During the thousand years of the Middle Ages, the Church held considerable power all over Medieval Europe. Their influence was so great that they made laws and had a major say in how the monarchs ran their kingdoms.
As it was a separate entity from the government at the time, they weren’t taxed even though they collected a tax from the people called Tithe.
The reasoning was that the people would give a tenth of their money and possessions to ensure their place in Heaven.
This wealth and power enabled The Church to write its laws separate from the monarchs’ and even send people to war.
Role Of The Church In The Middle Ages
The Church was central to running affairs in the various kingdoms of the middle ages. They ran the lives of Christians from birth to death, determining how they should live, eat or work.
And using religion as a medium for power, they exerted great control over the people and governments, getting to the point where they installed monarchs.
This power and control came from the urge during the medieval ages to have a more personal relationship with God.
Being the conduit for this, the Church presented a means to that end and people, including nobles and peasants, came to the Church seeking answers.
In the early days of the Church, the priest was head, and he had monks and nuns below him to assist and look after the day-to-day running of the Church.
They attended to people while the priest prayed and blessed their offerings. As the Church started to become larger and have more influence, more hierarchies sprung up; the Pope became the head of The Church. Below him were the Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops.
The Pope, Archbishops, and Bishops were the ones who helped power in their regions, influencing the decisions of Kings, queens, and noblemen as well as offering spiritual guidance to them.
The lower hierarchies of the Church were responsible for the welfare of peasants in need, providing them with food, shelter, and spiritual counseling.
The Church And Its Role In Medieval Warfare
The late 11th Century came with the slow advent of the militarization of The Church. As the power and wealth of the Church increased, they held too many feudal lands and grew an armed force like other feudal lordships at the time.
As towns and cities grew in size and expanded, conflicts started to spring up sporadically across medieval Europe.
This was because as new towns and cities began to pop up, there was a rise in political and social thinking, leading to these new towns and cities wanting to be free outside leadership.
Most times, this didn’t sit well with the governments they broke off from, leading to wars.
In this time of war and conflict, the Church sometimes played both hands. Meaning they often tried to keep calm while starting a few disputes themselves. This is because the Church would often present itself as a “moral authority” to present just reasons for war.
They often brand their opposition “enemies of the Church” and rally monarchs to supply them with resources to fight their “Holy Wars”.
This rallying was usually done by either using their authority to punish monarchs who refused to answer their “holy war” by excommunicating them or offering monarchs who responded to their call to arms an opportunity to remit their sins in exchange for their military capabilities.
Even though the Church has been involved in wars and some unfortunate historic disasters like the Albigensian Crusades of the early 13th Century, where then Pope, Pope Innocent III pitted the nobles of northern France against the Cathari of southern France, The Church also had some positive contributions in the middle ages.
In those days, during conflicts, the towering church structures were often used as castles to shelter and defend the townspeople against attack.
The Church was also responsible for feeding and taking care of peasants and offered psychological help to any who needed it in times of war.
The Role Of The Church In Regulating Warfare
People often think of The Church and the Middle Ages; all that comes to mind are the darker parts of this period.
The Inquisitions and Heresy Trials are the more violent examples of The Church’s interference in matters of the state, but these violent acts and campaigns do not erase the good deeds that The Church did to try and alleviate the prevailing violence of the times. Some examples of this are:
The Creation Of The Military Cult Of Chivalry
The Military Cult of Chivalry, milites Christi, was created by The Church to embody knights with Christian values. The code of the milites Christi instructed knights to restrain themselves from rape and pillage and protect the innocent.
These rules and regulations could be considered the equivalent of modern rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention.
Apart from the code of the milites Christi, there was also a social pressure and religious orientation of squires to follow and have better morals.
Vigils were held, and sermons on the Christian ways of knighthood were preached to squires before they were given their silver spurs as a sign of rank.
The Peace And Truce Of God
The Peace and Truce of God or Pax et treuga Dei were led by the Church in the middle ages to alleviate the prevalent violence in the western half of the Carolingian Empire, which collapsed in the 9th Century.
The Church enforced this by threatening to enforce spiritual sanctions on the feuding parties.
The Peace of God, declared in 989 at the Council of Charroux, aimed to protect various agricultural resources, unarmed clerics, and church property.
On the other hand, the Truce of God declared in 1027 at the Toulouges Council aimed to reduce the frequency of conflict by constraining the days of the week and times of the year when nobles engaged in fights.
The Church and Medieval Warfare
The Middle Ages were a turbulent period in history where many despicable acts of violence were performed—sometimes by the Church.
Despite that, the Church was still instrumental in maintaining order during a very conflict-filled period.
Their methods weren’t always right or effective, as the milites Christi depended on soldiers following the codes, and the Pax et treuga Dei was respected by monarchs who believed in the authenticity of said Spiritual Sanctions.
This, however, didn’t stop the Church from trying to create a semblance of peace in the Middle Ages.