As we come up to the 500 year anniversary of Reformation Day, when Martin Luther tacked his revolutionary list of exceptions to current church practice and belief to the Castle Church door in the German town of Wittenberg, we’re faced with the realization that the Reformation embraced many more people than the popular telling of history enumerates. Many more.
His family name was “Black Earth,” as in the rich, fertile soil around his hometown. In German, Schwartzerdt. His first name was Philipp. He was born in Feb of 1497 at Bretten in SW Germany. His father was an armorer for an important German Count.
By necessity due to time, we ended the last episode in the middle of recounting Luther’s great conversion experience, where he realized the righteousness God requires isn’t one borne of good works, but is the righteousness of God Himself, which He gives freely to those who put their faith in the atoning work of Christ.
We left off last time with the close of the Diet of Worms where Martin Luther informed the august assembled officials of both civil government & Church, that he’d not recant what he’d either written or said, because his opponents weren’t able to refute him with Scripture.
Since we’re rapidly approaching the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we begin a short series on it’s beginning.
In Season 1 we spent a little time tracking the Enlightenment’s impact on the Christian Faith. Dual impetuses emerged; one leading to Liberalism, the other to Fundamentalism, which was the reaction of Orthodoxy to the challenges of Liberalism.
Years ago I watched a TV show with fascination as the host, james Burke, started with a single item then over the course of the next hour, showed it’s link to something else, then that to something else, until after a dozen seemingly disconnected links it arrived at some marvel of modern convenience and daily life. The show was called Connections. It’s one of several things that stoked my love of history.
One of the most interesting moments in Church History comes in the conflict over the use of images in Worship. It’s born of the reality that Christianity has its roots in Judaism but had vast appeal among pagan Gentiles.
One of the features of Church History is the tendency for the theological pendulum to swing to one extreme, then back in the other direction to another. At the risk of being simplistic but in an attempt to keep it brief, let me condense things like this . . .
As we’ve seen in other episodes, theologically, the Church spent the 4th & 5th Cs figuring out exactly how to articulate what it believed about the nature of God & Jesus. The main questions it dealt with in the 5th thru 7th Cs, centered on how God saves the lost. Theologians were consumed with properly understanding God’s grace, free will, and the nature of sin. Just what happened in the Fall? Instead of the nature of God, it was the nature of humanity that dominated Church councils.
This episode of CS will be significantly different from our usual fare. Whereas when I give commentary on things, I usually verbally mark it off by giving a caveat and saying I’m offering an opinion. Well, this entire episode is that. Here’s why . . . and hang with me for a bit because it’s going to take a little time to explain.
We’re going to go forward in time from our last episode nearly a millennium. Last time we talked about the Gnostics and the serious challenge they presented the Early Church. The dualism that lay at the heart of Gnosticism continued to rear its hoary head in the centuries that followed. It was part & parcel of the Zoroastrianism & Manichaeanism rooted in Persia and was the official faith of the Sassanid Empire. Dualistic ideas were so popular, they managed to infiltrate many Christians communities in both the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire. When Rome fell and Byzantium carried on in its place, the influence of dualism lingered. Church leaders were able to hold it at bay by using the work of earlier fathers who fought Gnosticism. But as those works fell out of use, dualism resurged.
For 2nd generation Christians—let’s say, those who came to faith after AD 70, Jesus became less a person they’d personally known, or the friend of a friend—but more of a mysterious agent in a cosmic drama.
We start a new series here in Season 2 of CS. This time we’ll take a look at some of the notable Heretics & Heresies in Church History. Most of these we covered in Season 1. This time we’ll go a bit deeper. As we do, we just might discover that some of those movements and groups that have been classed as heretical, weren’t. Aberrant maybe, but heretical, not! As has been said; Winners write history. They get to tell the tale. It seems at least some of the reporting of Church officials misrepresented / mischaracterized the position of those they opposed and were able to stamp out. When the writings of these groups were systematically round & destroyed, all we’re left with is the account of their opponents; a questionable source at best.
We’ve worked our way through 6 of what are known as the 7 Ecumenical Councils of Church History. We’ve examined the Councils and the Creeds they produced. Although, after the First Council in 325 at Nicaea, each subsequent Council claimed that all it was doing was refining the verbiage of the Nicaean Creed. Each claimed it was merely an extension of the ground-breaking work of that first august Council convened by the Emperor Constantine I.
It seems fitting then that the last of the 7 Ecumenical Councils should come back to Nicaea 450 yrs later. But it’s work had little to do with the Nicaean Creed.
These 7 Councils are called Ecumenical because they are generally accepted by both the Western Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox churches as normative in defining doctrine. The Roman Church adds additional Councils and their creeds as definitive which the Eastern Church rejects as the Eastern Church recognizes its own councils and creeds Rome ignores. And of course the huge Nestorian Church in the East stopped honoring the councils with Ephesus.
Before we get to the 7th Council, we need to talk a bit about a Council that was held 12 yrs after the Third Council of Constantinople we ended the last episode with.
In 692, Emperor Justinian II convened yet another council in the Eastern capital to finish some of the work that had been omitted by both the 5th & 6th Councils, notably, some canons that needed addressing. For that reason, this Council is called the 5th-6th Council. But since that sounds silly, let’s use Latin so it’ll sound more scholarly = Voila! It’s the Quinisext Council. It was attended by 215 only Eastern bishops.
Most of the canon work that was done aimed at settling ritual differences and coming to a standard practice of discipline for clergy in different regions. Since the Council was attended exclusively by Eastern bishops, it was the Eastern practice what was approved, at the expense of those in the West.
The Council condemned the custom of Armenian churches who used undiluted wine in Communion. They also banned clerical nepotism, and the atrocious practice of eating eggs and cheese on the Saturdays and Sundays of Lent. Several canons seemed aimed at provoking hostility from Rome.
While the Orthodox Church accepts the Quinisext Council as legit, Western Churches never accepted it as authoritative or in any sense ecumenical. How could it be when no Western bishop attended. Oh, there was a supposed papal legate in attendance; at least the record marks him there.
But Rome says no such person ever existed! The Council made him up to make it appear the Pope’s authority was included. The Venerable Bede called the Quinisext Council the “Reprobate Synod.”
The Pope at the time of the Council was Sergius I. He refused to endorse the canons & was ordered arrested by the Emperor & carried to Constantinople. But the City of Ravenna’s militia thwarted the troops attempt to seize him.
Ah. Isn’t all this just lovely stuff? Isn’t it wonderful hearing about how loving and humble church leaders were? This is what happens when Church & State become aligned under the rule of frail, fallible human beings. This is what happens when those IN authority fail to abide under it.
One of the most important products of the Quinisext Council was the official establishment of Pentarchy.
Pentarchy was originally articulated in legislation laid out by Emperor Justinian I in the mid 6th C, then included in canon law in the Council which ranked the ecclesiastical sees of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem in order of authority & pre-eminence in that order. Justinian linked the administrative authority of the Church to that of the State. Rome was regarded as first among equals. But by the time of the Quinisext Council, Constantinople was regarded as New Rome and had achieve parity with Rome in terms of ecclesiastical weight. At least, the Eastern Bishops thought so. Rome and the west, not so much. So they rejected the Council outright.
While the Pentarchy was a technical reality due to Justinian’s legislation, it had little weight in determining anything other than one more point for the East & West to argue over.
And that brings us to the 7th Ecumenical Council – the Second Council of Nicaea, in 787.
In a word, it met to deal with the use of icons.
Since we dealt with the Iconoclast Controversy in Season 1, we’ll summarize here.
The veneration of icons was banned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V. His actions were endorsed by the Council of Hieria in 754. Now, you know how people are. Whatever the ruler says, they all happily comply with, right? Especially when it comes to religious sensitivities and issues of conscience. Yeah – not so much.
The iconodules, that is, the supporters of icons rallied and staged a protest that was nothing if not vehement. But the Emperor stuck to his guns and kept the iconoclast policy in place. He vigorously enforcement the ban & persecuted violators. His son, Leo IV continued his policy but died while still young. Leo’s widow, Irene of Athens, then acted as regent and began a restoration of icon veneration.
In 784, the imperial secretary Tarasius was appointed as the successor to Constantinople’s Patriarch, Paul IV. Not wanting to take charge of a fragmented church, he consented to become Patriarch on the condition icons could once again be venerated. But since a Council claiming to be ecumenical had abolished icons, another council could be necessary to re- allow them.
To make the Council genuinely ecumenical, the Eastern Church realized it HAD to include the Western Church and invited Pope Adrian I to participate. He accepted, but showed his authorization of the Council by sending legates as his reps.
The Council met in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople in 786. When iconoclast elements of the military sought to break it up, the government devised a way to get rid of them. They mocked up a bogus campaign & sent the troops to go deal with it. Once they arrived at their destination, they were surrounded, disarmed, and disbanded.
The Council was once again summoned to meet, but since the Capital was still torn by iconoclast factions, they chose to meet in nearby Nicaea. The Council met for their First Session on Sept 24, 787 with 350 bishops & their attendants. Patriarch Tarasius presided over 7 sessions that lasted through later October.
The main work of the Council was to reinstall the veneration of icons in the worship of the Church.
Both the Eastern & Western Churches endorsed the findings of the Council. The last time they’d agree on just about anything.
Let’s get ready to rumble!
Well–It’s not exactly a rumble we’re in for in this episode, so much as a tumble into the rabbit hole of theological wrangling that took place after the Council of Chalcedon that led to the 2nd & 3rd Councils at Constantinople in 553 & 680.
In 431, the Council of Ephesus dismissed Nestorius’ explanation of the dual nature of Christ in favor of Cyril’s. But that Council was swayed more by circumstance and politics than by sound theology. While Nestorius’ Christology was mis-represented by his critics to be proposing, not just two natures to Jesus, but two persons, Cyril’s Christology put such heavy emphasis on Jesus’ deity, his Christology leaned toward monophysitism; that is, casting Jesus as having a single nature.
In the last couple episodes we’ve set the scene for the Council of Ephesus in 431. Last time we did biographies of the two main players at the Council, Nestorius and Cyril.
We ended with a brief review of their different Christologies; that is, how they viewed the dual nature of Christ as God & Man. Let’s pick it up now with the events leading to the Council.
In the last episode, we introduced the political situation framing the debate that ensued between two church leaders at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
Those two leaders were Nestorius, Patriarch of the Capital Church at Constantinople and Cyril, arch-bishop at Alexandria. Let’s get in to the background on these two men so we can better understand the brueha that happened at Ephesus.
Buckle up for this episode, because it’s a rocky ride. We’ve come to the Third Ecumenical Church Council. And for those of you who remember this one from Season 1, you know where in for troubled times. We’re looking at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the battle between Cyril & Nestorius.
This is part 5 of our series on the Creeds in which we’ll be taking a look at the First Council of Constantinople.
In Part 3 we looked at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. While the Church had a lot to deal with in the decades that followed, they didn’t convene another Council for almost 60 yrs.
This is part 4 of our series on the Creeds.
Because most of the creeds were the product of a Council of one kind or another, when dealing with the creeds, we have to talk about the Council.
With two introductory episodes on the Creeds under our belt, sash, or whatever else you use to hold up your pants, let’s move now to the Council & Creed of Nicaea.
What’s referred to as the Nicene Creed is the product of not one, but two councils held about 60 yrs apart. The first was held in the city of Nicaea in 325, the other in Constantinople in 381. The 2 cities are about 140 kms or 86 mls apart. The Nicene Creed may be the most famous in Church history because it addressed the issue of the Trinity; that is, how Christians worship one God Who reveals Himself in three-persons; Father, Son, And Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed was the first to obtain the imprimatur of authority over all churches.
While we got a good start in our series on the Creeds last episode, it behooves us to back up a bit and do a brief review of what we’re talking about when we look at the Creeds. There are four terms we need to define as sometimes they get confused; creeds, confessions, catechisms, and their relationship to councils.
In the 150 episodes of Season 1, and now 9 episodes into Season 2 of CS, our review of the History of the Christian Church has only touched on the Creeds incidentally. We’ve mentioned the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and so on. But we’ve not gone into depth on any of them. There are some students and scholars of Church History who’d consider that a kind of academic crime. To neglect the creeds as we have would be like studying flight without considering the rules of aerodynamics. It’s unthinkable!
This episode is a bit different from our usual fare in that it’s devoted to the subject of art in Church History. It’s in no way intended to be a comprehensive review of religious art. We’ll take just a cursory look at the development of art in the early centuries.
Much has been written about the philosophy of art. And as anyone who’s taken an art history course in college knows, much debate has ensued over what defines art. It’s not our aim here to enter that fray, but instead of step back and simply chart the development of artistic expression in the First Centuries.
It’s to be expected the followers of Jesus would get around to using art as an expression of their faith quickly in Church History. Man is, after all, an emotional being and art is often the product of that emotion. People who would convert from headlong hedonism to an austere asceticism didn’t usually do so simply based on cold intellectualism. Strong emotions were involved. Those emotions often found their output in artistic expression.
Thus, we have Christian art. Emotions & the imagination are as much in need of redemption and capable of sanctification, as the reason and will. We’d better hope so, at least, or we’re all doomed to a grotesquely lopsided spiritual life. How sad it would be if the call to love God with all our heart, soul & mind didn’t extend to our creative faculty and art.
Indeed, the Christian believes the work of the Holy Spirit after her/his conversion, is to conform the believer into the very image of Christ. And since God is The Creator, it’s reasonable to assume the Spirit would bend humanity’s penchant for artifice to serve the glory of God and the enjoyment of man.
Scripture even says we are to worship God “in the beauty of holiness.” A review of the instructions for the making of the tabernacle make it clear God’s intention was that it be a thing of astounding beauty. And looked at from what we’d call a classical perspective, nearly all art aims to simply duplicate the beauty God as First Artist made when He spoke and the universe leapt into existence.
Historians tend to divide Early Church History into two large blocks using The First Council of Nicaea in 325 as the dividing line. The Ante-Nicaean Era runs from the time of the Apostles, the Apostolic Age, to Nicaea. Then the Post-Nicaean Era runs from the Council to The Medieval Era. This was the time of the first what are called 7 Ecumenical Councils; the last of which, is conveniently called the 2nd Nicaean Council, held in 787. So the Ante-Nicaean Era lasted only a couple hundred yrs while the Post-Nicaean Age was 500.
It would be nice if Art Historians would sync up their timelines to this plan, but they divide the history of Church Art differently. They refer to Pre-Constantinian Art, while From the 4th thru 7th Cs is called Early Christian Art.
The beginnings of identifiable Christian art are located in the last decades of the 2nd C. Now, it’s not difficult to imagine there’d been some artistic expression connected to believers before this; it’s just that we have no enduring record of it. Why is easy to surmise. Christians were a persecuted group and apart from some notable exceptions, were for the most part comprised of the lower classes. Christians simply didn’t want to draw attention to themselves on one hand, and on the other, there wasn’t a source of patronage base for art in service of the Gospel.
Another reason there wasn’t much art imagery generated before the 2nd C is because early generations of believers were mostly Jewish with a long-standing prohibition of making graven images, lest they violate the Commandments against idolatry. By the mid 2nd C, the Church had shifted to a primarily Gentile body. Gentiles had little cultural opposition to the use of images. Indeed, their prior paganism encouraged it. They quickly learned they were not to make idols, but had no reluctance to use images a symbols and representations to communicate the Gospel and express their faith.
The style of this early art is drawn from Roman motifs of the Late Classical style and is found in association with the burial of believers. While pagans generally practiced cremation, the followers of Jesus shifted to burial as an expression of their hope in the Resurrection. So outside Rome’s walls near major roadways, numerous catacombs were excavated where Christians both met when the heat of persecution was up, and where their dead were interred. Some of the oldest of Christian imagery is a simple outline of a ship or an anchor scratched into the wall of a crypt. Both were symbols of the Church. The anchor is drawn from the NT Book of Hebrews which refers to the hope of the believer as an anchor or the soul. The ship was an apt picture for the Church. A vessel which is IN the Sea, but mustn’t have the sea in it, just as the Church is to be in the World, but the World is not to be in the Church. Another symbol used to make the resting place of Christians was the ubiquitous fish. As burial in the catacombs became de rigeur , families carved out entire rooms for the burial of their members. Bodies were placed in marble sarcophagi which over time were decorated with religious imagery; symbols and scenes drawn from Scripture.
Missing from the art crafted by Christians at this time are the scenes that will later become common. There’re few Nativity motifs, fewer crosses, and nothing depicting the resurrection. That’s not to say Christians in this early era didn’t regard the cross & resurrection as central to their faith. The writings of Ante-Nicene Fathers make it clear they did. It’s just that they hadn’t made their way into artistic expression yet. Rather than pointing DIRECTLY at Christ’s crucifixion & resurrection, artists instead used OT stories that foreshadowed the Gospel. Images of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Jonah & the fish, Daniel in the lion’s den, Shadrach, Meshach, & Abed-Nego in the fiery furnace, as well as Moses striking the rock are all depicted in frescoes and tomb paintings.
The few images of Jesus from the Pre-Constantinian art we see him presented as The Good Shepherd, surrounded either by figures who likely represent the apostles, and symbols from nature, like peacocks, vines, doves and so on.
Nothing happened in the way of distinctly Christian architecture until Constantine for obvious reasons. Christians simply could not build their own places. When you’re trying to avoid attention due to persecution, engaging a construction project’s just not wise. But once The Faith was removed from the banned list, and the Rulers of Rome showed the emergent Faith favor, Christians began to shape their meeting places in a manner that maximized their utility, while also adorning them with imagery identifying them as dedicated to The Gospel. The discreet and out of the way places they’d met in before no longer served as suitable meeting places for the rapidly growing movement.
After Christianity was allowed to own property, it raised local churches across the Roman empire. There may have been more of this kind of building in the 4th C than there has been since, excepting during the 19th C in the United States. Constantine and his mother Helena led the way. The Emperor adorned not only his new city of Constantinople, but also embarked on a campaign to secure the assumed holy Places in the Middle East. Basilicas Churches were erected using funds from his personal account, as well as State funds. His successors, with the exception of Julian, called The Apostate, as well as bishops and wealthy laymen, vied with each other in building, beautifying, and enriching churches. The Faith that had not long before been a cause of great persecution, became a game to compete in; as the wealthy hoped to earn a higher place in heaven by the churches they raised. Churches became a venue for bragging rights. The Church Father Chrysostom lamented that the poor were being forgotten in favor of buildings, and recommended it wasn’t altars, but souls, God wanted. Jerome rebuked those who trampled over the needy to build a house of stone.
It might be assumed Christians would adopt the form for their buildings they were used to as pagans – a temple. Interestingly, they didn’t! Most pagan temples were relatively small affairs intended to hold little more than the idol of the god or goddess they were dedicated to. When pagans worshipped, they did so outdoors, often in a courtyard next to the temple. It wasn’t until the 7th C that believers began to re-purpose some of the larger now abandoned pagan temples for their own use. Even during Constantine’s time, Christians began to use layout of the secular basilica, the formal hall where a king or ruler would hold court.
The floor plan of one of these basilicas had a central rectangular hall, called a nave, with two side aisles. The main door was on one of the short sides of the nave, and on the opposite wall was the apse where a raised platform was built for the altar where the minister led the service.
During the 4th C saw Rome saw over 40 lrg churches built. In the New Rome of Constantinople, the Church of the Apostles and the Church of St. Sophia, originally built by Constantine, towered in majestic beauty. In the 5th C both were dramatically enlarged by Justinian.
As I said earlier, in the 7th C, the now abandoned pagan temples were turned over to Christians. Emperor Phocas gave the famous Pantheon to Roman’s bishop Boniface IV.
Anyone who’s been on a tour of Israel ought to be familiar with the term “Byzantine.” Because a good many of the ruins Christian tourists visit are labeled as Byzantine in architecture and era. The Byzantine style originated in the 6th C. and in the East continues to this day. It’s akin to the influence the French Classicism of Louis XIV had on Western architecture.
The main feature of the Byzantine style is a dome spanning the center of a floorplan that is cruciform. Let me see if I can help you picture this. Imagine a classic cross laid on the earth. The long bean is the central nave with the cross piece are the transverse sides used as side chapels. Suspended over the intersection of main & cross beams is a dome, decorated with frescoes of Biblically rich imagery.
Previous basilicas tended to be flat, blocky affairs; earthbound in their ponderance. The Byzantine basilica lifted the roof and drew the eye to that dome which seemed to pierce heaven itself. The eye was drawn upward. That idea will be perfected centuries later in the soaring ceilings and arches of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals.
The most perfect execution of the Byzantine style is found in the Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom in Istanbul. It was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th C on the plans of Anthemius & Isidore. It’s 220’ wide, 252’ long; with a 180’ diameter dome supported by four gigantic columns, rising 169’ over the central altar. The dome is so constructed that the court biographer Procopius describes it as being suspended form heaven by golden chains.
The cross, which today stands as the universal symbol for Christianity, wasn’t used in artifice until at least the late 4th C. The historical record suggest Christians made the sign of the cross on their foreheads, over their eyes, mouths, & hearts as early as the 2nd C. But they didn’t make permanent images of it till later. And then we find some church father urging Christians not to make magical talisman of them.
Julian accused Christians of worshipping the cross. Chrysostom wrote, “The sign of universal detestation, the sign of extreme penalty, has become an object of desire and love. We see it everywhere; on houses, roofs, walls, in cities and villages, in markets, along roads, in deserts, on mountains & in valleys, on the sea, ships, books, weapons, garments, in honeymoon chambers, at banquets, on gold & silver vessels, engraved on pearls, in paintings, on beds, the bodies of sick animals, & the possessed, at dances of the merry, and in the brotherhoods of monks.”
It isn’t till the 5th C that we find the use of the crucifix; that is a cross that isn’t bare. It now holds the figure of the impaled Christ.
As I record & post this episode, a new movie’s out called Logan. It’s appears to be the last installment for the venerable X-Men character Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman. Logan was an immortal who became the subject of a secret military experiment gone wrong. His skeleton was infused with a fictional metal called adamantium that bears the hardness of a diamond.
This is part 6 of our series titled The First Centuries, in Season 2 of CS. In the last episode we took a look at the Church Father Irenaeus. This episode we’ll consider Tertullian.
That may prompt some to wonder if we’re going to work our way through ALL the church fathers of the Early Church. Uh, no – we won’t. Just a few.
While he’s known to history as Tertullian, his full name was Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus.
The historical record is pretty clear that the Apostle John spent his last years in Western Asia Minor, with the City of Ephesus acting as his headquarters. It seems that during his time there, he ppoured himself into a cadre of capable men who went on to provide outstanding leadership for the church in the midst of difficult trials. Men like Polycarp of Smyrna, Papias & Apolinarius of Hierapolis, & Melito of Sardis. These and others were mentioned by Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus in a letter to Victor, a bishop at Rome in about AD 190.
Have you noticed that, generally-speaking, Christians like to argue?
Maybe we get it from our spiritual ancestors, the Jews. Once while on a tour of Jerusalem at what are called the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount, our Jewish guide told us that a frequent joke among his people was that where there are 2 Jews, there’s 3 opinions.
Yeah; it seems controversy has been a part of the history of The Church since its inception. And maybe that’s really more a “human” tendency than something unique to, or the sole prerogative of the followers of Jesus.
In part 1 we took a look at some of the sociological reason for persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Then last time we began a narrative-chronology of the waves of persecution and ended with Antonius Pious.
A new approach in dealing with Christians was adopted by Marcus Aurelius who reigned form 161–180. Aurelius is known as a philosopher emperor. He authored a volume on Stoic philosophy titled Meditations. It was really more a series of notes to himself, but it became something of a classic of ancient literature. Aurelius bore not a shred of sympathy for the idea of life after death & detested as intellectually inferior anyone who carried a hope in immortality.
This is part 2 in our follow-up series on the first centuries in Church History. We’re concentrating on the persecution Jesus’ followers endured. In part 1, we examined the social & civic reasons for persecution in the Roman Empire.
The suspicion of nefarious intent by Christians, fueled by their withdrawal from society due to its tacit connection to paganism, morphed into a suspicion of covert actions Jesus’ followers were taking to subvert society. Why were Christians so secretive if they weren’t in fact doing something wrong? And if the rumors were true, Christians WERE doing odd things; like pretending slaves had the same dignity as freemen; that women and children were to be honored as equal to men; and they rescued exposed infants. Why, if they kept all that up, and more joined their cause, what was to become of the world? It would look very different from the one that had been.
Welcome BACK to Communion Sanctorum: History of the Christian Church.
We ended our summary & overview narrative of Church History after 150 episodes; took a few months break, and are back to it again with more episodes which aim to fill in the massive gaps we left before.
This time, we’ll do series that go into detail on specific moments, movements, people, places, and other topics.
If you use the Amazon Echo device or the Alexa program, you may be pleased to hear the CS is now available through TuneIn.
The final episode of Communio Sanctorum. We look briefly at the reaction of some Protestants to Manifest Destiny. DL Moody, The Holiness Movement, Phoebe Palmer, The Azusa Street Revival.
This 150th episode of CS is titled The End.
150 episodes! And this is the rebooted v2. We had a hundred episodes in v1 before I started over again in an attempt to clean up the timeline and fill in some gaps.
Evangelism into Fundamentalism
This 149th episode is titled Evangementalism.
We’ve spent a couple episodes laying out the genesis of Theological Liberalism, and concluded the last episode with a brief look at the conservative reaction to it of what’s been called Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism was one of the most important movements of the 20th C. The label comes from that which lies at the center of the movement, a devotion to an orthodox and traditional understanding of the Evangel, that is, the Christian Gospel. The Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
The work of the Protestant Liberal theologians Schleiermacher & Ristchl. The Evangelical response.
The title of this 148th episode is Liberal v Evangelical
In our last episode, we considered the philosophical roots of Theological Liberalism. In this episode we’ll name names as we look at the early leaders and innovators or Liberalism.
Some years ago in a college Philosophy class, my professor gave his understanding of both faith and reason. After a lengthy description of both, he concluded by saying that faith and reason had absolutely nothing to do with each other. Reason dealt with the evidential, that which was perceived by the senses and what logic concluded were rationally consistent conclusions drawn form that evidence. Faith, he declaimed, was belief in spite of evidence. When I asked if he was thus saying faith was irrational, he just smiled.
Part 3 in our looks at Theological Liberalism. A summary Biblical Criticism and Liberalism’s overall goal in merging reason & faith.
The title of this 147th episode is Why So Critical?
Two episodes back we introduced the themes that would lead eventually to what’s called by many Theological Liberalism. Last episode we talked a bit about how the church, mostly the Roman Catholic church, pushed back against those themes. In this episode we’ll go further into the birth of liberalism.
The Roman Church’s response to Modernism in the mid to late 19th Century.
Pius IX’s development of Papal Infallibility.
The title of this 146th episode is Push-Back
As we move to wind up this season of CS, we’ve entered into the modern era in our review of Church history and the emergence of Theological Liberalism. Many historians view The French Revolution as a turning point in the social development of Europe and the Western Civilization. The French Revolution was in many ways, the result of the Enlightenment, and a harbinger of things to come in the Modern & Post Modern Eras.
For convenience sake, but in what is probably a gross simplifying, let’s chop up the history Western Civilization into these eras, in regards to Church History.
We examine the impact of the tendency for modernization to foster a creeping secularism in the 19th C.
The title of this 145th episode of CS is Liberal.
The term “modern” as it relates to the story of history, has been treated differently by dozens of authors, historians and sociologists. Generally speaking, Modernization is the process by which agricultural and rural traditions morph into an industrial, technological and urban milieu that tends to be democratic, pluralistic, socialist, and/or individualistic.
We take a look at what’s happening in the Eastern Church during the 17th to 20th Century.
The title of this 144th episode is Coping.
A quick announcement before we dive in.
Go to the sanctorum.us website or the CS FB page and hit the link to the 2017 Reformation Tour we’re doing in March. We have all the info up with prices and dates. So take a look and think about joining us.
It’s time once again to lay down our focus on the Western Church to see what’s happening in the East.
Christianity as a religion becomes a diminishing factor in the political affairs of 19th Century Europe and Latin America.
This 143rd episode of CS is titled Coming Apart
Europe in the late 19th C was recovering from the Napoleonic Wars. War-weary, the nations longed for a prolonged period of peace in which to take a breath, and consider HOW they were going to rebuild from the devastation recent conflicts has left. A plethora of new economic and political theories were available for them to choose from as they rebuilt. Most settled on economic and political ideas that were more liberal in terms of individual rights. The prosperity that had marked Holland became a model for a good part of Europe as they moved to a classic free-market system. With few exceptions, the governments of Europe adopted modified parliamentary systems.
The impact of the French Revolution on the Church in France.
The title of this 142 episode of CS is “Off with Their Heads.”
In this installment of the podcast, we’re going to give a brief review of The French Revolution, which may not seem at first blush to have much to do with Church History. Ahh, but it does. It does for this reason: What we see in The French Revolution is a proto-typical example of the Church, by which the institutional church, not necessarily the Christian Gospel and Faith, colliding with Modernity.
We look at the church under the Ottoman Turks after the Fall of Constantinople.
We then look at the Ukrainian Uniate Church and the Russian Orthodox Church during the reign of the Romanovs.
This 141st, episode is titled, Behind Enemy Lines.
Following up their conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks conquered most of the Balkans. They now controlled the former Byzantine Empire and the substantial region of Armenia. They required the Eastern Orthodox patriarchs in Constantinople to obey their rules & policies. The Ottoman Turks employed their Christians subjects in key positions in the military & government. The bureaucrats who’d served the labrynthine Byzantine system made excellent court officials in the new realm. And thousands of young Christian boys were inducted into the Janissaries; elite fighting units renowned for their ferocity and loyalty to the Sultan. If you want to read some fascinating history, dig into the story of the Janissaries.
We wrap up our review of the Enlightenment effect on the Church in Europe by looking at Scandinavia, The Dutch United Provinces, Geneva, and Italy.
This 140th episode is titled Up North, Then South.
This will be the last episode where we take a look at Christianity in Europe following the Enlightenment. This narrative is nowhere near exhaustive. It’s more an exhaustING summary of Scandinavia, The Dutch United Provinces, Austria, and Italy. We’ve already looked at Germany, France, and Spain.
In this episode we finish off our look at the French Church of the 17th to 18th Centuries, then consider the impact of the German Enlightenment on the church in Germany.
This 139th episode is title “Pressed.”
In our last episode, we took a look the French church of the 17th C and considered the contest between the Catholic Jansenists & Jesuits.
It’s interesting realizing the Jansenists began as a theological movement that looks quite similar to Calvinism. Their theology eventually spilled over into the political realm and undercut the Divine Right of Kings, a European political system that had held sway in Europe for centuries, & reached its apex in France under Louis XIV.
We back up a bit in this episode to take a look at what happened in France in the 17th Century with the demise of the Divine Right of Kings.
The Title of this 138th Episode is Backing Up.
And its titled that because once again we’re backtracking a bit to hop into the story of Church History earlier than where our last few episodes have taken us. We’re focusing this episode on what happened in France during the late 17th & into the 18th C.
This period saw a massive struggle between the French monarchy & 2 groups; Catholic Jansenists & Protestant Huguenots. At stake was the throne’s claim that it alone had the power to determine the religion of the French people.
We look at Theological Liberalism and the Social Gospel, as well as a brief glance at the reaction to it of Fundamentalism.
In this 137th episode of CS, titled “Then Away,” we give a brief account of the rise of Theological Liberalism.
In the previous episodes we charted the revivals that marked the 18th & 19th Cs. Social transformation is a mark of such revivals. But not all those engaged in the betterment of society were motivated by a passion to serve God by serving their fellow man. At the same time that revival swept though many churches, others stood aloof and held back from being carried away into what they deemed as religious fanaticism.
This 136th episode of CS is titled, Yet Again.
Before we dive in, I want to give a hearty thanks to all those of you who nominated CS for the 2016 Podcast Awards. As I record this, I’m not sure where we came in, in the nomination process & whether or not we’ll be included in the general voting this year. They’ve changed the rules a bit this year & I’m not certain how things will sort out. If CS makes the final cut, I’ll let you know here on the podcast, the sanctorum.us site and the FB page.
The 2nd piece of business is that we now have air costs for the Reformation Tour next year. The dates are March 6-19, 2017. The Land only portion for those who want to meet us at the start in Prague is $____________. If you want to start the journey with us in Los Angeles, CA, the total cost including airfare is $_______________. Please visit the sanctorum.us site or the CS FB page for contact information. It’s crucial if you intend to go that you sign up right away. We need to meet a minimum of 20.
This 135th episode of CS is titled, A Second Awakening.
We ended our last episode with the dour spiritual condition of both the United States and Europe at the end of the 18th C.
I mentioned Dr. J Edwin Orr a couple episodes back. He was the 20th C’s foremost expert on Revival and Spiritual renewal. While he could speak with eloquence on literally dozens of Revivals, one of his favorite subjects was what’s come to be known as the Second Great Awakening.
Before it began, there were many who worried if God did not intervene, Christianity might die out of Europe and the US.
This is episode 134-Decline.
Following the Great Awakening, which produced a deep-seated sense of Faith in so many Americans prior to the Revolutionary War, as the new nation organized itself around its new national identity, it realized something unique was taking place. A genuine religious pluralism had taken root. That was very different from the centuries of conflict that marked the Europe they or their ancestors came from.
There are several reasons for the religious pluralism of the United States. But when we speak of pluralism at that point in history, let’s make sure what we mean is a lack of the establishment of a specific Christian denomination as the National or Federal Church. 18th C pluralism didn’t include other major world religions. There were no Buddhist or Hindu temples; no Islamic mosques nor Shinto shrines. Americans were Christians, if not of the committed stripe, at least nominally.
This 133rd episode of CS is titled Awakening.
It’s time again for the Podcast Awards. Voting is only from April 15-30, 2016. The rules are a bit different this year, which I won’t bore you with. But please note if you want to nominate CS, you have to do so no later than April 30th. You can only nominate once and one show per category. CS will be in the Society & Culture category. The only podcasts that will make it to the finals are those who receive enough nominations. Then, once that list is made, regular voting will begin. We did well at year & want to see how we’ll do this year.
So if you want, head over to podcastawards.com and nominate CS in the Society & Culture category. Thanks.
This, the 132nd episode of CS is titled, Colonies.
Two announcements before we dive in.
1) For those who’ve expressed interest in the CS Reformation Tour in March of 2017, we’ll have the airfare portion of the trip nailed down soon, hopefully by the end of April. As soon as we rates, we’ll tell you here and on both the sanctorum.us site and the Facebook page.
2) The 2016 Podcast Awards are taking nominations for your favorite podcasts. If you want to vote for CS, head over to podcastawards.com and do so. Nominated podcasts only make it onto the slate if they receive enough nominations. As a listener, you can nominate Communio Sanctorum once a day for the 2 week nomination period. Both the sanctorum.us site and Facebook page will have more information. Thanks!
This episode of CS is titled, Results.
Now that we’ve come through the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment & considered many but not all of the movements and luminaries of this period, it’s time to hold a brief review of the results of what took place in Europe and the New World following all this turmoil.
Once we embark in the next Era of Church History, we’ll find ourselves in the weeds of so many movements that we’re going to have to back up and take it in an even more summary form than we have; and that’s been pretty overview-ish as it is. You see, the great warning Roman Catholics gave when the Protestants split turned out to be true. They warned if Luther and the other Reformers left the Mother Church, they would commence a fragmenting that would never end. They foretold that everyone who had their own idea of the way things ought to be would end up running off to start their own movement, denomination and church. The hundreds of denominations and tens of thousands of independent churches today are testimony to that fragmenting. Well, there’s just no way we can chronicle all the different direction the Church went. We’ll need to stand back a only mark the broad strokes.
This episode is titled, Kant.
At the conclusion of episode 125 – The Rationalist Option Part 2, I said we’d return later to the subject of the philosophy of the Enlightenment to consider its impact on theology & Church History. We’ll do that in this episode.
In that episode the past philosopher we considered was the empiricist David Hume, whose skepticism went so far as to suggest that the common sense notion of cause and effect was an illusion. Hume said that all we can says is what we experience, but that we can’t know with certainty that one things gives rise to another, no matter how many times that thing may be repeated. In may in fact at some time and place NOT repeat that pattern. So to draw universal laws from what we experience isn’t fitting. The effect of Hume’s critique was to cast doubt on reason. Empiricists and Rationalists were set at odds with each other.
The title of this episode is Moravians and Wesley.
We took a look at Pietism in an earlier episode. Pietism was a reaction to the dry dogmatism of Protestant Scholasticism and the reductionist rationalism of Enlightenment philosophers. It aimed to renew a living faith in a living Christ.
As a movement, it was led in the 17th C by Philip Jakob Spener & August Francke [frank -uh].
In this episode, we’ll take a brief look at what came to be called Spiritualism.
Coming out of the 16th C, the, what seemed to many at the time, endless debates on doctrine & dogma, the intolerance of Christians toward one another, and the lack of any apparent movement toward resolving the mess, moved many across Europe and the New World to seek refuge in a more of a religious sentiment, than a faith with clearly defined beliefs. Another factor that led to this movement was the burgeoning middle class that was rising in Europe. You see, it was only the wealthy nobility who possessed the resources for the higher education need to foster the excessive emphasis on correct doctrine. Those who didn’t have that opportunity; who couldn’t wax eloquent on complicated matters of theology, were regarded as unsophisticates who depended on their betters to tell them what to believe.
This, the 127th episode of CS is titled, “Which Witch?” and is a brief review of the well-known but poor understood Salem Witch Trials.
The Salem Witch Trials are often brought up by critics of Christianity as examples of religious intolerance & superstition. And while they did indeed carry a bit of that, they were far more an example of a breakdown in the judicial system. The phrase “witch-hunt” refers to an attempt to find something damning in an otherwise innocent victim. What’s rarely mentioned is that while there was a brief flurry of witch-hunting that went on in the New England colonies, it was a long practice back in Europe from the mid 15th thru mid 18th Cs. It reached its peak between 1580 & 1630. It’s difficult to sort out how many were executed but scholars say it was from a low of 40,000 o as high as 60,000.
This episode is titled, A City on a Hill, and returns to our look at the Propagation of the Christian Faith in the Americas.
Back in Episodes 105 & 6, we breached the subject of Missions in the New World. We shared about the role the Jesuits played in the Western Hemisphere. While the post-modern view of this era tends to reduce all European missionaries in a monochromatic Euro-centrism that leveled native American cultures, that simply wasn’t the case. Yes, there were plenty of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants who conflated the Gospel with their native culture. But there were also not a few missionaries who understood the different and valued the uniqueness that was native American cultures. They sought to incarnate the Christian message in those cultures and languages. That often got them in trouble with officials back home who wanted to exploit the Native Americans. In other words, it isn’t just modern Liberation Theology advocates who sought to protect the peoples of the New World from the exploitive injustices of the Old. Many early missionaries did as well.
This is part 2 of The Rationalist Option on Communio Sanctorum, History of the Christian Church.
In our last episode we took a look at eh genesis of the Enlightenment in England & France. We’ll come back to France a bit later after taking a brief look at the Enlightenment in German & Russia.
Germany took a bit longer to join the Enlightenment. That was due in part to the condition of the land following the Thirty Years War. It’s estimated the population shrank from 20 million to just 7 after it. There’s also the issue of Germany not really being a country. It was at that time a collection of independent statelets, united by language & culture, but divided between Catholics & Lutherans.
The title of this episode is, The Rationalist Option Part 1.
I want to give a brief comment here at the outset that this episode doesn’t track much of church history per se. What we do over the next minutes is take a summary look at the European Enlightenment. We need to because of the ideas that come out of the Enlightenment to influence theology and the modern world.
The 30 Years War ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. But decades of bitter conflict left Europe a ravaged land. People were weary of conflict, both military and theological. And even though the 30 Years war was over, the decades following were by no means peaceful. Among other things, they witnessed the English Civil War with its execution of Charles I, and yet more wars between European powers, albeit on a smaller scale. Against this turmoil-laden background, a new spirit was brewing in Europe: one desperate to make a break with the past with its religious tension, dry scholasticism, incessant bickering and occult fetishes the Renaissance and Reformation seemed to have spun off. By the mid 17th C, the seeds of the Enlightenment, were well sown.
This is the second episode in which we look at English Puritanism.
We left off last time with King Charles I fleeing London after breaking into The House of Commons to arrest some Puritan members of Parliament he accused of treason. The men had been warned and had fled. What Charles had hoped would be a dramatic show of his defense of the realm against dangerous elements, ended up being an egregious violation of British rights. So in fear for his own life, he packed up his family and headed out of town.
Back in London, John Pym the leader of Parliament, ruled as a kind of king without a crown. The House of Commons proposed a law excluding the king-supporting faction of bishops in the House of Lords from Parliament. Other members of the House of Lords surprisingly agreed, so the clergy were expelled. This commenced a process that would eventually disbar anyone from Parliament who disagreed with the Puritans. The body took on an ever-increasing bent toward the radical. Feeling their oats, Parliament then ordered a militia be recruited. The king decided the time had come to respond with decisive action. He gathered loyal troops and prepared for battle against Parliament’s militia. Civil War had finally come.
In this episode, we’ll take a look at English Puritanism.
In Episode 96, Title English Candles, we consider the arrival of the Reformation in England and the career of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of the Anglican Church. When Catholic Mary became Queen, she persecuted Protestants. But when Elizabeth ascended the English throne a new day dawned for the Reformation there.
Queen Elizabeth followed an median course between conservatives who sought to retain as much of the ancient practices & beliefs as possible, and the Calvinists who believed the entire life and structure of the church ought to adjust to what they saw as the Biblical norm. During Elizabeth’s reign, that delicate balance was maintained; but tensions surfaced repeatedly. Her strength and decisiveness restrained them, just barely.
In this, the 121st episode of CS, we return to our narrative timeline for church history.
Before the 10-episode The Change series, we left off with the Reformation in Europe as it interfaced with the Rationalism of the Renaissance in what’s called Protestant Scholasticism.
Let me be clear; there’s much that took place in Europe during the Reformation we skipped over because it would have gotten us into the proverbial weeds of details that while a few might find interesting, most would regard as that which makes some accounts of history so laborious; that is, a lot of names & dates.
[The substantive content of this and the entire “The Change” series of podcast-episodes for Communion Sanctorum is indebted to the excellent book by Alvin J. Schmidt titled How Christianity Changed the World. ]
[The substantive content of this and the entire “The Change” series of podcast-episodes for Communion Sanctorum is indebted to the excellent book by Alvin J. Schmidt titled How Christianity Changed the World. ]
[The substantive content of this and the entire “The Change” series of podcast-episodes for Communion Sanctorum is indebted to the excellent book by Alvin J. Schmidt titled How Christianity Changed the World. ]
This episode continues our series examining the impact Christianity had on history & culture. Today we take a look at how the Faith impacted the world’s view of women.
Contemporary secular feminism came about because of the Christian Gospel’s elevation of women. As with so many other privileges and liberties, as well as the prosperity many in the Western world enjoy; they find their origin in a Biblical view of the world and Mankind’s place in it. But as secularism gained traction in the 20th C and God was increasingly pushed from the public square, privilege became entitlement, liberty devolved to license, and greed turned prosperity into massive debt. All because the moral base that made them possible was forfeited in favor of the fiction told by secularism.
This episode is part 3 in a series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we go even further in our examination of the sanctity of life that’s been the focus of the previous 2 episodes, but today, we look at it specifically in Christianity’s regard for the Sanctity of Sex.
As we begin, I want to pause to say that what we’re going to look at today may offend the sensibilities of some of our more secular &/or liberally-minded listeners. The redefinition of gender that’s become a hot topic of late has split the church, as well as the wider culture. It’s not my intent here to develop a theology of gender, merely to give an accurate, albeit summary, review of sexual ethics in Church history. So summary are the following comments they border on being simplistic, and for that I apologize.
This episode is part 2 of our series considering the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we dig a little deeper into how the Faith impacted the world’s view of the sanctity of life.
In our last podcast, we talked about the ancient world’s widespread practice of infanticide & how Christianity affected a fundamental shift in the way people evaluated life. This elevation of the value of human life came from Christianity’s roots in Biblical Judaism with its revelation that human beings are created in God’s image, then taken further by the Incarnation; that God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The cross reveals how highly God values people. Therefore, God’s people must value them as well. So while the pagan world thought little of exposing unwanted infants to the elements & wild beasts, Christians rescued & adopted them, raising them as their own. It was an early & inventive church growth program.
In a nod to Bilbo Baggins, in this 111th episode of CS, we’re changing gears a bit to begin a series of podcasts considering the impact Christianity has had on the world. We’ll unpack how the Faith has left its imprint on society. The Title of this episode is The Change – Part 1: The Sanctity of Life.
Knowing my fascination with history and especially the history of Rome, a few years ago, someone recommended I watch a mini-series that aired on a cable network. While it was dramatic historical fiction, the producers did a good job of presenting the customs & values of 1st C BC Roman culture. While the series was suspenseful & entertaining, it was difficult to watch because of the brutality that was commonplace. And it wasn’t put in merely for the sake of titillation or to make the shows more provocative. It was an accurate depiction of the time. More than once, I found myself near tears, broken over just how lost the world was. Several times I said out loud, “They needed Jesus!”
The title of this episode is Faith in the Age of Reason, Part 2.
In our last episode we briefly considered Jakob Hermanzoon, the Dutch theologian who’d sat under the tutelage of Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor at the Academy in Geneva. We know him better by his Latin name Jacobus Arminius.
Arminius took exception to Beza’s views on predestination & when he became pastor of a church in Amsterdam, created a stir among his Calnvinsit colleagues. It was while teaching a series of sermons on the Book of Romans that Arminius became convinced Beza had several things wrong. The implication was that because Beza was Calvin’s successor & the standard-bearer for Calvinism, Arminius contradicted Calvin. Things came to a head when Arminius’ colleague Peter Planck began to publicly dispute with him.
The Title of this episode, is Faith in the Age of Reason. Part 01
After the first flush of Reformation excitement died down, the Protestant churches of Europe went into a long period of retrenchment, of digging in both doctrinally & culturally. This period lasted from the late 16th to the later 17th C. and is referred to by church historians as the Age of Confessionalism. But “confession” here isn’t the personal practice of piety in which someone admits error; Confessionalism is the term applied to how the various Protestant groups were increasingly concerned with defining their own beliefs, or confessions, in contrast to everyone else. It resulted in what is sometimes called Protestant Scholasticism. It’s called this because the churches developed technical jargon to describe their doctrinal positions ever more accurately—just as the medieval Roman Catholic scholastics had done 3 Cs before.
This episode of CS is the 3rd Overview in the series so far. We’ve spent quite a bit of time tracking the Reformation and need now to give a brief over view & analysis of what we’ve seen as we prepare for launching into the next era of Church History.
There’s a well-worn saying in English I’m not sure other languages duplicate. It says that “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” The idea is that the details of something can obscure the bigger picture. You fail to see a forest because all you see are a lot of trees.
As we’ve spent many episodes tracking the Reformation & Counter-Reformation, we may be so distracted by the many names, places, dates & movements, that we miss the larger picture and the summary effect of all this on the people of 16th C.
This episode is titled, “Reform Around the Edges.”
Stay tuned to the end of this episode for some important news about the CS 2017 Reformation Tour.
It’s difficult living in the Modern World to understand the Late Medieval norm that a State had to have a single religion all its subjects observed. You’d be hard pressed to find a European of the 16th C who didn’t assume this to be the case. About the only group who didn’t see it his way were the Anabaptists. And even among them there were small groups, like the extremists who tried to set up the New Jerusalem at Munster, who did advocate a State Church. Classic Anabaptists wanted religious tolerance, but were most often persecuted for this stance.
If you’re interested in the 2017 CS Reformation Tour March 7-19, 2017, you now have a place to go for more info and to register. Go to the Reformation Tour 2017 page.
Since last week’s Episode was titled Westward Ho! As we track the expansion of the Faith into the New World w/Spain & Portugal’s immersion, this week as we turn to the other European’s we’ll title this week’s episode, Westward Ho Ho, because I’m tired of saying Part 2. I know it’s lame, but hey, it’s my podcast so I’ll call it what I want.
Before we dive into this week’s content, I wanted to say a huge thanks to all those who’ve left comments on the sanctorum.us site & the CS FB page.
And for those who use iTunes as their portal to CS, thanks for rating the podcast & leaving a review. It those positive reviews on iTunes that go further than anything else, besdies word of mouth, of course, in boosting the podcast.
Westward – Ho! • In this episode of CS, we take a look at the Expansion of Christianity into the New World.
Following Columbus’s voyages of the end of the 15th C to the Caribbean, the expansion of Christianity into the New Word was chiefly dependent on the 2 great colonial powers of Portugal & Spain. From the outset of their adventures in the New World, a religious intention was central to the efforts of the explorers, however secondary it may have become to conquest and treasure-seeking for themselves and their royal patrons back in Europe.
By means of a papal bull in 1493, Pope Alexander VI, divided the world between the 2 kingdoms. Although the line was later moved to allow Portugal to colonize Brazil, the original division was a line drawn from North to South west of the Azores Islands. Spain was given the West Indies & the Americas; while Portugal, because it had already explored the west coast of Africa & moved towards India thru Vasco da Gama’s explorations, was given the right to colonize Africa, India & the East.
The title of this episode is – A Needless Tragedy.
This episode sees us backtracking a bit. We’re going back to that period of European history following the Reformation called the Wars of Religion. We’re taking a look at one day – August 24, 1572 and one city – Paris & the infamous event that happened then & there = the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.
We do this because while it’s a lot more detailed & specific event that we usually get in to here on CS, it illustrates for us the impact the Reformation had on Europe &, I think, the Modern World.
This episode of CS is titled, Back in the East – Part 2
In our last episode, we took a brief look at the Jesuit missions to the Far East; namely Japan, China, Vietnam & India.
We encountered the revolutionary approach to mission work of Alessandro Valignano and his spiritual heirs – Michele Ruggieri & Matteo Ricci. Their accomodationist approach to evangelism, where the Gospel was communicated by seeking to build a cultural bridge with the high civilizations of the Far East, was officially suppressed by Rome, even though it had amazing success in planting a healthy & vibrant church. So healthy was the Church in Japan it came under fire from a fierce resurgence in Japanese nationalism that expelled the Jesuits and persecuted the Church, driving it underground.
This episode of CS is titled, Back in the East – Part 1
In our last foray into the Church in the East, we stopped our review with the Mongols. You may remember while the Mongols started out generally favorable to Christianity, when later Mongol Khans became Muslims, they embarked on a campaign to eradicate the Gospel from their lands. This pretty much rang the death knell to The Church in the East, which for centuries boasted far more members and covered a much wider geographic area than the Western Church.
And again, let me be clear to define our terms, when I speak of the Church in the East, I’m not referring to the Eastern Orthodox Church HQ’d in Constantinople; not the Greek Orthodox Church or it’s close cousin, the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church in the East was also known as the Nestorian Church and looked to the one-time Bishop of Constantinople, Nestorius who was officially labeled a heretic, but who became the patriarch of a wide-ranging church movement that reached all the way to Japan.
This episode of CS is titled, “And to the South . . . ” as we take a break from our review of the Reformation in Europe to get caught up with what’s happening with the Church in Africa.
In many, maybe most popular treatments of Church history, the emphasis is on what’s going on in Europe. I mean, that’s what most church-based Christian history courses and many western colleges & seminaries focus on. We’ve already devoted several podcasts to the Church in the East, both the Eastern or Greek Orthodox church, as well as what’s called “The Church IN the East,” or the Syrian, sometimes referred to as the Nestorian Church.
We’ll soon be jumping the Atlantic to take a look at the Church in the New World. But before we do, we need to shift our gaze south to Africa.
This is the 100th episode of CS.
Because this is something of a milestone for the podcast, we’re taking a break from our usual episodic fare for something very different.
For those listeners who subscribe only for the historical narrative, you’ll want to skip this one altogether because we won’t be looking at Church History at all in this episode. This Century mark for CS will be about the podcast itself.
A few weeks back I posted a query, asking who might be interested in an episode that was a more personal look at CS & the host. There were enough positive replies that it made doing this reasonable. I remember listening to my first podcast series some years back; Mike Duncan’s index-level podcast, The History of Rome. About a dozen episodes in, I began to look for Duncan’s cryptic personal comments, rare as they were. Then as the series progressed, he’d share a few more details about himself. Though the content on Rome was sterling, it was the personal comments & his dry wit that kept me interested à & in an odd way, seemed to personalize the information so that it wasn’t just a dry academic pursuit. Maybe some prefer the personal element of a podcast be left out. I suspect they are the exception, not the rule.
This episode is titled “In the Low Countries.”
Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxemburg are referred to as “the Low Countries.” The get this name because laying along the coast NW of Germany & NE of France, they are at or slightly below sea level. That and there’s not really much in the way of mountains. There are some low hills, but for the most part the region today called Benelux is pretty flat.
During the Reformation, as in most of northern Europe, Protestantism in the low countries gained adherents early on. In 1523, in Antwerp, the first 2 Protestant martyrs were burned. From that point on, there’s solid evidence Protestantism made headway across the region. But the political situation there hitched the advance of Protestantism to a long and bitter struggle for independence.
This episode is titled “Cracks.”
One of the great concerns of the Roman Church at the outset of the Reformation was just how far the Reformation would go, not so much in terms of variance in Doctrines, although that also was a concern.
What Rome worried over was just how many different groups the Faith would split into. After all, division wasn’t something completely new. There’d already been a major division in the Church between East & West a half century before. And in the East, the Church was already fragmented into dozens of splinter groups across Central Asia.
But up till the Reformation, the Western Church had managed to keep new & reform movements from splitting off. Most had eventually been subsumed back into the larger reach of the Church structure.
This episode is titled, “Wars of Religion”
In our review of the Reformation, we began with a look at its roots and the long cry for reform that had been heard in the Roman church. We saw its genesis in Germany with Martin Luther & Philip Melanchthon, its impact on Switzerland with Zwingli & later with the Frenchman John Calvin. John Knox carried it to his native Scotland & Thomas Cranmer led it in England.
We’ve taken a look at the Roman Catholic response the Reformation in what’s called the Counter-Reformation, but probably ought to be labelled the Catholic Reformation. We briefly considered the Council of Trent where the Roman Church affirmed its perspective on many of the issues raised by the Protestants and for the first time a clear line was set, marking the differences in theology between the 2 groups. We saw the Jesuits, the learned shock troops of the Roman Church sent out on both mission and to counter the impact of the Reformation in many regions of Europe being swung toward the Protestant camp.
This episode of CS is titled is titled “English Candles.”
We’ve spent the last several episodes looking at the Reformation & Counter-Reformation in Europe. In this episode we’ll take a look at how the Reformation unfolded, specifically in England.
The story of the Church in England is an interesting one. The famous, or infamous, Henry the VIII was king of England when Luther set fire to the kindling of the Reformation. Posturing as a bulwark of Catholic orthodoxy, Henry wrote a refutation of Luther’s position in 1521 titled “Defense of the Seven Sacraments” and was rewarded by Pope Leo X with the august title, Defender of the Faith. Ironic then that only about a decade later, Henry would hijack the church, officially ousting the Pope as head of the Church IN England and making himself head of the Church OF England.
This episode is titled Point – Counter Point: The Catholic Reformation.
We’ve spent the last several episodes considering the Protestant Reformation of the 16th C. The tendency is to assume the Roman Church just dug in its heels in an obdurate opposition to the Protestants. While the 17th C will indeed see much blood shed between the religious factions of Europe, it would be wrong to assume the Roman Church of the early decades of the Reformation was immediately adversarial. Don’t forget that all the early Reformers were Roman Catholics. And reform was something many had been calling for in the Roman church for a long time prior to Martin Luther’s break. The Conciliar Movement we talked about many episodes back was an attempt at reform, at least of the hierarchy of the church, if not some of its doctrine. Spain was a center of the call for Reform within the church. But Luther’s rift with Rome, and the floodgate it opened put the Roman Church on the defensive and caused it to respond aggressively. That response was what’s called the Catholic Counter-Reformation. But that title can be misleading if one assumes the Catholic Church became only more hide-bound in reaction to the Protestants. Several important reforms were made in the way the Church was run. And Protestant theology urged Catholic theologians to tighten up some of theirs.
This episode is titled, The Ultimate Fighter; Reformation Edition.
The pioneer of Protestantism in the western Switzerland was William Farel. Some pronounce it FAIR-el, but we’ll go with the more traditional Fah – REL.
He began as an itinerate evangelist who was always in motion, seemingly tireless; full of faith and fire. He was bold as Luther but far more radical. He also lacked Luther’s genius.
He’s called the Elijah of the French Reformation & “the scourge of priests.”
Once an devoted RC who studied under pro-reform Catholics at the University of Paris, Farel became just as loyal a Protestant, who was able to see only what was wrong with the Catholicism of his past. Farel loathed the pope, branding him a veritable antichrist, as did many Protestants of that period. Of course, the popes returned the favor and labeled some of the Reformation leaders with the same title. Farel declared that all the statues, pictures & relics found in Roman churches were heathen idols which must be destroyed.
This Episode is titled, Knox, Knox, Who’s There?
John Knox was born in 1514 in the small burgh of Haddington, south of Edinburgh. At the age of 15 he entered the University of St. Andrews to study, not golf, but theology. After 7 yrs he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest & became a notary since his studies specialized in the Law. Being a gifted speaker, he was employed as a tutor for the sons of some local lairds, a term referring to lower rung of Scottish nobility.
Dramatic events unfolded in Scotland during Knox’s youth. Many were angry with the Catholic church, which owned more than half the land and gathered an annual income of almost 20 times that of the crown. Bishops and priests were more often than not political appointments, & many so morally corrupt, they didn’t even try to hide their debaucheries. Cardinal Beaton, archbishop of St. Andrews, openly consorted with concubines and fathered 10 children.
This episode of CS is titled “The School of Christ” and is part 2 in our look at the Reformer, John Calvin.
We left off last time with John Calvin back in Geneva after being banished for a few years following a run in with the City Council. They realized how much they needed him to design the reforms they felt they had to make so they asked him to return and accommodated themselves to being the agents by which his plans could be implemented along civil lines.
Social welfare in Geneva was charged to the church’s deacons. They were the hospital management board, social security executives, and alms-house supervisors. The deacons were so effective at administering these welfare programs, Geneva had no beggars.
When the Scotsman John Knox visited Geneva in 1554, he wrote a friend that the city was à “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles.”
This episode it titled, Thrust Into the Game.
So far we’ve marked the rise of 2 of the 3 major branches of the Reformation. We’ve considered Luthernism & the Radical Reformers or Anabaptists. Over the next few episodes we’ll consider the 3rd branch, called Calvinism, or simply, Reformed Christianity.
I begin with a summary of the opening section of Bruce Shelley’s excellent, Church History in Plain Language & his chapter of John Calvin.
Because the road to Strassburg was closed by the war between France & Spain the young French scholar had to pass thru Geneva. His plan was to spend only a night. He ended up spending many.
This episode is titled, Taking It Further.
History, or I should say, the reporting of it, shows a penchant for identifying one person, a singular standout as the locus of change. This despite the recurring fact there were others who participated in or paralleled that change. Such is the case with Martin Luther and the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli. While Luther is the “historic bookmark” for the genesis of the Reformation, in some ways, Zwingli was ahead of him.
Born in Switzerland in 1484, Ulrich Zwingli was educated in the best universities & ordained a priest. Possessing a keen mind, intense theological inquiry coupled to a keen spiritual struggle brought him to a genuine faith in 1516, a year before Luther tacked his 95 thesis to Wittenberg’s door. 2 yrs later, Zwingli arrived in Zurich where he’d spend the rest of his life. By 1523 he was leading the Reformation in Switzerland.
This episode of CS is titled Luther’s Legacy.
Long time subscribers to CS know that while the podcast isn’t bias free, I do strive to treat subjects fairly. However, being a pastor of a non-denominational, evangelical Christian church in SoCal, I do have my views & opinions on the material we cover. When I share those opinions, I try to mark them as such. So >> Warning; Blatant opinion follows.
We live in the Era of the Instant. People expect to have things quickly & relatively easily. Technology has produced an array of labor-saving devices that reduce once arduous tasks to effortless, “push a button & voila” procedures. Sadly, many people assume such instantifying applies to the acquisition of knowledge as well. The internet enhances this expectation with ready access to on-line information, not just thru a desktop computer, but via smartphones where ever we are.
This episode of CS is titled, Luther’s Struggle.
As we saw last time, Luther’s situation after appearing before the Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms didn’t look hopeful. The majority of officials there decided to apply the papal bull excommunicating Luther & removing his protection. Some of the nobles knew they could incur the Pope’s favor by taking matters into their own hands and assassinating the troublesome priest. But the German prince Frederick the Wise, one of the Emperor’s most important supporters, arranged to air-quotes à “kidnap” Luther on his way back to Wittenberg. He secreted Luther to his castle at Wartburg under an assumed identity. Now in hiding, Luther used the time to translate the NT from Greek into a superbly simple German Bible. He finished it in the Fall of 1522 and followed it up with an OT translation from Hebrew. This took longer and wasn’t finished till 1534. The completed Bible proved to be no less a force in the German-speaking world than the King James Version was later to be in the English sphere, and it’s considered one of Luther’s most valuable contributions.
This episode of CS is titled, Martin’s List.
In the summer of 1520 a document bearing an impressive seal circulated throughout Germany in search of a remote figure. It began, “Arise, O Lord, and judge Your cause. A wild boar has invaded Your vineyard.”
The document was what’s called a papal bull—named after that impressive seal, or bulla bearing the Pope’s insignia. It took 3 months to reach the wild boar it referred to, a German monk named Martin Luther who’d created quite a stir in Germany. But well before it arrived in Wittenberg where Luther taught, he knew its contents. 41 of the things he’d been announcing were condemned as à “heretical, scandalous, false, and offensive to pious ears; seducing simple minds & repugnant to Catholic truth.” The papal bull called on Luther to repent and publicly repudiate his errors or face dreadful consequences.
This episode of CS is titled Erasmus.
As we begin this 86th episode, I once again want to do a brief, and I promise it will be brief, summary of the threads that conspired to weave the tapestry of the Reformation. Others might refer to them less as threads that weaved a tapestry as those that frayed in the unraveling of the Church caused by those trouble-makers called the Reformers. The reason I feel compelled to do all this summarizing as we launch into the Reformation period in Europe is because of the massive sea-change that’s coming in Church History & the need to understand it wasn’t just some malcontents who woke open day and decided to bail on a healthy church. Things had been bad for a long time and the call for reform had been heard for a couple hundred years.
The Western European Church of the 14th & 15th C’s experienced a major crisis of authority. This crisis came from challenges both within and without. They combined to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of many about the credibility and legitimacy of Church leaders. Let’s review some of the things they’d done, or that happened to the Church, that created the crisis.
This 85th episode of CS, is titled, Dawn.
We’ve come now to 1 of the most significant moments in Church History; the Reformation. Since the Reformation is considered by many to be the point at which the Protestant church arose, it’s important to realize a couple things.
First – The student of history must remember almost all those who are today counted as the first Protestants were Roman Catholics. When they began the movement that would later be called the Reformation, they didn’t call themselves anything other than Christians of the Western, Roman church. They began as an attempt to bring what they considered to be much needed reform to the Church, not to start something new, but to return to something true. When the Roman hierarchy excommunicated them, the Reformers considered it less as THEY who were being thrust forth out of the Church as it was those who did the thrusting, pushed themselves out of the true church which was invisible and not to be equated with the visible religious institution HQ’d in Rome & presided over by the Pope. It’s difficult to say for certain, but you get the sense from the writing of some of the Reformers that they hoped the day would come when the Roman church would recognize in their movement the true Gospel and come to embrace it. Little did they envision how deep and wide the break between them and Rome would become, and how their own movement would shatter & scatter into so many different sects, just as the Roman hierarchy worried & warned.
UPDATE: Hardcore History with Dan Carlin won the Education category of the 2015 Podcast Awards last evening.
Thanks to all of you who voted for History of the Christian Church. I have no idea “where” we came in in the total voting. But it was an honor just to be in the Top Ten.
This 84th Episode of CS is titled Lost & is a brief review of The Church in the East.
I encourage you to go back and listen again to episode 72 – Meanwhile Back in the East, which conveyed a lot of detail about the Eastern Church & how it fared under the Mongols and Muslim Expansion in the Middle Ages.
Until that time, Christianity was widespread across a good part of the Middle East, Mesopotamia, Persia, & across Central Asia – reaching all the way to China. The reaction of Muslim rulers to the incipient Mongol affiliation with Christianity meant a systemic persecution of believers in Muslim lands, especially in Egypt, where Christians were regarded as a 5th Column. Then, when the Mongols embraced Islam, entire regions of Christians were eradicated.
Still, even with these deprivations, Christianity continued to live on in vast portions of across the East.
This special episode of CS posts to the sanctorum.us website on Easter Sunday, 2015. I realize many subscribers will hear it at a later time, but since each week’s episode posts early Sunday morning, and this is Resurrection Sunday, a special podcast seemed appropriate. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the place of the celebration of Easter in the Early Church.
There’s considerable controversy over the origin of the word Easter as the label that’s come to be attached to the Christian commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ. It’s best to see the word coming from the Germanic languages & the Teutonic goddess of Spring, Eastre. Her festival marked the vernal equinox, & with the arrival of Christianity the holiday morphed to be the anniversary of the resurrection of Christ.
Today you’ll occasionally hear someone connect the word Easter to the Canaanite goddess Astarte, the Babylonian Ishtar, or some such other ancient deity. While there may be some etymological connection between the Teutonic Eastre & the Mesopotamian Ishtar, it’s submerged under the mists of time.
This is the 7th & Last episode in our series The Long Road to Reform.
In Italy, the Renaissance was a time of both prosperity & upheaval.
We moderns of the 21st C are so accustomed to thinking of Italy as one large unified nation it’s difficult to conceive of it as it was throughout MOST of its history; a patchwork of various regions at odds with each other. During the Middle Ages & a good part of the Renaissance, Italy was composed to powerful city states like Florence & Venice who endlessly vied with each other. Exacerbating the turmoil was the interference of France and Germany who sought to influence affairs in Italy to their advantage.
It was within this mix of prosperity, intrigue, and emerging Renaissance ideals the papacy carried on during the last decades before the Reformation.
This is the 6th episode in our series The Long Road to Reform.
Much of the reform energy in the European Church of the Late Middle Ages was among the poor, and being poor meant being illiterate. The poor and illiterate don’t, as a rule, write books about their hopes & dreams. So it’s often from sources hostile to the reforming movements of this era we learn of them. That hostility colors the picture of them much of history since has regarded them by.
Wycliffe’s ideas lived on, not among scholars at Oxford or the few nobles who initial endorsed them, as among the poverty-committed Lollards who went from village to village, carrying his reforms like torches that continually set new places ablaze with reforming zeal. The Lollards preached a simple Gospel that contradicted a great deal of what commoners heard from their local priests.
This is the 5th episode in a series we’re calling “The Long Road to Reform.”
What do you think of when I say “The Inquisition”?
Many shudder. Some get a slightly queasy feeling in their stomach because of the way the Inquisition has been cast in novels & movies. There’s a bit of truth in that portrayal, one-sided & stereo-typed as it may be.
We’re backing up yet again in our timeline as we take a closer look at this sad chapter of Church History.
The 4th Lateran Council of 1215 was the high-water mark of the medieval papacy under Innocent III. The Council was really little more than a rubber stamp committee for Innocent’s reforms. Those reforms both brought much needed change to the morals of the clergy, but also installed structures that worked against later reform. The 4th Lateran Council established the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrament of penance. And the Inquisition, which had begun as a commission of inquiry under Pope Alexander III a generation before, became a permanent feature of Church life.
I just checked the standings on The 2015 Podcast Awards and Communio Sanctorum – History of the Christian Church is at #10 in the Education category! I’m so excited.
There’s a week yet to go, so if you haven’t voted yet, please add your voice.
Go to podcastawards.com, scoll down to “Education” and select “History of the Christian Church”
Then scroll down further and enter your name & email.
This is the 4th episode in a series we’re calling “The Long Road to Reform.”
A few weeks back I mentioned the Podcast awards coming up in April. I’ll have another announcement about that at the end of this episode.
It was late Spring of 1490 when a Dominican friar stood at the gates of Florence. This was not the first time the 33 year old Girolamo had made the 160 KM / 100 miles trip from his native Ferrara to the city of the Medici’s. He’d lived for a spell in the city. The Florentines admired his scholarship but were put off by the vehemence of his preaching. They also had a hard time adapting to his accent. But now he returned at the invitation of Lorenzo de Medici; Lorenzo the Magnificent, who virtually owned Florence, and to whom he’d been recommended by the famous philosopher Mirandola.
This is the third episode in a series titled “The Long Road to Reform.”
In our last episode we looked at The Conciliar movement that formed to end the Great Papal Schism and that so many hoped would be a permanent fixture for reform in the Church. But as well intentioned as the movement was, it ended up resurrecting the Schism. In its long battle with the Papacy, conciliarism eventually lost.
We turn now to look at a reformer from Bohemia named John Hus; or more properly Jan Hus.
Bohemia was an important part of the Holy Roman Empire; a sovereign state with its capital at Prague. Today, it roughly corresponds with the Czech Republic. It had a long history as a place of vibrant Christianity, especially monasticism. In 1383, Bohemia & England were linked by the marriage of Anne of Bohemia and the English King Richard II. With this union, students of both countries went back and forth between Oxford where John Wyclif was, and the schools of Prague.
This is the second episode in a series titled “The Long Road to Reform.” Before diving into the THE Reformation, we’ll do some review and add not a few details to the story of the Church. We do this because I fear too many of us may have the impression Martin Luther & John Calvin were wild aberrations. That they just sprang up out of nowhere. Many Protestants see the Roman Catholic church as getting progressively more corrupt during the mate middle ages and that Luther was a lone good guy who stood up and said, “Enough!” Many Roman Catholics agree the late medieval Church got a bit off but see what Luther did as a gross over-reaction that took him off the rails.
So in this series of podcasts within the larger Church Story, I want to review make sure we understand The Reformation as an inevitable result of a long attempt at reform that had gone on in the Western church for a long time. And of course to do that, we’ll need to go back over some of the ground we’ve already covered.
There’s 5 pieces:
1) Gregorian Chant – Puer natus Est Nobis
2) Palestrina – Missa Papae Marcelli
3) Handel – Hallalujah Chorus
4) Mozart – Dies Ire from The Requiem
5) Matt Redman – 10,000 Reasons
The Outro is the end of the last song.
This episode is the first of several I’m calling “The Long Road to Reform.” As I mentioned at the end of the last episode, we’ll track the Church’s long march to the Reformation, then pause before picking it up with THE Reformation by doing some episodes tracking Church History into the East.
Until recently, most treatments of the History of Christianity have focused almost exclusively on the Church in Europe & what’s often called “Western” Christianity. Mention is made of the Church’s growth into other regions like North Africa, and the Middle & Far East. But it’s barely a nod in that direction. For every 10,000 words devoted to the Church in Europe, 10 are given to the Church of the East. What’s really sad is that this Church has a rich history. We won’t make up for the lack of reporting on the History of the church in these regions here, but we will seek to fill in some of the gaps and give those who are interested some resources for learning more.
This Episode is titled “The Witness of Stones.”
I’ve had the privilege of doing a bit of touring in Europe. I’ve visited the cathedral at Cologne, Germany on several occasions. I’ve been to Wartburg Castle where Luther hid out. Mrs. Communion Sanctorum and I did a 2-week tour of Florence & Rome for our 30th Anniversary. We saw lots of churches and cathedrals. No matter what your thoughts about medieval Christianity, you can’t help but be impressed by the art & architecture the period produced.
Some modern Christians, especially those of the Evangelical stripe, visit a medieval European cathedral, and come away impressed at the architecture, but mystified and maybe, a few anyway, a bit angry.
Mystified on WHY people would go to such extremes to build such an immense and impressive structure.
Angry at the massive expense such a structure meant.
This 74th Episode of CS is the 2nd Overview, where we pause to sum up the journey we’ve taken since the last overview, which was Episode 35.
That summary began with the Apostolic Church and ran up through the 5th Century and the Fall of the Western Roman Empire. In this Overview, starts where that left off and brings us up to the 15th C. We’re about to move into what’s called the Reformation & Counter- Reformation Era, but have a bit more work to do in looking at some trends that took place in the Church in Europe in the waning decades of the Middle Ages.
Turns out, there was a lot of reform-oriented activity that took place in the Church well before the birth of Martin Luther. So we’ll be taking a look at that. And filling in some of the holes left in our story so far.
The title of this episode of Communio Santorum is A Glimmer of Reform.
I assume nearly everyone listening to this is a student of history, or—why would you be listening? Some like history in general. Others find a fascination with certain eras or moments of the past. Whatever your interest in history, every student recognizes as time passes, things change. Sometimes that change is merely incidental to the thing changed, a cosmetic difference that does little to the substance. Other change is deep, fundamentally altering the thing changed; and in some cases, doing away with it altogether.
Institutions and beliefs held for long periods can be swept away in a matter of days, while others abide for centuries without being touched.
This episode of CS is titled “Meanwhile, Back in the East” because before we dive into the next phase of church history in Europe, we need to catch up on what’s happening to the East.
The Mongol Empire of the 13th & 14th Cs occupied the largest contiguous land empire in history. Rising originally from the steppes of Central Asia and eventually stretching from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan; from Siberia in the N to Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, & the Iranian plateau, & the Middle East. At its greatest extent it spanned 6000 miles and covered about 16% of the planet’s total land area.
Genghis Khan was himself a shamanist, but recognizing the need to unite the Mongol clans. He adopted a policy of religious toleration that remained the official policy during his reign and that of his son Ogedai. Several of the tribes that formed the core of the Mongol horde were Christians in at least a cultural sense. The Keriats, Onguds & Uighurs owed the Christianization of their culture to the Eastern expansion of Christianity we’ve looked at in some earlier episodes.
This episode is titled The Mystics & looks at the Mysticism of the Western Church during the Late Middle Ages.
Alongside the Scholastics whom we spent a couple episodes on, was another movement within Medieval Christianity in Europe led by a group of people known as “The Mystics.”
Don’t let that title mislead you. They weren’t wizards with black, long-sleeved robes & tall pointed hats embellished with moons and stars. Don’t picture Gandalf or some old man bent over a dusty tome reciting an incantation. The Mystics weren’t magicians. They were simply Christians who thought a vital part of the Faith was been left behind by the academic pursuits of the Scholastics. They wanted to reclaim it.
In this, the 70th Episode of CS ver. 2, we take a look at Sacramentalism; a mindset that dominated the religious landscape of late Medieval Christianity.
The question that consumed Europeans of the Middle Ages was, “How can I be saved? What must I believe and do that will preserve my soul from the torment of hell?”
Rome answered that with what’s called Sacramentalism.
Now, let me be clear; the basic answer was, “Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.” But the Church went on to define what that trust looked like with a set of rules & required practices. Yes, people are saved by grace through faith, but that grace is received by special acts only authorized clergy can conduct. These acts were called “sacraments” from the word “sacred” meaning holy. But there was a specific flavor to the word sacrament that carried the idea of mystery. Precisely HOW the sacraments communicated grace was unknown, but that they did was a certainty. So while salvation was by grace, one had to go to the Church to get that grace. The sacraments were channels of grace and the necessary food of the soul. They accompanied human life from the cradle to the grave. An infant was ushered into the world by the sacrament of Baptism while the elderly were sent on their way out by the sacrament of Extreme Unction.
The title of this episode of CS is The Not-So Great After All Schism.
At the end of our last episode, a Frenchman, the Archbishop of Bordeaux was elected by the College of Cardinals in 1305 as Pope Clement. But Clement never set foot in Rome, because the locus of political power had shifted to France & her King, Philip. This marks the beginning of what’s called the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, a 72–year long period when France dominated the papacy. After Clement, the next 6 Popes, all French, chose to make their headquarters in Avignon rather than Rome. Though it began as a small town when Clement first located there, over the next 70 years it grew to a population of some 80,000, nearly all of them associated in some way with the Church bureaucracy.
The title of this episode of is Of Popes & Princes.
As far as the Church in the West was concerned, the 14th C opened on what seemed a strong note. Early in 1300 Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed a Year of Jubilee, something new on the Church calendar. The Pope’s decree announced a blanket pardon of all sins for all who visited the churches of St. Peter & St. Paul in Rome over the next 10 months. Huge crowds poured into the city.
Boniface VIII was an interesting man. He had a definite flair for the pomp & circumstance of what some might call pretentious ceremony. He regularly appeared in public dressed in royal, or even better, imperial robes, announcing, “I am Caesar. I am Emperor.” His papal crown had 48 rubies, 72 sapphires, 45 emeralds, & 66 large pearls. He could afford to be generous w/pardons. At the Church of St. Paul, pilgrims to Rome kept priests busy night & day collecting & counting the unending offerings.
This episode of CS is titled, “No Dunce Here.”
The Franciscans had an answer to the Dominican Scholastic we looked at in the previous episode. In fact, Aquinas’ Franciscan counterpart lived at the same time. His name was John Bonaventure.
Born in Tuscany in 1221 as John Fidanza, he became known as Bonaventura when he had a miraculous recovery from a grave illness as a child of 4. Upon regaining his health, his mother announced, “Good fortune” & the name stuck.
While Aquinas was predominantly a theologian, Bonaventure was both theologian & accomplished administrator of the affairs of the Franciscans. Where Thomas was precise but dry, John was a mystic & given to eloquence. Aquinas was prose; Bonaventure, poetry.
This Episode is titled “God’s Ox.”
I want to begin by saying thanks to those who’ve messaged recently on the Facebook page to say they’re enjoying the podcast. What we’re doing here is ultra-amateur. CS is a labor of love and makes no claim at being a scholarly review of history. As I study, I record these episodes in the hope others can tag along and learn alongside me. I make no claim that this is exhaustive. On the contrary; it’s a cursory account meant to give a brief overview of Church history; a kind of verbal fly-over; with occasional moments when we linger over something interesting. I aim to give listeners a basic sense of when events occurred in relation to each other; who some of the main actors & actresses were & the part they played. And as I’ve said before, the episodes are intentionally short to make it easy to listen in the brief snatches as people are working out, doing chores, going for a walk—that kind of thing. I listen to about a dozen podcasts of varying lengths on a wide set of topics when exercising & working in the yard.
The title of this episode is Scholasticism
One of the most important questions faced by philosophers & theologians throughout the centuries has been the interplay between Faith & Reason. Are they enemies or allies? Is the Christian faith reasonable, or a blind leap into an irrational darkness? A major advance in answering this came with the emergence of a group of medieval theologians known as the Scholastics. Chief among them were Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th C & Thomas Aquinas in the 13th.
In his novel Pillars of the Earth, author Ken Follett spins an intriguing tale of the construction of a cathedral in England. While the cathedral & town are fictional, Follett does a masterful job of capturing the mindset and vision of medieval architecture.
This episode is titled “The Eucharistic Controversy.”
As I mentioned last episode, as we round out the Middle Ages in Europe, we have several topics we need to cover before we can launch into the Era of Scholasticism. Last time we took a brief look at the Investiture Controversy and an even briefer look at a doctrinal error that had a long lifespan – Adoptionism.
In this episode, we’ll look at another controversy that raged in the church of both East & West for a long time – that is, how to understand the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
For Protestant listeners – the issue was: Just what do we mean when we say Jesus is present at Communion or the Lord’s Supper.
This 63rd episode is titled Invested
We’ve concluded a series of podcasts now on medieval monasticism and return to the narrative of the Church during the Middle Ages in Europe.
Before we do however, let’s remember the story of Church History is much bigger than just what happened in Europe. Most treatments of church history spend most of their time on the Western Church & only touch the church in other places as it relates TO the Western narrative. We’re trying to broaden our horizons here a bit, although it’s tough because the source material for the history of the church beyond the Western realm is much slimmer. It isn’t that there isn’t any; there’s quite a bit – but it’s not presented in the popular format that commends a layman’s, as I am, format. So it’s thick wading through most of it.
Anyway, with that said – back to the Church in the European Middle Ages . . .
This 62nd episode of CS is the 5th & final in our look at monasticism in the Middle Ages.
To a lesser extent for the Dominicans, but a bit more for the Franciscans, these monastic orders were an attempt to bring reform to the Western Church which during the Middle Ages had fallen far from the Apostolic ideal. The institutional Church had become little more than one more political body, with vast tracts of land, a massive hierarchy, a complex bureaucracy, & had accumulated powerful political across Europe. The clergy and some of the older orders had degenerated into little better than illiterate fraternities. Many priests and monks could neither read nor write, & engaged in gross immorality while hiding behind their vows.
It wasn’t this case everywhere. But it was in enough places that Francis was compelled to use poverty as a means of reform. The Franciscans who followed after Francis were quickly absorbed back into the Church’s structure and the reforms Francis envisioned were still-born.
This episode is titled, Dominic & continues our look on monastic life.
In our last episode we considered Francis of Assisi & the monastic order that followed him, the Franciscans. In this installment of CS, we take a look at the other great order that developed at this that time – The Dominicans.
Dominic was born in the region of Castile, Spain in 1170. At an early age he excelled as a student. At 25, he became a priest & a few years later he was invited by his bishop, Diego of Osma, to accompany him on a visit to Southern France where he ran into a group of heretics known as the Cathars. Dominic threw himself into the Church-sanctioned movement to suppress the Cathars by going on a preaching tour of the region.
This Episode of CS is titled, Francis
Though we call him Francis of Assisi, his original name was Francesco Bernardone. Born in 1182, his given name was Giovanni (the Latin form of John). His father Pietro nicknamed him Francesco which is what everyone called him. Pietro was a wealthy dealer in textile fabrics imported from France to their hometown of Assisi in central Italy.
His childhood was marked by the privileges of his family’s wealth. He wasn’t a great student, finding his delight more in having a good time entertaining friends. When a local war broke out, he signed up as a young adult to fight for his hometown and was taken prisoner. He was released at 22. Not long after, Francis came down with a serious illness. That’s when he began to consider eternal things, as so many have when facing their mortality. He rose from his sick-bed disgusted with himself and unsatisfied with the world.
This episode is titled – Monk Business Part 2
In the early 13th C a couple new monastic orders of preaching monks sprang up known as the Mendicants. They were the Franciscans & Dominicans.
The Franciscans were founded by Francis of Assisi. They concentrated on preaching to ordinary Christians, seeking to renew basic, Spirit-led discipleship. The mission of the Dominicans aimed at confronting heretics & aberrant ideas.
The Dominicans were approved by the Pope as an official, church sponsored movement in 1216, the Franciscans received Papal endorsement 7 years later.
This 58th Episode of CS is titled – Monk Business Part 1 & is the first of several episodes in which we’ll take a look at monastic movements in Church History.
I realize that may not sound terribly exciting to some. The prospect of digging into this part of the story didn’t hold much interest for me either, that is until I realized how rich it is. You see, being a bit of a fan for the work of J. Edwin Orr, I love the history of revivals. Well, it turns out each new monastic movement was often a fresh moving of God’s Spirit in renewal. Several were a new wineskin for God’s Spirit & work.
The roots of monasticism are worth taking some time to unpack. Let’s get started . . .
The Crusades, Part 4.
The plan for this episode, the last in our look at the Crusades, is to give a brief review of the 5th thru 7th Crusades, then a bit of analysis of the Crusades as a whole.
The date set for the start of the 5th Crusade was June 1st, 1217. It was Pope Innocent III’s long dream to reconquer Jerusalem. He died before the Crusade set off, but his successor Honorius III was just as ardent a supporter. He continued the work begun by Innocent.
The Crusades, Part 3.
A significant result of the First Crusade was the further alienation of the Eastern & Western Churches. The help provided Byzantium by the crusaders were not what The Emperor Alexius was looking for.
It also resulted in an even greater alienation of the Muslims than had been in place before. 200 years of Crusading rampages across the Eastern Mediterranean permanently poisoned Muslim-Christian relations and ended the spirit of moderate tolerance for Christians living under Muslim rule. The only people who welcomed the crusaders were a handful of Christian minorities who’d suffered under Byzantine or Muslim rule; people like the Armenians and Lebanese Maronites. The Copts in Egypt saw the Crusades as a calamity. They were now suspected by Muslims rulers of holding Western sympathies while being treated as schismatics by the Western Church. Once the Crusaders took Jerusalem, they banned the Copts form making pilgrimage there.
Episode 55 – The Crusades, Part 2
As Bruce Shelly aptly states in in his excellent book Church History in Plain Language, for the past 700 years Christians have tried to forget the Crusades, though neither Jews nor Muslims will let them. Modern Christians want to dismiss that era of Church History as the insane bigotry of the illiterate & superstitious. But to do so is to shows our own kind of bigotry, one neglectful of the historical context of the European Middle Ages.
The Crusaders were human beings, who like us, had mixed motives that were often in conflict. The word crusade means to “take up the cross,” hopefully after the example of Christ. That’s why on the way to the Holy Land crusaders wore the cross on their chest. On their return home they wore it on their back. 
Episode 54 – The Crusades – Part 1
In the first episode of Communio Sanctorum, we took a look at the various ways history has been studied over time. In the Ancient world, history was more often than not, propaganda. The old adage that “History is written by the winners” was certainly true for the ancients. With the implementation of the Scientific Method in the Modern Era when, the researching & recording of history became more unbiased and accurate. It was far from a pure report, but it could no longer be considered blatant propaganda. But the Post-Modern Era saw a return to bias; this time an almost knee-jerk suspicion of ALL previous attempts to record history. Even the attempts of the Modern Era to document history are suspect and assumed guilty of recording little more than the bias of the authors, though their works were footnoted & peer-reviewed. Many Post-modern critics adopt a presupposition all recorded history is fabrication, especially if there’s anything heroic or virtuous in it. If it’s a dark tale of hopelessness & tragedy, well, then, maybe it can be accepted. It’s almost as though Post-moderns want to make up for the ancient historians’ penchant for propaganda. Post-Moderns cast history as “neg-paganda” if I can coin a new word.
This episode of CS is titled, “Crazy Stuff” because . . . we’ll you’ll see as we get into it.
A short while back, we took at look at the Iconoclast Controversy that took place in the Eastern, Greek Orthodox church during the 8th & 9th Cs.
While we understand the basic point of controversy between the icon-smashers, called iconoclasts, and the icon-supporters, the iconodules; the theology the iconodules used to support the on-going use of icons is bit complex.
The iconoclasts considered the use of religious images as simple idolatry. The iconodules developed a theology that not only allowed, it encouraged the use of icons while avoiding the charge of idolatry. They said such images were to be respected; venerated even – but not worshiped. Though, for all practical purposes, in the minds of most worshipers, there was no real difference between veneration & the adoration of worship.
This episode of Communio Sanctorum is titled, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”
In our study of the History of the Church, we get to examine some periods when the followers of Jesus did some amazing, God-honoring, Christ-exalting, people-blessing things. In future episodes we’ll take a longerish look at how the Gospel has impacted history & world civilization for the better.
But, we have to be honest & admit there have been too many times when the Church totally fumbled the ball. Worse than that, after fumbling it, they stepped on & kicked it out of bounds!
The danger I face as we deal with these atrocious moments in Church History is of being assumed to be hostile to the Body of Christ. When I speak about the abysmal career of some of the popes, some listeners will assume I’m Catholic-bashing. Later, when we get to the Reformation era and we take an honest look at some of the Reformers, I’ll be accused of being a closet-Catholic!
This episode is titled Icons.
Those who possess a rough outline of history know we’re coming up on that moment when the Eastern & Western branches of the Church split. The break wasn’t some incidental accident that happened without a lot of preparation. Thing had been going sour for a long, long time. One of the contributing factors was the Iconoclastic Controversy that split the Byzantine church in the 8th & 9th Cs.
While the Western Church went through monumental changes during the Middle Ages, the Eastern Church centered at Constantinople managed a holding pattern. It was the preservation of what they considered orthodoxy that moved Eastern Christians to view the Western Church as making dangerous & sometimes even heretical alterations to the Faith. The Eastern Church thought itself to now be alone in carrying the Faith of the Ecumenical Councils into the future. And for that reason, Constantinople backed away from its long stated recognition that the Church at Rome was pre-eminent in Church affairs.
The title of this episode is “What a Mess!”
As is often the case, we need to start by backing up & reviewing material we’ve already covered so we can launch into the next round of Church History.
Anglo-Saxon missionaries to Germany had received the support of Charles Martel, one of the founding members of the Carolingian dynasty that took over rule of the Franks from the Merovingians. Martel supported these missions because of his desire to expand his rule eastwards into Bavaria. The Pope was grateful for his support, and for Charles’ victory over the Muslims at the Battle of Tours. But Martel fell afoul of papal favor when he confiscated Church lands. At first, the Church consented to his seizing of property to produce income to stave off the Muslim threat. But once that threat was dealt with, He refused to return the lands. He also ingnored the Pope’s request for help against the Lombards who were taking control of a good chunk of Italy. Martel denied assistance because at that time the Lombards were his allies.
Welcome to the 49th installment of CS. This episode is titled “Charlemagne Pt. 2; & More.”
After his coronation on Christmas Day AD 800, Charlemagne said he didn’t know it had been planned by Pope Leo III. If setting the crown of a new Holy Roman Empire on his head was a surprise, he got over the shock right quick. He quickly shot off dispatches to the lands under his control, saying, “Charles, by the will of God, Roman Emperor, Augustus … in the year of our consulship 1.” He even required that an oath be taken to him as Caesar by all officers, whether religious or civil. He sent ambassadors to soothe the inevitable wrath of the Emperor in Constantinople.
What’s important to note is how his coronation ceremony in St. Peter’s demonstrated the still keen memory of the Roman Empire that survived in Europe. His quick emergence as the recognized leader of a large part of Europe revealed the strong desire there was to reestablish a political unity that had been absent from the region for nearly 400 years. But, Charlemagne’s crowning launched a long-standing contest. One we’d not expect, since it was, after all, the Pope who crowned him. The contest was between the revived empire and the Roman Church.
The title of this 48th episode of CS is “Charlemagne – Part 1.”
The political landscape of our time is dominated by the idea that nation-states are autonomous & sovereign societies in which religion at best plays a minor role. Religion may be an influence in shaping some aspects of culture, but affiliation with a religious group is voluntary and distinct from the rest of society.
What we need to understand if we’re going to be objective in our study of history is that, that idea simply did not exist in Europe during the Middle Ages.
In the 9th C, the Frank king Charles the Great, better known as Charlemagne, sought to makes Augustine’s vision of society in the City of God, a reality. He merged Church & State, fusing a new political-religious alliance. His was a conscious effort to merge the Roman Catholic Church with what was left of the old Roman political house, creating a hybrid Holy Roman Empire. The product became what’s called Medieval European Christendom.
This week’s episode is titled – “Challenge.”
We’ve tracked the development & growth of the Church in the East over a few episodes. To be clear, we’re talking about the Church which made its headquarters in the city of Seleucia. Twin city to the Persian capital of Ctesiphon, in the region known as Mesopotamia. What today historians refer to as The Church in the East called itself the Assyrian Church. But it was known by the Catholic Church in the West with its twin centers at Rome & Constantinople, by the disparaging title of the Nestorian Church because it continued on in the theological tradition of Bishop Nestorius, declared heretical by the Councils of Ephesus in 431 & Chalcedon in 451. As we’ve seen, it’s doubtful what Nestorius taught about the nature of Christ was truly errant. But Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, more for political reasons than from a concern for theological purity, convinced his peers that Nestorius was a heretic & had him & his followers banished. They moved East and formed the core of the Church in the East.
This episode of Communio Sanctorum is titled, “Liturgy.”
And that’s where I want to begin: What comes to mind when you hear that word – “Liturgy.”
Most likely—it brings up all kinds of various associations for different people. Some find great comfort in what the word connotes because it recalls a time in their life of close connection to God. Others find it distasteful as it seems to represent empty rituals that obscure, rather than bring closer a sense of the sacred.
The following is by no means meant as a comprehensive study of Christian liturgy. Far from it. That would take hours. This is just a thumbnail sketch of the genesis of some of the liturgical traditions of the Church.
This episode of Communio Sanctorum is titled, “Look Who’s Driving the Bus Now.”
As noted in a previous episode, it’s difficult in recounting Church History to follow a straight narrative timeline. The expansion of the Faith into different regions means many storylines. So it’s necessary to do a certain amount of backtracking as we follow the spread of the Gospel from region to region. The problem with that though in an audio series, with no written material for listeners to look at that coincides with the audio è it can be confusing as we bounce back & forth in time. We’ve already followed Christianity’s expansion to the Far East & went from the 4th C thru about the 6th, then did a quick little jaunt all the way to the 17th C. Then in the next episode we’re back in Italy talking about the 3rd C.
This Episode is title – “Expansion ”.
We’re going to spend a little time now tracking the expansion of the Faith into different areas in the Early Middle Ages.
We ended our last podcast with the story of the conversion of the Frank king Clovis in 496. When he was baptized on Christmas Day by Bishop Remigius of Rheims, 3,000 of his warriors joined him. It was the first of several mass baptism that took place during the Middle Ages in Europe. And it raises the issue of the paganizing of Christianity.
This episode of Communion Sanctorum is titled – “Into the Middle”
Justinian I’s reconquest of Italy & liberating it from its brief stint under barbarian control was even briefer. Soon after Justinian’s eastern forces regained control of portions of the peninsula & put them back under the Empire’s dominion, yet another Germanic group invaded & put most of Italy under their jurisdiction.
The Lombards were a Scandinavian group who’d emerged as the dominant Germanic tribe. In 568, they conquered Byzantine Italy and formed what is known as the Kingdom of Italy, which lasted to the later 8th C until it was brought down by the Franks, though Lombard nobles continued to rule portions of the peninsula until the 11th C.
This episode of Communio Sanctorum is titled, “Living It.”
For generations, scholars have debated the cause of the Fall of Rome in the West. In his monumental work The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire historian Edward Gibbon laid a large part of the blame on Christianity. And for decades that view dominated the popular view of history for the 5th C.
Christianity certainly played a major role in the course of events in Europe during that time, and I’m loath to contend with such an eminent & erudite scholar as Mr. Gibbon, but The Roman Empire did not fall in the 5th C when barbarians over ran the West. As we’ve see in previous episodes, the Empire continued on quite nicely, thank you very much, in the East for another thousand years! What we see in Gibbons is the western provincialism typical of an 18th C European. He largely disregards the Eastern Empire once the West fell; this despite the fact that the Eastern Empire continued to identify & call itself Roman for hundreds of years.
This week’s episode of Communio Sanctorum is titled, “God’s Consul .”
One of the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s most important contributions to the Empire was to divide the top-tier leadership up so that it could rule more efficiently. The Empire had grown too large to be governed well by a single Emperor, so he selected a co-Augustus & divided their regions of oversight between Western & Eastern realms. Since the issue of succession had also been a cause for unrest in previous generations, Diocletian also provided for that by assigning junior Caesars for both himself & his co-Augustus. When they stepped down, there would be someone waiting in the wings, pre-designated to take control. The idea was then that when their successors stepped into the role of being co-Augusti – they’d appoint new junior Caesars to follow after them. It was a solid plan and worked well while Diocletian was the senior Augustus. When he retired to raise prize-winning cabbages, the other rulers decided they liked power & didn’t want to relinquish it.
This episode is titled – The Divide.
I begin with a quote from a man known to scholars today as Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite. In a commentary on the names of God he penned . . .
The One is a Unity which is the unifying Source of all unity and a Super-Essential Essence, a Mind beyond the reach of mind and a Word beyond utterance, eluding Discourse, Intuition , Name, and every kind of being. It is the Universal Cause of existence while Itself existing not, for It is beyond all Being and such that It alone could give a revelation of Itself.
If that sounds more like something a Hindu guru would come up with, don’t worry, you’re right. Dionysius isn’t called Pseudo for nothing.
This episode is titled – Popes.
We begin with a quote from Pope Leo I and his Sermon 5 …
It is true that all bishops taken singly preside each with his proper solicitude over his own flock, and know that they will have to give account for the sheep committed to them. To us [that is: the Popes], however, is committed the common care of all; and no single bishop’s administration is other than a part of our task.
The history of the Popes, AKA the bishops of Rome, could easily constitute its own study & podcast. Low & behold there IS a podcast by Stephen Guerra on this very subject. You can access it via iTunes or the History podcasters website.
The title of this episode is “Barbarians at the Gates – & Everywhere Else”
I live on the coast of Southern California in one of the most beautiful places on the planet – Ventura County. The weather is temperate all year round with an average temperature of 70 degrees. The beaches are pristine & most of the time, uncrowded. The County has several prime surf spots. But every so often, usually during the Winter, storms throw up huge waves that trash the shore. Some of these storms are local and wash down huge piles of debris from the hills that then wash up on the beach. Others are far to the south, off the coast of Mexico but they roll up waves that travel North and erode tons of sand, altering the shoreline.
In the 5th & 6th Centuries, waves of barbarian invasion from the North & East swept across Europe to alter the political & cultural landscape & prime Europe for the Middle Ages.
This week’s episode is titled, “Patrick”
Last week’s episode was a brief review of Christianity’s arrival in Britain. We saw how the Anglo-Saxons pressed in from the eastern coast where they’d been confined by what remained of the Roman army. But when the Roman’s pulled out in 410, the Saxons quickly moved in to take their place, confining The Romano-British Christians to the western piece of the Island. It was from that shrinking enclave of faith that a spark of faith leapt the Irish Sea to land in the dry tinder of Celtic Ireland. That spark’s name was Patrick.
While there’s much legend surrounding Patrick’s life, there’s scant hard historical evidence for the details of his story. We have little idea when or where he was born, where he lived & worked, when & where he died, or other important specifics. What we do have are incidental clues & his own records, vague as they are in the aforementioned details.
This episode is titled – “Did Those Feet?” Why it bears that title is this . . .
Have you ever heard the anthem “Jerusalem”, whose lyrics come from a poem by William Blake? The song was performed by the 1970’s progressive rock Band, Emerson, Lake & Palmer on their album, Brain Salad Surgery.
The opening lines are . . .
And did those feet in ancient time — Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God — On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
A mysterious riddle for those not aware of the ancient legends surrounding Britain’s entrance to the Christian faith.
This episode of CS is the first of what will be several summary reviews of Church history. My plan is to continue on as we have, pausing occasionally to in one episode catch us up in broad strokes on what we’ve covered so far.
My hope is to avoid the whole, “Can’t see the forest for the trees” thing. For those listeners where English is a second language, that phrase is an idiom that means the loss of perspective behind too many details.
You see, even though the goal of version 2 of CS is to clean up the narrative timeline from that laid down in ver. 1, we’re still needing to bounce around between times & places. It’s just the nature of trying to examine all of church history, instead of its course in one location. Still, I hope to build in each listener a basic sense of historical flow. To that end, stopping every so often to step back and provide a quick summary of the material we’ve covered so far seems appropriate.
This episode is titled – The Great Recession.
I usually leave house-keeping comments for CS to the end of each episode but wanted to begin this by saying a massive thanks to all those who subscribe, listen regularly, and have turned others on to the podcast.
Website stats tell us we have a lot of visitors & subscribers. Far more than you faithful ones who’ve checked in on the Facebook page & hit the “like” button. Can I ask those of you who haven’t yet to do so?
Then, if you’re one of the many who accesses the podcast via iTunes, you probably know how difficult it can be to find what you’re looking for there. Many thousands of people use iTunes as a portal for their podcast and the search function is hideously inaccurate. So tracking down what you want can be a challenge. What helps people find content on iTunes is reviews. So, if you’re an iTunes user and like CS, you could be a great asset by writing a brief review for the podcast. Thanks ahead of time.
You Windows Phone users, CS is now in the Windows Store in the podcast section. Just doe a search for History of the Christian Church.
Okay, enough shameless self-promotion . . .
Christianity more than proved its vitality by enduring waves of persecution prior to Constantine the Great. When persecution was withdrawn & the Faith climbed out of the catacombs to become the darling of the State, the question was whether it would survive the corruption political power inevitably brings. While many thousands of pagans professed faith because it was the politically expedient thing to do, some sincere believers marked the moral corruption that took place in the church & forsook society to practice a purer faith in monasteries, as we saw in our last episode.
The institutional Church, on the other hand, organized itself in a manner that resembled the old Roman Imperial system. When the Empire crumbled under the weight of its own corruption, that fall accelerated by barbarian invasions, the question was, would Christianity fall with it?
The story of Christianity in the West is a remarkable tale of survival. So often in history, when a culture is swept away, so is its religion. Christianity has proven an exception. As often as not it endured when the culture changed. Such was the case in Europe and the events that followed the Fall of Rome at the end of the 5th Century.
When the Gospel first came to those urban centers which were the cultural heart of the Roman Empire in the late 1st & early 2nd Centuries, it was regarded as a Jewish reform movement. Its first converts were Jews scattered around the Empire and those Gentiles who’d attached themselves to the Jewish synagogues. But once these God-fearing Gentiles came to faith, they began to evangelize their Gentile friends. Following Paul’s example in speaking to the philosophers on Mars Hill, these Gentile Christians recast the Gospel in Greco-Roman terms, using ideas & values familiar to the pagan mind.
When I say “pagan” don’t think of it as the insult it is in our modern vernacular; someone void of moral virtue. By pagan I mean those who practiced the religion of the Greeks & Romans with its pantheon of gods. In that sense, Plato & Aristotle were pagans. Zeno, the philosopher who developed Stoicism, was a pagan. These were all men who developed the philosophical framework that shaped the worldview of Greco-Roman culture & society. They asked some penetrating questions that provided the intellectual backdrop of the 1st & 2nd Centuries. Gentile Christians picked up these questions & used them to say they’d found their answers in Christ. Many other pagans found these arguments convincing & were won to faith. Some of the Early Church Fathers even appealed to the ancient philosophers in the formal letters they wrote to the Emperors on why persecution of Christians was bad policy. They argued for a promotion of the Faith as a boon to the health of culture, not a harm to it. Their defense of the Faith was couched in terms the Emperors were familiar with because they shared the same philosophical language.
My point here is that Christianity made an appeal to the Greco-Roman worldview it was growing in the midst of. So, what would happen when that society fell?
Also, the Church’s organizational structure increasingly came to resemble the Imperial structure. What would happen when that was dismantled? Would the Faith survive? Had Christianity grown too close to the culture?
The answer is à Yes & no. The Empire’s demise did pose a set-back to the Church. But we might ask if maybe that was good. The institutional Church had in many ways deviated from its purpose & calling. Not a few bishops were far more concerned for their political power than for their role as spiritual shepherds. In many minds, spiritual & earthly power had merged into the same thing.
Rome’s fall allowed the genuine faith to break away from the political attachments that had corrupted it for a century & a half. But there’s little doubt that from the 6th through 9th Centuries, Christianity suffered a kind of Spiritual declension. Over that 400 years, the total number of people who claimed be Christians dropped, fresh movements of renewal declined, & moral & spiritual vigor flagged. While there were exceptions, overall, Christianity lost ground, giving this period of time in Church history the title, as Kenneth Scott Latourette calls it, the Great Recession.
Following the timeline of Church history at this point becomes difficult because so much was going on in various places. So for the balance of this episode, I want to give a quick sketch of both the many reversals & few advances Christianity saw from the 6th thru 9th Centuries.
When the Goths, Visigoths, & Ostrogoths moved in to pick clean the bones of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century, something remarkable happened. While they helped themselves to the wealth of the Empire, they also adopted some of Roman customs they admired. But nothing was so surprising as their embrace of Christianity. In truth, these barbarians were already what we’d have to describe as nominally Christian. Their invasion of & settling into Roman lands greatly furthered their identification with the Faith.
Remember that in the ancient world, war was more than just an attempt to take land & plunder; it was a contest of faiths. The ancients believed armed conflict was a kind of spiritual tug of war. The mightiest god gave his or her people victory. This is why when one people defeated another, the loser’s religion was often wiped out.
But the Germanic barbarians tended to embrace Christianity rather than destroy it. There was something different in the message of Christ from their ancient folk faiths that drew and converted them. So when they took down the Roman Imperial structure, they left the churches intact. Bishops continued to exercise spiritual oversight over their flocks.
Unlike other religions, Christianity was super-cultural. It wasn’t just the faith of one group; it potentially embraced all. Even those who rejected the Gospel recognized it wasn’t merely the spirituality of a specific ethnic group. Its message transcended culture to encompass all humanity.
That was the situation on the north & northeastern borders of the Empire. The situation in the south was very different. In the 7th Century Islam swept out of Arabia to conquer the Middle East & North Africa. The Muslims managed to get a foothold in Spain before the armies of Charles Martel stopped them pushing any further North in 732. Where Islam conquered, it replaced native religions. Enclaves of determined Jews & Christians eked out an existence but by & large, the Crescent replaced the Cross throughout the Middle East & North Africa.
While there’s no specific date or event that marked the onset of the Great Recession, we’ll set the year 500 as the starting point. Here’s why …
In 476 the last Roman Emperor was deposed by the Goth leader Odoacer. This marks the end of the Western Roman Empire. The capital then shifted undisputedly to Constantinople in the East.
20 years later, in 496, the Frank king Clovis was baptized. This marked a new era in which Germanic rulers became the standard bearers of the Faith instead of Romans.
Then in 529, the Eastern Emperor Justinian closed the Schools of Athens. These academies were the last official symbols of Greco-Roman paganism. Justinian ordered them closed to signal the final triumph of Christianity over paganism.
In that same year, 529, Benedict built his monastery on Monte Cassino as we saw in our last episode. The Benedictine Rule was to have a huge impact of the course of the Faith in the West.
While Christianity seemed to stumble in many of the places where it had been installed 3 & 400 years before, it continued its relentless spread into new territory. It was during the early 6th Century that the Faith went up the Nile into Sudan. In the later part of that century, Pope Gregory sent missionaries to Britain and in the early 7th Century the Gospel reached China.
But the 7th Century was when the Arab conquests began. In less than 20 years after Mohammed’s death, Islam had raised its banner over, Israel, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, & Egypt. Before the end of the Century they’d conquered all North Africa, including the capital at Carthage and by 715 had taken Spain.
If you’ve been listening from the earliest episodes, you know that these lands the Arabs conquered had a rich Christian history, especially in North Africa. Alexandria & Carthage were home to some of the most prominent Christian leaders & theologians – Athanasius & Arius, Alexander, Cyril, & Augustine, to name just a few.
At the same time the Arabs were spreading Islam across Christian lands, up in the Balkan peninsula & Greece, pagan Slavs moved in. In 680, Asians called Bulgars crossed the Danube River & set up a new kingdom in what had been the Eastern frontier of the Empire.
Between these losses to the Arabs in the South & the Slavs & Bulgars in the East, about half the total land area that had been Christian territory was lost.
The 8th Century saw large numbers of the many German tribes come to Faith. But the 9th & 10th Centuries were marked by repeated invasions of pagans from the distant north. These Scandinavians raided the shores of northern Europe, Britain, and all the way to Russia. They delighted in looting the many defenseless churches & monasteries they included in their conquests.
These Scandinavian raids helped shatter the fragile unity the Carolingians had pulled together in Europe. As society broke apart into minor political regions, the quality of spirituality in the churches declined. Discipline in the monasteries grew lax. Bishops focused far more on secular than on spiritual matters. The clergy grew corrupt. The Roman Papacy became a political football.
The Eastern church of the 8th & 9th Centuries was rent by a theological controversy over the use of images. In the 9th Century the Muslims conquered Sicily & Crete, & established a beachhead in southern Italy.
In China of the mid 9th Century, Christianity experienced a wave of fierce persecution. This was due to the Faith having been too closely identified with the previous dynasty.
As we come to the dawn of the 10th Century, there were several positive signs the Faith was growing again in the regions where it had declined. Churches were planted among the Slavs & Bulgars. The Faith extended its reach into Russia & there’s indications the Church in India grew during this time.
One sign of a positive spiritual turn took place in Eastern France in a place called Cluny. In 910, Duke William of Aquitania founded a monastery on the Rule of St. Benedict. The abbots selected to lead it were men of tremendous character & piety. They were determined to correct the lax moral attitudes that had become all too common in monastery life.
The Clunaic reforms not only reinvigorated monastic life, they established a new hierarchy for monasteries. Prior to Cluny, monasteries were connected to & in a sense answerable to local bishops & nobility. Cluny and the monasteries that came from it were directly answerable to the Pope. This became an important element of church life when during the 11th Century, the popes tried to un-tie the Church from secular powers.
While the monastic life may seem strange & at the same time stereo-typical of the romanticized view of Medieval life we have today, monasteries acted as repositories of the wisdom & learning of previous generations. As wave after wave of invaders washed over Europe, and society was shattered into a thousand bits, the monasteries remained cultural lighthouses.
This episode of CS is titled – Monks.
Back in Episode 18 when we looked at the hermits, we delved into the beginnings of the monastic movement that swept both Eastern & Western Christianity. The hermits were those who left the city to live an ultra-ascetic life of isolation; literally fleeing from the world. Others who longed for the ascetic life could not abide the lack of fellowship and so retreated from the world to live in sequestered communes called monasteries & nunneries.
The men were called monks and the women; the feminine form of the same word – nonnus, or nuns. In recent episodes we’ve seen that the ascetic lifestyle of both hermits & monks was considered the ideal expression of devotion to God during the 4th & 5th Centuries. We’re going to spend more time looking at monastery-life now because it proves central to the development of the faith during the Middle Ages, particularly in Western Europe but also in the East.
This episode of CS is titled “Augustine – Part 2.”
Let’s begin with another quote form Augustine of Hippo. This is form his work, On Chrsitian Teaching . . .
Whoever, then, appears in his own opinion to have understood the Sacred Scriptures, or even some part of them, yet does not build up with knowledge the twofold love of God and neighbor , ‘has not yet known as he ought to know.’ Yet, if anyone has derived from them an idea that may be useful in building up this love, but has not expressed by it what the author whom he is reading truly intended in that passage, he is not erring dangerously nor lying at all.
As mentioned in the previous episode, Augustine wrote a work called Retractions in which he lists the many books & treatises he’d penned. Each work is given a summary and additional notes are added charting the development of his thought over time.
This episode of CS is titled “Augustine – Part 1.”
We begin with a quote from the Confession of St. Augustine . . .
Late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient yet so new; Late have I loved you. You were within while I was without. I sought You out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things You made. You were with me, but I was not with You. These things kept me far from You; even though they’d not even be unless You made them. You called and cried aloud, and opened my deafness. You gleamed and shined, and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrant odors and I drew breath; and now I pant for You. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.
We begin now looking at the life & work of a man of singular importance in the history of the Church because of the impact he’s had on theology. And I’ll be blunt to say what it seems many, maybe most, are careful to avoid when it comes to Augustine. While the vast majority of historians laud him, a much smaller & cautious group are less enthused with him, as I hope becomes clear as we review the man & his impact.
The title of this episode is simply à “Ambrose.” And once we learn a little about him, we’ll see that title is enough.
I begin with a quote à
When we speak of wisdom, we are speaking about Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking about Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking about Christ. When we are speaking about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking about Christ.
Born in 340, Ambrose was the second son of Ambrosius, the imperial governor of Gaul and part of an ancient Roman family that included the famous Marcus Aurelius. Not long after Aurelius, and his utterly disastrous son Commodus, the family became Christians who provided not a few notable martyrs. Ambrose was born at Trier, the imperial capital of Gaul. When his father died while he was still a lad, Ambrose was taken to Rome to be raised. His childhood was spent in the company of many members of the clergy, mostly men of sincere faith with a solid grasp on the theological challenges the Church of that day wrestled with; things you’re familiar with because we’ve spent the last several episodes dealing with them; that is, the Christological controversies that swirled first around Arius, then the blood-feud between Cyril & Nestorius.
This week’s episode, number 29 for those who are counting, is titled, “Syncretism.”
In recent episodes we’ve witnessed the growing rift between the Eastern church centered at Constantinople and the Western based in Rome. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 the Eastern bishops elevated the Bishop of Constantinople to near equal status and authority with the Bishop of Rome, giving the church 2 heads. It was increasingly obvious politics was playing a greater role in church affairs than the quest for doctrinal purity or faithfulness to the Gospel–mandate. East & West were moving in opposite directions.
Since Constantinople as the “New Rome” was the political center of the empire the Eastern church grew increasingly linked to Imperial power. On February 27 of AD 380 in his Edict of Thessalonica, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the official state religion and banned paganism. Since the Church had no authority or power to enforce compliance to the Faith or to punish unconverted pagans, Imperial power was lent to enforce the Emperor’s will.
This week’s episode of Communion Sanctorum is titled – “Justinian Sayin”
During the 5th C, while the Western Roman Empire was falling to the Goths, the Eastern Empire centered at Constantinople looked like it would carry on for many years to come. Though it identified itself as Roman, historians refer to the Eastern region as the Byzantine Empire & Era. It gets that title from Byzantium, the name of the city before Constantine the Great made it his new capital.
During the 5th C, the entire empire, both East & West went into decline. But in the 6th Century, the Emperor Justinian I lead a major revival of Roman civilization. Reigning for nearly 40 years, Justinian not only brought about a re-flowering of culture in the East, he attempted to reassert control over those lands in the West that had fallen to barbarian control.
This Episode of CS is titled, “Orthodoxy, with an Eastern Flavor.”
At the conclusion of the last episode, I said we’d be continuing our look at the Church in the East by tracking the Gospel’s reach into the FAR East. But when I sat down to compose this session, I realized I’d skipped an important chapter of the story.
Even with this reboot of CS and my desire to clean up the timeline, I’m finding it a challenge to keep the narrative more strictly chronological. See—here’s the challenge in putting together the story of church history. Either we follow the course of the Gospel in one region or we bounce around to different locations and talk about what’s going on in different places at the same time. What we’re ending up doing here is a hybrid of both. I’m trying to track the progress of the Faith in a region for a period of time. But that means some regions only get about a hundred years covered while others may go for a few hundred. And that’s where the confusion can set in.
This episode of Communio Santorum is titled, “And In the East – Part 2.”
In our last episode, we took a brief look at the Apostle Thomas’ mission to India. Then we considered the spread of the faith into Persia. Further study of the Church in the East has to return to the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th C where Bishop Nestorius was condemned as a heretic.
As we’ve spent a few podcasts seeing, the debate about the deity of Christ that had been central to the Council of Nicea in 325, declared Jesus was of the same substance as the Father. It took another hundred years before the deity-denying error of Arianism was finally quashed. But even among orthodox & catholic, Nicean-holding believers, the question was over how to understand the nature of Christ. He’s God – got it! But he’s also human. How are we to understand His dual-nature. It was at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that that issue was finally decided. And the Church of the East was deemed to hold a position that was unorthodox.
This episode of Communio Santorum is titled, “And In the East – Part 1.”
The 5th C Church Father Jerome wrote, ““[Jesus] was present in all places with Thomas in India, with Peter in Rome, with Paul in Illyria, with Titus in Crete, with Andrew in Greece, with each apostle and apostolic man in his own separate region.”
So far we’ve been following the track of most western studies of history, both secular & religious, by concentrating on what took place in the West & Roman Empire. Even though we’ve delved briefly into the Eastern Roman Empire, as Lars Brownworth so aptly reminds us in his outstanding podcast, 12 Byzantine Emperors, even after the West fell in the 5th Century, the Eastern Empire continue to think of & call itself Roman. It’s later historians who refer to it as the Byzantine Empire.
The title of this episode is, “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
In our last episode we began our look at how the Church of the 4th & 5th Cs. attempted to describe the Incarnation. Once the Council of Nicaea affirmed Jesus’ deity, along with His humanity, Church leaders were left with the task of finding just the right words to describe WHO Jesus was. If He was both God & Man as The Nicaean Creed said, how did these tow natures relate to one another?
Then we looked at how the churches at Alexandria & Antioch differed in their approaches to understanding & teaching the Bible. Though Alexandria was recognized as a center of scholarship, the church at Antioch kept producing church leaders who were drafted to fill the role of lead bishop at Constantinople, the political center of the Eastern Empire. While Rome was the undisputed lead church in the West, Alexandria, Antioch & Constantinople vied with each other over who would take the lead in the East. But the real contest was between Alexandria in Egypt & Antioch in Syria.
This episode is titled “Who Do You Say He Is?”
We begin by reading from the Chalcedonian Creed of AD 451, the portion devoted to the orthodox view of Christ.
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
This Episode is Simply titled “Leo”
In a sermon preached on the Sunday before Resurrection Sunday, Bishop0 Leo of Rome said,
Among all the works of God’s mercy, dearly-beloved, which from the beginning have been bestowed upon men’s salvation, none is more wondrous, and none more sublime, than that Christ was crucified for the world. For to this mystery all the mysteries of the ages preceding led up, and every variation which the will of God ordained in sacrifices, in prophetic signs, and in the observances of the Law, foretold that this was fixed, and promised its fulfilment: so that now types and figures are at an end, and we find our profit in believing that accomplished which before we found our profit in looking forward to.
This episode it titled – “The New Center.”
We begin with a quote from the 2nd C. church father Irenaeus à
[There is a ] tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority; that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by [faithful men] who exist everywhere.
The title of this episode it “Golden Tongue”
As usual, we begin w/a quote from the subject of our inquiry today; the 4th C. Church Father John of Antioch, known as Chrysostom, meaning “golden-mouthed.”
Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears.
At another time he chastised his congregation –
It is foolishness and a public madness to fill your closet with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with the cold so that they can hardly hold themselves upright.
This episode is titled, “Jerome.”
We begin with a few pithy quotes from the 4th C Church Father Jerome.
“Being over seventy is like being engaged in a war. All our friends are going or gone and we survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield.
Be ever engaged, so that whenever the devil calls he may find you occupied.
The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.
“Make knowledge of the Scripture your love.… Live with them, meditate on them, make them the sole object of your knowledge and inquiries.”
We’ll spend this entire episode of CS looking at the life of Jerome, one of the most fascinating stories of this time in Church History, as I hope you’ll see.
By his mid-30’s, Jerome was probably the greatest Christian scholar of his time. He’s one of the greatest figures in the history of Bible translation, spending 3 decades producing a Latin version that would be the standard for a thousand years. But Jerome was no bookish egghead. He longed for the hermetic life we considered in the previous episode & often exhibited a really sour disposition that showered his opponents with biting sarcasm and brutal invective.
His real name was Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius and was born in 345 to wealthy Christian parents either in Dalmatia or in Aquileia in NE Italy. There’s some confusion over which of these cities was his actual birthplace.
At about the age of 15, Jerome went to Rome with a friend to study the rhetorical art & philosophy. He engaged in many of the immoral escapades of his fellow students with abandon, but then would follow up these debaucheries with periods of intense self-loathing. To appease his conscience, he visited the graves & tombs of the martyrs and saints in Romans extensive catacombs. Jerome later said the darkness & terror he found there seemed a fitting appropriate for the hell he knew his soul was headed toward.
This tenderness of conscience is interesting in light of his initial skepticism of Christianity. That skepticism began to melt as he realized he was being convicted by the Holy Spirit. His mind could not hold out against his heart and he was eventually converted. He was baptized at the age of 19 in Rome.
He then moved to Trier in Gaul where he took up theological studies & began making copies of commentaries & doctrinal works for wealthy patrons.
Jerome then returned home to Aquileia, where he settled in to the church community and made many Christian friends.
Several of these accompanied him when he set out in 373 on a journey thru Thrace and Asia Minor to northern Syria. At Antioch, 2 of his companions died and he was seriously ill. During this illnesses, he had a vision that led him to lay aside his studies in the classics and devote himself to God. He plunged into a deep study of the Bible, under the guidance of a church leader name Apollinaris, who was teaching in Antioch. This Apollinaris hadn’t yet been rooted out as a heretic. He was one of several church leaders at this time who were trying to work out how to understand the nature of Jesus; was He God, Man or both? And if both, how are we to understand these two natures operating within Jesus? Apollinaris said Jesus had a human body & soul, but that his mind was divine. This view, creatively called Apollinarianism, was declared heretical at the Council of Constantinople in 381, though the church had pretty well dispensed with it as a viable view of Christ back in 362 at a Synod in Alexandria, presided over by our friend Athanasius.
While in Antioch & as a fallout of his illness & the loss of his friends, Jerome was seized with a desire for the hermetic life of asceticism. He went for a time to the wilderness southwest of Antioch, already well-populated with hermits. Jerome spent his isolation in more study and writing. He began learning Hebrew under the tutelage of a converted Jew; and kept in correspondence with the Jewish Christians of Antioch. He obtained a copy of the Gospels in Hebrew, fragments of which are preserved in his notes. Jerome translated parts of this into Greek.
Returning to Antioch in 379, he was ordained by Paulinus, whom you’ll remember was the bishop of the Nicaean congregation there. This is the Bishop & church supported by Rome when the Arian church in Antioch was taken over a new also-Nicaean Bishop named Meletius. Instead of the 2 churches merging because the cause of their division was now removed, they became the political frontlines in the battle for supremacy between Rome & Constantinople.
Recognizing Jerome’s skill as a scholar, Bishop Paulinus rushed to ordain Jerome as priest, but the monk would only accept it on the condition he’d never have to carry out priestly functions. Instead, Jerome plunged himself into his studies, especially in the Bible. He attended lectures, examined Gospel parchments, and met other famous teachers and theologians.
He went to Constantinople to pursue a study of the Scriptures under Gregory of Nazianzus. He spent 2 years there, then was asked by Paulinus back in Antioch to accompany him to Rome so the whole issue over who the rightful bishop in Antioch was. Paulinus knew Jerome would make a mighty addition to his side. Indeed he did, and Pope Damasus I was so impressed with Jerome, he persuaded him to stay in Rome. For the next 3 years, Jerome became something of a celebrity among leading Roman Christians. He took a prominent place in most of the pope’s councils. At one point his influence over the pope was so great he had the audacity to say, “Damasus is my mouth.”
He began a revision of the Latin Bible based on the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. He also updated the Book of Psalms that had been based on the Septuagint.
In Rome he was surrounded by a circle of well-born and well-educated women, including some from the noblest patrician families. They were moved by Jerome’s asceticism & began to emulate his example of worldly forbearance. This did NOT endear him to the rather secular clergy in Rome who enjoyed the attention of such lovely, rich and available women. But Jerome’s messing with their fun didn’t end there. He offended their pleasure-loving ways with his sharp tongue and blunt criticism. As one historian puts it, “He detested most of the Romans and did not apologize for detesting them.” He mocked the clerics’ lack of charity, their ignorance & overweening vanity. The men of the time were inordinately fond of beards, so Jerome mused, “If there is any holiness in a beard, nobody is holier than a goat!”
Soon after the death of his patron Damasus in December of 384, Jerome was forced to leave Rome after an inquiry was brought up by the clergy into allegations he’d had an improper relationship with a wealthy widow named Paula.
This wasn’t the only charge against him. More serious was the death of one of the young women who’d sought to follow his ascetic lifestyle, due to poor health caused by the rigors he demanded she follow. Everyone could see how her health declined for the 4 months she followed Jerome’s lead. Most Romans were outraged at him for causing the premature death of such a lively & lovely young woman, and at his insistence her mother ought not mourn her daughter’s death. When he criticized her grief as excessive, the Romans said he was heartless.
So in August 385, he left Rome for good and returned to Antioch, accompanied by his brother and several friends, followed a little later by the widow Paula & her daughter. The pilgrims, joined by Bishop Paulinus of Antioch, visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee, then went to Egypt, home to the great heroes of the ascetic life.
Late in the Summer of 388 he returned to Israel. A wealthy student of Jerome’s founded a monastery in Bethlehem for him to administer. This monastery included 3 cloisters for women and a hostel for pilgrims.
It was here that he spent the last 34 years of his life. He finished his greatest contribution, begun in 382 at Pope Damasus’s instruction: A translation of the Bible into Latin.
The problem wasn’t that there wasn’t a Latin Bible; the problem was that there were so many! They varied widely in accuracy. Damasus had said, “If we’re to pin our faith to the Latin texts, it’s for our opponents to tell us which, for there are almost as many forms as there are copies. If, on the other hand, we are to glean the truth from a comparison of many, why not go back to the original Greek and correct the mistakes introduced by inaccurate translators, and the blundering alterations of confident but ignorant critics, and, further, all that has been inserted or changed by copyists more asleep than awake?”
At first, Jerome worked from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. But then he established a precedent for later translators: the Old Testament would have to be translated from the original Hebrew. In his quest for accuracy, he learned Hebrew & consulted Jewish rabbis and scholars.
One of the biggest differences he saw between the Septuagint and the original Hebrew was that the Jews did not include the books now known as the Apocrypha in their canon of Holy Scripture. Though he felt obligated to include them, Jerome made it clear he while they might be considered “church-books” they were not inspired canonical books.
After 23 years, Jerome completed his translation, which Christians used for more than 1,000 years, and in 1546 the Council of Trent declared it the only authentic Latin text of the Scriptures.
What marked this Bible as unique was Jerome’s use of the everyday, street Latin of the times, rather than the more archaic classical Latin of the scholars. Academics & clergy decried it as vulgar, but it became hugely popular. The Latin Vulgate, as it was called, became the main Bible of the Roman church for the next more than thousand years.
Jerome’s work was so widely revered that until the Reformation, scholars worked from the Vulgate. It would be a thousand years till translators worked directly from the Greek NT. The Vulgate ensured that Latin, rather than Greek, would be the Western church’s language, resulting centuries later in a liturgy & Bible lay people couldn’t understand—precisely the opposite of Jerome’s original intention. It’s also why many scientific names & terms are drawn from Latin, rather than Greek which was the language of the scholars until the appearance of the Vulgate.
The Latin Bible wasn’t the only thing Jerome worked on while in Bethlehem. He also produced several commentaries, a catalogue of Christian authors, and a response to the challenge if the Pelagians, an aberrant teaching we’ll take a look at in a future episode. To this period also belonged most of Jerome’s polemics, his denunciations of works and people Jerome deemed dangerous. He produced a tract on the threat of some of Origen’s errors. He denounced Bishop John of Jerusalem and others, including some one-time friends.
Some of Jerome’s writings contained provocative views on moral issues. When I saw provocative, I’m being generous; they were aberrant at best and at points verged on heretical. All this came of his extreme asceticism. While the monasticism he embraced allowed him to produce a huge volume of work, his feverish advocacy of strict discipline was nothing less than legalistic extremism. He insisted on abstinence from a normal diet, employment, & even marital sex. His positions were so extreme in this regard, even other ascetics called him radical.
As far as we know, none of Jerome’s works were lost to the centuries. There are a few medieval manuscripts that mark his work in translating the Bible. Various 16th C collections are the earliest extant copies of his writings. Through the years, Jerome has been a favorite subject for artists, especially Italian Renaissance painters.
He died at Bethlehem at the end of September of 420.
This week’s episode is titled “Hermits.”
We begin with several lines from the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia.
“The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.
Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times. At others, in devout reading.
The sleepy like to make excuses.
The abbot ought ever to bear in mind what he is and what he is called; he ought to know that to whom more is entrusted, from him more is exacted.
He should know that whoever undertakes the government of souls must prepare himself to account for them.”
This episode, #17 of Communion Sanctorum is titled “What a Difference a Century Makes.”
We begin with a quote from the 4th C Church Father Gregory of Nazianzus.
“This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the one Godhead and power, found in the three in unit, and comprising the three separately; not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities nor inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of three infinite ones, each God when considered in himself; as the Father, so the Son; as the Son, so the Holy Spirit; the three one God when contemplated together; each God because consubstantial; one God because of the monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of anyone of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”
This week’s episode is titled “The Daggers Come Out.”
The Council of Nicaea we looked at last episode dealt with more than just the Arian controversy over how to understand the nature of Christ. The 300 bishops who gathered in Nicaea also issued a score of rulings on issues of church life that had been subjects of discussion for years. Chief among these was setting the date for the annual celebration of the resurrection of Christ. They also set various rules for organizing the Church & the ministry of deacons and priests.
As the church grew with more and more congregations being formed, the need for some organization became apparent. So for administrative purposes, the church-world was divided into provinces with centers at Rome in the West & in the East; Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem & Constantinople. It may seem odd to us today that only 1 church was the Western center while the East had 4. Why so many in the East? The answer is that it was in the E that the church had its greatest extend & growth.
This week’s episode is titled, “Contra Munda”
We begin with a quote from the Alexandrian Bishop, Athanasius . . .
[Jesus], the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those other His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.
This week’s episode is title, “Keeping a Record”
I begin with a quite from the Early Church Historian, Eusebius . . .
May I gain no victory that harms me or my opponent. May I reconcile friends who are mad at each other. May I, insofar as I can, give all necessary help to my friends and to all who are in need. May I never fail a friend in trouble.
That’s from Eusebius’ commentary on the Golden Rule.
The first 3 Cs of Church History are at times a difficult puzzle to sort out because there was no coherent historical narrative being kept.
This episode of is titled, “How Close?”
One of the things modern Christians want to know is how close their church is to the primitive church of the 1st & 2nd Cs. Congregations and entire movements claim their particular expression of the Faith is closest to the original. So, what were early church services like? Where did they meet and what did they do?
Until the end of the 2nd C, Christians met for services in private homes, deserted buildings, caves, near graves of martyrs, & in catacombs. Catacombs were a common feature of many cities of the Empire. Besides their primary use as burial places, they were the frequent hiding places of refugees, smugglers, and groups that wanted to meet without the watchful eye of the authorities. Rome’s catacombs were a massive subterranean tunnel system.
This episode of CS is provocatively titled “The Lapsed Dance.”
In “Martyrs” the 4th episode, we examined the persecution Christians faced at the hands of the authorities of the Roman Empire. We noted that persecution, while at times fierce, wasn’t one, long campaign of terror that lasted for 1 coup-le centuries. It tended to be rather spasmodic & regional, based on the whim of the current emperor & enforced in a spotty fashion by governors who either agreed or disagreed with the official policy from Rome. There were a couple seasons of persecution in the 3rd C that were Empire wide, and these proved to be the most intense.
This Episode is titled, “What Shall We Call Them?”
A quote from an early 2nd C martyr à
It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but to actually be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name…Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the Devil–Only let me get to Jesus Christ!
That’s from Ignatius, Bishop of the church at Antioch, in one of several letters he wrote while under arrest & on his way to Rome where he was executed for his faith.
This week’s episode is titled “Hammering out the Details. ”
We begin with a selection of quotes from Tertullian.
- Christians are made, not born.
- See, they say, how these Christians loveone another, for the pagans are animated by mutual hatred; how the Christians are ready even to die for one another, for the pagans themselves will sooner put to death.
- We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.
- Truthpersuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading.
- Truth does not blush.
- Out of the frying pan into the fire.
- He who flees will fight again.
- It is certainly no part of religion to compel religion.
- Reason, in fact, is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason — nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason.
- We worship unityin trinity, and trinity in unity; neither confounding the person nor dividing the substance
This episode of CS is titled, “Striving to Give an Answer”
We begin with a quote from the 3rd C. Church Father Origen –
“We who by our prayers destroy all demons which stir up wars, violate oaths, and disturb the peace are of more help to the emperors than those who seem to be doing the fighting.”
This episode is titled, “Not Really an Apology.”
We begin with another quote from Irenaeus, Bishop of the Church in Lyons –
“Error is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.”
This 7th episode of CS is titled, “The Spreading Tree “
Tertullian, pastor of the church of Carthage in North Africa, addressed unbelievers at the beginning of the 3rd C, saying à
“We are but of yesterday, and yet we already fill your cities, islands, camps, your palace, senate and forum; we have left to you only your temples.”
That introduces our theme for this episode; the expansion of the Faith in the early centuries.
This week’s episode is titled “Buy One, Get One Free.”
We begin with a quote from the Early Church Father, Irenaeus, writing about the Gnostics –
These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretense of superior knowledge, from Him who rounded and adorned the universe; as if they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal, than God who created the heaven and the earth, and all things therein. By means of specious words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions . . . and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.
We take a look at how the Early Church settled on the New Testament Canon; the Didache & Shepherd of Hermas & two men who led abberant/heretical groups-Marcion & Montanus.
Episode 5. This week’s episode is titled “Books.”
The history of Christianity inevitably has to touch on the importance of Books. From its earliest days the Church has been intimately linked to the Scriptures. At first, Scripture was the Hebrew Bible or what is known today as the Old Testament. But other writings were added to the Church’s Bible as the years passed.
We take a look at why & how Christianity came under suspicion in the Roman Empire, the Martyr mystique and 3 important church leaders; Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, & Polycarp.
Episode 4. This week’s episode is titled “Martyrs.”
Modern marketing tactics first produced, and now feed contemporary culture’s obsession for “the newest thing.” The label “New & Improved” is a frequent feature in packaging.
We consider Paul’s methodology for spreading the Gospel and the Faith in competition with other sects from the East.
This week’s episode is titled “Cities.”
We ended our last podcast with a brief summary of the difference perspectives on the 1st & 2nd Generation Christians. The debate centered on what role the Jewish law held for followers of Jesus. Culturally-immersed 1st Generation Jewish believers tended to cleave to the law, while the more Greco-Roman acculturated 2nd & later generations adhered to the Gospel as articulated by the apostle Paul.
We consider the transition from Jewish to Gentile Christianity and 1st to 2nd Generation believers
This week’s episode is titled – “Launch”
We ended the previous episode with Jesus on the cross just outside the walls of Jerusalem late Friday afternoon. The Jewish leaders & Romans thought that was the last of the enigmatic trouble-maker from Galilee. For that matter, his closest followers thought that was the end as well.
In this first Episode of Version 2 of CS we consider . . .
How the first Jewish Christians viewed the Faith as well as some general comments about the podcast.
This week’s episode, our first, is titled “Really?”
The best place to start is at the beginning. but where is that exactly? In a history of the Church and Christianity where do we begin?