Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
By the year 1200 most of England had been Christian territory for half a millennium: Christian beliefs and Christian attitudes shaped all its institutions and defined its identity. The Christian calendar determined the pattern of work and rest, fasting and feasting, and influenced even the privacies of the bedchamber, deciding the times of the year when men and women might or might not marry, when husbands and wives might sleep together or must abstain. Everyone, in principle at least, subscribed to the Christian creed. This taught that the world was not a random heap of blind circumstances, a cosmic accident, but that it was a meaningful whole, which had been created out of nothing by a good God. The life of that one God, utterly other and superior to his creation, had revealed itself not as a unitary power, but as a threefold energy, a Trinity – the creating omnipotence from which everything took its origin, the articulate wisdom which shaped history and gave form and coherence to all there was, and the unitive love which drew all things back in joy towards their source – Father, Word and Spirit. Mankind, created in a state of innocent friendship with God, had wilfully alienated themselves from him by sin, and as a consequence sickness, sorrow, disorder and death had come into the world. To remedy this situation and rescue his creation, God himself had entered his world as a vulnerable human creature.