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. All of this was underpinned by a growing interest in the philosophical and scientific enquiry of earlier Greek and Arabic scholars.
It was also during this century that revolutionary inventions like the windmill, the stern rudder, paper, the magnetic compass and the blast furnace were created or used in Europe for the first time. Combined with the emergence of relatively democratic micro-states over in Italy, these developments were the very first baby steps in taking Europe down the road toward western capitalism and the industrial revolution.
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 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. These included:
1. Institutions that were independent from the state. The parallel institutions of church and state in Europe were unique to Christianity.
2. 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. This was because Christianity recognised the freedom of the individual under God. By 1100AD some form of representative democracy was even emerging in the Italian city states.
3. Security of property rights and finance. Along with religious freedom came tentative financial security from seizure by despots. The rule of law was crucial for the security of property.
4. 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 as a unified whole in Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Milan and Florence. The Twelfth century glory of Venice is no accident. It was the coalescence 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.
The Twelfth Century was also the 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.