First we introduce the authors whose works are cited;
Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was Chauncey Stillman Chair of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University (1958-1962) and Fellow of the British Academy until his death in 1970.
Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) was a historian, philosopher of history, and Professor of International History at the University of London. His volumes "A Study of History" became best-sellers as they covered the development and fall of 26 civilizations.
Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) was Sterling Professor of History at Yale University (1972-1996) who wrote the scholarly study "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine".
Henri de Lubac, S.J. (1896-1991) was Professor of Systematic Theology at the Catholic University of Lyon and founder of "Sources chretiennes"; a scholarly work that retrieved and critiqued the early Patristic and Medieval texts. He played a key role in drafting Vatican II documents.
Joseph Ratzinger (1927- ) was Professor of Dogmatic Theology at a number of German universities notably Bonn, Munster, Tubingen and Regensburg. He was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith from 1981 to 2005 when he was elected Pope Benedict XVI. He resigned in 2013 due to ill health. His wide-ranging research in theology, history, philosophy, and anthropology is highly-regarded.
Yves Congar, O.P. (1904-1995) was a Dominican historian, ecclesiologist, and Professor of Fundamental Theology at Le Saulchoir in France. His contributions to the history of Church was shown in the key role he played in drafting Vatican II documents. His influential books include "Divided Christendom", "Tradition and Traditions: The Biblical, Historical, and Theological Evidence for Catholic Teaching on Tradition", "A History of Theology",and "True and False Reform in the Church".
Richard Tarnas (1950- ) is Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies whose book "The Passion of the Western Mind..," was a best-seller and a text-book in historic studies in colleges. Tarnas is the founding director of the Institute's graduate program in cosmology, consciousness, and philosophy.
Fergus Kerr, OP, FRSE (1931- ) is a prominent scholar who taught philosophy and theology at Oxford University from 1966 to 1986 and is a member of the Catholic Theological Society in Great Britain. He is also an Honorary Professor of St. Andrews University since 2005. He published a number of scholarly books notably "Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians"; "Theology after Wittgenstein"; and "Contemplating Aquinas: On the varieties of interpretation".
Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a Romanian historian, anthropologist of religion and Professor at the University of Chicago. He wrote scholarly books notably "The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion"; "Images and Symbols"; and "History of Religious Ideas" (3 volumes).
John Haldane (1954- ) is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and since 2015, holds the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Distinguished Chair in Philosophy at Baylor University. He is a papal adviser to the Vatican and is the current Chairman of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.
Steven Pinker (1954- ) is experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist, and Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. His noted contribution to historical studies includes The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined".
Robert Barron, S.T.D. (1959- ) is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He has been President of Mundelein Seminary and Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, and visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame and at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. With a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Institut Catholique de Paris in 1982, Bishop Barron has been a frequent commentator for CNN, Fox News, and EWTN. In his evangelical outreach, he founded Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and produced DVDs on the history of Church including "Catholicism" Series as well as books on St.Thomas Aquinas, the great cathedrals and the Eucharist.
In his seminal book "The Historic Reality of Christian Culture" the historian Christopher Dawson divides Christian history into "Six Ages" each lasting for 3 or 4 centuries and each starts and ends with a crisis. He explains that the first phase of each age is a period of intense activity when faced with a new historical situation, followed by a second phase of achievement when the Church seems to have conquered the world and is able to found new forms of thought and art, followed by a third phase of retreat when attacked by enemies from within or without. Although Dawson ignores some of the theological developments as he focuses on strictly cultural development, I will follow his lead in charting out the Ages of the Church. However, the scope is larger than attempted in his book. We will attempt to dig in the sands of earlier historic events that shaped, in one way or another, the development of Christianity. In doing that, we recognize that any development in history reflects the drama lived by humanity and is accompanied by new insights in almost every aspect of life, spiritual or material.
The First Age started with the event of Pentecost (c. 30 ~ 33 AD) as the Church, Jewish followers of Jesus Christ, was immediately beginning a revolution by extending its preaching beyond Judea to the pagan world in the metropolitan centers of the Roman civilization from Antioch to Alexandria and to Rome itself. This was based on the words of the risen Christ to the Apostles to "make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28: 19).
But what made the very early Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?
Christians believed Jesus was truly the Son of God since the beginning, long before the Emperor Constantine ruled the Roman Empire in the 4th century. Here is some evidence:
- Since the Jewish authorities condemned any Jew who followed Jesus in his trial, it is hard to believe that the Apostles and other disciples in the Christian movement would suddenly be transformed from fearful men after the death of Jesus Christ on the cross outside Jerusalem into courageous men who preached the gospel in the Temple. Yet, they did (without recourse to any swords). Stephen was stoned to death for his witness but this did not stop the early Christians from spreading what they thought were good news of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ. The explanation given in the New Testament is the witness of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ after suffering his death. According to Biblical scholar Raymond Brown, tradition contains the Biblical witness - the Gospels were written only after a period of oral transmission of teachings by Jesus Christ to his disciples which they only understood after his Resurrection, followed by the preaching of the Apostles and other disciples in Judea and the rest of nations, which was followed by committing it to writing when the Christian community realized that most of the Apostles had already died around the year 70. In an interview by U.S. News and World Report in 2006, Jaroslav Pelikan, the renowned scholar of Christian history, said "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living". He had written his five-volume "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine" (1971-1989).
Of particular interest in Biblical scholarship is the Muratorian Canon of the New Testament. The highly scholarly-written Catholic Encyclopedia makes the following comment "Also called the Muratorian Fragment, after the name of the discoverer and first editor, L. A. Muratori (in the "Antiquitates italicae", III, Milan, 1740, 851 sq.), the oldest known canon or list of books of the New Testament. The manuscript containing the canon originally belonged to Bobbio and is now in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana at Milan (Cod. J 101 sup.). Written in the eighth century, it plainly shows the uncultured Latin of that time. The fragment is of the highest importance for the history of the Biblical canon. It was written in Rome itself or in its environs about 180 - 200; probably the original was in Greek, from which it was translated into Latin."
While the pagan religions were declining, and the Jews were scattered after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the Christian movement gave a new hope to the crowds who listened to the "good news" or Gospel. By the 2nd century, ordinary people from workers and peasants in the towns and villages of the Mediterranean constituted the largest segment of Christians.
In the first, second and third centuries AD Christians became involved in a life-and-death struggle with the Roman empire's pagan culture. They were required to sacrifice to the pagan idols and if they refused they often had to be thrown to hungry lions for the crowds to enjoy them being eaten alive in the Colosseum theaters. Ignatius, martyr and the third Bishop of Antioch, experienced this end around 107 AD under order by Trajan, the Roman emperor (98-117 AD), because he was Christian ...Nero had crucified Christians accusing them of burning Rome in 64 AD. He is remembered in Apocalypse (attributed to John the Apostle) as the "Beast" who will come back and his mark is 666, a transliteration of Nero's name in Greek (Revelation 13:18). According to Dawson, the main achievement of this first age of the Church was "the successful domination of the urban Roman-Hellenistic culture." In spite of intermittent persecutions, the Church, nevertheless, became the greatest creative force in the second and third centuries culture. This is the 2nd phase, the age of Clement and Origen in the East and Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian in the West. In the 20th century, the Biblical work of Origen would be retrieved, among others, in the movement called "ressourcement" and initiated by Henri de Lubac and his disciples. By the 2nd century, the theological schools of Alexandria and Antioch had been established in their Christian form. On theologians of the 2nd and third centuries, Jaroslav Pelikan wrote that they could take the Apocalypse of John as their model and repudiate pagan thought just as they repudiated the imperial cult; or they could seek out, within classicism, analogies to the continuity-discontinuity which all of them found in Judaism. According to him, the most comprehensive of apologetic treatises was "Against Celsus" by Origen (Cf. Pelikan: "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol. 1 - The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition" P. 27). From a sociological perspective Christianity proved to be not a mere sectarian cult but a real society with a high sense of citizenship. There is some evidence today that the ancient Church in the East expanded through the Apostles Thomas and Thaddaeus as far as India. The Assyrian Church of the East, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India, and the Chaldean Catholic Church claim historical presence in the lands by the lineage of their patriarchs, but especially that the Eucharistic prayer in the Divine liturgy of Addai (Thaddaeus) and Mari dates back to 3rd-century Edessa near Cappadocia.
The third phase, that of retreat, took place in the reign of Diocletian (emperor from 284 to 305 AD). Of all the ten persecutions of the early Church, the most terrible was to occur under him, He had celebrated his triumph over the Persians and was good to Christians. But his subordinate Galerius instigated him to wipe out Christianity. With 3 edicts Diocletian sought to first destroy churches and burn scriptures, then imprisoned bishops, priests and deacons, and, in the third, he tortured all who still confessed to be Christians (Eusebius, loc. cit., xi, xii; Lactant., "Div.Instit.", V, xi). Refer to the Catholic Encyclopedia - Martyr. However, the Church survived.
The Second Age, known as the Age of the Fathers, is marked by Constantine's conversion to Christianity, the first phase with an event of immeasurable consequences for Christianity, followed by his founding of Constantinople "The New Rome" which inaugurated a political alliance between the Byzantine Church and the Byzantine emperor that lasted for nearly 1000 years, although it occasionally subjugated the interests of the Church to the will of the emperor. From a cultural perspective, the Hellenistic culture appeared in the poetry and hymns of the liturgy represented by St. Ephraim the Syriac and St. Romanos the Melodist, the splendid architectural building of the cathedral Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and many others including the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem that St. Helen, Constantine's mother, built and Justinian completed upon the Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus Christ. The Church incorporated the good in pagan culture into a Christian civilization. According to Dawson, the period of creative achievement of this age, covers the works of the Fathers such as St. Athanasius who, against Arius and his Arians followers, courageously defended the teaching of the Church in the divinity of Jesus Christ as eternally begotten of the Father and equal to the Father at the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD. "Theosis" (i.e. divinization of Man) says Henri Boulad, S.J., is, in Athanasius, the response of God's love to fallen humanity. To become God, the human person must be buried with Christ (in baptism) and transformed by his love to rise with him. Boulad continues "This Patristic theology is found in the Eastern Fathers' insistence on the Resurrection of Christ." The Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo gives a glimpse of man's desire for possessing joy. Before his conversion, Augustine had followed Manichaeism based on teachings of the Gnostic Persian Mani (216-274 AD) that there are two gods one good and one evil: The good one creates spiritual beings and the evil creates physical beings. According to Mani, salvation is possible only when the person attaches himself to the spiritual knowledge and rejects the flesh. Having heard the great orator St. Ambrose in Milan, Augustine started his journey to embrace Christianity and eventually became one of history's great philosophers. Trusting that in Jesus Christ alone is eternal joy possible, Christians listened to Jesus' saying "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt 16; 24), expressed in the works of St. Jerome and St. John Chrysostom and especially the rise of Christian monasticism which represents the most distinctive contribution of the Oriental in tension with the Hellenic element in Christianity. Dawson continues "As rapidly as the monastic movement spread from Persia and Mesopotamia to Rome, Gaul and the British Isles, it retained its Egyptian imprint from the solitary ascetic St. Anthony to the cenobitic monastic community of St. Pachomius."
The second phase is characterized by the flourishing of Christian art, architecture and philosophical reflections as well as pastoral care expounded by such leaders as the Cappadocians St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Basil, for example, more than a teacher, was a pastor who built the first hospital for the sick within a town in Cappadocia where the needy were fed and the outcast protected. Nessibine became also a cultural center in Asia Minor. A particularly distinct Christian community was established by St. Maron, a Syriac Christian monk in 5th century Lebanon. After his death in 410 AD, his followers introduced many non-Christians to the way of St. Maron and were able to assist in their conversion. Since the Maronites have been living in Mount Lebanon, they were naturally shielded from invaders and kept their independence. In that context, it is believed that the Maronite Church has been in uninterrupted communion with the See of Rome since at least the Crusades in the 11th century. In the West, St. Pope Leo the Great, a diplomat, was able to convince Attila the Hun not to sack Italy, and, on the doctrinal side, developed the ancient doctrine of the primacy of the Successor of St. Peter over all Christendom. While St. Chrysostom, a popular preacher and Archbishop, was exiled from his See of Constantinople by Empress Eudoxia in 404 AD because he dared to denounce her extravagant rule, St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, was able nevertheless to get Theodosius the Emperor to repent publicly for his crime of slaughtering the Thessalonians on account of their earlier revolt. Ambrose, like Athanasius, Basil, and Augustine continued to defend the Nicene Creed against the Arians. Yet, Christian leaders failed to maintain unity. Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, misunderstood the unity human nature and divine nature in the incarnation of the Word. He preached that in Christ there were not only two natures but also two persons: one from God (the Word) and one created like men who was born of the Virgin Mary. If this is followed, then the Virgin Mary could not be called Theotokos (Mother/bearer of God). For this error, Nestorius was excommunicated at the Council of Ephesus under the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria in 431 AD, after securing the support of Rome. Nestorius was exiled and his followers escaped to Persia, the enemy of the Byzantine Christians. It was an opportunity to preach Christ to pagans. They went as far as India. But their numbers dwindled over time. Meanwhile, Cyril's successor, Dioscorus, proud of the faith of his predecessor, supported Eutyches who, following Cyril in a literal understanding, taught that in Christ there is one nature but, according to Eutyches, in this nature the Godhead swallowed the humanity of Christ. Dioscorus presided over a council in Ephesus (449 AD, called the "Robber Council" and not recognized by neither the Catholic Church nor the Byzantine Orthodox) in which Eutyches was honoured,and Flavianus, Patriarch of Constantinople, was humiliated and so violently attacked that he died. When in 451 AD, the Council of Chalcedon was summoned, the Letter of Pope Leo I was read declaring that in Christ there are two natures - a human nature and a divine nature - fully united in the person of Christ, and was approved by the fathers of the Council exclaiming that "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo". Dioscorus was at once excommunicated, not because of his faith but because he dared to excommunicate Pope Leo earlier. Patriarch Dioscorus was exiled on orders of the emperor Justinian. In his exile he maintained that he excommunicated the teachings of Eutyches, but no one listened. Almost the entire population of Egypt supported Dioscorus and stayed loyal to him and his successors. Some bishops in Antioch sided with the non-Chalcedonians and in 518 AD their Patriarch Severus was exiled from Antioch. They became known as the Syriac Orthodox. The Armenians also joined the dissidents and naturally the Ethiopian Church, a daughter of the Church of Alexandria, followed suit. The Syriacs traveled to India and founded the Malankara Church. Embattled by the continuous wars between Byzantium and Persia, Christians were further divided in the East. In a lecture given by the Lebanese scholar Fr. Ignatius Sarkis Najjar in 1972 at the Melkite Patriarchate in Cairo, Fr. Sarkis Najjar concluded that the early Councils were unnecessary as they resulted in the mutual excommunication of entire simple Christian peoples who followed their leaders when each thought he was defending the truth preached by the Apostles, yet failed to recognize the different languages and philosophical expressions applied by the others. A year later in 1973, the first dogmatic common declaration between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church asserted the influence of different languages and philosophical expressions in the separation between Catholics and Coptic Orthodox Christians as both hoped for a renewed effort for Christian unity (Cf. Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and of the Pope of Alexandria Shenouda III http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/anc-orient-ch-docs/rc_pc_christuni_doc_19730510_copti_en.html).
But that was only the beginning of the retreat or the third phase. The conquest of Muslim Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula around 630 AD carried out a most lasting danger to the survival of Christians. Having attacked the other tribes in Arabia, Mohammed forced them to change their religions into a monotheist religion: According to a number of scholars, Islam assembled a mix of Gnostic views widely sought in the desert of Egypt, strict Judaism, Arianism and Nestorianism with a view of Abraham's progeny in order to point to Mohammed's ancestors; a distorted view on the execution of Christ on the cross in order to deny his crucifixion; and a literalist interpretation of most of the Old Testament Law that became Islam's core Sharia. Islam removed reference to priesthood, and made of Jesus only a prophet and a messenger but venerated Mary as the most pure woman of God's creation. Scholars familiar with the rise of Islam maintain that a bishop of the Nazarene Christian sect by the name of Waraqa bin Nofel was the uncle of Khadija, Mohammed's first wife who herself managed a caravan of trades in Northern Arabia. His influence on Mohammed, together with another heretic, an Ethiopian monk by the name of Boheira, connected to the desert Gnostics, may have contributed to Mohammed's claims of inspiration and prophecy. To Muslims, Mohammed is the seal of the prophets. In Islamic countries that follow pure Islam, Islam and state are not separate. Ideally a caliph (or a successor to Mohammed) governs the Islamic state. When Mohammed united Arab tribes under his leadership, he set his ambition on the Byzantine and Persian empires. Taking advantage of their weary armies after centuries of fighting, he sent to each of their leaders a message: "Aslem Taslam" (Arabic) which meant: If you convert to Islam you will live in peace (or be protected). Muslim armies separated Syria, the Holy Land in Palestine, Egypt, and the rest of North Africa from the rest of the Christian community. Most Syrian and Egyptian Christians welcomed the invaders as they wished to get rid of the Byzantines' mistreatment and persecution. In less than 100 years, Islam had spread and controlled the lands from Arabia to Syria and Persia Northbound; to North Africa Westbound; and crossed to Spain in Europe while Eastbound it moved with vigor to Western India - if not wholly through military conquest then through trade.
The Third Age presented a new challenge to Christianity. In the first phase in the seventh century, Dawson wrote "the Church found herself beset by enemies on all sides; by the Muslim aggression in the South, and by the pagan barbarism in the North". Challenged by both, a long missionary effort laid the foundation of a new Christian culture in Europe termed "medieval." In this age, the Church "possessed a monopoly of all forms of literary education, so that the relationship between religion and culture was closer than in any other period." Catholicism was transplanted from the civilized Mediterranean area to the North Sea and influenced the social organization of cultures in the lands of Europe. Under the Ummayad Islamic caliphate in Damascus, Christians in both Byzantine and Syriac traditions translated works of the Greek philosophers to Arabic. One such Doctor of the Church who wrote in Arabic is John of Damascus, whose father Sarjoun was a financial administrator to the Caliph. John read the Islamic Qura'n and Christian Biblical books. He was allowed to become a monk at St. Saba Monastery where he wrote his theological works defending the Christian Trinity against Islam. His writings were influential to the Medievals in both West and East. His most enduring contribution was his defense of venerating the icons in churches when the Byzantine Emperor Leo III ordered their destruction in his furious Iconoclasm, possibly under influence by Judaism and Islam's ban on images and statues. In 787, the Council of Nicaea II, with Papal legates present, excommunicated the Iconoclasts and restored the veneration of icons in the presence of Empress Irene. This confirmed the Church's open adoption of the good in Greek culture.
In the second phase of the Third Age, Christians of Europe were able to stop the advancing Islamic armies, and resurrect the Roman Empire with a cultural renewal not seen since the 5th century. But it took a lot of courage. In 714 the Islamic armies entered Languedoc. In less than 10 years they had destroyed Nimes, ravaged the right bank of the Rhone to Sens, and marched to Toulouse. In October 732 Charles Martel and his Frankish army defeated the Islamic army of the Ummayad Caliphate led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi Governor of Andalus (Spain) near Tours. The Battle of Tours was the turning point for establishing the Carolingian Empire - effectively the Holy Roman Empire. In 800, Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was crowned by the pope. He established a Christian educational program in the empire, supported the Holy See of Rome and financed the expansion of the Church in Europe, The Benedictine order carried out much of the translation of scholarly Biblical interpretation based on work by Jerome (d. 420 AD) known for his achievement on translating the Greek Septuagint to the Latin Vulgate Bible.
With the development and adoption of Latin in the West, lack of communication with Greek Byzantium led to estrangement between the See of Rome and the See of Constantinople. The addition of the "filioque" clause (that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son) in the Nicene Creed angered Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 810-893 AD). The Eastern Church had inherited from the Greeks the idea of debating any new formulations to the rules and creed before adopting them. The Western Church under the See of Rome had inherited from the Romans the primacy of law and the discipline of central organization structure that since St. Pope Leo the Great emphasized more clearly the primacy of the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, over all other bishops. Patriarch Photius, a highly-learned person, claimed that the ancient faith expressed in the creed could be reformulated if the Pentarchy (five ancient Sees) agreed in an ecumenical council, but Rome - already reinvigorated under St. Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540 -604 AD) and his missionary outreach to England in the North - felt it needed no other voice in proclaiming the truth of faith if the Pope had already agreed to a new formula. The historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote "The unity of the Church as defended by the fathers of the ancient church had become identified with the Petrine ministry in Rome." Pelikan quotes Pope Gregory's words "To all who know the Gospel, it is obvious that by the voice of the Lord of the entire church was committed to the holy apostle and prince the apostles Peter...Behold he received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the power to bind and loose was given to him, and the care and principality of the entire church was committed to him.(Matt 16:18), (John 21:17), Luke (22:31)" In addition to quoting the Council of Chalcedon in support for the Petrine Primacy, Gregory wrote referring to Nestorius "And we certainly know that many priests of the church of Constantinople have fallen into the whirlpool of heresy..." (Cf. Pelikan;"The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine"; Pp. 352-353). While the Christian East and the Christian West were gradually becoming estranged from each other, both excelled in their own spheres to expand the Christian presence. Thus by the tenth century, the highly-educated Saints Cyril and Methodius had established Christianity in the Slavic-speaking North, the Poles and Magyars, together with the Bulgarians and Russians in the East who adopted the Byzantine liturgy. St. Vladimir, ruler of Russia and Kiev (c. 958 - 1015 AD), had sent delegates to the capitals of Christianity who were impressed by the grandeur of Byzantine chants and the imposing Hagia Sophia. When they returned to Russia, the "Third Rome" began its ascendance in history. In 1053, theological disputes between the See of Rome and that of Constantinople had reached a boiling point when Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople ordered the closure of all Latin churches in Constantinople. Influenced by past mutual accusations and disagreement over the "filioque" and Papal primacy between Photius and Nicholas Pope of Rome, Nicholas' successor Pope Leo IX responded in 1054 with a delegation headed by Cardinal Humbert of Moyenmoutier that arrived in Constantinople, welcomed by Emperor Constantine IX as the latter needed the Pope's assistance, but spurned by Patriarch Michael Cerularius. Humbert reacted by excommunicating Cerularius and his followers and Cerularius responded by excommunicating Humbert and the Roman Church. This was the third phase - the beginning of the "Great Schism" that would last for a thousand years.
Threatened for its independence by the increasing power of feudal landlords, the Fourth Age of the Church began with a spiritual renewal in monastic orders. This first phase reform started in Lorraine and Burgundy and gradually extended its movement to the rest of Western Christendom. The papacy pressed for an alliance with the monastic reformers such that, according to Dawson, "for nearly two and a half centuries, the Church exercised a dynamic influence on almost every aspect of Western culture; and the spiritual reformers like St. Hugh of Cluny, St. Gregory VII, St. Anselm, and above all, St. Bernard of Clairvaux were also the central figures in the public life of Western Christendom." The cultural influence of the church led to the creation of universities as international learning centers of higher studies. Among the learned was Bernard son of Tescelin Sorrel (c. 1090-1153) at Chatillon-sur-Seine who became a monk at the reformed monastery of Citeaux. He attracted other noblemen to monastic life in poverty and, for his dedication, was subsequently made abbot of Clarivaux, a new foundation. In conditions of acute poverty, he improved the food for the community. Such a sense of service coupled with his eloquent preaching, influenced noblemen and bishops and helped expand his missionary work across Europe. The history of medieval Christianity is more complex since not only were Christians divided but they were also threatened by Islamic expansion. To capture the scene, the historian must go to the times of the most tolerant Islamic Caliphate, especially that of the Abbasid Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, in 8th-9th centuries Baghdad. Seeing the opportunity for trade with the Far East, the Frankish Pepin had entered into negotiations with the Abbasid Caliph in 762 AD. In 800, as Charlemagne was crowned, ambassadors from Haroun al-Rashid arrived in Rome and delivered the keys of the Holy Sepulchre to the new Emperor (Einhard, "Annales", ad an. 800 in "Mon. Germ. Hist.: Script.", I, 187). But in 1009, an unstable Fatimide Caliph al-Hakem bi Amr-Allah suddenly decided to burn some 20,000 churches and persecute Christians including those of the Holy Land - the execution lasted for years. It was then that learning of pilgrims complaining about mistreatment of Christians by Muslim rulers in the Holy Land pressed deeply upon Christian conscience in Europe. Around the last decade of the 11th century, Alexius Comnenius the Byzantine Emperor also sought the pope, now materially powerful, and the Western powers to assist him against the Muslim Seljuk Turks invasion into Anatolia. In 1095 AD, Pope Urban II called on Catholics to launch the Crusades in order to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim dominance and help the Byzantine Christians against the invading Muslim Turks. The victories achieved in the first Crusades encouraged Western princes and kings to fortify their presence in the Holy Land which lasted 2 centuries. The Crusades facilitated better trade between nations in the Mediterranean, yet lacked a central command that resulted in princes fighting for control and wealth. The 4th Crusade ended up by sacking Constantinople, the second See in Christendom; a move later condemned by the pope. Eventually the military campaign failed to reunite Christians in the East with those in the West, although a Latin patriarchate was created in Jerusalem. By 1291, Muslims had taken back the Holy Land. Yet, Dawson states, as the medieval papacy was deeply involved in temporal power and 0the reform movement was insufficient to liberate the church from secular control. "It was left to St. Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi, to take the further, final step by renouncing corporate property also and pledging his followers to total poverty." wrote Dawson. Here is the start of the reform of the second phase. Francis was born to a rich merchant in Assisi in the 12th century. He was given the name Francesco (the French man) by his father in honour of his French business. In Francesco's early youth years he spent his time with rich friends and in worldly pleasure, yet he also showed generosity to beggers. This is the heart that the Crucified opened up. In 1201 Francis joined a military expedition against Perugia and was taken as a prisoner where he spent a year in captivity. When he returned to Assisi he became seriously ill and there had a conversion experience. While praying at the church of St. Damieno, he had a vision of the Crucified Christ speaking to him and asking him to "Rebuild my Church." Francis took this request literally and started rebuilding the church of stone with money from his father's business. While asking God to show him the way, he came to understand Christ's request in a new way - rebuild the Church of souls. This was a turning point in Francis' life. Francis had already spent much time in meditation and came to reject the worldly life that he had experienced in his early youth. The Roman Church was at the peak of its earthly power with Pope Innocent III. Francis requested the pope to allow him to start a beggars order. Innocent III had a vision of the future Church after which he approved Francis' request. All of this is history, but the significant lesson is the way Francis responded to the call of the Crucified. His conversion was probably gradual. However his generosity allowed him to share in the poverty of beggars' life of need and create a huge order with many followers - The Franciscans who grew up to count in thousands only in a few years. Francis was called the Alter Christus (the Other Christ); for he imitated Christ in his tender love of all creatures. Francis taught by example and talked to animals, birds, called the Sun Sister and the moon Brother and seemed at ease with wild animals. He is probably the first humanist in history; for he loved Christ and every other human he encountered. He built the first manger and added real animals to be part of the nativity scene. He insisted on the beauty of creation and was himself a poet. His mission took him to Egypt to preach to the Muslim Caliph Al-Kamel and then to Acre but without success. Francis received the first known stigmata in history and suffered with Christ in silence "to complete" in his flesh "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his body that is the Church" (Col 1:24). On his death bed, Francis was surrounded by his followers singing his hymn "Make me a channel of your peace." Contrary to us, he was not afraid of death; for he himself considered death "a brother." Since his mission started in the 13th century, he has been beloved by many generations; for like the prostitute whom Christ forgave, he "loved much." (Luke 7: 47).
In Spain, another powerful preacher - Dominic of Osma (son of Felix Guzman) - appeared at around the same time (1170-1221). He studied at the University at Palencia, became canon at Osma in 1199, and followed the strict rules of St. Benedict. He helped reform the Cistercians, and founded an institute for women at Prouille in the Albigensian heretics territory. The Albigensians, a branch of Catharis, is a neo-Manichean sect. Dominic of Osma persevered to convert the Albigensians and his efforts were crowned when Pope Honorius III approved his (Dominican) order in 1216 following the fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215. The Dominicans excelled at scholarly research and their large order continues to be called Order of Preachers (OP).
In his book "The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped our World View", Richard Tarnas writes "Francis' mystical joy in the sacred fellowship of nature, Dominic's cultivation of scholarship in the service of the gospel, their dissolution of right boundaries between clerical and lay, their more democratic forms of internal government granting greater individual autonomy, their call to leave the monastic cloister to preach and teach actively in the world-all these encouraged a new openness to nature and society, to human reason and freedom. Above all, this fresh infusion of apostolic faith supported direct dialogue between Christian revelation and the secular world, while recognizing anew an intimate relationship between nature and grace." (Cf. Tarnas; P. 179).
Dawson, however, observes the third phase or retreat "From the end of the 13th century the international unity of Western Christendom had begun to disintegrate and the alliance between Papacy and the party of religious reform was breaking down. During the last two centuries of the Fourth Age this disintegration shows itself in the defeat of the Papacy by the new national monarchies, like that of Philip IV of France, and in the rise of new revolutionary movements of reform, like the Wycliffites and the Hussites, and finally by the Great Schism in the Papacy itself." Near the end of this Age, the Conciliar movement attempted to overcome the schism with no success. In this dark atmosphere that triggered a civil war between the Italian Republics and the Pope, the mediation efforts of a young Dominican Tertiary nun, Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), helped end the estranged papacy at Avignon and the return of the papacy to Rome. The mystical theology of St. Catherine of Siena (called "Mystical marriage with Jesus"), her treatise "The Dialogue of Divine Providence", and her sacrifices paved the way to declare her a saint in 1461. She was also declared Doctor of the Church in 1970 (For more on St. Catherine of Siena, see The Catholic Encyclopedia; Catherine of Siena).
The fifth Age of the Church "began in a time of crisis which threatened the unity of Western Christendom." This was the theological challenge of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, OSA (1483-1546), a German Augustinian friar was anxious that however good works he accomplished he would not be saved. He protested against Church-authorized indulgences that were often granted to those who gave money to build St. Peter's Basilica or other churches. In his zeal to reform the Church he exaggerated Augustine's pessimistic view of human salvation which led him to believe justification in God's eyes is "Sola gratia" (through grace alone). As a result, he preached that sin rendered humans totally corrupt. The only way out of corruption is faith alone "Sola fidei" which is attained in a personal relationship with God through the redemption accomplished by Jesus. Luther concluded that revelation of God's purposes is found in the Bible alone "Sola scriptura"! Following his "Ninety-Five Theses" with his bishop Albert of Mainz, he was questioned by Cardinal Cajetan to whom Luther replied by condemning the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope as the "Antichrist". In 1999, the Lutheran Federation reached an agreement with the Catholic Church on justification by grace which surprised the rest as to how close the Lutherans and Catholics are in the doctrine that was once a divisive issue.
On the other hand, Christians had been retrieving the classic works of the ancient Roman and Greek cultures in what became known as the Renaissance. Although most historians locate this cultural resurgence of learning starting in Italy's 14th century, some historians move it back to the 8th-9th century Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne whose education program encompassed literature, arts, architecture, liturgical reform, and scriptural studies (Cf. G.W. Trompf; "The concept of the Carolingian Renaissance"; Journal of the History of Ideas; 1973:3ff). A second "Renaissance" known as Ottonian Renaissance took place during the reign of Otto the Great Emperor of the Roman Empire in the 10th century (Cf. Kenneth Sidwell; "Reading Medieval Latin"; Cambridge University Press; 1993). Christian Humanism had started with St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan order in the 13th century. It was based on the Incarnation of Christ in which God became Man. With the Renaissance the humanists gained support from the Church. The widest Renaissance that made its way in Florence sponsored by the rich Medici's family discovered the genius of many scholars, artists, and liberal minds and found its way into the Church. Petrarch's rediscovery of Cicero's letters ushered new era of humanism. Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy, considered a literary masterpiece, Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, and Raphael used their multiple skills to elevate arts to new heights in Church and other projects. Polyphony was introduced in sacred music and the Baroque Age was born. One of the leading humanists St. Thomas More wrote Utopia, a dream of a perfect society, and believed in the primacy of conscience in making moral decisions (elevated by the Christian moral teachings).
Key in the Counter-Reformation was a new order founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1541.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), articulates the vision that in spite of evil God brings good out of everything (exercised in the discernment of spirits or daily examen).
In the Protestant tradition a number of theologians too influenced the thought of the Western civilization. Following Luther in interpreting St.Paul, John Calvin thought that God predestined people as he willed to heaven or hell so if they were destined to heaven they will also be blessed here on earth. John Courtney Murray, S.J. who was the main contributor to Vatican II's "Declaration on Freedom of Religion" wrote how Calvinism re-emerged in North-America. Calvinism was brought by the early Europeans to America. Soon enough the idea of individualism combined with the idea of blessedness on earth and produced the idea of Capitalism long before Adam Smith thought of it in economic terms.
In the 18th century Protestantism, Friedrich Schleiermacher ushered the foundation of Biblical criticism in an attempt to reconcile traditional Christianity with the Age of the Enlightenment. This was the 6th Age of Christianity. Schleiermacher's liberal views were challenged in the early 20th century by Karl Barth of the Protestant "Neo-orthodoxy" movement.
As civilization opened up to new areas of thought in economics and science in the past 2 centuries, new findings brought in new questions.
Political secularism made inroads with philosophical insights for democracy such as Montesquieu's theory of the separation of powers and Jean Jacques Rousseau's on the rights of citizenship. They ushered the French Revolution in 1789 whose leaders confiscated Church assets among all royal belongings. Arnold Toynbee wrote that in one day alone the revolutionaries killed by guillotine some 20,000 French citizens.
Since the Enlightenment in the 19th century West, philosophers and scientists have been asking whether there is indeed any reality beyond matter. Some great materialist/atheist philosophers include Hume, Voltaire, Marx, Carnap, Wittgenstein, Derrida, Michel Foucault and many others.
In the 20th century the Church entered the 7th Age. This was marked by accepting Biblical historical criticism (Pope Pius XII), followed by an opening towards "separated brothers" and people of other religions (St. John XXIII) and a deeper appreciation of scientific findings (St. John Paul II, 1996). The Second Vatican Council ushered the era of renewal and reform as did the Council of Trent. (See Vatican II: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/index.htm ).
In September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture at the University of Regensburg. There, Professor Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) exposed militant Islam. Speaking about reason, he gives the historical debate between the Christian Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Muslim Persian around 1393 on the subject of Christianity and Islam. Edited by Professor Adel Theodore Khoury, a Melkite Catholic priest and professor at Munster University, the seventh conversation cites the emperor's point: "Show me just what Mohammed brought, and there you will find only things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Professor Ratzinger continues quoting the emperor "God is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (according to reason) is contrary to God's nature." This was one courageous move by Benedict XVI as he sensed the increasing Islamic terrorism after 9/11.
The "New Atheists" of today such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss are scientists who devote much time attacking religion because they constrain their research to what is observable in the cosmos. In schools today, our children learn mostly what constitutes physics but very little, if any, about metaphysics (i.e. beyond physics).
But the Church has always responded to errors...And it continues to live in God's love. The Globe is full of missionaries...Christ saves!
See too:The Need for Unity
The Moderate Mind: