October 23, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Medieval Church: Positive events during the 11th century

John F. Fink(Eleventh in a series of columns)

During the past five weeks, I’ve written about some of the troubles in the Church during the 11th century. I’ve probably spent too much time with that century, but it was a particularly bad time since it included the East-West Schism of 1054, right when the papacy was battling against outside interference, first by Roman families and then by the Holy Roman emperor.

But we must not think that good things didn’t happen during that century, too.

For example, this is when Christianity spread in the East. In Russia, it happened just before the 11th century began, in 988, when Prince Vladimir, the ruler of Kievan-Rus in what is now Ukraine, was baptized in the Dnieper River along with thousands of his subjects. Of course, after the East-West Schism, those Christians became part of the Orthodox Church.

Hungary became a Christian country when St. Stephen was crowned its king on Christmas Day in 1001. Stephen welded the Magyars together into a strong national group, and then asked Pope Silvester III to confer the title of king on him. He is highly revered in Hungary yet today.

Things didn’t go quite so well in neighboring Poland. There, St. Stanislaus, the Bishop of Krakow, became involved in the political situation. King Boleslaus killed him with his own hands in 1079. St. Stanislaus is now the patron saint of Poland, and is revered along with the English martyrs Sts. Thomas Becket and Thomas More for their opposition to kings.

Speaking of England, the 11th century saw the reign of King Edward the Confessor. He was known for his piety and is the only English king to be canonized. He might be best known for building Westminster Abbey, where he is buried. He died in 1066.

Later in 11th century England, St. Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury. He fought with English King Henry I over the issue of lay investiture much as Pope Gregory VII did with Emperor Henry IV.

Just to the north of England, St. Margaret of Scotland was known for her efforts to reform the Church, just as Pope Gregory VII and St. Peter Damian were doing in Rome. She and her husband Malcolm called synods to try to bring the Church of Scotland up to date with the rest of the Church. She died in 1093, one of the great figures of Scotland.

Back on the European continent, the Cluniac Reform reached its peak. Named for the Benedictine Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, it encouraged stricter monastic discipline while promoting art and literature. The Abbey of Cluny controlled more than 200 monasteries at one time.

St. Bruno was another reformer of the 11th century. Although he supported Pope Gregory VII in his efforts to reform the clergy, he dreamed of living in solitude and prayer. Eventually, he was given some land in the Chartreuse Mountains where he founded the Carthusians in 1084, the same year that Emperor Henry IV seized Rome and forced Pope Gregory VII to flee.

In 1098, St. Robert of Molesme founded another strict religious order, the Cistercians, from which came the Trappists. †

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