The church alone directed and conducted education in medieval Europe. Unless destined for the priesthood, young men of the upper classes had little formal schooling, though the family chaplain often taught them to read and write. Young women usually had less education. But the monastic schools educated future monks and priests, and the Cluniac reform, stimulated study and the copying of manuscripts.
Church and Society in the Medieval West
In the early thirteenth century, the reforming movement within the church took on new aspects. As town populations grew, the new urban masses were sometimes subject to waves of mass and unthinking emotional enthusiasms which could lead to heresy. These outbreaks and the fears that led to them were a cry for spiritual help. The mendicant orders, or begging orders, were, therefore, also meant to be a response to heresy. Two famous new orders of friars—Dominican and Franciscan—thus arose.
One newly founded order broke with the rule of Benedict, finding its inspiration in a letter of Augustine is that prescribed simply that monks share all their property, pray together at regular intervals, dress alike, and obey a superior. Some of the “Augustinians,” as they called themselves, interpreted these general rules severely, living in silence, performing manual labor, eating and drinking sparingly, and singing psalms; others ate meat, conversed among themselves, and did not insist on manual labor.
Frederick II was right in believing that the church needed reform. For example, Innocent IV, in fighting Frederick, had approved the appointment to a bishopric in German territory of an illiterate and dissolute young man of nineteen just because he was a member of a powerful anti- Hohenstaufen noble family; this bishop was forced to resign after twenty-five years, but only because his public boasting about his fourteen bastards had become a scandal.
Frederick II is perhaps the most interesting medieval monarch. Intelligent and cultivated, he took a deep interest in scientific experiment, wrote poetry in Italian, wrote on the sport of falconry, and was a superb politician. He was cynical, tough, a sound diplomat, an able administrator, and a statesman. Furthermore, he felt at home in Sicily—the sophisticated society in which his mother had grown up—and greatly preferred it to Germany.
Three months after the death of Henry VI, when his son and heir, Frederick II, was only four years old, there came to the papal throne Innocent III (r. 1198-1216), the greatest of all the medieval popes. Innocent played a major part in the politics of France, England, and the Byzantine Empire. He said that papal power was like the sun, and kingly power like the moon, which derives its light from the sun. While he granted that his own position was “lower than God,” he maintained that it was loftier than that of any other man.