Everyone is familiar with the notion of an ‘Age of Faith’. It is the idea that, at some time in the past, everyone believed what religious authority told them to believe. In this paper I propose to test the truth of this idea, in one period, and one region.
I have chosen thirteenth-century Italy. The Middle Ages stand, par excellence, as the Age of Faith; and the thirteenth century, late enough not to starve us of evidence, was still early enough to be safely medieval. Italy, too, chooses itself: its documents, and its debates, yield the historian a clearer picture than he would get elsewhere. Whether Italy was typical of latin Christendom is a question that would call, not for another paper, but for another conference. But hints of her position will appear in the course of our enquiry. Some sources singled her out, some did not – giving an assurance, between them, that any difference between Italy and the rest was a difference between shades of grey.
Italy, then, in the thirteenth century, is our field; and we shall be enquiring in it not, now, about kinds of belief, but about degrees of it. How far were our predecessors, in the time and place chosen, in the modern sense ‘religious’?