Fears of Purgatory Return, Tenth Century, A History of the Christian Church, Lesson 10, 6-10

The only bright picture of the state of learning and philosophy in this century continued to be centered among the Arabs. They abounded in doctors, mathematicians and astronomers. There was some literature of worth in Egypt, but the Europeans continued in the depths of ignorance and superstition.

The history of the popes of this century is one of so many monsters rather than one of men. The popes of prior years had shown themselves lacking in the Christian spirit in their disputes with other Bishops over such earthly things as authority. But in this century, they disputed less with each other and fell into the most notorious kind of living. Not only did they practice all sorts of vice engaging in all sorts of licentious living, sometimes with wives and sometimes with women not their wives. Furthermore, many popes murdered their predecessors and were in turn done away with by their followers. The principal reason for this deplorable turn of events was the end of the reign of the descendants of Charlemagne, for with the end of this quieting influence, the countries of Europe were ruled by minor kings who were unable to keep other minor kings and bishops from disputing over the position of pope. Many popes ruled only a few weeks, and others a few months before being overthrown. To be appointed pope required the support of one or more of the ruling kings, and we find that sometimes soldiers and princes who were not at all qualified for this high office were appointed to be the pope.

The fears of purgatory were used by the monks and bishops to cast even more fear into the souls of the ignorant people. And after having found out how such fears cultivated the donations of the people, even more superstitions were propagated by the monks.

One superstition that caused great fear and panic about this time was occasioned by the writings of John in the Book of Revelations. This particular writing concerned the return of Jesus at the end of 1000 years, and many of the people took this to mean that Jesus would return at the end of this century. Many gave their possessions to the church and migrated to the Holy Land assuming that Jesus would return there. Others gave away everything and took menial jobs in the monasteries so that when Jesus returned, he would find them working for his servants. We are told that any unusual natural event like an eclipse caused the cities to be vacated and the people hid in the country in caves or the forests, fearing that the end of the world had come.

The worship of the Virgin Mary was carried to its height, abstinence from eating meat on certain days and the institution of the rosary occurred during this Tenth Century. New festivals were begun to honor the saints and a new All-Souls Day was instituted to encompass all the souls who otherwise had no one to pray for their release from purgatory. Christ would have looked hard before determining that this was the same Christianity that he left upon the earth.


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