During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church exerted enormous power over Europe. The Church influenced governments, waged wars and levied taxes. Although some actions, such as the Medieval Inquisition, are controversial today, the Catholic Church also established universities and hospitals, instigated positive social change and paved the way for economic growth that permanently changed European society.

Education

In 1079, Pope Gregory VII decreed that the Church would build cathedral schools, institutions designed to educate future members of the clergy. Their success led to the development of European universities in the 12th century, whose educational scope quickly broadened beyond religious training into medicine and law. The growth of universities meant that more men required preparatory education in Latin, which was mandatory in university educations at the time. To meet this need, the church also created primary education facilities that prepared men for university study. Through the creation of universities and institutions of primary education, the Catholic Church spread literacy and promoted the growth of intellectual curiosity.

Hospitals

Until universities began to house medical facilities in the 12th century, most medical care in Europe occurred in Catholic monasteries. The church went on to found the university system, which provided facilities and care as well as training for physicians. It was also responsible for creating the European hospital system, which began in the 13th century when Pope Innocent III ordered the establishment of a hospital in Rome. The hospital was so popular that it sparked the construction of hundreds of additional institutions across Europe that followed the same model. These new hospitals meant that medical care became accessible for nearly all European people for the first time.

Improved Economy

In 1095, Pope Urban II urged Europeans to declare war on the Middle East and recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims, beginning a series of Crusades that lasted until the 13th century. The Crusades were generally unsuccessful, but resulted in enormous economic changes in Europe. Change occurred because crusading was extremely expensive and required wealthy Europeans to spend vast amounts of money. To fund a crusade, churches and noblemen sold property and took loans. They also paid the lower classes for services. These actions resulted in a major redistribution of European wealth. At the same time, new trade routes through the Middle East, the formation of guilds and the creation of modern lending institutions led to the birth of modern economies and the formation of the middle class.

Care for the Poor

As the Crusades began at the end of the 11th century, commerce began to develop in Europe. In response, European society experienced the emergence of two new classes of people: the middle class and the extremely poor, who were often reduced to begging. Governments during this time attempted to ban poor people from public areas and institute vagrancy laws to keep beggars out of cities. In response, the Catholic Church moved to aggressively protect the poor, insisting they were entitled to basic rights. The Church attempted to protect these by exempting the poor from court fees in ecclesiastic courts and by providing free legal counsel, food, shelter and alms.