Now, almost eight centuries after these horrific multiple whammies, which historians and other analysts estimate to have wiped out between a quarter and third of Europe’s total population of perhaps sixty million between 1347 and 1351, we have mostly forgotten this even occurred. We imagine the calamity of World War 2 to have been the worst event in human history, but it pales in proportion to this period of woe. The devastating Spanish flu of 1918-19, the last real pandemic in recent history, pales in perspective despite its estimated global death toll of sixty million. The plague did not tear or bomb down structures, but it left whole towns and regions deserted, ghost-like vestiges that the wilderness swallowed in a few decades.
When all of this is married to the growing dissatisfaction with the imperial, established Church system and the increasingly obvious distortion of holiness
into formal sacramentalism and the suppression or cooption of all attempts to return to a spirit of simplicity in seeking God, the makings of a great upheaval
were at hand.
the Renaissance of ancient humanism rooted in pagan Imperial Rome would play a significant
role in fracturing the unity and supremacy of the imperialist Roman Church. The 13th Century saintly giants, Francis
and Thomas, stood as precocious signposts to the roads that would diverge from
the main highway in the 14th and
15th Centuries and generate revolutionary events in the 16th
It was fitting that that most imperial of all Popes, Pope Innocent III, had to deal with that humblest and most unpreposessing of saints, Francesco Bernardone (1182-1226), the greatest radical and most serious challenge to imperial Christianity of the Middle Ages, and perhaps of all time.
Part of Rome’s genius was adoption and adaptation—the ability to absorb and assimilate all comers, repurposing them to serve Rome’s dominant vision as the great civilizer of the world, the great unifier giving everyone equal access to the same gods and guiding principles. The Emperor was the supreme symbol, the creator and maintainer of this unity—the “Saviour of mankind”, the “Son of God” (Jupiter, Zeus, Amon-Ra, Baal, whichever high deity was relevant to the people in question). Every subject and citizen of the Empire owed their final allegiance to the Emperor as the incarnation of Rome’s “genius”, or “Spirit-Guide”.