Volume III - Church History

Thirteenth Century

The West

The 13th century has been called the “greatest of centuries” in the Western Church. The strong Pope Innocent III (r. 1198–1216) succeeded in upholding the prestige and power of the Papacy. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 defined the official doctrines of the Western Church. The remarkable Francis of Assisi (c. 1181–1226) founded his Franciscan Order (OFM) with its first great members Anthony of Padua (c. 1190–1231) and the major theologians Bonaventure (c. 1217–1274) and John Duns Scotus (c. 1265–1308). And in theological studies, it was the golden age of Scholastism.

By the beginning of the 13th century the University of Paris had taken shape; it was given its statutes by the illustrious Pope Innocent III in 1215. It was the first of many universities arising in western Europe, where theology was taught and studied in a scholastic manner as the “Queen of the Sciences.”

In about 1217 the Spaniard Dominic (c. 1174–1221) founded the Dominican Order of Preachers (OP). The great Scholastic theologian Albertus Magnus (c. 1200–1280) and his famous disciple Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), the greatest of all the Scholastic teachers, were two of its most illustrious early members. Aquinas’s vast, monumental Summa Theologiae dominated official Roman Catholic theology until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. The controversial German mystical theologian Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–c. 1328) was also a member of the Dominican Order.

Around 1233 Pope Gregory IX (r. 1227–1241) established the Inquisition to seek out and punish heretics—often using the death penalty—with full-time Papal inquisitors appointed mainly from the recently founded Dominican and Franciscan Orders.

With the support of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Carmelite Order (OCC) took shape at the beginning of the 13th century among a group of Latin-speaking hermits living on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. A number of smaller religious groups also emerged during this century in the Latin Church.