How The Church Became a Powerful Force In Europe

This morning I came across an old man that I see sometimes when I’m out walking. Usually he doesn’t say anything, he merely grunts, or sometimes nods his head a small fraction of an inch.

This morning, however, he was different. He stopped and said good morning, and his body posture indicated he wanted to speak to me. So I naturally acquiesced, realizing the opportunity to speak a perhaps wise old timer. Maybe he was going to let me in on some of the secrets of life only available after several decades of successful living.

“You walk every morning, huh?” He said.
I nodded.
“How far?” he asked.
I replied that I wasn’t sure, but judging by the time, perhaps three or four kilometers.
“That’s good. You’ll live a long time.” He then described the neighborhood that I live in, telling me about the people that live here.

My neighborhood is surrounded by small, privately maintained rice fields, and apparently they have been in the family for at least two or three generations. Land is expensive, and usually a son will get married and then live with his parents, and eventually inherit the land.

It’s an interesting way to pass on wealth, through family bloodlines. Back in the old old days, it was important to from alliances with several families, and marriages were very strategic, in order to protect land ownership. Nowadays it doesn’t seem to be that way anymore, even here in Japan. Most people when they grow up don’t wish to inherit their families rice field. They’d rather move to Tokyo to get an office job.

I was reading an interesting book about land and wealth and families, and how it had a dramatic effect on the evolution of religion in Europe. Rich and powerful families would own lots of land, and do their best to keep it in the family. Quite often the most powerful landowners were often the same people that were in the government, so if you didn’t own land, you were pretty much at the mercy of those that did.

Marriages were strictly controlled, and the power and wealth of the time was effectively kept in the hands of the few. But when the Church became more and more popular, an interesting struggle began.

On the one hand, you had kings and monarchs that could protect their wealth and power through bloodlines, and marriages selected to keep the wealth in the family. Strategic marriages were extremely common in those times, and often times you had marriages between cousins to maintain the family power.

On the other hand, you had the Church. The Church had no method like bloodlines or arranged marriages to maintain its power. But eventually, the church became the de facto governing power in much of Europe.

This happened through the development of moral laws, primary to control the sexual behaviors of people. By controlling the sexual behavior of people, the church basically controlled those arranged marriages that he kings and nobles used to protect their bloodlines. The church enforced all kinds of moral laws regarding whom you could marry, effectively limiting the power of the monarchs to choose their own bloodlines.

Soon the church was dictating through its enforced moral laws, which families were marrying who.

An interesting way this happened stems from the idea of the “first son.” Generally, the first-born son was the inheritor of the father’s wealth, and the second son was generally left to the good graces of the first son, which generally weren’t very much.

So another interesting thing happened which gave the Church even more power. The groups, which entered into the monastery, or priesthood, and soon became the group that was dictating moral law to the rest of society, were these second sons.

The second sons that were being shut out of the family fortune, were collectively entering the church to create moral laws to diminish the wealth and power of individual families, and increase the wealth the and power of the church.

And that is how the Catholic Church quickly became the most powerful force in Europe. By effectively controlling the sexual behavior of others.