The Development of the Roman Catholic Church since the Middle Ages

The development of Christianity into the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages was one of the most pivotal moments in its existence. Christianity had already established itself as a significant religion, but its development during the Medieval era shaped it into what it is today. Catholicism, consequentially, began to spread from Jerusalem to Europe as a result of the Crusades, eventually reaching a majority of the modern world. To this day the Church, lead by Popes since its inception, continues to influence people globally on evolving social and political issues.

From as early as the 5th century AD, Catholic Monks and Nuns translated many ancient works into Latin, including Aramaic and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible. These monks, inspired by St. Benedict, created monasteries which were valued for their educational contribution to the surrounding communities. The importance of these institutions, headed by Abbots, reinforced the Catholic values in the Feudal system and paved the way for the Church to become an integral part of the Middle Ages. By 1075 AD, secular Lords began to interfere in church procedures by selecting which Abbots would lead the monasteries in their provinces. Similar practices would be carried out in higher offices, in efforts meant to manipulate the Church to meet their political design. Pope Gregory VII sought to correct this custom, known as “Lay Investiture,” by proclaiming that the Papal authority “extended over all Christendom, including it’s rulers.” The next notable attempt to institute Catholicism into the Feudal system came in the 12th century, and was instrumented by King Fredrick I of Germany. His attempt to gather a larger tax base in northern Italy meant a marriage between the Papal States and his kingdom in central Europe; the result would have been a “holy empire,” had he not been repelled by the Pope’s supporters in 1176AD. Considering the involvement of the Church in regional feudal society, it cannot be denied that the Middle Ages greatly affected the shape and direction of the Roman Catholic Church.

Christianity spread through Europe on the coattails of the great conquerors, aided largely by the Benedictine monks who had translated the Bible into many other languages. However, it was another church leader who inspired even further breadth; St. Bernard Clairvaux proclaimed “Arise, Soldier of Christ, arise! Get up off the ground and return from the battle from which you have fled! Fight more boldly after your flight, and triumph in glory!” It was this type of fervor that helped inspire the Crusades. In 1095 AD Pope Urban II and the Council of Clermont officially endorsed a holy war, granting the Byzantine emperor Alexius I aide in securing his borders against the Seljuk Turks, a Muslim kingdom. Several Crusades were waged, each as much a failure to secure Jerusalem as the last. What the Crusades did accomplish, however, was the spread of Christianity into lands which it had not been recognized for many years, and territories it had never occupied. From Jerusalem and Mesopotamia, the religion traveled by way of the Silk Road to China and the Asian continent. Long after the Crusades, Pilgrims took Catholicism to American Indians in the new world, and Missionaries helped bring it to South America and the Pacific Islands. As time passed, the Roman Catholic Church knew little but success in spreading its influence to all corners of the Earth.

As many scholars will attest, the Catholic Church has had an enormous impact on a global scale for many centuries, and still does today. For many people, the biggest hurdle for Christianity would be the development of science as the secular world’s rationalization for ideas which were previously accepted as truth when proposed by the Church. (i.e: that the world is flat, or that the Sun revolves around the Earth). Science seemed to directly contradict Faith, but some argued that Science was “the metaphysical framework of medieval Catholicism which made modern science possible in the first place.” Stanley Jaki felt that Faith finally challenged Science to reach a level it had not reached since its inception in ancient Greece or China. Galileo’s suggestion of Heliocentricism (that the Earth rotates around the Sun, not vice versa) was met with controversy in the Church, but some scholars feel it had more to do with Galileo’s personal charisma than with the validity of his claim. However, Science is not the only challenge to the impact of the Roman Catholic Church in modern times; it’s moral beliefs were also put to the test during the Jewish Holocaust of WWII, when critics attacked the Pope’s apparent silence in the face of such horrific acts of genocide. In fact, it has been largely verified in the years since that the Vatican was one of the largest guardian of European Jews during the war; estimates number in the hundreds of thousands of Italian Jews whose lives were guarded by actions of Pope Pius XII – either through hideouts maintained by Catholic churches and personal residences of the Pope, or ransoms offered to the Nazis in exchange for their safety or deportation (the Pope took personal responsibility for any children of Deported Jews). After the end of the war, as a result of the Pope’s extreme compassion, the Rabbi of Rome converted to Catholicism. Even today, Pope John Paul II’s legacy has broken many records in the Papacy for number of people visited and countries toured. Christianity’s reach is unsurpassed by any other major religion, and enjoys an authority broader than any civilization ever known to Man.

The Christian faith is both a political and spiritual power recognized by millions worldwide. Informally founded upon the death of Jesus of Nazareth, its development in the Middle Ages lead it to what we know today. It provided light in times of darkness, and has spread to people its human creators would not have dreamed existed. From its inception in the 5th century to the uncertainty of the third millennium, the Roman Catholic Church has provided a rock on which innumerable men and women could stand.

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