- May 8, 2020
CORRUPTION IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH DURING THE MIDDLE AGES
CORRUPTIONIN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH DURING THE MIDDLE AGES
The Catholic Church dominated the westernworld between 590 and 1517. The church fully controlled and dominatedover religion. In addition, it also regulated philosophy, morals,politics, education and art. As a result of neglect of vital Biblicaldoctrines of Christianity, the Catholic Church controlled most of thelife aspects. It had full domination over the decisions thatpolitical institutions made. Theologically, the Catholic Church wasailing and most of its requirements led to atrocious corruptions. Itis during this era that Rome nearly departed from teaching Biblicallessons. The church engrossed in heresy to an extent that it was notpossible to regulate the corrupt deals that took place in theinstitution in the name of corruption and other evils. The essaycritically evaluates some of the causes of this aspect of corruptionduring the middle ages, ways in which the leaders manifestedcorruption and how corruption impacted on the society and to theChurch from a historical perspective. Given the fact that theCatholic Church had power over political and religious systems, itsexercise of power created a situation that the society then referredto as ‘dark days’ for religion.
In the 1500s, the Catholic Church becamevery powerful for several reasons. The church indoctrinated to thegeneral population that they could only get to heaven throughCatholic. Consequently, the number of catholic believers increaseddrastically. The Church then had great control over western Europe.People saw no better alternative to believing in these teachings.There were more believers ready to take in any instruction. Thisdirectly put power into the hands of the clergy1.At any local level, the priest had absolute power on behalf of theChurch. Consequently, the community viewed the local priest as the‘ticket’ to heaven. They had acquired this lesson from birth andnobody could preach otherwise. Ordinarily, centralization of powerleads to power misuse and abuse of the same. From the way in whichthe general public and society viewed the Catholic Church, there wasno doubt that it was easy for the religious leaders to practicedominance and engage in corrupt deals.
Relations between the Catholic Church andthe people were primarily determined by money and other valuables. Inthis era, therefore, the Catholic Church became very rich. Thewealthy societies could buy their children and descendants leadershippositions in the church. This was a form of bribery, but there was nochance and possibility of opposing any move that the clergy made. Ingeneral, the ultimate power was with the Church and money was themediator between religion and the society. A peasant had to pay forhis or her child to be cherished, an incident that was seen as aninitial step towards getting to heaven. The religious teachingsdeviated from the expectations of the Holy Bible. The church becameso rich that poor people did not easily find it possible to ‘makeit to heaven.’
There are different ways in which theCatholic Church exercised corruption and injustice in the middleages. Before the onset of such corruption incidents, the clergymembers got well-educated and the society treated them as learnedpeople in the communities from which they came. However, this changedwhen corruption deals set into the church. Given that most of the topleaders in the church simply bribed their ways to the top, illiteracywas imminent in the church. This was an indication ofnon-qualification of the church. A believer’s family wealth andsocioeconomic background played an important in determining whetheror not he/she was fit to hold a leadership position in the Church.Like in today’s political and job arena in most countries, the richpeople occupied the top positions in leadership irrespective of theireducation levels2.
The church then became very extravagant andthe clergy lived very luxurious lives. To meet the costs of suchextravagancies, new corrupt measures were implemented. The Christianteachings that pilgrim’s relic sites and holy placed were fit to beused for repentance appeared as a green opportunity for the church.In the Middle Ages, therefore, some members of the clergy easily tookadvantage of this position to make themselves and those close to themrich. They charged some fee for the people who wanted to visit theseplaces for repentance purposes. The funds that they raised from thesecorrupt contributions got into construction of cathedrals,universities and also personal expenses. For example, Fredrick I, aprince in the northern Germany reported to have collected more than17000 relics through this practice. In addition, Simony, the art ofselling church positions to rich members of the society, complimentedthe costs incurred in the operations of the Church.
The pope was perfect in the eyes of many.The church was quick to notice this and take advantage of it indeceiving the general public. Indulgences were the result of thisopportunity. The church produced certificates in bulk. The popesigned all the certificates and the clergy distributed them out tothe public. The believers bought the certificates as a symbol thattheir sines were forgiven by the pope3.The ability of the pope to pardon sinners appeared as a normal aspectof the catholic church belief. According to the biblical teachings,however, it is only God who has the power to forgive sin. The MiddleAges went through challenges in understanding what the real conceptof the forgiveness of sin was. The fact that the catholic churchasked for payment in return to forgiveness of sin indicated that thechurch was corrupt and asked for money where it was not due. Bydeceiving its believers, the Roman Catholic Church appeared as onethat did not take into account any instructions that Jesus providedto his disciples and his followers on the forgiveness of sins.
Another instance of corruption in thechurch during the medieval era was grant of expectations. Lifeexpectancy was particularly low in the middle ages. When a member ofthe clergy approached death, the church sold an expectation. Thissale assured the purchaser of the vacant position in advance. Upondeath of the clergy member, the ‘expectant’ smoothly occupied theoffice. Unlike in the contemporary society where the church has tofollow biblical and doctrinal policies in recruiting and selectingnew members of the clergy, the case of middle ages was different. TheChurch was so corrupt that it ended up having clergymen and womenthat did not qualify for any position. The love for money dominatedthe church to an extent that even the society saw it as a normalthing and faith was based on the doctrines that the church imposed onits believers.
There are times when opposing institutionsfiled complaints against the church authorities and their modes ofoperation. Naturally, most lawsuits took too long consequent tocompeting claims. The legal cases were long, expensive andcomplicated. In some instances, the duration was too long to theextent that both litigants died. These cases also appeared aslucrative business for the Papal court. The handlers of these caseswho were mainly members of the clergy scoffed chunks of money in formof bribes from the litigants, but in the end the cases were notresolved. In the legal departments, the Church did not deliverquality services and the slow pace of handling cases made itdifficult for people to rely on this path towards solving theirproblems and disputes. Notwithstanding all the other problems thatthe society had to go through in supporting the church and its modesof operation, the impact of these dealings were severe. Mostespecially, the impacts were felt within the church itself. Theeffects of corruption to the Roman Catholic Church were severe.
As a result of corruption, the Catholicchurch realized high extent of immorality in the clergy. Celibacy wasmade a Roman Church law. In return, all manners of immorality croppedinto the clergy. Most members of the clergy hosted mistresses4.This converted the convents to houses of immoral fame. The priestscould keep many mistresses and abuse them as a result of the powerand fame that they had. In doing this, sexual immorality becamepronounced in the church, especially in the convents. According tothe Roman Catholic church, the priests and most members of the clergywere not allowed to marry or have families. In fact, they did nothave families in the eyes of most believers. Their indulgence in highimmorality levels came as a result of their abilities to cater forthe costs incurred in hosting such mistresses.
Faith declined among the people. Havingwitnessed and seen what the members of the clergy did, most of themembers of the community opted to abandon their faith and believeonly in the teachings of the clergymen and women. Biblical teachingsnearly became neglected since money matters dominated the RomanCatholic Church and the entire western society then5.There was no room for opposition of the teachings and practicesimposed on the society since the church controlled all sectorsincluding political positions.
As a result of the corrupt deals, thechurch ended up having illiterate members of the clergy. Most of thetop position holders found their way to the top through politicalinfluence or purchase of these political positions. This worsened thesituation in the churches since the ignorance levels rose in theclergy. In return, the church became very rich and the clergymen andwomen did nothing better than live luxurious lives.
Corruption in the church in the middleages, therefore, directly arose from the power that the institutionheld. Through domination of political, social and spiritual aspectsof life, the church had control over the western side of the world,especially Europe and Germany. Corruption through sale of jobs,facilities and forgiveness finally led to serious consequences thatthe church itself did not realize. The results were so grave that thesociety also ended up living an immoral life just as the members ofthe clergy did.
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Fanning,Don. 2009. Roman Catholic eraMedieval Period. London: LibertyUniversity, (accessed November 19, 2016).
Hilbert,Leigh. The influence and controlof the catholic church. (Oakland:Oakland University, 2012): 1-8.
Hakari,Andrea. 1999. Corruption andControversy: Simony, lay investiture, and clerical marriage and thecelibacy in the Catholic church during the eleventh and twelfthcenturies. United States:University of Wisconsin. (accessed on November 19, 2016)
Tingle,Elizabeth. 2014. "Indulgences in the Catholic Reformation."Reformation & Renaissance Review: Journal Of The Society ForReformation Studies 16, no. 2: 181-204. Academic Search Complete,EBSCOhost (accessed October 21, 2016).
1 Elizabeth Tingle. 2014. "Indulgences in the Catholic Reformation." Reformation & Renaissance Review: Journal Of The Society For Reformation Studies 16, no. 2: 181-204. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost
2Don, Fanning. Roman Catholic era Medieval Period. (London: Liberty University, 2009)12-22.
3, Jack, Arnold L. The Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. Reformation of Men and Theology, Lesson 1 of 11.
4 Andrea, Hakari, Corruption and Controversy: Simony, lay investiture, and clerical marriage and the celibacy in the Catholic church during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. (United States: University of Wisconsin, 1999)
5 Leigh, Hilbert. The influence and control of the catholic church. (Oakland: Oakland University, 2012): 1-8