Virgin and Child, ca. 1420

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

REL 322: History of Christianity: Christianity in the Medieval West 


TR 10:00-11:50


Professor: Dr. Stephen Shoemaker 
Telephone: 346-4998
sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu 

Office: 813 PLC
Office Hours: TR 4-5

(or by appointment)


 Course Description and Objectives | Textbook | Assignments
 Expectations and Regulations | Grading Scale | Handouts 1 2 3 4

Internet Resources of General Use: If you have a general question about a particular person, concept, etc., you might try these resources first to find an answer. 

Schedule of Assignments and Suggested Internet Resources



Course Description and Objectives


This course will introduce students the history of the Christian traditions in Western Europe during the middle ages, from ca. 400-1500.  We will focus especially on the development of Christian thought, the structures of the medieval church, and the interplay of church and politics.  We will also concentrate on the historical diversity of the early Christian tradition, in an effort to understand better its contemporary complexity.  Only minimal attention will be given to the Eastern Christian traditions during this period, since these are the subject of a separate course.  In the course of the term, students will read and write reflective essays on several primary sources, each selected to represent the historical and confessional diversity of Christian traditions, as well as to present certain basic problems from the history of Christianity.  





  • Joseph H. Lynch, The Medieval Church: A Brief History, Longman, 1992 (ISBN: 0-582-49467-2)

  • Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition: 400-1400, Yale University Press, 1999 (ISBN: 0300078528)

  • Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Penguin, 1966 (ISBN: 0-14-044177-8) [optional]

Several other items are to be found on the internet, as indicated below.

Internet Resources of General Use

The Catholic Encyclopedia Although this is an older edition (1907-12), there are many excellent articles on many of the key people, events, concepts, etc. covered in this class, particularly in the early and medieval periods.  The articles naturally reflect a particularly Roman Catholic point of view, making it a rich source for information on this tradition.  The articles are often lengthy, but are usually worth the read. 

Glossary of Theological Terms This glossary, taken from Alister McGrath's Christian Theology (2nd edition) published by Blackwell Publishers, provides succinct definitions for a number of theological technical terms.. 

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook  Many of the items used in this class, along with a number of other historical documents, maps, etc., are to be found here and at the related.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia This is a good online source for general information on a variety of topics: brief explanations of many people, places, etc. 



Attendance at all class sessions is expected.  Since class sessions will involve a fair amount of student discussion, students should read all the assignments carefully before coming to class.  Assignments will generally involve about 100 pages of reading per week.  Everyone should be prepared to contribute both ideas and questions to the class discussions.  Assignments and grading are as follows:


A.  Two exams 2/14 & 8:00 Thursday, March 22 (60%) 


B.  Class attendance and participation (10%) 


C.     One 5-6 page (double-spaced: approx. 1500 words) essays (30%), chosen from the following options.


1.    Due 2/21. Read these selections from Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People and answer the following questions: "How were the English people converted to Christianity?  What roles did the king and queen play?  To what extent did the English people themselves make this decision?  What was the status of the traditional 'pagan' religion after the conversion?  What do you think about the fact that this was the way in which Christianity was often spread in early Medieval Europe?"


2.   Due 3/6.  Read Anselm's Proslogium, his argument for the existence of God, along with Guanilo's objections and Anslem's response, and Thomas Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God and answer the following questions: "Explain Anselm's argument for the existence of God.  What are its strengths and its weaknesses?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of Guanilo's criticism and Anselm's response?  Does Aquinas offer a better set of arguments?  Which of these three opinions do you most agree with, or do you instead think that God's existence cannot be proven?  Explain the reasons for your answer." 

3. Due 3/15.   Read these selections from the Little Flowers of St. Francis and answer the following questions: "What is the essence of Christianity for Francis and his followers? What does it mean in their understanding to follow Christ? What is the importance of imitation? Do you think that their interpretation somehow recaptures the original spirit of Christ's teaching, or do you find it somehow too one-sided or idealistic?"

4. Due 3/15.  Read Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, revelations 13 & 14 (chapters 27-63 [long text]) and answer the following questions: “How does Julian reconcile God’s forgiving love with human sinfulness?  What is her understanding of sin and of divine judgment and punishment?  What sort of tensions exist between her own thoughts and the teaching of the Church?  How does she resolve them?  What do you think of her conclusions?” 

Format of EssaysIn answering the questions, first of all, briefly summarize the contents of the text(s) regarding the questions asked: what do the texts say?  Then, take a clear position in response to the texts and defend it: imagine that your reader believes the opposite and that you are trying to persuade him or her.  Your assignment for this paper is to write from a perspective outside of the traditions in question.  Do not make the mistake of giving a spiritual autobiography or a narrative of how this text relates to your own personal spiritual life and faith.  Do not make the mistake of just dismissing the ideas of a text because you have different religious beliefs: if you disagree, give convincing reasons why.  In all instances, strive for an impersonal and objective tone: you need to represent the contents of the text(s) fairly and accurately and give thoughtful reasons for your response.  Your goal for this assignment is to approach and consider these religious traditions as objects of study from the outside, NOT from the perspective of an insider, legitimate as this perspective is in other contexts.  Even if one is a believer in a particular tradition, the purpose of taking this class is to learn how to see and study the same phenomena from a perspective outside of the tradition.  In general, it is good to avoid using "I," "me," "my," "we," "our," "you", "your" (except in quotations of course); you should give your opinions, but write them using the third person.  Also, while you should cite examples from the texts, be sure to explain and contextualize any quotations made, and be sure that your own voice is not lost in a sea of quotations. All quotations must be identified as such, and references to the text should be given parenthetically either as a page number or section number, as appropriate.  Take care to write correctly and well: you will be graded for grammar and style as well as content.  Finally, please number your pages.  For extra help and advice on writing your paper, the University Teaching and Learning Service in the basement of PLC is an invaluable resource.

Expectations and Regulations

1.  Preparation:  You are expected to come to class having completed the reading assignments for that session.  You should be prepared to discuss and ask questions about the assignments.  Note also that some material from the readings that is not covered in class may be included on the examinations. 

2.  Participation and Class Attendance: You should come to class prepared to ask questions and to discuss the readings for that session.  Regular class attendance is required, and attendance will be taken.  If you expect to miss class doe to illness, observance of religious holy days, or other extenuating circumstances, please notify the instructor in advance after class or at sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu.

3.  Late Papers: Unless an extension has been arranged in advance, late papers will be marked down one full letter grade for each day after the due date.  Late papers will not be accepted more than three days after the due date. 

4.  Make-up or Early Exams: will be allowed only in truly exceptional circumstances, in the case of unforeseeable events beyond the student’s control. 

5.  Plagiarism or Cheating: Students caught plagiarizing or cheating on any assignment will be reported to the Student Conduct Coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students.  Students who are aware of cheating or plagiarism are encouraged to inform the instructor.  If you are uncertain as to what constitutes plagiarism (or other forms of academic dishonesty), please consult this helpful guide from the UO library concerning plagiarism, as well as the UO's Policy on Academic Dishonesty.  

6.  Completion of Assignments:  Completion of all required assignments (2 Exams, 1 Paper)  is necessary to pass and receive credit for the course.  Incompletes will be granted only at the discretion of the instructor and only in case of circumstances beyond the student's control.  

7.  Special Needs: Students with special needs requiring academic accommodations should 1) register with and provide documentation to Disability Services; 2) bring a letter to the instructor from the SSD indicating that you need academic accommodations, and we will arrange to meet them.  This should be done during the first week of class. 

Grading Scale







Course Outline


Week 1


1/10 Introduction


1/12 Christianity and the Roman Empire 

Read: Lynch, 1-23; Colish, 3-15; Ammianus Marcellinus on the decadence of Rome


Handout 1

Week 2


1/17 Augustine of Hippo and the Medieval Theological Tradition

Read: Colish, 25-37;Augustine, selections from The City of God; The Confessions Book 8 (from; The "Vincentian Canon"


1/19 The "Fall of Rome" & the Rise of the Papacy

Read: Lynch, 24-29; 35-45 Colish, 37-41;  Pope Leo the Great; Pope Gregory the Great: Letters showing Papal Activity; The Papal Estates; Pope Gregory the Great and the Lombards; The Conversion of Clovis


Week 3


1/24 Monasticism in the Christian West

Read: Lynch, 29-35; Colish, 42-55; The Rule of St. Benedict


Handout 2

1/26 Christianity in the British Isles

Read: Lynch, 45-64; Colish, 56-65 Rule of St. Columba; St. Columban (d. 615): Boat Song; The Heavenly Banquet; Bede, The Conversion of England;


Week 4


1/31  No class: instructor lecturing at Pomona College


2/2  Charlemagne and the Carolingian Dynasty

Read: Lynch, 65-96; Colish, 66-75; Gregory III, Letter to Charles Martel; Einhard, Life of Charlemagne (selections); Gottschalk, Shorter Confession


Week 5


2/7 The Breakup of the Carolingian Empire

Read: Lynch, 97-107; 116-32; Colish, 160-74 Three Sources on the Ravages of the Northmen in Frankland; Fidelity Oaths; Fulbert of Chartres, Letter on mutual obligations


2/9 The Monastery of Cluny and the Reform Movement

Read: Lynch, 107-15; 136-50; Charter of Abbey of Cluny; Papal Election Decree; Gregory VII: Bans on Lay Invesititures; first and second decrees excommunicating Henry IV; The Concordat of Worms 


Handout 3

Week 6


2/14 EXAM 1


2/16 The "Great Schism" between East and West

Read: Colish, 113-28; Patriarch Photius of Constantinople, Encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs; The Great Schism, from Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church


Week 7


2/21 The Crusades

Read: Lynch, 151-67; Pope Urban II's speech at Clermont; Capture of Jerusalem; Children's Crusade; Sack of Constantinople; Map of the Mediterranean world at the time of the first Crusade (ca. 1099); Map of the Crusader states


First Paper Due

2/23 The Rise of Scholastic Theology: Anselm & Abelard

Read: Lynch, 239-55; Colish, 265-88; Richer of Rheims: Journey to Chartres; Tables: Population in Europe; Adelard of Bath,  Natural Questions; Abelard's Sic et Non (selections); History of My Calamities (selections)


Week 8


2/28 Francis of Assisi and the Mendicant Religious Orders

Read: Lynch, 228-38; Colish, 234-39 Life of Francis (selections); Francis, Testament


3/1 Scholastic and Mystical Theology in the High Middle Ages: Aquinas and Julian of Norwich

Read: Colish, 239-44; 289-301; Summa Theologica (selections); Gregory IX, Statutes of the University of Paris, 1231; Jacques de Vitry, Life of the Students at Paris, 13th century; Julian of Norwich, Revelations, Chap 51


Week 9


3/6 Religious Dissent in the Middle Ages: Medieval Heresies 

Read: Lynch, 216-27; Colish, 245-52; Peter Waldo: medieval accounts of his conversion and of his "errors."; Raynaldus, Annales; The Book of John the Evangelist; Cathar ritual of initiation; Bernard Gui's Inquisitor's Manual


Handout 4


Second Paper Due

3/8 The Peak and Decline of the Medieval Papacy 

Read: Lynch, 168-82; 303-27; Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam; Licet Juris


Week 10


3/13 The Conciliar Movement: A Failed Attempt at Reformation

Read: Lynch, 328-45; Colish, 335-45; decrees of the Council of Constance: Sacrosancta and Frequens; Pope Pius II's Bull Execrabilis


3/15 Early Reformers: Wycliff and Huss

Read: Lynch, 336-345; Colish, 253-62; Papal condemnation of John Wycliffe; Jan Huss, Final Declaration


Third & Fourth Papers Due



EXAM 2: 8:00 Thursday, March 22