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Saving the Sinners: The Medieval Church & the Laity - MST00039M

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  • Department: Centre for Medieval Studies
  • Module co-ordinator: Information currently unavailable
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

In the later twelfth century the mission of the church was transformed: instead of counselling flight from the world and its vices, it aimed, with renewed vigour, to engage the world and offer a fully Christian life to those within. To a church that had most confidently fostered salvation through monastic life this presented a pressing challenge: what did it mean to be a Christian in the world?

Bishops, theologians, lawyers and laity all played a part in asking and answering this question. This module will explore how they identified workable ideals for lay life and new regulations, rituals, and systems of care for their support. It will place the great Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 in the context of the movement of reform (c.1160-1260) and its challenge of implementing grand ideals on a local level. We will use examples from England and Northern France to illustrate how the pastoral church engaged the laity and, in particular, gain a familiarity the major sources available for the later medieval church. This century of reform created the structures of the later medieval church; its problems (and solutions) illuminate the rationales that underpinned them.

Students who take this module should:

  • develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • assess a range of primary source material and the relevant secondary historiography
  • develop their powers of historical argument
  • gain awareness of the shape of the pastoral church, how it engaged the needs of the laity in the century 1160-1260, and re-thought issues such as marriage, preaching and confession
  • engage with a range of the major sources available for the study later medieval church, including legal and administrative sources as well as texts to educate and persuade.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully should:

  • Have an understanding of the ideals, problems and innovations behind pastoral reform.
  • Be familiar with the structures of the medieval church, especially its systems of decision-making, communication, and administration.
  • Recognise the major primary sources for the study of the later medieval church, including sermons, legislation, bishops registers, court records, and confessors manuals.

Have an appreciation of the major areas of study, debate and the key methodological problems in approaches to the laity and pastoral care.



Special assessment rules




Module feedback

Written and/or verbal feedback on draft essay; written report on final assessment within 6 weeks of submission, and within 2 weeks of resubmission.

Indicative reading

  • Sarah Hamilton, Church and People in the Medieval West 900-1200 (Pearson Education, Harlow, 2013), provides an excellent introduction to the background and emerging issues.
  • Colin Morris, The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250, Oxford History of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • C. R. Cheney, From Becket to Langton: English Church Government 1170-1213 (Manchester University Press, 1956)
  • John Baldwin, Masters Princes and Merchants: The Social Views of Peter the Chanter, 2 vols (Princeton University Press, 1970)
  • R. N. Swanson, Religion and Devotion in Europe, c.1215-c.1515 (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.