Expert Answer Forum

teachers corruption QUESTION from Dustin Dreifuerst M.I. January 18, 2000 I had a teacher in a wordl history class that said during the middle ages the church told the peasants that if you were a peasant and that god wanted them to be peasants, is that true?
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on January 23, 2000 There's some truth to what your teacher is saying, but, I think that statement needs to be elaborated.
First, it was a common belief in the Middle Ages that society was divided into three groups-- the clergy and religious, the warrior nobility and the laborers. This idea was common among the clergy, who were generally the most educated people in a society and tended to be the ones to comment on current events.
It was true that many clergy (not necessarily all) believed that if you were born a peasant, then that was your station in life and that you should make the best of it. Some people have interpreted this idea in a negative fashion. In their ignorance of Catholicism, they claim that the Church taught that peasants should remain peasants in order to keep down the working class. First, the Church never taught against people improving their lives; Secondly, the clergy encouraged the laborers to make the most of their situation. This does not mean that the Church was opposed to improving their lot, or their social mobility. The belief that God has a role for everyone does not mean that the masses should accept injustice. Thirdly, we are not dealing with magisterial teaching, but the opinions of certain writers.
Class divisions were taken very seriously in Medieval Society. In fact, it was commonly accepted that there should be different laws for different groups of people, whereas we today would never accept inequality before the law. When I was in college, I studied the various ways in which class distinctions were preserved in Elizabethan England, one of them being through dress. In Elizabethan England, if you were of the lower classes, you could not wear clothes which did not correspond to your station (though a lot of people did to get accepted in the higher echelons). If you did, you could be fined. This is a bit past the Middle Ages, but it gives you an idea of the importance attributed to social classes in pre-Modern times.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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