Is it accurate to refer to the Middle Ages as the Age of Faith?
The Middle Ages is often referred to as the Age of Faith and it is correct to do so, as during this period religion dominated all aspects of life from architecture, literature, art and music. The dominant religion during this period was Christianity. The middle ages saw “the emergence … of Christian literary forms… a popular religious culture centred around processions, icons, and relics” (George Holmes 42).
The crusades were wars fought in the name of God or holy wars. The first of the crusades began in 1095 when Pope Urban the second received an appeal for help from Alexius the first, the Byzantine Emperor. Alexius wanted Urbans’ help against the Turks, “a race alienated from God”. It was seen as ones Christian duty to fight against these infidels. The church offered material advantages to those who chose to join the Crusades, to save Christian shrines and lands from Muslims. It was also preached, by renowned clergymen that men who joined would have more favour with God. St. Bernard said about the crusades “Rejoice…if you live and conquer in the Lord, but exalt and glory even more if you die and join the Lord” (H.G. Koenigsberger 187). The crusades brought many benefits; food, textiles and also the spread of Islamic science and art, which would greatly benefit Europe who, was somewhat behind.
The quest for knowledge was rejuvenated with the growth of cathedral schools. However church schools could only teach so much. Universities grew due to the formation of guilds of teachers and pupils and also because of finance from the church and the wealthy. The University of Paris was the largest of its time specialising in liberal arts. These schools sparked a return to philosophy. Scholastism was the philosophy of the church, where the church and its teachings were the ultimate authority. However philosophical disputes soon arose, this was known as the battle of Universals. One position was called the Realist position. This was the idea that body and soul were separate. The soul goes to its ideal realisation, heaven, there is no need to worry about the material world. The opposing argument was known as the Nominalalist position, “that physical were the only reality” (Robert E. Lamm 212). The middle ground between these two arguments was known as Conceptualism, put forth by Peter Abelard, it suggests that “reality as idea exists only in the sense-apparent object” (Robert E. Lamm 213).
Monasticism was a way of life for those who thought everyday life too sinful, and decided to devote themselves to God, either communally in the monastery or lavriote, a life of solitude. St Benedict around five hundred and forty AD set down rules which were to become the basis for monastic life in the Catholic church; poverty, obedience, chastity, and work. In these monasteries theology was preserved. A different form of monasticism developed in Ireland due to the fact it was isolated from the rest of Europe. Monks were more like the hermits of Egypt rather those of Roman Christianity. Scholarship developed in these monasteries, also a new form of art called Hiberno-Saxon. These monasteries kept literacy skills alive. Monks would transcribe and decorate sacred texts by hand. Such texts include the Book of Kells and the Lindisfaire Gospels.
Religion also played a part in revolutionising the arts, language and literature were revived. Numerous accounts of the crusades were written in various languages, such as Geoffrey de Villehordouin’s of the forth crusade written in French, the first text in French of its kind and Seigneur de Jounville’s History of Saint Louis. Another famous literary work was Dante’s Divine Comedy, written during the High Middle Ages. In this work Dante discusses all level of being; hell, purgatory, and paradise. In this work he explains his ultimate goal as a man, a union with God, or the achievement of a heavenly state.
Religious life also influence architecture. Architecture was rejuvenated around one thousand AD and became the main artistic focus of the time. Architecture progressed from Romanesque Style to Gothic Style, with their origins in the Carolingian Renaissance. One thousand AD marked the beginning of a vast building program throughout Europe. During this period some of the most beautiful building ever built were erected in the name of God for example Notre Dame, St. Benoit-sur-Loire and the Cathedral at Reims. These buildings included intricate carvings of religious symbols, scenes, and saints also stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible. Pope Gregory allowed this to be possible, in the early Middle Ages, by allowing the depiction of religious scenes. He knew that since the majority of the population was illiterate visual images would have more of an impact and would aid the reach Christian teaching.
Religion also had an impact on Music. The first music written during the Middle Ages was written for the church. Monophonic, Gregorian Chant, was a single lyric with no accompaniment was the official music of the Church. It is said that Pope Gregory ordered a body of work organised for the church, which came to over three thousand melodies. Monophonic later developed by the addition of extra words and notes varying the pattern and later varying melodies leading to what was named polyphonic. These extra words and notes led to the development of drama as part of Mass and then led to spoken drama or plays. Medieval dance was also a form of worship but this changed to entertainment during the high Middle Ages.
Religion effected all aspects of medieval life, religion made people grow and develop, helping fill the void left by the fall of the Roman Empire. The barbaric, culture less life that was left after the decline of the Roman Empire was reinvented by those seeking God and salvation. By one thousand AD virtually all of Europe was converted to Christianity, even the most reluctant, the Vikings had converted. The Middle ages was the age of Faith.