This series is based on my research for Daermad Cycle, a Celtic-inspired fantasy series.
You can’t really argue that the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church did not act upon their own earthly ambitions for wealth, power, and political control. They even declared and participated in wars of conquest with the Church’s own armies under the command of the Pope. Consider the use of power by the Church during the Papal reign of Innocent III (1198-1216):
“Innocent forced the whole temporal power of Europe under his will. He not only interfered in all dynastic affairs, he even arranged the marriages of the temporal rulers and compelled them to obtain a divorce in case the union did not suit him …
“Innocent thought of himself as pope and Caesar in one person and saw in the temporal rulers only vassals of his power, tributary to him … By the establishment of oral confession and the organization of mendicant monks, Innocent created for himself a power of tremendous scope. Furthermore, he made free use of his strongest weapon, the ban of the church, which with unyielding resolution he imposed upon whole countries in order to make the temporal rulers submissive to him.
“In a land hit by the ban all churches remained closed. No bells called the faithful to prayer. There were neither baptisms nor weddings, no confessions were received, no dying were given extreme unction and no dead buried in sanctified ground. One can imagine the terrible effects of such a status on the spirit of men at a time when faith was regarded as supreme.
“Just as Innocent tolerated no equal power, he likewise permitted no doctrine which departed in the least from the usage of the church, even through entire imbued with the spirit of true Christianity … The dominant ambitious spirit of this fearful man balked at no means to guard the unlimited authority of the church.” Rudolf Rocker, Nationalism and Culture (1947)
The unbending tyranny of this theological authoritarianism expected obedience from everyone. Even Innocent III himself became enveloped in this all-encompassing power, saying “I have no leisure to pursue other worldly things; I can scarcely find time to breathe. Truly, so completely must I live for others that I have become a stranger to myself.”
The Church’s position made it unique in another way, because its domain was neither a single country nor region. By the 7th century, its offices and representatives were located in every part of the European continent in which Christianity had triumphed.
The Church’s representatives shared a common value system – Christian church doctrine. They all spoke through the common language of Latin to share religious, philosophical, and administrative discourse. The Church’s outlook, in other words, was international. This cosmopolitan quality to the Church carried consequences:
All those monks and friars spoke the same unclassical Latin; they heard the same Mass wherever they went; they were formed by an education that was the same in all countries; they professed the same system of fundamental beliefs; and they all acknowledged the supreme authority of the Pope, which was essentially international: their country was Christendom, and their state was the Church.
National divisions did not mean to them [the Church’s representatives] what they came to mean in the sixteenth century [with the rise of the modern nation-state]; nothing in the whole range of Dante’s political ideas is so striking as is the complete absence of the nationalist angle.
The result was the emergence of an essentially international civilization and an international republic of scholars that was no phrase but a living reality. St. Thomas was an Italian and John Duns Soctus was a Scotsman, but both taught in Paris and Cologne without encountering any of the difficulties that they would have encountered in the age of airplanes.” Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis (1954)
The Edict of 1041 (The Truce of God) emphasizes the significance of the Church’s authority in temporal affairs. The wars between the nobilities and the kings and princes had become so fierce and disruptive of social and economic life that the Church declared Thursday through Sunday as days of devotion and prayer, during which battles and bloodshed were declared sins against the Church. As a consequence, war diminished for a period of time and ceased through large parts of Europe. The cost of maintaining, paying, feeding, and housing sizable armies of mercenaries who could fight only three days a week – Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – was often too great a financial burden for the lords, noblemen, and princes who employed these professional soldiers.
While this partly succeeded in reducing or stopping fighting among many of the Medieval knights and their soldiers, the “sinfulness” only applied to violence between Christians. The prohibition did not restrict violence against non-Christians, so aggression against Jews, Muslims and “heretics” was still considered “moral” activity since they were against the “enemies” of the Church and the Christian faith.