book review · history · Learning · Philosophy · politics

A brief history of Christianity (1 of 4)

This is based on my reading of Dominion by Tom Holland, who gives a detailed narrative the history of the development of Christianity and its influence on global thinking over two millennia.

In the words of Jewish scholar Boyarin, Christianity emerges from the Roman Empire as ‘the most powerful of hegemonic cultural system in the history of the world’.

For me, this book was really helpful in several ways:

1. Giving context to many of this historical figures we hear referred to in the context of Christian history,

2. Understanding the historical development of philosophical thinking from the amalgamation of the Greek and Jewish philosophies into early Christian beliefs, to then understanding the development of Christian philosophy itself, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, and then contextualising it with the Enlightenment and more modern philosophy in the 20th and 21st century.

3. Understanding the very strong Christian values that underpin modern democratic liberal and secular values worldwide

4. And in dispelling some of the myths of ‘the dark ages’ and to giving a more subtle understanding to the developments of history…

In the rest of this post and the next 3, for the purposes of helping my own memory, here is a brief history of the development of Christian thought focused on the characters, events and philosophical stances along the way and the key role that they played in the development of the story. This post covers 2000 BC to 1000 AD. The next three posts will cover 1000 AD to today! What I initially thought would be one post, has ended up being 4 : its a very dense book and history! I have quoted very liberally, directly from Tom Holland throughout, so cannot claim any ownership, though if there are any errors those are entirely mine.

To set the scene, for anyone less familiar with some of the key religious background, there are three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity that all claim a common patriarch in Abraham, a man who worshiped the ‘one true God’. Abraham has two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. Islam claims its lineage through Ishmael, an ancestor of Muhammed. Jews claim their linage through Isaac who has a son Jacob, who has twelve sons who go on to form the twelve tribes of Israel. The Jews come to live in the Promised Land, in Palestine under their most famous King, King David and then his son King Solomon, who builds the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Christianity claims its lineage through the Jewish tradition, but that Jesus Christ, born of the line of David, and of the Virgin Mary, came to earth as the promised Messiah, prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures. He starts his ministry at around the age of 30, recruiting 12 Jewish disciples. At 33 he is crucified by the Romans having offended the Jews. But 3 days later he rises from the dead and 40 days later ascends to heaven. His disciples, later called the apostles set out to tell the Jewish world of his story, led by Peter and are joined by another Jew, Paul who meets Jesus in a vision, and is tasked with taking the Good News to all of humanity.

Much of history can be traced through the rise and fall of empires each with their own religious and cultural beliefs. To understand Christianity it is important to understand some of these empires and cultures, particularly the Greek and Roman empires. Of note slavery is common place in the ancient world and it is fairly normal for societies to have hierarchical patriarchal structures. Very few societies place value on the poor and wretched, with the possible exception of the Jews.

Homer gave the Greeks the Odyssey and Iliad, a written account of the Greek Gods myths and legends and the story of Troy. This gives a good sense of Greek polytheistic (many-gods) religious belief.

The bible relays much of the history of the Jewish people. For our purposes we will start at King David, a shepherd from Bethlehem who rises to become king of Israel. His son Solomon builds a Temple on Mount Moria, in the city of Jerusalem, in Judea, the country that the Jews have claimed as their own. In the temple is the Holy of Holies, and in that, the greatest treasure, the Ark of the Covenant, originally housing the stone tablets setting out the 10 commandments written by God for Moses. The Holy of Holies is said to be the very dwelling place of God on earth.

Several centuries after the Jewish temple is built, the Assyrians conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel and take the 10 tribes of Israel into captivity, and they vanish completely from history.

In 612 BC Assyria falls to the Babylonians. In 587 the Babylonians capture Jerusalem. The Temple is razed to the ground and the treasures carted away along with many of the elite Jews who are assimilated into Babylonian culture but remain distinct. The Babylonians supreme deity is Marduk, king of the heavens. But the Jews refuse to bow to him (see the bible book of Daniel).

The Persians defeat the Babylonians, and King Cyrus gives some of the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, but the Ark is lost.

The Jews have a strong tradition of meeting in synagogues and have transcriptions of God’s Law, called the Torah, typically stored in a box to echo the Ark.

500 BC, Philosopher Xenophanes proclaims the existence of a single morally perfect deity who guides everything through the sheer power of his consciousness.

The Greek word Philosophos means ‘lovers of wisdom’.

Aristotle, from northern Greece establishes a school in Athens, he dies in 322 BC. Studying order in the universe: orbits of stars and planets, structure in nature, the way society organised itself. Apparently he said “I thank Fortune, first that I am human and not a beast; second, that I am a man and not a woman; third that I am a Greek and not a barbarian” – not hard to find the patriarchy then! An early indication of the beliefs that man was the master of woman and barbarians were fitted to be the slaves of Greeks. ‘That one should command and another obey is not just necessary but expedient.’ Also he believe in Fortune, goddess Tyche to the Greeks, ‘it is not intelligence that guides the affairs of mortals, but Fortune’

In 312 BC another philosopher Zeno arrives in Athens from Cyprus, teaches students in a painted stoa colonnade, founding the Stoics. They argued Nature itself was divine, God was active reason or ‘logos’ animating the entire universe. Living in accordance with nature was to live in accordance with God. All male/female, Greek/barbarian were equally endowed to distinguish right from wrong. The spark of divine in every mortal was Syneidesis, ‘conscience’. They did not believe in Fortune, but rather that everything was connected and deterministic.

In 334 BC Alexander, king of Macedon, a student of Aristotle, Later known as Alexander the Great, crosses the Hellespont and 11 years later when he dies has defeated Persia and rules an empire from Europe to the Indus. He founds the city of Alexandria in Egypt.

Many Jews are by now living outside the Promised Land eg. speaking Greek in Alexandria.

Demetrius of Phaleron, born 350 BC, by 307 BC, student of Aristotle , leader of Athens, disenfranchised the poor making owning property a qualification to vote. He flees from Athens as to Thebes as another Macedonian general takes over Athens. He helps to establish the library and centre of learning in Alexandria, bringing together scholars from all over the world. Demetrius orders the translation of the core of the Torah the 5 scrolls of the Pentateuch from Hebrew into Greek and imports 72 scholars from Jerusalem to do the task. More translations of other Jewish scriptures follow. They are hailed by the Greek speaking Jews as ‘ta biblical ta hagia’ or ‘the holy books’.

Then we have the rise of the Roman Empire. Pompey the Great arrives in Rhodes in 67 BC. Posidonius a Stoic is a philosopher who claims Rome’s rise is in obedience to ‘natural law’ and fated to happen. Cicero is a great admirer of his. They did not really have a notion of a battle between good and evil, it was more that their destiny through courage, unbending discipline and mastery of the body and soul led them to lead the world to set it in order.

Pompey goes on to conquer Jerusalem for Rome in 63 BC. The Jewish Temple on Mount Moria – the House of God – is captured and Pompey visits it, probably equating the supreme God of the Jews, to Zeus or Jupiter in Greek and Roman beliefs. Curious about what is inside the Temple’s Holy of Holies he is bemused to find it empty. He appoints a new high priest, leaves the treasures of the Temple in place and allows the priests to continue with their daily sacrifice.

Jewish scholars when asked why God allowed this calamity to occur, concluded that the repeated disobedience of the people, in following God, is why they were punished thus. The book of Job (written between 700 and 400 BC) also grapples with a novel problem: the origin of evil. It refers to Satan. This may come from the Persian idea of equal and opposite forces, Arta and Drauga in the battle between the embodiment of good and of evil.

The scholars are also wrestling with the incongruities of a omnipotent God, who was all-just, who was powerful but intimate with his people, combining menace and jealousy with compassion. God speaking to Cyrus in the scripture says ‘I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things’

The Jewish prophecies In the Old Testament however look forward to a new universal kingdom of righteousness, with Jerusalem as its capital and a new king in David’s line, destined to rule as Messiah, translated into Greek as ‘Christos’.

The Roman world collapses into civil war in 49 BC and a new general Julius Caesar defeats Pompey in battle.

Julius Caesar declared himself a god.

Next came Caesar Augustus (the adopted son of Julius Caesar), also known as Octavian, the first Roman emperor. Augustus, born in 63 BC, was also deified, and proclaimed Divi Filius or ‘Son of God’ and cults set up statues to worship him. He is the Caesar who ordered the census, for which Mary and Joseph were compelled to travel to Bethlehem, Joseph’s home town, and thus when Jesus was born. A proclamation in Galatia states of Augustus, ‘He brings war to an end; he orders peace; by manifesting himself, he surpasses the hopes of all who were looking for good news’ (Euangelia) – from an inscription in Priene on the Aegean coast, 29 BC.

In Ancient Rome death by crucifixion was considered to be the most repellant and wretched of deaths, suitable only as a punishment for slaves. Roman citizens could not be executed this way. Romans refused to countenance that the practice even was started by them, claiming it was a practice of the barbarian tribes. Jesus’s crucifixion in one of the only detailed written accounts of such an event. Crucifixion was not unusual, but the fact that his body was taken down and given a proper burial afterwards was very unusual.

The book, Dominion, does not dwell on the details of Christ’s life, but moves on to the experiences of Paul.

Paul of Tarsus, was a Pharisee, a zealous Jewish scholar, fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and possibly a Roman citizen. He was well-versed in the Torah and Jewish Law and a fierce defender of the Jewish faith, persecuting early followers of Jesus. On the road from Jerusalem to Damascus Paul has a vision of Jesus Christ and his life is wholly transformed and he comes to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that he is called to spread the Good News (Euangelion) to all nations (not just the Jews to whom Jesus had preached) and be an apostle of Christ (the first and direct disciples who hear directly from Christ).

The idea that a ‘crucified criminal might somehow be a part of the identity of the One God of Israel’, was shocking to the Jews and the Romans. Caesar embodied the very idea of a God and the ‘Son of God’. That the Messiah might had suffered the death of a slave, submitting willingly to suffering on the Cross was scandalous. According to Paul ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ And a philosophy that ‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’ Throwing out the need for Jewish adherence to rituals such as circumcision as a sign of belonging to God. The ‘Old Covenant’ between God and the Jewish nation established in the promises to Abraham, had been replaced by a ‘New Covenant’ for anyone who believed in Christ. The believers came to be known as Christians.

To state it clearly, Christians believe that Jesus Christ, together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit are One God, the same God as the Jewish God; that Christ was God incarnate, made flesh who came to earth to be the prophesied Messiah, and that he died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins in God’s sight, thereby redeeming anyone who believes in him to a renewed relationship with God. Not only did he die, but he rose from the dead three days later, and 40 days later ascended to heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father, and that he will return to judge the living and the dead. This is the concept of his impending return or the ‘parousia’ of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul challenged many of the societal norms including slavery. Yet freedom from these laws did not mean Christians could do anything ‘everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial’. The law of Christ served the good of those who obeyed it – the common good. His creed was to focus on the primacy of love (‘if I have faith that can move mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing’) and that God’s Law was written on the believers heart (not needing the Jewish Law). How was God’s Law to be recognised? From the Stoics he adopted the idea that God’s Law was revealed through our consciences, ‘syneidesis’. In this way Paul fused Jewish morality with Greek philosophy in a world-changing way.

Paul preached Christ, and his understanding of him, across Europe, travelling almost 10,000 miles in his lifetime. However he was unable to escape his schooling as a Pharisee. He preached that Christ had freed the believer from the Law, but he clung to various traditionally-held Jewish ideas like monogamous, heterosexual marriage as the only model for sexual relationships (in contrast to Greek beliefs at the time); and the traditional roles of women and men.

By now Nero, the great, great, grandson of Augustus had risen to become Caesar. He turned out to be a particularly vindictive and sadistic emperor. When in 64 AD a deadly fire breaks out in Rome, Nero blamed Christians and had many condemned to death: tied to crosses, smeared with pitch and burned as human torches. Among those put to death are Peter, Jesus’s disciple, and traditionally held to be the first Pappas (Pope) or Father of the Church. Before Jesus own crucifixion, he commanded Peter to look after his flock. Peter is crucified upside down. Paul is also put to death, beheaded, as befits a Roman citizen. (It is not clear in the history books whether this was after the fire or before).

Many of the earliest extant Biblical manuscripts are Paul’s letters to churches in Galatia, Ephesus, Rome and Corinth. These typically predate the gospels which were recorded somewhere in the period 50 to 90 AD.

The Gospel of John, the youngest of Jesus disciples and often referred to as ‘the one whom Jesus loved’, starts with the words… ‘The Logos, which was with God, and was God, and through whom the world was made, had come into the world, but the world did not recognise him.’ Usually, Logos is translated as ‘Word’, but the Stoic understanding (See Zeno above) gives new understanding of why he chose this wording.

In AD 66 the Jews in Judea revolt. Four years later the Romans crush the rebellion, burning down the Temple and taking its treasures.

Justin, a Christian apologist 150 years after Christ defends the morality of the Christian life to the emperor Antoninus.

Ignatius Bishop of Syria defines the Church as katholikos : universal. Christians are viewed with suspicion in the Roman world because of their distinctive worship and rituals (eg. Misunderstanding the communion wine and bread, becoming the blood and body of Christ, which leads to assumptions of cannibalism) In AD 177 in Lyon, many Christians are killed, and jailed and tortured. One particular slave girl, Blandina, refuses to renounce Christ despite being tortured and becomes a martyr.

Irenaeus (130 to 202 AD) is an early ambassador of the church who is sent from Lyon to Rome. He had direct links to the apostles. He trained under Polycarp who knew John. Irenaeus starts to define Christian orthodoxy. Iraneus suggests a cannon: the writings of the apostles and Paul plus gospels of Luke, John, Matthew and Mark, the new testament. He sets out to repudiate the gnostics who claimed ‘special knowledge’ beyond the cannon.

The emperor Carracella in 212 AD grants everyone (every free person) in the Empire, Roman citizenship. But he then proceeds to persecute Christians in Alexandria for not offering sacrifices to the gods. In 250 AD everyone except the Jews are instructed to offer sacrifices to the gods, and again many Christians are persecuted.

Alexandria was a melting pot for philosophy. Origen, the son of Christian parents executed in that city, develops a theologia : a science of God. He further mixed Jewish scripture and Greek philosophical thinking. He embedded the Jewish Old Testament with the New Testament as the full Cannon. He also clearly articulated the concept of the Trinity – three in one (though this is not the final form in the Nicean creed). He was then tortured to death in 250 AD, after everyone was ordered by Caracalla to offer sacrifices and he refused.

303 AD an edict is issued by the Emperor Diocletian, all Christians are ordered to comply with traditional Roman religious practices and to hand over their scriptures or face death. Many are persecuted for refusing, but many Christians also choose to deny Christ and hand over their scriptures.

In Carthage, Donatus and his followers are unwilling to forgive those who surrendered scriptures. Those who surrendered the scriptures, referred to as ‘traditores’ by Donatus and his followers, elect their own bishop Caecilian, who proceeds to stand against Donatus.

In 312 AD Constantine marches on Rome, winning a battle at the Milvian bridge on the Tiber River against a rival. Prior to the battle he sees a cross in the sky and in a dream is visited by Christ and is convinced Christ granted him victory. He becomes the first Christian emperor. Constantine has Christian sympathies and restores confiscated possessions to the churches. In 313 AD he wants to create a single, roman ‘religiones’, and issues a proclamation to serve ‘the divinity who sits in heaven’ – a deliberately obscure reference because direct support was not yet politically palatable. Constantine bans crucifixion.

Donatus complains against Caecilian to Constantine, but his request is denied. Constantine believes it is his mission to uphold the unity of the church.

Donatus is exiled and dies three decades later, but for many decades thereafter the schism continues, with Donatists killing or torturing Catholic bishops in Carthage.

Throughout Christian history the yearning to reject a corrupt and contaminated world, to refuse any compromise with it, and to aspire to a condition of untainted purity would repeatedly manifest itself.

In 325 AD Constantine convenes bishops from across the (Western) world and after a month of debate they finalise a common creed and cannon. The Nycean Creed declares the Father and Son ‘homoousios’: ‘of one substance’. ‘the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God fron true God, begotten not made.’

Flavius Claudius Julianus, Constantine’s nephew, becomes emperor in 361 AD and repudiates Christianity. He tries to roll back reforms and reinstate the goddess Cybele.

At the time, society looked down on the poor and destitute – in Rome, Greek, Persian societies, people who find themselves in this situation are not deserving of sympathy nor do they merit assistance.

In Cappadocia, Basil, initially a lawyer, is elected bishop of Ceasaria in 370 AD, and his younger brother Gregory, a theologian, is appointed Bishop in Nyssa. Gregory introduces the idea that the poor have taken upon them the person of our Saviour. God’s love for the outcast demands that mankind love them too. Basil builds a huge Basileias in 369 AD providing shelter and a hospital for the poor. Gregory preaches that ‘not all the universe would constitute the adequate payment for the soul of a mortal.’ However, when he spoke out against slavery, it was rejected by Basil and others.

Also at this time, babies were regularly abandoned across the Roman world (this was not a Jewish practice), whether due to deformity, or gender. Many would end up as slaves or in brothels if they survived. Basil and Gregory’s sister, Macrina (the Younger), sought out baby girls and raised them as their own. She is now venerated as a saint.

Martin was a soldier under Julian. His most famous story is that outside Amiens in Northern Gaul he found a beggar shivering in the cold. He cut his cloak in two and gave it to the beggar. Later Christ appears to him in a dream. Much like the (parable of the) Good Samaritan. When he left the army he became ‘servant of Christ’ choosing to live a life of chastity and solitude as a ‘monachoi’ (monk): those who live alone. He developed a reputation though he wanted to avoid any form of grandeur. In 371 AD without putting himself forward he was elected as Bishop of Tours (when he heard this he ran away and hid in a barn but was betrayed by geese). Even as bishop he refused to move into the palace. There were reports of healings. This proved threatening to the rich and elite bishops of the church. He died in 397 AD and there ensued a fight for his body, by different groups. He was eventually buried in Tours in a small tomb.

In 394 AD a very wealthy man Meropius Pontius Pailinus, admirered Martin who had miraculously healed his eye. After losing a son at 8 days, he and his wife Therasia sold all of their many properties and possessions, and gave all their wealth to the poor. They then pledged to live out their lives, in poverty, in a hut near Naples. He continued to fund many projects including the building of churches. ‘..It is not riches themselves that are either offensive or acceptable to God, but only the uses to which they are put by men.’

Pelagius (360 to 420 AD) believed man was created free, and whether he lived in obedience to God’s instructions or not, the decision was his own. He believed that sin was merely a habit – which meant that perfection was attainable. He zoomed in on the book of Acts where Christ’s followers sold their goods and shared everything they had.

Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430 AD) believed more in the diversity of the church: ‘the poor will always be with you’ All are equally fallen – whether rich or poor. He saw Pelagius’s belief as heresy that could risk damnation. Original sin needed daily repentance including the giving of alms to the poor and protection of the weak, by the powerful, which might secure favour from heaven. This was a new model of Christianity for those with power and riches: it would later develop into the belief and practice that a place in heaven could be bought.

100 years later in c500 AD Martin’s tomb is venerated. Clovis, a Frankish warlord prays to him for favour in battle and the cloak, the ‘capella‘ Martin gave away, is recovered and guarded by a special class of priests, or ‘capellani‘, or chaplains in times of war. And the word “Saints” rather than applying to the living faithful as Paul used it in the Bible, is now applied to those who have died.

Emperor Heraclius in 632 AD commands visitors, residents, children and slaves to be forceably baptised. This decree was partly due to the Jews who refused to do so. 

In 636/637 AD Palestine is invaded by the Saracens (Muslims). Claiming the same lineage to Abraham as the Jews and the Christians, they acknowledge Jesus as a ‘messenger of God’ (but denying his deity and crucifixion). They believe that Muhammad was given the one true Deen, the one true expression of allegiance to God, ‘submission’ to him in Arabic Islam. His texts, the Qur’an are believed to be the direct words of God as revealed by the angel Gabriel.

Islam spreads across North Africa, with many Christians captured into slavery in 670 AD. In 695 AD Carthage falls following two sieges. It is razed to the ground and a new Muslim capital is built in Tunis. 

In 689 AD work begins on Mt Moria in Jerusalem to build the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the site of the old Jewish Temple.

Muslims compile a corpus of law called the Sunna, every word said to have been spoken by the prophet, much like the Jewish Talmud. In contrast to this Muslim belief, stands the Christian belief that God would write his commandments on the hearts of his followers – to follow conscience and act in love. Universal salvation is available to anyone who believes in Christ, without the need to follow very strict laws to earn God’s favour and therefore, salvation, this is in contrast to strict Judaic and Islamic requirements.

Britain had fallen to the pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes, as the Roman Empire collapsed and the original Christian influence of Patrick and Pelagius was lost. In 597 AD Pope Gregory sends monks to Canterbury. The King of Kent is baptised (by Augustine) and over the subsequent decades many more warlords turn to Christianity in Britain.

Theodore in c665 AD from Tarsus who studied in Syria and Constantinople is sent from Rome, to Marseille, then on to Paris and on to Britain, (and specifically Canterbury in Kent). He was accompanied by Hadrian (of Hadrian’s Wall fame). They set up a school at Canterbury teaching Greek and Latin.

Bede, an Anglican monk is taught by them. Bede devised the method of calculating the year’s date from the time of Christ’s incarnation, the system of Anno Domini, ‘year of our Lord’ is born. Bede was based at Jarrow monastery, where he was instrumental in building a huge library collection of books from Rome, funded by Biscop Baducing, the local Lord. He in turn, had travelled back and forth to Rome six times bring a ‘boundless store of books’ back with him. Biscop is renamed Benedict in Latin. Irish monks also contributed to Jarrow. Bede works on the idea that the Angles (a pun on the conceit that their ‘faces are those of angels’), Saxons and Jutes are like a new ‘chosen race’, having made an exodus across the sea to Britain. Thus the narrative develops, of a single people-group, which in time becomes a uniting of kingdoms known as Anglia and their own language ‘Engalonde’ later to become the English.

This motif of a new group of chosen people, is set up to reflect ideals of the early church as described in the book of Acts. This mythology of origin-narrative reoccurs throughout Christian history.

In c711 AD Muslims start to invade Spain. The Visigoth Christian King’s of Spain fall and over the next two decades Spain becomes al-Andulus, a Muslim kingdom. By 731 AD Arab raids are intruding into the south of modern day France. In 732 AD the Duke of Aquitaine is defeated and Bordeaux is torched. In October 732 AD the Arabs aim to take Tours and the shrine of St Martin, but the Franks repel them and the tide of Arab westward expansion is turned.

The Franks counter-attacked at Poitiers led by Charles ‘Martel’, ‘the hammer’, a leader who fused the Eastern Rhine-based kingdom with the Western Paris-based kingdom (previously led by the heirs of Clovis) of the Franks. He reclaims Provence and Aquitaine, Arles and Avignon and by 741 AD commands a kingdom from the Pyrenees to the Danube.

In the east, around 725 AD, the Saracens carry out a three-year seige of Constantinople that ultimately fails, however most of the lands of the middle East and North Africa are now under their control. 

Charles Martel’s son is Pepin, who gives rise to the Carolingian empire, a Christian empire. Charles does not look to the emperor of the Byzantians, besieged by the Saracens, but instead defines new Western Christian Empire. The east including the original home of Christianity in Syria, Palastine, Egypt and Africa is lost to the Saracens.

Boniface a missionary, born in Devon in the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, travels to convert the Saxons (modern day Germany) with the backing of the Pope and of Charles Martel. In 722 AD he cuts down a great tree: Thunor’s oak, a Saxon totem. In 772 AD he fells Irminsul another tree believed by the pagans to uphold the heavens.

From Saxon we get the word hel, for the pagan underworld and the spring festival Eostre, both of which are adopted into Christian teachings as Hell and Easter. He is martyred in Frisia, but the swift retribution visited on those who kill him, by the Christian Franks, subsequently convinces (or forces) most pagans to convert.

In 771 AD Pepin’s younger son, Charles, becomes sole ruler of the Franks. He is a strong promoter of the Christian religion and is later known as Charles the Great or Charlemagne.

Many bloody battles with the Saxons ensue, who rebel and massacre of the local priests. In 776AD Charles imposes a treaty on the Saxons obliging them to accept baptism. But the Saxons remain obstinate. In 782 AD he orders the beheading of 4500 prisoners in a single day.This sets a bloody precedent in forcing people to convert to Christianity. 

Charlemagne goes on to recapture Barcelona, northern Spain from the Saracens.

In 789 AD he sets out his ambitions: to have his subjects ‘apply themselves to a good life’ through ‘correctio‘: their schooling in the authentic knowledge of God. 

From Tours, under an Abbott called Alcuin, many copies of scripture are produced called biblia, ‘the books’ containing both the old and new testaments in Latin, are distributed across Charlemagne’s empire, together with a program of educating the priesthood. Everyone in the empire must know the Creed and the Lord Prayer.

In 800 AD on Christmas day, Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne, (Charles, son of Pepin, grandson of Charles Martel) as ‘Augustus’, the King of the Franks and the Emperor of the Romans in St Peters in Rome. He is the first Emperor to Rule from Western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476AD. This is a break with the tradition of Pope submitting to the Emperor in Constantinople.

Charlemagne dies 814 AD but his programs endure, forming a uniform basis of Christianity across the Frankish empire and beyond to Britain, Ireland and Spain. 

By 840 AD Charlemagne’s Empire is starting to fray with Saracen pirates raiding the Italian coastline and enslavement of captives; they even manage to sail up the Tiber and loot St Peter’s in Rome. Britain and Ireland are overthrown by armed marauders: the Vikings.

By 905 AD the last descendent of Charlemagne is deposed and there is no Emperor – the kingdom of the Franks fractures, with the two largest, eastern and western flanks, later becoming France and Germany. For 50 years there is no Emperor.

In 937 AD the last King in Britain to hold out against the Vikings – Athelstan of the West Saxons, King of Wessex –defeats a Viking invasion and secures a Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdom from Northumbria to the Channel.

From the steppes of the Carpathian mountains, in 955 AD, Hungarians mounted on horseback invade the Bavarian lands.

They are repelled by Otto the Great who came to rule France, ‘heir of Constantine’ (The first Roman Christian Emperor). Ironically he came from Saxon stock, but was now champion of the Christian world. He fought back with three thousand horseman and the ‘spear that had pierced Christ’s side’. Following the victory he was crowned Emperor by the Pope in Rome.

In a short space of time, this renewed tide of Christianity draws in surrounding kingdoms from Scandinavia to Hungary where King Stephen heartily pursues Christianity. He is rewarded with a queen, the niece of Otto the Great, and is proclaimed a saint after his death in 1038 .ad

In 1033 AD the Christian world holds its breath, expecting the return of Christ, a thousand years after Christ’s death – with many pilgrimages made to Jerusalem via the newly christianised Hungary.

In 1054 the Great Shism is the formal breaking of the commune of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Western Roman Catholic Church due to a series of theological, jurisdictional and organisational disputes that built over several centuries.

Anselm, a scholar from North Italy, of noble birth, who is very sensitive to all living creatures (eg. he commands a trapped hare be freed, having burst into tears seeing it) is appointed to lead the English Church, (suffering a spectacular nosebleed when told this) in 1093 AD. He shifted the emphasis away from Christ’s triumph over the Cross (and Death) and to his suffering humanity. There follows a shift in the visual art’s depictions from serene-Christ to suffering-Christ.

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