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James Danchus

History 1560

The Age of Faith?

A common stereotype about the Middle Ages is that the period was filled with

blind faith toward Christianity with little adherence to ideas such as science and

reasoning. The arguments for this portrayal are easy to see. The medieval church had

more political influence during the Middle Ages then it ever has. Countless wars were

fought in the name of God. Detractors say that you cannot give this time period such a

label because some of the events in Medieval history blatantly contradict Christian

society. One great source for his argument is a book called Montaillou: The Promised

Land of Error. The book shows the many varying attitudes about faith that the

commoners had. But what these detractors fail to understand is that the church was so

massive that it touched every life in Western Europe during the high Middle Ages. The

opposition also neglects the countless examples of people going to great lengths to live

Christian lives. Describing the Middle Ages as ‘The Age of Faith” is generally an

accurate portrayal of the time period.

It is very important to understand that the church was a huge political and spiritual

entity at this time. On a macro level, the church has worked with or against virtually

every medieval king to ever rule in Western Europe. On the micro level, everybody has

access to a church or their village was heavily influenced by the local monastery, priest,

or bishop. The church was everywhere in Medieval Europe and the only way such an

entity could get so big is if a large portion of the population found it necessary to have it

around. If the church did not have the support of the people, as well as high ranking
nobles and kings, then it would have never reached the level of influence that it did in the

Middle Ages.

The crusades waged in the name of God also stand a testament to the deep rooted

religious beliefs of Medieval Europe. When King Richard called for a campaign to

reclaim the holy land, people from all walks of life answered the call of the young,

charismatic monarch. Peasants who had never swung a sword in there life wanted to take

back Jerusalem. People were ready to give there lives for their faith. (Notes 8/1)

Christian beliefs and Christian actions were seemingly contradictory in these

times. It is easy to see the hypocrisy in fighting a war to defend a religion that promotes

peace. The common practice of adultery is in direct defiance of the 10 Commandments

yet it was still used by kings and nobles alike. How can Europe be so blatantly sinful and

yet still be referred to as the “Age of Faith”?

The book entitled Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanual Le Roy

Ladurie is a great source for trying to find out about the general religious attitudes of the

common villager. In the small, secluded French town of Montaillou people had a variety

of opinions regarding the faith. Some disagree with some menial traditions within the

church. Arnaud Sicre, for instance, said the “Ave Maria is worthless. It is an invention of

the priests” (Ladurie 306). Ladurie also tells the account of a person by the name of Aude

Faure, who goes through a spiritual crisis. “Pray God to put in my heart to become a

believer again”, she said (Ladurie 307). There were also accounts of people being

downright blasphemous out in the open. Take Raymond de l’Aire for example, who said

in the town’s square that Christ was conceived through “f***ing and s***ing, rocking
back and forth and f***ing, in other words through the coitus of a man and a woman, just

like all the rest of us” (Ladurie, 320).

But what these arguments fail to take into account is that no matter what period

we live in, people are going to vary greatly in the interpretation of faith and in their views

on it. For every Raymond de l’Aire there were 5 people who were trying to live a pious

life. The wealth and prosperity of monasteries across Europe are testament to this. Every

year many people would take vows of poverty and chastity in order to live that lifestyle.

In Germany, during the latter part of the Middle Ages, some eccentric monks would run

around the countryside whipping them in an effort to make penance with God.

Montaillou is filled with many of these examples as well. Take our vulgar friend

Raymond de l’Aire for example, and his aforementioned profanity laced diatribe. In

response to that, a witness by the name of Raymond Segui replied with “If you don’t

stop, I’ll break your head open with my pick-axe” (Ladurie 321). Alazais de Bordes said,

after a scary experience, that she was more afraid of dieing without confession then

dieing itself (Ladurie 312). These are two great examples of the deep rooted faith that

was common in Europe.

The Middle Ages were very heavily influenced by the Christian faith. The church

was a powerful political entity. There where many wars fought in the name of God. But

despite the omnivorous presence of the church, some Christians during this time lived far

from pious lives. The book Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanual Le

Roy Ladurie proves this. The book demonstrates the wide array of opinions on faith

during this time. The church’s involvement in the everyday lives of Christians solidifies

the argument that the Middle Ages were the “Age of Faith”. The countless people going
to great length to live righteous lives need to be considered. Describing the Middle Ages

as ‘The Age of Faith” is generally an accurate portrayal of the time period. The

spirituality of this time in Europe must never be underestimated