Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages -- By: Peder Stiansen

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 105:420 (Oct 1948)
Article: Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages
Author: Peder Stiansen


Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages

Peder Stiansen

(Continued from the July-September Number, 1948)

Evangelical Reform

1. Reform in England

The Relationship of British Christianity to Rome.

Quite early Christianity came to Britain. How, we do not know. The facts that Britain was so far from Rome and that the Teutones came into northern continental Europe and separated Britain from southern Europe are partly responsible for the independent development of Christianity in Britain, that is, the Celtic church. When the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes invaded England in 449, the Britons were driven west and north, into Wales, Ireland and Scotland as well as into the western and northern parts of England.

In 596 Gregory the Great sent Augustine and forty monks to Britain to Christianize the pagans and to Romanize the Christians. In 664 at the Synod at Whitby Osway, the king of Northumbria representing the British Christians submitted to Roman authority. This submission was so complete that A. H. Newman says that “nowhere during the seventh and eighth centuries was Roman Catholicism so vigorous and aggressive as in Britain.”

While this is true it is equally true that there was always in Britain an element of independency. The British Christians were not enthusiastic about the Roman administration of the church in England. When William the Conqueror at the

head of an army in 1066 landed in England with a cross banner, a hair of St. Peter and the blessings of the Pope, he came to bring the British under complete control of Rome. After the conquest was over, however, he had to report to the Pope that it was not such a simple task to Romanize the British church, and the result was that celibacy was not enforced for the British clergy.

Under Henry I (1100–1135) there was a struggle between King and Pope concerning investiture. They finally agreed that the clergy of each Cathedral should elect their own bishop, but the election should take place in the Royal Church. During the struggle between Henry II (1154–1189) and Archbishop Thomas à Becket the king called the Council of Clarendon, which drew up the Constitutions of Clarendon. These limited the power of Rome a great deal, and provided for a large degree of independence for the British church. During the reign of John Lackland, however, Rome regained its power. John surrendered completely to the Pope and gave England to him, but John received it back as a fief on the condition that England should pay to the Pope an annual amount of 1,000 marks of silver.

After the submission of John Lackland the papal domination of England was compl...

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