Sample History Paper on The power of the papacy in mediaeval Europe

Sample History Paper on The power of the papacy in mediaeval Europe


The Catholic Church, especially the papacy had a major role in influencing political, cultural, and religious developments in Europe. Since the reign of Pope Gelasius 1in, 494 to the years of renaissance and reformation ideologies in the middle ages, the papacy was instrumental in the determination of political, cultural, and religious event that characterized life in Europe (Schultz 16). The papal office recognized that the sacred and the royal power were responsible for ruling the world. However, the papal office was focused on preserving and upholding the superiority of the sacred power over that of the royal as a technique of maintaining the hegemonic power of the Catholic Church in the unpredictable political climate that had become a characteristic of the European society during this period (Schultz 16).

The power of the papacy in mediaeval Europe

The papacy was considered powerful in Europe until early 14th century during the reign of Philip IV of France. Philip IV is considered as the first monarch to challenge the supreme authority of the Pope. According to Philip IV, the royal authority of the monarchs was not dependent on the decrees or the authority of the Pope. This was in contravention of the commonly held belief that the Pope was in control of divine power, which superseded any other authority (Logan 13).

Part of the reasons why the Catholic Church, through the papacy was considered more powerful than the ruling, kings, and emperors was because most of these monarchs desired the approval of their subjects. Most of these subjects were believers of the divine authority of the Pope. Furthermore, the Pope had the power of excommunication. This was instrumental in shaping the political situation of different kingdoms in Europe considering that the Pope had the power of eliminating rivals to the throne by telling the populace that those in political authority were sinful and did not have divine mandate. The nature of power exercised by the Pope in early medieval period meant that the monarchs had the responsbility of swearing their allegiance to the Pope as a technique of securing political power and eliminating possible power rivalry (Schultz 18).

The Pope stressed the power of his authority by creating an association between his office and that of St. Peter. The title Vicar of Christ, for instance was first assumed by Pope Gelasius.” Through his theory of the two swords, the Pope asserted the dualistic nature of power that characterized leadership in the world (Logan 12). The Pope, in the view of Gelasius, embodied superior spiritual powers while the emperor could only govern using the inferior temporal power. The major challenges faced by the papacy can be traced to the 6th century during the reign of Pope Gregory. Pope Gregory was faced by the challenge of famine, plagues, and power threats from the Lombards and Byzantine. Over the years, especially in the 12th century, the papacy underwent a period of growth and development, which included aligning the activities of the church with the prevailing social, religious, and political situations. For instance, the church evolved to become an administrative and bureaucratic institution. Other than exercising religious duties, the church through institutions such as the papal courts exercised legal responsibilities as the highest court of appeal in Europe (Levi 44).

The declining authority of the papacy and the increasing influence of emperors in Europe led to the election of Clement V as Pope in 1305 following the influence of Philip IV of France. Factionalism that was prevailing in Rome made it complex for Clement to rule hence the decision to shift papal capital to Avignon, France. During the period of Avignon seven Popes, all of whom were French, were elected. Inasmuch as these Popes struggled to maintain the autonomy of the papacy, the political situation in France allowed the French kings to exert their influence on the decisions and powers of the papacy (Logan 88).

Despite challenges faced by papacy until the reformation and renaissance periods, the Popes made numerous efforts aimed at improving the situation of the Catholic Church in Europe and achieving peace the populace. For instance, the papacy established numerous administrative offices and agencies, which were instrumental in ensuring effective delivery of services to the populace. The papacy was also responsible for the expansion of missionary enterprises. The main objective of these enterprises was to increase the popularity and power of influence of the Catholic Church within Europe and its Asian neighbors such as China. An additional effort by the Catholic Church through the office of the papacy was to promote higher education. This was especially through construction and financing of university education. Through the College of Cardinals, the Catholic Church began to strengthen their role in governing church affairs (Schultz 44).

Medieval period, and Renaissance period and its effects on European intellectual values and Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

Following the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the political stronghold of the Romans continued to crumble as Catholicism spread and increased its power. By the beginning of the renaissance period in the 14th century, Catholicism, under the papacy was the most dominant religion in Europe (Levi 60). In terms of their intellectual values, the medieval period was characterized by strict teachings of the Catholic Church. Most of the people had limited exposure to eductaion and scientific concepts were not appreciated. The teachings of the Catholic Church were hardly challenged and those who spoke against the church were charged with heresy and labeled as heretics who were subjected to extreme forms of punishment (Logan 122).

Crusades, medieval philosophy, and renaissance had a strong influence on the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries. The works of philosopher such as Roger Bacon stressed on the essence of reason and experimentation in the development of knowledge. As early as the 11th century, European scholars had begun engaging in philosophical discussions characterized by a series of questions on the value and meaning of words necessary in the development of clear thinking in the scientific period that was to characterize the 16th and 17th centuries. Renaissance art sparked new interest in the world of creativity considering that artists such as Michelangelo began developing works that focused on knowing and portraying reality hence necessitating the rise in scientific exploration. Works of art and critical thought necessitated by medieval philosophy created questions regarding the acceptable Aristotelian norms leading to the development of the spirit of inquiry and doubt (Levi 68).

The beginning of reformation in 1517 was necessary in the transformation of theological and political landscape of the European community. The challenges presented by Martin Luther to the Roman Catholic were consistent with the developments in Renaissance Italy. This is because they led many Italians into questioning the authority of the Catholic Church. As a result, a large fraction separated from the church and this was perceived as a tempt to realize freedom from restrictions that denied any form of intellectual progress (Hollings 23).



Works cited

Hollings, Mary. Europe in Renaissance and Reformation, 1453-1659. Oxford University Press:

Oxford, 2016.

Levi, Anthony. Renaissance and Reformation: The Intellectual Genesis. New Haven: Yale

University Press, 2004.

Logan, Donald. A History of the Church in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Schultz, Kevin M. Hist. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2010