Turning Points in Christianity Essay

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Christianity started as a literary faith, one firmly rooted in Scripture. Scriptural adherence grew out of the Jewish appreciation for sacred text. Therefore, it is no wonder that Christianity evolved as a literary and literate faith. The evolution of Christianity from the fall of the Temple in 70 CE to the 21st century is one punctuated and formed by writing and historical documents. Christian historiography reveals both the development of Christian religious thought including cosmology, theology, and metaphysics. Ethics and philosophy are also covered in the Christian canon. However, Christian historiography also goes beyond sacred wisdom. Christian texts have laid out methods by which Christianity -- and the Catholic Church in particular -- can and should function in the world as a political institution. Both spiritual and the political debates have led to conflicts in Christian identity development. Conflicting views of theological matters such as the nature of Christ's divinity are parallel to opposing viewpoints of political matters, such as the extent to which the Church and State should be converged. The canon of Christian historical literature demonstrates the confluence of theology and politics in the Christian world

The first major turning point in Christianity, besides the historical personage of Christ, was the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Until the decisive Roman victory over the Jewish zealots, and prior to the destruction of the Temple, Christianity was little more than an "appendage of Judaism," (Noll 26). The destruction of the Temple signified a sort of liberation of Christianity from its Jewish roots (Noll). Christianity from that moment on developed independently from, and often in opposition to, Judaism.

The early Christian religion begins with Pauline theology and the fusion of Neo-Platonic thought with Biblical scripture during the apostolic early church. Pauline doctrine underscored much of Christian theology and worldview, before and after the conversion of Constantine. The persecution of Christians by Romans prior to Constantine did not deter early Christian apologists such as Origen. Emperor Diocletian would be the last Roman leader to officially stigmatize the Christian faith, as Constantine converted in the 4th century CE. The conversion of Constantine represented the first time that politics and Christianity would be fused.

A need for a well-articulated Christian canon and statement of purpose developed, resulting in the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. Although it was not the first time that Christian theologians debated the divinity of Christ, this was the first time such debates occurred with in a quasi-political framework. Church doctrine was being established at the Council of Nicea. Prior to the Council, Christianity had been marginalized; now it was the embodiment of theocratic rule. The Council of Nicea was the foundation stone for the Catholic Church as well as Eastern Orthodoxy. Christian dogma became codified and canonized. The whispers of ideological, social, political and even economic dominion grew increasingly loud. Christianity became a social and political institution that would conveniently replace the power vacuum that emerged in the downfall of the Roman Empire.

In the increasingly pro-Christian world of the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote City of God. The work was reaction to the Vandal sack of Rome. City of God was an overt work of apologist literature. In City of God, Augustine asserts Christian truth over paganism, in direct response to the pagan decree that Rome fell because Christianity is weak. Augustine writes about the pagans, "in ungrateful pride and most impious madness, and at the risk of being punished in everlasting darkness, they perversely oppose that name under which they fraudulently protected themselves for the sake of enjoying the light of this brief life," (City of God, Chapter 1). In addition to asserting the Christian triumph over pagan idolatry, Augustine writes what is clearly a moral treatise for the religion. Augustine's City of God also encapsulates the dualistic structure of the universe, which is mitigated by the love of Christ. Christ creates the City of God, or Kingdom of Heaven, on Earth. Therefore, City of God represents several emerging issues in Christian history altogether: Christian politics, Christian metaphysics, and Christian ethics.

The confluence of Church theological doctrine and Church political power grew increasingly important. Constantine was the first political leader to fuse Christianity and politics. He was certainly not the last. The model of theocracy was becoming a trend in European history. Clovis's conversion became the next most important step, revealing the close connections between politics, economics, and social order in Europe. Clovis unified the Franks and conquered Gaul, creating what would become France -- but also linked his new domain with that of Rome. The conversion of Clovis, described in the Chronicle of St. Denis, shows how spiritual and political sentiments were fused in the public consciousness. Christian mythology met with Christian political domination as Clovis received the baptism: "Straightway a dove, white as snow, descended bearing in his beak a vial of holy oil. A delicious odor exhaled from it: which intoxicated those near by with an inexpressible delight." Clovis' conversion led to the Council of Orleans, which set the stage for a strategic alliance between France and Rome and presaging the symbolic crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800. At St. Peter's in Rome, Pope Leo III bestowed the title onto Charlemagne, leader of the Franks, forever altering the way the Catholic Church did business.

Political matters dominated business in Rome, but theological issues did not fall entirely by the wayside. In 1054, the Great Schism redefined the limitations of Roman papal authority, revealing that there were different methods of interpreting Christian scripture and practicing Christian faith. Immediately after and in response to the Great Schism, the Church concerned itself with establishing its unmitigated authority over all spiritual and physical matters. Under Pope Gregory VII, the Catholic Church issued the Dictatus Papae in 1975. The Dictatus Papae established papal supremacy in a clear authoritarian spirit. One of the most notable decrees in the Dictatus Papae is number two: "That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal."

The spirit of authoritarian Church rule emboldened the Church, allowed for strategic alliances with regional leaders in Christian Europe, and therefore established complete political, economic, and social hegemony in a feudal landscape. Papal supremacy enabled the rise and fall of regional kingdoms, but by the early Renaissance became a great source of controversy and conflict throughout Europe. Thus, the presumed totalitarian authority of the Church led up to the events that characterized the Protestant Reformation.

In 1520, a German by the name of Martin Luther issued the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. The address is an impassioned political speech decrying the authoritarian power of the Church. Luther wrote, "The Romanists have, with great adroitness, drawn three walls round themselves, with which they have hitherto protected themselves, so that no one could reform them, whereby all Christendom has fallen terribly." Luther writes the Address not from a theological perspective but more from a political one.

Therefore, the political role of the Church became the prevailing concern among believers throughout Europe. In direct response to Luther's Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Emperor Charles V issues the Diet or Edict of Worms in 1521. A warrant for Luther's arrest was issued, which was testimony to the way the Church had completely suffused politics and religious authority. Martin Luther sought to remove political corruption from the Church, by democratizing access to Christian scripture and worship. Luther challenged papal authority in all matters, including the choosing of clergy leadership, the determining of theology by interpreting scripture, and the influencing of political and economic affairs.

Following the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, French theologian John Calvin wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion, in 1536. Calvin's writing shows that theology continued to…[continue]

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