The Church: The Guardian of Culture in the Middle Ages

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The Middle Ages were characterized by a rigidly hierarchical society, which was justified by the view that, like the branches of a tree, every level of society was preordained and important. While the nobility and the clergy stood at the top of the society hierarchy, Jews and those who pursued dishonorable professions were branded outsiders. The Church acted as guardian of culture, particularly within its monasteries and convents. They preserved the scholarship of antiquity, often through the mediation of Muslim scientists. In the 12th century, the first universities developed from the monasteries and cathedral schools. Opposite to the clergy were the lords and nobility who developed their own culture, which was centered on chivalry. According to this ideal, the duty of a knight was to unite Christian virtues with courage and spirit of battle, demonstrated by jousting. The lords attempted to regulate their lands and reduce the influence of the nobility and the Church. Their power, however, was dependent on their subjects in the economic system of feudalism, which defined power relations. A lord would lend a fiefdom to a vassal, which thus created a social relationship in that the vassal owed service and the lord owed protection. The kings delegated hereditary lands to the nobles who administered them from their well-fortified castles, which simultaneously separated them from the people they ruled. The majority of the people was farmers and was obliged to perform services for their rulers. Living conditions were poor, which contributed to high infant mortality rates. Epidemics spread by rodents erupted from the middle of the 14th century at irregular intervals and claimed the lives of millions of people... ... middle of paper ... ...orists such as Montesquieu and Voltaire not only encouraged the freedom of religion and science, but also a critical examination of the existing balance of power. Throughout the Early Modern Period, absolutism prevailed in most of the lands of Europe as modeled on the French monarchy. Absolutism placed complete authority within the hands of the ruling sovereigns instead of the people. Many of them, however, such as King Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia, were supporters of the Enlightenment. These so-called “Enlightened Absolutists” endeavored to manage the administration of their states with exclusive authority, while limiting the influence of the Church and the aristocracy to a minimum. Simultaneously, these rulers supported the emerging middle class, humanist circles, progressive reformers and the scholars of the Enlightenment.
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