A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, or so the saying goes. It also applies to a little knowledge of history, in that a superficial understanding can imperil someone’s previous understanding. Over the course of studying medieval church history, one cannot help but hear time after time about the short-comings of the institutional church. When the historian describes bishoprics being bestowed not upon the holiest, or even the most able men but simply to the younger sons of the nobles of the land one has to wonder. When one reads descriptions of the clergy being nearly illiterate, it makes one think. When one reads of the generalized superstitions of the people interspersed with true belief, it raises our doubts. The questions one ponders is: how did this mess of a religion make it this far? How this same institution guided at times by gross nepotism managed to continue in existence for so long? How did this Church that produced such infamous examples of sinners managed to also produce the shining lights of so many still-revered saints? In purely human terms, it repels a significant number of people based on the church’s historical record. Thankfully for us, ours is not a purely earthly point of view. As people of faith, we take history along with the broader view salvation history. We recognize that the church is composed of human members that, as all things human, is imperfect and is capable of evil acts, notwithstanding our theological view of a church founded in Jesus Christ and his apostles. History helps us to humbly recognize those events where a divinely-instituted church did not act as such. With knowledge of history comes recognition of our sins past, and drives us to the recognition of our present state calling for renewal.
For part one of this series click here.