Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spirituality in the Middle Ages

History is not a subject that interests most Koreans, says a priest-professor who teaches spirituality and history. Writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, he notes that when Korean students select subjects for the college entrance exams, history is usually at the bottom of the list, which seems strange to the professor since Koreans are well-known for their sensitivity. And yet, though they are not interested, they want the people of the neighboring countries, he says, to study history because of the distortions that appear in history books concerning Korea. The article goes on to deal with the  laity's search for spirituality in the Middle Ages of Europe.  

The Koreans, he says, are familiar with the dark ages of Europe. Most Koreans vaguely think that Christianity was the reason for this darkness. Christianity had a great deal to do with this period of history, but the history of Europe itself greatly influenced Christianity, both for good and ill. 

During this period, people found it difficult to settle in any one place and to find opportunities for education. With the beginning of the Benedictine monasteries and a more settled life, there is a noticeable change in lifestyle. It was at this time that the Church sent missioners to evangelize the north of Europe.

The monasteries were not like those in the deserts of Egypt, where the interest of the monks was directed toward their own personal spirituality. The monasteries of Europe were dedicated to defending the Church and spreading the faith. They gathered together talented people and the monasteries became well-structured institutions, which led to the disparity between the educated monks and the uneducated laity. The influence of the monasteries did not extend to many of the country areas. The clergy were often taken from the uneducated classes to serve as parish priests, which made the gulf between the educated and uneducated members of the Church even greater.

Members of the royalty and nobles sponsored many of the monasteries, which sometimes resulted in having married men as abbots of the monastery--with family members in residence--obviously not a good influence on the monks.  These abbots were also involved in society, and their presence and status in society, along with their newly appointed status as monastery heads, tended to bring into the monastic setting worldly ideas and pride.

At this time, the Cluny Abbeys appeared on the scene, spreading quickly throughout Europe, and very much helped to elevate the spirituality of the period. However, here again the laity had difficulty in identifying with the liturgy because of its language and individualistic orientation. The mendicant orders also appeared around this time, but the monks had little education and did little to raise the educational level of the Christians. They were not clerics, and the laity were no nearer to understanding the liturgy and what constituted a faith life. The sermons were mostly centered on the humanity of Jesus and directed to the emotions, developing into superstition and far from the teachings of the Church.

Speculative theology, scholasticism, came to the fore but this was little help to the laity. There was a movement of laity that had great difficulty with this intellectual type of spirituality.  Around the Rhine River in Germany, there was a movement of people that left the parishes and walls of the monasteries to be closer to the common people. They used the scriptures as the basis for their spirituality and, not understanding the tradition of Christianity as embodied in the theological teachings, began to understand the scriptures as they thought best in search of a more personal spirituality. This gave birth to many aberrations from orthodoxy. They did not follow the traditional spirituality of Catholicism, but they still considered themselves Catholics.

The professor says the problems of the Middle Ages was not only limited to those times. They are present even today when one leaves, as he puts it, "the bosom of the Church," there is a possibility that the spirituality that is sought may not be for the person's good.


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