The Roman Catholic Church in Medieval Society
The Roman Catholic Church was immensely important in medieval society. Many would argue that it was actually the most important factor in people’s lives. This could be seen even in the way that towns and cities were laid out, with the church at the center. Usually, the church steeple was also the highest building in the city, showing that nothing else was more important.
As the center of society, the Church was very powerful and took in a lot of money. People paid a tax called a tithe to the church, representing 10% of their income. The Church used this wealth to influence politics. In fact, the upper levels of the Catholic Church, such as the Pope at the top, were often more powerful than Europe's monarchs. This meant that kings and lords listened to the opinions of the Church when they made decisions, allowing the Church to influence what happened in different regions throughout Europe
In addition to being wealthy and powerful, the Church played an important role in preserving Greco-Roman culture (Greco-Roman refers to the cultures of classical Greece and Rome). The most important thing the Church did to preserve Greco-Roman culture was to safeguard and copy ancient manuscripts and works of art.
This was usually done by monks living in monasteries who copied out entire books by hand. Some of the writings that have been preserved include important religious writings such as scripture and the works of the church fathers. However, secular writing such as works by Cicero and Aristotle were also preserved. This work was especially important when life and learning were interrupted by Barbarian invasions.
The church of course played an important role in ordinary people’s everyday lives. Most people didn’t interact with the upper levels of the Church (unless they were in the nobility). Instead, ordinary people interacted with their local priest. Priests were generally not wealthy (unlike the Pope) and lived humble lives taking care of the villages and communities where they lived. This meant that the priest and local church were often looked to as the source of education and spiritual guidance, and even things like taking care of the sick. In a sense, local churches were like schools, hospitals, and community centers rolled into one, serving all the needs of their community.