Christianity: 1100 to 1200AD

Political Milestones: 1100AD to 1200AD

Thanks to the Norman conquests, this was the century when French culture, language, learning and Catholicism dominated Western Europe in an era called the Medieval Renaissance. It is in this period we see the French laying the foundations for Europe’s modern legal system. In architecture they developed the revolutionary Gothic system of building that led to the explosive era of cathedral construction in Europe. They also opened up Catholic theology to discussion and debate, thus creating the western world’s first flush of universities, Bologna, Paris and Oxford, dedicated to the study of the arts’ law, medicine and theology. All of this was underpinned by a growing interest in the philosophical and scientific enquiry of earlier Greek and Arabic scholars, whose writings were dribbling in to Europe via Spanish Islamic scholars and returning crusaders bringing back precious Greek texts from Constantinople and the Middle East. Therefore, paradoxically, we can thank the crusades for the birth of this era we now know as the Renaissance, and in this century it was centred in Paris. 

It was also during this century that the Papacy reached the height of its power to control secular kings in Europe. The success of the first crusade brought much prestige and power to the Catholic Church, and it was during the Twelfth Century that Kings were, more or less, vassals of the Papal crown. To illustrate this point, Pope Hadrian the Fourth, an Englishman, simply gifted all of Ireland to King Henry the Second of England. In a stroke, he snuffed out remnants of the Celtic church and created the conditions for 800 years of Irish political frustration.

The Second Crusade was called in 1145AD by the Pope in response to the fall of Edessa in the Middle East to Muslim forces. This was the crusade that involved European Kings working at the behest of the Papacy. However, it was a complete disaster and greatly emboldened the Muslims. It is little known that the Second Crusade also included other, more successful European military campaigns. One was against the pagan Slavs in Germany, who were forced to convert to Catholicism en masse. Another was by Catholic Swedes against the pagan Finns. It would take a full hundred years to subdue the stubborn Finnish people. 

Meanwhile, down in Spain, Count Alfonso Henriques, worked for, and eventually in 1147AD, succeeded in establishing a separate kingdom to the Castilians called Portugal. He then joined the Iberian campaign of the Second Crusade against the Islamists in the south, forcing the conversion of Muslims to the Catholic faith as he went. With the help of the crusaders, he was able to eventually free Lisbon on the west coast, while other crusaders freed Valencia on the east coast.

The disaster of the Second Crusade in the Middle East inspired the third Crusade in 1185AD. This time it was met with unified resistance under the formidable leadership of Saladin. Although this crusade was militarily successful for the Europeans, it failed to retake Jerusalem, their prime objective. In the end King Richard the Lion-Heart made peace with Saladin over Jerusalem, agreeing to leave it in Muslim hands but gaining guaranteed access for pilgrims. At the same time back in Europe, the catholic Germans subjugated the Latvians and Estonians, forcing them to convert.

On another front the 1170’s saw Muslim armies finally conquering and subjugating all of the Hindus in North India. By 1192 they controlled a great mass of humanity in the north of the sub-continent and built the famous Qutub Minor to immortalise their power over the Hindu heartland. Unfortunately, Hindus proved to be much harder to convert than the Nestorian Christians of the Middle East. India over time would prove to be a great stumbling block in the eastward expansion of Islam.  

In South East Asia the Hindu Khmer Empire was reaching its zenith around the middle of the century. It was during this time that their signature building, the famous Angkor Wat complex of temples was under construction. While this was happening, the Chinese perfected the use of gunpowder in battle, a development that would one day lead to unprecedented levels of tragedy and bloodshed around the world. Over in Japan the bitter Genpei War of the latter quarter of the century took great power away from the emperor. For the next 800 years, right up to the Second World War, Japan’s civil government would be run independently of the emperor, and under the guidance of the military.

Spiritual Milestones: 1100 to 1200AD

Because of the total merging of church and state in the crusades, many of the religiously and spiritually significant events of this century have already been covered. However, the topic of capitalism needs much more attention.  Capitalism is no accident of history. It flourished only in Europe and nowhere else in the world simply because it needed many of the principles embodied in the DNA of Christianity to incubate.

Capitalism first arrived via the great monastic estates of the turn of the millennium. However, the newfound principles of capitalism, combined with the spirit of private enterprise took the concept to a whole new level via the independent Italian city states of the early second millennium. Here are some of the fragile foundation stones of capitalism that owe so much to the ongoing evolution of Christian thought:

Some form of universal freedom and democratic voice. Slavery was abolished by about 800AD in Europe, but was still widespread in all other parts of the world. By 1100AD some form of representative democracy was even emerging in the Italian city states, which freed them from the greedy hands of despots and kings. Capitalism can only flourish in a free society.

Along with freedom came an enhanced level of security for property and intellectual rights and access to finance. It is no accident that the first patents were granted in Venice. The rule of law was crucial for the security of property, and it was safeguarded through the democratic process.

A strong institution that was independent from the state, as were its business arms. The parallel institutions of church and state in Europe were unique to Christianity.

Above all though, capitalism sprang from a rational worldview applied to economics. This rational way of looking at the world is unique to Christianity and was embedded in its earliest writings (John 20:24-29, 2 Peter 1:16, 1 John 1:1-3) and theological thinking via men such as Augustine. This rational openness to objective evidence, new ideas and logic, springing from the concept of a rational, logical law giving and abiding God, would later also lead to the emergence of science. 

These foundations of medieval capitalism first came together in the great 12th Century glory of Venice. The glory of Venice was simply an expression of intellectual ideas that had been a millennium in the making. These vital factors, combined with the eradication of Muslim piracy by the Normans a hundred years earlier, allowed trade to flourish and these centres entered their golden age. In all the history of the world prior to these city states, wealth accumulation was at the expense of someone else. Now commerce tentatively entered an era of win-win. Money gladly flowed to the cities because goods were both cheaper, more abundant and superior.

The power of this unique western development cannot be over-estimated. This one factor, evolving out Medieval Catholic Christianity, would lead to the emergence of the western world as the dominant global civilization from 1500 to 2000AD. Islam’s place at the centre of world history and geography would soon be over. 

Another intellectual development of this century was the emergence of the scholastic discipline called Theology. Theology emerged out of the initial wave of Renaissance ideas generated by Paris University. Drawing on Aristotelian ideas, its founder, Peter Albelard believed that reason, as well as revelation, could lead to divine truth. The seed of humanism had entered Catholic academia.

The Twelfth Century was a low point in Christian history. Both church and state sanctioned murder and plunder in the name of God. This era comes down to us as an abhorrent time and is rightly condemned by today’s historians. But it must be not forgotten that while the crusaders were warring against Muslims and Scandinavians, Saladin was butchering 130,000 Nubian Christians in the Nile Valley, a fact now lost to western minds.

And…finally, after centuries of sleep, the true church started to wake. Around 1177AD Peter Waldo, a rich merchant from Lyons, France, came into a relationship with Jesus, took a vow of poverty, preached salvation through Christ alone, the universal priesthood of all believers, and began to teach people the Christian faith in their local tongue. The movement he started spread rapidly. Such concepts were now thoroughly foreign to the Catholic Church so the Waldensians were declared heretics and severely persecuted. But the torch of the true gospel had finally been relit. It would flicker for three hundred years and then burst into flame via the Protestant Reformation.