The following is a capsule summary of the top 25 events in the History of Christianity, events which shaped the Church itself, Christian civilization, and the modern world. The Church transcends the contingent facts of this world, yet at the same time is deeply connected to historical events, for its very foundation is rooted in the centrality of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Christian view of history is a vision and interpretation of time in terms of eternity and of human events in the light of divine revelation. Christianity is the dynamic element in the history of our Western culture. The life of Jesus Christ, the birth of Christianity, and the Apostolic Age (the first 100 years) speak for themselves, for great historical movements do not spring from non-events.1-3
This capsule summary is offered as a study guide of Church History. The links and references provide a more in-depth discussion of each topic.
The point of origin and central figure of the Christian faith is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Son of God. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem (Luke 2), in fulfillment of the Scriptures such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2. St. Joseph took his wife Mary and the infant Jesus on the Flight to Egypt to avoid Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2). Upon their return, the Holy Family settled in Nazareth, where Jesus grew and spent his childhood and early years as an adult. Hardly anything is known of his life at that time except that he was called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23) and that at age 12 he was found teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:46).
The life of Jesus is best described in the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while his teachings are presented by all the writers of the New Testament of the Bible.
Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry when he was about thirty years old. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus gave us the Eight Beatitudes, affirmed the Ten Commandments of God, and taught us the Lord's Prayer and the Golden Rule. He spent much of his ministry by the Sea of Galilee, preaching in such towns as Capernaum (John 6:59), Bethsaida (Mark 8:22), and Magdala (Matthew 15:39), and surrounding areas such as Cana (John 2:1-11) and Tyre (Mark 7:24-30). When his hour came near, he headed toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).
Jesus often taught in parables, an ancient Eastern literary genre. A parable is a narrative that presents comparisons to teach an important moral lesson. The Parables are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some parables are common to all three Synoptic Gospels, such as the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:2-20, and Luke 8:4-15). Examples of parables unique to each Gospel are the Weeds Among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) and the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16); the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29); the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37); the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32); Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31); and the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14).
Jesus performs many miracles, demonstrating his power over nature and spirits, and thus confirming that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15). In a physical miracle, such as making the blind see, or walking on water, or calming a storm, the laws of the universe are suspended through divine intervention. In a moral miracle, such as forgiveness of sins or driving out demons, the blessing of Jesus purifies the spirit. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus performed a physical miracle, healing the paralytic, to demonstrate a moral miracle, the forgiveness of sins. Only three miracles appear in all four Gospels - his own Resurrection, the greatest miracle of them all, the healing of the blind, and the feeding of the 5000 through the multiplication of the loaves.
His public ministry lasted about three years, prior to his Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. His mission was one of love, mercy, and peace (John 15:12-13).
Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of salvation history and the mediator and fullness of all revelation. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word made flesh. See our home page Jesus Christ for further discussion. 1-10
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God
which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,
the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh
and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness
by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith
for the sake of his name among all the nations;
St. Paul to the Romans 1:1-5
Jesus named the Apostles, often called the Twelve (John 6:67), to be with him and carry on his ministry: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Nathaniel Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, Jude Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him (Mark 3:14-19). Following the Resurrection, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.
Prior to his Ascension, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, as noted in the Acts of the Apostles 1:8. The Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost on about 120 Apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus, and disciples in the Upper Room (Acts 1:15, 2:1-4). This strengthened the Apostles to spread the word of Christ Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles describes the infancy period of the Church, a time following the Pentecost when Christianity spread like wildfire. The Apostles all gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to discuss whether Gentiles who had been converted to Christianity had to observe all the ceremonial precepts of the Mosaic Law. This gathering of the Apostles became known as the Council of Jerusalem, and set the pattern of future Councils to resolve issues that arose within the Church.
To the question of Jesus, "Who do you say that I am?" it was Peter the fisherman that answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16). Whereupon Jesus responded, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19). Peter became the first Patriarch of Antioch and ultimately Bishop of Rome.
The Conversion of Paul occurred on the road to Damascus, Syria (Acts 9:1-9). Saul persecuted the Church and consented to the death of the first martyr Stephen. He had men and women who lived the Way thrown into prison. But while going to Damascus, Saul was struck from his horse by a great light and a voice asked "Why do you persecute me?" Saul asked who spoke. Christ identified himself with his Church: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Saul experienced the grace of conversion and first preached in Damascus. He then traveled to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus, where he remained for three years (Galatians 1:17-18). Paul, as Apostle to the Gentiles, became just as passionate spreading Christianity as he was in persecuting Christians before his conversion.
Saints Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome during the persecution of Christians by Nero, Emperor of the Roman Empire. St. Peter was crucified upside down and St. Paul was beheaded, both probably in 64-68 AD. In fact, all of the Apostles were martyred for having preached the Gospel, except for St. John the Evangelist.
Heeding the message of Jesus Christ to Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), the Apostles traveled East and West to all parts of the known world to spread Christianity. Andrew, Peter's brother, was the first to be called to follow Jesus, and is called by the Byzantine Church the Protoclete, meaning the first called. Andrew evangelized Byzantium, appointed Stachys (Romans 16:9) the first Bishop there, and was crucified in Patras, Greece. James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, is believed to have preached in Spain; he is the only Apostle to have his martyrdom recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2). John, the son of Zebedee and the brother of James, was the "one Jesus loved." He is called the Theologian for his mystical writings - the Gospel of John and three Letters. Christ on the Cross entrusted his mother Mary to John (19:26-27), who took her with him to Ephesus; he was later exiled to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation in his elderly years. The other James, son of Alphaeus, is sometimes called James the Less, to distinguish him from James the Son of Zebedee. He played an important role as head of the Church of Jerusalem, and writer of the Letter of James in the Bible. According to the historian Flavius Josephus, he was stoned to death in 62 AD. Tradition has it that Matthew preached among the Hebrews and wrote his Gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic. Philip preached the Gospel in Phrygia, Asia Minor and was martyred in Hierapolis. Nathaniel, Son of Talmay, or in Aramaic Nathaniel Bartholomew, brought the faith to Armenia. Jude Thaddeus, the author of the Letter of Jude, spread the faith to Edessa, Syria, beyond the Euphrates River. Thomas Didymus, or Thomas the Twin, is known as Doubting Thomas, for questioning the Lord's Resurrection. But when he put his hand in the Lord's side, he reacted with a beautiful profession of faith: "My Lord and My God" (John 20:28). Thomas traveled through Chaldea and Persia all the way to India! Little is known about Simon the Zealot or Matthias. 7-12
The early Christian Church was faced with spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ throughout the world, often during a time of martyrdom and intense persecution.
Traditions in the Early Christian Church included the Memorial of the Last Supper - the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and reception of Communion, on Sunday the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10), and Prayer, such as the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed, a profession of faith during Baptism.
The Apostolic Fathers were a group of early Christian writers who knew one of the Apostles and lived about 75-150 AD, and sought to define, organize, and defend the faith, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, and the author(s) of the Didache. St. Ignatius of Antioch was designated Bishop of Syria by St. Peter on his trip to Antioch to meet St. Paul. St. Ignatius was the first to use the term Catholic Church in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans.
The word catholic means universal and refers to the universal Church of Jesus Christ.
Ignatius of Antioch would not worship the Emperor Trajan, and thus was placed in chains and martyred in Rome when thrown to the lions in the Coliseum. He wrote seven letters on his trip to Rome, which proved to be a unifying event for all of the early Churches. He established the Church hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon for the early Churches, the pattern which still exists today.
St. Justin Martyr (110-165 AD) was the first Apologist or Defender of the Faith. In his First Apology written in 155, he described the Memorial of the Last Supper on Sunday, one that would be called the Divine Liturgy in the East and the Mass in the West, an event which has remained essentially the same for nearly 2000 years. "And this food is called among us eucharistia...For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these, but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God...is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh." St. Justin was martyred in Rome for preaching Christianity to the Romans in 165 AD. 8-13
Christianity spread throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa. The Eastern Christian Churches are characterized by a rich heritage with Apostolic origin, and are treasured by the universal Church, for the East was the home of Jesus Christ our Redeemer!
Jerusalem is the birthplace to all of Christianity throughout the world. The Levant, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, served as the cradle of Christianity. Antioch, Syria became an early center for Christianity, especially following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Indeed, followers of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). They also became known as Nazarenes (Acts 24:5), particularly in the East. St. Mark the Evangelist founded the Church of Alexandria, Egypt. Philip the Deacon introduced Christianity to a minister of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza in Acts 8:27.
One of the earliest centers of Christianity was Edessa in the Kingdom of Osroene, located in Northern Syria and Mesopotamia across the Euphrates River. Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History reported that King Abgar of Edessa was afflicted with illness and contacted Jesus in the hope of a cure. Upon his healing by Thaddeus, King Abgar converted to Christianity.
Edessa became home to such writers as St. Ephrem of Syria (306-373 AD), a Father and Doctor of the Church. In his beautiful hymns and religious poetry, St. Ephrem represented Asian Christianity, which developed independently, outside the sway of Roman and Byzantine thought. Edessa also served as an important school of theology in Syriac, a dialect of the Semitic language of Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Syriac became the biblical and liturgical language of early Christian Churches in the East. Syriac Christianity would expand throughout Asia, extending to Chaldea and Persia along the Silk Road all the way to India and the Far East, reaching Tibet and China.
The first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion was Armenia under King Tiridates III in 301. Eastern Christian Churches are essential to any study of Christianity. Those Eastern Churches that are in communion with Rome are known as the Eastern Catholic Churches. 8-16
Christians were severely persecuted through three centuries of the Roman Empire, especially at the hands of Nero (64 AD), Trajan (98-117), right up to Diocletian (284-305). But their powerful witness through martyrdom only served to spread Christianity!
Constantine became Emperor of the West in 306. As he was in Gaul at the time, he still had to capture Rome where Maxentius held sway. Prior to battle, he had a dream or vision of Christ on the Cross, a cross of light, and was instructed to ornament the shields of his soldiers with the Savior's monogram - the Greek letters Χ (chi) and Ρ (rho). He defeated Maxentius at the Battle at Milvian Bridge over the River Tiber and became the sole Roman Emperor in 312, attributing his victory to the Christian God.
Welcome relief from Christian martyrdom came with the Edict of Milan in 313, through which Constantine and Licinius, the Emperor of the East, granted Christianity complete religious tolerance. His defeat of Licinius in 324 made him sole Emperor of the entire Roman Empire, and he moved the seat of the Empire to Byzantium in 330 and renamed it Constantinople.
Constantine considered himself Christian and did much to protect and support Christianity. Sunday as the Lord's Day was made a day of rest, and December 25 was celebrated as the birthday of Jesus. He restored property that once belonged to Christians. After his mother Helena discovered the True Cross, Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the site of the crucifixion, burial, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. He also built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of St. Peter in Rome.
Five centers of Christianity within the Roman Empire - Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Byzantium, and Rome - evolved into Patriarchates after Constantine recognized Christianity in the Edict of Milan in 313.
Christianity remain undivided until mankind sought to define the hidden nature of God and the mystery of Christ. A dispute concerning the relation of the Father and the Son arose in Egypt known as the Arian controversy. Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council in 325, known as the Council of Nicaea. The Council declared that the Son was of the same substance - ὁμοούσιος - homoousios - with the Father, and formed the initial Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was expanded and finalized at the Council of Constantinople in 381 to include homoousios for the Holy Spirit as well, by quoting John 15:26, "the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father," to form the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (still called the Nicene Creed). The Apostles' and Nicene Creeds are important to the Tradition of the Church.
Constantine considered himself both head of state and father of the Christian Churches. The alliance of Church and State in the Roman Empire first seen under Constantine was the beginning of Christendom. 1, 17-22
There were three stages in the formation of the Gospels: the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the oral tradition of the Apostles, and the written word. There were eight named writers of the New Testament: Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude.
The Canon of the New Testament was formed within the early Christian community, the Church. The Tradition of the Fathers of the Church was important to early Christianity, for they were the ones who chose those inspired books which best reflected the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in the formation of the canon of the New Testament, and were also involved in the interpretation of Scripture. Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, first proposed a canon of the New Testament in 180 AD. Three Fathers of the Church - Athanasius of Alexandria in his Letter of 367, Jerome in Bethlehem with the completion of his Latin New Testament in 384, and Augustine at the Council of Hippo in 393 - agreed that 27 Books were the inspired Word of God. The Canon of the New Testament of the Bible was confirmed at the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.
St. Jerome (345-420) was born in Dalmatia and became a highly educated linguist in Greek and Latin. He experienced a dramatic conversion following a dream and began leading an ascetic life in Antioch. It was during his time in the Syrian desert that he became an avid student of Hebrew. On return to Rome, he was commissioned by Pope Damasus in 382 to produce a new Latin translation of the Bible. Jerome settled in Bethlehem, and completed the translation of both Old and New Testaments from the original languages into Latin. Jerome completed the translation of the Greek New Testament into Latin in 384, and the Old Testament in 405.
St. Jerome translated from both Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament and noted the difference between the larger canon of the Greek Septuagint and the shorter Hebrew canon, and called those books comprising the difference the "hidden or secret books," or the Apocrypha.
As the Greek Septuagint was the accepted version of the Old Testament for Christianity at that time, Jerome translated 46 books that were affirmed as Old Testament canon at the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). In view of his work, St. Jerome was named the Father of Biblical scholars. The Latin Vulgate Bible published by St. Jerome served as the standard Bible for Western civilization for over 1000 years. 1-3, 17-22
St. Augustine (354-430 AD) was the greatest of the Latin Fathers of the Church and a foundational figure to Western Christian civilization. He was born in Tagaste, near Hippo, in north Africa. His mother St. Monica was a devout Christian and taught him the faith. However, when he studied rhetoric in Carthage, he began living a worldly life.
He obtained a post as master of rhetoric in Milan, accompanied by an unnamed woman and child Adeodatus, born out of wedlock in 372. The woman soon left him and their son, and Monica joined them in Milan. Under the incessant prayers of his mother, and the influence of St. Ambrose of Milan, he eventually converted at age 32 in 386 AD. Perhaps the most eloquent examination of conscience is found in The Confessions of St. Augustine, where he describes his moment of conversion in the garden reading St. Paul to the Romans 13:14, But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh.
Both his mother and son died soon afterwards and he returned in 388 to his home in Tagaste. He was ordained a priest in 391, and became Bishop of Hippo in 395. Augustine was people-oriented and preached every day. Many of his followers lived an ascetic life. He had a great love for Christ, and believed that our goal on earth was God through Christ himself, "to see his face evermore." Our goal in life should be to please God, not man.
Augustine was one of the most prolific writers in history, and his writings show an evolution of thought and at times a reversal of ideas, as seen in his Retractations. His Scriptural essays on Genesis and Psalms remain starting points for modern Biblical scholars. His commentary on the Sermon on the Mount is still read today. Perhaps most debated are his views on predestination.
St. Augustine is the doctor of grace. In his book Grace and Free Will, he explained simply why he believed in free will. If there was no free will, then why did God give us the Ten Commandments, and why did he tell us to love our neighbor? Augustine's arguments against the Pelagian heresy set the doctrine of grace for the Catholic Church to the present day. Pelagius thought that man could achieve virtue and salvation on his own without the gift of grace, that Jesus was simply a model of virtue. This of course attacks the Redemption of man by Christ! If man could make it on his own, then the Cross of Christ becomes meaningless! But Augustine saw man's utter sinfulness and the blessing and efficacy of grace, disposing man to accept his moment of grace, and hopefully ultimate salvation. Grace raises us to a life of virtue, and is the ground of human freedom. "When I choose rightly I am free." The Council of Orange enshrined Augustine's teaching on grace and free will in 529 AD.
Perhaps one of his greatest works was The City of God, which took 13 years to complete, from 413 to 426. History can only be understood as a continued struggle between two cities, the City of God, comprised of those men who pursue God, and the City of Man, composed of those who pursue earthly goods and pleasures. He refers to the two sons of Adam, Cain and Abel, as the earliest examples of the two types of man. The Roman empire was an example of the city of man (which had just been sacked by Alaric in 410 and was the occasion of the book).
St. Augustine was a living example of God's grace that transformed nature. He died August 28, 430, during the sack of Hippo by the Vandals. August 28 is celebrated as his Feast Day in the liturgical calendar. 4, 20-25
Pope Leo entered the Papacy at a difficult time. Alaric had sacked Rome in 410, and the Huns and the Visigoths were gaining strength. However the Pope proved to be a master statesman and history has deservedly accorded him the title of Pope Leo the Great.
One of his first actions in 441 was to bless the missionary efforts of St. Patrick and to ordain him as Bishop of Ireland.
A tension in Church authority between papal leadership and collegiality of the bishops was developing over theological questions. Rome was the place of martyrdom for Saints Peter and Paul. Rome's position as the capital of the Roman Empire was also supportive of a leadership role for the Bishop of Rome. The Bishop of Rome as successor to St. Peter was the Pastor and Shepherd of the whole Church, as seen with Clement of Rome in his First Letter to the Corinthians in 96 AD, and with Pope Leo the Great.
The Council of Ephesus, the Third Ecumenical Council, in 431 recognized Mary as the Mother of God, which was intrinsic to the human nature (ϕύσις - physis = nature) of Christ. The independent Church of the East in Persia believed in two distinct natures (dyophysite) in Christ and did not accept the wording. Pope Leo synthesized the thought of the differing Schools of Antioch and Alexandria in a letter known as the Tome. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 was the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which supported Leo's stance that Christ had two natures, Divine and human in perfect harmony, in one Person or hypostasis. This set the theology for Roman and Byzantine theology and was important for European unity. However, Eastern Christians in Armenia, Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, and India who still believed that Christ was one incarnate nature (monophysite) of the Word of God objected to Chalcedon and formed the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Just one year later (452), Attila and the Huns were threatening outside the walls of Rome. Pope Leo met Attila, who decided to call off the invasion! 1, 4, 15, 19-22
The Monastic Orders have been a premium influence on the formation of Christian culture. For not only have they been islands of asceticism and holiness that have served as ideals to a secular world, but also they have provided many if not most of the religious leaders within each historic age, especially during times of renewal and reform. The word monos is the Greek word for alone. Monasticism began in the East and spread throughout Europe and saved European civilization.
The practice of leaving the ambitions of daily life and retreating to the solitude of the desert was seen throughout Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, St. John the Baptist (Mark 1:4) an early example.
The father of Christian monasticism was St. Antony of the Desert (251-356), the first of the Desert Fathers. Antony of Egypt took to heart the words of Christ to the rich young man, " Go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Matthew 19:21). He headed across the Nile to a mountain near Pispir to live a life of solitude, prayer, and poverty . Soon many gathered around him to imitate his life, living as hermits in nearby caves in the mountain, and in 305 he emerged from solitude to teach his followers the way of the ascetic. He then moved further into the desert by Mount Kolzim near the Red Sea, where a second group of hermits gathered and later formed a monastery. He lived there for 45 years until his death in 356.
St. Maron (350-410), a contemporary of St. John Chrysostom, was a monk in the fourth century who left Antioch for the Orontes River to lead a life of holiness and prayer. As he was given the gift of healing, his life of solitude was short-lived, and soon he had many followers that adopted his monastic way. Following the death of St. Maron in 410, his disciples built a monastery in his memory, which would form the nucleus of the Eastern Catholic Maronite Church of Lebanon.
The fall of the Roman Empire to the barbarian invasions left European civilization in disarray, for the social structure under one ruler in Rome was destroyed. The preservation of culture and the conversion of the barbarians to Christianity was left to an unlikely group: the monastics of Europe. Their missionary efforts converted one tribe after another, so that eventually all of Europe was united in the worship of the one Christian God.
St. Patrick as Apostle to Ireland founded the monastery of Armagh in 444 and other monasteries throughout Ireland. As the social unit in Ireland and much of Europe at the time was the tribe in the countryside, the monastery was the center of Church life and learning. The Irish monks that followed him converted much of northern Europe. The lasting legacy of the Irish monks has been the present-day form of confession. In early times, penance was in public and severe, often lasting for years, such that Baptism was generally postponed until one's deathbed. The Irish monks began private confession and allowed one to repeat confession as necessary.
The monk St. Benedict (480-547) was born in Nursia of nobility but chose a life of solitude in Subiaco outside of Rome. Soon he moved nearby to build a monastery at Monte Cassino in 529 and there wrote the Rule of Benedict. Monte Cassino placed all of the monks in one monastery under an abbot. The guiding principle for the monastery was ora et labora, or pray and work. The monastery provided adequate food and a place to sleep and served as a center of conversion and learning. Known for its moderation, Monte Cassino and Benedict's rule became the standard for monasteries throughout Europe and the pattern for Western civilization.
The first monk to become Pope was St. Gregory the Great (540-604). Born to Roman nobility, Gregory at first pursued a political career and became Prefect of Rome. However he gave up position and wealth and retreated to his home to lead a monastic life. He was recalled to Rome and soon was elected Pope in 590 and served until his death in 604. A man of great energy, he is known for four historic achievements. His theological and spiritual writings shaped the thought of the Middle Ages; he made the Pope the de facto ruler of central Italy; his charisma strengthened the Papacy in the West; and he was dedicated to the conversion of England to Christianity. Gregory sent the monk Augustine to England in 597. The conversion of King Aethelbert of Kent led St. Augustine to be named the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Soon English Benedictine monks were being sent to convert the rest of Europe, such as the English monk Winfrid, better known as St. Boniface, who evangelized Germany from 723-739 AD and is known as the Apostle to Germany. 1, 4-5, 12, 19-22
The Carolingian Empire effectively began with Charles Martel, the Mayor of the Palace under the Merovingian Franks. He stopped the Muslim invasion of Europe at the Battle of Tours near Poitiers in 732, and supported St. Boniface in his conversion of Germany.
His son Pepin and the Papacy formed an historic alliance. Pepin needed the blessing of the Pope in his seizure of leadership of Gaul from the Merovingians. Pope Stephen II, besieged by the Lombards in Italy, was the first Pope to leave Italy and cross the Alps in 754. He named King Pepin Patrician of the Romans, and in turn Pepin swept into Italy and conquered the Lombards, securing the Papal states. Pepin died in 768 and divided his realm between his two sons, Carloman and Charles.
Charles, known as Charlemagne (742-814), took over all of Gaul upon the death of his brother in 771, and soon conquered most of mainland Europe. He was a vigorous leader and ruled until 814. Charlemagne was a strong supporter of Christianity. During his reign, Christianity became the guiding principle of the Carolingian Empire, as the Church established a powerful presence throughout Europe. He instituted a school of learning in his palace at Aachen. In the Middle Ages there was in theory a division between temporal power and spiritual authority, but in practice one saw a strong Emperor take control of some spiritual affairs and a strong Pope take control of some affairs of state. Charlemagne, as Constantine, considered himself the leader of Christendom as political head of state and protector of the Church. Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day 800, and this marked the formal alliance of the Carolingian Empire and the Papacy. The historian Christopher Dawson called this the beginning of medieval Christendom. 1, 4, 5, 8, 19-20, 22, 26
The Byzantine Empire of the East, with its capital in Constantinople, flourished for a thousand years. The Emperor Theodosius the Great proclaimed Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380. The Empire reached its zenith under Emperor Justinian, the author of the Justinian Code of Law, who ruled from 527 to 565. Justinian built the beautiful Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in 539, which became a center of religious thought.
The writings of the Greek Fathers of the Church such as Saints Basil, John Chrysostom, and Maximus the Confessor influenced the spiritual formation of early Christianity. The Byzantine or Greek liturgy is based on the tradition of St. Basil and the subsequent reform of St. John Chrysostom. The Byzantine missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius brought Christianity to Moravia and Cyril created the Cyrillic alphabet for their liturgy, which became the basis of the Slavic languages, including Russian.
Kiev was once the capital of the country of Kievan Rus, which comprised the modern nations of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Influenced by his grandmother Olga, Prince Vladimir of Kiev adopted Byzantine Christianity in 988, converting Russia to the Byzantine Orthodox faith. In the sixteenth century, a Russian mystic Philotheus of Pskof noted that Rome and Constantinople, the second Rome, had fallen, but "Moscow, the third Rome," stands. The Russian Orthodox Church today is the largest Eastern Orthodox faith with over 110 million members. 1, 5, 8, 10, 27
One of the most tragic events in Church history has been the Schism of 1054 between what is now the Catholic Church in Rome and the Byzantine or Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople.
The actual event occurred on July 16, 1054. What began as a diplomatic effort between Pope Leo IX of Rome and the Byzantine Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople ended in disaster. The abrasive Cardinal Humbert laid a papal bull of excommunication (after Pope Leo had died) on the altar right during the Liturgy at the Church of Hagia Sophia, which led the Eastern Church to excommunicate the envoy. While the event did not end the relationship between the Eastern and Western Churches, it became symbolic for the distrust and strain between the East and the West that developed through the centuries. The break was sealed in 1204 with the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
Rome and Constantinople had been able to agree through three more Councils. The fifth ecumenical council at Constantinople II in 553 was called by the Emperor Justinian and reaffirmed that there is only one person or hypostasis in our Lord Jesus Christ. In response to the Monothelites, that Christ had only one will, the sixth ecumenical council affirmed the efforts of St. Maximus the Confessor at Constantinople III in 681 and confessed that Christ had two wills and two natural operations (John 6:38), divine and human in harmony. The seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea II in 787 resolved the iconoclast controversy thanks to the writings of St. John of Damascus: since Jesus had a true humanity and his body was finite, it was only proper to venerate holy images of the human face of Jesus, as well as Mary and the saints.
However, the language of Rome was Latin, and that of Constantinople Greek.
There was a difference in perception of Church authority between the East and West. Latin Rome believed the Pontiff, as the representative of Peter, was Pastor and Shepherd to the whole Church, whereas the Greek East saw the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and representative of Peter, as presiding with love in the sense of collegiality, as a first among equals.
This difference in perception of Church authority produced the conflict over the addition of the word filioque - and the Son - to the Nicene Creed by the Roman Catholic Church. Theological thought on the Trinity had progressed with time, particularly with St. Augustine, who saw the Holy Spirit as an expression of love between the Father and the Son. King Recared and his Visigothic bishops converted from Arianism to Catholicism at the The Third Council of Toledo, Spain in 587 and were required to add the word filioque to the Creed. Charlemagne in 794 insisted on its addition, so that the phrase read "the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son". Pope Leo III at the time refused to allow the change and supported the original Creed; however the Papacy finally accepted the addition of filioque at the coronation of King Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire in 1014. The Eastern Orthodox Churches claim that the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is the common possession of the whole church and that any change must be made by an ecumenical Council.
Many of the Christian Churches of Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, except the Maronites and the Italo-Albanians, joined the Byzantine or Greek Orthodox Church of Constantinople. 4, 5, 20-22, 26-28
Catholic Spain was the first European territory to suffer Islamic invasion in 711 when the Berber general Ibn Tariq conquered nearly all of Spain except the northern rim. The Visigoth Pelayo held off the Muslims at Covadonga at Asturias in the Cantabrian mountains in 722. Spain, named Al-Andalus by Muslim leaders, prospered under the Umayyad Abd al-Rahman family of Córdoba, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians for a while lived side by side in a spirit of religious toleration.
The discovery of the relics of St. James in a Field of Light in Galicia supported the Catholic heritage of Spain, and a church was built at the pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela by Asturian King Alfonso II (791-842). As recorded in the late ninth-century Chronicle of Alfonso III, Pelayo became the inspiration for the rightful recovery of Spanish territory lost to Muslim invasion.
Spain was troubled in 997 when the Moor Almanzor usurped the power of the Caliphate and sacked the city and Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest tip of Spain, but spared the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish). He took the cathedral bells of the church as a memento of his victory and placed them in the great mosque of Córdoba. With the loss of respect for the Caliphate, Al-Andalus fractured into multiple petty states, known as Taifas.
King Alfonso VI (1065-1109) of León-Castile recaptured Toledo in 1085. El Cid held off the Muslims in Valencia until his death in 1099. King Alfonso I of Navarre and Aragon recaptured Zaragoza in 1118. King Alfonso VIII won a major battle against the Almohad Muslims at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. King Fernando III recaptured Córdoba in 1236 and returned the cathedral bells to the Church of Santiago de Compostela. The Reconquista of Spain, or the unification of Spain under Christian rule, was not formally completed until the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, when Granada was captured from the Moors on January 2, 1492. 5, 29
Undertake this journey for the remission of your sins,
with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven!
Pope Urban II, in one of history's most powerful speeches, launched 200 years of the Crusades at the Council of Clermont, France on November 27, 1095 with this impassioned plea. In a rare public session in an open field, he urged the knights and noblemen to win back the Holy Land, to face their sins, and called upon those present to save their souls and become Soldiers of Christ. Those who took the vow for the pilgrimage were to wear the sign of the cross (croix in French): and so evolved the word croisade or Crusade. By the time his speech ended, the captivated audience began shouting Deus le volt! - God wills it! The expression became the battle-cry of the crusades.
Why did Pope Urban II call for the recapture of the Holy Land? Three reasons are primarily given for the beginning of the Crusades: (1) to free Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; (2) to defend the Christian East, hopefully healing the rift between Roman and Orthodox Christianity; and (3) to marshal the energy of the constantly warring feudal lords and knights into the one cause of penitential warfare.
Led by the papal legate Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, the First Crusade (of eight major efforts) freed Jerusalem on July 15, 1099. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was once again in Christian hands and restored. The four Crusader states of Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, and Edessa were established. The Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted 88 years, until Saladin recaptured the city October 2, 1187. King Richard the Lionheart of England negotiated the Peace Treaty of Jaffa with Saladin during the Third Crusade whereby Christian pilgrims were given free access to Jerusalem.
The four Crusader states eventually collapsed; the surrender of Acre in 1291 ended 192 years of formal Christian rule in the Holy Land. 5, 30
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were the peak of the Medieval Age. It was the flowering of Christendom, a time of extraordinary intellectual activity, with the rise of the University and the introduction of Arabian, Hebrew, and Greek works into Christian schools. A new form of order arose whose aim was to pursue the monastic ideals of poverty, renunciation, and self-sacrifice, but also to maintain a presence and convert the world by example and preaching. They were known as friars and called the Mendicant Orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Augustinians, and the Servites), because of begging alms to support themselves.
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was born to wealth. He loved adventure, but experienced conversion after joining the military. He returned home, and heard a voice saying to him, "Francis, go and rebuild my house; it is falling down." He adopted a life of poverty, and began to preach the Kingdom of Heaven. Francis loved creation and considered it good, for Christ himself took on flesh in the Incarnation. He loved all living creatures. St. Francis originated the Christmas manger scene. He founded the Franciscan order, and received approval from Rome in 1209. The Poor Clare Nuns began when St. Clare joined the Franciscans in 1212 in Assisi. In 1219 St. Francis risked his life in the Fifth Crusade by calling directly upon the Sultan of Egypt in an effort to convert him and bring peace. He received the stigmata of Christ in 1224, 2 years before his death in 1226.
St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) was born in Calaruega, Spain. On a journey through France he was confronted by the Albigensian heresy (like Manichaeism and the Cathari). As he came with a Bishop in richly dressed clothes on horses, he realized the people would not be impressed with his message. This led him to a life of poverty. He spent several years preaching in France in an attempt to convert the Albigensians. In 1208 in Prouille, France, he received a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and began to spread devotion to the Rosary. Dominic was a man of peace and converted many through prayer, preaching, and his example of poverty. He founded the Order of Preachers in 1216 known as the Dominican Friars.
The universities in Europe began as guilds of scholars, which first attracted members of the clergy and were supported financially by the Church. The first universities in Europe were founded in Bologna and Paris; Oxford and Cambridge soon followed. Theology, law, and medicine were fields of advanced study. The University of Paris was especially noted for studies in Theology. The age was the time of Scholasticism - of the schools, a method of learning that placed emphasis on reasoning. Important writers at the time were Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Albertus Magnus, and his student Thomas Aquinas, who became the greatest theologian and philosopher of the age.
St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican priest who lived from 1225 to 1274. Born in Roccasecca, Italy to the Aquino family, he joined the Dominicans at the age of 18. He received his doctorate in theology and taught at the University of Paris during the height of Christendom.
One of the greatest contributions by Thomas was his incorporation of the philosophy of Aristotle into the theology of the Catholic Church. Thomas saw reason and faith as one and mutually supportive, and combined the Bible and Church Fathers and the reasoning of Aristotle into one unified system of understanding Christian revelation through faith enlightened by reason.
His most noted work was the Summa Theologica, a five-volume masterpiece. St. Thomas Aquinas presented the classical approach to Biblical Exegesis. Recalling the words of Gregory that Scripture transcends every science, " for in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery." In addition to the literal sense, Thomas described the three spiritual senses of Scripture, the allegorical, the truth revealed, the moral, the life commended, and the anagogical, the final goal to be achieved. His exposition on the Seven Sacraments remains a standard to our present day.
The Renaissance, which means rebirth, was the period of phenomenal growth in Western culture in art, architecture, literature, and sculpture. Christian humanism, a rejoicing in man's achievements and capabilities reflecting the greater glory of God, had its beginning with the Divine Comedy, published in 1320 by Dante Alighieri in Italy. The Renaissance continued through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries until William Shakespeare. Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli led the way in art. Brunelleschi revived the ancient Roman style of architecture and introduced linear perspective. The great sculptors were Donatello and Michelangelo. St. Thomas More and Erasmus were leading Christian humanists in literature. 1, 4, 5, 19, 31-32
The Protestant Reformation resulted from the failure of the Catholic Church to reform itself in time.
The dark side of the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries witnessed the errant Fourth Crusade to Constantinople in 1204, the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathari in 1209, and the beginning of the Inquisition which became severely punitive. The Papacy suffered a great loss of respect during the Avignon Papacy (1305-1378) and especially during the Papal Schism (1378-1417), when two and at one point three men declared themselves Pope and opposed each other. The Papal Schism had to be resolved by Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg and the Council of Constance 1414-1417, which finally deposed all three Popes and chose Martin V to continue the Papacy. However, the Council also condemned John Hus, the Prague reformer who believed in the priesthood of all believers and the reception of Communion through bread and wine; he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. Another victim of the Inquisition was St. Joan of Arc, who saved France during the Hundred Years War with England. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 in Rouen, France. The Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century was particularly ruthless.
The lack of Church funds led to even further corruption, including simony and the selling of indulgences. For example, Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz had to pay Rome ten thousand ducats for the right to hold three dioceses at once, and agreed to a three-way split with the Roman Curia and the Fugger Banking firm from the proceeds of the selling of indulgences.
These events led many to question the compassion and integrity of the Church.
The unity of Tradition and Scripture went unchallenged through the Patristic Age and thirteenth century scholasticists such as St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas. But the unity of Scripture and Tradition began to be questioned with the decline of the Church. The Belgian Henry of Ghent believed that one should first have the duty to follow Scripture rather than a Church that became one in name only. The English Franciscan William of Ockham (or Occam) was known for the principle of Occam's Razor, that one needs to reduce everything to its simplest cause. Ockham (1288-1348) theorized on three possibilities of the relation of Scripture and the Church. First there was Sola Scriptura, that one could obtain salvation by following Scripture alone; second, that God does reveal truths to the universal Church, an ecclesiastical revelation supplemental to apostolic revelation; and third, the concept of orally transmitted apostolic revelation parallel to written Scripture. Ockham believed that one could reach God only through faith and not by reason. He wrote that universals, such as truth, beauty, and goodness, were concepts of the mind and did not exist, a philosophy known as Nominalism. Thus began the division of the realm of faith from the secular world of reason.
The rise of Nationalism led to the end of Christendom, for countries resented any effort to support Rome, especially in its dismal state. Dissemination of new ideas followed the invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany; his very first printing was the Latin Vulgate Bible in 1456.
The stage was set for the reform-minded Martin Luther (1483-1546), the Augustinian monk of Wittenberg, Germany. He received his doctorate in theology in 1512, and then taught biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg. His study of Scripture, particularly St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans, led him to believe that salvation was obtained through justification by faith alone. At first, his only interest was one of reform when he posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church October 31, 1517.
But the intransigence of the Church and poor handling of the situation by the Pope and Curia only worsened matters, such that a break was inevitable. In a July 1519 debate with the Catholic theologian Johann Eck, Luther stated that Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone - was the supreme authority in religion. He could no longer accept the authority of the Pope or the Councils, such as Constance. In 1520 Luther published three documents which laid down the fundamental principles of the Reformation. In Address To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther attacked the corruptions of the Church and the abuses of its authority, and asserted the right of the layman to spiritual independence. In the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, he defended the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance, but criticized the sacramental system of Rome, and set up the Scriptures as the supreme authority in religion. In The Freedom of the Christian Man, he expounded the doctrine of salvation through justification by faith alone. The Augsburg Confession of 1530, written by Philip Melanchthon and approved by Martin Luther, was the most widely accepted Lutheran confession of faith.
Once Sola Scriptura became the norm, it became a matter of personal interpretation.
Huldrich Zwingli of Zurich, Switzerland was next, and he broke with Luther over the Eucharist, but his sect died out. The Anabaptists separated from Zwingli as they denied the validity of infant baptism; they survived as the Mennonites. Jean Calvin published his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, and influenced John Knox and the Presbyterians of Scotland; the Huguenots of France; the Dutch Reformed; and the Pilgrims and Puritans. While he agreed with Luther on the basic Protestant tenets of sola scriptura, salvation by faith alone, and the priesthood of all believers, he went even further on such issues as predestination and the sacraments. George Fox, the son of Puritan parents, founded the Quakers in England in 1647.
King Henry VIII wrote a defense of the seven sacraments, but when refused an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, he had himself declared Supreme Head of the Church of England in 1533. The new Archbishop Thomas Cranmer married Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn that same year. St. Thomas More refused to attend the wedding, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later beheaded in 1535. Henry VIII began the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, and then destroyed the Shrine of the martyr St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170) at Canterbury Cathedral in 1538. The Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549 and the Anglican Church of England was established. Two major sects that split off from the Anglicans were the Baptists, founded by John Smyth in 1607, and later the Methodists, founded by John Wesley and his brother Charles. 1, 4, 5, 26, 33
Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.
There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm.
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
The five appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Aztec Indian Juan Diego and his uncle on December 9-12 of 1531 generated the conversion of Mexico and Latin America to Catholicism.
On December 12, 1531, Juan Diego was obedient to the Blessed Virgin Mary's instruction to gather beautiful roses in his tilma and take them to the Franciscan Bishop Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga on his third visit to appeal for the building of a Church as requested by Our Lady. Juan Diego explained to the Bishop all that had passed. Then he put up both hands and untied the corners of crude cloth behind his neck. The looped-up fold of the tilma fell; the flowers he thought were the precious sign tumbled out on the floor.
The Bishop fell on his knees in adoration before the tilma, as well as everyone else in the room. For on the tilma was the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, just as described by Juan Diego, and is still preserved today in original condition in Tepeyac on the outskirts of Mexico City.
Spanish conquistadors may have conquered the Aztecs in 1521, but their ruthless behavior antagonized the people and conversions were few.
Our Lady of Guadalupe conveyed the beautiful message of Christianity: the true God sacrificed himself for mankind, instead of the horrendous life they had endured sacrificing thousands of humans to appease the frightful gods! It is no wonder that over the next seven years, from 1531 to 1538, eight million natives of Mexico converted to Catholicism!
Indeed, the Blessed Virgin Mary entered the very soul of Central America and became an inextricable part of Mexican life and a central figure to the history of Mexico itself. To this date a major religious celebration in Mexico and Central America is December 12, the feast-day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A harbinger of things to come, Christianity would thrive in the Americas. Her appearance in the center of the American continents has contributed to the Virgin of Guadalupe being given the title "Mother of America." 1, 19, 34-35
"You should know how to behave in the household of God,
which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth."
First Timothy 3:15
The Catholic Church reformed itself both through the positive work of renewal and through the impetus of the Protestant Reformation. Efforts at reform had already begun with the Oratory of Divine Love in Genoa in 1497. The strict order of the Theatines was founded in 1524 and made significant efforts at the reform of the parish clergy. The Capuchins were founded in Italy in 1528 to restore the Franciscan Order to its original ideals. St. Ignatius of Loyola began the Jesuit Order in 1534.
Spiritual enrichment was kindled through the Spanish mystics St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.
The major thrust at reform was the Council of Trent, begun by Pope Paul III in December 1545. The Council of Trent marked an important turning point for the Catholic Church, for it provided clarity on the beliefs of the Church, and ecclesiastical discipline was restored. Pope Pius IV, co-founder of the Theatines, confirmed the Decrees of the Council of Trent in January 1564. The doctrines established at Trent persist to this day.
The Council addressed three areas: doctrine, discipline, and devotion. Seven major areas were included in doctrine: that our justification was not just by faith alone, but also by hope and charity expressed in good works in cooperation with God's grace. Both Tradition and Scripture were essential to the faith. The Latin Vulgate Bible was promoted as the only canonical Scripture. There was a clear definition of the seven sacraments. The Mass as a Memorial of the one Sacrifice of Christ was confirmed, and the Council reaffirmed Transubstantiation. The Mass, known as the Tridentine Mass, was given strict form and was celebrated only in Latin. The Latin Tridentine Mass provided unity for the universal Church, for it was the same Mass in every place and time.
What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?
If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,
and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled,"
without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Discipline involved strict reform and the establishment of the seminary system for the proper and uniform training of priests. The office of indulgence seller was abolished, and doctrine on indulgences was clarified. A Bishop was allowed only one diocese and residence was required, begun by the reformer St. Charles Borromeo of Milan.
The Catholic Reformation coincided with the wave of exploration to the New World and the Far East. Catholic Missionaries accompanied the explorers on their journeys, such as Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Portuguese Vasco da Gama to Goa, India in 1498, and Ferdinand Magellan to the Philippines in 1521.
St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) exemplified the missionary movement, and has been recognized as second only to the Apostle Paul in his evangelical efforts. The patron saint of missionaries, Francis Xavier sailed from Lisbon, Portugal and landed in Goa in 1542. His humble way had great impact on the local people, and he trained the young in the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. He was soon reported to have baptized 10,000 a month. He then headed to Cape Comorin, the southern tip of India, where he made many conversions of the fishermen there. Further travels took Francis Xavier to Malacca in Malaysia in 1545 and then to Japan in 1549.
Fr. Andres de Urdaneta and the Augustinian monks sailed to Cebu, Philippines in 1565. Upon discovery of Santo Nino (the Image of the Infant Jesus left by Magellan), they began the conversion of the Philippines to Catholicism.
The Missionary Franciscan Toribio de Benavente arrived in Mexico in 1524. He was a self-sacrificing man dedicated to protecting the natives, and received the name Motolinia for his life of poverty. He recorded in his book History of the Indians of New Spain the dramatic conversions following the appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Dominican Bartholomew de Las Casas first went to the West Indies in 1502 as a soldier, but on viewing the horrendous enslavement of the native Indians through the Spanish encomienda system, was ordained as a Dominican priest in 1523, the first ordination in America. In his role as human rights advocate for the Indians, he is considered an early pioneer of social justice.
The Jesuits were also noted for early missionary efforts to North America, such as Father Andrew White, who accompanied the Calverts to Maryland in 1634, Isaac Jogues to Quebec in 1636, and Jacques Marquette to Michigan in 1668. Missionary efforts would continue to the New World for years to come. 1, 4, 19, 36
The history of the English Bible is intimately intertwined with the history of the Reformation. Following the death of the Tudor Queen Elizabeth, James VI of Scotland became the Stuart King James I of England in 1603. He served until his death in 1625, when he was succeeded by his son, Charles I. It was a time when the English language reached its greatest expression in the works of William Shakespeare (1558-1616) and the King James Bible.
King James as head of the Church of England commissioned a group of bishops and scholars to establish an authoritative translation of the Bible from the original languages into English in 1604. There were several English versions available, either as translations of the Latin Vulgate or from the 1516 Greek-Latin parallel New Testament of Erasmus; the ones that follow influenced the King James scholars. John Wycliffe produced a hand-written English translation of the Latin Vulgate in 1384. William Tyndale, an English Lutheran, brought the first printed version of the New Testament into England in 1526. His colleague, Miles Coverdale, completed Tyndale's work, which formed the basis for the Great Bible (1539), the first authorized Bible in English, which was placed in every church in England. When the Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553, further work had to be done on the European continent, and the Geneva Bible, the first to have numbered verses, was published in 1557. Beginning with the Protestant Elizabethan era in 1558, the English Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, a translation of the Vulgate, had to be produced on the European continent as well, the Old Testament completed at Rheims, France in 1582, and the New Testament completed at Douay, France in 1609.
The Authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible was published in 1611. The King James Bible originally included the Apocrypha but in a separate section. A literary masterpiece of the English language, the King James Bible is still in use today. 5, 37
Christopher Columbus reached America in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. Following the discovery of Florida by Ponce de Leon in 1513, St. Augustine, Florida became the first permanent European settlement in North America in 1565, from which missionaries spread Catholicism to the Native American Indians. The first Mass of Thanksgiving on North American soil was actually celebrated by the Spanish with the Timucuan Indians from Seloy village in attendance on September 8, 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida. Spanish explorations extended as far as Santa Fe, New Mexico, established in 1609.
A wave of explorations to the New World continued. Jamestown was founded by the British in May of 1607, and the Anglican Church of England was established in Virginia. Samuel de Champlain explored the St. Lawrence River and founded Quebec, Canada for Catholic France in July of 1608. Henry Hudson sailed for the Dutch East India Company and explored the river that bears his name in September of 1609; the Dutch Reformed Church was established in New Amsterdam after the Netherlands purchased Manhattan in 1626.
Christianity continued to thrive in the New World as our young Nation developed. Four of the original 13 English colonies were specifically chartered for religious freedom, as a refuge from religious persecution in England at the time. William Bradford and the Pilgrim Congregationalists arrived on the Mayflower at Cape Cod in 1620 and the Calvinist John Winthrop and the Puritan Protestants in 1629 in Massachusetts. Lord Baltimore George Calvert and his son Cecil Calvert received a charter for the Catholics in 1632, and Cecil's younger brother Leonard Calvert arrived on the Ark and Dove in Maryland in 1634. The settlers soon enacted the Toleration Act of Maryland and founded St. Mary's Chapel in St. Mary's City, Maryland. Roger Williams established a Church for the Baptists in Providence, Rhode Island in 1638. William Penn and the Quakers settled in 1682 in Pennsylvania. The Mennonites also moved to Pennsylvania in 1683 at the invitation of William Penn. The universal toleration offered in Pennsylvania continued to attract groups such as the Amish, Moravian Pietists, and Presbyterians. Early American writings reflect the Christian Heritage of our nation, the United States of America. 1, 5, 36, 38-46
The period from 1650 through the eighteenth century was known as the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. The time had come when men would set aside religious views and look to reason and social experience to guide society.
It was the loss of Christian unity that led to the secularization of Western culture.
Whereas Christendom provided one message to European society, the pluralism of religions provided different answers to questions about life and led to skepticism and conflict rather than unanimous thought.
Discoveries in science had much to do with the Age of Enlightenment. Copernicus (1473-1543) proposed the sun is the center of the solar system and the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the first to use a telescope, confirmed that Copernicus was right and was condemned by the Catholic Church. Scientists such as Isaac Newton (1642-1727) in physics and Robert Boyle (1642-1727) in chemistry were pioneers and gave birth to technology, the application of science to practical problems, which led to the Industrial Revolution. Progress based on science and technology became a major goal of Western Society.
Mankind was left without its mooring, and philosophers set out in different directions to provide meaning for humanity. The critical Rationalism of Rene Descartes (1596-1650) applied to philosophy the mathematical method so effective in science, that everything was questionable until it could be proved beyond all doubt. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) took a different stance and presented Pascal's Wager: it is better to live a good life, for if there is a God, you will end up with Him in Heaven; but if you have lived a bad life and there is a God, you are doomed! John Locke (1632-1704) applied reason to confirm revelation. The political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu of France (1689-1755) proposed that the best form of government would incorporate a separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches and would be based on the natural law. David Hume (1711- 1776) proposed a science of man, and is considered a pioneer in the social sciences. But Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), considered the father of Romanticism, took an opposite approach and spoke of the noble savage, that man was happy only in his original native state, before government, laws, and politics chained mankind. It was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) that defined the era: "Have courage to use your own reason - that is the motto of Enlightenment."
The Age of Enlightenment proposed that reason and science would bring an "enlightened" world. Unfortunately, the Age of Enlightenment ignored love, emotion, spirituality and concern for one's fellow man. It forgot that man is wounded by original and personal sin, and his reason is colored by desire and selfishness. In fact, the Age of Enlightenment brought the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror (1789), Naziism, Communism, and the twentieth century, with its two World Wars, the bloodiest century in history.
Intellectual dryness and doctrinal religions prevalent during the Enlightenment Era led to a spiritual revival throughout Western Christian civilization, as seen with Pietism in Germany, Methodism in England and America, and the Great Awakening in the United States.
Philipp Jakob Spener of Germany wrote Pia Desideria in 1675 and spoke of a theology of the heart, placing emphasis on inner devotion and Christian living, and inspired the Pietist movement. Pietism especially influenced Nikolaus von Zinzendorf and the Moravian Church.
John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1788) provided light for Christianity during the Enlightenment. John Wesley, noted for his moving sermons, and his brother Charles, a poetic genius and hymn writer, began the Methodist movement in England, and set forth an evangelical revival throughout the British Isles, North America, and the world.
The two brothers were raised in the Anglican Church. While at Oxford they formed a group, joined by George Whitefield and others, called the Holy Club in November 1729 and read the Greek New Testament. Because of their strict method of living, they were soon called the Methodists. John Wesley experienced a heartwarming conversion experience at Aldersgate Street in London in 1738. He preached in the English countryside to the poor, and sparked a religious revival throughout England. He assured the people that all could be saved by experiencing God and opening their hearts to his grace.
George Whitefield made seven trips to America beginning in 1738 and was one of the most powerful evangelists ever. He, along with others, kindled a spiritual revival throughout the thirteen colonies known as the Great Awakening. The Great Awakening was the first national experience in America and did much to unite the American colonies.
Revival during the Enlightenment Era fulfilled the human need for spiritual experience through Jesus Christ. 4, 5, 26, 47-49
The independence movement in the American colonies sparked an outcry for freedom of religion, such that Christianity flourished in the newly-formed United States of America.
Every taxable resident was required to support the state established Church, no matter what their faith! This caused dissension in the Colonies such as in Maryland and Virginia, where Catholics in Maryland and Presbyterians and Baptists in Virginia objected to the unfair Anglican clergy tax. Of those states with established Churches, Maryland became the first state to disestablish church and state following the Declaration of Independence. The Bill of Rights allowed the free exercise of religion and proliferation of Christian denominations during rapid westward expansion in America.
In 1789, John Carroll, brother of Daniel Carroll who signed the U. S. Constitution and cousin of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, became the first Catholic Bishop of Baltimore, a diocese which served the entire United States.
Two days after Thomas Jefferson wrote his highly quoted but out-of-context expression "wall of separation between Church and State" to the Danbury Baptists, he appeared on January 3, 1802 in the House of Representatives to hear the Baptist preacher John Leland lead an evangelical service on public property. Separation of Church and State did not preclude a vibrant public square. Recognizing the need to instill morals and values in our children, Bible reading and prayer continued in our public schools for 300 years!
Conversions by Evangelical Protestants and other Christian faiths provided the moral fabric for the new American nation after the Revolutionary War. The Methodist movement proved most successful in North America. In 1784 John Wesley appointed one hundred preachers through the Deed of Declaration, and appointed Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as superintendents of the Methodist Church in America. Methodist circuit-riders were effective missionaries in spreading the Christian faith from the South to settlers in the mid-West. Evangelism became part of the Christian experience in the USA, as seen in camp meetings, such as Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801, and subsequent revivals with Charles Finney in the pre-Civil War era. By the beginning of the American Civil War, Methodism was the largest Christian denomination in North America.
It was left to the unlikely figure of President Abraham Lincoln to recognize the Christian culture of our Nation. In his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, he remarked near the close of the Civil War: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." He saw the Civil War as a Divine judgement upon our Nation for slavery, for "every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword … 'for the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'" (Psalm 19:9). He appealed for "malice toward none, with charity for all … to bind the nation's wounds." The phrase In God We Trust was first engraved on the two-cent coin in 1864 during his administration.
An 1892 conservative Supreme Court that respected the free exercise of religion and our Christian heritage declared in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States that "This is a Christian Nation."
Charismatic renewal in the Holy Spirit was emphasized in the Holiness revival among the Methodists and led to the Pentecostal movement of Charles Fox Parham at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas in 1901 and William Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906. 1, 50-54
We must obey God rather than men.
The American Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 read all men are created equal, but slavery persisted. How could the Revolutionary War be fought for freedom without granting freedom to all? The 1861-1865 American Civil War reflected the Christian heritage of our Nation, for the moral issue of slavery troubled the hearts of Americans from our very beginning. The Civil War ended slavery, but left the USA with segregation.
The non-violent religious movement of the 1950s and 1960s emerged as the civil rights movement in the USA, which finally afforded racial equality for African-Americans, one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation! The crusade arose within Negro Churches, the center of their life. African-Americans had begun to receive recognition in the fields of art, music, and sports. The arrest in Montgomery, Alabama of Rosa Parks, who was detained on December 1, 1955 for refusing to move to the back of the bus for a white person, sparked the drive for civil rights. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the young and eloquent pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, was elected President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which had begun the Montgomery Bus boycott. The boycott lasted 381 days until a Supreme Court decision ended segregation on city buses. Reverend King then organized 60 pastors into the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which fostered the civil rights movement.
St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas distinguished between just and unjust laws. Non-violent civil disobedience, advocated by John Locke, Henry David Thoreau, and Mahatma Gandhi, was employed by civil rights leaders against oppressive and unjust civil laws. In general, one is obligated to obey civil laws that are just (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1-7), but first one must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29) in the event of unjust laws, such as Pharaoh's daughter v. the Pharaoh (Exodus 1:15-2:10); Rahab v. the King of Jericho (Joshua 2:1-21); Shadrach, Meshach, and Abegnego v. King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:19-30); the Maji v. King Herod (Matthew 2:1-23); and Peter and the Apostles v. the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-22 and 5:17-42). Law itself is not meant for the righteous (I Timothy 1:9). The early Christians refused to obey the Romans and suffered martyrdom rather than worship the Emperor.
President John F. Kennedy announced on nationwide television on June 11, 1963 that he would submit Civil Rights legislation the following week. In his powerful Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Reverend King quoted Scripture and emphasized the words of St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all. He urged non-violent protest to turn the tide in favor of racial equality, a movement that crystallized in his famous I Have A Dream speech on the Washington, D. C. National Mall on August 28, 1963. 3, 25, 31, 54-57
"Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one, just as we are."
Gospel of John 17:11
Twentieth-century writers during the World Wars such as T. S. Eliot, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day catalogued the spiritual bankruptcy of the twentieth century and called for spiritual renewal.
The surprise announcement of the Second Vatican Council by Pope St. John XXIII was welcomed with open arms by all of Christianity, for the Pope called not only for an intense spiritual cultivation of the modern world, but also sought Christian unity. His opening speech convening the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962 referred to Jesus in the Gospel of John (17:11): "The Catholic Church, therefore, considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice."
This effort towards unity accelerated the original call for Christian unity by the Protestant World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh in 1910, which recognized the lack of Christian unity proved to be a grave impediment to bringing non-Christians into the Church.
The Second Vatican Council literally "reset the course" for the Catholic Church, a Church which had been described by some as a fortress Church embattled during the Enlightenment and the Modernist era. To coin the expression of Hans Urs von Balthazar in 1952, the time had come to raze the bastions of the Church. It was time for the aggiornamento of Pope John XXIII, the "opening of the window" of the Church to the outside world, "a translation of the Christian message into an intellectual language understandable by the modern world." The four Constitutions, nine Decrees, and three Declarations of Vatican II produced seven major contributions:
1) The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, authorized the Mass to be said in the native language, allowing the liturgy to be intelligible to the layman and helping secure their participation to the fullest.
2) The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, shifted the emphasis of the Church away from its pyramidal structure to the vision of the whole People of God. The spirit of ecumenism and the change of heart towards all Christian brethren was truly a gift of the Holy Spirit. Lumen Gentium declared "the one Church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, although many elements of sanctification and truth exist outside its visible structure, elements which impel toward catholic unity." The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are ever more important for the religious orders to serve as examples for the modern world. The role of the laity to order temporal affairs to the plan of God was emphasized.
3) The Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, reaffirmed the historicity of the Gospels and that Scripture and Tradition form one deposit of faith.
4) The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, called for dialogue with the modern secular world. Dr. Alan Schreck of Franciscan University offered 3 keys to Gaudium et Spes: (a) the root of the world's problems is found in the human heart. (b) God has created each person in his image and likeness and therefore each person has his own value and dignity. (c) The need for the Church to be a prophetic witness of the truth and to proclaim Jesus Christ. Vatican II led to the creation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 1992 and updated in 2000. Pope John Paul II called Gaudium et Spes the "magna carta of human activity, to be safeguarded and promoted."
5) The Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches had a dramatic impact on the growth and viability of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
6) The Declaration on Religious Liberty recognized that the human person has a right to religious freedom.
7) The greatest fruit of the Second Vatican Council was the exceptional Papacy of John Paul II, who integrated the vision of Vatican II into the life of his Papacy. In fact, the Pope, in his 1994 book Crossing The Threshold of Hope, called the Second Vatican Council "the Seminary of the Holy Spirit." 1, 58-63
Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005) will be remembered as Pope John Paul II of the Catholic Church. A playwright, actor, and poet, he was born May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. In 1938 he enrolled in the school of drama at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where he played goalie on the college soccer team. He entered an underground seminary in 1942 during the Nazi Regime, and was ordained a priest in 1946 after Poland fell under Communism. Oppression by the Nazis and Communists forged his dedication to freedom and human rights. He earned a doctorate in theology in 1948 and a doctorate in philosopy in 1954. His first book was Love and Responsibility, on love and sexual morality, published in 1960. His highly successful play on love, The Jeweler's Shop, was published in 1960 and subsequently translated into 22 languages, and was made into a movie in 1988.
Karol Wojtyla became Bishop of Krakow, Poland in 1958. He attended the Second Vatican Council and helped to draft the documents on Religious Liberty and the Church in the Modern World. He then became Archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and Cardinal in 1967. Following the 33-day papacy of John Paul I, the Conclave of Cardinals elected the bright, personable, and vigorous Wojtyla the 264th Pope on October 16, 1978.
Pope John Paul II was one of the most dynamic Popes in the history of the Catholic Church. The man lived his philosophy, that man is a relational being. The world was his parish, as the loving and outgoing Pope made an unprecedented 104 papal trips abroad. During his three pilgrimages to Poland, his repeated call for freedom and spiritual renewal was the turning-point that ultimately led to the non-violent collapse of Communism, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.
The world was moved when he forgave and visited the man who seriously wounded him in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981. In a spirit of Christian unity, he prayed with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie at the site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral on May 29, 1982. He became a symbol of hope to the young with his inauguration of International World Youth Day in 1987. As expressed in his 1994 book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, his belief in Jesus Christ as the hope for man in the Third Millennium was an inspiration for all. He urged all of us to hear the words (Matthew 28:10) of the Risen Christ - "Be Not Afraid!" In his 2000 visit to Jerusalem, the Pope asked God forgiveness for the sins of the Catholic Church. On January 13, 2003, he opposed the imminent pre-emptive strike against Iraq, stating war "is always a defeat for humanity."
A persistent theme in his fourteen encyclicals was the dignity of the human person in the light of Christ, and the goal for humanity to become a civilization of love. His first encyclical, The Redeemer of Man (1979), called the Church a "community of disciples" who follow Jesus Christ, "the center of the universe and of history." He completed his Trinitarian encyclicals with The Mercy of God the Father (1980), and On the Holy Spirit (1986). His respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary was reflected in Mother of the Redeemer (1987). He commemorated Saints Cyril and Methodius in The Apostles to the Slavs in 1985 to encourage his fellow countryman during communist oppression. The Pope called for social justice in three encyclicals, On Human Work (1981), On Social Concerns (1987), and On the One Hundredth Year of Rerum Novarum (1991), in which he emphasized the dignity of the individual, in the face of man being unjustly treated as a unit of production in a socialistic utilitarian world. He renewed commitment to the missionary role of the Church in Mission of the Redeemer in 1990. He appreciated man's thirst for truth, as noted in his encyclical The Splendor of Truth, published in 1993. One of his favorite Scriptural quotes was John 8:32: You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Perhaps his most important was the widely read encyclical The Gospel of Life, published in 1995, in which he defended the sanctity of life and described the culture of death - the evil of abortion and euthanasia. He pursued Vatican II's goal in turning the Church's direction towards Christian unity, as addressed in his 1995 encyclical That All May Be One. In addition to pointing out those areas of study necessary for a true consensus of faith, he addressed the common bonds of unity in faith among all Christians: Jesus Christ our Savior, Son of God the Father, who sent the Holy Spirit; Baptism; the New Testament of the Bible; and prayer, especially the Lord's Prayer. He emphasized the relation of Faith and Reason in an encyclical of the same name in 1998. His fourteenth and final encyclical On The Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church was released in 2003.
His weekly general audiences in St. Peter's Square led to his book on the Theology of the Body in 1997. Pope John Paul II led a profound life of prayer, and in 2002 added the Mysteries of Light, also called the Luminous Mysteries, to the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. He established Divine Mercy Sunday, which recognized the devotion of St. Faustina and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to our Merciful Savior.
Pope John Paul II was truly the moral and spiritual leader of the entire world, as one can appreciate by the worldwide outpouring of love on his death April 2, 2005. John Paul II will be remembered for his emphasis on Christ and man, that the Gospel provides direction and supports the dignity of the human person. For "the truth is that only in the mystery of Christ the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light." He is only the third Pope to be called the Great, a title that is already being used for this holy and loving man. 1, 4, 64-70
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