The main features and the world setting of Christianity

Not far from the year 950 a fresh surge of life was seen in Christianity which was to continue until about the year 1350. No precise dates can be set for either its beginning or its end. As we have seen, it commenced earlier in Byzantine or Greek Christianity than it did in Western or Latin Christianity. It was most marked in Western Europe but in some of its aspects, notably in the geographic extension of the faith, it had striking manifestations in the East, in Byzantine and Nestorian Christianity.

In these four centuries Christianity won the formal allegiance of most of such of the peoples of North-western and Central Europe as had not previously accepted it. It expanded into what is now Russia. It regained from Islam most of the Iberian Peninsula. On the north and west it was planted in Iceland and Greenland and possibly was carried to North America. It was professed by minorities in Central, East, and South Asia. By the year 1350 Christians were scattered from Greenland on the extreme north and west to the China Sea on the east, and to India on the south.

The main strength and the most abounding vigour of Christianity were in Western Europe. Here were most of the new movements which were expressions of the resurging life. From here the chief territorial spread of the faith was achieved. Here Christianity was more potent in shaping civilization than it had previously been anywhere, more even than in the Roman Empire after the formal conversion of that realm. In Western Europe it was so vital and so influential that in later centuries it was there and among peoples who migrated from Western Europe that it continued to display its greatest power.

Why this resurgence of Christianity and in these particular centuries? We do not know. We can recognize some of the contributing factors but we cannot be certain that they were the most important.

As we suggested in the last chapter, a revival of strength was seen in the Byzantine Empire in the second half of the ninth and the first half of the tenth century. It continued in the second half of the tenth and in the fore part of the eleventh century. At the end of the first quarter of the eleventh century the Byzantine Empire had reached an apogee which it was never again to attain.

In Western Europe, as we also saw, near the end of the tenth century the invasions which had racked that section from the fifth century ceased. There were still movements of peoples and chronic war, but not again were there major incursions of non-Christians into Western Christendom which left large deposits of settlers. The Northmen were the last of such waves to submerge much of Western Europe. Later invasions of nonChristians, notably of the Mongols and the Ottoman Turks, might threaten the region, but they did not penetrate effectively beyond its eastern and southern borders.

The cessation of the invasions was accompanied and followed in Western Europe by a growth of wealth, the beginnings of modern states, the inception of that expansion of its peoples which by the middle of the twentieth century was to revolutionize most of mankind, and the emergence of a fresh aspect of civilization.

Commerce revived and with it, both aided by it and aiding it, cities increased in numbers and population. This was first notable in Italy, where was the capital of Western Christianity, Rome.

In Western Europe kingdoms, nascent nations, began to emerge from the welter of feudalism. In 987 the feudal princes chose as King of France one of their number, Hugh Capet, Duke of France, with his capital at Paris. Although at the outset possessing one of the weaker of the feudal principalities, under successive heads the Capetian family gradually added to their domains and made of France a strong state. In 911, on the death of Louis the Child, the last of the Carolingians to rule in Germany, the great tribal princes of that area together with the chief clergy elected Conrad of Franconia king. The title of King of the Germans did not remain permanently in the Franconian house as did that of King of France in the Capetian family. In 919 it passed to a line of Saxon dukes. In 962 one of that dynasty, Otto I, who had been made King of the Germans in 936, was crowned Roman Emperor. The ablest of Western rulers since Charlemagne to gain that title, he had already driven off the Danes, had defeated the Hungarians, had established his effective power over the great dukes of Germany, had put men whom he trusted at the head of the main bishoprics and monasteries, and had made himself master of much of Italy. His coronation as Emperor by the Pope is often regarded as beginning what was known as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, an institution which was to persist until 1806. At the time the step was not looked upon as an innovation, for by his coronation Otto was regarded as having come into the succession or Roman Emperors. The term "Holy" was meant to indicate that the Roman Empire was Christian and the words "of the German Nation" were intended to convey the principle that normally the imperial throne would be filled by a German. In this fashion the political leadership of Western Christendom passed to a Saxon, one of that people who less than two centuries earlier had been brought forcibly by Charlemagne to accept the Christian faith. In 1066 William the Conqueror began a strong state in England. The gradual expulsion of Moslem political rule from the Iberian Peninsula was accompanied by the rise of professedly Christian kingdoms, chief of which were Castile, Leon, Aragon, Navarre, and Portugal. There emerged other Christian kingdoms in Western Europe, among them Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, Poland, and Hungary.

The expansion of Western Europe may be said to have dated from the first of the Crusades, in 1096. Through the long line of subsequent Crusades and the commerce of the Italian cities, before 1350 it had touched not only Western Asia but also India and China.

These political and economic developments were paralleled by the coming in Western Europe of a distinctive stage of civilization. Many-sided, embodying fresh achievements of the peoples of that region and contributions from Graco-Roman culture, in every phase it bore the imprint of the revived Christianity of the era.

Expanding and vigorous though it unquestionably was, in these four centuries Western Europe and even all Christendom did not loom as prominently in the total world scene as had the Roman Empire from the first to the fifth century. Far richer, more populous, and more sophisticated was China of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279). Although, like Europe, divided politically, India was probably wealthier than the former and contained more people. The Arab realms were now in fragments, but the Moslem world stretched from Spain through Western Asia and Persia into Central Asia and India. In most of this area Islam was dominant. Moslem civilization reached a high level, and its thought, especially that of Averroes (1126-1198), exerted a marked influence on the intellectual life of Christian Europe. In the eleventh century the Seljuk Turks, Moslems, created a realm in Persia and Western Asia which was larger than that of any Christian state of that day. White it soon broke up, some of its fragments continued to be important.

In the latter part of the twelfth and in the thirteenth century there blazed forth in meteoric fashion an empire, that of the Mongols, which ruled over a larger area and over more people than any which up to that time had been created by man. It was not Christian. Although some of its princes had Christian mothers and were baptized as infants, it was frankly pagan. Its founder, best known by his later designation, Jenghiz Khan, "Universal Emperor," was the son of the head of a confederation of some of the tribes in Mongolia. After his father's death he fought his way to the headship which had been held by his sire. He extended his rule over several of his neighbours and before his death (1227) he had begun the conquest of China and Central Asia. Under the sons and grandsons of Jenghiz Khan the victorious sweep of the Mongol arms continued. By the close of the thirteenth century the Mongols were masters of China, Korea, most of Central Asia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Georgia, and the south of Russia. Beyond the borders of that vast area their armies had been seen in Poland, Hungary, Moravia, North-west India, Burma, Annam, and Champa, and their fleets attacked Japan and Java. While within a century and a half of the death of Jenghiz Khan the Mongol realm had broken up and the Mongols had been expelled from China, large fragments of Eurasia were much longer under Mongol rule, notably in Central Asia and Russia, and in the sixteenth century conquerors of Mongol stock subdued much of India and founded a dynasty which lasted into the nineteenth century. Compared with the Mongol Empire as it was in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Christian kingdoms and the remnants of the Byzantine Empire were petty principalities which escaped incorporation only because they were sufficiently on the periphery not to feel the full impact of the Mongol armies.

AIthough in 1350 Christians were more widely scattered geographically than in 500 or 950, they may not have been as numerous as in the former year. In the year 1350 Europe had been more profoundly shaped by Christianity than in the year 950 or than had the Roman Empire in the year 500. Yet the portions of the world which called themselves Christian were by no means as prominent in the total world scene as had been the pro fessedly Christian Roman Empire in the year 400 or even, after an additional century of decline, in the year 500. In the year 1350, to the hypothetical visitor from Mars Christianity would probably not have appeared as much a factor in the life of mankind as Islam or Buddhism and possibly no more so than Hinduism or Confucianism. However, it had proved its ability to survive the demise of the realm and the culture in which it had achieved its first triumphs and with which it had seemed to he identified, and, winning the barbarian invaders from the North, it had been a major stimulus in stirring them to produce an advanced civilization.

As we pursue the narrative of Christianity in these centuries, we will first tell of the progress towards the conversion of the peoples of Europe. We will then trace the course of Christianity in Western Europe, for it was here, rather than in the waning Byzantine realms, that the faith was to have its chief centre into the twentieth century. Finally we will move eastward, to tell of what was transpiring there in the Christian communities.

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