The Penguin History of the Church: Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages Paperback – 31 May 1990
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About the Author
Sir Richard Southern (1912-2001) was an expert on the medieval church and author of the renowned text, The Making of the Middle Ages. He taught at Oxford and was President of St John's College there. He was knighted in 1974.
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Top Customer Reviews
It seems to me to be a fundamental failure of perspective: theoretically acknowledging that the church was an integrated social, intellectual and spiritual system of a kind that is impossible now, but writing about it as if it were just another secular power. So it certainly doesn't explain 'why they built those cathedrals', or why the church was (as it undoubtedly was) the 'deep underlying basis' of culture in the period; on those subjects it will leave you no wiser than you were before.
While the book is not large (about 360 pages) every word is gold. There are no wasted sentences in this book. It's all valuable information, which can be gleaned quickly and clearly by any student of this time.
R W Southern is a well-respected author who particularly covers religious history extremely well. I have earlier read and thoroughly enjoyed his biography of Anselm, St Anselm: a Portrait in a Landscape when endeavouring to come to grips with Anselm's Ontological Argument for the existence of God.
Highly recommended for any student or any general reader who wishes to understand the religious history of the Church in the Middle Ages. This book is the second volume in the Penguin History of the Church - I can also highly recommend volume 1 - The Early Church, by Sir Henry Chadwick, and Volume 3 - The Reformation, by Owen Chadwick. All very good and highly recommended.
He describes how the Roman Church replaced the Roman Empire in Western Europe as the latter declined, and went on to develop in power between the eighth and fourteenth centuries. Capitalising on the regional unity established by the Romans, the papacy was able grow in stature, and by the 12th and 13th century, was the dominant secular force in Europe.
Professor Southern sifts through the documentary evidence cataloguing the activities of popes, cardinals, bishops, monks, and lesser clerics - effectively the politicians, judiciary, police, and workforce of the church.
Running alongside their religious activity ( not examined here) was a strong secular identity. Rulers were coerced, by the threat of excommunication, to maintain the pope's edicts. No war could be declared unless the church first decreed its cause to be sacred. The Pope himself waged war on `unbelievers'. Heresy was a capital offence. Non-Christians such as Jews were denied citizenship. Monks devoted themselves to praying for the souls of prominent landowners, who in return bequeathed swathes of their estates.
The church's influence declined during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as non-religious thought and action gradually separated out and overcame it.
But, by then, those cathedrals were built.
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