The burdens of church history in the middle ages

Barbara Newman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We live in apocalyptic times. But, for a chilling sense that the end is at hand, one cannot beat the Middle Ages. So when I reflect on the burdens of church history as a medievalist, I find it bracing to ponder some ways that the era's most thoughtful prophetic writers brooded on church history. They were at least as concerned as we about complicity in an institution they saw as compromised at best, and at worst, in the service of Antichrist. St. Hildegard (1098-1179), though orthodox enough to have been declared a Doctor of the Church in 2012, wrote scathing letters to the most powerful prelates of her day and preached sermons against their negligence. No less scathing was William Langland (fl. 1365-1385), author of the sprawling allegorical vision of Piers Plowman. Langland decided to revise his poem after its prophecies about the dispossession of clergy played a role in the Great Rising of 1381, in which the archbishop of Canterbury was murdered. Wisely, he concealed his identity; we know his name almost by accident.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1009-1013
Number of pages5
JournalChurch History
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 17 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies


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