Essentials of Church History - Lesson 3

Early Church and Middle Ages

Individuals like Augustine helped shape the theology of the church. Charlemagne and Gregory the Great expanded the political influence of the church. The monastic movement, rise of Islam and the Crusades were significant during this period of time.

Gordon Isaac
Essentials of Church History
Lesson 3
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Early Church and Middle Ages

I. Early Church leaders and theologians

A. Hillary of Poitier

B. Ambrose of Milan

C. Augustine

1. Writings to refute Donatism

2. Writings against Pelagius

3. The Confessions

4. The City of God

D. Three Cappadocians

E. John of Chrysostom

F. Jerome

II. Middle Ages

A. Pope Gregory the Great

B. Spread of the church to Great Britain

C. Contrast between the church in the 1st century and 7th century

D. Monasticism

E. The rise of Islam

F. Christianity to the Germanic tribes

G. Charlemagne crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

H. Power of the papacy

I. Crusades

J. Conclusion of the Middle Ages

  • Specific political and cultural events combined to form a setting when Jesus lived, which can be described as the "fullness of time." In the founding and development of the early church, Pentecost, the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and the persecution of Christians were significant.

  • Because of Palestine's central location in the Middle East, it was important to other countries militarily and economically. The apostles and other Christians were able to travel to spread the gospel throughout the world. Constantine's conversion and his support of Christianity had a greatly affected its growth and development. The ecumenical councils met to discuss and articulate a biblical view of God, as well as Christ's divine and human natures.

  • Individuals like Augustine helped shape the theology of the church. Charlemagne and Gregory the Great expanded the political influence of the church. The monastic movement, rise of Islam and the Crusades were significant during this period of time.

  • The influence of Catholicism expanded in the 15th and 16th centuries because of the exploration sponsored by Spain and Portugal. A central figure in the Reformation was Martin Luther. His theological ideas initiated and shaped the Reformation movement and are still influential today.

  • Zwingli and Calvin were influential leaders in the Protestant Reformation movement. The Anabaptists and Mennonites are movements that still have an influence on theology in the church today.

  • The political events in the 16th century had a great impact on the Reformation movement in England and Scotland.

  • The Catholic heritage of France made it difficult for Protestant groups to thrive. The Catholic reformation spawned the beginning of several movements that still exist today. The Council of Trent clearly delineated major differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. We still struggle with some of the same political and social implications of our beliefs with which the reformers wrestled.

  • A prevailing attitude during this time was that religious tolerance was a better policy than emphasizing doctrinal disagreements that led to wars. Why be concerned about details of doctrine that produced nothing but quarrels and prejudice when natural reason, something all people have in common, can answer the fundamental questions regarding God and human nature? Political and religious leaders in England and Europe contributed to the debate between Reformed theology and Rationalism. Subjects addressed are the Thirty Years War, Puritan revolution in England, Reformed Orthodoxy, Westminster Confession, Deism, Rationalist option in the wake of the confessionalization of Europe, George Fox and the Spiritualist option, Pietism with Zinzendorf, the Moravians, John Wesley and the Methodists.

  • Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were well-known preachers in the Great Awakening in the American colonies in the early 18th century. Camp meetings were common in meetings during the 2nd Great Awakening. Preachers like Dwight Moody began a movement which resulted in urban revival. Mormonism and Jehovah witnesses were two religions that were founded. The fundamentalist vs. modernist controversy, as well as the geographic expansion of missions, still affect the world today.

  • Wesley's preaching and the holiness movement were major influences in beginning the modern Pentecostal movement. Charles Fox Parham was instrumental in the formation of the Pentecostal movement, sometimes referred to as the "first wave." The second and third waves of the Pentecostal movement, as well as the ecumenical movement, have had a significant impact on individuals and churches across the world during the twentieth century.

The people, events, and movements that shaped church history from the life of Jesus to the twentieth century. The class looks at the early church, Constantine, the church in the Middle Ages, the Reformation in Europe and Great Britain, and Protestantism in France. It then moves into more recent centuries and deals with the issues of doubt and dogma, and finally the Great Awakening with Edwards, Whitefield, and eventually Wesley. 


I. Early Church Leaders and Theologians

Up to this point in our study of church history we have dealt with fullness of time, the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Christians all through the known world of that 1st century time period. We’ve talked about the mission to the gentiles; we’ve talked about conflicts with the state, persecution under Nero, persecution under Domitian and other emperors. We’ve also talked about the policy of the Roman Empire against Christians, “no ask, no tell” but when Christians were found out they were prosecuted and executed if they did not recant their faith.We also saw that the early church had to deal with difficult and non-biblical teachings; such as Gnosticism, the church movement by Marcion. This movement was one that needed to be blocked by the early apologists of the faith. They use that term apologists as simply to mean a defender of the faith.

The response that was given was a matter of Canon. These are our Scriptures, this is our Creed and here is the Apostles Creed, some scriptural exposition; then finally apostolic succession of the Episcopacy. These three facets of the early apologist’s response to heretical teaching were set front for us. We also talked about other persecutions that continued after that time period. Then we also took a look at the very interesting and important turning point in Christianity when in 313, Constantine gave the Edict of Milan, which allowed Christianity to be one of the accepted religions of the empire. We saw that with the acceptance of Christianity into the mainstream brought about a tendency for Christianity to be undermined. Wherever there is money, wherever there is growing power, there will be temptation to do that which is not all together honorable. So there were certain pressures that fell upon the church in this Constantinian era. There were a great number of individuals that came to church services; so the churches were full. Whether or not all those folks were converted Christians is another question, there were many who doubted that they were. So there was a reaction against the official theology and we saw at the end of our last session that there was a Monastic reaction. There were several who began to go out into the dessert, Pachomius and Anthony in order to find a more rigorous Christian lifestyle. So these monks in the desert began to spread a monastic form of Christianity and there were interesting results that came from that.

During this period we see that there was also an Arian controversy about the nature of Christ; who is Christ and how do we understand the incarnation? These kinds of questions were dealt with in the early ecumenical creeds, the councils and the creeds that came out of those councils. So we’ve seen rather important factors flowing out from that understanding. Now, one of the things that is true is there were a number of very important church men. Because our time is so short we’ll have to be satisfied with moving rather quickly; just mentioning the names of some of these very important early Christian theologians and churchmen. It’s good for us to have some feel for those who have gone before us on whose shoulders we stand. Perhaps in the course of your own ministry and life you may have opportunity to read more about these individuals.

A. Hillary of Portier

He lived from 295 to 368 stands out as a great champion of orthodoxy in the west against the Arians of his time and his theological writings were many and very able.

B. Ambrose Milan

We also need to mention Ambrose of Milan, who lived from 340 to 397, he was one of the most unbending men ever known. His courage never failed and he withstood the strongest rulers. He would not allow the setting aside of any place of worship in Milan for the Arians even when this was demanded by the mother of Emperor Valentina the II. Later he not only refused communion to Maximus, who had usurped the throne of the western empire, but even to the great emperor Theodosius, who was denied admission to church for eight months after he had ordered a massacre of rebels in Thessalonica the emperor made a complete capitulation.

C. Augustine

Then we come to Augustine. Aurelius Augustine lived from 354 to 430. He was born at Tagaste at Numidia, his father being of course pagan, while his mother Monica was a Christian of outstanding saintliness. To herself sacrifice, noble faith, and incessant prayers, Augustine owed more than can be estimated. Augustine was a gifted child and his parents knew it from the very beginning. And so they made provision for him to have special training and he excelled in his course work. He was only 17 years old when he arrived at the great city that for centuries had been the political, economic and cultural center of Latin speaking Africa. Although he did not neglect his studies, he also set out to enjoy the many pleasures that the city offered and soon he had a concubine that bore him a child. He named the boy Adeodatus that is “given by God.”  So he spent many years in Carthage as all young men of his time preparing for careers as lawyers of public functionaries. Augustine was a student of rhetoric. The purpose of this discipline was learning to speak and to write eloquently and convincingly. Truth was not the central issue but being convincing in one’s speech was. His search led the young student to Manichaeism, which was a religion of Persian origin, having been founded by Mani in the 3rd century.

According to Mani, the human predicament is the presence in each of us of two principles. One which he calls “light” is spiritual the other “darkness” is matter. Throughout the universe there are these two principles, both eternal, light and darkness. Somehow, Manichaean’s explained that through a series of myths the two have mingled and the present human condition is the result of that admixture. Salvation then consists of separating the two elements and in preparing our spirits for their return to the realm of pure light in which it will be absorbed. Since any new mingling of the principles is evil, true believers must avoid procreation. According to Mani, this doctrine had been revealed in various fashions to a long series of prophets, including Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus and Mani himself.

In other words, Manichaeism was in some ways a rigorist sort of religion. Wherever you find religion, you usually find its regular expression, and then, the rigorist expression that says “well, the way we regularly pursue our religion just simply isn’t good enough, we need to get more serious about it”. So Manichaeism was a rigorist expression.  Notice it deplores creation and things material, the real source of salvation is a spiritual one. And this is one which drives home a certain kind of asceticism that seemed to be very appealing in this time frame and in this part of the world.

So Augustine was attracted to Manichaeism for a number of years and he was something of a seeker during this period of his life. Manichaeism seemed to respond to Augustine’s difficulties in Christianity which centered on two issues: a view of rhetoric, the bible was a series of ineloquent writings, some even barbaric, in which the rules of good style were seldom followed and where one found crude episodes of violence, rape, deceit, and the like with the second being the question of the origin of evil. Monica had taught him that there was only one God, but Augustine saw evil both around and in himself and had to ask what the source of such evil might be. If God was supreme in pure goodness; evil could not be a divine creation. And if, on the other hand, all things were created by the divine, God could not be as good and wise as Monica and the church claimed. In other words, God had to be the author or the originator of evil. In summary Manichaeism offered answers to these two points.

The Bible, particularly the Old Testament was not in fact the Word of the eternal principle of life, nor was evil a creation of that principle, but of its opposite the principle of darkness. So for these reasons, Augustine became a Manichean, but there were always doubts and being a person of advanced I.Q. he continued to ask very difficult questions. And one day when he had expressed the fact that he had questions about Manichaeism he was told that there was a wonderful Manichean teacher, a certain Faustus, who could answer his questions. When the much announced Faustus finally arrived he turned out to be no better than the other Manichean teachers. Disappointed, Augustine decided to carry on his quest in different directions. Besides the students at Carthage were an unruly lot and a career in Rome seemed more promising.

But, that did not turn out as he had hoped; for his students in the capitol city although better behaved, were slow in paying for his services. He then moved onto Milan where there was a vacancy teaching rhetoric. In Milan he became a Neo-Platonist. Neo-Platonism, very popular at the time, was a philosophy with religious overtones. Through a combination of study, discipline and mystical contemplation it sought to reach the ineffable one; the source of all being. The goal of the Neo-Platonist was the ecstasy that one experienced when lost in such contemplation. Unlike Manichean dualism, Neo-Platonism affirmed that there was only one principle and that all reality was derived from it through a series of emanations; much like the concentric circles that appear on the surface of the water when hit by a pebble. Those realities that are closer to the one are superior and those that are more removed from it are inferior. Evil then does not originate from a different source, but consists simply in moving away from it. Moral evil consists in looking away from the one and turning ones gaze to the inferior realms of multiplicity. This seemed to answer Augustine’s vexing questions, as to the origin of evil.

From this perspective one could assert that a single being of infinite goodness was the source of all things and at the same time acknowledge the presence of evil in creation. Evil, though real was not a thing but rather a direction away from the goodness of the one. Also Neo-Platonism helped Augustine to see both God and the soul in less materialistic terms than those he had learned from the Manichean’s. Also there was another doubt, how could one claim that the bible, with its crude language and its stories of violence and falsehood, be the Word of God? Providing an answer to this question was the role of Ambrose in Augustine’s life. Monica, who was with him in Milan, insisted that he should hear Ambrose’s sermons. As a professor of rhetoric Augustine agreed to attend the services led by the most famous speaker in Milan. His initial purpose was not to hear what Ambrose had to say, but to see how he said it; to see whether or not he was a good rhetorician.

However, as time went by he found that he was listening to the bishop less as a professional and more as a seeker. Ambrose interpreted allegorically many of the passages that had created difficulties for Augustine. Since allegorical interpretation was perfectly acceptable according to the canons of rhetoric. Augustine could find no fault in this; it certainly made scripture appear less crude and therefore more acceptable.

To make a longer story shorter, Augustine came to a profound conversion experience. He had been convicted about his lifestyle and began to desire to draw close to God. While he was reading in scripture he found himself with tears in his eyes and as he looked up from his text he heard some voices playing outside his window and they were saying “to le lege to le lege; take and read, take and read”. So he opened up his Bible yet one more time he began to read. The text at which he found himself led him to a profound conviction of his sin and he came to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

After his conversion Augustine took the necessary steps to embark upon a new life. He requested baptism, which he and Adeodatus (his son) received from Ambrose. He resigned from his teaching post and then, with Monica and a group of friends, he set out for North Africa where he planned to spend the rest of his days in Monastic retreat.

Augustine spent some time in Monastic retreat and finally returned to Carthage where he attended worship services; and the bishop there in that church recognized him, and knew who he was. He asked his congregation to pray for God’s leading and through a series of events Augustine was invited to become bishop in Carthage. There he had a profound influence on the church. He was a prolific writer and wrote on very many different topics. At the beginning he began to write polemically against the Manicheans. His writings were of course profound in that he knew very well the Manichaean point of view and so refuted that in his writings. He also began to write about God and his goodness being infinite, he wrote about this problem of evil and described evil in terms of being a privation of good. Evil is not a thing, evil is not a substance as the Manichean’s had implied but rather he saw it as being a negation of good.

1. Writings to Refute Donatism

Donatists were individuals who had been left over from before Constantine period where there were persecutions against Christians and there were some who had been persecuted and had handed over the Holy Scriptures. They were called tradiatores, from which we get the term traitor. They had handed over the Holy Texts in order to avoid being executed as Christians and yet they had pangs of conscience afterward when persecutions died down.  They wanted acceptance back into the church. Well, there were many who said they should not be accepted back into the church. These were the rigorists and there were others who said yes these who have recanted their sin of being traitors, should be accepted back into the church.The Donatist’s were rigorists and they basically said look, if you receive baptism from a bishop who is an immoral person then your baptism is not valid. Or if you receive the Lords Supper from a pastor who is a bad pastor and immoral then the validity of the Lord’s Supper does not work for you. What Augustine said is, if that were the case then all of us would be in a very difficult circumstance never knowing whether or not our baptism or the word of promise that comes to us in the Lord’s Supper would be valid.

And so Augustine wrote his views on the church saying that the validity of the sacraments is not based on the morality of the pastor or the priest; but rather the validity of the sacraments has to do with the certainty of God’s Word. So Augustine wrote against the Donatist’s in that way.

2. Writings Against Pelagius

In addition Augustine wrote against Pelagius, a monk from Britain who had become famous for his piety and austerity. Pelagius was sick and tired of the moral laxity that he saw in the church. He basically said, to arms to arms! We need to become very rigorous in the way that we perform our Christianity. He saw the Christian life as a constant effort through which ones sin could be overcome and salvation attained. Pelagius agreed with Augustine that God had made us free and that the source of evil is in the will. As he saw matters, this meant that human beings always have the ability to overcome their sin, otherwise sin would be excusable. But Augustine remembered his experience of a time when he both willed and did not will to become a Christian. This meant that human will was not as simple as Pelagius made it. There are times when the will is powerless against the hold sin has upon it. The will is not always its own master, for it is clear that the will to will does not always have its way.

According to Augustine the power of sin is such that its takes control of our will and as long as we are under its sway we cannot move our will to be rid of it. The most we can accomplish is that struggle between willing and not willing which does little more than show the powerlessness of our will against itself. The sinner can do nothing but sin. From Augustine’s point of view he needed to theologize from this point of, the bondage of the will, so that the Gospel, the preaching of Jesus, is that which sets us free. But it is not our own human power which is able to overcome sin as believed by Pelagius.

Pelagius as a matter of fact said, “Salvation is rather like hopping into a boat and you can row across on your own power, but grace is like the wind that blows and we just simply put up a sail , that grace will fill the sail and we’ll get there all the faster. But grace is not necessary for us to attain salvation.”

So against Pelagius and his self-works approach to salvation, Augustine set forward the preeminence of the grace of God as it is necessary to even make our will willing to will the will of God. So Augustine wrote in powerful treatises like Spirit and the Letter against this notion that Pelagius was setting forward.

3. The Confessions

Another one of Augustine’s works that is particularly significant is called the Confessions. It is a spiritual autobiography addressed in prayer to God; which tells how God led him to faith through a long and painful pilgrimage. It is unique in its genre in all ancient literature and it is considered by many to be the very first self-aware book from the ancient world.

4. The City of God

Also Augustine wrote a powerful work entitled The City of God. The immediate motive impelling Augustine to write it was the fall of Rome in A.D. 410. Since at that time there were many who clung to ancient paganism, soon it was charged that Rome had fallen because she had abandoned her ancient gods and turned to Christianity. It was to respond to such allegations that Augustine wrote The City of God. A vast encyclopedic history in which he claims that there are two cities each built on love as a foundation.The City of God is built on the love of God, the earthly city is built on love of self. in human history these two cities always appear mingled with each other, but in spite of this, there is between the two of them an irreconcilable opposition; a war to death. In the end, only the city of God will remain. Meanwhile human history is filled with kingdoms and nations, all built on love of self which are no more than passing expression of the earthly city. All these kingdoms and nations, no matter how powerful, will wither and pass away until the end of history when only the city of God will stand. In the particular case of Rome, God allowed her and her empire to flourish so that they could serve as a means for the spread of the gospel. But now that this purpose has been fulfilled God has let Rome fall as the destiny of all human kingdoms which is no more than just punishment for their sins.

Augustine was the last of the great leaders of the imperial church in the west. When he died, the Vandals were at the gates of Hippo, announcing a new age. Augustine of Hippo’s (he had most of his career in the city of Hippo); work was in a way the last glimmer of a dying age. And yet, his work was not forgotten among the ruins of a crumbling civilization. On the contrary, through his writings, he became the teacher of the medieval church. And so if you know something of Augustine’s theology, you know quite a lot about the theology of the middle ages. To which we must now turn.

D. Three Cappadocians

We began talking about the important leaders in the Christian church. We failed to mention the Three Cappodocians: Basil the Great Bishop of Caesarea and Cappadocia, his brother Gregory of Nissan and their great friend Gregory of Nazianzus. They were men of the highest character, ready to devote themselves and their riches. They were very bright and their writings were incredibly important. They have a particularly high value for Christians of the eastern traditions.

E. John of Chrysostom

There was John of Chrysostom who was also a very important bishop, first of Antioch, then of Constantinople. He was a saintly man, an outstanding scholar and one of the greatest orators of all time. Hence his name, means John of the golden throat/mouth. His faithfulness in preaching repentance offended the empress Eudoxia and he was deposed and banished in 403.

F. Jerome

We’ve already mentioned Jerome who he lived from 340 – 420. He was one of the most interesting and picturesque leaders in church history; born in Northern Dalmatia, he produced the Latin Vulgate version of the bible, which even today is the only version recognized as authentic by the Roman Catholic church. He started a Monastic community at Aquileia but it broke up in a whirlwind of dissension. He spent most of his time living outside of Bethlehem in a cave as a hermit and he carried out his immense literary and scholarly labors there, so he is important from that point of view.

II. The Middle Ages

We now turn our attention to the beginning of the middle ages. With the fall of Rome in 410 there was an increasing pressure on western culture. We find that the barbarian hordes of various names: the Goths, the Visigoths, the Vandals all had a hand in the breakdown and collapse of the Roman Empire. The Lombard’s captured northern Italy in 568, was a menace to the Roman See. Outside of Italy the prestige of the Roman Catholic Church had not been regained since the fall of the empire. In 476 the regions of the Rhine and Danube had been lost to the church. Arianism and other heresies were rampant in these states formed by the barbarians and the influence of the Roman Pontiff had become very weak in Spain, Gaul and other places until it almost vanished in Africa.

The conversion in 496 of Clovis the pagan King of the Franks had not yet led to any great increase in the power of the Pope, although that nation was destined to become the great bulwark of the see of Rome in the 8th and 9th centuries.

A. Poe Gregory the Great

One of the important characters was Pope Gregory the Great. He lived from 590 to 604. The collapsing civilization all around him was something that Gregory had to contend with. He became the bishop of Rome during this time period and it is precisely his brilliant rule that set a standard for those who came after him. He is really the first Pope who can with perfect accuracy be given this title. Gregory was born about 540 in a rich senatorial family in Rome, early entered imperial service becoming, through sure ability, Prefect of city of Rome in 573. The Exarch of Ravenna, representing the eastern emperor of Italy either could not or would not help in the defense of the city against the Lombard’s. In this emergency Gregory assumed the highest powers and justified his management of affairs by success in the political and military spheres as well as in the city.

Hearing the call of God he devoted himself to a religious life and sold his vast estates in 574 dedicating the proceeds to the welfare of the poor and to the building of six monasteries in Sicily. He became a monk of the Benedictine order.

In 579 Pope Pelagius II sent him on an embassy to Constantinople where he gained invaluable experience in diplomacy. In 586 he became Abbot of his monastery in Rome in 590 he was elected pope. Phillip Shaff, the historian, very aptly sums up the character of Gregory as monastic, ascetic, devote, and superstitious. Hierarchical, haughty and ambitious yet humble before God. His former experience in government service and diplomacy served him is good stead in negotiations with the Lombard groups. He became the most potent political force in Italy. He showed the same consummate ability in managing the vast papal estates near Rome, Calabria, Sicily, Corsica, Dalmatia, Gaul and Africa; thus helping to lay the foundations for the temporal power of the Pope which was to become so important in international relationships at a later period. Gregory bent his ceaseless energies toward increasing the holdings of the Sees in lands, for it had fallen low and his efforts were not in vain. He saw clearly the need for missions; for more than 2/3 of Europe was still pagan. And it was he who conceived the idea of sending a Roman mission to the Anglo-Saxons of England. He sought to turn the other-worldliness of his monks to practical account and sent them forth to evangelize the heathen.

The claim to universal supremacy in the church first made by Leo I, was renewed by Gregory on the same grounds. When in 588, John the Patriarch of Constantinople assumed the title of universal bishop Gregory protested strongly to the emperor and to the Patriarch himself that it was proud, profane, wicked, and blasphemous. And he suggested that the Patriarch was the forerunner of antichrist. He himself assumed the title “servant of servants”, which is still born by the popes. But Gregory’s attitude seemed somewhat ludicrous, considering that he made for himself, assumed the title of “servant of servants” which is Peter, and the Vicar of Christ on earth which clearly implied supremacy over all the church. He made this claim very specifically, was recognized almost everywhere in the west, the Celtic Church being again a notable exception. Even the east granted him a certain primacy of honor, although not of Episcopal authority. Like Augustine, he taught that there was no salvation for anyone outside the one Catholic Church and he claimed to be the head of it. He was a man of deeply devotional spirit, who regarded the Holy Scriptures with profound respect and looked for the speedy coming of the Lord to judge a wicked world.

He was long remembered and a powerful preacher and an able theological writer. The doctrine of purgatory, which others had adumbrated since the days of Origen, was now officially promulgated by Gregory. The Gregorian chant seems to have been developed later. His influence on music and ritual was not so great as at one time supposed. But he encouraged the use of pictures and images in church on condition that they would not be worshiped. Gregory strengthened the Roman Church remarkably during a difficult period and helped secure for his successors that predominance with which he himself strove with might and main. So one of the things that we need to affirm with respect to Gregory the Great, one of the great pastoral popes, is that he did send out missionaries to the north country and there were many who came to faith because of those missions to England and ultimately to other reaches as well.

B. Spread of the Church to Great Britain

Patrick, perhaps you have heard of St. Patrick, arrived in Ireland in 432, and the Gospel had flourished in that land. It is interesting that the work in Ireland produced a profound and vital Christianity which was taken across to Scotland. St. Columba, who came from Ireland to Iona in 563 proved to be a great statesman, abbot and evangelist. And there were others who went from Iona to Lindisfarne. So from one place to another the Christian faith grew in Brittany, Wales, and Cornwall. The Celtic church was lively and many came to faith in that northern realm. Pope Gregory the Great died in 604 and his reign was marked by a number of steps forward in papal power and in the development of the Roman Church. It’s convenient to glance at some changes that the church thrust upon our attention.

C. Contrast between the Church in the 1st Century and 7th century

Let’s begin at the beginning of the 7th century. The contrast with the 1st century is really very startling. In the first instance papal claims were far greater in the 7th century than they had been in the 1st. Indeed there had been none in the 1st. Where once arrested by the power exercised by the pope and the tremendous claims he makes for his office, instead of being a humble pastor as were the early presbyters who ministered to the flock, he is now able to hold his own with kings and beat them at their diplomatic game. His proud claim is that he is supreme over all the churches and all other bishops. So this really is a striking change. So in the 7th century we find a real increase in papal claims and papal power. In part that had to do with the fact that there was a great power vacuum. When the empire collapsed and the barbarian hordes pressed in upon Rome; Gregory the Great really stepped into that power vacuum and established himself not only as a Sheppard over the flock of the church but also had taken power in municipal prerogatives as well. So he was the executor over the papal estates but also exerted tremendous power in terms of civil government within his own time period. So these papal claims come hand in glove with that power vacuum. Gregory the Great needs to be seen for his importance in this regard.

Secondly, there was the Lords Supper. Although the communion was still mainly regarded in somewhat ambivalent terms; look, one can find in the early records the belief that the taking of the Lords Supper is a participation in the body and blood of Christ, Paul himself says that. But in the early church there is also indication that this was a participation in the medicine of immortality. Yet there were some other places and some other ways of celebrating the Lords Supper that did not place that same kind of weight on it. But clearly the doctrine of the real presence was widely accepted and this tended to go hand in glove with the Constantine approval of the church in which the altar began to take a central and prominent place in the basilica of the time.

Third, the doctrine of Purgatory had gone on gaining ground ever since Augustine had expressed his belief in its probability as a means of purging souls of their sins by fire. In pagan religions the belief in purgatory was quite common, but it was thought of as a place under the earth where the souls of men were purged through suffering severe torments. The doctrine was favored by Gregory the Great and was widely accepted, but did not become an article of faith in the Roman Church until the council of Florence in 1439. And one of the things that we will see during the time of the reformation this doctrine of purgatory was challenged all together because it has no good biblical foundation. So this is an interesting phenomenon as we study the history of the Christian Church. Even doctrine has gone through interesting transformations.

Fourthly, the Prayers for the Dead and Prayers for the Saints which were concomitants of indulgences and masses for the departed naturally grew up as the belief in purgatory increased. Saints and martyrs were greatly venerated. At the anniversary celebrations at their tombs the impression grew up that prayers were being offered to them or for them. Thus, in time prayers to the saints came to be regarded as normal. Such prayers were officially recognized by the church at the 2nd council of Nicaea in 787.

Fifth was the Adoration of Mary. Since the council of Ephesus in 431 had declared that Mary was Theotokos ‘the mother of God” the cult of Mary went on increasing, though not without great opposition. Festivals were held in her honor, and then came worship, by the end of the 6th century adoration was widely offered her and prayers were addressed to her. Already there was much superstition as to her intervention on behalf of her votaries that is those who prayed to her. The term mother of god suggests borrowing from paganism where we find such conception and expressions with regard to Demeter, Sybille and others. The places of worship also increased in wealth among Christians and favor was shown to them by the great church of St. Sophia, in Constantinople and the seven churches of Rome in the time of Gregory the 1st.

Against the dangers of this sumptuousness Jerome and Chrysostom had given solemn warning about two hundred years earlier. The former declaring that, “alone is the true temple, which is adorned with the indwelling of a true, a holy life”. By 814 the worship of images in churches had become such a scandal that the Emperor Michael wrote in alarm to Louis the Pious the son of Charlemagne. Long before this the Muslims had begun to taunt the Christians as being idolaters because of their image worship.

Also the priesthood, as Sacerdotelism increased, the priesthood increased. The altar which formerly had no place in the Christian church became a greater and greater importance. This led to drastic alterations which extended even to the architectural design of the churches. Also, incense was a part of the Christian worship. It had been used in former times only to fumigate houses, but now it had been incorporated by Christians in their worship.

D. Monasticism

While we have mentioned Monasticism, one quick word to add to it only to say that St. Anthony was born in Egypt in 251, he forsook wealth and social position and went out to dedicate himself to a life of contemplation and prayer. He gathered around him a small group of disciples.

The first great organizer of monastic communities was Pachomius who established a monastery on the upper Nile and he actually, it was some of these desert fathers who had hidden Athanasius during one of his several times in exile. It is interesting to note that these desert fathers, out of the experience of these desert fathers, there were a number of monastic movements that developed and have taken their place within the church. The Benedictine Order was founded by Benedictine of Nursia of Italy in 529. The discipline is strict and the order became immensely popular. It had a profound influence on other monastic movements. The Cluniac movement started in Cluny France to counteract the corruption and lack of zeal which had manifested itself in the Benedictine order. Remember what I’ve said about the regulars and the rigorists, the Cluniac’s are the rigorists of the Benedictine Order.

There is the Cistercian Order, founded by Citeaux in Burgundy by monks who wanted to keep the original Benedictine rules in their strictness and purity. They aimed at plain simple living. Bernard founded the famous monastery at Clairvaux in 1115 in a wild and remote valley. His influence was really quite strong. There was the Mendicant Orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Franciscans were an order that make a vow to poverty and Dominicans were founded in 1215 by Dominic a Spanish nobleman at the time of the bloody campaign against the Albejencians. Dominic established his rule to be a preaching order. There were also military orders that were founded. The Knights of St. John in Jerusalem founded in 1048. The Knights Templar and the Teutonic Knights were founded in 1121. They were all composed of soldier monks. The orders began in Palestine with the object of caring for and protecting Pilgrims.

E. The Rise of Islam

Mohammed was born in Arabia in about 570, at an early age he lost his parents. As he grew to manhood, he prayed much in the solitude of the desert and there founded Islam. He wanted to bring his people back to the worship of the one true God. The true religion of Allah whose prophet he claimed to be. Owing to intense opposition to his preaching he had to flee from Mecca in 622 and went with some 200 of his followers to Medina.  This hijera, as his flight was called, was a turning point in his career and from it the Muslim era is dated. Nine years later after a somewhat checkered career he reentered Mecca in triumph and by the time of his death in 632 he had won over all Arabia. In the Quran, a collection of Mohammed’s sayings which became the sacred book of the Muslims, it was purported to be the divine revelation made to him by the angel Gabriel. His character was full of contradictions; he could be friendly and generous, resolute and true, but he could also be fierce and cruel to his enemies. And he was undeniably sensual, only 90 years after his flight from Mecca in 622, his religion, called by its votaries Islam, stretched all the way from India to the Atlantic.  Soon it penetrated into central Asia and China.

Our imagination reels with the number of Christians who were overthrown in the Muslim conquest.

In the great Patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria which extended over vast areas only remnants of the Christian church remain. Thus, in Syria alone ten thousand churches were destroyed or became mosques. The church of North Africa, with its memories of Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine were practically obliterated. Only small Christian communities survived here and there. This destruction of the ancient church and lustrous church, east and south of the Mediterranean was nothing less than the removing of the candlestick out of its place; to use a phrase from The Book of Revelation. After conquering Spain, the Muslim armies pushed across the Pyrenees Mountains in 732 and reached the heart of France, all Europe seemed open to them. Then Charles Martel who was mayor to the palace of the Frankish King marshaled the Christian forces and inflicted a crushing defeat on the invading armies at Tours. It was one of the most important battles in history. As a result of it Europe remained Christian and the Muslim forces were driven back over the course of several years.

F. Christianity to the Germanic Tribes

At the very time when such terrible calamities were falling upon so many in the ancient centers of church life, the faith was being carried to the Germanic tribes in the neighborhood of the Rhine. In this work the missionaries from Britain played a remarkable role. The great work done by Columbanos was energetically extended by crowds of zealous monks by the Celtic church in Britain who flocked to evangelize the continent. Especially after the synod of Whitby in 1064 when the Roman church began little by little to absorb their own church at home and they sought an independent field abroad. Two great Englishmen did a vast work in building up the Church of Rome amongst the Germanic tribes. The first was Willibrord a native of York and he went to Frisia as a missionary in 690. At first he met considerable opposition from the pagan inhabitants. In spite of this he made very many converts and lived to see the whole region of Frankish Frisia professing Christianity.  In 695 he became archbishop of Utrecht. Boniface or Winfrid another English monk is often called the apostle of Germany. He was an able scholar and he had profound effect in turning many to the Lord Jesus Christ in Saxony which waned toward the end of the century, the freedom loving Saxons were compelled by the sword to confess Christianity is a blot on the name of Charlemagne, who never the less had the hardy support of the Pope in the actions took. Again and again the Saxons had revolted and a wasted the Frankish countryside slaying priests and burning monasteries. They hated Christianity because it came to them from their enemies the Franks. As a punishment Charlemagne had 4500 Saxons beheaded in one day. When, after 30 years of constant fighting, peace was established missionaries were sent among them and Germany became at least a nominally Christian as far as the Elba River. These missionaries found a better way of spreading the gospel than Charlemagne’s plan for converting the Saxons by the word and the sword and soon this valorous people was brought to know Christ.

G. Charlemagne Crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

One important factor that really helps us to enter into the middle ages for our understanding of what goes on here is that on Christmas Day in 800, in Saint Peter’s church the pope suddenly advanced and crowned Charlemagne as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the west. He professed to be much surprised but the indications are that it was all carefully planned beforehand. It was an epic making event that affected Europe and the Church for centuries, the formation of this new empire; that was presently the idea of one state and one church, with emperor and pope working hand in hand for the glory of God and the welfare of men. In the days of Charlemagne the alliance worked well, but, he was always careful to maintain his position as emperor over the pope as well as over everyone else.

The Popes claimed that by crowning Charlemagne they had transferred to him the rights of the eastern emperor and revived the glories of the ancient Roman Empire. The claim was vigorously resisted on the ground that the crowning was only an acknowledgement of monarchial power which was as effective before the coronation as after, and depended in no way on the see of Rome. The Roman pontiff however continued to press his claims for many centuries and it was a sore question and productive of much strife and bitterness. Henceforth the pontiff was found intervening in all kinds of affairs throughout the whole of Christian Europe. With a quiet assurance he assumed that he must be obeyed on the ground of his being the successor of Saint Peter.

Charlemagne regulated the lives of all the clergy forbidding them to have wives or concubines, to frequent taverns, to go out hunting, to occupy themselves with worldly business. He also ordained that bishops and abbots should set up their own schools and wished every parish priest to do the same. This however proved difficult to put into effect. But Charlemagne’s insistence on the value of learning had a profound influence throughout the empire. It prepared the way for the great scholastic movement of the middle ages.

H. Power of the Papacy

The middle ages are marked by the continued growth of the power of the papacy and the growth of the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. The papacy perhaps, gained its height in the years 1073 – 1294. Gregory the 7th carried through a revolution of the position of the church. He held that as Vicar of Christ, representative of Peter he could give or take away empire, kingdoms, duchies, marquisates and the possessions of all men. Everyone on earth from the emperor down to the humblest peasant must acknowledge him. He began his campaign by a scathing attack on the theory which had allowed some priests to marry. Henceforth, the priests of the Roman Church were a class apart, cut off from the most sacred and elevating experiences of family life. His next attack was on simony, there was need for action here for unscrupulous princes and others, not infrequently, sold sacred offices to the highest bidder, irrespective of spiritual qualifications.
Hildebrand’s greatest fight however was over the question of lay investiture. Under feudal law a vassal had to do homage to his lord on taking possession of lands. He was then presented with a symbol in recognition of his legal rights. The same applied when certain offices were taken up. This ceremony was called investiture.

As the great churchmen held lands and dominions they had to be invested like others. Hildebrand, following the Cluniac teaching objected strongly to all interference to secular power in church affairs and held that ecclesiastics (who were workers in the church) should take up office without any sanction from the civil ruler. The secular powers however were not without solid grounds for their attitude. In some countries, virtually half the property belonged to the church. To have dispensed with homage and transferred vast territories to the pope would have meant chaos in civil government. In 1075, Hildebrand boldly prohibited lay investiture and continued to press the power of the papacy.

We need to move on, even though there is much more that could be said about the particulars of what takes place in the Middle Ages. But one thing that we do need to recognize is, that this is not just another chapter in the history of the church, here that needs mentioning even though it is not an altogether happy one.

I. The Crusades

The crusades took place between the years 1095 – 1270. The idea of a crusade actively espoused by Hildebrand was carried out by his successors. The fanaticism of the rough Turkish Muslims, who captured Jerusalem from the Arabs, had become a menace to Christendom and pilgrims were being seriously interfered with. Pope Urban the 2nd threw all his strength into preparing for the first crusade. He was quick to see the moral prestige which would accrue to himself and the papal system through his leadership of the movement. He was not mistaken, he deeply moved his audiences by his descriptions of Saracen barbarities against pilgrims, and to persuade many people to take part many kinds of inducements were held out absolution from all kinds of sin, eternal blessedness for the fallen, miracles to help, cancellation of debts, pardon for criminals. It is safe to say that the crusades did more to popularize indulgences than any other single influence.

Peter the Hermit, an uncouth and unkempt preacher worked up the multitudes into a frenzy of enthusiasm. It was soon regarded as a disgrace not to join the crusade. Many thousands of men woman and children on various unofficial expeditions set out in 1096 without any preparation expecting to be miraculously provided for. Of 275,000 who joined these groups, all either perished of cold or disease or were scattered, Peter himself fled at the first sign of danger. The first official crusade with 300,000 men set out in August in1096, going via Constantinople. Tens of thousands perished in the cold uplands of Asia Minor. Rivalries and jealousies also sadly weakened the expedition but there great bravery was unbounded. They reached Jerusalem in 1099.  Of those who left Europe only one tenth completed the journey. Legend told for centuries of the miracles supposed to have taken place in the siege.

It is a strange reflection on the spirit of the crusade that when they entered the Holy City their first action was to massacre the Saracens. This was only one of the eight crusades which can really claim to have achieved what it set out to do. The second crusade was an unmitigated failure. Although sponsored by the most powerful men in Europe, it was organized when the Turks captured Edessa from the Christians in 1144.The recapture of Jerusalem in 1187 by Saladin the Saracen leader, was a sore blow to Christian sentiment and led to the third Crusade. The emperor Fredrick Barbarossa, Phillip of France, and Richard the Lion Hearted of England, all set out for Palestine with strong armies. Barbarossa was drowned while crossing the river Saleph in Silesia. Phillip and Richard, in spite of their unsurpassing heroism, virtually failed in their mission. The fourth and sixth crusades were successful in a way. But there achievements were not fully recognized by the Pope. The fifth, seventh and eighth were all lamentable failures. Nearly all Europe apart from the pope heaved a sigh of relief when in 1270 the crusades were abandoned.

Men had entered the crusades with very mixed motives. The immorality, pillage and massacre which so often disgraced the movement show that in spite of great zeal in pursuance of a great ideal no true spiritual power had taken possession of them. The effects were mainly political and social rather than religious. The rest of the story of the Middle Ages we must condense all too briefly. The power of the papacy continued with some degree of strength but the next steps of the papacy really proved to weaken it. For there was a conflict between popes and Pope Clement the 5th was so much under the power of Phillip of France that he could not face the indignation of the Italian people and he removed himself to France. So you have the papacy actually removing itself to France, but in 1309 he went to another town by the name of Avignon. The popes resided outside of Italy for over seventy years. A period which some ardent Roman Catholics have designated as the Babylonian captivity of the church for it was a time of miserable servitude to the French monarchy.

J. Conclusion of the Middle Ages

The situation in Rome in the long absence of the Popes became dangerous for the church politically and religiously and great efforts were made by the Roman citizens and other influential people to get the pope back and in 1377 Gregory the 11th returned from the long exile. But scarcely had one scandal ended when a greater one began. On the death of Pope Gregory in 1378, Urban the 6th, an Italian was elected, the French cardinals elected a fellow countryman called Clement the 7th, who returned to Avignon. Some nations supported the Pope at Avignon, some the Pope at Rome. So serious was this schism that the power of Rome was never the same again. Roman Catholics had depended on acknowledging that their salvation depended on the successor of Peter and here were two popes for nearly forty years. Each one anathematized the other; each claiming to be the only true occupant of Peter’s chair. No wonder the Catholic world was perplexed.

The power of the Papacy continued to wane and there were many venal and really wrong headed popes that ascended into power after that time. There was however many bright lights within the church during this medieval time period. There were many wonderful theologians, Bonaventure; you have St. Thomas Aquinas, who produced powerful and prodigious theology. His Summa continues to stand to this day as a monument to what they call great cathedrals of the mind in which there was a powerful attempt to blend human philosophy with the revelation of God into a mixture which sowed the great power of God to touch his people. So St. Thomas Aquinas is a wonderful theologian and had a powerful effect on the life of the church during the medieval time period.

We come now to the undermining of the power of the papacy and there were many voices who were calling out for renewal and renaissance.  There were people who recognized that the church needed to be reclaimed and it needed to come back to the Word of God. And so we will find that there are a number of voices which rise at the end of this era of the Middle Ages that urged the church to find itself once again. So there is a quest for reformation. There is a conciliar movement that calls for a new council, for there to be another ecumenical council to meet in order to make decisions about the life of the church, to purify the church. There are other individuals like John Witcliff in England and Jon Huss in Czechoslovakia who in powerful theological treatises set forward ideals for purifying the church.

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