Short Catechism of Church History - J. Oechtering




Benefits Which the Church Bestowed


Upon the World During the Middle Ages


110. Q. What did the Church do for the nations in the Middle Ages?

R. She bestowed innumerable blessings upon the nations, which had been pagan and savage, and became civilized and Christian through her labors.

111. Q. Name some of these blessings

R. Under her influence wise laws and constitutions were framed for the welfare of the people. (Magna Charta in England). She abolished slavery, founded hospices for travelers, hospitals for the sick, orphanages and foundling asylums; she established and endowed schools, colleges, and universities in all Christian countries; she fostered art and science. Architecture flourished in the Roman and Gothic styles. In her convents countless books were written or copied; painting, sculpture, and music were developed.

112. Q. Which were the greatest of these blessings bestowed by the Church?

R. The greatest of the manifold blessings, bestowed by the Church upon the people of the middle ages, were:

1) A strong and fervent faith, which pervaded and consecrated private and public life.

Nations, cities and princes vied with each other in building beautiful churches, convents and institutions for every kind of charity and Christian education. Religious vocations were plentiful. Family life was guarded and sanctified by the sacramental and indissoluble bond of matrimony. War and peace, arts and sciences, trades, professions and the business world, were placed under the elevating protection of religion and its saints.

Shrines of Our Saviour, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints were conspicuous by the road sides and in the public places of towns and cities.

Countless pilgrims visited the sacred shrines of Palestine, Rome, Compostella and other places. This holy faith embraced all civilized nations and united them into one family under their spiritual father, the pope.

2) The gift of holiness, by which a wonderful array of men and women in the higher as well as the lower walks of life became canonized saints.

Great popes like St. Nicholas I. and St. Gregory VII., bishops like St. Malachy of Armagh, St. Anselm and St. Thomas of Canterbury, ruled the flock of Christ.

The religious life produced numerous saints in the old and in new orders, for instance the remarkable Benedictine nuns St. Hildegard, St. Gertrude, and St. Matilda, who were favored with heavenly visions and wrote books full of wisdom and holiness. Many saints in the lower and higher ranks of the laity. St. Isidore, a laborer, whom angels replaced at the plow, while he prayed. St. Zita, a servant, whose saying was: "The hand at work and the heart with God." St. Notburga, whose sickle was kept suspended in midair during her devotions.

The thrones of Christendom were rich in saints. During the life of Otto I. three canonized empresses graced the throne of Germany, St. Matilda, St. Edith, St. Adelaide. Emperor Henry II. and his wife Cunigundis led a life of virginal chastity, devoted to works of piety and charity, and built 900 churches and convents; St. Edward of England, who carried a poor cripple to church and miraculously cured him; St. Louis of France, the crusader, to whom, when a child, his holy mother Blanca said: "I would rather see thee dead on my lap, than ever know thee guilty of a mortal sin;" St. Casimir of Poland, who in a fatal sickness preferred death to the least infringement of his angelic chastity; St. Elisabeth of Thuringia, whose boundless charity was glorified by the miracle of the roses; St. Malcom and St. Margaret of Scotland, St. Ferdinand of Spain, St. Alfonso and St. Elisabeth of Portugal, St. Hedwig of Poland and many other royal saints, burning with the love of God and his poor, and models of humility and mortification amid the splendors of their courts, as the emblem of their dignity expressed: The crown surmounted by the cross.

113. Q. What great religious orders were founded during this epoch?

R. The two great orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans were founded in the beginning of the thirteenth century, and became beacons of holiness and learning to the world.

St. Francis of Assisi, the saint of seraphic love, founded the Franciscan  order, which gave to a worldly age the great example of evangelical poverty and missionary zeal. He received from Our Lord the stigmata, or five sacred wounds. One of his greatest disciples was St. Anthony of Padua, the wonderworker. His spiritual daughter, St. Clare, founded the order of Poor Clares.

St. Dominic founded the Dominican  order, which gave to the Church great missionaries and theologians. He devoted himself to the conversion of the Albigenses and introduced the rosary.

St. Robert founded the Cistercian  order, of which St. Bernard, the great servant of Mary, became the shining light.

St. Bruno of Cologne founded the Carthusian  order, famous for its practice of lifelong penance and silence. The daily greeting of the monks is: "memento mori" ("Remember death").

St. Norbert, one of the most holy and eloquent men of his time, founded the Premonstratensians.

Berthold, the crusader, built a convent on Mt. Carmel in Palestine, and founded the order of the Carmelites, which spread the devotion of the Scapular of the Blessed Virgin over the whole world.

St. John de Matha founded the order of Trinitarians, which delivered innumerable Christians from Mohammedan slavery.

114. Q. What monuments are left to testify to the work of the Church during the Middle Ages?

R. Great cities, magnificent cathedrals, convents, universities, countless works of art, and especially immense libraries, have been left as imposing monuments of the work of God's Church during the Middle Ages.

About the year 1500, Europe had 66 universities, which held their charter from the popes. Although in different nations, they had one common language, Latin, so that learning became international. The number of students was larger than in our modern universities, for instance Paris had 20,000 ( A.D. 1538), Prague 36,000 ( A.D. 1403), Oxford 30,000 ( A.D. 1340.)

Medical science formed an important branch of university studies. During the earlier centuries of the middle ages medicine was taught and practiced in the monastery schools. The oldest medical school was at Salerno, Italy. About the year 1100 it was frequented by 1200 medical students. To obtain a doctor-diploma a classical course of 3 years was required, followed by a 4 years' medical course and one year's practice under an experienced physician.

115. Q. What illustrious and holy doctors flourished in this age?

R. During this age flourished the great doctors of the Church, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and many other great teachers of sacred learning.

Theology in the middle ages was distinguished according to the method of study as:

1) Scholastic theology, which followed a strictly scientific method in arranging, developing and arguing Catholic truth. St. Anselm is considered its founder, and Blessed Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, called Angel of the Schools, and St. Bonaventure, called the Seraphic doctor, are honored as its greatest lights.

2) Mystic theology, which followed the method of contemplation. Blessed Bernard, its chief representative, laid down the axiom: "God is so far known as He is loved." Blessed Thomas Kempis, author of the "Imitation of Christ" belonged to this school.

116. Q. What great discoveries mark the close of the Middle Ages?

R. 1) The invention of the art of printing by Johann Guttenberg (1450) at Strasburg, Germany. The first book printed was a Latin Bible.

At the end of the middle ages there existed translations of the Bible in almost every language of the Christian world; 30 in German, 20 in Italian, 26 in French, 19 in Flemish, 2 in Spanish, 6 in Bohemian, 1 in Swedish, and a far larger number of partial translations or of such selections from the Bible as were best fitted for the edification of the people.

2) The invention of the mariner's compass by Flavio Gioja in Italy about the same time.

3) The invention of gunpowder by a German monk, Berthold Schwarz, at Freiburg, about 1370.

4) The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492, which opened new and immense fields of labor for apostolic men.

Columbus as well as the Franciscan fathers who befriended him, and Queen Isabella, his generous patroness, were animated by a holy zeal for saving souls and spreading the kingdom of God in these newly discovered lands.

5) The Renaissance or revival of the ancient literature and arts of Greece and Rome, which, especially after the fall of Constantinople spread over Europe, and was fostered mainly by the Popes.

Michael Angelo, Raphael, Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Guido Reni: painters; Dante, Petrarch: poets. They have been the acknowledged masters and models, in art and literature ever since.

6) The revival of the study of ancient Roman law, which developed the science of law; though some of its principles were often abused by princes in the interest of absolute power.

Roman law, or the law of ancient pagan Rome, was remarkable for clearness and system. After Constantine's conversion, its harshness was in many respects softened through the influence of the Church.

The law of the newly converted barbarian nations rested on custom and was according to their state very primitive. But as their advancing civilization, outgrew in simplicity, the Church supplied the want from her own canon law. The influence of its mild spirit proved so great a blessing, that princes and people often preferred the ecclesiastical to the civil law courts.

With the rapid progress of the middle ages in commerce by land and sea, in trade and arts, in the founding and growth of cities, the use of the elaborate and practical Roman law became in many respects desirable. But its study was only in so far favored by the Church, as its pagan character was changed according to Christian principles. The abuse of Roman law, as well as of ancient literature, consisted in the adoption of their pagan ideas.

117. Q. What does this show?

R. This shows that the Catholic Church had educated the once barbarian nations to a high degree, and that to her belongs the merit of the great discoveries, which changed the world and introduced the modern age.

NOTE.—The nations of Europe had been converted and civilized, the soil was under cultivation, commerce and traffic expanded over land and sea, art and science flourished, higher and elementary education were provided for by numerous universities, colleges, and schools, institutions of charity covered the land, the trades were protected by guilds, and all men and nations were united by the one great bond of Catholic faith and charity. This was the work of the Holy Catholic Church.