Middle Ages and Christianity

Jun 24, 2020 in History Essay

Middle Ages Essay Sample

Value of Magna Carta

Magna Carta simply translated as “The Great Charter” is a crucial document in history. According to McKay, Hill, Buckler, Crowston, and Wiesner-Hanks (2010), it was issued by King John of England as a more practical solution to the political problems he faced in 1215. The Great Charter provided that the king is not above the law because it gave people certain rights and pinned him to certain requirements. In tandem with this document, there were no arbitrary imprisonment and jury trials for individuals providing them a high level of security and rights. Magna Carta preserved life, liberty, and property. It is important because it led to the foundation of the principle of equality before the law.

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Regarding value, Magna Carta was a source of liberty. Madigan (2015) affirms that the original 1215 Charter provided that no one should be imprisoned without undergoing a fair legal process. Magna Carta established the foundation of trial by jury. Therefore, individuals were protected from arbitrary arrest and punishment. Furthermore, it was also important in the establishment of the principle of the rule of law. The policy of the latter provides for equality of every individual before the law. Moreover, it is still relevant today.

More so, it is considered the basis of democracy. For instance, Magna Carta is perceived one of the key influences on England’s establishment of parliamentary democracy. In light of this, it inspired the Declaration of Human Rights and also influenced the writing of the United States Bill of Rights in 1791. McKay, Hill, Buckler, Crowston, and Wiesner-Hanks (2010) bring out the view that Magna Carta’s basic principles influenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United States in 1948 after the Second World War and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizens in France in 1789.

The Life of Charlemagne

Charlemagne also referred to as Karl and Charles the Great was an emperor in the medieval period. Rollason (2014) explains that he became the king of the Franks, one of the Germanic tribes, in 771. He started a mission of uniting Germanic people into one kingdom and converting his subjects to Christianity. Being a military strategist, he spent much time of his reign in warfare with the view of accomplishing. In the views of Rollason (2014), Pope Leo III crowned him an emperor of the Romans in 800. He reinforced the Carolingian “Rebirth”, a cultural and intellectual renaissance, in Europe. It followed a period of increased strenuous activities in culture and intellect in the church.

He ruled his kingdom without much help from the Pope. Thus, he was recognized by the pontiff and was given divine legitimacy before his contemporaries. He furthered his father’s policy of papacy and became its protector putting the Lombard out of power. Additionally, he campaigned against the Saxons converting them into Christians or rather they could face a death penalty. McKay, Hill, Buckler, Crowston, and Wiesner-Hanks (2010) confirm that this fact led to events such as the Massacre of Verden in which 4,500 lives were lost. He spearheaded reforms such monetary reforms, governmental reforms, military reforms, cultural reforms, and ecclesiastical reform.

His military used horses because they were efficient in the quick and long-distance transportation of troops that was crucial for sustenance and building of his large empire. He also spearheaded monetary reforms by doing away with a financial system that was based on gold standards and replaced it with one based on a pound and silver. His reforms strengthened power structure of the church and improved the clergy’s skill and moral quality, standardized liturgical practices. He died having united most of Western Europe.

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The Concept of Feudalism

Feudalism was a combination of both legal and military customs in the medieval period in Europe. It revolved around three major concepts including lords, vassals, and fiefs or feuds. Feudalism was brought into Europe by the French Kings of Gaul. Rollason (2014) opines that under this system, vassals were given land in exchange for service and loyalty. A vassal was the lord of a manor. The latter referred to the economic unit of self-sufficiency. Everything needed for life could come from the manor. Fiefs or feuds were lands owned by vassal and later inherited by his children, mostly under a system of primogeniture (oldest son). The serfs were peasants who worked on the manor. In cases where the land was sold, the peasant went with it.

Feudalism as an economic system during the medieval period in Europe revolved around the monarch who could grant land or financial benefits and privileges his supporters in return for support in military or payment. McKay, Hill, Buckler, Crowston, and Wiesner-Hanks (2010) asserts that the process was repeated down the social ladder to increasingly subdivide a land. The pieces of land were given in return for service to the dukes and barons, and lords were referred to as feuds or fiefs. The local rulers used their land and income from attendants to support the feudal communities largely based on agriculture and farmed by peasants known as serfs. The landlords would rule the lands in the monarch’s name.

The landed servants paid homage to the monarch in terms of taxes paid when required. The feudal system divided the society into categories namely peasantry and clergy. Feudalism provided different ways of surplus labor in surplus labor appropriation and distribution.

How the Church Encouraged the Connection with the State

The church supported the connection with the state in various ways. Firstly, the state dominated and used religion for its own benefit. It is referred to as Erastianism and took place in Lutheran Germany and Petrine Russia whereby the church was a department on its own in the state. Madigan (2015) notes that the church was thus expected to constantly support and legitimize the government. In both countries, the church failed to criticize the unfair actions of the state. Also, religion dominated the country. It took place in most of Western European history where the Pope claimed to have powers to appoint kings and excommunicate those who disrespected him.

Moreover, the state defended the church by oppressing other denominations. On the other hand, the church supported the state by encouraging and fostering patriotism and stimulating people to accept the policies of the state. Rollason (2014) holds the view that in a religious state, where the ruler was believed to be a god, the entire society was oriented to worship that ruler and state was seen as sacred. The state and religion acted as rivals when it came to matters of authority and identity resulted in conflicts. An example of this scenario was the Roman Empire where Christianity was viewed as the official religion.

In Europe, the powers of the Pope underwent a lot of challenges from the kings and Western emperors on various matters leading to power struggles and leadership crises. Madigan (2015) reiterates that the reason as to why the kings wanted to be involved laid in the fact that the church was in ownership and control of large areas of land. Hence, the bishops had both great political and economic powers. A battle emerged as the kings wanted to gain their independence from Rome. On the other hand, the church was involved in various activities of reform and sought to exercise more powers against the rebellious kings. In England, the church and the state clashed over legal jurisdiction. King Henry III wanted the clergy to be executed in civil courts and not in church ones arguing that everyone was to be judged by similar laws.

The Growth of Christianity Politically and Religiously

In the Roman Empire, Christianity, which was a new religion, emerged. The main reason for the emergence of Christianity was the belief in the coming of the Messiah and the much rigidity that had envisaged the Jewish priesthood. Christians believed that the initial stages of religion mainly had the focus to cleanse the Jewish faith of its stiff rituals and haughty leaders.

According to Madigan (2015), Christian theological leaders made contacts with Greco-Roman intellectual way of life. They developed a body of Christian writings. The latter turned into creative cultural expressions in the Roman Empire as the theological writers did not just explain issues in the new religion, but also related to Greek philosophy and Roman ethics. McKay, Hill, Buckler, Crowston, and Wiesner-Hanks (2010) explain that followers of the new religion occasionally clashed with the Roman authorities because they did not honor the emperor as a divinity and rejected the authority of the state in other areas. Several initial emperors persecuted the Christians. Christianity continued to spread because the persecutions were not constant. Roman beliefs helped to shape the Christian view that the state had a legitimately separate sphere. It brought the common saying “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Moreover, the growth of Christianity politically was largely supported by the Constantine impact. It was as a result of the battle of Mulvian Bridge whereby Constantine became a sole emperor. Madigan (2015) points out that he stopped Christian persecution and restored their property using his edict of toleration 313 AD. Consequently, priests enjoyed some privileges and exemptions. Constantine supported African Catholics financially and exempted the clergy from liturgies thus bounding the church with the welfare of the Roman state and hence insisting on orthodoxy. The church used sacraments of baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, marriage, and ordination as sources of power.

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