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Medieval Church Jurisdiction

From the 13th century there was in each diocese a tribunal of the church, where sat the delegate of the bishop, the ecclesiastical judge. All the suits involving members of the clergy were judged there, it was not admitted that a member of the laity could judge a man consecrated by God. The clergyman, even if he had committed a crime, could be judged only by a clergyman, an immense privilege, as the judges of the church never condemned to death.

Medieval-Church-Pope Urban II Preaching the Crusade
Pope Urban II Preaching the Crusade at Clermont in the Presence of King Philippe I of France

Marriage, from the establishment of Christianity, had become a sacrament. The ceremony of the marriage put the act in the power of the church. In the time of the Roman law, the will of the couple was sufficient to conclude or to break off a marriage. Christians could be married only when the church permitted it, and once married, it was for life, for the sacrament which bound them was indissoluble. Thus divorce disappeared, and when living together became impossible, the church permitted only the separation of body, which does not dissolve marriage.

The Medieval Church also adjudicated wills, for a man could not make a will until he had confessed, and confession was a sacrament. The church refused to inter any who had not confessed. Usage demanded that in a testament there should always be a legacy in favor of a church, and it was to the tribunal of the church that all suits concerning wills were brought. The church also judged the laity guilty of any crime against religion: heretics, blasphemers, and usurers, as the church forbade usury.

Medieval Church and the Heresies

In the 12th Century, the rare and isolated heresies of the early centuries of the Middle Ages began to multiply, especially in the south of France and the north of Italy. The majority of the Christians held in horror the word heresy, and they willingly put themselves at the service of the clergy for the purpose of exterminating the heretics. In France, at the appeal of the Pope, the Crusaders under Simon de Montfort massacred all the inhabitants of Béziers in Languedoc.

The Inquisition - To complete the destruction of the heretics, the pope sent into the towns of Languedoc commissioners, charged with making an inquest (inquisition) concerning the people suspected of heresy. He gave them full power to arrest, judge and condemn all persons, and authorizing them to absolve each other in case any irregularity was committed. In order to make the accused to speak, torture, abandoned since the time of the Romans, was used again. The Inquisition did not execute those found guilty, but was delivering them to the secular judge, who sent them to be executed.

Medieval Church divided. Conflict with the Holy Emperor

In 1054, after centuries of disputes generated by doctrinal differences resulted in the Great Schism, the Medieval Church was divided between the Western or Latin Church and the Orthodox or Eastern Church.

In the 11th century, the dispute on the lay investiture between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV started a long conflict between the Papacy, the highest authority in the Medieval Church, and the Holy Roman Empire, conflict which lasted until 1250, when the unchallenged supremacy of the Pope was officially recognized.

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