28 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Twenty-Eight

Medieval Catholicism

How did monasticism develop in early medieval Europe? What was the impact of monasticism?

Monasticism developed from a desire of devout Christian men to separate themselves from the corrupting influences of the world to a cloistered, protected environment where they could devote themselves to prayer and the study of the Scriptures. These independent, often self-sufficient groups built sanctuaries and supporting buildings where devotees could live ascetic, tightly controlled lives away from others who were not so strictly devoted. They were largely autonomous, perhaps being aligned with others of a particular Order and following similar rituals, but each making their own rules. Monks often took vows to demonstrate their devotion and eliminate potential distractions. Vows of poverty (avoiding ownership of property and money), chastity and celibacy (forbidden to marry or even have intimate contact with another person), sometimes even silence, not being allowed to speak for long periods of time. Monks became the scribes of their day, diligently copying previous copies of scripture and other church literature.

Identify the significance of Gregory I on the Medieval Catholic Church.

Shortly following the rise of monasteries for male followers, convents arose for the similar segregation of female separatists, known as nuns. They followed similar rules and vows, had their own Orders, and carried out various charitable missions, such as the care of widows and orphans. Monasteries and convents became focal points of religious education and study. Despite individual vows of poverty, these cloisters often housed great quantities of gold and silver items used in religious rituals. This wealth made them easy targets for Viking raiders. The naïve and pacifist priests and monks were slaughtered or taken into slavery as the pagan Norsemen ravaged across their lands, looting and burning, before returning to their ships with their plunder. As these communities rebuilt, they learned to fashion their sacred items of wood and stone, items of no value to the raiders. Some of these locations housed special relics, believed to be the bones of other body parts of particular saints, or objects associated with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The most famous of these relics is the Holy Grail, a chalice believed to be the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper, or alternately a cup used by Mary to capture the blood of Jesus as he hung on the cross.

Both of these legends are ridiculous for a number of practical reasons. Jesus was being executed as a criminal. The soldiers supervising the execution would never have allowed anyone near the site for fear of inciting riot, or giving the condemned’s friends an opportunity to intervene. Collecting blood would have been anathema, both for the Romans, who would not have wanted to create a martyr, and for the Jews, for whom touching blood or dead flesh made them ceremonially unclean. The cup Jesus used at the Last Supper was borrowed from his host, would have been quite ordinary, like every other cup on the table, and was in all likelihood gathered up, washed, and put away with all the other dishes by the women who cleaned up after dinner. The line in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was one of the most profoundly accurate lines in movie history: Selecting a plain earthen drinking cup, Jones proclaims: “This is the cup of a carpenter. Nevertheless, the Grail (and other relics, such as pieces of the cross, the lance used to pierce Jesus’ side, etc.) has inspired myth and legend for two millennia. Various parties have claimed to possess the Grail, or know where it is hidden, and claims of immortality to anyone worthy to drink from the cup (a somewhat subjective standard) have driven treasure hunters and devout believers alike.

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