The Church and the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages were a period in Europe dating from the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, around the 5th century. However, the fixing of dates for the beginning and end of the Middle Ages is arbitrary. According to the Norton Anthology, "Medieval social theory held that society was made up of three 'estates': the nobility, composed of a small hereditary aristocracy,...,the church, whose duty was to look after the spiritual welfare of that body, and everyone else..."( Norton 76).
According to Microsoft Encarta, "No one definitive event marks the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. By the end of the 5th century the culmination of several long-term trends, including a severe economic dislocation and the invasions and settlement of Germanic peoples within the borders of the Western empire, had changed the face of Europe. For the next 300 years western Europe remained essentially a primitive culture, albeit one uniquely superimposed on the complex, elaborate culture of the Roman Empire, which was never entirely lost or forgotten in the Early Middle Ages"(Microsoft).
The only universal European institution was the church, and even there a fragmentation of authority was the rule; all the power within the church hierarchy was in the hands of the local bishops. The church basically saw itself as the spiritual community of Christian believers, in exile from God's kingdom, waiting in a hostile world for the day of deliverance. The most important members of this community were found outside the hierarchy of the church government in the monasteries that dotted Europe.
According to Microsoft Encarta, "The early Middle Ages drew to a close in the 10th century with the new migrations and invasions, the coming of...