Constantine to Charlemagne
Constantine to Charlemagne: The Medieval Church creates Christendom
(This article is based upon a lecture given for the Katallassein Project at the Triangle Centre, Liss on the 27th November 2001, in a series of lectures on church and state. Katallassein’s specific vision in certain public policy areas is to see the Stone which the builders rejected become the Capstone – in other words that the Lord Jesus Christ and His teaching in the whole counsel of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible would become central in these areas, around which all other thinking may cohere.)
This article is an attempt to provide a brief outline of the development of the Medieval Church in the period from the Emperor Constantine to the time of Charlemagne - the Early Medieval period or what is popularly known as the “Dark Ages”.
Many people probably have an image of the Medieval Church, of its hierarchy, the Papacy, the Bishops, the wealth and power of the Church - that is, the institutions that comprise the Medieval Church, and of its weaknesses and corruption, as well as, possibly, some of its strengths, although people know less of those. This article is basically an attempt to explain “how the medieval church got that way” – how it became "the Medieval Church".
This popular image of the Medieval Church is based around the western church of the High and Late Medieval periods (c. AD 1100-1500). This church was a product of the Early Medieval Church and of the way the Church developed in the Early Medieval period, the so-called “Dark Ages”. Many of the characteristics and institutions that we think of as being stereotypical of the Medieval Church evolved and/or were created in this period. Particularly, it was in this period that the concept, the ideal, of Christendom emerged.
Christendom is a word that has been used to mean many different ideas and concepts. In this article I am using the term to refer to what I believe was its central meaning during the period in question, the Medieval period. Even in this limited definition, Christendom is a very hard concept to summarise in a few words. I would say that it was always more of an ideal than a reality, but it was an ideal that had a great influence on European history throughout the Medieval period. Essentially, Christendom was a vision. It was the vision of Europe - of all the nations, Kings, dynasties and peoples of Europe - united by a common Christian faith under the guidance and the leadership of a united church, whose hierarchy from Rome downwards covered all of Western Europe. Europe saw itself as Christendom from the Early Medieval period until the Reformation, when the religious divide largely ended the dream of Europe united by the church. But the concept was an extremely powerful one and is still influential in some ways today. The debate concerning whether or not to include any reference to God in the constitution of the European Union, and in particular the vigorous campaign from the Vatican for such an inclusion, shows that some at least still believe in the ideal of a Europe united by the (Roman) Catholic Church.
Christendom and the Medieval Church developed in the way they did essentially because of the way the Church responded and adapted to the changing political and cultural shape of Western Europe. In particular, in my opinion, what formed the Medieval Church was the way that the Medieval Church responded to two things: historically, the first was Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, but even more importantly than this is the way that the Church responded to the collapse of the Roman Empire and to the new kingdoms which took its place. It can be argued that the decisions that the Church took relating to those two events created the Medieval Church. The legacy of those decisions affected the Church throughout the Medieval period and beyond.
In this article, I focus on historical rather than theological points, for I am not a theologian. My interest is in the way in which the Church responded to the changing political and social culture in which it found itself, and how that affected both that culture and the Church, rather than on the theory of church-state relationships. This is an attempt to understand the historical processes and decisions which created the Medieval Church, with its strengths and its weaknesses, and to a large extent I will leave you to make your own judgments on the Church that was created that way and how what the Church did during that period, and what it became, is relevant to the Church today.
This is basically a chronological overview, looking at key points throughout that period, so I will start with a very brief look at the Church before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire; specifically, the development of the hierarchy of the Church, and of the position of the bishop, that is the Church leaders, who were known as ‘bishops’ from very early in the history of the Church. The role of Bishop emerged very early in the Church's history, and it essentially emerged as a response to the need to maintain the doctrine of the Church in the face of the heresies of the Second and Third centuries. A strong leadership structure was essential in order to maintain the unity and the doctrine of the Church and it became seen as essential that church leaders were appointed by those who were recognised as being authoritative in doctrine and practice. This is the origin of the idea of the apostolic succession: that the succession of church leaders could be traced back to one of the apostles thus assuring the continuity of church doctrine and tradition. St. Irenaeus of Lyons writing about AD175, says “But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth.” - In other words, there were three generations between Jesus of Nazareth and Irenaeus of southern France. It should be remembered that it was not until the 4th century than the Church had a definite and codified canon of Scripture and so controls upon doctrine were very important. The idea can be seen in Scripture in the letters of Paul, for instance, where he is constantly asserting his own authority as an apostle and at times recommends others, for example Timothy, as having been trained and approved by him and therefore as reliable. The office of the bishop and the idea of the apostolic succession within that is merely the logical conclusion from this.
The Church was not continuously persecuted in the early Roman Empire. Persecution was intermittent: the Church had times when it was tolerated and even in certain areas popular, as well as periods when the hierarchy of the Roman Empire turned against it. Also the Church very early became well known for its social work, and for its provision for the poor. Many commentators, both Christian and non-Christian, remark upon its success in caring for the poor, not only for its own poor but for the non-Christian poor as well. The level of provision and of giving within the early church is quite astounding. As an example, when the Imperial commissioners investigated a relatively small church in North Africa in AD304 the Church's storeroom contained: 16 shirts, 38 veils, 82 dresses 47 pairs of shoes and 11 containers of oil and wine! This is a valuable store of charity!
At the beginning of the 4th century, the Church consisted of about 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire, and had been rising in social status and acceptability for the previous 150 years, despite outbursts of official or local persecution. Then in AD 313 Constantine became Emperor and declared Christianity the "most favoured religion" of the Roman Empire. He himself was not baptised until just before he died and he never made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, but it was favoured above other religions and was given governmental advantages such as tax exemptions. This led to Christianity seeing a huge rise in its status. It became fashionable among the aristocracy and the bureaucracy, and its social role expanded because it was supported by the state. In fact in many areas the state let the Church take over the role of providing for the poor. The hierarchy of the Roman Empire became more and more Christian throughout the 4th Century, with the brief exception of the Emperor Julian who attempted to reverse this process and “re-paganise” the Roman Empire. He failed, essentially, because by that point, 50 years or so after Constantine, it was impossible: the Church was too central to the structure of the Empire. In AD 391 the Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and closed pagan temples in Rome.
As one can imagine, Christianity becoming the official religion resulted in certain compromises between the Church and the Empire. The Emperors used Christianity as a way of unifying the Empire under the rule of the Emperor. This meant inevitably that the Empire required control of doctrine and required doctrinal unity across the Empire – and there were times when the Emperors in fact enforced their beliefs on church doctrine by Imperial edict. However, this was not entirely negative: this pressure toward uniformity was the cause of many of the great church councils and declarations of the 4th century, for instance the first council of Nicea of AD325, which was called by the Emperor Constantine and was the origin of the Nicene creed. This creed was then expanded by the councils of Constantinople (AD381) and Chalcedon (AD451) and has been very influential on all later creeds. The political need for uniformity of doctrine across the Empire was a major factor in creating doctrinal uniformity within the Church, and in creating the great creeds and declarations that helped achieve this.
However, it also led to what I have called the “inevitable compromise” of Christianity becoming a state religion. This is, that if the Church accepts that it is the official religion - if officially everyone within the Roman Empire is a Christian - then inevitably the definition of a Christian will be lowered; essentially nominal Christianity will be accepted as the starting point. The Church will accept that a majority of people will turn up to church every week and will get their children baptised and will tend not to ask for more from people. This is the “inevitable compromise”; there is no other way of running a state church in this age. However, one has to see both the opportunity and the position of the Church at the time. Nominal Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire probably seemed the best way of combating the major religious views of the time, which was basically religious pluralism in the form of pagan pantheism. Having the aid of the state in condemning this probably seemed like the only way to counter such a pluralistic system. It should also be remembered that the Roman Empire was a very different political and cultural system from that of today, or in fact any that followed it. It was a uniform cultural and political system across most of the ”known world” in which there was a common language and a common cultural heritage. This made it much easier for the Church to become a “universal” church.
The next and possibly even more important point in the shaping of the Church was the fall of the Roman Empire and how the Church responded to this. A brief but important note must be made here as to what the fall of the Roman Empire actually meant: in one sense the Roman Empire never “fell”. Popular history tends to concentrate on the dates in this process: the sack of Rome in AD 410 and the deposition of the last Western Roman emperor in AD 476. We sometimes think that at those points the Roman Empire ceased to exist and Roman culture collapsed. To put it crudely, it didn't happen that way: Roman culture continued long after the collapse of the political system of the Roman Empire and the Roman Empire did not so much fall as give itself away bit by bit. The key factor in this was the "disappearance of the Roman army" as one historian has put it. Through the third and fourth centuries Rome increasingly relied not upon Roman citizens to form its army but upon hiring barbarians, that is, people outside the Empire, to make up the “Roman” army, and by the 4th century it was common practice to hire entire barbarian tribes to defend the Roman Empire. The majority of the Roman army was in fact hired barbarian armies by the end of the 4th century. In the 5th century the Romans lost control of their hired soldiers who decided that they would rather take over the Roman Empire than defend it. But this was in many cases a peaceful process in that the secular government merely handed over control to the local barbarian commander. This was what happened throughout most of Gaul and Spain and indeed the majority of the Western Roman Empire.
It should also be remembered that the word “barbarian” in this context was used to refer to anyone outside Greco-Roman culture - the barbarian invaders of the Roman Empire were really not that “barbaric”! The majority of them had been in close contact with the Empire for several hundred years. They were extensively romanised, and many of them were Christian. So their impact on the Empire was not the sudden great disaster as it has sometimes been portrayed. The majority of the barbarian invaders of the Empire did not want to destroy the Empire but to take it over, to gain the wealth and the power of the Roman Empire for themselves. Inevitably this process, and the decline of Roman administration, eventually led to the decline of Roman culture and civilisation, but initially, in the fifth century, very few people saw the Roman Empire as falling, and very few people - Roman or barbarian - would have said that the Empire was being destroyed. Theoderic, an Ostrogoth who became “king of Italy” at the end of the fifth century declared that the aim of his rule was "the preservation of Roman civilisation with Gothic arms”. He held the title of consul from the eastern Emperor in Constantinople and saw himself as a Roman ruler.
There were differing initial responses to the fall of Rome and in particular to the sack of Rome in AD 410, when a Gothic army invaded the city, looted it and then retreated. This event did not lead to the collapse of the Roman Empire, but was a huge symbolic defeat. It was the first time the city of Rome had been invaded for 400 years and caused shock waves across the Empire. One of the most famous responses to the attack upon Rome was that of St Augustine, Augustine of Hippo (AD354 - 430) in his book The City of God (De Civitate Deo), which was written largely in response to the fall of Rome in AD 410. His book centres on the comparison between Rome and "Jerusalem" as he put it, between the earthly city and the eternal city, and his point was that Christians should not be reliant upon secular Empires. The fall of the Roman Empire - if it did fall - should not really affect Christians, and Christianity was not reliant upon Roman civilisation or Roman culture. However, Augustine’s response was unusual in its sophistication and in its objective attitude to the fall of Rome. A more typical response would have been that of Saint Jerome, the author of the Vulgate bible, writing from Israel in a letter expressing his horror and astonishment at the defeat of Rome shortly after the attack upon the city who wrote, "who would have thought that Rome could fall?” and quoted Psalms in the context of comparing the fall of Jerusalem with that of Rome.
Linked to this and to the Church's response to the decline of Roman government, and critical to understanding the actions of the late Roman church in this period is that the Church saw it as an essential part of its mission to preserve Roman culture and civilisation. This was for several reasons: it saw it as vital for its mission of evangelism that it was operating within "civilisation" - and just as in many later periods the Church rarely distinguished between Christian culture and Roman culture. By this point, having been the official religion for more than a century it saw Christianity and Rome and Roman culture as inextricably linked, and it could not imagine how it could fulfil its mission of evangelism if “civilisation” collapsed. (I would suspect that many of us, and our churches would feel and react the same way if we really believed that the dominant global civilisation we live in, Western technological liberal democracy, was genuinely threatened with total collapse). It is important to remember that this was a major motive in all the Church's decisions throughout this period. I do not think the Church could imagine how it could function in a society that did not have the framework of Roman law and order and culture. This functioned even on very basic levels, for instance the fact that there was a common language across the Empire and that a relatively high proportion of the population could read it.
Now I would like to have a brief look at the Church in the city of Rome, and the way that the Church responded to the decline of the power of the Empire within Rome and Italy. It is important to emphasise at this point that at this period the Roman church was not all-powerful within the wider Church. It was very influential, but the Pope - the Bishop of Rome - did not have the institutionalised power over the Western church that he did in the later Middle Ages. Rome is also different from most of the rest of the Western Roman Empire in that within Rome and Italy the secular authority did not disappear completely as it did in the rest of the Empire. Southern Italy and Rome itself remained technically under the rule of the Empire (the eastern Empire, which survived as the Byzantine Empire until AD 1453) until the eighth century, although that rule became less and less of a reality. But technically Rome and much of southern Italy were still part of the Empire until much later in the Early Medieval period. However while it was officially under the control of the Empire, the last Western Roman Emperor was deposed in AD 476 so there was no Roman Emperor in Italy and the secular power gradually declined throughout this period. As the secular power declined, the power of the Church rose to take its place until by the 7th century the Bishop of Rome effectively ruled Rome. This was part of the continuous process that had seen the rise in the wealth and power of the bishops of Rome and of the Church hierarchy in Rome from the fourth century onwards. A pagan Roman senator of the late 4th century when asked his opinion of the Church in Rome responded "make me Bishop of Rome and I’ll become a Christian tomorrow”, a small indication of the wealth and power of the Church in Rome already by that point. As this process continued the Church came to see itself as the last defender of the City of Rome. Most of the rest of Italy had fallen to various barbarian tribes, initially the Goths and then the Lombards and they were continually threatening Rome and the remaining Roman possessions in Italy. Increasingly the Church of Rome and the Popes came to see themselves as the defenders of Rome, both in terms of organising the literal, physical defence of the City and, more often, negotiating with the barbarian kings to try and preserve their independence. This process reached its peak under Gregory the Great, who was Pope from AD 590 to AD 604 and who was a member of an ancient Roman senatorial family - a very upper-class Roman - , and who spent most of his Papacy negotiating between the eastern Empire and the Lombard rulers in Italy in an attempt to preserve Rome from barbarian rule.
Moving on to the Church in the rest of the Empire, where the secular power had virtually disappeared completely by the mid fifth century, I would like to look at the Church in the barbarian kingdoms. As we have seen in Rome, as secular power faded in the provinces, so the power of the Church grew. The power of local secular elites, that is, the aristocracy of the provincial Roman Empire, had declined throughout the fourth century, partly as a result of Imperial pressure. Under the emperors from Constantine onwards, the administration of the Empire was increasingly taken out of the hands of the local aristocracy and centralised under the control of bureaucrats appointed from Rome. This to a certain extent left a vacuum in local administration, the administration of Roman towns and cities, and this increasingly was filled by the Church, specifically by the bishops. When Imperial power and control disappeared in the 5th and 6th centuries as a result of the barbarian "conquests" (for want of a better word) the bishops assumed the effective role of local governors and town councillors.
This development was also partly related to the increasing social status of the bishops. Increasingly throughout this period bishops were appointed from aristocratic families. This itself was partly due to the breakdown of Roman culture which led to education, and specifically higher education - administration and classical literary training - being increasingly restricted to the upper classes because Roman state, that is, public schools and academies disappeared, meaning that increasingly only the aristocracy could afford to be educated. This inevitably resulted in the higher reaches of the Church hierarchy becoming restricted to those who had that education and therefore to the upper classes.
By the 6th century many bishoprics had become effectively hereditary within local noble families, especially in Spain and France. What this meant is that when the barbarian rulers took over in these areas the Church hierarchy already was the local government. Local government was administered and carried out almost entirely by the Church. So, when the barbarian rulers took over from the Empire the Church effectively became the civil service of the barbarian kings. The Church acted as an intermediary between Roman and barbarian populations because it was known and trusted by the Roman population and aristocracy. It also had the experience and the structure to carry out administration and tax collecting which of course the barbarian kings required but had very little experience of themselves. As has been said, most of the barbarian kings did not want to destroy the Empire but to take it over - they wanted the taxes for themselves. You can loot a town once but you can tax it for a hundred years - it is a lot more profitable in the long run! The barbarian kings desired to rule as Roman rulers, both because this would be profitable and because they actually largely admired Roman administration and Roman power - the power and the structure of the Roman Empire was something that was much admired by the barbarian tribes. The Church was the only organisation that had the ability to both administer this system and to teach it to the barbarian kings. One example of this is the barbarian law codes of the Early Medieval period, which are remarkable examples of this synthesis of Roman and barbarian cultures in that they are entirely barbarian laws, centring on money payments for crimes (wergilds), trial by ordeal etc., entirely barbarian concepts of law, but which are organised and codified in a Roman manner and written in Latin by church scribes.
The other major aspect of the Church’s co-operation with the barbarian kings was the “legitimisation of kingship”, as it has been described. That is, the Church supported the barbarian kings and developed ceremonies of coronation and anointing which implied that the king was king by the approval of the Church - and therefore of God. This has always been and remains a central part of the ideology of royalty. Even today British coins still read “Elizabeth II DG Reg FD - Elizabeth II Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor - “by the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith”. This is the ideology of royalty and it is supported and legitimised by the Church. It is part of what I have called the "unspoken agreement" between the Church and the barbarian kings. The Church agreed to assist the barbarian rulers in return for their conversion (if they were not Christian already, as many of them were) and their support in the Church's mission of creating a Christian society and evangelism and the suppression of paganism and heresy. For while Christianity was dominant in the cities of the Roman Empire, most of the rural Roman Empire - the peasantry - was largely still pagan in the fifth and 6th centuries, as far as we know. It is very hard to tell the religious faith of people who were not rich enough to leave behind very much evidence of their existence, but the fact that the word "pagan" is derived from the Latin for countryside - "paganus” is surely strong evidence in support of this thesis!
In summary, the way I see it is that the Church accepted, supported and legitimised a nominally Christian state and its frequently nominally Christian rulers as the best way to be able to carry out several things it felt it was called to do - things it saw as part of its duty to God:
• "Maintain God’s law" - i.e. to build a society in which the concepts of peace and justice and law are based around Christian ideals.
• To evangelise and to combat paganism - this is closely linked to co-operation with the kings because the state - insofar as the state existed in this period - suppressed pagan worship and protected the Church.
• As the best way to attempt to preserve Roman culture. As it has been put: “the Church brought Roman culture in a Christian context to the barbarian rulers and their people."
This process reached its logical conclusion in the 8th century with the co-operation between the Frankish kingdom and the Papacy that led to the coronation of Charlemagne and the creation of the Holy Roman Empire. This was a key step in the creation of the concept of Christendom as the replacement of the Roman Empire – that is, Christian Rome had fallen but Christendom - this concept of barbarian Europe united under the leadership of the Church - would take its place. The political side of this began in AD 750 when Pepin of the Franks famously became king by deposing the last Merovingian king in what was effectively a military coup and appointed himself king of the Franks. The next year, AD 751, he attempted to legitimise his coup by writing to Pope Zacharias asking him to approve what he had done. The Pope wrote back and agreed, and the next year actually went to France and crowned Pepin king of the Franks in an extravagant ceremony in which he declared with his papal authority that the house of Pepin would be king of the Franks forever. But in return, the Pope demanded Pepin's commitment to invade Italy and free Rome from the threat of the Lombards. In other words, in return for his legitimisation of Pepin's kingdom the Papacy asked the Franks to defend it.
This is a great symbolic break, for it marks the Church abandoning the idea that the Roman Empire still exists and that its obvious protector is the Eastern Empire, and that one day the Roman Empire will possibly be restored. It marks the Church abandoning the idea of a restored Roman Empire from the East, and attempting to build a Christian Romanised Empire with the co-operation of a barbarian king. In AD755 Pepin invaded Italy and defeated the Lombards - but he then handed over much of the land that he had conquered into the direct control of the Pope, again symbolising the significance of his agreement with the Papacy. This process continued in AD 773 when Pope Hadrian repeated this process by inviting Pepin's son Charlemagne to invade Italy and defeat the Lombards who were again threatening Rome. Charlemagne defeated the Lombards very rapidly and became "by God’s Grace king of the Lombards as well as the Franks" as a contemporary document records. This close association between the Papacy and the Frankish monarchy continued and culminated on Christmas Day in AD 800 (one of a few dates from this period that is relatively easy to remember!) when Charlemagne while visiting Rome was crowned by the Pope “Holy Roman Emperor and Caesar of the Romans”.
The coronation of Charlemagne is an event of continuing historical controversy as to whether Charlemagne actually knew this was going to happen, as to what it really meant…. In fact virtually every area of its significance has been disputed at one point or another. But it undoubtedly did define a new phase in the Church's vision of Europe. The land of Charlemagne became known as the Holy Roman Empire and his state, the Carolingian empire under Charlemagne and his successors, was seen by the Church as the renewed Roman Empire, its function to defend and advance Christianity and the Church - and the just society that these were seeking - with the power of the state, as in the late Roman Empire. In the Carolingian state, the Church and state were more closely intertwined than ever before in any barbarian kingdom with the Church being absolutely essential to the administration of Charlemagne's kingdom, an integral part of its structure.
From this point on, the Church really began to see itself as the creator and authority over and behind "the nations" - the tribes, peoples, kingdoms - of Western Europe. This is the ideal of Christendom: the kings and peoples of Europe united by and under the guidance of the Church.
To conclude, I would like to look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of Christendom. We should never forget the achievements of Christendom. The Church’s central role in and influence upon social and political life affected these areas in many positive ways, bringing Christian ideas and ideals into public life. Remnants of this influence still exist today in the many Christian concepts that underlie much of our legal system and governmental practice, and we should be very thankful for this. In essence, the Church did succeed in creating a society in Europe that had Christian concepts and ideals bound into many of its most fundamental ways of operating. While many of these concepts and ideals were distorted and in some cases corrupted over the Medieval period, those of us who pride ourselves on being Protestant and Reformed should remember that without Christendom, which was formed by the decisions that church took in the Early Medieval period, there may have been no Church establishment to protest against, and that reformation implies something valuable enough to want to reform it. Without Christendom and the Medieval Church that formed it there would have been no Protestant Europe and we would lack the Christian background to our societies that still has positive effects today.
Having said this, the decisions that church took as to how it would interact with the secular world, and in particular its rulers, obviously did create some serious problems. The most obvious is that of the effects of involvement of church and state upon the Church, both in that the Church was often influenced by the state in areas of doctrine and administration, and that the Church often became over-involved in politics and took to using the tools and techniques of the state. Despite these often very serious problems the Church did have continuing influence for good and it is possible in to see that in some areas European society became more brutal and less Christian with the collapse of Christendom after the Reformation. For instance, while our stereotype of the medieval period may involve brutal and bloody wars, in fact, medieval warfare was often conducted within relatively strict "rules of war" that limited fighting and protected non-combatants. The primary force behind the promulgation and acceptance of these "rules of war" was the Church, which from the 10th century onwards specifically sought to limit the effects of warfare by such means. The collapse of Christendom and of a single universally respected church system led to a weakening of the authority of such concepts. The religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries were far more brutal and "total" than most previous wars. In fact it was not until the Geneva Conventions of the 20th century that "laws of war" which could compare in their comprehensiveness or codified form to the Church council’s decrees of the "Peace of God” and the "Truce of God" of the 10th and 11th centuries were generally accepted.
To me however the primary problem of an established church is what I have called the "inevitable compromise", that is, the acceptance of nominalism within society. If one is attempting to create a Christian state or continent, it is inevitable that one's definition of Christian will be lowered. But before we condemn the Church for this decision, we need to realise the benefits of even a nominally Christian society for all those who live within it! In terms of social justice, the law, systems of government and many of the other things that we see as making up a nation or system it is better to live in a system that is based around fundamentally Christian concepts of these things than the one based upon non- Christian or anti-Christian ideals. I suspect many of us in "the West" today do not consider this simply because we have spent our entire lives living within nations and a culture whose basis is in 1500 years of Christianity in Europe. We still reap the benefits of Christendom in many, many ways today.
We need to be aware of the difficulties and dangers of "judging history", and of judging the Church within that history. We need to judge Medieval Europe and the Medieval Church fairly, not as if it was a society existing next to us today, but compared with other societies of its own time, and to look at how the Medieval Church coped with the problems of Medieval Europe, not how those problems compare with similar problems in our own day in a totally different social, societal and governmental world. For instance, while the level and degree of poverty in Medieval Europe seems shocking to us today, the level of care and provision for the poor by the Church (often by the monasteries) or church related groups (guilds etc) should put us to shame. Different ages and different cultures demand different responses from the Church, and we should always remember that God reserves the right to work differently in different ages. The decisions and directions that the Church took in the 7th century may be inappropriate for us now but we must be careful before asserting dogmatically that they were wrong then. God may have chosen to use that opportunity, with all the problems that it did create, for His glory. But I hope we may be able to learn from both the successes and the failures of the Church in the past. We need to learn from both the achievements and the mistakes of Christendom, without thinking that there are necessarily direct parallels between the events of the 7th century and the 21st.
© Copyright Ian Barrs, 2001,2003. All rights reserved. Reproduction for private purposes and discussion permitted but for reproduction of more than 10 copies or to publish in any form including electronic publication in websites, discussion groups, listservers, forums or newsgroups please contact the author, Ian Barrs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone + 44 (0)1730 892676 (Author: Ian Barrs
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“Overwhelming pressures are being brought to bear on people who have no absolutes... (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Rescuing Darwin or Wrecking the Faith?
An article published in Evangelicals Now, November 2008 (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
HIS Story Revealed
In a way Christian Heritage is all about stories, so as we near the end of a busy summer season let me share some of them, past and present, to bring you up to date. (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Agreeing and disagreeing with Dawkins Part 2
Ranald argues that nothing in all history surpasses the brutality of the social systems most consistently modelled upon Dawkins' own atheistic world-view – Nazism and Communism. (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Divinity and Dawkins - Debating Delusions
The Dawkins Letters and Agreeing and Disagreeing with Dawkins Part 1 (Author: Ian Cooper and Ranald Macaulay)
'Education - For God's Sake!!'
A lethal virus has become an epidemic and our children are the victims (Author: Elaine Cooper and Ranald Macaulay)
Dick Keyes on intuition, imagination and knowing God. (Author: Dick Keyes, Photo: karlrpet)
What Can We Learn from Francis Schaeffer?
Ranald Macaulay reflects on the legacy of Francis Schaeffer. (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Truth and Lies
words, truth, and morality (Author: Text: Ranald Macualay, Photo:A@lbi)
Democracy in Iraq?
“Democracy in Iraq? You must be joking!” says the common person today. (Author: Ranald Macaulay, Photo: Chris Christner)
As Implausible as Father Christmas?
Sola Scriptura and Expository Preaching Today (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Humans: Religious by Nature
This claim seems ridiculous to many today who have a sense of the modern secular triumph over superstition, mythology (Author: Dick Keyes)
The UK: Prosperous but Disfunctional?
We are ridiculously prosperous in the UK; (Author: Ian Cooper)
West is East and East is West
On Hinduism and Western Culture (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Wanted: Christian Satirists (GSOH Required)
On Recovering Christian Satire (Author: James Williams)
On Whose Side of the Door is the Handle?
On Whose Side of the Door is the Handle? (Author: Rob Ambler)
Jerry Springer the Opera
Ian Cooper discusses this controversial stage show. (Author: Ian Cooper)
Ideas Have Consequences: Sodom Prophesied and Revisited
The fact that we find ourselves living in Sodom should come as no surprise. (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Paradigms of Tolerance: Cartoons, Compassion and the Cross
Amid the oceans of ink and hours of air-time devoted to the recent ‘cartoons scandal’ (Author: Chris Watkin)
The Dangers of Thin Religion
Francis Schaeffer used to say that what was needed in our time was both revival and reformation. (Author: Dick Keyes)
Religion - A peripheral Issue?
Religion - A peripheral Issue? (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Heaven Knows How We'll Rekindle Our Religion
Heaven Knows How We'll Rekindle Our Religion (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
The Battle of Ideas
The Battle of Ideas (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
The Real Disaster
The Real Disaster (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
The Consequences of Ideas
Yesterday’s paper (1st Dec 2004) carried two fascinating sex-related news items. (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Francis Crick (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Dostoyevsky's 'The Idiot'
Dostoyevsky's 'The Idiot' (Author: Rob Ambler)
The Secular Context and the Christian Worldview
The Secular Context and the Christian Worldview (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Apologetic Communities (Author: Ranald Macaulay)
Evil and Suffering
Evil and Suffering (Author: Jerram Barrs)
Biblical and Cultural Hermeneutics - Christianity and Culture
Biblical and Cultural Hermeneutics - Christianity and Culture (Author: Jerram Barrs)
Epistemology - Philosophy of Knowledge
Epistemology - Philosophy of Knowledge (Author: Jerram Barrs)
Idolatry (Author: Jerram Barrs)
Horatio Nelson (Author: Ranald Macaulay)