As the Christian Church neared the millennial landmark it began to be faced with significant issues of leadership that would rupture its unity. Although Christianity was still spreading throughout the world, the organization of the Church would be challenged by its integration with the political structure and an increasingly corrupt leadership. The Corruption and Division period (1000-1499) is marked by four major categories of events and activities including doctrinal evolution, church and state integration, corruption and division.
Although the key doctrines of Christianity had been defined and codified earlier, peripheral doctrines such as the seven sacraments and the concept of Papal infallibility were introduced during this 500 year period.
Organizationally it was common during this era for Church leaders to be appointed by government leaders. For example, in 1049 the Emperor Henry III appointed Leo IX as the Pope. Although this practice eventually ended there was still considerable influence from the government on Church affairs leading to calls for increased separation of church and state.
Church corruption was in full bloom during this period including rampant nepotism. Pope Callixtus III (1455-58) appointed two of his nephews cardinals, one of which (Rodrigo) later became Pope Alexander VI. In turn, Alexander promoted his alleged mistress’s brother, Alessandro Farnese, to cardinal with Farnese later becoming Pope Paul III. Immorality in Church leadership also reared its ugly head. Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) was said to have several mistresses and fathered illegitimate children while creatively depleting the treasury. Pope Paul II (1464-1471) and Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) were both accused of grave immorality during their papal reigns including homosexuality. These acts of corruption were joined by widespread indulgences—purchasing with money or acts of services the ability to forego the consequences of sin (repentance for sale).
Those who opposed the Church during this period were subject to harsh punishment including torture and death. In 1141 Pierre Abelard, a philosopher, was condemned as a heretic for his views on the Trinity and an illicit relationship with a French nun. In 1415 at the Council of Constance John Wycliffe was declared a heretic for his translation of the Bible into English. The Crusades during this period shed additional light on how Christianity at the time was seen as a spiritual, political and military power—a lethal combination that distracted the Church from its main purpose.
Theological and political strife within the Church eventually led to division during this period. The first was the Great Schism of 1054 dividing the Church into what would eventually be known as the Eastern Orthodox Church (Greek) and the Roman Catholic Church (Latin). The second came in 1378, often referred to as the Great Western Schism, whereby the Catholic Church experienced a split within itself. These divisions would continue into the next period of Christianity.
By 1499 there was more than one faction of the Christian Church in operation. Christianity was plagued with theological disagreements, continued power struggles, large scale corruption, and political and societal unrest. It was time for reform.
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