World History Unit 1, Lesson 4: The Catholic Church and Christianity
The Early Catholic Church
The tradition of the Catholic Church claims the Catholic Church began with Jesus Christ and his teachings (c. 4 BC – c. AD 30); the Catholic tradition considers that the Catholic Church is a continuation of the early Christian community established by the Disciples of Jesus. The Church considers its bishops to be the successors to Jesus’s apostles and the Church’s leader, the Bishop of Rome (also known as the Pope), to be the sole successor to Saint Peter who ministered in Rome in the first century AD after his appointment by Jesus as head of the Church. By the end of the 2nd century, bishops began congregating in regional synods to resolve doctrinal and policy issues. Eamon Duffy claims that by the 3rd century, the church at Rome might even function as a court of appeal on doctrinal issues.
Christianity spread throughout the early Roman Empire, with all persecutions due to conflicts with the pagan state religion. In 313, the persecutions were lessened by the Edict of Milan with the legalization of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine I, and in 380, under Emperor Theodosius, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire by the Edict of Thessalonica, a decree of the Emperor which would persist until the fall of the Western Roman Empire (Western Empire), and later, with the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire), until the Fall of Constantinople. During this time, the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, there were considered five primary sees (jurisdictions within the Catholic Church) according to Eusebius: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, known as the Pentarchy.
The battles of Toulouse preserved the Christian west against the Umayyad Muslim army, even though Rome itself was ravaged in 850, and Constantinople besieged. In the 11th century, already strained relations between the primarily Greek church in the East, and the Latin church in the West, developed into the East-West Schism, partially due to conflicts over papal authority. The Fourth Crusade, and the sacking of Constantinople by renegade crusaders proved the final breach.
Prior to and during the 16th century, the Church engaged in a process of reform and renewal. Reform during the 16th century is known as the Counter-Reformation. In subsequent centuries, Catholicism spread widely across the world despite experiencing a reduction in its hold on European populations due to the growth of Protestantism and also because of religious skepticism during and after the Enlightenment. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s introduced the most significant changes to Catholic practices since the Council of Trent four centuries before.
The Inquisition, in historical ecclesiastical terminology, also referred to as the “Holy Inquisition”, was a group of institutions within the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy. Studies of the records have found that the overwhelming majority of sentences consisted of penances, but that cases of repeat unrepentant heretics were handed over to the secular courts, which generally resulted in execution or a life sentence.
The Inquisition had its start in 12th-century France, with the aim of combating religious deviation (e.g. apostasy or heresy), particularly among the Cathars and the Waldensians. The inquisitorial courts from this time until the mid-15th century are together known as the Medieval Inquisition.
Other groups investigated during the Medieval Inquisition, which primarily took place in France and Italy, including the Spiritual Franciscans, the Hussites, and the Beguines. Beginning in the 1250s, inquisitors were generally chosen from members of the Dominican Order, replacing the earlier practice of using local clergy as judges.
During the Late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the scope of the Inquisition grew significantly in response to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation expanding to other European countries, resulting in the Spanish Inquisition and the Portuguese Inquisition. The Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions focused particularly on the anusim (people who were forced to abandon Judaism against their will) and on Muslim converts to Catholicism. The scale of the persecution of converted Muslims and converted Jews in Spain and Portugal was the result of suspicions that they had secretly reverted to their previous religions, although both religious minority groups were also more numerous on the Iberian Peninsula than in other parts of Europe.
During this time, Spain and Portugal operated inquisitorial courts not only in Europe, but also throughout their empires in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. This resulted in the Goa Inquisition, the Peruvian Inquisition, and the Mexican Inquisition, among others.
With the exception of the Papal States, the institution of the Inquisition was abolished in the early 19th century, after the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the Spanish American wars of independence in the Americas. The institution survived as part of the Roman Curia, but in 1908 it was renamed the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. In 1965, it became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The Protestant Reformation
The Reformation (alternatively named the Protestant Reformation or the European Reformation) was a major movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe that posed a religious and political challenge to the Catholic Church and in particular to papal authority, arising from what were perceived to be errors, abuses, and discrepancies by the Catholic Church. The Reformation was the start of Protestantism and the split of the Western Church into Protestantism and what is now the Roman Catholic Church. It is also considered one of the events that signify the end of the Middle Ages and beginning of Early modern period in Europe.
Prior to Martin Luther, there were many earlier reform movements. Although the Reformation is usually considered to have started with the publication of the Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517, he was not excommunicated until January 1521 by Pope Leo X. The Edict of Worms of May 1521 condemned Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas.
The spread of Gutenberg’s printing press provided the means for the rapid dissemination of religious materials in the vernacular. Luther survived after being declared an outlaw due to the protection of Elector Frederick the Wise. The initial movement in Germany diversified, and other reformers such as Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin arose.
Key events of the period include: Diet of Worms (1521), formation of the Lutheran Duchy of Prussia (1525), English Reformation (1529 onwards), the Council of Trent (1545–63), the Peace of Augsburg (1555), the excommunication of Elizabeth I (1570), Edict of Nantes (1598) and Peace of Westphalia (1648). The Counter-Reformation, also called the Catholic Reformation or the Catholic Revival, was the period of Catholic reforms initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. The end of the Reformation era is disputed.
The Counter Reformation
The Counter-Reformation, also called the Catholic Reformation or the Catholic Revival, was the period of Catholic resurgence that was initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation, also known as the Protestant Revolution. It began with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and largely ended with the conclusion of the European wars of religion in 1648.
Initiated to address the effects of the Protestant Reformation, the Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort composed of apologetic and polemical documents and ecclesiastical configuration as decreed by the Council of Trent. The last of these included the efforts of Imperial Diets of the Holy Roman Empire, heresy trials and the Inquisition, anti-corruption efforts, spiritual movements, and the founding of new religious orders. Such policies had long-lasting effects in European history with exiles of Protestants continuing until the 1781 Patent of Toleration, although smaller expulsions took place in the 19th century.
Such reforms included the foundation of seminaries for the proper training of priests in the spiritual life and the theological traditions of the Church, the reform of religious life by returning orders to their spiritual foundations, and new spiritual movements focusing on the devotional life and a personal relationship with Christ, including the Spanish mystics and the French school of spirituality. It also involved political activities that included the Spanish Inquisition and the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa and Bombay-Bassein etc. A primary emphasis of the Counter-Reformation was a mission to reach parts of the world that had been colonized as predominantly Catholic and also try to reconvert nations such as Sweden and England that once were Catholic from the time of the Christianization of Europe, but had been lost to the Reformation.
Various Counter-Reformation theologians focused only on defending doctrinal positions such as the sacraments and pious practices that were attacked by the Protestant reformers, up to the Second Vatican Council in 1962–1965. Key events of the period include: the Council of Trent (1545–63); the excommunication of Elizabeth I (1570), the codification of the uniform Roman Rite Mass (1570), and the Battle of Lepanto (1571), occurring during the pontificate of Pius V; the construction of the Gregorian observatory, the founding of the Gregorian University, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, and the Jesuit China mission of Matteo Ricci under Pope Gregory XIII; the French Wars of Religion; the Long Turkish War and the execution of Giordano Bruno in 1600, under Pope Clement VIII; the birth of the Lyncean Academy of the Papal States, of which the main figure was Galileo Galilei (later put on trial); the final phases of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48) during the pontificates of Urban VIII and Innocent X; and the formation of the last Holy League by Innocent XI during the Great Turkish War.
Anabaptism is a Christian movement which traces its origins to the Radical Reformation. Among the Anabaptist groups still present are mainly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites. In the 21st century, there are large cultural differences between assimilated Anabaptists, who do not differ much from Evangelicals, and traditional groups like the Amish, the Old Colony Mennonites, the Old Order Mennonites, Old Order River Brethren, the Hutterites and the Old German Baptist Brethren.
The early Anabaptists formulated their beliefs in a confession of faith called the Schleitheim Confession. In 1527, Michael Sattler presided over a meeting at Schleitheim (in Schaffhausen canton, on the Swiss-German border), where Anabaptist leaders drew up the Schleitheim Confession of Faith (Sattler was arrested and executed soon afterwards). Anabaptist groups varied widely in their specific beliefs, but the Schleitheim Confession represents foundational Anabaptist beliefs as well as any single document can.
Anabaptists believe that baptism is valid only when candidates freely confess their faith in Christ and request to be baptized. This believer’s baptism is opposed to baptism of infants, who are not able to make a conscious decision to be baptized. Anabaptists are those who are in a traditional line with the early Anabaptists of the 16th century.
Other Christian groups with different roots also practice believer’s baptism, such as Baptists, but these groups are not Anabaptist. The Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites are direct descendants of the early Anabaptist movement. Schwarzenau Brethren, River Brethren, Bruderhof, and the Apostolic Christian Church are considered later developments among the Anabaptists.
The name Anabaptist means “one who baptizes again”. Their persecutors named them this, referring to the practice of baptizing persons when they converted or declared their faith in Christ even if they had been baptized as infants, and many prefer to call themselves “Radical Reformers.”
Anabaptists require that baptismal candidates be able to make a confession of faith that is freely chosen and so rejected baptism of infants. The New Testament teaches to repent and then be baptized, and infants are not able to repent and turn away from sin to a life of following Jesus. The early members of this movement did not accept the name Anabaptist claiming that infant baptism was not part of scripture and was therefore null and void believing that baptizing self-confessed believers was their first true baptism:
I have never taught Anabaptism. … But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ.— Hubmaier, Balthasar (1526), Short apology.
Anabaptists were heavily persecuted by state churches, both Magisterial Protestants and Roman Catholics, beginning in the 16th century and continuing thereafter, largely because of their interpretation of scripture, which put them at odds with official state church interpretations and local government control. Anabaptism was never established by any state and therefore never enjoyed any associated privileges.
Most Anabaptists adhere to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7, which teaches against hate, killing, violence, taking oaths, participating in use of force or any military actions, and against participation in civil government. Anabaptists view themselves as primarily citizens of the kingdom of God, not of earthly governments. As committed followers of Jesus, they seek to pattern their life after his.
Some former groups who practiced rebaptism, now extinct, believed otherwise and complied with these requirements of civil society. They were thus technically Anabaptists, even though conservative Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and many historians consider them outside true Biblical Anabaptism. Conrad Grebel wrote in a letter to Thomas Müntzer in 1524:
True Christian believers are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter … Neither do they use worldly sword or war, since all killing has ceased with them.
The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss German and Alsatian Anabaptist origins. They are closely related to Mennonite churches.
The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, Christian pacifism, and slowness to adopt many conveniences of modern technology, with a view neither to interrupt family time, nor replace face-to-face conversations whenever possible, and a view to maintain self-sufficiency. The Amish value rural life, manual labor, humility, and Gelassenheit, all under the auspices of living what they interpret to be God’s word.
The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Mennonite Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Amish divided into Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites; the latter do not eschew motor cars, whereas the Old Order Amish retained much of their traditional culture. When people refer to the Amish today, they normally refer to the Old Order Amish.
In the early 18th century, many Amish and Mennonites immigrated to Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons. Today, the Old Order Amish, the New Order Amish, and the Old Beachy Amish as well as Old Order Mennonites continue to speak Pennsylvania German, also known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”, although two different Alemannic dialects are used by Old Order Amish in Adams and Allen counties in Indiana.
As of 2021, over 350,000 Old Order Amish lived in the United States, and about 6,000 lived in Canada: a population that is rapidly growing, as the Amish generally do not use birth control. Amish church groups seek to maintain a degree of separation from the non-Amish world. Non-Amish people are generally referred to as “English” by the Amish.
Amish church membership begins with adult baptism, usually between the ages of 16 and 23. Church districts have between 20 and 40 families, and worship services are held every other Sunday in a member’s home or barn. The rules of the church, the Ordnung, which differs to some extent between different districts, is reviewed twice a year by all members of the church. The Ordnung must be observed by every member and covers many aspects of day-to-day living, including prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones, and automobiles, as well as regulations on clothing with a heavy emphasis placed on church and family relationships.
The Amish typically operate their own one-room schools and discontinue formal education after grade eight. Most Amish do not buy commercial insurance or participate in Social Security. As present-day Anabaptists, Amish church members practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service.
Mennonites are members of certain Christian groups belonging to the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland. Through his writings, Simons articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders, with the early teachings of the Mennonites founded on the belief in both the mission and ministry of Jesus, which the original Anabaptist followers held with great conviction, despite persecution by various Roman Catholic and Protestant states. An early set of Mennonite beliefs was codified in the Dordrecht Confession of Faith in 1632, but the various groups do not hold to a common confession or creed.
Rather than fight, the majority of the early Mennonite followers survived by fleeing to neighboring states where ruling families were tolerant of their belief in believer’s baptism. Over the years, Mennonites have become known as one of the historic peace churches, due to their commitment to pacifism.
In contemporary 21st century society, Mennonites are described either as a religious denomination with members of different ethnic origins, or as both an ethnic group and a religious denomination. There is controversy among Mennonites about this issue, with some insisting that they are simply a religious group, while others argue that they form a distinct ethnic group with historians and sociologists increasingly starting to treat Mennonites as an ethno-religious group, while others have begun to challenge that perception. Discussion also exists as to the term “ethnic Mennonite”; conservative Mennonite groups, who speak Pennsylvania German, Plautdietsch (Low German), or Bernese German fit well into the definition of an ethnic group, while more liberal groups and converts in developing countries do not.
Congregations worldwide embody the full scope of Mennonite practice, from “plain people” to those who are indistinguishable in dress and appearance from the general population. Mennonites can be found in communities in 87 countries on six continents.
The largest populations of Mennonites are found in Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, and the United States. There are Mennonite colonies in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Colombia. Today, fewer than 500 Mennonites remain in Ukraine, but the relatively small Mennonite Church in the Netherlands still continues where Simons was born.
Previous Lesson: The Italian Renaissance
Next Lesson: The Absolute Monarchy
Lesson 1: Fall of Rome to the Middle Ages
Lesson 2: Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire
Unit 2: The Age of Exploration
Unit 3: Revolutions Around The World
Unit 4: Political Change
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