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Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (1970)

by R. W. Southern

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Penguin History of the Church (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,100713,391 (3.85)6
The history of the Western church in the Middle Ages is the history of the most elaborate and thoroughly integrated system of religious thought and practice the world has ever known. It is also the history of European society during eight hundred years of sometimes rapid change. This authoritative history shows how the concept of an organized human society, both religious and secular, as an expression of a divinely ordered universe, was central to medieval thought. Professor R. W. Southern's book covers the period from the eighth to the sixteenth century, highlighting the main features of each medieval age and studying the Papacy, the relations between Rome and her rival Constantinople, the bishops and archbishops and the various religious orders in detail, providing a superb study of the period.… (more)
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» See also 6 mentions

English (5)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (7)
Showing 5 of 5
In the late fourteenth century religious men had some shattering paradoxes and failures before their eyes. The Benedcitines had retreated from the world, and had become great centres of government and institutions of social cohesion. The Cistercians had gone into the wilderness, and had become the greatest organizers of economic forces before the Fuggers and Medicis. The Franciscans had dedicated their lives to poverty, and were comfortably installed in every large town in Europe. In all this, effective religion(so it seemed) was lost in superficiality.

Dr. Southern's work affected me, it spawned an almost Pauline conversion. No, I haven't embraced the faith, but I felt my thoughts change. A shift was endeavored. Covering a thousand years in a mere 360 pages remains daunting if not impossible. That said, I tended to agree with the learned medievalist when he opines the significance of the church at such a monumental time in European history. What would've been the result if the church had failed? What other institutions could've kept the wolves of the time from the everyman's door?

The book begins with the differences between the Rome and Constantinople and all their doctrinal baggage. He then proceed to traverse the history of the papacy and follows with other offices of the church and concludes with a history of the myriad Orders and their consequent effect on the development of the West. The book is rife with anecdotes and more than a few charts and graphs. It also succeeded in altering the opinion of this crusty agnostic. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
INDEX; LIST OF POPES
  saintmarysaccden | Jul 29, 2013 |
Covering a lengthy period of time necessitates focus on Europe & its reaction to the growth of Islam & the growing tension between rulers & the popes. A fair assessment though light on the Orthodox branch ( )
2 vote wcsdm3 | Oct 16, 2012 |
R.W. Southern was a doyen of medieval history, and as such his Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages remains a good introduction to the development of ecclesiastical institutions in Western Europe. Southern writes well, never talks down to the reader, and he had a great knack for summing up a movement or an order in a deceptively simple yet revealing sentence or two. A vast reading in chronicles and cartularies is displayed in the wide range of (sometimes obscure) anecdotes which he used to illustrate his work. Of course, this is still a book conceived and largely written in the 1960s, and its ages shows in a number of aspects—women are shunted off to a small section near the end, there is talk of the end of the early medieval golden age for women religious, etc. Many of his statements about women's religion, and indeed how Southern approaches the church-as-institution have been challenged, if not overturned, by more recent scholarship. Recommended, but with reservations. ( )
2 vote siriaeve | May 10, 2012 |
Benedictines and Cistercians; pgs. 214-72.
  raymondbonwell | May 31, 2010 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Southern, R. W.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Facetti, GermanoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Preface -- This book has required much more time and work than I expected when it was first undertaken. It has also become a different kind of book.
Chapter 1 -- The history of the Western church in the Middle Ages is the history of the most elaborate and thoroughly integrated system of religious thought and practice the world has ever known.
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The history of the Western church in the Middle Ages is the history of the most elaborate and thoroughly integrated system of religious thought and practice the world has ever known. It is also the history of European society during eight hundred years of sometimes rapid change. This authoritative history shows how the concept of an organized human society, both religious and secular, as an expression of a divinely ordered universe, was central to medieval thought. Professor R. W. Southern's book covers the period from the eighth to the sixteenth century, highlighting the main features of each medieval age and studying the Papacy, the relations between Rome and her rival Constantinople, the bishops and archbishops and the various religious orders in detail, providing a superb study of the period.

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