This chapter considers in more detail how a mode of Christianity orientated around higher power became dominant. Covering the period from the 4th century to the dawn of the modern period, it traces the development of the two most important manifestations of such Christianity - what can be called 'Church Christianity' and 'Biblical Christianity'. Church Christianity has had the most extensive influence over the longest period of all types of Christianity. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church belong to this type, as do many of the earlier Protestant churches, most notably the Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches (see below). With its origins in the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Biblical Christianity develops out of Church Christianity, and retains a number of its characteristics, including its orientation around higher power. But instead of locating such power - on earth - in the church, its rituals and traditions, priests and sacraments, it attributes highest authority to the Bible.
The fact that the word 'church' refers both to a community of Christians and the building in which they gather is not inconsequential, for this style of building, first developed by Church Christianity, tells us a good deal about the latter's characteristic commitments.
One obvious thing about a church is that its main space is designed to accommodate a group of people. Unlike many temples, or meditation rooms, a church is not designed primarily for individuals coming into the presence of the sacred on a one-to-one basis, but for a group coming into the presence of God. Yet the group is not itself the main focus of what goes on in these buildings. If the purpose were simply for people to meet one another, churches could look like meeting halls. Instead, they tend to be tall, impressive, imposing buildings. The interior space usually rises to the rafters, whilst from outside the impression of height is accentuated by a tower or steeple. The effect is to draw attention away from the self and the group towards that which transcends them - an effect which is heightened when walls, windows, and ceilings are decorated with images of the heavens and their inhabitants. The design carries a message: that such religion u looks to a God who is higher than human beings and who calls forth h a their worship, praise, obedience, service, obeisance. (Hence the g. name of the main activity for which these buildings are constructed: i
As well as directing attention upwards, churches direct it towards a n focal point at the east end of the building, where an altar is located y (most churches are rectangular, with the longest sides of the rectangle running east to west). A font, designed to contain water for baptism, may also be prominent somewhere in the building. Taken in combination with the 'vertical' focus on transcendence, the effect is to suggest that even though God may dwell high above in the heavens, He is available here on earth by way of the church's sacraments - the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the water of baptism. This sacramental focus is a key characteristic of Church Christianity. Though it reveres the Bible, its architecture tells us that it gives a still more important place to the sacraments, for the pulpit is rarely in as prominent a place as the altar.
Sacramentalism goes hand in hand with another key characteristic of Church Christianity: sacerdotalism (the granting of authority to an ordained 'clergy' who are set apart from the 'laity'). The two characteristics go hand in hand, because sacraments require priests to consecrate and administer them, and the power of the one reinforces the power of the other. If it is believed that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are really the body and blood of the God-man, then the men who handle them are the deputies of God Himself, with divine power in their hands. What is more, since you can only have a sacrament if you have a priest (since he alone is allowed to perform the rituals in which the elements of water, bread, and wine are transformed into sacred objects), and since you can only have a church if you have the sacraments, there can be no living church without a clergyman.
At the very heart of Church Christianity, then, there is a hierarchical power that flows down from heaven to earth. At the top of the pyramid is God the Father, in whom all power is concentrated. His > power is mediated by His Son, Jesus Christ, who, in turn, channels power through his designated representatives on earth, the clergy. J Thus Church Christianity structures its own life - the life of God's people - after the hierarchical model of divine power from on high. What is more, it extends this model to the whole of society. In Church Christianity the belief that Christ is Lord of all the earth engenders a sense of responsibility not only for those already inside the church, but for those outside. In order to discharge this responsibility, it is willing to work with the wider society. Thus Church Christianity aims to create a universal Christian society, and when opportunity presents itself, it is willing to enter into alliance with political power to achieve this aim.
It is quite possible that Jesus envisaged a fully egalitarian society whose members share table fellowship, teach and minister to one another, and refuse to acknowledge any authority except that of a God of Love. How did a movement inspired by such ideals turn into a hierarchical, sacramental, sacerdotal church?
We can glimpse a transitional stage in the process in the communities to which Paul writes. Authority within these groups is conferred according to particular gifts bestowed on people by the Holy Spirit - such as preaching, teaching, prophecy, and healing. But it is clear that a few individuals, including Paul himself, are trying to claim special authority for themselves, an authority that is justified in terms of their direct contact with the risen Lord (whom Paul has encountered in a rapture). Although egalitarian, Spirit-led forms of Christian community would continue to exist (see the next chapter), they appear to have been challenged by those who believed that order and unity could be achieved by way of hierarchical leadership.
As formal leadership roles developed, they were reserved for men and, amongst men, for those who could claim some u direct association with Jesus. As time went by and Jesus' h a contemporaries began to die off, the idea of 'apostolic succession' g. developed, according to which authority was passed down a male i line that could be traced back to Jesus and the 'apostles' who had C known him directly. In order to make sure that the purity of this !T line was safeguarded, those who belonged to it chose their n successors carefully, and authorized them through a laying on of y hands, which gradually developed into a formal rite of priestly 'ordination'. Leaders were not simply chosen by the community; they were ordained by God, and set apart from the rest of humanity.
As well as concentrating power in the hands of a few, apostolic succession helped secure uniformity of belief amongst Christians. Although 'heretics' might claim to know the wisdom of Jesus by direct inspiration, their 'orthodox' opponents could claim to be more faithful to the memory of what the historical Jesus actually said and did - since they stood in a chain of received wisdom that stretched back to him. Apostolic succession was equally important as a way of tying a developing sacramentalism to the office of a recognized priesthood. In Jewish and Graeco-Roman religion, a priest was normally a person authorized to perform sacrifice, and hence to stand between the humans who offered the sacrifice and the God who received it. As Christianity developed an understanding of Christ's death as sacrifice and the Eucharist as a repetition of this once-for-all offering, so the language of priesthood became more appropriate. Christian priests were understood to stand in a special relation to the God-man by virtue not only of apostolic succession, but because of their ability to offer His sacrifice at the altar on behalf of the people. One reason the priestly office was reserved for men was because it was thought more appropriate for a male to represent the God-man than for a female to do so (see Chapter 7).
By the 2nd century all these lines of development were coming together to form the basis of Church Christianity. Its advocates preferred to speak of it as 'catholic' which means 'universal', or > 'orthodox' which means 'true belief. By presenting itself as the one true, universal form of Christianity, it was possible to make J alternative versions of the faith look like deviations from a pure root stock and their followers like schismatics and heretics. But the claim to catholicity also had a strong institutional underpinning, given that Church Christianity had established a clear line of leadership, a unified set of ritual practices and a unifying focus in the only Son of the One True God. The drive towards unity was reinforced by the establishment of a hierarchy of leadership in which 'bishops' oversaw 'priests', who in turn had authority over 'deacons' (responsible for pastoral care and other services) and lay people. All these developments helped enforce discipline within Church Christianity and bind many separate communities together under a single 'head', Jesus Christ, represented on earth by the bishop.
As well as being marked by orderliness and hierarchy, Church Christianity was characterized by social conservatism. Its representatives had little desire to rock the boat of the Graeco-Roman urban society in which they were now situated
Extract from Ignatius, to the Smyreans
The letters of Ignatius (c. 35-c. 107) provide an early glimpse of a Christian leader striving to establish episcopal authority (the leadership of bishops) by arguing that the hierarchy of heaven must be reflected within the organization of the church.
Avoid divisions, as the beginning of evil. Follow, all of you, the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father ... Let that eucharist be considered valid which is under the bishop or him to whom he commits it ... Whatsover [the bishop] approves, that is well pleasing to God.
(the Jesus movement's roots in rural, peasant society had been quickly left behind). True, Christians liked to draw a distinction between the sexual licence and immorality that characterized wider society and their own commitment to chastity and life-long marriage, but many respectable Romans would have been sympathetic to such a chaste sexual ethic. When it came to more radical matters such as questioning the patriarchal nature of the family, masculine domination in general, or the slave-based economy of the Roman Empire, Church Christianity was silent. Its apologists were more concerned to convince the Romans that Christians were trustworthy, moral, and loyal citizens whose presence in the Empire could only serve to strengthen it.
But there was one area where Church Christians would not compromise, however much offence it caused. Christians insisted that theirs was the only true God, that He demanded exclusive loyalty, that other so-called gods were demons and evil spirits, and that only by accepting the God of Jesus Christ could people be saved. Such exclusivism troubled the Romans, who were tolerant of religions throughout the Empire so long as they, in turn, were tolerant of one another. The Christians' refusal to honour the Roman gods was considered a political as well as a religious offence, for the strength of the Empire was believed to depend upon the proper observance of its religion. When imperial decrees demanded sacrifice to the Roman gods, some Christians refused. To the Romans' amazement, a significant number demonstrated their willingness to die rather than betray their God for an 'idol', thus becoming the first Christian martyrs.
Despite its institutional strength and unity, and the powerful witness of martyrdom, Church Christianity's rise to power would probably never have come about had the Roman Emperor himself
> not converted to its cause.
J Prior to the year 313, in which the Emperor Constantine promulgated the famous Edict of Milan granting toleration to all religions in the Empire, Church Christianity faced dangers on every side. As we will see in the next chapter, it was engaged in a life-and-death struggle with rival forms of Christianity, a struggle whose outcome was far from certain. What is more, it suffered from sporadic but sometimes deadly forms of persecution by the Romans, some of whom had the support of a provincial ruler or even the Emperor himself. Such persecution might result not only in loss of life, but in confiscation of money, property, and books.
There is, however, far more to the story of the Empire's relation to Church Christianity than persecution, for there were many Romans who were sympathetic to this new religion, and a good number who joined it. What is more, Church Christianity appears to have been particularly successful within the capital of the Empire, Rome, and to have attracted some noble and high-born Romans to its ranks. Since it did not disrupt Roman life and institutions too greatly, other than by calling for a more rigorous personal morality and an abandonment of all other forms of worship, this is not as surprising as it might appear.
Nor is it so surprising that a Roman Emperor might see the advantages of Church Christianity not only for himself but for his Empire. This, after all, was a religion that understood power as the possession of an Almighty God on high, not of the people below. Far better that the Emperor be understood as God's deputy on earth, upholding divine justice, than as a tyrant whose position was based on force. Far better too that his people acknowledge his divine right to rule, and their own duty to submit to him, a sacred obligation. What is more, Christianity might help an ambitious Emperor achieve his dream of unifiying and extending the Empire; for the church also cherished dreams of universal conquest - of souls u at least. h a
It was not only the Emperor who saw advantages in a church-state i alliance. Church Christianity willingly accepted imperial patronage because it too had a great deal to gain. In the ancient world religions !T without political backing were always vulnerable and exposed. Once n Constantine and his successors threw their weight behind the y church, its success was virtually assured. Not only did it win enormous financial and legal advantages, but bishops could now call upon the might of the state to oppose their rivals: competing forms of Christianity ('heresy') and Hellenistic religion and culture ('paganism'). The bishop became a figure of considerable temporal as well as spiritual power in his diocese (an area of jurisdiction modelled on a unit of imperial administration), and a representative of the earthly as well as the heavenly ruler. Perhaps most important of all, Christianity's claim to speak on behalf of the Almighty God gained new plausibility. Christian writers like Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-c. 340) were quick to characterize Constantine as 'the deputy of Christ', and eager to insist that the alliance of church and Empire was part of God's providential plan for the world.
Extract from Eusebius, Oration, 3.5-6
Invested as he is with a semblance of heavenly sovereignty, [the Emperor] directs his gaze above, and frames his earthly rule according to the pattern of the divine original, feeling strength in its conformity to the monarchy of God ... And surely monarchy far transcends every other constitution and form of government: for that democratic equality of power, which is its opposite, may rather be described as anarchy and disorder.
> Though Constantine was attracted by the church's drive to achieve unity, he would soon become aware of its ability to provoke disunity.
J Not only was Church Christianity in the 4th century struggling to defeat alternative versions of Christianity, it was also being shaken by division within its own ranks. Although personal and political rivalries between different cities, regions, and bishops played an important role in these disputes, they came to a focus over a doctrinal issue: the status of Jesus.
Matters came to a head in Constantine's day because of the growing popularity of the views of Arius (d. 366), a presbyter from Alexandria in Egypt. Arius proposed that Jesus should be understood neither as God nor man, but as a quasi-divine being whose status hovered somewhere between the two. He argued that Jesus was created by the Father and that there was therefore a time 'when he was not'. Consequently, the Son must be of lesser status than the Father. Although the Arian position gained significant Christian support, some, like Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296373), realized that it undermined the very basis of the church. If Jesus were not truly God and truly human, he would not be able to assume human nature and save it by bringing it within the scope of divinity. Christianity would be a second-rate religion that put human beings in touch not with the exclusive mediator between God and man, but with a middle-ranking deity. Its sacraments, priesthood, and church would lose power as a result.
So serious was this dispute that in 325 Constantine called a council at Nicaea, in present-day Turkey, in order to settle it. Bishops assembled and learned men gave their views. In the end, the opinion of Athanasius and his supporters won the day and Arius was anathematized. The council drew up one of the most influential and widely accepted Christian creeds (statements of belief): the Creed of Nicaea. Its key clause stated that Jesus was 'homoousios': from the Greek, of one (homo) substance (ousios) with the Father. In other words, Jesus shared the very essence of divinity.
Extract from the Nicaean Creed (325 ce)
We believe in One God, the Father, Almighty ... And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God . . .
And those who say 'There was when he was not' . .. The Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes.
Arianism did not die out overnight, not least because it was adopted by some of the so-called barbarian tribes on the fringes of the Empire. But the Council of Nicaea was nevertheless the most successful of the many subsequent councils that would be called to settle other contentious points of doctrine and church order. Later councils found it increasingly difficult to establish unity. The influential Council of Chalcedon of 451, for example, clarified what had been implied at Nicaea by saying that Jesus was 'very God and very man', but failed to win the same widespread assent. As we will see in Chapter 6, two large portions of the church split from the 'catholic' church after Chalcedon: the Nestorian churches of Antioch, Persia, and further east; and the Monophysite churches of North Africa and Syria (remnants of which still exist). By requiring credal conformity on the part of all its members, Church Christianity had managed to maintain unity, but had alienated large parts of its constituency.
The alliance of church and empire survived for over a thousand years, and shaped both partners in the process. The Empire that had had its capital in Rome and its cultural heart in the classical
> world gradually gave way to a more Christian version. In 330 Constantine moved his capital to Byzantium or 'Constantinople'
J (now Istanbul), and the Empire slowly changed both its name u and its nature to become the 'Byzantine Empire' (though its citizens would still call themselves 'Romans'). The shift of power eastwards accelerated after the 4th century when barbarian tribes from north-eastern Europe, pushing south and west in search of new land and wealth, conquered much of the western part of the Empire, including Rome.
Given its status as the right arm of empire, Church Christianity in the East (which eventually became known as Eastern Orthodoxy, see Chapter 6) looked back on the beleaguered churches in the West with sympathy and condescension. With the Empire collapsing around it, Christianity in the West found itself exposed, without secular power to fall back on. Before long, however, it would begin to turn such apparently adverse circumstances to its advantage. What could have been a disaster became an opportunity as the Western church and clergy began to move into the vacuum created by the collapse of Roman power.
12. Sacred power dignifies secular power: an ivory relief from Constantinople depicts Christ himself crowning the co-Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Romanus II, and his wife, Eudocia (945-9).
Whereas the Greek-speaking church in the East remained under the control of the political ruler, the Latin-speaking church in the West found itself in a position to take control of political affairs itself - if not directly, then by exercising control over earthly rulers. One reason the church in the West was able to do this was that power was now shared between so many competing warrior kings, princes, and prince-bishops that no single ruler was ever able to become dominant for long. With its ancient credentials and base in Rome, its widely distributed communities and effective infrastructure, its growing wealth and lands, the church had become an important power in its own right. Successive bishops of Rome were quick to take advantage and to claim leadership over the whole Western church; by the late 6th century they were being called 'pope' - 'father' of the church.
By the early Middle Ages, the pope was even beginning to challenge > the power of the patriarch in the East. No serious ruler in the West could now afford to ignore him. He had the power to legitimate J those who supported him and to excommunicate those who did not (excommunication not only cut a ruler off from the church, its sacraments, and salvation, but gave his people licence to disobey him). Thus was born the dream of 'Christendom', of a unified Christian society under the ultimate control of the pope and the church and protected by secular leaders who respected the authority of Rome. By anointing the most powerful dynastic leaders in Europe (including Charlemagne in 800), the popes tried to establish a new line of Holy Roman emperors in the West who would do their bidding. In practice, however, the religio-political ideal of an orderly hierarchy of power flowing from God to Christ to pope to Holy Roman emperor was continually disrupted as secular leaders competed with the papacy for political ascendancy. The balance of power was such that neither side was ever dominant for long, and the struggle would continue throughout the medieval period and beyond.
Even though the church never managed to win decisive control over secular affairs, it did manage to establish itself, and Christian culture, throughout most of Western Europe - and thus to unify the whole region (without the church, there would be no 'Europe'). In late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, evangelization (the spread of Christianity) generally took place from the top down. When a non-Christian ruler was converted to Church Christianity (sometimes from 'paganism', sometimes from a 'heretical' form of Christianity like Arianism), he would have his household and people baptized as well. Gradually monasteries and churches would be established in his realm, often through the patronage of the ruler and wealthy landowners, and a more profound contact with the Christian message and way of life might be brought about as a result. The colonization of Europe by stone-built churches and cathedrals took place during the Middle Ages, and by the end of this period nearly every man, woman, and child would be securely u located within the 'parish' of a local church and the 'diocese' of a h a cathedral and its bishop. Bit by bit the Christian world view, its g. God and its saints, its leaders and institutions, displaced the more i ancient religions and cults of Europe, and established Christianity C as the 'truth' into which the people of Europe would be born !T
and baptized. n
By the high Middle Ages, Church Christianty's dream of a unified Christian society had come closer to being realized than at any time before or since. Because this society was based on unity of belief and practice, any deviation had either to be assimilated or destroyed, lest it threaten not only the church but the whole social order. The medieval church expended a good deal of energy in protecting itself not only against external threats like 'the Turk' (the symbol of the steadily growing power of Islamic civilization), but internal threats as well. The Jews were one group that proved particularly problematic because of their ambivalent status as highly educated and literate worshippers of the one true God who nevertheless rejected Christ and his church. As a potential 'enemy within' they were alternately tolerated, employed, admired, and persecuted. Much energy was also devoted to identifying,
classifying, and rooting out 'heresy' - beliefs and practices that deviated from the church norm. Secular rulers cooperated with the church in attacking popular heretical movements such as Catharism (also called Albigensianism) with the sword as well as with preaching and, by the later Middle Ages, with organized 'inquisitions'.
As we will see in the next chapter, many of the heretical movements that challenged Christianity from within opposed the church's wealth and power with the ideal of Christ-like poverty and powerlessness. This upsurge of internal protest reminds us that despite its orientation around higher power, it was impossible for Church Christianity openly to seek dominating power for its own
sake, or to maintain that 'might is right'. For one thing, Christianity contained an internal check on the exercise of tyrannical power in its view that God - though omnipotent - exercises power in a paternal way, seeking the best for His 'children'. For another, Christians worshipped a God-man who had refused to exercise dominating power, and had died helpless on a cross. Those who followed Him were called to serve rather than to command, and to sacrifice rather than accumulate. Even as they sought to extend the power of the church, Christian leaders had therefore to be careful to exercise this power in a benevolent and paternalistic fashion - and to make sure that the political rulers with whom they allied themselves did the same. Even then, some Christians remained critical of the church's pursuit of power. By the later Middle Ages, calls for a reform of the church 'in head and members' were becoming common. The standing of the papacy was further threatened by a series of disastrous confrontations and disputes with secular power, which led both to the 'exile' of the papacy in Avignon, France, and to a papal schism which saw two - and at one point three - rivals all claiming to be Pope.
'Scholasticism' was the theological project that accompanied Christendom, and attempted to organize all existing knowledge, both Christian and Graeco-Roman, into a single system. This system would provide a unified intellectual account of all things - God, man, and the world. Scholasticism proceeded by a distinctive method: asking a question, considering texts that had a bearing upon it, deliberating about their overall conclusion, and arriving at an answer -before proceeding to the next question. It was a 'science' that could be undertaken by only the most learned men of the period, and the greatest of them became highly celebrated. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74) constructed an extensive and influential system of scholastic theology in his massive Summa Theologiae. His project is sometimes referred to as 'scholastic humanism' because of the relatively positive view it took of human nature and human reason. Aquinas believed that 'nature must be perfected by grace', and did not understand it to be totally corrupted by sin. Aquinas was made the official theologian of the Roman Catholic Church several centuries after his death.
The challenges faced by Church Christianity - at the very height of its power - were bound up with social change. By the 11th century the shape of Western society was beginning to change quite fundamentally. Wealth derived from improved agricultural yields gave rise to a market for manufactured goods, which in turn supported the rise of a new class of artisans and manufacturers. As more people were freed from the land, they moved into the rapidly expanding towns and cities. The latter posed a threat to the church, for they were much harder to control than rural areas, ideas could spread more quickly, and the newly wealthy classes who made up part of their population were increasingly eager to seize the church's power for themselves.
In the 13th century a new wave of enthusiasm for the 'apostolic h a life' of simplicity and poverty swept across Europe and found g.
institutional expression in the formation of new orders of 'friars' or i 'mendicants' (see next chapter). Lay movements of pious women C also began to develop. At first the church weathered this storm by !T giving its blessing to the friars and some other advocates of vowed n poverty and by harnessing their energies to serve its own ends, y including the attack on heresy. By the 15th and 16th centuries, however, the call for church reform was taking forms that were harder for the church to neutralize or assimilate, and the result would be the first major division of orthodoxy since West and East had drifted apart (although the latter split is sometimes dated to the 'Photian schism' of 836-7 and the mutual anathemas of 1054, it began much earlier and became irrevocable only much later - see Chapter 6).
The 'Protestant Reformation', as it would come to be called, had several distinctive ingredients. The first was a base in a 'Germany' which was not yet a nation, but a grouping of independent German-speaking political units, some ruled by princes who were eager to take over the church's wealth and power for themselves. The second was a base of support in the towns and cities, some of which were self-governing, and many of which were as impatient with church privilege as the princes. The third was the combination of a charismatic leader, Martin Luther (1483-1546), and the invention of the printing press to disseminate his ideas quickly and relatively cheaply. Printing also made it possible for the Bible to be put into the hands of increasing numbers of men and women and taken out of the church's exclusive control. The final ingredient was theological: Luther's revival of an Augustinian reading of the Bible that emphasized the power of God, the sinfulness of man, and humanity's desperate need of God's salvation wrought by the unique work of Christ.
Even though Luther had originally called for reform not schism, the papacy's unwillingness to accede to any of his demands set him on a collision course with the church of which he had once
> been a loyal member. After his excommunication by the Pope in 1521, Luther became the leader of a new church which,
J though it still conformed to the model of Church Christianity, u cut itself loose from papal control and abandoned some existing ecclesiastical beliefs and practices. Before long, such Christianity came to be called 'Protestant' in distinction to the 'Catholic' (or 'Roman Catholic') Church based in Rome. Both versions of Christianity regarded themselves as the true church of Christ, and each condemned the other as guilty of straying from God's truth.
In its attitude to power, Protestantism embodied a paradox. On the one hand, it had what might today be labelled democratic tendencies, in that it called for power to be taken out of the hands of the pope and the clergy and delivered back to ordinary Christian men and women. One of its slogans was 'the priesthood of all believers', and one of its central beliefs was that God's Word, embodied in the Bible, should be made more widely available. Since Protestantism gave as much authority to Word as to sacrament, this move encouraged a transfer of power from clergy to people. On the
Whereas the scholastic humanism of Aquinas considered human beings sufficiently free and rational to accept or reject God's grace, Martin Luther became disillusioned with what he regarded as the Catholic Church's over-optimistic view of human capability. His theological disagreement was precipitated by reading Paul and Augustine, who convinced him that human beings could be justified (saved) not by their own works but only by laying hold of God's grace by personal faith. As he puts it:
The proper subject of theology is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Saviour of man the sinner. Whatsoever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject is error and poison.
John Calvin (1509-64) was a younger contemporary of Luther who regarded himself as a faithful disciple and interpreter of the senior reformer. In his Institutes Calvin gave systematic theological and ethical expression to many of Luther's ideas whilst also moving beyond them in subtle but important respects. For Luther, the best that a human being could hope for was to be justified in spite of sinfulness. Whilst agreeing that we are saved only by grace, Calvin places more emphasis on the value, significance, and effectiveness of morality and law - not only as a reminder of sin, but as the basis of Godly life and society. He set about creating a Godly society in Geneva, a self-governing city that he attempted to organize around strict Christian principles and laws. As Calvin explains his point of view:
He is said to be justified in God's sight who is both reckoned righteous in God's judgement and has been accepted on account of his righteousness . . . wherever there is sin, there also the wrath and vengeance of God show themselves.
(Calvin, Institutes ofthe Christian Religion)
other hand, Reformation theology stressed the absolute sinfulness and powerlessness of humanity and the need for total surrender to an all-powerful Father God and His only Son Jesus Christ. Indeed, Protestantism placed far more emphasis on human depravity and need of grace than medieval Catholic theology. Likewise, it abolished all the mediating beings of medieval Christianity - Mary and the saints - who had stood between earth and heaven and lessened the distance between God and humanity.
In the event, Protestantism transferred power not so much to ordinary people but to the emerging powers in Europe: to national leaders, to the new 'bourgeoisie', to a new order of clergymen or 'pastors', and to men in general rather than to women. Its emphasis on 'liberty' might have awakened the hopes and ambitions of many Christian people, including women > and the urban and rural poor, but its equally strong emphasis on the necessity of total submission to the Father and the Son allowed J the maintenance of a social order that was still based on the rule u of 'fathers': the prince, the magistrate, the feudal lord, the clergyman, the fathers of households, and the masters of the new workshops.
The two denominations that came into existence at the Reformation were the Lutheran Church and the Reformed or Presbyterian Church. The former looked to Martin Luther as its founder, the latter to John Calvin. Despite the important differences between these new Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church, all three exemplified the main characteristics of Church Christianity outlined at the start of this chapter - including the desire to cooperate with secular power in order to bring the whole of society in line with Christian principles. Both the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches quickly formed alliances with state power.
15. Interior of St Mary at Hill, City ofLondon, by Sir Christopher Wren h (built 1670-6). The interior of Protestant churches often reflects an n emphasis on Word as well as sacrament. Here, the pulpit is prominent B and sacred texts (the Ten Commandments, Lord's Prayer, and Apostles' jjj Creed) are displayed on the east wall. 2
But the Reformation also gave rise to a whole new type of n
Christianity that may be termed 'Biblical' because of its belief that y the Bible is of greater authority than the church, its sacraments and priests, and its desire that the whole of life should be governed by strict conformity to Biblical teaching. Rather than entering into alliance with politics, Biblical Christianity tried to separate itself from 'the world' in order to maintain strict obedience to the uncompromising demands of the Bible.
Biblical Christianity only really made sense in an era in which printing and translation were making the Bible widely available and accessible (in the Roman Catholic Church it was still read by clergy to the people in Latin). With the Bible as the supreme authority in life, Christians needed no other mediator with God - no priest, no bishop, no pope, no theologian. They could form their own communities of 'the saints', all of whom were equal before God since all strove to live in strict conformity to his Word. Since the Bible was often read as endorsing male leadership, women might still be placed under the authority of men, but there was some variety of practice within different Biblical churches.
Once it was accepted that each individual had the right to interpret God's word for himself (and sometimes herself), it became much harder to maintain church unity. Biblical Christianity became notorious for its schisms, since any man was free to set up his own church under his own leadership - on the grounds that this new church would be based on stricter conformity to the Word of God than existing churches. The earliest Biblical churches were lumped together by their Protestant opponents - including Luther and Calvin - as 'Anabaptist', because many of them insisted on adult baptism (on the grounds that it was Biblical and that Christian faith should be voluntary rather than involuntary).
From these early roots developed a number of early Biblical
J churches, including the Mennonites and Baptists. Their growth and u spread was greatly inhibited by the active persecution they faced right across Europe. Such persecution was the product of the new church-state alliances that had been made in the immediate aftermath of the Reformation, when every major political power had allied itself with either a Protestant or Roman Catholic denomination. After a long period of religio-political unrest and war, the religious map of Europe was finally stabilized by the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Since the unity of both church and state in a particular territory was threatened by the existence of alternative forms of Christianity, 'schismatic' or 'dissenting' churches of all kinds had to be vigorously suppressed, and many Biblical churches were forced into exile on the eastern margins of Europe and later in North America.
The marginalization of Biblical Christianity was reinforced by its theological preference for the total separation of church and state. Unlike Church Christianity, Biblical Christians maintained that
Christian communities should have as little contact with wider society and politics as possible. They believed that faith should be chosen rather than imposed, and should be kept alive in pure communities of the saints living in strict obedience to Jesus' teachings. Since they took Jesus at his word, Biblical Christians often opposed violence in any form, refused to bear arms or swear oaths (including oaths of loyalty to a sovereign), and practised common ownership. They attacked and despised the worldliness of Church Christianity and, although they retained belief in a God of higher power, they preferred to worship Him 'in spirit and in truth' rather than with shows of outward pomp and magnificence.
Christian belief in a hierarchy of power, flowing down from the h a
Father to the Son and thence to the bishop and other clergy, g.
provided a strong foundation on which to build a unified church. A i virtuous cycle ensued, for the success of the hierarchical church C helped reinforce the plausibility of the celestial hierarchy it was said !T to mirror, and devotion to God above helped reinforce the authority n of the church. Perhaps the most decisive factor of all in the success y of Church Christianity, however, was the way in which political rulers - from the Emperor Constantine onwards - found that Christian hierarchical power could guide, assist, and legitimate their own exercise of power. The church could strengthen a ruler's hand by proclaiming him Christ's deputy on earth, whilst a ruler could strengthen the church by giving it his patronage. Thus religious and political power entered into an alliance which endured, in many different guises, right through to the modern period, and whose general effect was to strengthen the hierarchical tendencies of both.
But there is a twist to the tale. Although Christianity was capable of endorsing the exercise of dominating and even tyrannical (masculine) power in both church and state, its repertoire of signs and symbols also favoured something rather different. In so far as God the Father supplied Christians with a model of higher authority, popes, bishops, and kings strove to exercise power with paternal benevolence rather than brute force. In so far as God the Son supplied another model, the consequences could be more radical. Given that the Jesus of gospels steadfastly refused to exercise political power and died powerless at the hands of religious and political authority, some Christians believed that the church should be more eager to renounce wealth and power than to accumulate them. This was the conclusion towards which some Church and Biblical Christians began to be drawn - even though the former resisted the most radical calls for the church to renounce power, and the latter subjected its members to the higher power of the Bible and authorized preachers and pastors. As we will see in the next chapter, there were other Christians who were prepared to go even further, by embracing the idea that God's power can not > only command from outside, but inspire from within.
Was this article helpful?
Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.