Religious Order

of the Middle Ages

Background Information

The gradual decline of the Roman Empire gave way to an era of European history called the Middle Ages (Medieval Period) that existed from 500 - 1500. A series of changes altered the society, including their religious culture. Christianity began among a small number of Jews (about 120, see Acts 1:15). Christianity was seen as a threat to the Roman Empire as Christians refused to worship the Roman gods or the Emperor. This resulted in the persecution of the early Christians, many of whom were killed and thus became martyrs to the Christian religion. The prosecution of adherents to the Christian religion ended during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Emperor Constantine I (AD ca. 285 - AD 337) of the Roman Empire legalized Christianity and Constantine the Great proclaimed himself as an 'Emperor of the Christian people'. Most of the Roman Emperors that came after Constantine were Christians. Christianity then became the official religion of the Roman Empire instead of the old Roman religion that had worshiped many Gods.

Medieval Lives in the Middle Ages

The period of the Dark Ages saw the growth in the power of the Christian Church which was then referred to as the Catholic religion. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, the only recognized religion was Christianity, in the form of the Catholic religion. The lives of the Medieval people were dominated by the church. From the time they were born to the time of their demise, their life was dominated by the church. It didn't matter whether you were a peasant, a serf, a noble a lord or a King- the church's influence didn't discriminate. Various religious institutions became important, rich and, and most importantly, powerful. The lives of many Medieval people were dedicated to to the Catholic church and religion.

What is Christianity?

The Christian religion, or Christianity, is the system of religious belief and practice which was taught by Jesus Christ in the country of Palestine during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (42 BC - AD 37). Christianity took its rise in Judaism. Jesus Christ, its founder, and His disciples were all orthodox Jews. The new Christian religion emerged based on the testimony of the Scriptures, as interpreted by the life of Jesus Christ and the teaching of His Apostles, which were documented in the Bible.

The Catholic Church

Medieval Europe: Religion In Medieval Europe

The Power of the Catholic Church

The Catholic church was a very powerful institution that had its own laws and lands. The Catholic Church also imposed taxes. In addition to collecting taxes, the Church accepted gifts of all kinds from individuals who wanted special favors or wanted to be certain of a place in heaven. The power of the Catholic Church grew with its wealth. Once its power grew, the Catholic Church was then able to influence the kings and rulers of Europe. Opposition to the Catholic Church resulted in excommunication. Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a religious community or (as in the case of the Catholic Church) to restrict certain rights within it. This meant that the person who was excommunicated could not attend any church services, receive the sacraments and would go straight to hell when they died.

The Pope

The Job of the Pope. The Pope is the leader of the Roman Catholic church. He is elected by the cardinals for life. The Popes of the Middle Ages became powerful and highly influential. The religious fervor of the Popes of the Middle Ages transferred into medieval culture.

Infallibility of the Pope. While this was not an officially declared dogma of the Roman Church (it became official dogma in 1870), it was an assumed fact. As early as 590, Gregory the Great called himself "the servant of servants," believing that he was supreme among all bishops. Another pope, Hildebrand or Gregory VII (11th century), held that, as vicar of Christ and representative of Peter, he could give or take empires. Everyone from the lowest peasant to the highest ruler was to recognize him as Christ's representative on earth and supreme ruler over all religious and political matters. Another pope (14th century) Boniface VII, said,"We declare, state, define and pronounce that for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pope is altogether necessary for salvation" (Caper, The Church in History).


Church leaders such as bishops and archbishops sat on the king's council and played leading roles in government. Bishops, who were often wealthy and came from noble families, ruled over groups of parishes called "diocese."


What are they?

Cathedrals are Christian churches which contain the official "seat" or throne of a bishop. They were laid out in the shape of the Christian symbol of the cross. They had a Gothic architectural style with flying buttresses, pointed arches, stained glass windows, rose windows, and gargoyles.


Parish priests came from humbler backgrounds and often had little education. The village priest tended to the sick and indigent and, if he was able, taught Latin and the Bible to the youth of the village.


The Church built religious communities called monasteries. Monasteries in the Middle Ages were based on the rules set down by St. Benedict in the sixth century. There, men called Monks became servants of god.

The Monks

The monks became known as Benedictines and took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to their leaders. They were required to perform manual labor and were forbidden to own property, leave the monastery, or become entangled in the concerns of society. Daily tasks were often carried out in silence. Monks and their female counterparts, nuns, who lived in convents, provided for the less-fortunate members of the community. Monasteries and nunneries were safe havens for pilgrims and other travelers. Monks went to the monastery church eight times a day in a routine of worship that involved singing, chanting, and reciting prayers from the divine offices and from the service for Mass. The first office, "Matins," began at 2 A.M. and the next seven followed at regular intervals, culminating in "Vespers" in the evening and "Compline" before the monks retired at night. Between prayers, the monks read or copied religious texts and music. Monks were often well educated and devoted their lives to writing and learning. The Venerable Bede, an English Benedictine monk who was born in the seventh century, wrote histories and books on science and religion.

The Great Schism and the Great Western Schism

From 1378-1417 there were three simultaneous popes, each claiming to be the true pope: Urban VII, an Italian; Clement VII, a Frenchman; and a third pope elected by the Council of Pisa. For several years there were three popes anathematizing and excommunicating one another.