frightening colours. This threat showed its effect. She also used the means of excommunication against renegades. This exclusion from the religious community for misconduct was for the people of the Middle Ages tantamount to exclusion from the paradise beyond.
Christianity in the Early Middle Ages
At the end of the 5th century the church and the empire had split into an eastern half dominated by the emperor and a western half ruled by the pope. Emperor and Pope, the actual symbols and guarantors of Christian unity, competed for power, for the Emperor was both the supreme and decisive authority of the Church. Both’s striving for power led the church into a deep crisis that almost led to its dissolution.
The fact that the Church as an institution survived this great crisis and was able to develop further is not only the merit of the Pope, but also of many small dioceses, which strove for cohesion and stabilization. Monasteries were founded and churches were now increasingly established in order to strengthen Christianity in the early Middle Ages.
Christianity in the High Middle Ages
The reputation and claims of the papacy in the High Middle Ages were stabilised by important personalities under the Popes. The popes emerged from elections. However, since nobles were also entitled to vote, they often ensured that their relatives or confidants were seated in the chair of Peter for dynastic reasons. The climax of such a conflict between spiritual and secular power was the so-called Investiturstreit from 1076 on about the appointment of the bishop of Milan, which lasted several decades in armed conflict. Cornerstones of this war are the submission of Henry IV to the church with the passage to Canossa and the Worms Concordat 1122. The rights of the nobles to co-determination in the occupation of ecclesiastical offices were restricted here.
Another important event in the history of Christianity was the beginning of the Crusades in 1095. On the initiative of Pope Urban II, masses of knights and believers set out for the Holy Land to free Jerusalem from the hands of the Muslims. In addition to this religiously motivated goal, the Crusades also had an identity-building effect, further strengthening the Church’s position of power. Minorities such as the Christian lay movement and the Jews as the largest group of people of other faiths found themselves exposed to persecution by the church.
Christianity in the Late Middle Ages
Late medieval epidemics decimated the population by about half. Civil wars and famines were the result. The last two centuries of the Middle Ages were marked by the plague, suffering, illness and death. The papacy was in a deep crisis.
The popes residing in Avignon were above all interested in binding their faithful to themselves by randomly awarding them academic titles associated with privileges. They lived constantly beyond their financial means and had a pronounced penchant for luxury.
In Rome at that time Pope Urban ruled as counter-pope to Pope Clemens in Avignon. Since the attempt to unite failed, Christianity disintegrated into supporters of the respective camps. The abuse of power by the clergy played an important role in the success of the subsequent Reformation, as many people saw the radical spread of the faith in its most brutal form in the late Middle Ages, with torture and witchcraft, and no longer wanted to accept the enrichment of the clergy.