The key ideas of the course were those which were emphasized by each of the ten sessions. Each session helped break the history of Christianity into sections, beginning with Christ Himself and how He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. I found Fulton Sheen to be a complementary source when it came to understanding this sense of fulfillment: Fulton Sheen (1990) makes clear in his "Life of Christ" that the sacrifice of the Old Law finds its ultimate perfection in the sacrifice of the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ during the Passover of His 33rd year. Sheen explains the relation between Jesus' words at the Last Supper and the Passover by explaining how the Passover itself signified a new sacrifice for the Jews: "The old promise made to Israel in Egypt still held good and could be claimed, in a higher sense, by all who invoked the Blood poured out on the Cross: 'the blood will be a sign on the houses in which you are; when I see the blood I will pass over you' (Exodus 12:13)….When Christ came into the world to be the fulfillment of the order of Melchisedech…the priesthood of Melchisedech came into its own, and with it the true Holy of Holies, the true Ark of the New Covenant, the true Bread of Life" (p. 397). Here we see a kind of alignment of covenants between God and man, all leading to the covenant that Christ will make with man at the Last Supper.
Then from under Christ came the Great Preachers: Paul, Tertullian, Augustine. These preachers showed how the Spirit of the Church was alive and active and guiding these great preachers to help establish the Church on a good foundation.
Then we saw how the Persecution helped shape piety. This persecution actually begins immediately after Christ's ascension. Even Paul (then Saul) takes part in it. We see this in the stoning of Stephen. Thus, persecution and Christianity, we might say, are intimately united: if Christ is crucified for what He teaches, then so might we expect to be also. If we look at Stephen, His follower, we see how he becomes the first martyr of the Church, which shows how Christ's Church is founded by blood -- firstly by His Blood, which Stephen preaches to be the Blood of the Lamb, the Body and Blood of God. The Jews, of course, were as antagonistic to hearing Stephen preach the life of Christ as they were to Christ Himself -- Who is the way of salvation, and Whom they have rejected. Stephen's speech is fiery and full of love and fury -- love for Christ, fury for the Jews who rejected Him: "You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised." (Here Stephen as much as says, "You are not real Jews. Real Jews would have recognized their Redeemer.) "You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!" (Here Stephen makes reference to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.) The reaction of the Jews is to stone Stephen to death. Stephen accepts his martyrdom and dies as Christ died, with a prayer for his persecutors -- and out of that prayer comes (through the mercy of God) the conversion of St. Paul.
The key idea we see here is that Stephen indicates the necessity of giving testimony to Christ even in the face of one's enemies -- for it is in just such circumstances that the Faith is spread: By displaying conviction in truth, for which Stephen is ready to shed his blood, we see how we must be ready to die for Christ. The 20th century found it more convenient to preach ecumenism -- which does not require sacrifice -- than to preach Christ (who does require sacrifice). Christ has enemies -- the only enemy of ecumenism is Christ. Christ asserts, Christ commands, Christ draws, Christ establishes, Christ teaches to build upwards. The Jews, looking for a political Redeemer that would set them astride the world, saw in Christ nothing more than a vagrant. But that is God's world -- born in a stable, hung upon a criminal's cross: it is a way of poverty and humility: a way of suffering. By uniting one's suffering to Christ, as Stephen does, one moves toward the salvation promised by God.
Indeed, the constant stream of martyrs that the Roman Empire was delivering over to God helped, in a sense, "water" the Church. Followers of Christianity were proving their faith by dying for their faith in a pagan land. Of course, when Constantine came to the throne, that all changed, but still that fact remained: the persecution actually helped strengthen the Church. As Justo Gonzalez (2010) states, "The more he was tortured, the more he persisted in saying nothing but these words… 'I am a Christian'" (p. 57). Here it seems is one of the most important ideas that I learned from the course: the true Christian is proven in attack (whether spiritual or physical). Thus, we see the rise of the monks -- Benedict, Gregory; the early missionaries -- Augustine of Canterbury, Francis, Dominic; the schism between Byzantium and Rome; the rise of Protestantism.
Another idea that I found was key to understanding this course was the way in which faith, Tradition, and Scripture played an integral role in the formation of Christian identity and culture. I even pursued this idea on my own because it brought up many questions about authority and interpretation that I myself had always had. For example, Vernon Staley (1894) states that "it is upon the authority of the Church, and upon that alone, that we know what is Scripture, and what is not" (p. 320). The meaning of this statement is bound up the Church's formula of Faith, Tradition, and Scripture -- for as some Protestants make Scripture their rule of Faith, the Church has never done so: Staley quotes Dr. Pusey, who says, "We acknowledge that Holy Scripture is the source of all saving truth; but it does not therefore follow that everyone, unguided, is to draw for himself the truth out of that living well" (p. 322). The deposit of Faith was passed down from Christ both through Scripture and Tradition: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:25). Thus, while the Church Fathers gathered the books of Scripture together, they also passed on through Tradition the deposit of Faith to which all Christians should adhere.
Likewise, the authors of the pages of Scripture make mention of the act of passing on: St. Paul says, "For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you…" (1 Cor. 11:23). And it is St. Paul who disputes with Peter the correct way to approach both Jews and Gentiles in order to convert them. Thus, while even the Apostles of Our Lord contended among themselves, the Spirit of the Church has always been protected by the Holy Ghost, which guides the Church in Her pronouncements concerning that which is necessary for salvation (matters of faith and morals). I found that this idea was not only key but also essential to understanding the development of Christianity from Jesus to Luther.
How This Course Has Impacted Me
One of the greatest things this course has done for me has been to open my eyes about the history of Christianity. By looking at the history, I have a greater sense of what Christianity itself is all about. The great preachers help explain the mystery of Christ and help answer new questions that were coming at them in each time period. Others helped guide the Church through times of great difficulty.
I think this course will be relevant for my life because it will help serve as a good foundation for preaching Christ. I now have a better idea of Who Christ is and how His mission and messaged has been spread throughout the world. I have developed, I believe, a deeper appreciation for the truths found in Scripture as well. Scripture, I feel, can be a great valuable resource for drawing nearer to God. Christians have always had the Epistles and the Gospels to guide them: in fact, they were written for that exact purpose -- so that the followers of Christ might know how to conduct themselves: Concern yourself with what is necessary for attaining salvation, and prepare yourself for the next world, "and all else shall be added unto you" in this life, says the Bible. Jesus shows His desire to see us come to Him and through Him to the Father: he shows that we are to follow Him through the ways of life -- "I am the Way, the…