contributor.author: Candace Gregory

title.none: Logan, The Church in the Middle Ages (Candace Gregory)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.025 05.01.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Candace Gregory, California State University, Sacramento, cgregory@csus.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Logan, F. Donald. A History of the Church in the Middle Ages. New York: Routledge, 2002. Pp. xiv, 368. $23.00 (pb). ISBN: 0-415-13289-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.25

Logan, F. Donald. A History of the Church in the Middle Ages. New York: Routledge, 2002. Pp. xiv, 368. $23.00 (pb). ISBN: 0-415-13289-4.

Reviewed by:

Candace Gregory
California State University, Sacramento
cgregory@csus.edu

Donald Logan's A History of the Church in the Middle Ages is a thorough record of the development of the Christian church in western Europe from the Roman period to just before the Reformation. Although there are a few brief glimpses of the eastern church, of Islam, and of the minor sects of Christianity, this book deals exclusively with the development of the Roman Catholic church in western Europe. Logan is very careful to avoid any impression that the church developed in isolation, yet never loses sight of his western focus. Similarly, he is careful to always locate the church within the broader political and social developments of the middle ages in its European entirety. The text is arranged in a very straightforward chronological manner, and while there are a few quibbles to be found with the particulars, the general is a solid piece of historical survey. It seems best suited to use as an introductory text for students new to the field of ecclesiastical history.

As presented by Logan, the Christian church evolved from a small coterie of followers of Christ to become the dominant social and cultural force of the western world. Logan does not argue that this progression was inevitable, but it does present it as a very natural development. In Chapter 1, Logan establishes the "Pre-Medieval Church" as a primarily Roman entity; he moves very quickly over the Judaic origins of Christianity in favor of the Roman association, which suits the western orientation of the book as a whole. In this chapter Logan also takes the opportunity to explain some of the fundamental beliefs of the faith, such as universal love (3), monotheism (7), and a "rigid moral code" (7), to name just three. The next chapter, on "The Beginning of the Middle Ages," moves beyond the development of doctrine into the cultural context of the Germanic migrations. Here Logan is at his best, weaving together the disparate strands of western Christian history, from the land on the fringe of the continent (Visigothic Spain and the asceticism of Ireland) to the central role of the Franks. Chapter 3 continues this interweaving of stories with material on the Byzantine and Islamic cultures, and the book moves along century by century.

One of Logan's goals with the book is to move beyond the usual papal orientation of histories of the church. He discusses the evolution of the papacy from a minor power within the church to a role of primacy, but not at the expense of the other facets of the church. Logan takes the broadest possible definition of church; the medieval church included church as state, as laity, as doctrine and belief, as practice, the real, and the ideal. Although the basic organization of the book is chronological, Logan returns repeatedly to several themes. These include the gradual process of conversion of the Germans, the recurring tensions with the Byzantine church, intellectual activity (including the rise of the universities and the cathedrals, handled in Chapter 12), and the changing face of monasticism.

Less attention than one might hope is given to popular beliefs and how they follow or diverge, variously, from the official doctrines of the church; here Logan's broad definition of "church" closes in upon itself. This lack is particularly notable in the cursory discussion of the Wycliffite heresy in Chapter 16, which oddly enough makes only one mention of Lollards (342) and in the lack of material on the cult of the saints. Wyclif himself is relegated to the position of influence on Jan Hus. While this lack of attention on a regional English heretic might seem logical, it belies the fact that Hus himself represents a regional sect, that Logan has previously presented England as highly influential on the course of Christianity as a whole, and the current view of scholars that Wyclif, and his followers the Lollards, had tremendous impact on the eventual Reformation. The Reformation itself Logan wisely avoids, except for the occasional comment about the medieval origins of Luther's beliefs.

Overall, popular beliefs and practices are given short shrift in the book as a whole. Chapter 8 does address devotions to Mary and to the positioning of the Eucharist in the Mass, but rather than elaborating on the importance these practices had for lay beliefs, focuses instead on the development of doctrine and clerical control of these devotions. Lay beliefs and practices are best handled in Chapter 11, on the Albigensians, although this does imply that lay beliefs were somehow outside acceptable norms.

Yet the papacy and its progress from marginal to powerful to corrupted by that power remain the single most important theme of the book and runs throughout. In particular, Chapters 4, 6, 7, 10, 13, 15, 16, and 17 (obviously the bulk of the book, which is comprised of seventeen chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue) elaborate on the rise and fall of the papacy. Chapter 4, self-consciously declaring "here we shall see the development of papal power" (47) looks at Gregory the Great. The papacy's fortunes will rise and fall with its control of land. Gregory's acquisition of land and enlargement of the "patrimony of Peter" (50) is only the beginning of a very long process. Even popes of questionable reputation get swept up in Logan papal focus; Boniface VIII, perhaps the most scourged pope of the Middle Ages, is exculpated from blame in his struggles with Philip IV of France (256ff). One of the most intriguing parts of the book is Logan's defense of the Avignon popes as a "remarkably able line of popes, unlike any since the late eleventh-early twelfth century" (307). Here Logan-as-revisionist is at his more effective.

Logan is very emphatic in his preface that this book is a "starting point" (xiii) and the book fulfills that promise. It does everything that an introductory survey text should do: it presents a broad outline of the most essential incidents in western church history, yet makes no attempt to be all-inclusive and thus risk wearing the reader out. Arranged chronologically, with each chapter covering roughly one century or one particularly crucial event, the book is divided into discrete units that allow the reader to dip into a subject, get a taste of it, and use the excellent "Further Readings" at the end of each chapter to find more thorough handling of that particular subject.

These "Further Readings," and the sources that Logan cites in the text itself, are rather conventional and somewhat predictable, which is characteristic of the book in its entirety, and is both an asset and a drawback to the book. Logan favors the long-honored and traditional names; nowhere in the book is that more apparent than in the section on the crusades, in which Steven Runciman is referred to as the "doyen of the history of the crusades" (128). At times Logan is nearly apologetic about the constraints of his survey approach, constantly defending his decisions to either continue to use or to debunk the stereotypes of ecclesiastical history. Logan's desire present a revisionist history sometimes leads him to confusion: he claims at one point that "crusades were marginal events in the general flow of medieval history" (118) yet then proceeds to refer to them repeatedly in the subsequent chapters. This reflects the tension between Logan's desire to present a new analysis of ecclesiastical history tempered by his own very traditional approach to the same material. At times, his desire to debunk the stereotypes leads him to sound defensive. Logan spends far too much time in Chapter 2 arguing that Benedict of Nursia did not write the monastic rule that bears his name, and against claims that he "invented" monasticism. (20) As no true historian would ever claim that, why argue against it? Another problem that crops up in several places is Logan's references to films, to no good purpose (see for instance 128, where Logan tosses out a reference to Alexander Nevsky).

But these are minor quibbles to the book, which is in general a solid approach to the subject. Far more troubling is the lack of reference to or information presented on women and the church. Because Logan focuses very heavily the political history of the church (such as the role of the papacy), he apparently finds little reason to explore the role women played in the medieval church. Hildegard of Bingen is presented in depth but there is little else about women on offer. Where are the women of the church?