The Progression of Christianity. From the Apostoli Essay

This essay has a total of 4033 words and 15 pages.

The Progression of Christianity. From the Apostolic era - the Lutheran Reformation


The Church was undoubtedly the greatest influence in medieval life, affecting not only the
religious and moral codes of the period, but also the political and social climate, which
in turn allowed the Church to flourish. The Christianity of the Middle Ages is a highly
debated topic. Was it merely "a pragmatic religion, a matter of sensible insurance against
the inevitability of death, fear of Hell and the penalties of Divine Judgement?" (Jones,
p6) Or did it truly provide its participants with an inner peace, a knowledge that their
salvation was assured in the eyes of God? Religion is often considered to be a helpful
tool in the study of history, as it can illustrate the ideas, prejudices and wishes of a
period. For example, the Middle Ages and the connections between Church and State.
Churchmen maintained that their spiritual authority transcended political boundaries
acting as an independant third party in disputes. Over time, however, this role seemed to
change, with the Church taking on a more dominant role. There was a separation of the
Priesthood of Melchizedek, who was both Priest and King - the powers now belonged to two
different people, both being expected to keep out of the affairs of the other. The power
of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages affected all aspects of life, and perhaps even
the way people saw the afterlife.


To truly understand the progression of Christianity through the ages, one need first
examine the Apostolic period and the Christianity that it preached. Was the Medieval
Catholic Church a natural progression of the New Testament teachings? Or did the Church
‘lose’ something over time? The Apostolic period established the basic theological
concepts of Christianity, which do seem to be quite different to the theological teachings
of the Medieval Church. For example, on a number of occasions, throughout his Epistles,
Paul preaches the absolute necessity of faith.(See Gal 2:16; Rom 3:28; & 5:1-2; Heb 6:1,
12.) The Medieval (and even present Catholic Church) say this is not so - they say that
faith alone is insufficient. This is where Medieval concepts, such as confession, penance
and purgatory, come into the equation. Such ideas require faith to take a back seat to
works and tradition. It was not until the first Century, after all of the Apostles and
others who had been in direct contact with Christ were dead, that many Churches developed
a hierarchical organisation.(Huxley, p52) From here the concept of Apostolic Succession,
and Petrine Supremacy, was established. There was a turn from the Apostolic Christianity
of love, equality and worship of God, to a Christianity that preached that man was never
fully forgiven his sins and needed to work to reduce the punishments he would receive in
the afterlife. To do this, man needed a mediator to reach Christ. Rome’s acceptance of
Christianity as its official religion may have strengthened the institution of the
Medieval Church. Diversity of belief and practice was no longer going to be tolerated,
Rome did not want a loose federation. In fact, Constantine may have seen Christianity as
"an instrument of cohesion, a pillar of the new Imperial structure he was building, a
State Religion to underpin his government."(Barraclough, p21) Although it has been
suggested that "in Constantine’s conversion [to Christianity] no one can know how much was
due to religious conviction, how much to superstition and how much to political ambition."
(Crowder, p74) Constantine’s vision of a Cross and the inscription In hoc signo vinces (By
this sign you shall conquer) could suggest any of these reasons, but his conversion is
often attributed to political power. If so, this could very well explain the Church’s
appearance in the political world.


The word ‘Catholic’, when it was first applied to the Church, originally meant
‘world-wide’, but "by the end of the second century, it meant holding to doctrines of
Apostolic tradition as accepted by a universal federation of Churches which recognise one
another."(O'Grady, p51) The word that had originally meant a faith reaching into all parts
of the world, where believers could be connected through the same faith, came to be the
name for the single institutionalised Church. By the third century, the ‘Apostles’ Creed’
had been formulated and adherence to it was obligatory.(O'Grady, p63) The end of the fifth
century saw the Catholic Church generally accepted as the one True vehicle of
Christianity, and any person or group who did not conform were considered heretics and
were either converted or killed. "They had developed a system of doctrine, orthodox and
ecclesiastical organisation by apostolicity, unity and holiness. The Church had two
primary purposes. Firstly, "the solemn public worship of God"(Baldwin, p1), which the
Church elaborated into the Liturgy; and secondly, the Church aimed for the sanctification
of souls, where the seven Sacraments were preached. A particular feature of the time was
that men and women were tempted to seek new means by which such Institutions could be
bypassed.(Bolton, p14) People obviously found the Institutionalised Church constrictive
and found new ways express their spirituality. Early heresies are certainly an important
development in Christianity, especially the Gnostics and Marcionites. Gnosticism was
considered perhaps the biggest threat to Orthodoxy, and it was these Gnostic tendancies
that reappeared in the Middle Ages, threatening the unified Church. ‘Gnostic’ comes from
the Greek word gnosis, which means ‘knowledge’. It is a largely secret, mystical
tradition, which was eventually seen to permeate parts of the Church. For example, both
Clement and Origen accepted parts of Gnosticism. Clement (150-215 AD) often quoted Gnostic
sources in his writings, and Origen185-254 AD) had some of his Gnostic-influenced ideas
condemned by Councils in the fifth and sixth centuries. (Councils of Alexandria and
Constantinople) Clement’s ideal was the Christian Gnostic, an idea not dissimilar from the
Jewish kabbalists. Both systems, Gnosticism and Kabbalah, require an oral tradition, so
one could easily see how Catholicism could go hand-in-hand with Gnosticism - they both
place oral tradition over scripture. Also, they considered all material matter to be vile
and corrupt, which one could possibly infer from reading the Bible a particular way. For
example, Jesus states that "the Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak" (See Matt
26:41; Rom 8:12; Gal 1:16 & 6:8; Eph 6:12.), suggesting the superiority of the Spirit.


The Marcionites, as well as other Heresies, such as Catharism and Manichaeism shared the
same views - that matter was evil and only things of the Spirit were of importance. For
the Marcionite, all was surrounded by male and female Spiritual Beings (‘aeons’), of which
the pre-human Jesus originally belonged. This group also considered knowledge to be an
essential part of man’s existence. They regarded the serpent in Genesis (Gen 3) to be
essentially good, as it brought Adam and Eve knowledge, which YHWH had seemed to deny them
- He was a misleading Guidance. Anyhow, the Middle Ages seemed to produce or revive a
great number of Heresies, most of which could be said to have been begotten of Orthodox
Christianity. "There is no heresy without Orthodoxy" (O'Grady, p4)


To combat such problematic groups, Tribunals were set-up to try cases, and hopefully set
people back on the right, Catholic path. Inquisitions were held to ensure the protection
of the faithful, especially from the twelfth century onwards. The hearing was usually
presided over by a Friar, although for more difficult or well-known cases, a higher member
may have been called in. The court had two functions - to to identify the heretic and deal
with the problem. It was not until the mid thirteenth century that torture was introduced
to the procedure, under strict and controlled conditions. (Baldwin, p65) If the heretic
was not converted by the end of the process, he/she was sentenced to death. The Court was
admitting to failure to help the lost soul, but at least the faithful were safe from the
corruption that a heretic might spread. The Inquisitions could also be seen as a unifying
practice for the Church - by battling a common enemy, they were brought together and
provided discipline for the Church.


Other individuals, out of a deep feeling of religiosity or dissatisfaction with the
Institutional Church, turned to Monasticism. It began quite early on, when Christianity
was brought to Rome and being a Christian was considered respectable in society. Many
Christians thought it was too easy, especially considering many of Christ’s speeches,
proclaiming that they would be persecuted for His sake.1 Abandoning the sacrificial aspect
of Christianity, they fled to the Desert and the Monastic Ideal was born. From the fourth
century onward, it was considered one of the highest callings. It was a well-balanced life
of prayer and manual labour. The brothers rose at two in the morning, and for three hours
they were involved in prayer and meditation. From five to nine they studied. Quarter past
nine until noon they worked in the fields. At twelve they had their one meal of the day,
followed by an hour’s Siesta. They would work again until four and were in bed by half
past six. It was forbidden for them to receive gifts and they instead worked for any money
- educating boys, performing the sacraments for neighbours etc.


Something else these groups of people were objecting to, in their move, was "the
individual conscience against the established order." (O'Grady, p7) The term ‘the Church’
was originally used in the sense of meaning the totality of all believers, but now seemed
to refer to the building, the doctrines - anything but the believers. But why did the
Church need such organisation? Firstly, it needed unity. Constantine, in the Council at
Nicaea in 325 AD, settled many issues which he hoped would strengthen the Catholic Church
and his Empire. There was also the unity against Heresy - "if a Kingdom be divided against
itself, that Kingdom cannot stand." (Mark 3:24)


The first thing the Catholic Church did in organising itself, was to appoint a hierarchy
of Church Magisterium, headed by the Pope. The word ‘Pope’ is taken from the word for
‘papa’, as he is considered to be the fatherly, spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic
Church. IN patriarchal times, a Father was considered the spiritual leader of his family -
note Abraham’s move fromhis family - to be removed from his Father’s idolatarous
spirituality.(Genesis 12:1) He is elected on the basis of Petrine Supremacy, which means
he is the heir to the position that Christ gave the Apostle Peter in Matthew 16:18-19.
Christ singled out Peter as the Chief of His Apostles, so Peter was considered to be the
first Bishop and "only those churches that could trace their descent from one of the
Apostles, were repositories of the true faith, which the Apostles had handed down."
(Barraclough, p14) Peter founded his See at Rome and the Bishops of Rome are his
successors. There were, of course, other Churches claiming Apostolicity outside of the
Roman Catholic Church. For example, Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Smyrna,
Phillipi, Thessaloniki, Corinth etc. Because of this Apostolic link, he cannot be wrong -
"God will not permit the Pope to make an error in solemn official declarations concerning
matters of faith - this is the infamous ‘Papal infallibility’, which is rejected by
non-Catholic Christians." (Hall, p6) Also, because he is ordained by God, he cannot be
judged - he is above worldly matters. The Papacy excercised its power in a number of ways.
Firstly, and most importantly, the Pope had authority over the Catholic faith everywhere.
There were Papal Courts, which disciplined and excommunicated heretics. The Pope was also
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