The Western Church in the Middle Ages

Thomson, John A. F.
Date published: 
January 1998

After supplanting the traditional pagan cults of the Roman Empire, Christianity became the dominant religion of Western Europe, converting the barbarian invaders of the empire to its own faith. The dominance of its teaching over a thousand years enables it to set the moral agenda of society and determine the intellectual life of the period. How it did so, together with its struggle to preserve its autonomy from the power of secular rulers, are the central themes of this book. Covering the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Reformation, the account is structured in three chronological blocks, starting with the gradual development of unity within the Western Church up to the eleventh century, followed by the period of centralisation between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries, and concluding with the break up of this centralisation in the later Middle Ages. Organisational developments and changes in spirituality and doctrine are examined, and the history of the papacy is situated in the wider context of changes in both ecclesiastical and lay society. Intellectual developments and the rise of heresy, at both elite and popular levels, are the focus of an exploration of the mental world of medieval Christendom.