Power in Perspective – Popes and Emperors

What were the reasons behind the conflicts between the emperors and the popes during this period?

Throughout western civilization, a conflict which has always been current news is the disagreement of “who has the authority”. It doesn’t matter how long the authority has existed, questions continue to arise, and rebellion is always a possibility. One of the most interesting conflicts to study, is the tension that exists between religious and political authorities.

Political authorities claim ultimate power because they have taken on the role of protecting the public. Their power extends as far as the public is willing to give them conrtol – in some cases, it has descended into the depths of communim and marxism. Power-hungry individuals can never be satisfied.

Although religous authorities do not object to the protection that political authorities offer, they do have an issue with government powers encroaching upon religous freedoms, such as the freedom to celebrate their religon however they see fit. Religous authorities in general, operate under a system of rules, traditions handed down by their mentors, and tend to lean toward the side of hypocritical thinking.

The problem with the battle of these two entities, is that the struggle will never be over, because there is no resolution. The key thing to remember, is that religous and political authorities operate under totally different mindsets. Political authorities operate under the power which they think has been given to them by the people, but religous authorities operate under the power they believe has been given to them by God.

In the case of the conflict between the Pope and the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the issue centered mainly on control. Barbarossa was interested in capturing Italy. Althought the Pope was in control over the Papal states which had been seperated from Italy, The Pope wasn’t stupid. He knew that men like Barbarossa would not be content to leave the small papal states alone, if they were just sitting there tempting him. The Pope tried to arrange a deal with Frederick in order to try to keep him away from Rome, but it backfired on him and turned into a “big mess”.

The Pope didn’t want to be ruled by the emperor, and he knew that it would be a real possibility if Frederick came to power in Italy. Beforehand, if an emperor had jurisdiction in the same area as the Pope, he would get involved with church affairs which were not rightfully his, like electing bishops and cardinals to church offices.

Although the Pope and the emperor both had the same goal – control – they were different in the way they wanted to act out that control. The Pope wanted control of the Catholic Church and of the people who had submitted to his authority. The emperor wanted control over everything, but only for the purpose of the expansion of His personal power and authority, not necessarily for the good of the believers in Rome.

Thanks for reading!


Power struggles and the Black Plague

(1) What was the significance of the conflict between Philip IV and Boniface VIII?
In the 14th century, the king of France (Phillip IV, also known as Phillip the Fair) and the Roman Pope (Boniface VIII) were at odds due to a variety of reasons.

The King had decided to levy taxes on the Catholic Church and the rest of the clergy, however Popes, bishops, and the owners of church property had not been previously taxed. Phillip had also failed to ask the Pope’s permission, and in doing so had undermined the Pope’s authority. Boniface reacted strongly to the new taxation, but Phillip merely retaliated with the declaration that money from the Church in France could not be transferred to the church in Rome. The Pope backed down and changed his mind on the taxation law, allowing him (perhaps grudgingly) to continue in his plan to tax the church.

Later however, Phillip imprisons one of Boniface’s appointed French bishops, which obviously would have angered the Pope. The tension continued to escalate. Pope Boniface wrote a letter to the French, clarifying the issue of the rights of the Pope versus the rights of the king. Whatever he may have said in the letter, did not get read to the public, or even to the King. Instead, the letter had been doctored by a group of people prior to it being presented to the public. The people understood the doctored letter to mean that the Pope believed himself to be the ultimate authority under God. They were confused and dissatisfied.

Regardless of the fact that the previous letter had been doctored, Bonficace then sent another letter, with his opinions stated in clearer terms: That the Pope is greater in authority than the King, and the King, in certain situations, must seek guidance and permission from the Pope. The King was very displeased with Boniface’s missive, and Boniface was prepared to excommunicate the king, when the angry Phillip sent men to harass Boniface, who soon died in 1303.

Conclusion: It all comes down to a power struggle. Neither the Pope nor the King actually cared about what was the right thing to do – They were more preoccupied with their own self-interests. The struggle was not new to Europe, and it wouldn’t end here – It’s the question of the ages. Who holds more earthly authority? A religious figure, or political figure?

(2) What were the effects of the Black Death on Europe?

The Black Death decimated Europe in the 14th century, killing between 1/4 and 1/2 of Europe’s population, although it’s often more specifically stated to be 1/3. Many people abandoned God and theology because, as they reasoned, He had abandoned them. (I explain this in more detail in another essay.) Of course, the plague disheartened the people so much that they despaired of ever getting out of it alive, and so they lived as though each day was their last, looting, drinking, and committing all sorts of crimes against the the State AND the ultimate moral code. However, the Black Death is only one of the contributing factors to a steady moral decline in Europe, a decline that has crept around the world and continues to grow to this day.

Gothic Architecture

What was a major innovation of the Gothic cathedral? How did the architecture of the cathedral reflect the prevailing idea of God?

The Gothic cathedrals differed from the Romanesque style of church-building in the methods they used to support the massive, heavy stone ceilings. Traditionally, churches would have to be small and sturdy, in order to hold up the heavy weight of thousands of pounds of stone. But an innovation called the “flying buttress”, an arch which distributed the weight of the roof to an exterior support, opened up a new world of architecture, the Gothic style, examples of which include soaring spires and elaborate engraving.

The architecture of Gothic cathedrals made it easier for larger windows to be put into churches, thereby letting in more light. With the imagery of Jesus as “the light of the world”, the increased lighting in cathedrals presented a spiritual dynamic for churchgoers. Additionally, since God was considered to be a God of order, and the “ultimate” mathematician, architects sought to show God’s character in the geometrically coherent structures that they designed to house the Church.

Thanks for reading!

PS – what do you think of the signout? I’ll be playing around with them a bit ’til I find one I like!

Was Boccaccio Better Suited as a Historian or a Story-teller?

I don’t particularly enjoy the study of medieval literature, but there are elements I prefer. I enjoy reading parts with suspense, mystery, and adventure, and I get frustrated with foolish characters or predictable plots. Medieval literature in general, seems to me to be low-quality. Theological documents may not have poor writing, but I also tend to disagree with a lot of Catholic opinions.

Giovani Boccaccio wrote the Decameron, a collection of 100 stories within one overall story. The book opens with an introduction to the Black Plague, the content of the first chapter. In fact, this section is one of the most important source documents for the history of the Black Plague. Bocaccio described the plague in chillingly real terms – the death and isolation caused waves of change that would ripple on for years. In his writing, Boccaccio is passionate, descriptive, and specific. As a historical document, it is anything but boring to read.

The second part of the book contains stories that Boccaccio made up or copied down. Boccaccio’s plot involved ten young people telling a story each for two days. The stories that the characters told were honestly, not interesting to me at all. Some could have been made into a thrilling novel, but Boccaccio obviously did not have that talent of grabbing the reader’s attention when making up stories. Sticking to dramatizing history would have been a better pursuit for him.

However, in his stories, Boccaccio was continually seeking to emphasize one point – that the church was insufficient, incompetent, and hypocritical. I think that, to him, getting his point across was more important than trying to make his writing good, lovely, pure, cohesive, interesting, thought-provoking, and deep. He focused more on the concepts of chance and fortune, airy-fairy plots, unrealistic choices, and, in general, he did not spend long enough on the individual events of a story or dramatize them at all.

In conclusion, I believe that Boccaccio wrote in a clearer, more interesting, and more dramatic fashion when he wrote on actual events.