All those monks and friars spoke the same unclassical Latin; they heard the same Mass wherever they went; they were formed by an education that was the same in all countries; they professed the same system of fundamental beliefs; and they all acknowledged the supreme authority of the Pope, which was essentially international: their country was Christendom, their state was the Church. But this is not all. Their internationalizing influence was strengthened by the fact that feudal society itself was international. Not only the Pope’s but also the Emperor’s authority was international in principle and, to some varying degree, in fact. The old Roman Empire and that of Charlemagne were no mere reminiscences. People were familiar with the idea of a temporal as well as of a spiritual superstate. National divisions did not mean to them what they came to mean during the sixteenth century; nothing in the whole range of Dante’s political ideas is so striking as is the complete absence of the nationalist angle. The result was the emergence of an essentially international civilization and an international republic of scholars that was no phrase but a living reality. St. Thomas was an Italian and John Duns Scotus was a Scotsman, but both taught in Paris and Cologne without encountering any of the difficulties that they would have encountered in the age of airplanes.
In fact as well as in principle, practically everybody who wished to do so was allowed to enter a monastic order and also to join the ranks of the secular clergy. But advancement within the Church was open to everybody in principle only, since the claims of members of warrior-class families in fact absorbed the greater part of bishopries and abbotcies. But the man without connection was never entirely excluded from the higher dignities, not even from the highest; and, what is much more important for us, he was not debarred from becoming an idea-shaping and policy-shaping ‘keyman.’ The regular clergy (the monks) and the friars supplied, as it were, the general staff of the Church. And in the monasteries men of all classes met on equal terms. natural lawly, the intellectual atmosphere was often charged with social and political radicalism, though this was, of course, much more the case at some times than at others and much more with the friars than with the regular monks. In the literature that we are going to survey we get this radicalism in a highly rarefied form but we do get it.