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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: February 2015

3 - Christendom : the western church in power


The Emperor Constantine in Christ Jesus … to the most holy and blessed father of fathers, Silvester, bishop of the Roman city and Pope ….

Inasmuch as our power is earthly, we have decreed that it shall venerate and honour [the Pope's] most holy Roman Church and that the see of blessed Peter shall be gloriously exalted above our empire and earthly throne. We attribute to him the power and glorious dignity and strength and honour of the empire, and we ordain and decree that he shall have rule as well over the four principal sees, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, as also over all the churches of God in all the world.

It is generally accepted that Pope Stephen II (752–7) set the western church on a novel course when he appealed to King Pippin III of the Franks to restore conquered papal lands, and bestowed on him the title Patricius Romanorum. In so doing, Stephen was turning his back on the eastern empire in favour of what he hoped would become a new empire with its centre in Rome. This move was justified, to later generations at least, by The Donation of Constantine, quoted above, a forgery from the eighth century, whose authenticity was queried only in the fifteenth. Purportedly written by the emperor Constantine on the eve of his move to Constantinople, it bestowed power in the west to the pope of the time and to his successors.

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An Introduction to Christianity
  • Online ISBN: 9780511800863
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Further reading
Medieval church and civilisation
There are many helpful introductions to the medieval church. R. W. Southern's Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970) still offers an elegant, informative and incisive introductory survey
On the centralisation of the western church and the growth of papal power, see W. Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages: A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power (London: Methuen, 1955), and A Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages (London: Methuen, 1972). See also Colin Morris, The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250 (Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989)
Jacques Le Goff's Medieval Civilization 400–1500 (Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1988) offers an engaging survey of medieval history, culture and society from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries
R. W. Southern's trilogy on Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe (Oxford and Malden, WV: Blackwell, 1995, 2000, 2003) provides an unparalleled account of medieval scholastic theology, not only analysing its achievement, but setting it in social and historical context. Jaroslav Pelikan's The Growth of Medieval Theology (600–1300) (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1978) offers a clear survey
Oliver O'Donovan and Joan Lockwood O'Donovan have provided a valuable collection of primary theological texts in From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999). Though it focuses upon political theology, the anthology can also be used as an introduction to the thought of many of the most important theologians of the medieval period
Eileen Power's book on Medieval Women (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975) still offers an elegant short introduction to the topic. Caroline Walker Bynum's books have been influential in helping unlock forgotten aspects of medieval Christian life and piety, particularly in relation to women. A good place to start is with her collection of essays, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone, 1991). See also her Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982); and Donald Weinstein and Rudolph Bell, Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000–1700 (Berkeley, CA: University of Chicago Press, 1982). Rudoph M. Bell's Holy Anorexia (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1985) deals with women's spiritual practices centred around food and self-denial. On the medieval spiritual tradition see Bernard McGinn and John Meyendorff (eds.), Christian Spirituality: Origins to the Twelfth Century (London: SCM, 1985)
The literature on dissent falls into two broad categories: first, studies such as Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou (London: Scolar, 1978) or Robert E. Lerner's The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1972) focus upon the nature of heresy (in the former case Catharism in Languedoc); second, studies such as R. I. Moore's The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250 (Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1987) focus on its repression. Both approaches are brought together in the useful collection of essays edited by Scott L. Waugh and Peter D. Diehl, Christendom and its Discontents (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996)