St. Monica – St. Monica was St. Augustine’s mother. She was a woman of prayer and patience. Although she had an unhappy marriage she loved and prayed for her husband and children. She often prayed specifically for their conversion. Before her husband died, he became a Christian. Later her son, St. Augustine, also became Christian. Her feast day is August 27th. St. Monica lived her missionary call through her prayer. The missionary call is to spread the Gospel. St. Monica spread the Gospel by living a life modeled after Christ and praying for the conversion of her spouse and children.
FindingGod.com: List of Saints for Kids; Saint Monica the Mother; ABCs of Love
St. Jerome – Another very holy man of this era was St. Jerome. St. Jerome is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin from its original languages. This work is known as the Vulgate, and was the official version of the Catholic Bible for hundreds of years. Although he is widely known for the Vulgate, St. Jerome was also a great apologist and defender of the Catholic faith. The Church celebrates him on September 30th. St. Jerome lived his missionary call by studying the faith and defending its truth to those who did not understand it. He ensured that people of all times would know Sacred Scripture by translating it into Latin, the official language of the Church.
FindingGod.com: Saint Jerome; Doctors of the Church
Lesson Five 450 – 1100: Roman Church of the West
In the late fifth century, the Roman Empire continued to crumble due to a weak government and invading Germanic tribes from the north. Through God’s grace the Church had very strong and capable supreme pontiffs at this time who were an essential force in keeping order and caring for the needs of the people.
FindingGod.com: Vicar of Christ
One way that the Church helped to care for the people was through the developing monasteries which evangelized, stabilized and educated the people. Monastery schools were especially vital for the continuing education of the population of Europe at this time.
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As tensions mounted between the Church and the state, Pope Gelasius I answered the question as to who had authority over the people in spiritual matters by stating that the Pope and the Church had supreme authority over spiritual matters.
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FindingGod.com: Papal Primacy
In 496, the Frankish emperor, Clovis, was baptized a Christian. This was a very significant event for Christianity because in this era when a leader converted all of his subjects were expected to convert as well.
Early in the sixth century, Muhammad began the religion that is known today as Islam. The Islamic religion, like Christianity, believes in one God but has many other beliefs that contradict Catholic teaching.
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Soon after its beginning, Islam became a religion infamous for warfare. Beginning with Mecca and moving westward the Muslims began to engage in battles to conquer other nations.
One decisive battle that was won against the Muslims occurred in 732 when Charles Martel, the Frankish king, was victorious in battle. This battle, known as the Battle of Tours, was an important victory because it halted the Islamic advance into Christian territory. As Muslims advanced into Christian territory they made the practice of Christian faith very difficult.
In the year 800, Charlemagne, the new Frankish king, spent Christmas in Rome with the Pope. On Christmas day, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor. By crowning Charlemagne, Pope Leo III gained political power for the Church because his actions implied that the pope had the power to appoint emperors.
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FindingGod.com: Papal Primacy
In 910, a wave of reform spread throughout the western Church. This reform began at Cluny, a small monastery in modern day France. The leaders of Cluniac Reformadopted the Rule of St. Benedict with some minor alterations, such as a heavier focus on prayer. This reform helped to return the monastic life to a life of prayer.
FindingGod.com: The Rule of Saint Benedict
St. Leo IX, who was pope during the 1050’s, was greatly interested in reforming the Church to ensure that it was following the true Gospel of Christ. Pope Leo IX began the reform that came to be known as the Gregorian Reform.
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In 1054, the first major spilt in Christianity occurred: the Eastern and the Western halves of the empire became two churches instead of one. There were multiple issues that influenced this split including: the primacy of the Pope, the version of the Creed that was used as well as many other issues. The Western Church continued to be known as the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Church became know as the Orthodox Church. Sometimes this is called the Great Schism of the Eastern and Western Church.
In the late 1070’s and early 1080’s, the Gregorian Reform reached its high point with its namesake Pope Gregory VII. St. Gregory insisted upon ridding the Church of the abuses that had crept in. There were basically two reforms that took place during this time: the reform of the clergy and reform of the relationship of the secular leader and the pope. Pope Gregory’s greatest desire in promoting these reforms was to ensure that the Church was a faithful witness of Jesus Christ.
The reform of the clergy rid the Church of three main abuses: simony, lay investiture, and the practice of priests marrying.
Lay investiture is when a secular leader appoints a religious authority, such as a priest or bishop. In return, the newly appointed person was expected to pay the man who appointed him. The secular leaders at the time wanted to secure their power so they chose bishops and priests who supported their reign. However, this was a significant abuse because bishops and priests should be chosen based upon their holiness and commitment to the Gospel rather than their commitment to the reigning political power.
Closely tied to lay investiture was the practice of simony. Simony is when a religious object, a sacrament, or a Church position is sold.
In this time many priests were not respecting their vow of chastity and were marrying. The Gregorian Reform insisted that these men cease their priestly duties.
The reform of the relationship between the pope and the secular leader attempted to establish the rights of the pope. In many cases secular rulers believed that they had more control over Church affairs than did the pope. To clarify what duties belonged exclusively to the pope, Pope Gregory VII published a list of papal rights and duties. While this did not end the problems it was one large step towards a solution.
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St. Benedict – During this time period many important monks founded the great monasteries we still know today. One great monk of this time was St. Benedict. St. Benedict is known for creating the Rule of St. Benedict, which is still used today. The Rule of St. Benedict is best summarized as “pray and work.” This Rule directed the monks in how they should conduct their daily lives. The Church remembers St. Benedict on July 11th. St. Benedict lived his missionary call by gathering together monks who worked and prayed for the conversion of the entire world.
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FindingGod.com: Benedictine Monasteries; The Benedictine Order; The Rule of Saint Benedict
St. Columban – Another great monk was St. Columban who was born wealthy yet chose to live a life of poverty. He and several of his friends left Ireland to be missionaries to France. When he was expelled from France due to a new hostile government he went to Italy. In Italy, St. Columban established the famous monastery at Bobbio. St. Columban, like St. Benedict, wrote a rule for his monks. His rule was used for many years. St. Columban’s feast day is November 23rd. St. Columban lived his missionary call by leaving his home and going to a foreign land to teach those who were unfamiliar with the Gospel message.
St. Boniface – In 719, St. Boniface, an Englishman, traveled to what is now Germany to evangelize the people. St. Boniface was extremely successful in converting the Germanic peoples. He is most famous for proving the ineffectiveness of pagan gods. It is said that St. Boniface cut down a tree that many considered to be a god just to show the people that there is only one God, the Christian God. St. Boniface’s feast is celebrated on June 5th. St. Boniface lived his missionary call by leaving his home and willingly going to a dangerous place to share the good news of Christ with the Germanic peoples.
Saints Cyril and Methodius– In 863, two great saints, Cyril and Methodius, ventured to what is now Eastern Europe to evangelize the Slavic people. While working with the people they created the Cyrillic alphabet so that the Sacred Scriptures could be written in the native language of the people. Although they encountered great resistance, they persevered and helped to bring Christ to the area. Cyril and Methodius, along with St. Benedict, are the patron Saints of Europe. Their feast is celebrated on February 14th. St. Cyril and St. Methodius lived their missionary call by bringing the message of Christ to a new culture. Through their worked a new alphabet was created so that the native people could read Scripture and celebrate the liturgy in their own language.
Lesson Six 1100 – 1300: Middle Ages
The Middle Ages were a time of hardship for the average Christian as plague, famine and war were part of their everyday lives. Although the people of this era made mistakes, the importance of the intellectual and spiritual wisdom of this time should not be overlooked.
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Starting in 1095, the Church launched a series of eight major crusades.
The crusades were initiated to gain greater control of the Holy Land so that pilgrims desiring to walk where Jesus walked could travel freely to Jerusalem.
The crusades were militarily unsuccessful. There were times when the crusader armies would gain territory but by the end of the crusading efforts there was no land gained.
Possibly, the most regrettable aspect of the crusades was the sack of Constantinople. The crusaders originally entered Constantinople at the pleas of the Eastern Empire to save them from the invading Muslim Turks. However, an unruly group turned against their orders and attacked and looted the city.
Culturally, the crusades helped to shape Western intellectual thought because the crusades provided a unique opportunity for the West to come into contact with the philosophy and writings of the ancient Greeks.
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FindingGod.com: The Crusades
Cathedrals were hugely important in the Middle Ages. A local cathedral was not only a place of worship but also a community gathering place, a center of learning, and a place for catechesis.
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FindingGod.com: Flying Buttresses
In the Middle Ages, the majority of the people in Western Europe were Catholic. Thus, the cathedral became a great meeting place for people. In fact, the cathedral was usually located in the center of town and the businesses and homes grew up around the cathedral.
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There is a popular misconception that in the Middle Ages all intellectual activity ceased. However, this is not the case. The seeds for the most famous advances were planted in this era. In fact, the concept of universities was born during this time. Initially, the cathedral was a place where the choir boys and those preparing for priesthood were educated. As time went on the wealthy began to enroll their children for education. Gradually, more and more schooling was done at the cathedral until the university emerged.
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Between the years 1123 and 1215, there were four Ecumenical Councils held in the Lateran Palace in Rome. Each of these Councils dealt with a different heresy that was being taught at the time. At the Third Lateran Council the College of Cardinals became the body that elected the next pope. The most important of these councils was the Fourth Lateran Council because it officially defined transubstantiation.
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The twelfth century was the age of the mendicant orders. At this time society had become increasingly focused on wealth and was losing its Christian foundation. The mendicant orders willingness to embrace poverty and simplicity of life taught people that God is more important than material possessions. Two very popular mendicant orders are the Dominicans and the Franciscans.
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The infamous Inquisition began in 1231. The Inquisition was a series of trials, similar to secular trials today, in the mid-thirteenth century. At these trials a friar, usually a Dominican, tried and punished those guilty of heresy. The main purpose of the Inquisition was to rid the Church and the world of heresy because it was disruptive to not only Church life but also the culture in general. The Inquisition was not nearly as cruel as is sometimes suggested. In most cases, a person who was declared a heretic was not punished physically, rather they were given a series of spiritual exercises such as prayer.
FindingGod.com: Just What Is a Heresy?
St. Bernard of Clairvaux – St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a very influential monk in the early twelfth century. He joined the Cistercian Order and was chosen to found a new monastery. The monastery he founded at Clairvaux became an important center for the Cistercians. St. Bernard himself was known for giving advice to Church leaders as well as secular leaders. He is also known for his defending the Faith from all heresy. St. Bernard’s feast day is celebrated by the Church on August 20th. St. Bernard lived his missionary call by sharing his wisdom with those around him. He also spread the Gospel message by defending the true teachings of the Church against heresy.
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FindingGod.com: Just What Is a Heresy?
St. Francis of Assisi – St. Francis lived a very privileged life until his early twenties when he underwent a dramatic conversion. After his conversion St. Francis rejected the wealth of his father, gave away all he owned and begged for what he needed. Soon other men began to follow St. Francis’ simple way of life. These men joined him and became the Order of Friars Minor. The early Franciscans were wonderful missionaries and were skilled at spreading the Gospel and diffusing heresy. St. Francis is one of the first Saints to have received the stigmata. St. Francis’ feast day is celebrated on October 4th. St. Francis lived his missionary call by giving up his wealth and preaching to all those who would listen. Many converted to Catholicism because of St. Francis’ dynamic preaching.
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FindingGod.com: Saints by Our Side Intergenerational Event: Meet Your Match
St. Clare – St. Francis inspired many, including St. Clare. St. Clare, like St. Francis, was born into a wealthy family. At a young age she knew that she wanted to devote her life to God so she refused to marry. After hearing of St. Francis she joined him and created a religious order called the Poor Clares to help evangelize the world through prayer. St. Clare is remembered on August 11th. St. Clare lived her missionary call through her prayer. As we know, prayer is essential in the life of the Church. St. Clare’s prayers helped to spread the good news.
FindingGod.com: List of Saints for Kids
St. Dominic –St. Dominic was born into a wealthy family, but chose to forsake his wealth and become a priest. For many years he assisted his bishop in fighting heresy. When the bishop, died St. Dominic desired to form an order devoted to the conversion of heretics. The order he established, the Order of Preachers also known as the Dominicans, did just that. Their main charism is spreading the good news of the Gospel through preaching. The feast of St. Dominic is on August 8th. St. Dominic lived his missionary call by preaching to all those around him and inviting others to join him in this mission.
FindingGod.com: List of Saints for Kids
St. Thomas Aquinas – One very famous Dominican of this era was St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas was a theologian and a philosopher who is still revered and studied today. He is primarily known for his multiple volume work Summa Theologiae, which is a comprehensive study of the Catholic faith. Because of his great writings he is recognized as a Doctor of the Church. There are currently 33 people, including three women, whom the Church honors by calling them Doctors of the Church. St. Thomas is remembered on January 28th. St. Thomas lived his missionary call by writing and teaching about Christ. Good Catholic thinking helps to build up the Church and spread its good news of Christ.
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Lesson Seven 1300 – 1500: Renaissance and Reform
The age of the Renaissance and Reform began as a new flowering of culture and art. It is during this age that the great painters and sculptors perfected their craft. However, it remained a very difficult time for the average Christian because the plague, famine, and war of the Middle Ages endured. The true tragedy of this age is the wound that resulted in Christian unity after the Protestant Reformation.
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In 1309, the Frenchman Pope Clement V was elected. This angered the Roman people who desired to have a Roman pope. Afraid of the wrath of the Roman people, Pope Clement V chose to live in Avignon, France instead of Rome. The next seven popes who followed him chose to remain in Avignon. This was a great scandal in the Church because bishops are supposed to reside in their dioceses. The pope is the bishop of Rome and thus should reside in Rome.
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FindingGod.com: Saint Catherine of Siena, 1347–1380
This situation may have continued indefinitely if not for a strong willed young woman named St. Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine pleaded with Pope Gregory XI, the current pontiff, to stop the scandal and return to Rome. After many years of convincing he finally moved back to Rome.
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FindingGod.com: Saint Catherine of Siena, 1347–1380
When Pope Gregory XI died in 1378, the cardinals held a conclave electing Pope Urban VI. When Pope Urban VI became pope and did not move the papacy back to Avignon, as the French cardinals desired, these cardinals tried to declare the election invalid. They then elected Clement VII who moved back to Avignon. This too was a great scandal in the Church because the world now had two men claiming to be pope. This situation was very confusing for the average Christian because they did not know who to look to for spiritual formation with two claimants on the papal throne.
Many of the cardinals saw this problem and decided to hold another conclave to elect a pope who they would back as the true pope. In 1409, they elected Alexander V. However, this did not solve the problem because neither the Roman pope nor the pope in Avignon would resign. So the world had three men all claiming to be pope. Finally, in 1417, Martin V was elected as the rightful pope. These sad events are known as the Great Schism of the Papacy.
The age of the Renaissance and Reform was a time of significant intellectual advancements, great cultural flourishing, and religious tensions.
The Renaissance began in Italy in the late 1300’s. Some of the greatest achievements of the Renaissance were in art. The Catholic Church was a noteworthy contributor to the arts. At a time when literacy was still very low, the art in churches told the story of salvation.
In all ages, the Church aims to catechize her children and to spread the faith. In the late Middle Ages and early years of the Renaissance, the cathedral was the main place of learning and catechesis. In the Middle Ages, the majority of people could not read, but the Church did not let that stop Her in educating Her children about the faith. Instead of written works, the Church catechized by telling Bible stories in the stained glass windows of the Church, paintings and through plays aimed to teach a lesson. Some of the famous artists who were commissioned by the Church are Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
FindingGod.com: The Church of Saint Augustine
The age of the Renaissance was also an age of great reform. Many people began to see the need for reform in this era. Some stayed faithful to the Catholic Church and worked on reform from within while others broke away from the Catholic Church and tried to create reform through their own ecclesial communities. Many of these men and women who broke away from the Catholic Church did not see themselves as breaking away; rather, they believed that the Catholic Church had ceased to proclaim the truth of Christ and that they were continuing the true Church. However, as Catholics we believe that Christ stays with His Church even in the most difficult times.
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In the late fourteenth century and early fifteenth century, two men appeared on the scene who began to question the Church’s way of doing things. John Wycliffe was from England and Jan Hus was from Prague. Independent of each other they both challenged the Catholic Church’s Eucharistic practices and preached strict reliance on Scripture.