TERM I: Introduction to the History of Christianity

Rest assured, the example in the illustration above is by no means the richest nor the grandest setting in Catholic Europe, but exemplifies perfectly the wealth, power, and influence of the Church in mid 18th Century Portugal. About 100 years earlier, note the relatively “modest” official residence of Cardinal Richelieu, Prime Minister of France during the reign of King Louis XIII:

Cardinal Richelieu’s Official Residence in Paris – Original 17th Century Engraving

All across the Old Continent, the European powers of the day raced each other, seeking to overtake one another with one clear aim in the minds of Kings and Prelates… Impress the Pope and get His graces and favours, whenever the complex politics of Imperial Europe called for it.

No single Nation-State was innocent in the political pandemonium of European politics, all took part in the competition, because all had deeply invested interests in the management and administration of their World powers, territorial influence over the vast territories they administered and the resulting wealth all these imperial nations channelled back to Europe.

In the UK, we are well aware of the competition between France and Britain, but we should really refer to it as a competition between the British Empire and the French Empire. Look South and you will find a similar situation between the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire. The Dutch were no less innocent either, and neither were the imperial powers of Central and Eastern Europe.

Pope Julius II – The Papacy’s Expansion is both the root cause and the effect of regional and national influence of the particular national churches, as they become interwoven with Political Power.


The question though, is how Christianity got from its humble beginnings to such a prominent position, whereby particular national churches, increasingly interwoven with Sovereign Power of the emerging Nation States of Europe and their vast empires on Earth, all orbiting under the gravitational force of an all-powerful Papacy, referee, judge, executive, executioner, all rolled in-one, absolute perpetual Entity, the Roman Pontiff?

HOW CRITICAL WAS THE HOLY SEE TO THE LATER DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY?

Coach ordered for the Procession & Solemn Entrance and Presentation of Credentials of the newly appointed Ambassador of Portugal to the Papal Court of Pope Clement XI, on the 8th of July 1716. The event, involving 5 thematic coaches, 10 accompaniment coaches, wild beasts from all corners of the World, infamously brought Rome to a standstill. It was designed to obtain several favours from the Pope, one of which the assignment in perpetuity of the title of Cardinal Patriarch to the Archbishop of Lisbon and all his successors. Far from being a vanity project, its aim was to nullify the opposition of France, England and Spain to the expansion inland in South America, to what we now know as modern Brazil. Papal favour meant a guarantee of success without having to go to war.


However critical we may feel regarding the Latin Rite – or Roman Catholic Church, as is better known – the alliance between Church and Politics gave rise to the hegemonic influence of Catholicism in Europe, despite the dents caused by Reformation and Protestantism, which in turn would become a catalyst in the desire for change which would characterise so much of the Christian Revival in Europe during the last quarter of the 18th Century, the 19th Century – including the Great Catholic Revival in Britain – and the first quarter of the 20th Century.

What had been a monumental effort to unify, hegemonise and centralise religious power in one Institution, in the post-Reformation Era and beyond, well into the 18th Century, had as its opposite effect a desire for liberalisation, decentralisation, autonomy and a less dogmatic flavour to the Christian experience in Europe, throughout the second half of the 19th Century and thereafter. One became several, which in time would further develop into a very significant variety of churches and denominations, several of which became prominent.

Bishops James Ingall Wedgwood [left] and C. W. Leadbeater [right], founders of Liberal Catholicism. Liberal Catholics would also give rise to the Old Catholics. Liberal and Old Catholics share plenty in a common Legacy which greatly contributed to form two of the most important Catholic churches , the Liberal Catholic Churches and the Old Catholic Churches.


Autocephalous, independent churches gained considerable prominence and status, and we discuss them briefly in the Churches & Denominations Section. A much more exhaustive and reliable list exists in Wikipedia, listed under List of Independent Catholic Denominations. The Christianity Portal on Wikipedia also enlists a chapter dedicated to the Liberal Catholic Movement, with a short but informative sub-section exclusively dedicated to the Old Catholic Apostolic Church, under item 2.4 in the Menu.

EXPLORING FURTHER

BOOKS

A History of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCulloch, noted by THE GUARDIAN as an absolute triumph.
History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff, arguably the best History written from a non-Roman Catholic point of view, is an extensive 8-volume work, 5652 pages in total.
History of the Catholic Church by James Hitchcock focuses primarily on the Roman Catholic Church, from a non-apologetic, neutral point of view.
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