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19 Religious Authority and Ecclesiastical Governance

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Chapter Summary

In medieval Europe religious authority lay in the hands of clerics. Clerics were regarded as superior to the laity, and they were governed by the papacy in Rome. Orthodoxy was ruthlessly enforced and there was no religious liberty. That changed during the Renaissance and Reformation. Religious authority in medieval Europe was shaped by three main factors. First, knowledge was based on writing; second, most writing was in Latin; and third, the ability to read and write was limited to clerics. The third period in the history of religious authority in early modern Europe was therefore marked by persistent religious wars. The Age of Religious War offered conclusive proof that the shift from conformity to sense made peace impossible to keep unless the exercise of public authority was founded on something other than religion, regardless of whether religion was authenticated by the papacy in Rome or by the self-authentication of Scripture.

Keywords: early modern Europe; reformation; religious authority; renaissance

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