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Medieval Church

What was the role of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages?

During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church played a great role in many aspects of life. It was believed that the Pope could determine a person's eternal destiny through excommunication, which gave him great power over the actions of the people, including monarchs. Church doctrine and practices shaped many aspects of culture, such as holidays. The Church held great economic power through its possession of land, and it was largely the center of education.

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During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church was organized into a hierarchy with the Pope at the top. The Pope was theoretically superior to even monarchs, and kings and queens could be excommunicated if they contravened the wishes of the Pope. An excommunicated person could not receive the sacraments and was therefore thought to be damned to hell. Consequently, the church held some degree of power over monarchs in the Middle Ages. For example, in 1041, the Church passed the Truce of God, which stated that the days from Thursday to Sunday were holy days on which fighting was disallowed. This edict helped curb the endless bloodshed that had characterized relations between nobles and monarchs, as the cost of fielding an army to fight on only three days a week (Monday through Wednesday) seemed prohibitively high.

The church was also the center of the most medieval towns. People were expected to attend religious services on Sundays, and they also celebrated holidays...

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The church was a social place as well as a place of worship.

Christian rituals and faith were part of the fabric of everyday life.

Priests and clergy guided people on issues of values and morality.  Also, people were required to receive the sacraments.

Monks and nuns cared for the poor and sick, set up schools for children, and gave food and lodging to travelers. 

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The Roman Catholic Church became increasingly involved in secular (nonreligious) society during the Middle Ages (A.D. c. 450–c. 1500). It played a significant role in medieval European life through the activities of the clergy (church officials). Missionaries converted many of the Germanic tribes, and the church was influential in civilizing the so-called barbarians (non-Christians). Churches throughout Europe housed travelers and served as hospitals for the sick, while monasteries and cathedrals became centers of learning.

Further Information: Frank, Isnard Wilhelm. A Concise History of the Medieval Church. New York: Continuum, 1995; "Religion." Annenberg/CPB Exhibits. [Online] Available, October 20, 2000.