Christianity in the Late Middle Ages


A Castle of the Late Middle Ages

I’m continuing to work from Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction”, providing background for anyone interested in understanding the Reformers and the causes for the Reformation.

The backdrop to the Reformation is the late medieval period. In recent scholarship there has been a growing emphasis upon the need to place the Reformation movement in its late medieval context and to bring together the insights of late medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation studies.

The separation of these fields – for example, through each having their own university chairs, journals, and learned societies – has greatly hindered this process of synthesis and consolidation, essential to the correct understanding of the ideas of the Reformation. In [what follows], we shall examine in some detail the two most important intellectual forces in late medieval Europe: humanism and scholastic theology. [We’ll start with] some preliminary points about late medieval religion.

McGrath, Alister E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction (p. 23). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

We should never forget that Rome in the 1300’s and 1400’s was an absolute cesspool, and that on top of that, what religious thinking there was existed on a foundation that was part forgery (Gratian’s Canon Law, and some of Thomas Aquinas’s work, was “authoritatively” built upon forged documents, for example.)

Clearly much of this invalidates Roman claims to authority. But none of this should negate the truth claims of Christianity. That is the entire purpose of the Reformation.

The Intellectual Origins of the Reformation.

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One Response to Christianity in the Late Middle Ages

  1. I’m not sure it follows that claims of authority are undermined because Gratian and Thomas believed falsely that certain of their sources were authoritative. To be sure, it undermines any claims that rely upon such authority, and thereby renders, for instance, some of Thomas’ arguments from authority in defense of Papal claims impotent. But, it seems that, unless the Church relies exclusively on such forgeries, or perhaps if a preponderance of the Church’s evidence in defense of the claim does, we can only determine that Gratian and Thomas’ arguments have been compromised. A much stronger claim would be, it seems, too fast to be justified.


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