The Rise of Islam and the Crusades (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.10)

In addition to the disputes between Christians, there were also other challenges that the Christians of the Middle Ages faced. One of the greatest challenges was a new religion, Islam. Muslims, followers of the religion of Islam, spread quickly across the Middle East and North Africa and into Europe, conquering many places that were important to Christians, destroying the last of the Roman Empire, and converting many people from Christianity to Islam.

Islam began with a man named Muhammad, who was born in about 570 in Mecca, a city on the Arabian Peninsula. At the time that Muhammad was born, the Arabs were divided into a number of different tribes which competed for power and wealth. Almost all of the Arab tribes were polytheistic, though there were a few Jews and Christians among them.

Muhammad was very interested in religion from a young age and spent time with the Jews and Christians to learn about their religions. He used to spend time alone in a cave in the mountains outside of Mecca praying and meditating. When he was about 40 years old, he told people that an angel had come to him while he was praying in the cave. He said the angel Gabriel had appeared to him. Gabriel had presented a book to him and ordered him to read from it. Muhammad then memorized and recited the words that Gabriel had given to him over many years. The book that was put together from Muhammad’s recitations is the Quran, the holy book of Islam. In Arabic, the language of the Quran, the word “Quran” means “recital.”

Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet sent by God to earth. Other prophets before him included Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon, and even Jesus. Muslims believe that each of the prophets was sent to bring people to monotheism and to submission to God. When a person becomes a Muslim they say a short creed, called the shahada, proclaiming their belief that “there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.”

The message of Islam took some time for the Arabs to accept. At first, many rejected Muhammad’s message and fought against him. After years of fighting, Muhammad’s followers were able to take over the city of Mecca, which, as Muhammad’s birthplace, became the holiest city in Islam. Eventually, the Muslims conquered all over the Arabian Peninsula and nearly all of the Arabs converted to Islam.

It was then that the Arabs, now united into a single kingdom and a single religion, began to invade the lands around the Arabian Peninsula. Within just a few centuries, the Muslims were able to conquer a vast empire that stretched from India in the east to Spain in the west. Along the way, the Muslims conquered or destroyed many empires which had dominated those areas for hundreds of years.

One of the empires the Muslims was the Byzantine Empire, what remained of the Eastern Roman Empire. As the Muslims steadily conquered the lands of the Byzantine Empire, including Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, the Byzantine emperor sent messages to the Pope begging him for help. Although the churches had split apart from each other, the Christians of Western Europe were eager to help their fellow Christians in the East. The Pope encouraged the Christian kings of Europe to put together an army, exclaiming “Deus Vult!,” which, in Latin, means “God wills it!”

The Christians of armies launched a series of Crusades, a word which means “Wars for the Cross,” beginning in 1096. At first, the Crusades were successful in recapturing land that had been taken from the Byzantine Empire. As time went on, however, enthusiasm for the Crusades waned among European Christians and the size and strength of the Muslim empire grew. The last few Crusades, launched in the 13th century, were terrible failures for the Christians, who lost all of the land they had taken from the Muslims and were unable to gain anymore. Although there were further attempts to launch a Crusade to reconquer important Christian sites like Jerusalem or to liberate Christian communities under Muslim power, each of these failed and the Byzantine Empire continued to shrink in size and significance.

Finally, in 1453, a Muslim army led by Mehmed II captured the city of Constantinople itself. On May 29, 1453, Mehmed’s army stormed the walls of Constantinople and made their way into the city. The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI Palaeologus, dressed in the clothing and armor of a common soldier and died fighting alongside his men. The largest Christian church in the world, the Hagia Sophia, was converted into a mosque, a place of worship for Muslims.

Ironically, the end of the last remaining part of the Roman Empire also led to the end of the Middle Ages. As refugees from the Byzantine Empire poured into Western Europe along with the Greek books and art they took with them, a rebirth of Greek and Roman civilization began to take place in Western Europe. As the old Roman and medieval chapters closed, a new and amazing chapter in Western Civilization was just beginning: the Renaissance.


Review Questions

1. What are people who practice the religion of Islam called?

2. Who is the founder of Islam?

3. Who was the last Byzantine emperor?

The Great Schism (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.9)

Ever since the division of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western halves, Christians in the East and the West had grown apart. In the West, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Christians looked to the bishop of Rome, called the Pope, as their leader. The Pope had power even over kings and emperors in Europe. Christians in Europe also used Latin as the language for their worship, whereas Christians in the East used the Greek language. In the East, the Roman Empire continued and became known as the Byzantine Empire. There, emperor was the highest authority, not a bishop. The disputes over language and who was in charge eventually caused Christendom, the lands of Christianity, to split into two churches.

In the West, the Pope had decided to add another word to the Nicene Creed, the statement of the beliefs of all Christians. That word was a Latin word, filioque, which means “and the Son.” Whereas the original Nicene Creed had said that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father,” the Pope changed the Creed to say that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Christians in the Byzantine Empire, however, did not like this change and a fight erupted over it.

In 1054, the Pope sent messengers to Constantinople to discuss the issue with the Byzantine emperor and the bishop of Constantinople, called the Patriarch. Only a few minutes into the meeting, the discussion turned into an argument and the Pope’s messengers stormed out. The next day, a Sunday morning, the messengers of the Pope walked into the Hagia Sophia, a large cathedral in Constantinople, while the oatriarch, the emperor, and others were in the middle of their worship service. The leader of the messengers marched up to the altar of the church and slammed a piece of paper down on the altar. On the paper was an official decree excommunicating the emperor and the patriarch. The Pope had kicked the Byzantines out of the Christian Church!

Of course, the Byzantines insisted that the Pope did not have the authority to do something like this. While the Pope had grown powerful in Europe, they said that he did not have the power to make decisions like this in the Byzantine Empire. So they decided to excommunicate the Pope!

The result was that Christianity split into two churches. In the Western part of Europe was the Catholic Church, with the Pope as its head. In the Eastern part of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East was the Orthodox Church, with the Patriarch of Constantinople as its leader. The split between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, called the Great Schism, continues even today, almost 1000 years later.


 Review Questions

 1. What was the cause of the split between Christians in 1054?

2. What two churches did Christians divide into?

3. What is the name of the split between these two churches?

Primary Source: Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.8)

Pages and squires were expected to read many books about the lives of the great knights and other warriors who had come before them. They were encouraged to imitate the examples of these great men. One of the most popular of these books was Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne. Charlemagne, which means “Charles the Great,” was a Frankish king who was crowed as the first Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope on Christmas Day in the year 800. Charlemagne was admired even in his own lifetime for his great learning, great virtue, and skill as a military leader. In the selection below, Einhard discusses Charlemagne’s looks and the things Charlemagne enjoyed doing.


Charles was large and strong, and of lofty stature, though not disproportionately tall (his height is well known to have been seven times the length of his foot); the upper part of his head was round, his eyes very large and animated, nose a little long, hair fair, and face laughing and merry. Thus his appearance was always stately and dignified, whether he was standing or sitting; although his neck was thick and somewhat short, and his belly rather prominent; but the symmetry of the rest of his body concealed these defects. His gait was firm, his whole carriage manly, and his voice clear, but not so strong as his size led one to expect. His health was excellent, except during the four years preceding his death, when he was subject to frequent fevers; at the last he even limped a little with one foot. Even in those years he consulted rather his own inclinations than the advice of physicians, who were almost hateful to him, because they wanted him to give up roasts, to which he was accustomed, and to eat boiled meat instead. In accordance with the national custom, he took frequent exercise on horseback and in the chase, accomplishments in which scarcely any people in the world can equal the Franks. He enjoyed the exhalations from natural warm springs, and often practised swimming, in which he was such an adept that none could surpass him; and hence it was that he built his palace at Aixla-Chapelle, and lived there constantly during his latter years until his death. He used not only to invite his sons to his bath, but his nobles and friends, and now and then a troop of his retinue or body guard, so that a hundred or more persons sometimes bathed with him.

Charles was temperate in eating, and particularly so in drinking, for he abominated drunkenness in anybody, much more in himself and those of his household; but he could not easily abstain from food, and often complained that fasts injured his health. He very rarely gave entertainments, only on great feast-days, and then to large numbers of people. His meals ordinarily consisted of four courses, not counting the roast, which his huntsmen used to bring in on the spit; he was more fond of this than of any other dish. While at table, he listened to reading or music. The subjects of the readings were the stories and deeds of olden time: he was fond, too, of St. Augustine’s books, and especially of the one entitled “The City of God.”

He was so moderate in the use of wine and all sorts of drink that he rarely allowed himself more than three cups in the course of a meal. In summer after the midday meal, he would eat some fruit, drain a single cup, put off his clothes and shoes, just as he did for the night, and rest for two or three hours. He was in the habit of awaking and rising from bed four or five times during the night. While he was dressing and putting on his shoes, he not only gave audience to his friends, but if the Count of the Palace told him of any suit in which his judgment was necessary, he had the parties brought before him forthwith, took cognizance of the case, and gave his decision, just as if he were sitting on the Judgment-seat. This was not the only business that he transacted at this time, but he performed any duty of the day whatever, whether he had to attend to the matter himself, or to give commands concerning it to his officers.

Charles had the gift of ready and fluent speech, and could express whatever he had to say with the utmost clearness. He was not satisfied with command of his native language merely, but gave attention to the study of foreign ones, and in particular was such a master of Latin that he could speak it as well as his native tongue; but he could understand Greek better than he could speak it. He was so eloquent, indeed, that he might have passed for a teacher of eloquence. He most zealously cultivated the liberal arts, held those who taught them in great esteem, and conferred great honors upon them. He took lessons in grammar of the deacon Peter of Pisa, at that time an aged man. Another deacon, Albin of Britain, surnamed Alcuin, a man of Saxon extraction, who was the greatest scholar of the day, was his teacher in other branches of learning. The King spent much time and labour with him studying rhetoric, dialectics, and especially astronomy; he learned to reckon, and used to investigate the motions of the heavenly bodies most curiously, with an intelligent scrutiny. He also tried to write, and used to keep tablets and blanks in bed under his pillow, that at leisure hours he might accustom his hand to form the letters; however, as he did not begin his efforts in due season, but late in life, they met with ill success.

He cherished with the greatest fervor and devotion the principles of the Christian religion, which had been instilled into him from infancy. Hence it was that he built the beautiful basilica at Aix-la-Chapelle, which he adorned with gold and silver and lamps, and with rails and doors of solid brass. He had the columns and marbles for this structure brought from Rome and Ravenna, for he could not find such as were suitable elsewhere. He was a constant worshipper at this church as long as his health permitted, going morning and evening, even after nightfall, besides attending mass; and he took care that all the services there conducted should be administered with the utmost possible propriety, very often warning the sextons not to let any improper or unclean thing be brought into the building or remain in it. He provided it with a great number of sacred vessels of gold and silver and with such a quantity of clerical robes that not even the doorkeepers who fill the humblest office in the church were obliged to wear their everyday clothes when in the exercise of their duties. He was at great pains to improve the church reading and psalmody, for he was well skilled in both although he neither read in public nor sang, except in a low tone and with others.

He was very forward in succoring the poor, and in that gratuitous generosity which the Greeks call alms, so much so that he not only made a point of giving in his own country and his own kingdom, but when he discovered that there were Christians living in poverty in Syria, Egypt, and Africa, at Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Carthage, he had compassion on their wants, and used to send money over the seas to them. The reason that he zealously strove to make friends with the kings beyond seas was that he might get help and relief to the Christians living under their rule.

He cherished the Church of St. Peter the Apostle at Rome above all other holy and sacred places, and heaped its treasury with a vast wealth of gold, silver, and precious stones. He sent great and countless gifts to the popes; and throughout his whole reign the wish that he had nearest at heart was to re-establish the ancient authority of the city of Rome under his care and by his influence, and to defend and protect the Church of St. Peter, and to beautify and enrich it out of his own store above all other churches. Although he held it in such veneration, he only repaired to Rome to pay his vows and make his supplications four times during the whole forty-seven years that he reigned.

Knights and Chivalry (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.7)

Medieval people used to say that there are three “orders,” or groups of people, in Christian society. There are, they said, “those who pray, those who work, and those who fight.” Most people, of course, were among “those who work.” The common people were all of the people who farmed, who built buildings, who made art, and did all of the other things necessary for any society to continue. The monks were “those who pray.” It was expected that they would help the rest of society by praying to God to protect them. “Those who fight” were called knights. It was the duty of knights to protect Christian kingdoms and villages from those who wanted to harm them.

Boys were chosen at a very young age to be knights, usually when they were babies. If a father wanted his son to become a knight someday, he would tell the child stories about other knights from a very young age and encourage his son to imitate the heroes of those stories. He would also teach the boy about good manners and courtesy as knights were expected to be very well-behaved. Most of the boy’s toys would be wooden swords and shields and other toy versions of things he would use as a knight.

Once the boy turned seven years old, his training as a knight began. He would be sent to a knight’s castle to be a page. As a page, the boy was expected to spend all of his time either learning or serving the other people in the castle. He was especially expected to serve the women of the castle. A page, for example, might be ordered to walk behind the lady of the castle, carrying the train of her dress, the part of the dress that would otherwise drag on the floor. A page might spent months doing this job in order to learn to treat women with respect. As a page, the boy would also study the great accomplishments of other knights and attend tournaments where knights displayed their skills by playing war games in front of crowds.

If the boy had done a good job as a page, he could be made a squire at the age of 14. As a squire, the boy dedicated more of his time to learning music, dancing, and other arts. He was also expected to perfect his etiquette by interacting with others in a courteous manner at all times. Squires also acted as assistants to knights. They carried the knights equipment around, helped the knights put their armor on, travelled with the knights, and even went into battle with them. In this way, the squire learned all about the how knights fought and the weapons they used to fight.

If the boy had done well as a squire, he would finally become a knight at about 21 years old. A great ceremony was held when a man became a knight. His armor would be placed on the altar of a church and he would stay awake all night in the church to guard it. In the morning, a worship service would be held in the church. After many prayers and blessings for the knight, he would at least kneel in front of a lord, a noble person who owned land, and would be knighted. The lord would swear to support the knight by paying for his equipment and a castle for him. The knight, in turn, pledged to serve the lord by protecting the lord’s lands from enemy invasions.

Once a man became a knight, he was expected to follow a strict code of honor called chivalry. The code of chivalry ordered that knights always observe the virtues. Knights were expected to be compassionate, temperate, diligent, and respectful. They were always to help those who were weaker than themselves and to obey those who had authority over them. The knights, “those who fight,” were expected by all people to keep Europe safe.


Review Questions

 1. What are the steps to becoming a knight?

2. What is chivalry?

Primary Source: The Rule of St. Benedict (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.6)

When St. Benedict founded his monastery, he wrote a book, called The Rule, which he expected all of the monks in his monastery to read. In The Rule, St. Benedict laid out the lifestyle that the monks in his monastery would live. In the selection below, Benedict lists the rules his monks must follow:

1. In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength.

2. Then, one’s neighbor as oneself.

3. Then not to murder.

4. Not to commit adultery.

5. Not to steal.

6. Not to covet.

7. Not to bear false witness.

8. To honor all.

9. And not to do to another what one would not have done to oneself.

10. To deny oneself in order to follow Christ.

11. To chastise the body.

12. Not to become attached to pleasures.

13. To love fasting.

14. To relieve the poor.

15. To clothe the naked.

16. To visit the sick.

17. To bury the dead.

18. To help in trouble.

19. To console the sorrowing.

20. To become a stranger to the world’s ways.

21. To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

22. Not to give way to anger.

23. Not to nurse a grudge.

24. Not to entertain deceit in one’s heart.

25. Not to give a false peace.

26. Not to forsake charity.

27. Not to swear, for fear of perjuring oneself.

28. To utter truth from heart and mouth.

29. Not to return evil for evil.

30. To do no wrong to anyone, and to bear patiently wrongs done to oneself.

31. To love one’s enemies.

32. Not to curse those who curse us, but rather to bless them.

33. To bear persecution for justice’s sake.

34. Not to be proud.

35. Not addicted to wine.

36. Not a great eater.

37. Not drowsy.

38. Not lazy.

39. Not a grumbler.

40. Not a detractor.

41. To put one’s hope in God.

42. To attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good one sees in oneself.

43. But to recognize always that the evil is one’s own doing, and to impute it to oneself.

44. To fear the Day of Judgment.

45. To be in dread of hell.

46. To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit.

47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.

48. To keep constant guard over the actions of one’s life.

49. To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.

50. When evil thoughts come into one’s heart, to dash them against Christ immediately.

51. And to manifest them to one’s spiritual guardian.

52. To guard one’s tongue against evil and depraved speech.

53. Not to love much talking.

54. Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.

55. Not to love much or boisterous laughter.

56. To listen willingly to holy reading.

57. To devote oneself frequently to prayer.

58. Daily in one’s prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one’s past sins to God, and to amend them for the future.

59. Not to fulfill the desires of the flesh; to hate one’s own will.

60. To obey in all things the commands of the Abbot or Abbess even though they (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of the Lord’s precept, “Do what they say, but not what they do.”

61. Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first to be holy, that one may be truly so called.

The Monks (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.5)

One of the most important groups of people in the Middle Ages were the monks. Monks are men who have chosen to dedicate their lives to praying and studying the Bible. They usually live together in buildings called monasteries. Monks do not get married, have careers, or own anything of their own.

Monasticism, the way of life lived by monks, began early in the history of Christianity with men and women who refused to get married and have children. These men and women wanted to dedicate all of their time to worshipping God and serving other Christians by taking care of those who could not take care of themselves.

When Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, becoming a Christian became a very popular thing to do in the Roman Empire. Many Christians thought that, while it was good that more people were becoming Christians, people were becoming Christians for the wrong reasons. They were becoming Christian because it was popular and because it would help them get a good job rather than because they really believed in Jesus. Some of these Christians decided to get away from the churches that were filling up with these new Christians and go into the wilderness to live a quiet life away from people so they could spend more time praying.

One of the most famous of these Christians to live the cities and go to the wilderness was St. Anthony. Anthony was born to wealthy parents in Alexandria, Egypt, near the end of the 3rd century. Anthony’s parents died when he was a teenager, leaving him with a great amount of money as well as a younger sister to care for. One day, as Anthony was walking through the streets of Alexandria, he wandered into a church where a worship service was going on. As he came in, the priest read the words of Jesus in the Bible, “go, sell all that you have, and, come, follow me.” Anthony immediately left the church to follow this command. He sold everything he owned and gave the money to the poor. He then left his sister in the care of a group of Christian women and went into the desert in the southern part of Egypt to live a life of prayer and quiet.

The people who lived in the villages near where Anthony lived in the desert began to tell stories about the holy man who lived near them. The stories spread all over Egypt and beyond. Eventually, people began to travel from all over Europe, Africa, and Asia to visit Anthony in the desert, to receive advice from him, and to follow his way of life. These men became known as monks. The women who adopted this lifestyle were known as nuns.

Others throughout Europe and Africa imitated the way of life Anthony had adopted. St. Benedict, for example, started the first monastery on the Italian peninsula in the 6th century. In his monastery, monks prayed together up to seven times a day and spent the rest of their time reading holy books, working in the fields where the monastery’s food was grown, and praying on their own in their rooms.

The monks played an important role early in the Middle Ages by preserving many of the great books of Greece and Rome. When the barbarians invaded the Roman Empire, they stole much of the great art and destroyed many of the important books. The monasteries, however, were mostly left alone because the barbarians knew the monks were mostly poor and had nothing worth stealing. What the monks did have, however, were copies of all of the important books that had been written by the Greeks and Romans. The monks kept these books safe in their libraries and even made new copies of them when the old copies were worn out. In this way, the monks preserved the writings of Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle and great Greek and Roman literature like the works of Homer. Without the monks, we would not have the great books of the ancient world.


Review Questions

1. Who was the most important early monk?

2. Who built the first monastery on the Italian peninsula?

3. What did the monks do that helped preserve the great writings of Greece and Rome?

Primary Source: From The Confessions of St. Augustine (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.4)

One of the first books Augustine wrote after becoming a Christian was his Confessions, the world’s first autobiography. In the Confessions, Augustine tells the story of his life all the way from his infancy to the time he became a Christian. In the selection below, Augustine discusses the education he received as a child.


But what was the cause of my dislike of Greek literature, which I studied from my boyhood, I cannot even now understand. For the Latin I loved exceedingly— not what our first masters, but what the grammarians teach; for those primary lessons of reading, writing, and ciphering, I considered no less of a burden and a punishment than Greek. Yet whence was this unless from the sin and vanity of this life? For I was but flesh, a wind that passes away and comes not again. For those primary lessons were better, assuredly, because more certain; seeing that by their agency I acquired, and still retain, the power of reading what I find written, and writing myself what I will; while in the others I was compelled to learn about the wanderings of a certain Æneas, oblivious of my own, and to weep for Biab dead, because she slew herself for love; while at the same time Ibrooked with dry eyes my wretched self dying far from You, in the midst of those things, O God, my life.

For what can be more wretched than the wretch who pities not himself shedding tears over the death of Dido for love of Æneas, but shedding no tears over his own death in not loving You, O God, light of my heart, and bread of the inner mouth of my soul, and the power that weddest my mind with my innermost thoughts? I did not love You, and committed fornication against You; and those around me thus sinning cried, Well done! Well done! For the friendship of this world is fornication against You; and Well done! Well done! is cried until one feels ashamed not to be such a man. And for this I shed no tears, though I wept for Dido, who sought death at the sword’s point, myself the while seeking the lowest of Your creatures— having forsaken You— earth tending to the earth; and if forbidden to read these things, how grieved would I feel that I was not permitted to read what grieved me. This sort of madness is considered a more honourable and more fruitful learning than that by which I learned to read and write.

But now, O my God, cry unto my soul; and let Your Truth say unto me, It is not so; it is not so; better much was that first teaching. For behold, I would rather forget the wanderings of Æneas, and all such things, than how to write and read. But it is true that over the entrance of the grammar school there hangs a veil; but this is not so much a sign of the majesty of the mystery, as of a covering for error. Let not them exclaim against me of whom I am no longer in fear, while I confess to You, my God, that which my soul desires, and acquiesce in reprehending my evil ways, that I may love Your good ways. Neither let those cry out against me who buy or sell grammar-learning. For if I ask them whether it be true, as the poet says, that Æneas once came to Carthage, the unlearned will reply that they do not know, the learned will deny it to be true. But if I ask with what letters the name Æneas is written, all who have learned this will answer truly, in accordance with the conventional understanding men have arrived at as to these signs. Again, if I should ask which, if forgotten, would cause the greatest inconvenience in our life, reading and writing, or these poetical fictions, who does not see what every one would answer who had not entirely forgotten himself? I erred, then, when as a boy I preferred those vain studies to those more profitable ones, or rather loved the one and hated the other. One and one are two, two and two are four, this was then in truth a hateful song to me; while the wooden horse full of armed men, and the burning of Troy, and the spectral image of Creusa were a most pleasant spectacle of vanity.

Church Fathers (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.3)

One of the biggest challenges that Christians faced early in the Middle Ages was the task of figuring out who Jesus was and what people should do about that. Even after Arius, there were differences in beliefs among Christians. Some, for example, believed that Jesus was only God and had not really become completely a human being. Others believed that he was two people, one human and one God. A group of leaders called the Church Fathers took up the challenge of answering questions about what Christians should believe and do.

Among the early Church Fathers, St. Augustine of Hippo is the most famous and one of the most important. Augustine was born in 354.  His mother, Monica, was a Christian, but because his father still worshipped the old Roman gods Augustine was not baptized as a baby nor raised as a Christian. Instead, he was able to choose what religion he wanted to be. As a result, he spent his early years moving between the various philosophies that were popular in his day, such as Neoplatonism, a religion built on Plato’s ideas, and Manicheism, a religion that believed there were two gods, one good and the other evil. Eventually, Augustine decided to become a Christian. After he was baptized, he moved back to his home in North Africa and became a bishop there. He spent the rest of his life writing important books about theology and defending orthodox Christian belief against the heretics, who believed different things from the official teachings of the Church.

Augustine was the first Christian to write in detail about beliefs that later became very popular among Christians. Augustine was among the first to write about Original Sin, for example. Original Sin is the belief that all human beings are guilty of the sin of Adam when he disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Augustine died in 430.

The last of the major Christian heresies was iconoclasm, which means “image-smashing.” In the 8th century, there were Christians who began to believe that it was wrong to make paintings and statues of Jesus and other religious figures. They believed that because Jesus was God and God cannot be shown in a picture Jesus should not be shown in pictures. In response, another ecumenical council, the Seventh Ecumenical Council, was called by the Byzantine Empress Irene. Just as they had at the First Ecumenical Council under Constantine, the bishops of the Christian Church gathered together at Nicaea in 787. They decided that because Jesus had become a human being and pictures can be made of human beings Jesus too can be shown in pictures.

Later Christians looked to the Church Fathers as authorities on what Christians should believe. The religion the Church Fathers shaped became the religion of the Middle Ages. The beliefs and practices of most Christians today were formed by the Church Fathers.


Review Questions

 1. What is Original Sin?

2. What was the last major Christian heresy of the Middle Ages?

Introduction to the Middle Ages (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.2)

The Middle Ages is a 1000 year period during which Western Civilization took shape. During this time, Europe became a Christian continent. These Christians then began the long process of sorting out the great heritage they had received from those who came before them. The Christians of the Middle Ages wanted to figure out a way to bring together the ideas and traditions they had received from the Greeks, the Jews, and the Romans into one. Of course, they also had to make these Greek, Jewish, and Roman ideas fit with the ideas of their own Christian religion. The result was a thousand years of great achievements in art, architecture, music, philosophy, literature, and science.

Medieval art and architecture focused almost entirely on themes from Christianity. Nearly all of the paintings and sculptures of the Middle Ages are of Jesus, Mary, angels, and other people important to Christians. In almost every town of Europe, the largest and most beautiful building was the church. Often, these churches were not built by experts and construction workers but by the people of the town. The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France, for example, was built by the common people there. Medieval churches were usually built with very high ceilings and filled with art, including paintings, statues, and stained glass windows. They used the art and the high ceilings to emphasize the greatness of God and the beauty of heaven.

Medieval music also drew heavily on Christian themes. Musical instruments were not usually used in Christian worship services, so medieval musicians came up with a variety of ways to use the human voice to create beautiful music. Both Gregorian chant, in the Western part of Europe, and Byzantine chant, in the Eastern part, used all different types of voices singing together. Medieval musicians looked to the psalms in the Bible for inspiration for their own musical creations. Sometimes they would have singers with different kinds of voices take turns singing lines from the text of a psalm. Other musicians wrote their own songs which imitated the psalms in their content and style. It was also during the Middle Ages that the first musical notation was written. Now, it was possible for people in distant places to all sing the same song in the same way by following the notes that were written with it.

Early in the Middle Ages, most poetry and literature were written in Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. As time went on, however, people all over Europe began to appreciate the local languages of their own nations and to write in those languages. The poems and books that were produced are still regarded today as among the greatest literature of the world. In the 13th century, Dante Alighieri wrote an epic poem called The Divine Comedy which told the story of an imaginary journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Geoffrey Chaucer became the first great poet of the English language when he wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories about a group of pilgrims heading to pray at Canterbury, an important Christian site in England. The most popular stories of the Middle Ages were tales of great heroes, warriors, and knights who battled against evil. Love songs about knights and the women they fought to defend were also very popular.

Philosophers of the Middle Ages continued to discuss subjects like God and the meaning of life in the same way philosophers before them had done. Most philosophers of the Middle Ages, however, were Christian. As a result, the answers they gave to the questions philosophers ask often were ones that came from the Bible and other Christian writings. Philosophers like Boethius and Thomas Aquinas tried to figure out if Christian beliefs could be proved by using reason instead of just the Bible.

There were also many important scientific discoveries and inventions during the Middle Ages. Many people became very interested in nature and in the world around them because of the Christian belief that God had created the world to be beautiful. They wanted to investigate the world and the place of humans in it. Astronomy was considered especially important because medieval Christians believed the movement of the stars and planets in the sky had a lot to teach people about God.

All students were required to study astronomy at schools throughout Europe. In addition to astronomy, students also studied music, arithmetic, geometry, rhetoric, logic, and grammar. These seven together were called the “liberal arts” because people believed that studying these subjects liberated a person, which means it made them free. Theology, the study of God, was considered the highest and most important science. A student could only study theology if they had first studied the seven liberal arts.

As the people of the Middle Ages sought to understand their Greek, Roman, and Jewish heritage, they created a great civilization of their own. It was this civilization which became our civilization.


Review Questions

 1. What themes are most medieval art, music, and literature about?

2. What are the seven liberal arts?

3. What subject was considered the highest and greatest science?


Vocabulary Words

 Liberate – to make someone free

Theology – the study of God and other religious subjects

Fall of the Roman Empire (Introduction to Western Civilization 6.1)

Constantine had changed the Roman Empire in many ways. He ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. He changed the laws to make them more acceptable to Christians. He even moved the capital of the Roman Empire away from Rome to the new city of Constantinople. In doing all of this, Constantine was trying to save the Roman Empire from destruction. Rome had been facing many very big problems for a long time. Its many wars and the size of its territory led to economic problems. The people of Rome had gotten used to living happy, easy lives and were unwilling to face hardship and suffer to keep their Empire alive. While Constantine’s reforms brought a new life to the Roman Empire, even he was unable to prevent its eventual destruction.

The Roman Empire went through a short period of new energy after Constantine. The people of the Roman Empire united around their new religion, Christianity. By the year 400, Emperor Theodosius had declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and ordered the last few temples dedicated to the Roman gods to close their doors forever. Some of these temples were destroyed. Others were converted into Christian churches. Still others were closed up and forgotten about for hundreds of years.

The Romans also tried to solve their problems by dividing their Empire into two. There would be one emperor in the East in Constantinople and another in the West in Rome. They hoped that by doing this it would be easier for each emperor to rule over his territory and defend it from barbarian attacks. Unfortunately, this division of the Empire probably made the Empire weaker. While much of the wealth and military might of the Roman Empire came to be centered in the East in Constantinople, the Western Roman Empire grew poorer and weaker.

The last Roman Emperor in the West was a young boy, Romulus Augustus. He was six years old when he became Roman Emperor, leading the people of Rome to call him Romulus Augustulus, which means “Little Emperor.” He was unable to lead the Romans and defend the Italian peninsula from the barbarian armies coming in from the northern part of Europe. The adults around him were busy fighting each other for power and were too afraid and weak to lead the fight against the barbarians. As a result, the barbarians finally conquered the city of Rome and the rest of the Italian peninsula, the old heart of the Roman Empire.

At first, the barbarians who came in from the northern part of Europe to conquer the Italian peninsula pretended that Romulus was still in charge. Finally, in 476, the barbarian king Odoacer, who was actually in charge in Italy, decided to stop pretending. He sent Romulus away to live in a castle and declared that there was no longer any Roman emperor. Instead, Odoacer called himself “King of Italy.” The Western Roman Empire had finally fallen. The result of the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 was the beginning of the 1000 year period we call the Middle Ages.


Review Questions

1. What year did the Roman Empire fall?

2. Who was the last Roman Emperor?

3. What is the name of the 1000 year period which followed the fall of the Roman Empire?