The Catholic Church in Medieval Europe

During the middle ages, the Catholic Church was a very prominent spiritual and political force in Europe. Having studied about religions in World History, I believe that secular public high schools portray the Church as an institution that controlled the lives of people in medieval Europe. I want to understand that if the course accurately depicted the Church as an institution yielded power over ordinary men because the clergy was often in a place of prominence. How did the Roman Catholic Church influence the spiritual lives of people in medieval Europe, and affect their views about their place in society?

The Church certainly had a lot of power. But it wasn’t absolute power by any means. Medieval culture was a fusion of many things–Catholic Christianity (plus dissenting, unorthodox versions of Christianity that kept popping up in spite of brutal repression), the legacy of Greco-Roman cultures (largely preserved by the Church but still distinct from Christianity in many ways), the pre-Christian traditions of the various Germanic and other cultures that made up Europe, the pragmatic political arrangements that arose in Europe, often in opposition to the Church but sometimes blessed by it, the economic and technological realities that affect so much of people’s daily lives whatever their religion, interaction with powerful (and often aggressive) Islamic neighbors and with the Jewish minority inside Europe, and so on.

One of the things I love about medieval culture is that it didn’t have centralized power structures in the same way our society does. Power was local and almost always pluralized. There was no monolithic “Church” controlling every aspect of people’s lives. That being said, the Church was by far the most centralized, best organized, and most ideologically consistent organization in medieval Europe, and it had an immense amount of both direct power and indirect influence.


You do that so well.

Thank you for all your reply. You are a very intelligent person who is very knowledgeable of the faith.

Hi, John!
…I may be too pedestrian to distinguish between reality (middle ages) vs. revisionist understanding of reality…

…when I was a child if any adult would correct me for misbehaving, I would promptly acquiesce–if the person knew my mom… well, fear and expectations entered the arena…

The exchange did not require a Catholic person’s intervention (the Church did not dictate the response of either parties); it was the normal thing in our society (it takes a village…).

Society’s values changed… I’ve witness children not only misbehaving but outright being rude and violent while the parents sit back and allow it to happen… some time ago there was a video uploaded to the internet where a “mom” trained a child/children to beat on other children… then there’s the depiction of a child holding a gun to another child’s head–this “mom” claimed it as “artistic” expression… there are hundreds… if not hundreds of thousands of these episodes happening around the world (not just in those nations where children are forced into paramilitary exploits)–would secular schools hundreds/thousands of years into the future blame the Church for not instilling good moral values in society?

The Church has always been limited to man’s collaboration or rejection of Christians values. Various cultures during different eras have responded to the Church’s Teaching differently… in some cultures, which are now regarded as enlightened or peaceful, even children were crucified for the crime of accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Reality verses revision is always dependent upon the agent/s of the revision/s and the reality they wish to portray… granted, there are those who truly seek to know the truth–these are seldom the most outspoken or heard… just study the incident of Galileo–the truth is there for all to see… but those with an anti-Church agenda continue to buy into the myth rather than accept the reality of Church vs. Galileo.

Maran atha!


The how-question is easy: through the church with the small c. If you look at European towns and villages, then you’ll see that the church is always in the center and the village is build around it. The church was the place where people came together, where the news was read out, where the markets were, where people held the accounts of birth and death, where food and drinks were handed out to the needy. Most European countries didn’t have register offices untill Napoleon introduced them in the early 1800’s during his conquest of Europe. If you want to look up family members from before the 1800’s, you’ll have to look in Church documents. In short: The church building functioned as a community center.

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