Medieval Religion

Why was the Catholic Church powerful?

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Answered 2010-10-27 23:44:38

Throughout most of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had a monopoly for religion in Western Europe. Few would challenge the Church for fear of eternal damnation.

Those the Church wished to punish could be excommunicated, which meant the disgrace of being unable to be buried in the church cemetery, as well as being thought to suffer an eternity in hell. The church often also referred those it regarded as criminals to the secular authorities for trial and appropriate punishment, thus relieving the clergy of the stain of blood on their hands. Any secular ruler who failed to implement the wishes of the church in these matters would himself risk punishment by the Church. Thus, the Catholic Church was feared absolutely.

When it was in the interests of the Church to do so, it could invite one ruler to invade another kingdom in order to eliminate a troublesome king, under the promise of the right to annexe territory. The Catholic Church eventually eliminated the troublesome Cathar non-Catholic sect in what is now southern France, by inviting the king of France to invade and annexe the Cathar territory. Thousand of western Christians heeded the Church's call for Crusades in the Holy Land, although the motivation was often for plunder, adventure and sport.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church held to itself the sole right to try or punish its own clergy. After the end of the Roman Empire, even the most powerful kings were not able to move against members of the clergy who challenged them or committed crimes against the secular laws.

The Church built up huge landholdings, worked by serfs or slaves, and its wealth was greater than any one kingdom.

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