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The History Of Church Corruption

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“Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power” (“William Gaddis Quotes.” 1). When Rome fell in 476 AD, the Catholic Church became the most powerful department in all of Europe. By the time the Middle ages came around, the church had taken over physically and politically. Even to this day, the corruption of the church still taints the eyes of the world. Ultimately leading to its demise, the Catholic church’s once solid beliefs crumbled through corruption, power struggle, and heresy, ultimately leading to its demise.

In the middle ages, the beliefs of the Catholic church were the center of life. Like every other form of power, the church had a “caste system” of people in authority. There was the Pope, the head of all churches; the Cardinals, the advisors to the Pope; the Bishops/Archbishops, ecclesiastal superior over a cathedral or rejoin; the Priest, ecclesistical authorities over a parish/ village/ town church; and lastly the monastic order, the religious adherents in monasteries supervised by an abbot/ abbess. Resulting from this caste system, citizens possessed one occupation for their whole life, for they were not allowed to adjust their position in the system; church or society, or they would be accused of defying God’s will. The church had a very strong belief system. The Bible was the “ handbook on how to live according to divine will and gain everlasting life in heaven upon one’s death” (Mark 1). Living by the Bible was normal at the time, because it was and still is considered the oldest book in existence. They also believe very highly in a place called Purgatory. This was a place between heaven and hell where a person goes to get a second chance to clean themselves of their sin before they come before the holy trinity. Catholics would daily come to the church at least 3-5 times to attend services, have times of confession, or engage in acts of repentance. The church would clean a person of their sins by dunking them into the baptismal fount, if they lived, they were guilty and would be executed; but if they sank, they were innocent. However, the law the church would not always remain the same. The leaders would eventually begin to bend laws, leading to the corruption of the church. One of these laws that became twisted was Sanctuary. For example, a person who murdered another human could run into the church and call Sanctuary and, the church would protect them from the guard. This is only one of the ways the church became powerful and dominated by political power.

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The church came to power in 476 AD when Rome fell to the Germanic tribes. Through this the church became the most powerful force of authority left standing. By the time the Middle ages came around, the church dominated Eurpe. Unfortunately, they did not get to this position by playing nice. Leaders taxed the population with astronomical prices and forced them to give claiming they would not go to heaven if they refused. Peasants would often have to surrender food and livestock to keep up with the demanding church. If any family could not pay the 10% of their income to the church, they would be denied entry into heaven by the priests. These taxes would go to church funds to pay for baptisms, weddings, feasts, and even executions. Unbaptised people, even infants, were not allowed to be buried on church property and families were told their loved ones would not enter the kingdom of heaven. In the 10th century AD, Pope declared a holy crusade on Israel and “Bishops and Clergy owed their allegiance not to their king but to the Pope” (“How the Church Dominated Life in the Middle Ages.” 6). This caused a massive uproar, but the church, like always, silenced it. Power was sold in the church with money and bribes. Most positions in the church were made by these bribes. For instance, if a noble man wanted to be a priest, he could pay the Bishop a certain amount to obtain his desired position. This was a form of simony, which was named after Simon in the Bible who practiced magic in the New Testament. Another way the church gained power was by placing Archbishops in charge of dioceses to micromanage the community and make sure they were living by the laws of the church. The dioceses Europe was divided into were Rome, Constantinople, Jeruslum, Antich, and Alexandrea. This way the Pope could still be “King” and watch over all parts of Europe. Although the church had great political power, it led to greed and corruption.

The church was not always full of dread and deceit, but through the want for power and strength, it became corrupted. One account telling of the church’s corruption in Middle Ages describes a woman running from the church because of its crazy rules and expectations. A nun in the 14th century faked her own death to escape the harsh laws of the church. The full reasoning behind her faked death have never been explained, but it is known that a group effort was required to get the girl out of the monastery. She was spotted by a few villagers in a town awais from the monastery who have given this account. However, this was an example of how corrupted the church was and people would do anything to get away from it. The church would often sell fake reflects to get more money; such as holy water, wood from Jesus cross, and fingers or toes of saints. They would also collect taxes from the people, taking what little they had from them. Leaders thought the more money they had, the more powerful they could become. They would also threaten people to give more than what was needed. The church would spend this on nonsense, such as executions, feasts, and other items like these. People saw these flaws in the church and stated to segregate themselves from it, forming their own groups such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, Beguines, and Beghards. The Catholic church viewed this as a threat and crushed the majority of these organizations before they could start. However, one of the surviving groups, the Orthodox Church, still exists to this day. As well as trying to condemn the people who left, the church also targeted other religions, like the Muslims. The church would mock these kind of people and make them feel terrible about themselves. In the end, the church would force the people to make a choice of religion. Muslims and those who had no religion were compelled to adopt Christianity. If that person refused, the church would put them in the Heretical Sects. This was a Middle Age torture devices that would wrap a human around themselves till they died. They would do this to the people until they chose the “right” religion. “The heretical sects of the Middle Ages were uniformly responses to the clear corruption and greed of the church” (Mark 3). In the church, the ultimate greed and want for control lead to its downfall.

Crumbling through corruption, power struggle, and heresy, the Catholic Church’s once solid beliefs lead to its ultimate demise in the middle ages. Although the church had such an impact on this time period, they have learned from their mistakes and have come back to be a unifying, respected community. Furthermore the Middle Ages brought beautiful architecture, music, and many famous art pieces to the modern world. “Making a comeback is one of the most difficult things to do with dignity” (“Making a Comeback Is One of the Most Difficult Things to Do… at QuoteTab.” 1). The church has had quite a rough patch, but the goodness and humbleness that came from the darkness of this period, brought the church to a better tomorrow.

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The History Of Church Corruption. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
“The History Of Church Corruption.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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