They lasted to about A. D. 1400 and are referenced to as a period of time that experienced violence by Barbaric invasion, feudalism, disease, and strong feelings for faith. The Dark Ages, the Age of Feudalism and the Age of Faith are all appropriate titles, however the label that best fits is the Age of Faith because of the political, economic and social influence the church held.
The middle ages are often identified as the Dark Age because of the Black Death, invasions by the Barbarians, and because of lack of enlightenment for the common people. A plague most likely originating from Asia spread throughout Europe. Towns and even large cities had no garbage collection or a sewage system and this caused the crowded towns to become filthy and attract rats (OI). The Black Death caused social unrest and people pondered what was going on; many believed that God was punishing them while others claimed the Jews were to blame.
With the Black Death overtaking the lives of everyone there were not many achievements or educational advancements during this time as all focus was on trying to get through the plague. After the fall of the Roman Empire there was no stable centralized government in Rome. Different Barbarian civilizations began invasions in Europe. According to historian Frantz Funk-Brentano they raided and destroyed villages and left the people in terror. Brentano also said that to avoid the violence people tried to abandon their fields.
Churches and entire towns were burned down; the town of Dordrecht was burned down by Barbarian tribes such as the Vikings triggered chaos. This caused people to abandon their lifestyles and that meant a decline in trade, which brought down the economy. During this period of time most people were illiterate and they did not go to school. Instead they learned different skills and jobs from their parents, apprenticeships, and the guild system. One of the few ways to become educated was to join the clergy where Priests and Monks would learn Latin.
It took dedication to become a part of the clergy, A Brother taking his monastic vows had to renounce everyone he knew and everything he had including his free will (Doc. 8). Not everyone was able to become a part of the clergy so they were reliant on these people to share the word of God from them. The Dark Ages had negative impact because the increased reliance on the church gave them even more power, and this challenged Kings and created potential political tension. During the middle ages the lack of protection and a stable government after the Fall of Rome created the need for a new political system.
Feudalism was the political system that emerged and shaped the lives of people socially and politically. Manors were small communities that were made up of a castle, church, village, and land for farming. The structured society provided a place and responsibility for everyone. The feudal obligations showed that in exchange for one thing they would be provided with something else. Serfs and peasants would work and produce goods for the rest of the manor and in return had their land and promised protection.
The vassals would need to obtain land from the Lord and in return would provide the Lord with military service, loyalty, and ransom if asked for. To make clear the vassal’s specific allegiance to their lord whom they owed in for exchange for their fief they would take the Homage Oath (Doc. 2). This interdependent system required everyone to do their part and it created social classes that they were born into. Their daily lives were centered on the manor and that was how it stayed until towns began to grow into cities after the crusades.
Feudalism had positive bearings because it was the solution for decentralized government and lack of protection but also held people back due to lack of social mobility. The Age of Faith is most accurate for describing the Middle Ages because of the political, social and economic influence the church held. Feudalism was still not providing one united central government but instead many small ones and so the church gained a governmental authority over Western Europe. People were all working to try to get into Heaven, and because of that there was a lot of control over telling people what to do.
The church could excommunicate people and even Kings if they felt that they were refusing to comply (OI). This gave the church power over the Kings because they controlled who would not be allowed to return to the church; if someone were excommunicated they would not be able to reach Heaven. At the time the bible was written in Latin, which only could be read to the common people by a clergy member who could explain what was written. With the reliance on the church the pope’s words and explanations were taken as God’s.
The Truce of God stated different peace agreements, which they enforced by exerting their power and influence (Doc. 5). The Crusades were a major part of this because the church declared to try to capture the Holy land. Pope Urban II called for people to join the Holy Crusade and persuaded them by saying that those who agreed to fight during the crusades were promised entrance into heaven and forgiveness of sins (Doc. 9). This was the beginning of economic expansion because the crusaders became accustomed with the culture and goods.
Trade opened up and port/merchant cities developed. Church also dominated sectors of society such as architecture, which began to grow because during the age of Faith having a Cathedral gave a town an identity. Gothic Cathedrals had dramatic features and stood out in height and important in comparison to other structures in the towns (Doc. 10). The church also issued a tithe tax, which was 1/10 of a person’s income to go towards building churches, monasteries, convents, and universities (OI).
The Church’s control and influence over Western Europe was sometimes used for corrupt purposes and persuasion but that was not only the case because it brought prosperity to the economy. The Middle Ages can also be stated as the Age of Faith because the main center of attention and one’s purpose in life was to serve God and live righteously. More than one title can be assigned to the Middle Ages due to the overlapping of events but the Age of Faith applied almost continuously to the lives of people throughout the Middle Ages while other labels such as the Dark Age and the Age of Feudalism represented certain periods of it.