The Study of Church History-3

For a lot of people, the study of history, with the corruption of medieval popes, the persecution by the church of Jews and heretics, the bloodshed of the crusades and other religious wars to name only a few charges, provides fodder for a rejection of the Catholic Church as being a false, man-made institution. While the tools of historical research are inadequate to prove or disprove the church’s religious claims, they are invaluable in reaching an understanding of the circumstances surrounding the events. This understanding is crucial for a proper consideration of the charges, since such events never happen in the intellectual vacuum that seems to be operational for many people. Taking the corruption of the popes as a starting point, the simplest explanation that comes to mind for some people is that the church as an institution is so rotten that it can only produce power-hungry popes that would not cease to seek power at any cost. Before I studied history, I’d heard that point of view expressed before, and I would hold it in the back of my mind awaiting an explanation. The insight I gained from the study of history is that corrupt popes were a logic result of the compromise the church would make with the secular powers in order to assure its survival. The rise to power of the papacy after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was almost inevitable, since no one capable was left to replace the empire.
It is logical that the popes would seem more like secular rulers when they had papal states to administer and defend. The need to defend its territories would drive the popes to ask for the protection of secular rulers (for instance, of Frankish rulers against the Lombards), and this entanglement would be necessary as long as the church had territorial claims to distract it from it’s spiritual mission. History doesn’t excuse corrupt popes, but certainly explains the events that led to such state of secular involvement.

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