Early, Medieval and Christianity in Modern Times (History)


What is the history of Christianity? Information on the early, medieval Christianity and Christianity in modern times.

This survey of the history of Christianity begins with the spread of the church in the ancient world. The very beginnings of Christianity are described in other articles. See Bible—14. New Testament History; Gospels; Jesus Christ.


When Christianity arose, imperial Rome had provided a system of roads and sea-lanes by which cultural and religious influences could readily move through every province. The people of the empire were hungry for a satisfying religion. A score of mystery religions were attracting some from all ranks of society. No doubt a knowledge of their sacred rites and savior gods led the pagan mind nearer to Christian concepts. The shrines of new and old deities were perplexing in number. Many texts reveal that pagans felt an unanswered need to escape an addiction to sin. Some cults engaged in frenzied penances, and on another level, philosophers became the guides of troubled souls.

Early, Medieval and Christianity in Modern Times (History)

A vaguely monotheistic belief arose among philosophical writers, who habitually spoke of God in the singular number. Everywhere some men were turning to Judaism and attending synagogues. Many of these Gentile “God-fearers” were early won over to the Christian community. The artificial cult of the emperor failed as a unifying element amid religious confusion. Christianity came with a more profound answer. Appropriating to itself the sacred books of Israel and the values of Jewish monotheism, it soon added to its treasury of authoritative texts the books of the New Testament, which convey a trinitarian view of deity, a concept less startling than Judaism offered to prospective converts from polytheism.


Judaism had secured the right to exist through the empire, and so long as Christians were mainly recruited from Gentiles who frequented the synagogues, they were mistaken for a Jewish sect. Rut it was soon recognized that, quite without state authorization, a vigorous new religion had arisen, addressing itself • to every race and class. Its growth was alarming to old-fashioned people, who deplored the Christian desertion of the temples, rejection of animal sacrifices, avoidance of pagan festivals, and strict and distinctive morals.

Slanderous rumors were circulated ascribing to the Christians loathsome rites and treasonable intentions. Christian apologists wrote effective refutations of these falsehoods and made a brilliant plea for the legal recognition of Christianity. From their treatises, together with a few extant lively literary attacks on Christianity, we glimpse a protracted contest in persuasion. The treasures of Hellenic philosophy as well as Judaic faith were being drawn into the stream of Christian thought. Clement of Alexandria and especially his pupil Origen made a masterly use for the Christian cause of the learning of earlier ages.

Expansion and Development.

The early documents tell us little of other apostolic missions than those of Paul. The tradition of Peter’s sojourn and leadership in Rome is strong, but specific facts are meager. There seems some possibility that the see of Alexandria was founded from Rome by Mark, acting for Peter. It is typical that, about 112, Pliny as governor of Bithynia (now part of Turkey) found that province teeming with Christians, though we have no evidence of previous missionary effort there. A similar lack of information baffles us in other areas, some of them beyond the bounds of the empire. About 200 a. d., Tertullian wrote airily of “places of the Britons not reached by the Romans but subjugated to Christ,” while far across the Roman world, in northwestern Mesopotamia, King Abgar IX held Christian teachers in special favor. The planned or unplanned beginnings of Christianity in such localities must remain unknown. Traditions that assign mission fields to Andrew, Thomas, Rartholomew, and other apostles or their associates are at most unverified possibilities.

Organization varied with place and circumstances. Prevailingly in churches of synagogue origin the leaders were called presbyteroi whatever their functions, and among these the presbyter who conducted the worship was called episcopos, bishop. Another important task of the bishop was the supervision of the deacons in the administration of funds. In an early stage of the Christian ministry we find a class of itinerant evangelists, who brought through their visits a spiritual stimulation, and others, known as prophets, whose charismatic utterances sometimes became ecstatic. Soon, however, these ministers lost their usefulness, and what was of value in the functions they exercised devolved chiefly upon the bishops. When not prevented by persecution, synods of bishops were held to settle troublesome issues. Rut it was later, under the patronage of Christian emperors, that the church’s network of organization became general.

The Church, the Empire, and the Councils.

The pagan emperors gave no consistent answer to the problem posed for them by Christianity. Many of them adopted repressive measures but avoided general persecution. The serious effort of Decius and Valerian (249-260) to destroy the church was followed by the “long peace’ instituted by Gallienus. Rut in 303 Diocletian and the fanatical Galerius resumed with enhanced cruelty the policy of suppression. From 305, when Diocletian abdicated, Galerius added thousands to the army of martyrs. But in 311 the dying persecutor acknowledged defeat and asked the Christians for their prayers. It remained for Constantine, coming victoriously from Britain and Gaul, to introduce, in 313, the new era of recognition and preferential treatment of the church. The rise of an entirely peaceable religion, within three centuries, to this point of triumph, over the supreme secular power remains one of the most impressive phenomena of history.

Intimate relations between church and empire were at once established. But differences and rivalries within the church now came to the surface, and Constantine found himself mediating between Christians who had lately risked their lives together. The Donatist schism over the readmission of those who had lapsed in persecution, and the Arian controversy over the place of Christ in the Trinity, each led to a council of bishops convoked by the Emperor. The second of these, held at Nicaea in Bithynia in 325, is the first of those councils regarded as “ecumenical.” Most of the 300 bishops present were from Eastern parts, but the able Hosius of Córdoba was in the Emperor’s confidence, and the pope was represented by legates. Constantine himself joined intimately in the discussions and actually proposed the acceptance of the disputed word homoousios (consubstantial), by which the council affirmed against the Arians the equality of Christ with the Father.

Theodosius I summoned the second ecumenical council, held at Constantinople in 381. A very significant ecumenical council was the fourth, convened at Chalcedon in 451. The presence of Emperor Marcian and Empress Pulcheria at decisive moments was a factor in its success. This council, to close a long controversy, declared the dogma of the unconfused and unseparated divine and human natures in Christ. However, the Monophysite (one nature) schism ensued, severing from orthodox unity Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and, a little later, Abyssinia and Armenia.


During the period before Chalcedon most of the eminent Christian scholars known as the Church Fathers lived and wrote, leaving a lasting treasury of theology and ethics. Their use of nonscriptural terms from Greek thought both clarified and complicated Christian theology. See also Fathers of the Church.

Early Monasticism.

Christian life and literature in this period felt the rising influence of an ascetic movement that, though not wholly Christian in origin, reached its fullest expression in Christian monasticism. Reacting against worldliness in the church, ascetics went to desert solitudes in Egypt for meditation and prayer. As their numbers multiplied, they drew together in companies and accepted guidance from experienced leaders such as Anthony (died 356) and Pachomius (died 346). The Rule of Pachomius was followed by many settlements in and beyond Egypt. But it was the Rule of Basil of Caesarea (died 379) that became normative for Eastern monasticism; while Benedict of Nursia (died about 555) in his Regula monachorum furnished the enduring pattern for that of the West.

Early, Medieval and Christianity in Modern Times (History)

Architecture and Church Art.

During the persecutions most buildings for Christian worship were destroyed. In the 4th century numerous * large churches were built in an adaptation of the basilica, or palace, style. They were oblong and had the table, or altar, at the eastern end with a semicircular apse behind it, and some, including St. John Lateran at Rome, had a spacious atrium between the narthex, or porch, and the nave. Very different is the great domed cathedral of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, the finest of many structures of its kind, planned for Emperor Justinian by Anthemius of Tralles and completed in 547. A simple though varied Christian art had flourished, especially in catacomb tombs at Rome and elsewhere, since the 2d century, and pictorial art, chiefly in mosaics on walls and floors of churches, was employed with increasing freedom. In Hagia Sophia mosaics on gold background and a variety of metal ornaments provided splendor and instruction. Christian sculpture had its beginnings chiefly in figures chiseled on marble sarcophagi. They treat with vigor Biblical themes, often in series, using Old Testament incidents with allegorical allusion to Christian beliefs. Rounded figures were avoided as suggestive of pagan idols.

The Emergence of Christendom and the Conversion of New Nations.

The word “Christendom” is here used of the aggregate of territories in which the church and the secular authority constituted two organs of one society. Not long after Emperor Julian’s futile promotion of a pagan revival (361-363), the suppression of paganism became, under Theodosius, a fixed imperial policy (392). Ulphilas brought Christianity in its Arian form to the Goths, and it reached the other early Germanic invaders before they entered the empire. The Briton Patrick, in a great missionary career, planted orthodox Christianity firmly in Ireland in the 5th century.

The powerful Franks and Anglo-Saxons came into Gaul and Britain, respectively, as pagans, to be afterward converted to Nicene orthodoxy. Missionary monks sent to Canterbury by Gregory I in 597 had a limited success in southern England, but the conversion of the English owed more to Irish monks, who came either from their famous Scottish center in Iona (founded in 563) or directly from Ireland. A long-continued Irish monastic migration to the Continent (about 500-1000) contributed immensely to the actual Christianization of Europe and shed a light of learning in the “dark age.”

Although a good many English missionaries had been trained by Irish teachers—including Willibrod (died 734), church founder in Frisia —Boniface of Crediton (died 754), “Apostle of the Germans,” was not one of them. Strongly bound to the papacy, and a great organizer, he was unfavorable to the individualistic Irishmen.

Some Eastern monks too were distinguished missionaries. Moravia received Christian instruction from Cyril and Methodius, Greeks from Salonika, who for their translations created a Slavonic alphabet. It was mainly on the initiative of kings and rulers that Christianity came to be adopted in Bohemia, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Russia, and Prussia. The undeniably sincere piety of Vladimir I of Russia (baptized 988) and of Stephen I of Hungary (997-1038) earned for them recognition as saints. The Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic peoples that the Roman Empire had encountered on its frontiers were thus by about 1000 a. d. within the borders of Christendom.

The Church and Secular Powers in Alliance and Conflict.

The alliance of ecclesiastical and secular power was far from harmonious. Emphatic claims of their superiority to princes were stated from time to time by vigorous popes, most explicitly by Gelasius I in 494; and the ecclesiastical statesmen Leo I (reigned 440-461), Gregory I (reigned 590-604), and Nicholas I (reigned 858-867) gave high importance to the papal office. But such distinction was not maintained. Most of the popes had to adjust their policies to those of princes who treated them as subjects or at most colleagues.

Charlemagne wrote to Leo III, who had crowned him emperor, comparing himself to Moses and Leo to Aaron. The Western empire so created proved weak and unstable both as ally and as adversary of the papacy. In the East, Justinian (reigned 527-565) regarded himself as head of the Christian society, which embraced both church and state. The pattern thus presented remained characteristic of the lands of Eastern Orthodoxy. A few courageous Greek and Russian prelates affirmed some measure of church autonomy, but without cumulative effect.

In the 11th century the papacy was rescued by the empire from subservience to local factions. Taking on new vigor, it broke from imperial control and, in the vivid personality of Hildebrand (Pope Gregory VII, reigned 1073-1085), asserted authority over emperors and kings. The habitual investiture of bishops with their symbols of office by secular rulers, with its implication of subjection to the lay power even in things spiritual, was intolerable to Hildebrand and his successors. Hildebrand joined battle with Emperor Henry IV, who to secure his throne underwent a humiliating act of penance.


Improving on Gelasius, Hildebrand regarded himself as the head of Christendom and indeed of the world, with a universal right to depose princes and absolve their subjects from allegiance. He met with reverses, but his claims were insistently reasserted by later popes. Agreements for England (1107) and for Germany (1122), by which both powers were to share the ceremony of investiture, did not close the controversy, since it left the underlying question of the right to appoint bishops unresolved. Also involved were disputes over the exemption of clerical offenders from trial in secular courts, a major factor in the struggle between Archbishop Thomas a Becket (died 1170) and King Henry II.

The proud emperor Frederick Barbarossa, defeated in a long war, knelt in surrender to Alexander III (1177). The policy of Innocent III (reigned 1198-1215) included a free use against recalcitrant rulers of both excommunication of the person and interdict, which deprived the people from the sacraments until submission should follow. The lapse of the imperial office from 1254 to 1273 and its reduced importance thereafter transferred the struggle to national ground. Rejection by the French king Philip IV of the high demands of Boniface VIII occasioned Boniface’s downfall (1303), ending an era of papal ascendancy. See also Catholic Church, Roman —2. History; biographies of Gregory VII and other popes.

Christendom Against Islam: Great Wars af the Middle Ages.

After the first great era of Muslim military expansion, relations between Christendom and Islamic states remained hostile. In the 8th century the horns of a great Muslim crescent were pointed toward Constantinople in the east and Frankish Gaul in the west. Slowly the Christian kingdoms that arose in Spain gained strength to roll back the invaders. Having united politically under Ferdinand and Isabella (1469), the Spaniards captured the stronghold of Granada, extinguishing Muslim power (1492).

Early, Medieval and Christianity in Modern Times (History)

In the East the Turks had centuries earlier replaced the Arabs as assailants of the Christian frontiers, had snatched most of the Byzantine territory in Asia Minor, and then approached Constantinople. Western pilgrims to the Christian holy places in Palestine were molested, and tales of their sufferings aroused deep resentment. In 1095, Eastern Emperor Alexius appealed to Pope Urban II for Western help. Urban’s rhetoric at the Council of Clermont launched the first of the series of Crusades that for two centuries were to drain off into foreign wars the predatory feudal militarism of the West. Jerusalem was twice won and twice lost by the Crusaders. Constantinople was taken by the enetians in 1204 but recovered in 1261 by the Eastern Christians, who thereafter defended their diminishing empire till 1453. The historic capital then fell to the Ottoman Turks, and the Balkan Peninsula later came wholly under their sway.

During the same era Mongols from central China, who before 1250 became Muslims, exchanged atrocities with the Turks in Asia Minor and overran most of Russia, which they ruled and ravaged (1224-1480). The heroic leadership of St. Sergius of Radonezh (died 1392) turned the tide in favor of Christian Russia. Centered now in Moscow, Russian Christianity entered a new era of development. After 1453 Russia regarded itself as heir to the Byzantine state and church, and Moscow as the Third Rome.

Medieval Faith and Morals.

The flowering of medieval culture was delayed until the disorders of the age of invasion had given place to more stable conditions. The names of Photius (died 891), worldly patriarch and historical scholar, and Michael Psellus the Younger (died about 1078), a Platonist of prodigious learning, are sufficient to suggest the intermittent flame of intellectual glory in the Greek church. In the West the great scholastics had their forerunners. The Irishman Johannes Scotus Erigena (died about 877), the first Western scholar since the 5th century to make effective use of Greek sources, outclassed and alienated his contemporaries; but the Platonic cast of his thought was not without influence. Plato, also, through Augustine, enlivened the mind of Anselm of Canterbury (died 1109) and made possible his ontological argument that God exists since God is “the highest thinkable.”

After Anselm, intellectual advance was cumulative. Prefaced by the rise of monastic and cathedral schools with instruction in the seven liberal arts, the early universities of Salerno, Bologna, Paris, and Oxford afforded protracted studies in medicine, law, and theology. Their teachers were stimulated by the challenge of a body of learned texts that reached them through Arabic and Jewish scholars in Spain and Sicily. At the center of this new learning were Aristotle’s scientific writings with the commentaries of Averroes of Cordoba (died 1198). It was the achievement of the Dominicans Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas to capture Aristotle for theology while straining out the Averroistic “eternity of matter” and denial of immortality.

But the scholastics differed among themselves hardly less than modern thinkers. The Franciscan Bonaventure (died 1274) represents a mystical Platonic-Augustinian strain, asserting the reality of universal ideas. But Platonic realism also had its perils for theology, inducing a trend to pantheism. Some later scholastics, notably William of Occam, were content to sever theological from philosophical truth. Christian doctrines were for faith, not for rational proof. A strong emphasis on divine predestination was voiced by the Oxford scholar Thomas Bradwardine (died 1349).

The condemned heresies of scholars were numerous and varied, as were also the popular movements stamped as heretical. The Waldenses and Lollards, with their devotion to the Bible, in some respects anticipated the Reformation. The Albigenses rather looked backward to the dualistic Bogomils of early centuries (see Albigenses ). The Inquisition, which took its origin as a legal substitute for lynching, was from 1232 engaged in a vast effort to detect and punish heretics, using the harsh court procedures of the age and, with the cooperation of “the secular arm,” dooming countless thousands to death by lire.

In other ways church authority reached the laity more helpfully. In the preaching of the friars and in many writings addressed to pastors and preachers, not only expositions of the Creed and Commandments but also directions for the moral guidance of laymen on such topics as the deadly sins, the cardinal virtues, and the works of mercy were made familiar.


Schism of East and West.

Craving unity, the church was plagued with schism. The Monophysites resisted Byzantine approaches (432, 638, 648) and, with numerous sectarian variations, continued to spread. The Patriarch John the Faster drew the shocked condemnation of Pope Gregory I by assuming the title “Ecumenical Bishop.” The papal coronation of Charlemagne, a challenge to the Eastern empire, increased the alienation of East and West. The Western insertion of the term filioque in the Nicene Creed was ably attacked by Photius (about 885) and thereafter by numerous Greek and Russian theologians.

The final schism between East and West took place in 1054 and was enacted in Constantinople between emissaries of Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius, who had earlier assailed the Westerns for the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist. Attempts to end the schism at the first Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) were futile. The Greeks at Florence, hoping for aid against the Turks, surrendered most of their earlier contentions, but their concessions were angrily repudiated in the East.

The papacy itself was frequently disturbed by the elevation of antipopes subservient to emperors. From 1080 to 1180 this was a prominent feature of imperial policy. The causes of the Great Western Schism were also political. The popes had resided in Avignon from 1309, where they were under French influence. Pope Gregory XI, urged by Catherine of Siena and others, courageously removed to Rome in 1377. His successor alienated the French cardinals, who pronounced his deposition and elected their own pope (1378). Residing at Avignon, the schismatic popes for 40 years contested with Rome for the allegiance of Europe.


From the time of Boniface VIII various proposals had been made to settle papal affairs by means of a general council. Thus was developed the doctrine of conciliarism, the supremacy of representative councils. When other attempts to end the papal schism failed, the conciliar arguments of John Gerson and Peter d’Ailly, doctors of Paris, induced a group of cardinals from either side to cooperate in preparing the way for the Council of Pisa (1409). Dismissing two popes, it elected a third, unexpectedly making the schism triple. But the great Council of Constance (1414-1418) induced the Roman Pope to abdicate and successfully deposed the other claimants. In 1417 the cardinals present elected Martin V, who in 1420 brought the united papacy back permanently to Rome.

Medieval Art, Architecture, and Music.

Byzantine architecture exhibits continuity with little progress, the most marked change being the frequent use of a ground plan in the shape of a Greek cross, the arms being of equal measurements. Russian churches imitated the various Byzantine models, featuring interior splendor. In the West, church architecture made repeated and surprising advances. About 1000 a. d., after an era in which more churches had been destroyed than built, a new “array of white sanctuaries” appeared. These were in the sturdy Romanesque style, and were often large, though, using as they did the rounded arch, they could not be high. They were improved with a clerestory, whose windows admitted sufficient light, and with a wide transept, which with the long nave gave them the form of a Latin cross. There was much variety and experimentation. See Romanesque Architecture.

In Normandy an approach to Gothic is seen in the introduction of ribbed vaulting and an elementary flying buttress. The successful use of the pointed arch, the determinative feature of Gothic, was developed in the 12th century by men of great talent in the lie de France. The height of the structure could now be greatly increased and the walls lightened to become mere framework for stained glass windows glowing with countless pictured lessons for the faithful. The lofty cathedrals with their towers and flying buttresses produced an external view unmatched by any other type of edifice, leading eye and thought toward high heaven. The arts of the sculptor and metalworker were employed with increasing freedom, which permitted a mingling of humor with symbolism.

In the same era, church music was intensely cultivated and attained new variety and sophistication. From the earlier single-line melody of the Gregorian chant, composers moved to polyphonic forms of increasing complexity. In the 15th century these forms tended to be more delightful than devotional. See Gregorian Chant.

Early, Medieval and Christianity in Modern Times (History)

The Later Middle Ages: Decline and Attempted Reform.

With all its fruits of religious genius, the medieval period ended with a sense of frustration. The word “reform” rings through the literature concerned with the welfare of the church and of Christendom. The failure of the Crusades in their original purpose, the prevalence of abuses in the life of the clergy, the decline of the religious orders from their early zeal, and the entanglements of the papacy in worldly affairs all tended to create a mood of disillusionment and distrust.

Laymen were becoming more literate and more vocal in criticism of ecclesiastics. The literature of satirical exposure and proposed reformation became abundant everywhere. Earnest preachers continued to testify to the essentials of Christianity, and in many homes there was Christian instruction and prayer. The greatly expanded pilgrimage life of the 15th century marks the rising religious anxiety of the time. The powerful hymn Dies irae, sung at funerals, gave utterance to the foreboding that had replaced the early note of joyous faith. When printers, long before Luther, began to publish vernacular Bibles, the demand was far greater than the supply.

The Biblical pre-Reformers, Wyclif in England and Hus in Bohemia, lacking the help of printers, had little success. The conciliarists were concerned for a fundamental reform of the church, yet it was the conciliarists at Constance who were responsible for the death of Hus (1415). That council’s elaborately prepared reforming decrees were designed to reduce the pope’s control and to correct detailed abuses; but the revived papacy was to condemn conciliarism and neglect most of these reform measures. In the century after Constance no pope made the spiritual and moral condition of the church his chief concern. The most zealous of reforming spirits before Luther was Savonarola, who in his denunciation of clerical misconduct had the passion of a Hebrew prophet. His agitation for a new reformed council set the train of events leading to his death in 1498.



Many forces, both religious and secular, combined to produce the Protestant revolt and the Reformation.

Change and Reform Since the Reformation.

During the past four centuries Christianity has undergone great changes. The Reformation movement, in its reliance on the Bible and its emphasis on the principles of justification by faith, the communion of saints, and the priesthood of believers, gave answers to religious problems that were satisfying to many. It was not, however, a single movement in organization, but arose spontaneously in various nations, taking over the old parishes and uniting them nationally or territorially where governments were favorable, and elsewhere organizing local congregations and drawing them together in a national or territorial connection. From the churches so formed numerous new movements emerged in separate units, to issue in our time in hundreds of denominations.

Some of these are so naive in their self-approval as to be largely indifferent to the Holy Catholic Church visible outside their ranks (“Catholic” here meaning universal and implying the fellowship of all Christians). However, this attitude is rapidly breaking down a% all sects are exposed to similar problems and the flow of common ideas. Indeed it has been among the characteristic teachings of Protestantism that the church reformed is still to be reformed, and accordingly that advance in the appropriation of truth is a normal element in Christian life. In the historic tendency of Protestantism to split into new units it is not easy to evaluate motives. In many instances, however, there was a sincere effort to reach a new level in the realization of essential Christianity, even if this was somewhat mixed with willful disregard of the values of fellowship.

Another feature of the religious scene is the growth of strong cult movements, such as Christian Science, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These have their own sacred scriptures and did not originate in the Reformation, but recruit their membership largely from among nominal Protestants. Protestantism has been widely affected by certain movements that were not by intention separative. though in some instances resulting eventually in autonomous churches, notably English and American Puritanism, Dutch and German Pietism, and the Evangelical Revival with Methodism as its product.

Roman Catholicism recovered religious energy in the Counter-Reformation but lost its political status as a result of the Thirty Years’ War ( 1618-1648 ) and subsequent national movements. It suffered inner conflicts over Jansenism, Gallicanism, Febronianism, Liberalism, and Modernism, but was able to avoid serious losses from schisms and to move into the 20th century with impressive strength.

Eastern Orthodoxy was drawn into discussion with Lutherans in the 16th and Reformed and Anglican theologians in the 17th centuries, but until the 19th century it remained largely unaffected by, and without influence in, Western Christian thought. The Russian church was stirred by controversy over liturgical reforms, in course of which the brilliant and impulsive Patriarch Nikon ( died 1681 ) was deposed for his revision of liturgical texts. The Westernizing and secularizing policy of Peter the Great was countered by the piety of the Elders ( Startsy ), who for two centuries practiced a ministry of soul-guidance to countless pilgrim inquirers.

Churches and Secular Rulers.

In modern times there have been numerous church-state conflicts; these have been attended by fresh thinking and have brought some solutions that may be expected to have permanence. When the modern era began, the concept of a church detached from the state was unfamiliar and unattractive. The state-connected Lutheran churches of Germany were subject to a large measure of control by the princes, who in Luther’s thought had been charged with responsibility in church matters in time of difficulty. The tie with government remained firm despite political changes. The Reformed churches contended for autonomy against state control. Where governments were favorable, as in Geneva, this meant cooperation, with defined separate functions, rather than detachment.

In Scotland there was a protracted conflict in which the church repeatedly rejected the royal policy. In the 18th and 19th centuries a crucial struggle took place over patronage in the appointment of ministers as against the free call of the congregation and action by presbyteries. A number of secessions from the Church of Scotland took place, while the dominant “Moderate” party preferred patronage to controversy. But in 1843 occurred the “Disruption,” in which more than one third of the ministers left the General Assembly, surrendering their livings, to organize the Free Church.

The Church of England, having lost its exclusive status by the Toleration Act of 1689, suffered unwholesome influences from government intervention. In 1717 a Whig administration abruptly suppressed its chief organ, the Convocation of Canterbury; it was revived only in 1852. Meanwhile ecclesiastical abuses mounted, most of them connected with the state’s influence. The spell was broken by the Tractarian Movement, which began with Keble’s denunciation of “the national apostasy” in 1833.

French Protestantism after long harassment was suppressed in 1683. Most known Protestants fled abroad, but a remnant persisted in France until freed in the French Revolution. In their Déclaration of Gallican Liberties (1682) the French Roman Catholic clergy in collaboration with Louis XIV denied the secular claims of the papacy and asserted the superiority of a general council over the pope.

What is Sacrifice? Definition and Religious Background


In German areas Febronianism corresponded to Gallicanism. Bishop Nicholas von Hontheim (“Febronius”) in The State of the Church (1763) argued that the pope is not “universal bishop” but is subject to councils. The book shaped the policy of Joseph II of Austria, whose edict of toleration (1781) freed his Lutheran, Calvinist, and Orthodox subjects to worship as they wished.

Many Roman Catholics favored the freer atmosphere of the age, since it accorded to the church independence in its own sphere. The famous slogan of Cavour, “a free church in a free state,” was borrowed from Montalembert, lay leader of the Liberal Catholic party in France. But the papacy under Pius IX reasserted papal supremacy, and the first Vatican Council affirmed the infallibility of the pope in 1870. After new setbacks in republican France, Leo XIII’s policy alleviated the church-state tension, but a widespread anticlericalism prevailed to bring disestablishment of the French church in 1905. In Germany, Leo succeeded in allaying the strife that his predecessor had waged with Bismark (the Kulturkampf); but he remained at odds with the new Italy, which had seized the papal states in 1870. See also Anticlericalism; Church and State.

In Russia, Peter the Great in 1721 set up the Holy Synod as an instrument for the control of the church. Rut the imperial policy was unstable. The mystical Alexander I founded (1815) the Holy Alliance, which till 1830 functioned feebly in an absolutist spirit. Moscow’s one great metropolitan, Philaret Drozdov (died 1867), felt compelled to live in solitary retirement. He is credited, however, with the draft of the 1861 proclamation freeing the Russian serfs. After 1917 the Soviet regime attempted to destroy the national church and the numerous sects of Russia. Rut Christianity proved tenacious. During the war crisis (1943) the Orthodox Church was permitted to elect a patriarch; but its potential leaders were in exile.

During the century prior to 1914 the political liberation of the Balkan nations from Turkish rule made possible the establishment of national, Orthodox churches in Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, and what is now Yugoslavia. These were dissociated from Constantinople, which remained in Turkish hands, and with the exception of Greece have since formed special relations with Moscow.

Christian Missions and Migrations.

From Christian communities and churches missions have gone forth to all parts of the globe. If the first three centuries of our era witnessed the Christian infiltration of the Roman Empire, the last four centuries (the 17th to 20th) have achieved a like result throughout the world. Christians do not look for any international government to arise that will give their faith preferred treatment or attempt the suppression of others. Rut nothing in the modem history of Christianity is more important than its mission in new fields, where it has been instrumental in changing conditions in a degree far greater than would be indicated by a count of adherents.

It was not the Crusades but the age of discovery and colonial settlement that set the stage for the rise of modern missions. The Spaniard Rartholome de las Casas (died 1566), who in course of his labors became a Dominican, set a pattern of missionary devotion in South and Central America, befriending the Indians against their Spanish masters. The early Jesuits with extraordinary zeal carried on missions in China, Japan, the Philippines, and the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of Africa and South America. Important for Roman Catholicism was the establishment of the Congregation of the Propaganda (Congregatio de propaganda fide) in 1622, coordinating the church’s missions throughout the world. The early 18th century saw the spread of Russian Orthodoxy, with Russian government, from the Urals to the Rering Strait.

The Reformation leaders were not indifferent to missions—Calvin’s Geneva actually sent a dedicated band of missionaries to Rrazil in 1556. Yet it was later that Protestant nations made colonial settlements that could be footholds for mission work. The beginnings of a continuous foreign missionary movement may be seen in the German Pietist mission in India (1709) and the widespread work of groups of Moravians led by Count Zinzendorf, starting in 1732. But it was British and American evangelicals of various denominations who took the leadership in the expansion of mission effort and organization through the 19th century.

The story of their work shows a long roll of brilliant and devoted missionaries, a series of missionary societies, church missionary boards, and other supporting agencies in the sending countries, and a vast amount of printed material including translations of the Bible and other books into some 1,300 languages, many of which had never before been reduced to writing. Modern missions for the most part exhibit rare, unselfish dedication. Though some missionaries have been glad of the protection of colonial powers, colonial commercial interests have sometimes resented their presence as possible defenders of the people against exploitation. Schools, universities, and medical centers have accompanied most Christian missions.

Church-supported schools have contributed to a general rise in literacy; moreover, a large proportion of the national leadership of many African and Asian states has come from those educated in Christian schools.

Revival Movements.

All parts of the modern church have been stimulated by revivals of various kinds. Some of these have begun in ways that surprised all concerned, as when Jonathan Edwards was astonished in 1734 by responses from concerned hearers of an argumentative sermon. Unexpected manifestations of religious emotion attended the intinerant preaching of Howel Harris in Wales in 1735 and George Whitefield’s outdoor sermons at Bristol in 1739. During the same decade, preaching stirred the parishes of western Scotland.

Somewhat earlier Theodore Jacob Frelinghuysen had begun among his Dutch Reformed people in Raritan, New Jersey, a sober revival that spread through the work of Gilbert Tennent to Pennsylvania Presbyterians. Whitefield, a dramatic orator, paid seven visits to America, where his preaching is a distinct feature of colonial religious history from 1739 to 1770. He and his friend John Wesley differed on the doctrine of predestination. Both were Anglicans at the outset. Wesley’s dedicated labors, riding, preaching, writing, and organizing, created the Methodist Church, which in England was recruited largely from those whom the Church of England had neglected.


Robert Haldane, a Scottish seagoing merchant, having devoted his wealth to religious causes, went in 1815 to Geneva, where he led groups of students, imparting to them an evangelical zeal which later bore fruit in revival campaigns led by César Malan and others in France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Opposition forced the revivalist evangelicals to form free churches in Geneva, Bern, Zürich, Basel, Lyon, Paris, and a number of places in Germany.

What is Sacrifice? Definition and Religious Background

With some exceptions, later revivals tended to be managed campaigns, with less of spontaneity, but they long remained an effective means of converting the negligent to a positive Christian stand. Preaching a simple gospel, in which hellfire was an ingredient, revivalists stirred up the frontiersmen in Kentucky and the Carolinas. A cumulative effect was obtained by means of camp meetings, with relays of preachers from different denominations.

Revivals have always been criticized by both dogmatists and liberals, and their defects are easily discerned. They have aimed at bringing about conversions by a directed process involving fear and guilt followed by assurance of salvation, and their leaders have usually presented Bible texts with uninformed literalism. But it is undeniable that they promoted good relations among denominations and greatly enlarged active church membership at a period when irreligión was rife. One of the most effective of revivalist figures was Dwight L. Moody. Unselfish, tolerant, and wisely constructive, he left a lasting influence in America and Britain.

In Roman Catholicism revival methods are very different. The attempt has been to revive the local parish through ,the services of members of religious orders under hierarchical direction. The missioners have been sent for short periods, but at fairly frequent intervals, to preach in the parishes and counsel inquirers. The missions have been designed to quicken the spiritual life of laymen, and have been concerned more with instruction than with conversion. Voluntary movements in the same direction have generally been brought under clerical guidance.

After 1848 the German bishops employed Jesuit and Capuchin missioners to preach plainly on sin and repentance, with impressive results. The Missionary Society of St. Paul (Paulist Fathers), founded in 1858, was a result of Isaac Hecker’s mystical call to a similar work in America. Missions of this sort have become more general and frequent. The term “Catholic Action” has been applied, especially since 1928, to the apostolate of laymen in their communities, notably in efforts to affirm Christian standards in labor, the arts, the press, and literature. Vatican Council II approved the many organizations that have arisen in this connection, describing their purpose as “the evangelization and sanctification of men, and the formation in them of a Christian conscience.”

Christianity Confronts Science and Marxism.

In the 19th century, science offered an embarrassing challenge to Biblical theology. One of the most trying adjustments was demanded by Charles Darwin’s presentation, with abundant data, of the theory of biological evolution. Most theologians were at first alarmed and hostile. But some Biblical scholars began to apply the principle of evolution in their interpretation of revelation itself. As Christian thinkers progressively made terms with the new science, opposition to it was aroused and became active; especially in America. Twelve volumes entitled The Fundamentals (1910-1915) were distributed in millions of copies and occasioned the Fundamentalist Controversy in the Protestant churches at the same time that a Liberal theology on good terms with science was developing in the seminaries.

In Roman Catholicism the problems raised by new knowledge were hardly less acute. Gregory XVI in 1832 and Pius IX in 1864 sternly rejected the Liberalism of their era, and in 1907, Pius X condemned the Modernists for errors that included an evolutionary view of history and Scripture: Some of the Modernists attributed their central ideas to John Henry Newman’s Development of Doctrine (1845), the thesis of which they extended to combat the Thomist structure of theology prescribed by Leo XIII (1879).

Protestant Neoorthodoxy stood in the same loose relation to S0ren Kierkegaard that Modernism did to Newman. Its chief prophet, Karl Barth, electrified the theological world by his Romans (1919), introducing a “theology of crisis,” which, in rejection of Liberalism, reaffirmed Pauline, Augustinian, and Reformation doctrines of the divine initiative and the Bible as God’s Word. In America, Reinhold Niebuhr similarly returned from Liberalism to Biblical and early Protestant points of emphasis.

The antireligious dialectical materialism of Karl Marx (set forth in Das Kapital, 1867), which sees history as primarily economic struggle, came at a time when Christians showed little interest in those economically oppressed, and Marxism may have helped to arouse Christian social concern. Institutionalized in Communist states, engaged in. constant revolutionary propaganda, and representing itself as man’s ultimate system of belief, materialism both menaces and stimulates Christianity.

Educational and Social Work.

The record of the church as teacher and founder of schools has been maintained from medieval into modern times, though educational standards have not always been high. In the United States an attempt to provide education for the spreading frontier settlements resulted in the founding of some 500 denominational colleges before the Civil War. A majority of them also failed before the war. In the surviving schools, and those later founded, denominationalism has largely vanished, and standards have been raised. Theological seminaries have multiplied, and a few of them have attained high scholarly standards, not without the contribution of many teachers trained in Europe. Public school education has increasingly excluded religion, leaving, for most Protestants, the religious instruction of children to the home and the Sunday school. Parochial schools, promoted especially by Roman Catholics in the 19th century, have given prominence to religious subjects.


In Germany, Christian instruction has been given in state schools, and this plan was maintained under new regulations in West Germany after World War II. German schools of theology were very active in the 19th century, and in the later 20th century have recovered much of the intellectual strength they lost in the war period.

England has provided Christian teaching for the young since the government assumed the control of education in 1870, maintaining continuity with the work done previously in parish schools. In 1944 an agreement was reached by which non-Anglican churches have a voice in the syllabus for religion used in each county. Scotland’s system of parish schools was maintained under church control until 1918, and religious instruction has been continued in the national schools under the guidance of the Joint Committee for Religious Education. The Religious Education Association has worked in America since 1903 “to inspire religious forces with the educational ideal and educational forces with the religious ideal,” and a similar purpose prevails widely elsewhere.

Innumerable medieval hospitals, and relief foundations by Reformation, Puritan, and Pietist Christians, testified to the Christian sense of social duty. The group of Anglican Evangelicals derisively called “the Clapham Sect” initiated many philanthropies and began the movement for the emancipation of slaves, a reform achieved for the British dominions in 1834. Nationally influential leaders of the antislavery cause in America included William Lloyd Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld. Christian educational and relief agencies distribute funds on an increasing scale, and with planned intent to ensure permanent benefits to the receiver. Numerous British writers from about 1850 sought to apply the notion of the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching to social and economic issues.

In America the term “Social Gospel” came into use in the 1890’s to designate a type of Christian social teaching that arose amid the industrial struggles of that era. It challenged the assumption of laissez-faire business that the poor were to blame for their poverty and proposed reforms in favor of the working class. Begun by Congregational and Baptist ministers, the Social Gospel penetrated most communions. These came to adopt “social creeds” and to set up departments of social service. The theological weakness of the movement was in part amended by Walter Rauschenbusch in A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917). But an age of world struggle called for a more critical theological analysis of social problems, and this was introduced by Reinhold Niebuhr, notably in The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941). Roman Catholicism also manifested a greatly intensified activity in social reform.

Art, Literature, and Music.

Renaissance art, inspired by classic models, turned from symbolism to naturalism, portraying the human form in the colorful garb of the age, or in the nude, with a realism that was controlled only by the sheer love of visual beauty. Artists were self-conscious and ambitious: leaving behind medieval anonymity they wrote spiritedly about their work. Religious themes were treated not without reverence but in a new humanist spirit. Leonardo da Vinci studied the Apostles as historical persons and depicted them as men of character sharing a dramatic moment.

In the baroque era, Rembrandt and Rubens treated biblical themes under Calvinist and Roman Catholic influence respectively. The 18th century rococo style turned not only to excessive ornamentation but to scenes of dramatic emotion.

In music, a noble hymnody arose under Luther’s inspiration, and sacred chorales were popular, the words being in some instances devout parodies on popular songs. The French Psalter was the contribution of Calvin’s Geneva, Louis Bourgeois and Claude Goudimel providing the music for Clement Marot’s and Theodore Beza’s verse translations. Enthusiastic outdoor psalm singing came to be a feature of the spread of Calvinism in France and the Netherlands. The most learned musician of the age was Giovanni Palestrina, who as choir director of St. Peter’s, Rome, wrote masses in great numbers, many of them, in accordance with decisions of the Council of Trent, based on themes from Gregorian chant. The early 18th century was the era of a vastly enriched and assuredly immortal church music in the works of Bach and Handel.

The growth of humanist literature, as in the works of Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, led away from exclusive concentration on religion. The 18th century saw the popularity of authors indifferent or cynically hostile to traditional Christianity in fields of historical scholarship (notably Diderot, Voltaire, and Gibbon), anecdotal biography, and fiction. Friedrich Schleiermacher was addressing a potentially vast reading public in his Discourses on Religion to its Cultured Despisers (1799). One phase of the romantic movement in literature was a nostalgia for medieval scenes (exemplified by Chateaubriand, Scott, and Coleridge), and romanticism played a part in the formation of Schleiermacher s theology of feeling. But the new science of subsequent decades, and the interpretation placed upon it by some philosophers (for example, Herbert Spencer), enhanced the general trend toward materialism and secularism in 19th century thought. Nevertheless the materialist epitaph on Christianity, pronounced most vociferously by Friedrich Nietzsche, was illusory.


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