views updated May 23 2018


FOUNDED: First century c.e.


Christianity is the religion of those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and follow the way of life inaugurated by him. More than other major religions, Christianity centers on a person. Muslims do not claim the sort of relationship to Muhammad that Christians claim with Jesus, and the same holds true for Judaism, Confucianism, Taoism, and most forms of Buddhism with regard to their respective founders. The New Testament refers to the community of believers as "the body of Christ," which signifies an intimate bond between Jesus and the church.

Christianity inherited from its parent religion, Judaism, a monotheistic belief that there is only one true God, who is personal, the creator of all things, all-powerful, holy, loving, forgiving, and yet opposed to sin and evil. Christian monotheism, however, is fundamentally shaped by belief in Jesus. Christianity can be under-stood as a doctrine concerning Jesus, an experience of communion with Jesus, an ethic taught by Jesus, a community in relationship to Jesus, and a social institution emerging from the life and ministry of Jesus. Alongside the stress on Jesus is an experience of life in the Holy Spirit. From the earliest period Christians have worshiped God as Father, Son, and Spirit, and the doctrine of the Trinity encapsulates a distinctively Christian conception of God.

Christianity exists in a great variety of forms, and different Christian groups highlight different aspects. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christians all stress in varying fashion the need for correct doctrine, while mystics, saints, Pietists, evangelicals, and Pentecostals speak in divergent ways of an immediate experience of God. Other Christians underscore the ethical imperatives of the faith, and still others are primarily concerned with the life of the community, its institutional forms, traditions, and self-government. Because of its 2,000-year history and global extension, Christianity has become astonishingly complex, and a predominant characteristic throughout history, especially evident today, is its cultural diversity.

During the 1900s, the two world wars in Europe, the spread of communism, and the growth of secularism in Europe brought an effective end to the perceived link between Christianity and Western culture. Following World War II, there has been an astonishing expansion of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. China, with only a million Christians in 1949, today has somewhere between 50 and 100 million Christians, and about 10,000 new converts every day. In Africa during the 1900s, the Christian population mushroomed from 9 to 335 million Christians. In Latin America, Pentecostalism has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the dominant faith in many regions. During the last decade, millions of Dalits in India (formerly known as "untouchables") have converted to Christianity. While the churches of Europe are losing members, and those of North America are statistically stagnant, the situation in the developing world is different. The intense prayer, evangelistic fervor, and openness to the miraculous that characterize the Pentecostal movement—now numbering 524 million adherents—could set the future direction for world Christianity. Today Korean, Brazilian, and Chinese missionaries are being sent out to evangelize Muslims, and some are going as missionaries to secular Europeans, a trend that Philip Jenkins has dubbed "the empire strikes back."


Christianity arose out of a close and yet conflicted relationship with Judaism. In about 30 c.e. Roman authorities in Palestine, with the cooperation of Jewish leaders, executed Jesus on a charge of treason. Soon after, followers of Jesus reported having seen him alive. The earliest Christians had a deep sense of Jesus' living presence among them; a confidence that he was "Lord," in the sense of having triumphed over sin and death; and an expectation that he would soon return to reign on earth. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the "anointed one" sent to save Israel, and they found prophecies in the Hebrew Bible, renamed the Old Testament, pointing to Jesus.

Initially all of the central leaders of the Christian community, and probably the overriding number of followers as well, were Jews. Most regarded Christianity as a sect within Judaism rather than a separate religion. The New Testament highlights the leadership role of Simon, called Peter (the Rock) by Jesus, who seems to have been the acknowledged head of the original 12 apostles. James, called the "brother" of Jesus, guided the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem and adhered to Jewish traditions while maintaining faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Saul of Tarsus, renamed Paul, followed a different path, and he was so influential that some historians regard him as a second founder. Paul received an excellent Greek education as well as training in Jewish law, which, together with his burning sense of mission, made him a bridge between the Jewish and Gentile worlds. Paul claimed to have had a vision of the resurrected Jesus while he was engaged in persecuting Christians. In time Paul became known as the "apostle to the Gentiles," and he undertook a monumental effort to establish new congregations of believers throughout the eastern part of the Mediterranean.

Paul's general method was to go "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek [Gentile]" (Romans 1:16). Jews were scattered throughout the Roman Empire, and Paul went from synagogue to synagogue to preach about Jesus, causing consternation wherever he appeared. Paul was controversial not only because he proclaimed that Jesus was Savior but also because he taught that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews. The New Testament shows that at first Paul's opinion was not shared by most fellow Jews who believed in Jesus. The early church's decision to admit Gentiles into the community without first making them Jews (Acts 15) set the future direction for Christianity as a multicultural, multiethnic, and multilinguistic religion. If Paul's position had not won out, Christianity might have kept its Hebrew and Jewish character.


One of the most widely known symbols of the Christian faith is the cross. It is a figure formed by two intersecting lines. In this version (the Latin, or Roman Catholic cross) the vertical line is longer than the horizontal line. For some it symbolizes Christ's death on the cross for the sins of humans and also the life of self-denial to which he calls his followers. It also represents Christ's victory over death and sin.

In the first centuries of its existence, Christianity was a despised movement. Not only Jewish leaders but also Roman emperors and governors opposed it. When the emperor Nero wanted to blame someone for a fire in Rome in 64, he unjustly charged the Christians. Soon Christians were exposed to wild beasts in the Roman arenas, a punishment normally reserved for heinous criminals. Many of the earliest Christians were slaves, a status that did not win them favor with authorities. Christians were accused of immorality and cannibalism, the latter probably explained by the reference to the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper as "the body and blood of Christ." Moreover, Christians seemed to be political subversives when they confessed that "Jesus is Lord" and refused to acknowledge the divinity of the Roman rulers.

Despite persecution, the Christian movement spread. Congregations of believers, meeting in private homes, gathered for services that included the reading of scripture, a sermon, a prayer of thanksgiving, and a shared meal, with bread and wine representing the body and blood of Jesus (the Eucharist). A bishop carried responsibility for all congregations in a region. Those who departed from the essential beliefs and moral standards of the Christian communities were known as "heretics," with their members, pastors, and bishops not recognized by the majority of Christians, known as "Catholics." Controversial issues were debated and decided at local councils of bishops, while the first truly universal, or "ecumenical," council occurred in 325.

The foundations of the medieval church were laid by the Roman emperor Constantine (reigned 307–37), who first made the Christian faith legal and then made it his own. In 392 Christianity became the official religion of the empire. The Roman Empire took the church under its protection, and the church in turn provided spiritual sanction and support for the rule of the Roman Caesars (as the emperors following Augustus Caesar were called). While some have seen the empire's endorsement of the church as an immense blessing, others regard it as the cause of spiritual decline, the clergy's domination over laypeople, and forcible means for propagating the faith. Nonetheless, when the emperor Constantine converted to the Christian faith, it was the beginning of an effort to create a Christian civilization that blended together the best of pagan Rome with the church's traditions. In City of God, Augustine (354–430) distinguished between a "city of man," based on material desires and needs, and a "city of God," oriented toward eternal life. The book laid the foundation for the medieval idea of the church and state as two realms that are distinct and yet work in harmony.

During the Middle Ages the ideal of the Christian empire took two distinct forms: one in the eastern, Greek-speaking portion of the Mediterranean and the other in the western, Latin-speaking region. In 330 Constantine established a new capital in the city of Constantinople. Until its conquest by the Muslim Turks in 1453, Constantinople was the political and religious focus of the Eastern Christian, or Byzantine, civilization. Constantine and his successors saw themselves as the heirs of the pagan Caesars and yet also as spiritual leaders who had the right to involve themselves in the affairs of the church. While the Eastern emperors were not exactly popes, they had a degree of authority in the church that was unparalleled in the West. After the Islamic conquest of Constantinople (renamed Istanbul), the Russian rulers, or tsars, viewed themselves as the legitimate successors of the Byzantine rulers and helped to shape the Russian Orthodox Church.

Along with its differing conception of the Christian empire, Eastern Orthodoxy stressed the mystical or contemplative dimensions of the faith. The ideal life was given to theoria, or unceasing meditation on God, and was exemplified by holy men and women who went to the desert to purify themselves of worldly desires. Images of Christ, Mary, and the saints, known as icons, came to play a central role in devotional life. Orthodoxy held firmly to the decisions of the early Christian councils that convened in the empire's eastern portion and was generally reluctant to add to or modify what had been decided. Indeed, Orthodoxy is known for its relative constancy during the past 1,500 years. Some Eastern Christians—including the Coptic Church in Egypt; the Nestorians, or Assyrians, in Iraq; and other "separated" groups—are not a part of Orthodoxy. Though they differ on certain doctrinal points, their practice of the Christian life has more in common with Orthodoxy than with the Latin West.

Orthodoxy resisted the claim that the bishop of Rome, or pope, was leader over the whole of Christianity and held instead that decisions should be made by a consensus of bishops. In the first three centuries, three important centers of Christianity, known as "apostolic sees," emerged: Alexandria, in Egypt; Antioch, in Syria; and Rome. Constantinople and Jerusalem were later added, and some spoke of a "pentarchy" of five leading cities in the Christian world. Yet Rome followed an increasingly independent course. When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as emperor in Rome in 800, an emperor already reigned in Constantinople, and the stage was set for estrangement between Eastern and Western Christians. After a period of theological debate, the pope in 1054 issued a writ of excommunication declaring all Orthodox believers to be separated from the one true and catholic faith. Orthodoxy responded with its own excommunication against the Roman church. (The mutual excommunications were abolished only in 1965.) For Orthodox Christians the most appalling act by the Latin Christians occurred in 1204, when the armies of the Crusaders, at war with the Muslims, sacked and looted the Christian city of Constantinople.

In the Western, Latin-speaking empire, it was not the Christian emperor but rather the Roman bishop, or pope, who set the tone for the historical development of Christianity. Within a century after Constantine, the bishops of Rome referred to themselves as the pontifex maximus (supreme pontiff), a title that had belonged to the pagan Caesars. Because of the relative weakness of political authority in the Western empire, the popes could not avoid playing a political role. When Huns and Vandals threatened Italy in 452 and 455, for example, it was Pope Leo I who represented the city of Rome in negotiations. Rome's prestige also grew from its association with the apostles Peter and Paul, who were both said to have died there.

As early as the second century, some Christian writers suggested that Rome might serve as a kind of supreme court for church disputes. There gradually emerged the idea of "Petrine primacy," asserting that Peter and his successors in Rome, the popes, had authority over the whole of the church. In 1302 Pope Boniface VIII issued the statement Unam Sanctam ("One Holy"), declaring that it was necessary for salvation to submit to the pope. The process of defining the authority of the popes did not reach its culmination until 1870, however, when Pope Pius IX led the First Vatican Council, though with dissent among bishops, to state that the pope possesses infallibility when he makes an official declaration (ex cathedra) concerning the Catholic faith. The claims of Petrine primacy in the early church and of papal authority in the medieval and modern periods have played a role in the estrangement between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, and they were decisive in the emergence of the Protestant Reformation during the 1500s. Certain Eastern churches known as Eastern Rite (also called Eastern Catholic or Uniate) recognized the primacy of Rome and yet retained their non-Latin liturgies. These include the Maronites of Lebanon and the Eastern Rite Catholics of Ukraine.

During the medieval period Christianity grew and flourished through the efforts of monks, nuns, and members of newly established religious orders. The original Christian monks, led by Anthony (251–356), went into the Egyptian desert to pray and lead simple and largely solitary lives. The colder climate of Europe forced monks there to erect buildings and engage in farming and craftwork to support themselves. In European monasticism, led by Benedict (c. 480–c. 545), male monks and female nuns served the needs of the communities around them. In their work of copying manuscripts, monks preserved both pagan and Christian traditions and so insured that civilization would continue through the Dark Ages of the 800s and 900s. Patrick (c. 390–c. 460), a missionary from Britain to Ireland, was influential in the westward spread of Christianity.

Nestorian Christians sent missionaries into Persia, India, and western China during the sixth and seventh centuries. The Chinese churches lasted for about two centuries, while the Nestorian churches of India have continued to the present time. In Europe missionary monks took the Christian gospel into new regions. Boniface (680–754) preached in Germany, Cyril and Methodius (mid-800s) went from Constantinople to the Slavs of eastern Europe, and Bede (c. 673–735) laid the foundation for scholarship in England. In the 800s Bulgarian leaders considered affiliation with Rome but were repelled by the insistence on papal authority, priestly celibacy, and Latin in worship, and Bulgaria thus turned toward Constantinople. Russian Orthodoxy, which began with the baptism of Prince Vladimir in 988, flourished in the region of Kiev until the invasion of the Mongols in 1240. It was almost three centuries before Russian Christians fully regained their political and religious independence and Moscow displaced Kiev as the Russian religious and cultural capital.

Many reformers of the Middle Ages, who called the church back to its ancient faith and fervor, arose from the ranks of the monks. They included Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) and Francis of Assisi (1181/2–1226). The greatest of the medieval theologians were all associated with monastic or religious orders. Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) was head of a Benedictine community, Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) was a Dominican, and both Bonaventure (1217–74) and Duns Scotus (1266–1308) were Franciscans. Beginning in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, universities were founded throughout Europe as centers for training in theology, medicine, law, and the liberal arts. In its Scholastic form theology played a unifying role as the "the queen of the sciences." Though women's roles were limited, the church's literature was enriched by the writings of great women mystics, including Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) and Julian of Norwich (mid-1300s–early 1400s).

With Martin Luther (1483–1546) and Protestantism, the call for reform turned against monasticism and the papacy, even though Luther himself had been a monk. Prior to Luther, both John Wycliffe (c. 1330–84) in England and Jan Hus (1372/3–1415) in Bohemia had questioned the pope's supreme authority, criticized the church for its wealth, and cast doubt on the doctrine of transubstantiation (that the bread and the wine of the Lord's Supper literally become the body and blood of Jesus). Yet in Luther's time these criticisms fell on fertile ground, and the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s allowed Luther to reach a larger reading public than would otherwise have been possible. Beginning with a dispute in 1517 over the sale of indulgences (written statements from the church declaring that "temporal penalties" for sin were removed), the controversy surrounding Luther came to focus on the issue of authority. The question was whether the word of the pope or the word of God contained in the Bible was final. Luther's opponents asserted that the popes were the authorized interpreters of the Bible, while Luther asserted that he could not accept anything that seemed to contradict the Bible. Within the next generation Luther and his followers rejected the supreme authority of the pope, belief in purgatory, mandatory celibacy for priests, and prayer to Mary and the saints, and they asserted that salvation occurs purely through God's grace, not human merit.

While Protestants agreed in rejecting the leadership of the popes, they differed over how much of Roman Catholicism to retain. Luther wanted to preserve much of Catholic tradition. He held to the written prayers, or liturgy, of the church (with a few changes), the baptism of infants, the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Eucharist (Communion, or Lord's Supper), and the government of the church by bishops. The most radical of the new Protestants rejected all of these. The Anabaptists, so termed because of their practice of rebaptizing as adults those who had been baptized as infants, were opposed by Luther and suffered persecution from Catholics and Protestants alike. In Zurich, during the 1520s, some were drowned to death in a cruel parody of their practice of baptism by immersion. The Anabaptists, or Radical Reformers, wanted to return to the days before Constantine, when there was no state-supported church and when Christians gathered in private homes to listen to the Bible read aloud and to break bread together. They wanted a "voluntary church," in which standards of membership would be high, with those who did not follow the Bible excluded. Although certain small groups of Radical Reformers used force against their opponents, many were pacifists. They were ready to die rather than take up arms against their persecutors. The Radical Reformers were early advocates for the separation of church and state.

The Protestant leader John Calvin (1509–64) was more radical than Luther but more traditional than the Anabaptists. Like the Anabaptists, Calvin held that the church must maintain high standards and exclude those who fell short. Unlike the Anabaptists, however, Calvin believed that the state had a role to play in promoting religion, and Geneva became his laboratory for creating an ideal Christian society. Protestant leaders went to Geneva from England and Scotland, carried Calvin's ideas back to their homelands in the mid-1500s, and, because of their desire to purify the Church of England from its Roman Catholic elements, became known as "Puritans." English Puritans were the earliest European settlers in New England, beginning with the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in 1620. The Massachusetts Bay Colony, along with Geneva, became one of two major attempts to create a model society according to Calvin's principles.

Calvin held that the leaders of the New Testament churches were roughly on a par with one another, and thus he opposed the idea of a church hierarchy. Consequently, Calvinists played a role in the rise of modern political democracy. By 1700 Calvinism had taken root in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, South Africa, Scotland, England, and colonial North America. Lutheranism became dominant in Germany and in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Southern Europe—France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal—remained largely Roman Catholic.

The overall situation in the English Reformation was more complex than in any other European nation. In 1534 King Henry VIII declared the Church of England separate from the pope and made himself the titular head of a new "Anglican" Church. Until 1688, when it was established that the monarch must be Protestant, there remained a distinct possibility that the Church of England might return to the Roman fold. Perhaps for this reason, the Anglican Church embraced a larger spectrum of theological viewpoints than did the churches on the continent of Europe. Though all Anglicans used the same prayer book in Sunday worship, some continued to hold to Catholic opinions, while others were moderately Protestant, and still others had Puritan sympathies. Some have called Anglicanism a "middle way" between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

The Roman Catholic Church was not passive in the face of the Protestant challenge. The Council of Trent (1545–63) set the basic direction for the church until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. It defined Catholic doctrine in opposition to Protestantism, unified the approach to worship and practice, and concentrated authority in the papacy and the Curia (Vatican bureaucracy). Following the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church made up for what it had lost in Europe through a major expansion into Latin America. The church expanded there through the efforts of priests, often members of such religious orders as the Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans. Although voices of protest—including that of Bartolomé de la Casas (1514–c. 1566)—arose against the mistreatment of the indigenous, or Indian, peoples, the general attitude of colonists and missionaries was paternalistic if not exploitative. The colonist's encomienda system and the Jesuit's reductions (settlements) tied the Indians to the land and made them like indentured servants. For much of Latin America the process of Christianization proceeded slowly. Because of the paucity of priests and the lack of adequate instruction in the faith, many were baptized without much understanding of the Catholic religion. The blending of Catholicism with indigenous traditions (syncretism) is obvious in Brazilian Umbanda and Haitian voodoo.

Scholastic theology experienced a golden age during this time. Both Catholics and Protestants produced massive volumes of Latin prose. It was an era of great saints, such as Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556), founder in 1540 of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits; Teresa of Avila (1515–82); John of the Cross (1542–91); Blaise Pascal (1623–62); and Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705), each of whom called Christians to spiritual renewal. Yet the century from 1550 to 1650 was also characterized by immense conflict throughout Europe along the fracture lines between Catholics and Protestants. A third of the population of Germany perished during the Thirty Year's War (1618–48). The seeds of the Enlightenment were sown during the 1600s, when theological disputes seemed to be at the root of violence and hatred. People of goodwill sought social harmony, not in a vision of Christian empire but in universal principles of human rationality.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) defined the Enlightenment as "man's release from his selfincurred tutelage" and urged his readers to "have courage to use your own reason." The appeal to individual reason was a challenge to Catholics and Protestants alike, since it equally called into question the authority of church traditions and the text of the Bible. Since the eighteenth century the church's intellectual leaders have grappled with the ideas of the Enlightenment and modernist thought, though in varying ways. Among Roman Catholics the "modernist crisis" came at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Pope Pius X, in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907; "Feeding the Lord's Flock"), attacked what he saw as an emerging rationalistic assault upon Christianity. Although the antimodernist movement supported by the church suppressed some dubious tendencies in the academy, for a time it probably also stifled legitimate theological inquiry. Protestants were more directly affected by Enlightenment ideas at an earlier stage. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) sought a middle way between traditional Christian faith and the Enlightenment's "cultured despisers of religion." Protestant thinkers have been concerned with establishing the "reasonableness" of Christianity. Karl Barth (1886–1968), the twentieth century's most influential Protestant theologian, rejected Schleiermacher's mediating style and insisted that Protestant theology needed to become again a "theology of the Word of God."

The Enlightenment had political as well as intellectual repercussions. In Roman Catholic countries it led to calls for the secularization of the governmental and educational systems. In the Catholic nations of southern Europe—Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy—and in Latin America, secular forms of government gradually took hold in the 1800s and 1900s, while Catholic leaders resisted these changes and favored a state-authorized and state-subsidized church. Although some national constitutions in Latin America specify that Catholicism is the official religion, freedom of religion is now widely accepted, and state support for the Catholic Church has diminished. European countries with state-supported Protestantism—for example, England, Germany, The Netherlands, and Scandinavian nations—have moved in the same general direction.

While academic theologians debated the merits of Enlightenment ideas, popular Christianity from 1700 to 2000 experienced growth and resurgence on many levels. Beginning with the spiritual revivals in English-speaking Protestantism during the mid-1700s, the evangelical movement brought the church a new vitality and sense of mission. Evangelicals stressed the need for individual conversion, a personal relationship with God, Bible reading, evangelistic activity, and social reform. The world missionary movement among Protestants in the 1800s and early 1900s emerged from the evangelical awakening, whose leaders included the Anglican preacher George Whitefield (1714–70), the Congregationalist theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703–58), and the founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703–88). During the 1800s evangelicals were leaders in the campaign against African slavery, in the reform of labor laws, and in the temperance movement. Though evangelicalism originated in England and North America, it has spread throughout the world and is strong today in South Korea, in China and the Chinese diaspora, and in parts of Africa and Latin America.

In the Orthodox world regions originally under the jurisdiction of the patriarch, or bishop, of Constantinople broke away to become autocephalous (self-governing) national churches. Moscow became an independent patriarchate in 1589. In 1833 the patriarch of Constantinople acknowledged the independence of the Greek Orthodox Church, followed by churches in Bulgaria (1870), Serbia (1879), and Romania (1885). Peter the Great removed the patriarch as head of the Russian Church in 1721 and established the Holy Synod, which included laypersons. This situation, an anomaly in Orthodoxy, remained until the Revolution of 1917, when the Moscow Patriarchate was reestablished. During the twentieth century Communist governments in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe persecuted Orthodox churches, and the documented cases of martyrdom run into the tens of millions. Because of opposition from Islam and Communism, Orthodoxy has a historical experience of persecution and martyrdom that sets it apart from the churches of western Europe and North America. Yet Orthodoxy has experienced a resurgence in its historic heartland during the post-Communist generation.

Roman Catholicism entered a time of trials during and following the French Revolution, when revolutionary leaders called for the overthrow of the church in France and throughout Europe. The suppression of the Jesuits in 1773—reinstated in 1814—for a time removed one of the most important religious orders in the church. The papacy began to recover strength as the nineteenth century progressed, however, and Pope Pius IX symbolized the church's new confidence when he declared Mary's Immaculate Conception in 1854 and the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870. Yet the Syllabus of Errors (1864), which condemned freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the separation of church and state, proved irksome to Catholics living under governments where these principles were established. Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum (1891; "Of New Things") called for the church to become engaged in promoting justice for workers and a decent standard of living for all. The emphasis on social justice has been a feature of Catholic philosophy ever since, and it emerged in a challenging way during the second conference of Latin-American bishops, held in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, and in the "liberation theology" of Gustavo Gutiérrez (born in 1928) and others.

The twentieth century brought massive changes in world Christianity. In 1900 nearly 80 percent of all Christians were white, and the demographic center of Christianity lay in Europe and North America. By 2000 only 45 percent of the world's Christians were white, and the most dynamic and rapidly growing Christian communities were located in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In Africa the Christian population mushroomed from 9 million to 335 million during the twentieth century. Until the 1960s African Christianity was tied to colonialism, yet the expansion of Christianity occurred through Bible translations, village schools, and traveling African catechists (religious instructors) as much as through the activities of missionaries. The cultural impact of Bible translations, the first written texts in most African languages, is hard to overestimate. The translations helped to preserve indigenous languages and, with them, many oral traditions. Today African Christianity is phenomenally diverse, with thousands of groups and movements. Some African Initiated Churches (AICs) hold to customs, such as polygamy and ancestor veneration, that were forbidden by European colonists and missionaries.

Christianity entered China through the Nestorians in the sixth century, the Franciscans in the fourteenth, and the Jesuits in the sixteenth. Yet it was only with the arrival of Protestant missionaries in the mid-1800s that an enduring Chinese church was established. Communist persecution since 1949 seems only to have enhanced the growth of Christianity, and today the number of Chinese Christians may be between 70 million and 100 million. Many belong to unregistered "house churches" rather than official denominations. Following Francis Xavier's visit to Japan in 1549, large numbers converted to Christianity, and by 1600 there may have been 300,000 Christians. In the early 1600s Japanese Christians experienced severe persecution, and Japan cut off contact with foreigners until the mid-1800s. During the twentieth century there has been a numerically small but influential Christian community in Japan. Korean Christianity, especially in its Presbyterian and Pentecostal forms, expanded rapidly during the twentieth century to become one of the world's most dynamic movements. The largest Christian congregation in the world is located in Seoul, and Korean churches send missionaries throughout the world.

The Philippines have long been the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia. The Spanish arrived in 1538, remained in power for three and a half centuries, and established a form of Roman Catholicism that is much like that of Latin America. Vietnam is predominantly Buddhist but has a strong Catholic minority. In Burma, Baptist missionaries in the 1800s spread Christianity among the non-Burmese minority. Indonesia is the nation with the largest number of Muslims converting to Christianity. In part this arose as a reaction to the violence committed by Muslims against real or suspected Communists in the failed coup of 1965. Since that time millions have converted to Christianity, including the Bataks of Sumatra. In India, Christian origins go back to the fourth, second, or perhaps first century. According to early tradition, the apostle Thomas took Christianity to India. Since the 1800s outcaste groups with little stake in Hindu society and non-Hindu tribal peoples, such as the Naga, have entered the Christian church in growing numbers.

Anglicanism spread to Australia and New Zealand in the late 1700s, followed by other Protestant groups and Roman Catholicism. Christianity is now the religion of almost all of the original inhabitants of the Pacific Islands. Typically the dominant form of Christianity is that of the first missionaries to arrive—for example, Congregationalism in Hawaii and Methodism in Fiji. The Pacific Islanders converted in "people movements" (also found in Africa and Asia and among Latin-American Indians), in which the tribal leaders and entire society entered the church at the same time. New Guinea received missionaries in the late 1800s and early 1900s from Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga and today is over-whelmingly Christian.

A major part of the modern expansion of Christianity lies in the Pentecostal, or charismatic, movements that emerged after 1900 and spread rapidly and widely. Pentecostal Christianity has come to dominate large portions of Africa and Latin America, where more people may attend weekly Pentecostal services than the Roman Catholic Mass. The movement began with the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906, led by the African-American preacher William Seymour (1870–1922). After several days of fasting and praying, a number of people began to speak in unknown languages, taken to be an outward sign of the experience known as "baptism in the Holy Spirit," which soon became the hallmark of Pentecostalism. Within a generation small groups of Spirit-baptized Christians were found throughout the world. Pentecostals emphasize supernatural elements in Christianity, such as divine healing, prophecy and visions, the casting out of demons, and "speaking in tongues," or glossolalia.

The ecumenical movement arose out of a conference on world evangelization in Edinburgh in 1910. Delegates became aware that divisions in the Christian world were a major hindrance for missionaries, and the discussions begun at Edinburgh gave rise to a number of organizations concerned with Christian reunion. In 1948 they merged into the World Council of Churches (WCC). The WCC has promoted dialogue and joint action among Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox churches, with some Roman Catholic participation as well. The statement "Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry" (1982) reflected broad agreements on these points. In 1999 the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation offered the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification," another sign of a gradually emerging theological consensus.

In North America the early twentieth century brought controversy and ultimately division between liberal and conservative Protestants, termed "fundamentalists" but later described as "evangelicals." The liberals inherited the church's denominational and theological institutions, while the conservatives left the mainline denominations and started over. Conservative churches in the United States, however, have been growing at the expense of more liberal groups. One region of the world that shows less Christian vitality is western Europe, where services in massive cathedrals may attract a mere handful of worshipers. In England, for example, less than a million Anglicans attend Sunday services, while in Nigeria the Anglican Church has 17 million members and the attendance rate is 89 percent. Thus, the future of the Church of England may lie not in England but in Africa and other regions that were the object of earlier missionary efforts.

The great Christian event of the twentieth century was almost certainly the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), which in a single generation transformed the lives of Roman Catholics throughout the world. Vatican II allowed worship in vernacular languages rather than Latin, taught that Protestants were "separated brethren" rather than heretics or schismatics, opened a door for dialogue with non-Christians, and called for the church to become engaged in the struggle for justice and dignity for all human beings. Following the council, however, the declining number of new vocations to the priesthood and religious orders has threatened the viability of Catholicism. Debates over women's ordination and artificial birth control, as well as sexual abuse scandals in the United States, also are challenges for Catholics.


Christian theology seeks to understand God and his relation to the world in light of the salvation brought by Jesus Christ. It is based on the Bible—both the Old and New Testaments—as inter-preted in the light of tradition, reason, and experience. Anselm of Canterbury described theology as fides quaerens intellectum, or "faith seeking understanding." Faith does not exclude intellectual inquiry but rather invites it. Christians have generally been more concerned with orthodoxy (correct doctrinal expression) than have the adherents of other religions. Judaism and Islam have been more preoccupied with orthopraxy (right practice). Buddhists and Hindus have tended to be flexible about doctrines, seeing them as guidelines rather than fixed standards of belief. Thus, in many ways Christianity is the most theological of the major religions.

Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians make individual opinion and private interpretation in understanding Scripture subordinate to the inherited traditions of the church. By contrast, Protestants make the text of the Bible the final authority. During the past three centuries many Christian thinkers have emphasized human reason as much as Scripture or tradition. The Enlightenment taught that human beings must use their own reason to evaluate all truth claims, including the texts of the Bible and the traditions of the church. Pietistic and Pentecostal Christians claim that theology emerges from personal experience, which can be a source and test of theological truth. Thus, today Christian theology involves a complex interplay of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

Christian theology rests on an understanding of God as Holy Trinity. The first universal, or ecumenical, council of the Christian church, held at Nicea in Asia Minor in 325, affirmed that Jesus is "of one nature [Greek, homoousios] with the Father" and thus that both Father and Son are divine. In 381 a council at Constantinople affirmed that the Holy Spirit is also fully divine. Thus, the existence of three persons in one God was established as a formal principle at an early stage. The Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed summarize Christian beliefs, including the doctrine of the Trinity, and almost all Christian groups affirm them. The Trinity provides the basic framework for understanding salvation, which comes from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. Prayer, worship, and service to God reverse this movement and are offered in the Spirit, through the Son, and toward the Father.

The classical concept of God taught in Christianity was carried over from Judaism and is summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646): "There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy … working all things … for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity … and withal, most just … hating all sin." These basic assertions regarding God's infinity, mercy, and justice continue to be affirmed, although many contemporary theologians stress God's intimate relationship with creatures rather than his power over them.

Both the Bible itself and the Apostle's Creed begin with the assertion that God created all things. There is nothing that exists apart from God's will, and God has unlimited dominion over all things. God not only created the world but also directs natural and historical events in accordance with a purpose. The story of Jesus, whose crucifixion preceded his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, encourages Christians to believe that God is working out a plan that turns evil toward good: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God" (Romans 8:28). Christian faith interprets evil in the light of a gracious God who will one day remove it altogether: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more … And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new'" (Revelation 21:4–5).

Divine providence somehow concurs with genuine human choice and thus is not a negation of human freedom. Yet Christian theologians have never arrived at a consensus regarding the relation of God's will to human wills. Augustine argued that God could cause certain events to take place necessarily but without abolishing human choice. He claimed that from the beginning God had decided the exact number of those who would be saved (predestination). By contrast, in the early 400s Pelagius taught that humans could serve God through their own volition and apart from grace, but his viewpoint has found little favor in mainstream Christianity. Many theologians in Western Christianity, including Anselm, Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Jansenists, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Barth, have followed Augustine's position. An intermediate position, known as semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism and associated with John Cassian (c. 360–435), the Jesuits, and John Wesley and Methodism, asserts that salvation begins with a human choice that is then aided and strengthened by God and divine grace. Orthodoxy generally has not shared the West's concern for probing the intricacies of divine grace and human volition but has been more concerned with Christology (the doctrine concerning Christ) and the Trinity.

For Christian theology human beings are made in "the image of God" (Genesis 1:27) and thus are distinct from other creatures. The "image" is variously identified with reason, conscience, the soul, self-awareness, or the power of dominion over other created things. Genesis states that all things made by God were "very good" (1:31), which means that human beings commit sin and yet never become evil per se. As traditionally interpreted, the story of the "fall" of humanity in Genesis 3 indicates that sin and death entered the world through the transgression of the first human pair, Adam and Eve. The doctrine of original sin asserts that all human beings are born with an inclination toward evildoing: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The exception is Jesus Christ, who was born without the taint of original sin. Roman Catholicism, in its doctrine of Immaculate Conception—first defined in 1854—asserts that Mary, like Jesus, was also conceived without original sin.

The center of Christian theology lies in its affirmations regarding Jesus as Messiah, Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Priest, Prophet, and Returning King. While each generation of Christians has tended to re-create Jesus in its own image, certain doctrines have remained relatively constant. Chief among these is the doctrine of Jesus' divinity, humanity, and unity as a single, undivided person. The term "incarnation" refers to the affirmation that God took on human nature in Jesus: "The Word became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14). The early Christian councils were largely devoted to elaborating basic doctrines concerning Jesus, with all departures from them defined as heresies. The heresy of Ebionitism presented a Jesus who was human but not divine, while Docetism portrayed Jesus as divine but not human. The Jesus of Arianism was neither fully human nor fully divine. Nestorianism depicted Jesus as divine and human and yet divided into two distinct persons.

Because they believe that salvation is at stake, Christian thinkers of all eras have been preoccupied with describing Jesus' character. In 451 the Council of Chalcedon sought to define the exact relationship between his divine and human natures. Jesus' role as Savior requires that he function as the mediator between God and humanity. Salvation depends on a full and true incarnation of God in human life. As God, Jesus can save fallen humanity; as human, he represents other humans and offers to God the perfect obedience that all owe to God. As a single, undivided person, he brings divinity and humanity into connection. The Incarnation affirms that God enters into human experience, understands humans from the inside out, and validates the material world and physical body through his union with it: "For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Because of the Incarnation, human beings find God to be approachable and empathetic.

Not only who Jesus is but also what he does matters for Christian theology. When he wished to summarize the gospel he preached, Paul spoke of two things—the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Paul writes that through the cross of Jesus God mysteriously identifies himself with the guilt, weakness, and suffering of humanity in order to remove them (1 Corinthians 1:18–31). The doctrine of Atonement states that the death of Jesus is the basis for salvation. Various theories of the Atonement seek to explain this. Jesus' death frees believers from Satan's dominion (classical theory), awakens a love for God by showing the depth of God's love for humans (exemplary theory), presents an offering of perfect obedience to God (Anselmian theory), or serves as vicarious punishment inflicted on Jesus in place of all other humans (substitutionary theory). Each theory offers a partial glimpse into the significance of Jesu's cross. The resurrection of Jesus is his public vindication, whereby he is "declared to be the Son of God with power" (Romans 1:4), and it is the ultimate basis for the Christian hope in life beyond life. Because he rose from the dead, those who believe in him have hope for their own resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12–22).

The Christian doctrine of salvation follows from the doctrine of sin. Because human beings are estranged, God undertakes to bring them back into a closer relationship with him: "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). The process starts with God's eternal will to bring salvation (election, or predestination); unfolds as human beings exercise faith and repentance; ushers sinners into a new relationship of gracious acceptance by God; finds expression in the daily struggle to grow in faith, obedience, and holiness before God; and reaches its culmination when believers are raised from the dead and transformed into a glorious and immortal state. Orthodox theology speaks of salvation as "divinization" or "deification" (Greek, theosis), a process whereby human beings are brought to share in God's own life and so participate in his holiness and glory.

Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and many Anglican Christians view salvation as something mediated through the Christian community. In this view salvation comes through participation in the church, with baptism as the sign of that participation. Traditional Catholic theology states that unbaptized persons cannot be saved. Following baptism, a believer's strengthening in the faith comes from participation in the Eucharist and the other sacraments—confirmation, penance (reconciliation), holy orders (ordination), matrimony, and extreme unction (anointing of the sick). Some Catholic theologians emphasize the correct performance of the rituals, though others stress the importance of approaching the sacraments in faith. Like Catholics, Orthodox and Anglican Christians understand the church to be a sacramental community. In these traditions the church exhibits an unbroken line of leaders, or "apostolic succession," extending from the first century to the present time. Catholics emphasize the succession of Roman bishops, or popes, beginning with Peter (Matthew 16:17–19), as the leaders of Christendom, while Orthodox and Anglican Christians hold that the bishops collectively share in decision making and responsibility.

Protestants show a less communal interpretation of salvation, Christian life, and church leadership. Luther had been a faithful monk and yet lacked "assurance of salvation," which he found through Bible reading and a conversion experience in which God's mercy suddenly became real to him. Since that time Protestants have stressed the Bible and personal experience of God. Neither the outward forms of the church nor baptism and the sacraments are as important as the individual's experience of Christ. Most Protestants hold to two basic church rituals—baptism and the Eucharist. Lutherans and Calvinists hold that the outward actions are genuine sacraments with spiritual power attached to them. Baptists, Pentecostals, and nondenominational Protestants believe that the outward actions are merely signs attesting to and confirming the faith of those who share in them. Thus, this latter group of Protestants baptize only adults and older children on a profession of faith (believer's baptism). Though all Protestants deny the supreme spiritual authority of the papacy, they differ as to what they put in its place. Anglicans, Methodists, and Lutherans preserve the ancient system of church government by bishops, while Baptists, Pentecostals, and Congregationalists allow each local gathering to govern itself, with Presbyterians placing local gatherings under the direction of a representative assembly.

Christian theology includes eschatology, or a doctrine of "last things"—Jesus' return (or Second Coming), judgment by God, heaven, and hell. In the Gospels, Jesus' teaching focused on the kingdom of God, and the Lord's Prayer includes a petition for God to bring an earthly realization of his purposes: "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). Although the kingdom of God is already present in a limited way, it will attain perfection only when Jesus returns, "coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30). Christian eschatology offers confidence that God will ultimately transform individuals, society, and the world at large into "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1). Jesus' resurrection shows God's purpose to overcome all that threatens humanity, including death itself. Though some versions of eschatology have encouraged Christians to retreat from the world, many have driven believers to struggle for mercy, peace, and justice. Eschatology has been an engine of social change and even revolution. The Book of Revelation offers an elaborate picture of the Christian hope, and yet the text is notoriously hard to interpret. Some theologians view it as a more or less literal account of what is to happen before Jesus returns, while others see it as symbolic in character or as referring to events that have already transpired.


Christianity offers a revelation concerning God's love and human salvation. Similarly, it offers instruction in moral and spiritual life, also based on revelation. At the same time, most Christian thinkers maintain that Christians and non-Christians alike are accountable to conscience or natural law. Thus, when the Bible gives the commands "you shall not steal" and "you shall not bear false witness" (Exodus 20:15–16), these imperatives agree with human nature and can be discerned as ethically binding apart from divine revelation. Discussions of Christian ethics thus shift back and forth between natural law and biblical revelation, with Roman Catholic thinkers characteristically emphasizing the former and Protestants the latter.

If there is something distinctive about Christian ethics, it lies in the commandments to "love the Lord your God" and "love your neighbor as yourself," with the added assertion that "all the law" depends on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37–40). By linking love for God with love for neighbor, Jesus' teaching connects spirituality and ethics. Furthermore, Christian love as commanded in the New Testament goes beyond the bounds of natural law or everyday ethics. Ordinary morality tells a person that he ought not steal from his neighbor, but "love your neighbor as yourself" means that a person must meet his neighbor's needs, even if this requires personal sacrifice. Jesus himself presents the ultimate model of sacrifice on behalf of others: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).

As Christian ethics evolved through time, it developed divergent emphases. One way of summarizing the Christian way of life is "imitation" of Christ. Paul wrote, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 11:1). Various branches of Christianity have all held that the goal of the Christian life is to embody Jesus' character. This theme underlies the most popular book of Christian devotion ever written, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (c. 1379–1471). The imitation of Christ was so strong a theme in early Christianity that the notion of imitating anyone else, such as saints, did not become prevalent until the fourth and fifth century.

Early Christian literature included exhortations to patience and perseverance in the face of difficulty, persecution, and martyrdom. It also stressed the need for prayer, almsgiving, and fasting and the avoidance of idolatry, violence, and sexual immorality. When Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire and believers were no longer persecuted, monks went into the desert to pursue God in prayer and self-denial and to undergo a voluntary martyrdom for Christ. Monastic literature is concerned with eliminating wrongful desires and growing in spiritual joy and contemplation of God. Beginning in the fourth century, Christian authors began to look for harmony between pagan wisdom and biblical ethics. Ambrose modeled his De Officiis on a comparable work by Cicero and carried over Greco-Roman teachings on the virtues. Augustine followed along these lines but also used the Ten Commandments and love commandments as a framework. For Augustine love involved spontaneity and not rigidity: "Love, and do what you will." Only God was to be loved for his own sake, claimed Augustine, while all creatures were to be loved "in God," or for the sake of God. Different kinds of love engendered different sorts of human communities. Augustine distinguished a "city of man," centering on material things, from a "city of God," directed toward eternal bliss.

As the centuries passed, Eastern and Western Christianity diverged in their emphases. In the East monks served as confessors and spiritual directors for laypersons, and so the monastic experience permeated the entire notion of the Christian life. Asceticism, prayer, and contemplation led to theosis, or "divinization" (a process of growth into Godlikeness). The spiritual standards were high, if not perfectionistic. Humans were made in the "image" of God but had to restore the "likeness" through lengthy self-discipline. Orthodox ethics are generally simpler and less formal than Roman Catholic ethics.

Western theology reached a climax in the work of Thomas Aquinas, who synthesized many strands of ethical thought. Following Aristotle, Aquinas held that humans are teleological, or goal oriented. Human fulfillment consists of knowing and choosing good ends. The natural virtues of wisdom, justice, prudence, and temperance contribute to this fulfillment. The supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love complement the natural virtues in such a way that "grace does not destroy nature but perfects it." Perfect fulfillment comes only in the "beatific vision" of the saints who see God in heaven. Aquinas and his Dominican order emphasized reason, while Bonaventure and the Franciscans highlighted the will and the exercise of love as the chief features in human fulfillment.

A more down-to-earth form of ethical reflection developed in connection with the sacrament of confession. Beginning in the ninth century, guidebooks for confessors ("Irish penitentials") specified what penance was appropriate for a given transgression. Over time an emerging tradition of moral theology took into account not only the acts themselves but also circumstances and intentions. Mortal sins concerned grave matters, occurred when the act was done deliberately and with full consent, and blocked a person from receiving grace. Venial sins were less serious, though they still required "satisfaction," or outward actions, to show contrition and to compensate for the wrong committed. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the church taught that purgatory provided a place where those who died without mortal sin but without having made satisfaction for their venial sins could make reparation through cleansing fire. In the period from the 1600s to the 1960s, Roman Catholic moral theology took the form of multivolume works of casuistry, or moral reasoning, that considered every conceivable sort of transgression. Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic moral theology has moved away from this formal and legal style to a more personal and humanistic approach.

Protestants laid emphasis on Scripture as the basis for ethics and generally rejected casuistry. Since they had no centralized teaching authority, Protestants developed a diversity of approaches. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin used the Ten Commandments as a broad frame-work for ethical teaching, and both invoked Jesus' love commandments. They rejected medieval notions of merit, or "works-righteousness," and asserted that the Christian life was fundamentally a response to the salvation already given by God. Salvation was a matter of grace, and ethics of gratitude. Luther was reluctant to describe the Christian life as a journey in which the person gradually approached a goal. Instead, every day was a new beginning. Holy living required spontaneity and not calculation. Freedom was fundamental, and "faith is a living, active, busy thing." Given Luther's assumptions, there was little place for honoring the saints as models of the Christian life.

Calvin's teaching was closer to that of Roman Catholics. He held that growth in holiness, or sanctification, could be tracked through time, and the English Calvinists, or Puritans, used personal journals as a way of "reading the evidence" of God's grace in their lives. Some Puritans wrote works of casuistry akin to Roman Catholic manuals. Many early Calvinists adopted an abstemious, self-denying, and even monklike attitude in all spheres of life, which led the sociologist Max Weber to conclude that Calvinist attitudes lay at the root of the strenuous work ethic and growth of capitalism in northern Europe during the 1500s and 1600s.

The Radical Reformers turned not to the Ten Commandments but to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. They focused on the radical imperatives to "love your enemies," "turn the other [cheek]," and "give to every-one who begs from you" (Matthew 5:44, 39, 42). Luther and Calvin, they said, had preached only on the "sweet Christ" who offered forgiveness of sins, not on the "bitter Christ" who called his followers to forsake all worldly comforts and undergo persecution. The Christian ideal was martyrdom. While Roman Catholics and mainstream reformers sought to find harmony between church and state, or the Bible and culture, the Radical Reformers perceived a disjunction. They formed themselves into countercultural communities, and within these groups they exercised discipline, admitting or removing members based on whether or not they followed Jesus' strict demands.

The basic concepts for the Christian life vary markedly. The major saints and founders of new religious traditions all had different emphases. Anthony recounted his battles with demons through prayer. John Climacus described a "ladder of ascent," in which each rung led on to the next. Benedict summarized his monastic movement in the words ora et labora (work and prayer). Francis spoke of "holy poverty" and stressed total abandonment to God. Gregory Palamas and the Hesychasts (Greek, hesychia, or "quietness") practiced contemplation until they experienced a divine illumination akin to that exhibited by Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Some medieval mystics referred to God as their heavenly spouse. Johann von Staupitz spoke of "nakedly following the naked Christ."

Luther wrote of "the freedom of a Christian," in which a believer was perfectly free and yet yielded that freedom to serve others. Ignatius Loyola viewed the church as the militia Christi (army of Christ) and called his followers to disciplined service. Calvin was concerned with the proper "use" of the present life and an attitude of detachment from material things. Teresa of Avila described stages in prayer, leading from strenuous effort (watering a garden), to growing ease (an irrigation system), and pure receptivity (receiving a drenching rain). John of the Cross described a "dark night of the soul" that brought detachment from earthly things and attachment to God. Quietists, such as Miguel de Molina and Madame Guyon, taught that holiness followed not from effort but from the renunciation of effort.

The Puritans were activists who continually sought to organize their lives so as to bring the greatest glory to God. Jonathan Edwards wrote that religion "consists most essentially in holy affections." John Wesley taught that "total sanctification," or freedom from all conscious sin, was possible in the present life and should be sought after. During the nineteenth century the Holiness movement followed in Wesley's tradition and gave rise to twentieth-century Pentecostalism. Liberation theologians have highlighted the "preferential option for the poor" and encouraged the creation of "base communities" that address both spiritual and economic concerns. Thus, although a few basic themes run through Christian ethics—the love commandments, the Ten Commandments, and the imitation of Christ—the overall picture is one of kaleidoscopic diversity.


The Christian Bible includes the Old Testament and the New Testament. Christians accept the books of the Jewish, or Hebrew, Bible as sacred Scripture and designate them collectively as the Old Testament. An addendum, or New Testament, contains the accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), along with the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Paul, other letters (Catholic Epistles), and the Book of Revelation. Much of the New Testament consists of reinterpretations of Old Testament writings in relation to the life, teaching, ministry, and person of Jesus.

When Christianity emerged, the Jewish people had synagogue services in which the Hebrew Bible was read aloud, sometimes in a Greek translation known as the Septuagint, and yet there was variation in the books that were used. A larger canon that was prevalent among Greek-speaking Jews included various books and added portions of books (Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, Additions to Esther, and others), while a smaller canon was common among non-Greek-speaking Jews. The books included in the larger canon became known as the Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical books. Jewish Bibles published in modern times do not include the Apocrypha, and Protestant Bibles typically follow the Jewish custom of excluding them. The situation in early and medieval Christianity, however, was fluid. Some groups used the Apocrypha in their worship services, while others did not. In 1548 the Council of Trent decreed that the Apocrypha was a part of the Old Testament, and since then Catholic Bibles have consistently included it.

The debate regarding the Apocrypha pertains only to the Old Testament, and all major Christian groups agree about which books belong in the New Testament. The so-called New Testament Apocrypha (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, and others) consists of books that claim to come from the time of the apostles but probably originated many decades later. These books have not played a part in Christian worship in any of the historic churches.


One of the earliest Christian symbols was the fish, associated with the fishermen who followed Jesus. The Greek word for fish (ichthus) is an acronym for the words "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior." Today the symbol is especially popular among evangelical Christians. A dove, with wings outstretched, symbolizes the Holy Spirit and is widely used by Pentecostal and charismatic Christians.

During the era of Roman persecution, Christians produced their first enduring artistic images on the walls of underground tombs, or catacombs. One of the earliest images was of a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders, a representation of God's love in seeking out sinners. Other images portrayed dramatic scenes from Israel's history.

After Constantine made Christianity legal in the fourth century, Christians erected basilicas, and the Christian artistic tradition then began to unfold in rich variety. Every episode in Jesus' life was treated in loving detail. His birth, baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension were especially common images. Not only biblical events but also the saints were commemorated in pictures and statues. Images of Mary and Jesus, the Madonna and Child, were among the most widespread. Pope Gregory I argued that images in church buildings were "books for the illiterate" and so had educational value. During much of the seventh and eighth centuries, however, controversy concerning the use of images raged in the eastern Mediterranean. The Iconoclasts argued that icons, or Christian images, were a violation of the second of the Ten Commandments—"you shall not make for yourself an idol" (Exodus 20:4)—and so had to be removed from churches. Those who insisted that reverence shown to an icon was reverence shown to God ultimately triumphed. Veneration for icons, such as kissing images and lighting candles, continues to play a major role in Orthodox Christianity. While the Western church tends to think of images as educational aids, the Eastern church has adopted a more explicitly devotional attitude toward them.

The cross is a fundamental Christian symbol, although Eastern Christians portray the cross differently than do Western Christians. The Greek cross has four arms of equal length, while the Latin cross has three arms of roughly equal length, with one longer arm. Eastern crosses sometimes have small crossbars near the ends of the arms. In honor of Andrew, who is said to have died on a cross in the form of an X, the Russian cross has three arms across the vertical shaft, two parallel to the ground and one at a 45-degree angle. The crucifix, a three-dimensional representation of Jesus on the cross, appeared in about 1000 in the Rhineland. It subsequently became one of the most distinctive Christian symbols and is especially associated with Roman Catholicism. Orthodox Christians have not generally favored the crucifix, since they view the cross as Jesus' moment of triumph.

Some Protestants did away with all images, while others abolished three-dimensional images, thought to be idolatrous, and yet allowed two-dimensional images in books or in stained glass. A simple cross, without Jesus' body, is one of the few symbols widely shared among Protestant groups. Protestants sometimes use images of books or open pages, a testimony to the importance of the Bible in their tradition.


The earliest church seems to have regarded Peter as the leader of the 12 apostles chosen by Jesus. Numerous passages in the New Testament suggest a unique role for him (Matthew 16), and Roman Catholicism asserts that Peter was the first pope, or universal leader, of Christendom. Paul (or Saul of Tarsus) did more than any other person in the early church to spread the Christian message and establish new congregations throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Early traditions assert that both Peter and Paul died as martyrs in Rome under Emperor Nero around 64 c.e. James, known as the "brother" of Jesus—variously understood as a kinsman (Roman Catholicism), stepbrother (Orthodoxy), or half brother (Protestantism) of Jesus—was a leader among Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35–c. 107) was a bishop who wrote letters that reveal much regarding the early church. After being condemned to die, he welcomed his impending martyrdom in the Roman arena and under-scored the authority of the bishop with the words ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia (where the bishop is, there is the church). Anthony (c. 251–356) initiated and promoted the monastic tradition in Egypt. Athanasius (c. 296–373), the patriarch of Alexandria, was repeatedly deposed and reinstated during a decades-long struggle with the Arians, who denied the full divinity of Jesus. While Anthony promoted a solitary (anchoritic, or eremitic) life, Pachomius (c. 290–346) encouraged a communal (cenobitic) approach to monasticism. In Europe, Benedict (c. 480–c. 545) carried on this communal tradition with his Rule. Constantine (died in 337), who first made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire, presided over the Nicene Council and may have played a role in its theological outcome.

Augustine (354–430) was not baptized until his early thirties, after a dramatic conversion experience that is immortalized in his Confessions. Perhaps no one after the time of the apostles had a greater impact on Christian theology. His teachings on the church and sacraments laid the foundation for medieval and modern Catholicism, and his emphasis on grace and personal experience of God laid the foundation for the Protestant movement. Patrick (c. 390–c. 460) was taken from Britain to Ireland as a slave, escaped some years later, and eventually returned to evangelize the Irish. Arguably the most important Christian missionary since apostolic times, he was the founder of a culturally Irish and non-Roman form of Christianity. Pope Gregory I (c. 540–604) described himself as a "servant of the servants of God," wrote major works on the Christian life (Moralia, Pastoral Rule), and sent missionaries to strengthen the church in England. Francis of Assisi (1181/2–1226), perhaps the most popular saint of all time, called the church back to simplicity through his embrace of "holy poverty." The order of Franciscans, which he founded, is among the most influential in the history of Christianity. Innocent III (1160–1216), who reigned as pope during the time of the papacy's greatest power, initiated the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

Martin Luther (1483–1546) may have done more than anyone else to shape the development of modern Christianity. Luther began as a faithful monk and loyal member of the church, but his emphasis on the priority of grace and the authority of the Bible provoked a series of revolutionary changes that transformed the map of Europe and forever altered theology, politics, economics, art, literature, and family life. Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531) and John Calvin (1509–64) were second-generation reformers in the Swiss cities of Zurich and Geneva, respectively, and their Reformed version of Protestantism had influence in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, North America, and South Africa. Menno Simons (1496–1561) was among the best-known and most irenic figures in the Radical Reformation, and his followers are known to this day as Mennonites.

Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556) was originally a soldier, and while recovering from battle wounds, he read the lives of the saints and decided to offer himself as a soldier for Christ. The order he founded in 1540, the Society of Jesus, has long been a leader in Catholic theology and educational work. Teresa of Avila (1515–82) led in the founding of the order of discalced (barefoot) Carmelites, and her spiritual writings, including Autobiography and The Interior Castle, were so well received that she became the first woman ever to be named a "doctor" of the Catholic Church. (Catherine of Siena [1347–80] and Teresa of Lisieux [1873–97], "the Little Flower," were subsequently given this title.) John of the Cross (1542–91), Teresa of Avila's disciple, was also a major spiritual teacher and stressed even more than Teresa the need for detachment from earthly things. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a cardinal and outstanding Catholic theologian, though he is also known as the clergyman who sought to silence Galileo. Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705), who began the Pietist movement in German Lutheranism, called on Christians to have not only doctrinal knowledge but also a deep and affective experience of God's grace.

There were three major figures in the evangelical movement of the 1700s. George Whitefield (1714–70), while still in his twenties, was so powerful a preacher that thousands gathered to hear him in England and America. John Wesley (1703–88) worked alongside Whitefield, but his abilities were more organizational than oratorical. After Wesley's death, and against his wishes, his renewal movement separated from the Church of England to become the Methodist Church. The writings of Jonathan Edwards (1703–58), America's greatest and most original theologian, have had tremendous influence on evangelical Christianity throughout the world.

During the nineteenth century William Wilber-force (1759–1833) entered the English Parliament to agitate for the elimination of the slave trade, and he achieved his goal in 1807. Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c. 1807–91), an Anglican, became the first African appointed a bishop under missionary auspices, and though snubbed by European missionaries during his later years, he has inspired generations of African Christians. Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833) entered a cave in Russia, where he remained in solitary prayer for 15 years. When he opened his door for visitors, many were astonished by his wisdom, and he became a spiritual director for many. Pope Pius IX (1792–1878) promulgated the doctrines of Mary's Immaculate Conception in 1854 and the infallibility of the pope in 1870. Charles Spurgeon (1834–92), a Baptist preacher, drew thousands to his Metropolitan Tabernacle on the outskirts of London and presided over the largest congregation in England.

According to statistician David B. Barrett, 45 million Christians died as martyrs during the twentieth century. Among the best known were Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45), a Lutheran minister who resisted Nazi totalitarianism and was executed; Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–68), a Baptist minister who led in the civil rights struggle in the United States and who was assassinated; Janani Luwun (1922–77), an Anglican archbishop in Uganda who was executed under dictator Idi Amin; and Oscar Romero (1917–80), a Catholic bishop in El Salvador who sided with the poor and who was murdered while celebrating Mass. The influential Russian priest Alexander Men (1935–90), described as a "one-man antidote" to Marxist propaganda, was murdered with an ax as he left his automobile.

When Russia restored the Moscow Patriarchate in 1917, Tikhon (1866–1925) was the first to enter the office, and he led Russian Orthodoxy during the period of Stalinist repression. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (born in 1918), an Orthodox Christian who documented the Soviet Union's prison camps in The Gulag Archipelago, received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. Pope John Paul II (born Karol Wojtyła in 1920; served as pope, 1978–2005), who helped to abolish Communism in his native Poland and who upheld conservative doctrinal and moral positions in the church, was a towering figure of twentieth-century Catholicism. Mother Teresa (born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu; 1910–97), leader of the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, drew international attention for her work serving the poor and was canonized in 2003. The Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu (born in 1931) was a leader of the South African movement against apartheid. Through the Catholic Worker movement Dorothy Day (1897–1980) was part of the struggle for social justice in American cities. Billy Graham (born in 1918), an American evangelist, preached to more people than anyone in history. New church-related organizations emerged in North America in the twentieth century. Cameron Townsend (1896–1982) founded Wycliffe Bible Translators; Bill Bright (1921–2003), Campus Crusade for Christ; and Demos Shakarian (1913–93), the Full Gospel Businessmen's Association. Prominent in the developing nations were Watchman Nee (1903–72) in China and Bakht Singh (1903–2000) in India, both responsible for establishing several hundred new congregations.


Beginning in the mid-second century, Christian apologists presented a defense of their faith, often in terms drawn from Greek philosophy, to a pagan Greco-Roman society. Among the best known were Justin Martyr (c. 100–c. 165), Athenagoras (second century), and Origen (c. 185–c. 254). Irenaeus (c. 130–c. 200) sought to refute the heresies of his day. Tertullian (c. 160–c. 225), who was the first major Christian author in Latin, contributed to the establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote brilliant and often stinging prose and held rigorous and uncompromising standards for the Christian life.

In addition to being an apologist, Origen was among the finest biblical scholars of all time. He suggested that all beings, including the Devil, might ultimately find salvation, and he is reputed to have committed self-castration to avoid fleshly temptation. Although his works were widely read, Origen was judged heretical by some early Christian councils. In the fourth century several brilliant thinkers—Athanasius (c. 296–373), who, against the Arians, insisted on Jesu's divinity; Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330–c. 395); Gregory Nazianzen (329–89); and Basil (c. 330–79)—upheld the doctrines that emerged as orthodoxy. With his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260–c. 340) laid the foundation for all later histories of Christianity. Jerome (c. 342–424) wrote on the Christian life and produced the Latin translation of the Bible, or Vulgate, that was practically the only version used in Western Christianity for more than a thousand years. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), meaning "golden mouthed," was a gifted preacher and theologian who served as bishop of Constantinople until his challenging sermons aroused opposition and his enemies deposed him. John of Damascus (c. 675–c. 749), who summarized the Orthodox faith in his writings, is still consulted as an authority.

Augustine (354–430) was the greatest and most influential of the early theologians in the Latin-speaking empire. Peter Lombard (c. 1100–60) wrote the Sentences, which served for centuries as the basic text for theological education in Europe. Anselm (1033–1109) was influenced by Augustine but was an innovator who introduced a more formal method in theology. Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) was probably the greatest of the medieval theologians, and some regard his Summa Theologica as the finest theological work ever written. In the later Middle Ages, Duns Scotus (1266–1308) and William Ockham (c. 1285–1347) stressed God's freedom and omnipotence. Gregory Palamas (c. 1296–1359), who defended the Hesychasts and their claim of divine illumination during prayer, was among the most original thinkers in Orthodoxy after the eighth century.

Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a prodigious writer and theologian, and the complete edition of his works in German and Latin fills 125 large volumes. Huldrich Zwingli (1484–1531) and John Calvin (1509–64) defined the Reformed movement, as distinct from Lutheranism. Calvin's Institutes may be the finest summary of sixteenth-century Protestant theology. In England, Thomas More (1478–1535) defended Roman Catholic positions against Lutheranism and was executed for opposing the divorce of King Henry VIII. Richard Hooker (c. 1554–1600) synthesized Protestant ideas with an appeal to episcopacy (church government by bishops) and natural law and so set a direction for Anglicanism. During the 1600s and 1700s theologians wrote massive Latin tomes that are little read today. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) is a representative Catholic writer of the period, while Johann Gerhard (1582–1637) is typical of Lutherans and Francis Turrentin (1623–87) of Calvinists. Teresa of Avila (1515–82) and John of the Cross (1542–91), who embodied a Spanish Carmelite school of spirituality, continue to exert influence.

The Enlightenment brought enormous changes in the style and content of Christian theology. The New Englander Jonathan Edwards (1703–58), who offered a brilliant synthesis of experiential religion and empirical philosophy, developed his theology as a reflection on the spiritual revival that occurred in America in 1740–41. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) founded modern theology when he sought to steer a middle course between traditional Christian belief and Enlightenment skepticism. G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831) was more a philosopher than a theologian, but his all-embracing intellectual synthesis provoked the religious existentialism of Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55) as well as the atheism of Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72) and Karl Marx (1818–83). John Henry Newman (1801–90) began his life in the Church of England, shared in its Tractarian, or High Church, movement of the 1830s, and later became a Roman Catholic and rose to the rank of cardinal. His many books shaped the development of twentieth-century Catholic thought.

The most influential Protestant thinker of the twentieth century was the Swiss pastor Karl Barth (1886–1968), who led a revolt against the German liberal tradition that had begun with Schleiermacher. Barth sought to return theology to what he called "the strange new world of the Bible." Emil Brunner (1889–1966) shared credit for establishing Barth's neo-orthodox, or dialectical, theology. Paul Tillich (1886–1965), with his "theology of culture," was closer in style to Schleiermacher. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45) had much in common with Barth but was an original and independent thinker. The brothers Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) and H. Richard Niebuhr (1894–1962) were influential American theologians. Modern Orthodox thinkers have included Georges Florovsky (1893–1979), a neopatristic, or traditionalist, scholar, and Sergei Bulgakov (1871–1944), a Russian ex-Marxist who applied Orthodoxy to the intellectual and social issues of his day. The leading twentieth-century Catholic thinkers—Yves Congar (1904–95), Henri de Lubac (1896–1991), Jean Daniélou (1905–74), and Karl Rahner (1904–84)—were part of the nouvelle théologie (new theology) of the 1940s and 1950s. Inspired by the early church writers rather than the medieval scholastics, their ideas aroused controversy during the 1950s but found favor at the Second Vatican Council. Bernard Lonergan (1904–84), a Canadian Catholic, wrote influential works on theological method and fundamental theology.

Notable contemporary theologians have included Gustavo Gutiérrez (born in 1928), who was instrumental in the rise of liberation theology. Wolfhart Pannenberg (born in 1928) and Jürgen Moltmann (born in 1926) wrote theology from an eschatological standpoint, understanding God's kingdom as a future reality that impinges on the present.


Throughout history an underlying issue in Christianity has been the tension between centralized control and localized leadership and decision making. Prior to the third century there were variations in church governance, with certain areas—for example, Asia Minor—having a single bishop over all congregations in a city or region (monoepiscopacy), while others—for example, Corinth—were led by committee. By the third century a greater uniformity existed, and single bishops over cities or regions became the norm. Christians regarded bishops as the only persons with the power to ordain new clergy, and the consecration of a bishop by fellow bishops was said to establish a chain of leadership.

Cyprian (died in 258) believed that the bishops collectively held decision-making authority in the church, and in this conciliar viewpoint the highest authority belongs to an ecumenical council of bishops. In the second century Irenaeus and others suggested that the bishop of Rome might serve as a court of appeal for disputed issues, a viewpoint known as Petrine primacy, after Peter, the first bishop of Rome. Today Roman Catholicism holds to Petrine primacy, while Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and those Protestant groups that have bishops maintain some version of the conciliar perspective. Since Orthodoxy gives no official recognition to any councils that have met since the eighth century, it has a built-in resistance to innovation. In practice the patriarchs of the national churches of Orthodoxy have considerable authority.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, various groups broke from the custom of government by bishops. In 1534 King Henry VIII declared himself the rightful head of the English church, and in some Lutheran regions princes replaced bishops as church leaders. John Calvin judged that the pastors referred to in the New Testament fell into a single order, or rank, and were not in any hierarchical relationship. He thus repudiated the whole idea of bishops, which led to two new models for church organization. Some Calvinists held to congregationalism, in which each local community of believers was in charge of its own affairs. Others favored presbyterianism, which linked together local congregations under the authority of a general assembly of ministers and lay leaders.

During the twentieth century the fastest-growing branches of Christianity were Pentecostal, charismatic, and nondenominational, and these traditions are generally congregationalist, though sometimes with a central government alongside local leaders. Today Christianity is divided between those groups that claim apostolic succession (an unbroken chain of leaders from the earliest church) and generally regard it as crucial and those that make no such claim and regard the issue as unimportant.


Until Constantine's Edict of Milan, in 313 c.e., the Roman Empire did not acknowledge Christianity as a legitimate religion, and so Christian buildings generally were not erected. Services were held in homes, in underground tombs (catacombs), in fields, and even aboard ships. Thus, the traditions of Christian architecture began after the time of Constantine.

Among the major styles that evolved were the basilica (300s–1000), the Romanesque (1050–1150), and the Gothic (1150–1500). Gothic cathedrals may be the pinnacle of Christian architecture, although humbler churches often incorporate elements of the Gothic style—for example, the tall spire, or steeple, and stained glass. Protestants generally wanted a simple and unadorned architecture, although Lutherans preserved more of Catholic adornment in their church buildings than did Calvinists. The New England Calvinists erected meetinghouses with plain white walls and without statues, stained glass, or even a cross. During the twentieth century some Protestant groups used auditoriumstyle buildings or rented sports facilities. In the developing world church buildings are simpler and may consist only of a thatched hut or raised tin roof to block the wind and rain.

Constantine's mother, Helena (c. 225–c. 330), visited the Holy Land in 326 and founded basilicas on the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem, and at Bethlehem. According to later tradition, she also discovered the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Helena encouraged a kind of Christian archaeology, resulting in the establishment of holy sites that in time became places of pilgrimage. The best known are the Church of the Nativity and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, associated with Jesu's birth, death, and burial. Other sites in Galilee pertain to Jesus' ministry.

Christian holy sites are not confined to Palestine. For Orthodox Christians the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople is an important center, though since 1453 the building has been a mosque and museum. Mount Athos, in northern Greece, contains a vast complex of Orthodox monasteries, where at its peak, in the 1400s, 40,000 monks may have been in residence. For Anglicans the town of Canterbury was an early Christian center and the archbishop's seat. Glastonbury, in England, is the site where Joseph of Arimathea is said to have taken the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper. In Spain the shrine of Saint James in Compostela is a major pilgrimage center. Several sacred sites are connected with reported appearances of the Virgin Mary, including Lourdes in France (1858), Fátima in Portugal (1917), and Medjugorje in Croatia (1981). Lourdes has become the most famous center for healing in Christendom.

Many Protestants reject the whole idea of holy sites and insist that all places are equally sacred in God's sight. Yet Protestant tours to the Holy Land and to cities connected with the sixteenth-century Reformation—for example, Wittenberg and Geneva—indicate that the notion of holy ground may still be present.


The term "martyr" originally meant "witness," and those who had died rather than renounce the Christian faith were regarded as the ultimate witnesses to the truth of the gospel. The martyrs had undergone a "baptism of blood" that was a sure mark of saintliness. By the end of the second century, the anniversary of a martyr's death was kept as a feast, with a worship service at the tomb. Churches were later built on these sites.

Early Christians believed that a dying martyr had the power to declare the forgiveness of a person's sins. Eventually the idea of a martyr's "intercession" was carried beyond death, and people prayed to deceased martyrs for their aid. Originally ora pro nobis (pray for us) was a collective prayer to all deceased martyrs and saints. In time individual saints emerged as intercessors for particular classes—for example, those bearing a certain name or following a given occupation—or for particular issues. Thus, Christopher became the patron saint of travelers and Jude the champion of hopeless causes.

Until about 1000 c.e. Christian martyrs and saints were known and celebrated locally. Over time, especially in Rome, a universal calendar developed that specified which deceased Christians were to be honored as saints. Canonization emerged as a process whereby the Roman Catholic Church could authenticate a deceased person as a saint. A person may be declared "blessed" or "venerable" without attaining the full status of sainthood. If the church declares sainthood, it is attested that the person is in heaven, the saint is invoked in public prayers, churches are dedicated to the saint's memory, festival days are celebrated, images are made showing the saint surrounded by light or with a halo, and the saint's physical remains, or relics, may be enclosed in vessels and publicly honored.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, also known as the Blessed Virgin Mary, holds a special place of honor for Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and many Anglicans. Thomas Aquinas argued that God alone was to receive worship in the full sense (Greek, latreia), while the saints generally deserved veneration (douleia), with Mary worthy of something more than veneration and less than worship, which he termed hyperdouleia. In general this describes Mary's place within Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. The two most common Catholic prayers may be the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

Early church writers seldom mentioned Mary, though occasionally they contrasted her obedience with the disobedience of Eve. By the fourth century, however, Christian writers were asserting that Mary was not only a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth but also a virgin throughout her life (Greek, aeiparthenos, or "ever virginal"). Protestants typically deny this, asserting that those called the brothers of Jesus in the New Testament were children born to Mary after the birth of Jesus. In 421 the Council of Ephesus assigned to Mary the title Theotokos, or Mother of God. Though some Christian leaders—for example, Nestorius—objected that the term might imply that Mary gave birth to God rather than to Christ, it became universal in Roman Catholic and Orthodox contexts. In 1854 the Catholic Church promulgated the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception and in 1950 her Bodily Assumption. According to the former, Mary, like Jesus, was conceived without the taint of original sin, while the latter asserts that Mary was assumed directly into heaven.

In Roman Catholicism sacramentals are physical objects or rituals that hold sacred meaning but do not convey grace in the theologically defined way of the sacraments. Included among the sacramentals are holy water (for baptism and sprinkling), holy oil (for anointing the baptized and the sick), crucifixes, pictures or statues of saints, medallions and scapulars (worn on the body for a person's spiritual good), relics of the saints, and water from Lourdes. While the number of Catholic sacraments is fixed at seven, there is no limit to the possible number of sacramentals. Orthodoxy also acknowledges sacramentals, though not in a theologically defined fashion.


The earliest Jewish believers in Jesus worshiped in synagogues on Saturdays and gathered again on Sundays for Christian worship. By the second century the number of Jews in the church had declined, and worship on Sunday, understood as the day of Jesus' resurrection, displaced Saturday worship with-in the mainstream of Christianity. An exception was Ethiopian Orthodoxy, which kept a number of Jewish practices, including Saturday Sabbath observance.

Beginning with the Protestant Reformation, and especially in Britain, there was discussion regarding the Old Testament commandment to "remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). Some British Protestants were Sabbatarians who held that Sunday needed to be observed, like the Jewish Sabbath, as a day of complete rest. Their spiritual descendants, the Puritans, took the Sabbatarian viewpoint to New England and helped to establish Sunday blue laws. Some of the stricter Sabbatarians held that the Old Testament law was binding in its original form and that Saturday, rather than Sunday, was the appropriate day for worship. A small group of Seventh Day (Saturday-worshiping) Baptists emerged in England, followed by Seventh-day Adventists in the United States beginning in the 1840s.

The Christian liturgical year consists of both movable and fixed celebrations. The former include those whose calendar dates vary each year with the date of Easter (the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead), while the latter always fall on the same date. Essentially there are two annual cycles, one connected with Easter, Christmas, and the life of Jesus, which is known as temporale, or the Proper of Seasons. A second cycle includes the festivals of the saints, which is known as sanctorale, or the Proper of Saints.

In 325 c.e., at the Council of Nicea, the date of Easter was fixed as the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Despite this decision, the difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars resulted in a celebration of Easter on different days among Western and Eastern Christians. As the tradition developed, the period from Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to Easter Sunday was set aside as Holy Week. Thursday through Saturday of Holy Week became known as triduum, and the Saturday Easter Vigil was an extended service for biblical lessons and the lighting of candles.

In early Christianity the Easter Vigil became the most appropriate time for baptizing new members, with a part of their preparation being a period of fasting that was gradually extended to 40 days, in imitation of Jesus' fast in the wilderness. Over time the fast was extended to include all Christians, with the church defining Lent as a period for self-denial and contrition for sins. Lent did not require a total fast, and in its modern Roman Catholic form it typically involves refraining from eating meat on Fridays from Ash Wednesday until Easter. In Orthodoxy there are differing dietary restrictions, forbidding milk and eggs as well as meat, and the total period of time was extended, since neither Saturdays nor Sundays were regarded as appropriate for fasting and Orthodoxy wished to keep the number of fast days at exactly 40. Orthodox Christians also fast during Advent and before certain major festivals.

By the second century the Christian Easter celebration initiated a 50-day period of rejoicing, the season of Pentecost. By the fourth century a celebration of Jesus' ascension into heaven occurred on the 40th day following Easter, and the sending of the Holy Spirit 10 days later, on the day of Pentecost, or Whitsunday.

In addition to Easter, the major annual festivals are Christmas (commemorating Jesus' birth) and Epiphany. In the early fourth century Roman Christians celebrated December 25 as the festival of Jesus' birth and the beginning of the year. This date coincided with the pagan solstice festival of Sol Invictus, yet December 25 may have been selected by adding nine months to March 25, already celebrated as the date of Jesus' conception. Orthodoxy also celebrates Jesus' nativity on December 25. In Eastern Christianity, perhaps as early as the second century, a festival of Epiphany was set on January 6 to commemorate Jesus' baptism and his revelation as a member of the Holy Trinity. In most Latin cultures Epiphany is a time for exchanging gifts, after the example of the Magi. In northern Europe and in English-speaking countries, the exchange of gifts takes place on December 25. Just as Lent prepares for Easter, Advent, usually lasting four weeks, is a season of preparation for Christmas.

The calendar of saint's days has never been uniform throughout Christendom. Lutherans and Anglicans have tended to commemorate only those saints who were biblical characters, and many Protestants have ceased from honoring saint's days altogether. At the time of the Reformation, Protestants emphasized Sunday worship as the chief feature of the Christian calendar. Some Protestants do not celebrate any events in the liturgical year, including Christmas and Easter. Yet secular holidays, like Mother's Day and the Fourth of July in the United States, have sometimes found their way into church celebrations as quasi-sacred events.


No specifically Christian mode of dress is attested in the earliest centuries of the church, except perhaps for the white garb of those to be baptized. Today Christian worship rarely involves any special attire for its lay participants.

Clerical vestments developed during the fourth to ninth centuries, and their style was based on ordinary secular clothes worn in antiquity. Among traditional vestments are the surplice and alb (white garments), stole, chasuble and tunicle (outer cloaks), and, for bishops, sandals, a miter, a pallium, and gloves. The crosier is a crook-shaped staff carried by bishops and some-times by abbots and abbesses (heads of religious communities). Another mark of the Christian minister is the clerical collar, a black band with a white rectangle in front that is worn around the neck. Roman Catholic cardinals wear distinctive red vestments, and popes formerly wore a tiara, a custom abolished in the 1960s. Orthodox priests and bishops have beards—since Jesus and the apostles are traditionally shown this way—and often wear black clothing and pectoral crosses (suspended by a chain or cord around the neck).

Lutherans and Anglicans have kept some of the Catholic clerical vestments, while many Protestant ministers dress in businessmen's suits or in everyday garb. Reformed ministers may wear a black gown and a variant of the clerical collar known as "Geneva tabs." As women have entered into the ordained ministry, they have adapted vestments for their use.


The New Testament states that Jesus "declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:19). Paul's letters condemn those who "demand abstinence from foods" and add that "everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected" (1 Timothy 4:4–5). While some early followers of Jesus continued to follow the Jewish dietary laws (Acts 15), the practice faded as Gentile Christianity grew.

The early Christians celebrated the Eucharist in the context of a complete meal, known as an agape, or "love feast." As time passed, the Eucharist involved diminishing portions of bread and wine, and by the fifth or sixth century its connection with a full meal had faded. The church continued to provide charity meals for the poor, which had been one of the functions of the agape. In modern times church potlucks and soup kitchens show some analogy to the ancient agape, though usually with-out any link to the Eucharist.

Fasting may be more distinctive to Christianity than dietary customs. It can involve refraining from all food and drink (an absolute fast), forgoing all food but not fluids, or refraining from certain kinds of food or drink (for example, meat). The second-century Didache ("Teaching") indicates that the earliest Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. During the course of history, fasting developed in two directions. Some Christians came to fast according to a church calendar, especially during Lent, while others fasted at times and in ways they chose. Monastic communities have sometimes practiced fasting as a way of life. Some fourth-century monks, for example, prayed and fasted each day until the ninth hour (3 p.m.), at which time they ate their first meal. Others have rejected meat or rich foods such as butter, oil, wine, or spicy cuisine. Some modern groups have taught that a restricted or bland diet is conducive to holy living. The nineteenth-century American prophetess Ellen White sought simple food for her followers, and her disciple John Harvey Kellogg invented cornflakes.

Fasting is common among contemporary Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, who view the practice, combined with fervent prayer, as a means of releasing spiritual power and overcoming obstacles. Pentecostals may enter into prolonged fasts for up to 40 days, in imitation of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Woon Mong Ra (born in 1914) trained his Korean followers to with-draw to a "prayer mountain" and fast for weeks at a time, and he reported that dramatic conversions, healings, and exorcisms followed.


Christianity is expressed in rituals as much as in theology or ethics. Rituals include the sacraments of the church and other simple and widespread actions. One is signing, or making the sign of the cross. The sign may have been used originally during baptism and then extended to other situations and modified to include the torso rather than the forehead alone. Orthodox Christians make the horizontal portion of the sign with a right to left movement, and Roman Catholics left to right. Signing occurs also among Anglicans and Lutherans.

Another simple ritual is closing the eyes and folding the hands for prayer. Pentecostals may stand during worship services and raise their hands into the air while singing and praying. The acts of kneeling or genuflecting (among Roman Catholics), bowing or prostrating (among Orthodox), processing and recessing in worship, pronouncing written prayers in unison, sprinkling holy water, anointing with oil, wearing a crucifix or medal that has been blessed, and dancing in worship are all Christian rituals. Evangelicals use an "altar call" for dedication or rededication to Christ, while Pentecostals may lay hands on a person during prayer and invoke God for healing, the casting out of demons, or the "baptism in the Holy Spirit." Certain Protestant groups practice foot washing. Christian rituals thus include actions that are not officially sacraments and may not have received much theological scrutiny or sanction.

A single ritual often has multiple meanings, and participants may perceive one meaning but not another. An infant baptism, for example, signifies the gift of divine grace, the child's incorporation into the church, a pledge by parents to raise the child in the faith, and a pledge by godparents and others to aid the parents. None of the major Christian rituals is limited to a single meaning.

Christians describe their leading rituals under the term "sacraments," a word used by the ancient Romans to refer to a sacred pledge of fidelity, later adapted by Tertullian to denote baptism. During the first centuries of Christianity, the term had a broad meaning and could be used for any church ritual or the symbolic elements it contained. For example, Pope Innocent I referred to both the eucharistic bread and wine and the consecrated oil as sacraments. Augustine defined a sacrament simply as "a sign of something sacred." It was not until the Middle Ages that theologians came to distinguish between sacraments and sacramentals, the former referring to rituals that were deemed to have spiritual effects by virtue of their proper performance (Latin, ex opere operato; "through the act performed") and the latter to rituals that transmitted grace in less specific ways. Thus, the Eucharist counted as a sacrament, while the sprinkling of holy water was a sacramental. Peter Lombard and, following him, Thomas Aquinas defined the church's sacraments as seven in number (which Orthodox Christians follow Roman Catholics in acknowledging): baptism, confirmation, penance (reconciliation), the Eucharist, holy orders (ordination), matrimony, and extreme unction (anointing of the sick).

The seven sacraments commemorate major life transitions (baptism after birth, and anointing and Eucharist before death), allow the restoration of a person who has sinned (penance), set people apart for one another (marriage), and set others apart for Christian service (ordination). The Eucharist plays an integral role by sustaining fellowship with God and the church. Taken together, the seven sacraments form a comprehensive system and make Roman Catholicism a sacramental community.

During the Middle Ages, Roman Catholicism came to assert that a "sacrifice of the Mass" takes place in the eucharistic liturgy and that this sacrifice is beneficial for both the living and the dead. Clergy began to offer masses for the dead. Catholicism also taught that the bread and wine of the Eucharist become the body and blood of Christ at the time of their consecration by the priest. This doctrine, proposed in the early Middle Ages and officially defined at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, is known as "transubstantiation" and is central to Catholic life and thought. Orthodox Christianity holds to Christ's real presence in the consecrated bread and wine but does not insist on the term "transubstantiation." Orthodoxy teaches that the change in the elements occurs at the epiclesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy. In Catholicism the belief in tran-substantiation gave rise to the customs of genuflection (bending one knee before the altar), to kneeling during the Mass as a sign of respect for Christ's body and blood, and to eucharistic adoration, wherein the consecrated bread is set aside in a tabernacle, or receptacle, before which believers engage in prayers and vigils.

Beginning with Martin Luther, Protestants have reacted against the alleged superstitions connected with the medieval sacraments. Many Protestants are suspicious of the idea that the church transmits grace through its rituals and believe that correct belief, knowledge of the Bible, and individual faith and sincerity toward God matter more. The Protestant tendency is to deny the label "sacrament" to all practices not directly supported by the Bible. On this basis Protestants generally affirm only baptism and the Eucharist, which were directly sanctioned by Jesus in the New Testament. Anglicans sometimes acknowledge the other five sacraments but see them as instituted by the church rather than by Christ. Baptists and nondenominational Protestants usually reject the term "sacrament," since it signifies a practice that transmits grace, and substitute the term "ordinance." More radical still are the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Salvation Army, which reject baptism and the Eucharist and for whom spiritual life is an inward reality disconnected from outward actions. In some ways, though not labeled as such, the Bible itself is a central sacrament for Protestants. Following Augustine, Luther judged that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are "visible words," and he asserted that ritual actions carry their meaning only in the context of the spoken liturgy, or preached word of God.

Other Christian rituals include divine healing (through prayer); exorcism, or the casting out of demons; pilgrimages to holy sites; the practice of making vows or offerings to God, Jesus, Mary, or a saint in the hope of a blessing to be given or in response to a blessing received; and practices connected with saint's days and the Virgin Mary. These vary from region to region in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions.


The fundamental Christian ritual of initiation is baptism, which marks the transition from unbelief to faith, from sin to repentance, from death to life, and from the world to the church. Almost all Christian groups agree on its centrality. From an early period the ritual was performed with water and the three-fold formula "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). In the Acts of the Apostles, there are references to baptism "in the name of Jesus," which has led some Pentecostals to use only Jesu's name. With this exception, baptism is universally performed in the name of the Trinity.

Many disputed issues surround baptism. One concerns the mode—that is, whether the proper procedure involves the sprinkling of water, pouring, or full immersion. The New Testament provides no detailed description of the ritual, and early church teaching seems flexible on the matter. In modern times Baptists and certain revivalistic groups have been concerned with the issue, with some regarding baptism as invalid unless performed by full immersion.

An especially divisive issue is whether infants can receive baptism. Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and many traditional Protestant groups practice infant baptism, while Baptists, nondenominational Christians, and Pentecostals prefer adult, or "believer's," baptism. They argue that New Testament baptism required a profession of faith, which an infant cannot supply. Catholics, the Orthodox, and some Anglicans teach that baptism confers grace ("baptismal regeneration") apart from any conscious response to God. Traditional Catholic theology asserted that baptism is necessary to remove the guilt of original sin and that unbaptized persons cannot therefore be saved. Luther defended infant baptism by appealing to an infant faith implicit in the child, and he also invoked the parent's or church's faith as standing in for the recipient's. Calvinists, including Presbyterians, think of the church as a covenant community in which baptism is an outward mark of belonging though not a guarantee of final salvation. Such Protestants link baptism to faith and yet allow for the baptism of infants.

Another issue concerns the validity of a prior baptism when a person moves from one Christian group to another. Following Augustine, Roman Catholicism holds that all baptisms done in the name of the Holy Trinity are valid if performed with genuine intent. Thus, a Protestant baptized as an infant is not rebaptized. Protestants, however, have mixed views on the matter. Some rebaptize members who come from Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or even from other Protestant groups, while others do not. Orthodoxy generally opposes such rebaptisms. Baptists and others who do not recognize the validity of infant baptisms tend to perform adult rebaptisms.

During the first several centuries Christians initiated new members, who were adults, through a process of catechesis (instruction in the faith) followed by a period of fasting, a ritual of exorcism, and baptism, together with an anointing with oil (chrismation) and the laying on of hands. In later centuries the ritual of anointing and the laying on of hands became separated from baptism, and from the 400s the Roman Catholic church began to teach that only bishops could perform the postbaptismal anointing. Thus, confirmation, originally part of the baptism ritual, became a separate sacrament. By contrast, Orthodoxy administers an anointing with oil and a first Communion to an infant at the time of baptism. Those Protestants who practice confirmation typically focus on doctrinal instruction in the faith for teenagers, while Catholics offer confirmation in late childhood.

In addition to baptism and confirmation, rituals of initiation and rites of passage in Christianity include marriage customs, in all their variety; funeral practices; ceremonies of ordination to the priesthood or ministry; the Catholic priest's first Mass or the Protestant minister's first sermon; the rituals for entering a religious order, such as the 30-day retreat practiced by the Jesuits; and the vows for the monastic life or for religious sisters.


The Gospels say that Jesus commanded his followers to carry on his mission, most famously in the words of the "Great Commission": "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18–20). Thus, the call to spread the gospel is central to Christianity. Some writers distinguish evangelism from missions. The former denotes any Christian sharing the good news, while the latter involves a more deliberate effort to establish new churches in cultures or regions without Christians. However the terms are defined, the Christian act of bearing witness flows from the conviction that Jesus is Savior and that salvation comes through him.

The expansion of Christianity from its homeland in Palestine to the rest of the world has been a continual process of translation. Linguists have rendered the Bible into thousands of languages, each with a different word for God and a different set of cultural and religious assumptions. Christianity is thus a religion of cultural adaptation, and the faith must be "incarnated" in each new setting. For the message about Jesus to be credible, how-ever, there must be actions as well as words. Francis of Assisi reportedly said to "preach the gospel always and use words when necessary." In missionary work Roman Catholics stress tangible acts of service and compassion for non-Christians, while Protestants tend to emphasize preaching, conversation, and other verbal methods of evangelism. Yet exemplary missionaries throughout history have worked in both ways. Catholic and Protestant missionaries, for example, established many of the first hospitals and orphanages in Africa and Asia.

Throughout history missionaries went into new territories because they were convinced that non-Christians were doomed to hell. The early church writer Cyprian coined the phrase extra ecclesiam nulla salus (there is no salvation outside the church). Some modern Christians have rejected this exclusivist position, that only those who consciously turn to Christ are saved, in favor of an inclusivist position, that some are saved by Christ with-out knowing him by name. The twentieth-century Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner argued that faithful members of non-Christian religions may be "anonymous Christians," a view that has been wide-spread in Catholicism since the Second Vatican Council. A related idea is that evangelism should be preceded by dialogue with non-Christians, in which a Christian listens before speaking. More radical is the pluralist position that all religions lead to salvation and to the same ultimate reality, or God, and according to this view, conversion should be replaced by interreligious dialogue.


The record of Christianity in allowing people to follow their religious beliefs without external constraint is mixed. The Roman Empire allowed people to continue worshiping ancestral gods, while insisting that all groups acknowledge the divinity of the Caesars. Most Christians refused to make even a token gesture on behalf of Caesar and so were harassed or killed. The lines of division were equally apparent in early Christian attitudes toward heretics. Those who broke from the main body of Christians were no longer acknowledged as fellow believers, and a chief concern in the first centuries lay in establishing the doctrines and practices that distinguished orthodoxy from heresy. While Christians lacked political power, there was no question of their persecuting non-Christians, though Christians could remove heretics from their worshiping communities.

After Constantine's conversion paganism became increasingly unpopular. In 415 the pagan philosopher Hypatia was executed by a Christian lynch mob in Alexandria. In 529 the emperor Justinian closed the philosophical academies in Athens and forced pagans to accept baptism. Augustine encouraged coercive policies when he interpreted the biblical phrase compelle intrare ("compel them to come in"; Luke 14:23) to mean that force was a legitimate means for bringing people into communion with the true church. According to the theory of two swords, the clergy could not coerce heretics and pagans, but since the state was charged with maintaining true religion, heretics apprehended by the church could be turned over to the state for punishment. This was the theory underlying the papal and Spanish inquisitions (authorized in 1231 and 1478, respectively), which allowed hearsay evidence, torture, and forced confessions and so resulted in the conviction of many innocent persons. Stimulated by the 1487 book Malleus Maleficarum ("Hammer of Witches"), the so-called witch craze of the 1500s and 1600s brought as many as 110,000 to trial, and perhaps 60,000 were executed.

Among Protestants, John Calvin consented to the execution of the anti-Trinitarian Michael Servetus in 1553, and New England clergy applied the death penalty to Quakers in the early 1600s and during the 1692 Salem witch trials. Luther justified his opposition to the papacy when he declared in 1521 that "my conscience is captive to the Word of God," yet neither he nor most Protestants were ready to allow others to follow their own consciences. When the Pilgrims went to America in 1619, they went not for freedom of religion but for freedom to practice their own religion. Roger Williams (c. 1604–83) and Anne Hutchinson were both ejected from Massachusetts in the 1630s for holding unacceptable theological views. Williams's The Bloody Tenent of Persecution (1644) was an eloquent plea for religious liberty.

As a result of the Reformation, Protestant countries passed laws against Catholics and Catholic nations against Protestants. In England the Test Act (1673) required all officeholders to renounce Roman Catholic beliefs, and it remained in force until 1829. In 1685 King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, which since 1598 had provided for the toleration of Protestants, and the result was a mass exodus.

Among the earliest proponents of church-state separation and freedom of conscience were the Radical Reformers of the early 1500s. Some argue that they advocated religious freedom simply so that they themselves would not be persecuted, but in fact their entire conception of a voluntary rather than state-subsidized church required that religious practice be uncoerced. The government might enforce outward obedience through the threat of punishment, they argued, yet this would hardly make anyone more devout. Today their arguments seem so self-evident that it is difficult to understand the perspective of medieval and early modern Christians, who viewed heresy as a moral and spiritual plague and thought that the death of heretics was necessary for the good of society.

In many ways, however, it was the Enlightenment rather than Roman Catholic or Protestant theology that did the most to promote the ideal of religious tolerance. Secular thinkers regarded the religious wars of the 1500s and 1600s with horror and argued that the state needed to rest on a nonreligious and nonsectarian foundation. Some founders of the United States, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were Enlightenment deists rather than traditional Christians, and the U.S. constitution provided for freedom of religion and the nonestablishment of any church. In Europe during the early 1800s, Jews, who were the largest non-Christian minority in most regions, were gradually given citizenship rights that had formerly been limited to Christians.

The principle of church-state separation, though growing in influence throughout the 1800s, provoked a backlash in Roman Catholicism. In the Syllabus of Errors (1864), Pope Pius IX rejected the principles of freedom of religion and of the press and favored a statesponsored church. The "Americanist" controversy, provoked by Pope Leo XIII's Testem Benevolentiae (1899; "Witness to Good Will"), involved similar ideas. Yet the Second Vatican Council, which explicitly affirmed freedom of conscience, has revised earlier Catholic teaching, and many nations in Europe and Latin America that formerly declared Roman Catholicism to be the national church have amended their constitutions.


Christian attitudes toward social issues follow from the basic themes of the Hebrew and Judaic tradition. The God of the Hebrews was not tribal but rather a universal deity. The Bible declares God to be just and compassionate toward all humanity, and the Hebrews had to exhibit the same traits. Thus, Christianity carried over from Judaism a transcendent God and social ideal. The early church brought together people from widely separated social classes, including slaves, noblemen, barbarians, highborn women, and Jews. Equally surprising to pagans was Christian's compassion. They raised abandoned infants as their own, fed the poor, and attended the sick. Christian inclusiveness and compassion derived not only from Judaism but also from the example of Jesus, who associated with disreputable people in his society and so set a pattern for ministry to outcastes. His ministry touched women as well as men, and, contrary to the rabbinical customs of the time, he allowed women to be his pupils.

In the fifth century Patrick, a former slave, became one of the first persons in history to condemn slavery in principle. Early and medieval monasticism included service to the community as practiced by Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits. Many female religious orders, including the Poor Clares, Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of Charity, have been almost exclusively oriented toward serving the needy. The early Protestants also demonstrated a concern for social needs. During the 1540s and 1550s, John Calvin created a social welfare system in Geneva that cared for the poor and needy. The Radical Reformers, though not institution builders, were generous toward outsiders, and to the present day the Mennonite Central Committee sends emergency workers all over the globe. Like the Mennonites, George Fox (1624–91) and his followers (Quakers) were known for their pacifism, and the Quakers have strenuously worked toward the nonviolent resolution of conflicts. The Pietist movement in Germany, led by August Francke in the early 1700s, had a strong bent toward social welfare. The Moravians, led by Count Nicholas Zinzendorf (1700–60), were radical Pietists who lived in community, prayed in shifts 24 hours a day, and, in one case, allowed themselves to be sold into slavery so that they could serve among Caribbean slaves.

The evangelical revivals of the 1700s brought a new concern for social issues. John Wesley's movement brought many working-class people into the church, and in time Methodism became an engine of social reform. Historically the British Labour Party found inspiration and support in Methodism, which emerged outside the ruling class and voiced the concerns of ordinary people.

Evangelicals like William Wilberforce led in the campaign to end the slave trade and make slavery illegal. In 1861 William Booth (1829–1912) and Catherine Booth (1829–90) founded the Salvation Army to meet the needs of the urban poor by providing "soap, soup, and salvation." In the United States the separation of church and state led in the 1800s to the formation of many voluntary societies devoted to such causes as temperance, the abolition of slavery, observance of the Sabbath, and foreign missions. The revivalist Charles Finney (1792–1875) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–96), the novelist daughter of a revivalist, did much to initiate the abolitionist movement. After the Civil War a new generation of reformers lobbied for labor reforms and woman suffrage. American Protestant women, meeting in ladie's guilds or church auxiliaries, played a growing role in social reform movements. In Germany the Innere Mission sought prison reform and better provision for the homeless and mentally deficient.

In his encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), Pope Leo XIII laid the foundation for more than a century of Roman Catholic social teaching. Though the Catholic Church had earlier shown ambivalence toward labor groups, this document marked a new era in which the church identified with the concerns of workers. Rerum Novarum sought a middle way between unregulated capitalism and state-sponsored socialism. Later encyclicals by Pope Pius XI and Pope John Paul II brought further refinements to this approach. The Catholic Worker movement of Dorothy Day (1897–1980) and Peter Maurin (1877–1949) gave concrete expression to the church's concern for the urban poor. Thomas Merton (1915–68), Philip Berrigan (1923–2002), and Daniel Berrigan (born in 1921) were critics of U.S. intervention in Vietnam, and the Berrigan brothers were imprisoned for destroying draft records and for other acts of civil disobedience.

Among Protestants the twentieth century brought division. Modernists, who were socially progressive and theologically nontraditional, felt increasingly estranged from conservatives, who after 1910 became known as "fundamentalists." Throughout the 1800s conservatives had been active in social causes, but by the early 1900s such social activism was associated with the Social Gospel movement of Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) and theological modernism. Beginning in the 1970s, however, conservative Protestants in the United States began to reenter the field of social activism in greater numbers. Since the 1960s liberation theology has brought a radical rethinking of Christian theology from the standpoint of God's special concern for the poor.


The cultural impact of Christianity becomes conspicuous when it is set against the backdrop of Greco-Roman society. Slaves and women had little status, and most people regarded life as expendable. Individuals had value only to the extent that they contributed to the greater good of the family and the state. Christianity exhibited a strikingly different attitude. Because God loved all individuals, Christians opposed abortion, infanticide, child abandonment, and the gladiatorial games. They maintained a moral standard of chastity outside marriage and faithfulness within, though some early Christian councils upheld a more stringent law for women than for men. Sex belonged in married life and was not for public display.

Thus, Christian attitudes toward sex, marriage, and the family had pronounced effects in the lives of women. The exhortation for husbands to "love your wives" (Ephesians 5:25) was unknown in the Greco-Roman world. Christianity gave men ideals, even if they did not always live up to them. In disapproving of extramarital sex, spousal neglect, divorce, polygamy, and power mongering, Christianity did much to create a new ideal of domestic respect and familial harmony.

It is clear from the biblical stories concerning Jesus that he respectfully addressed women who were social outcastes and drew many female followers. Paul referred to Phoebe as a "deacon" (Romans 16:1), or officeholder in the church, and designated Euodia and Syntyche as his "co-workers" (Philippians 4:2–3). Women's legal rights changed because of Christian influence. Greek and Roman women had little personal freedom. They could not divorce their husbands and could not receive an inheritance unless they were under manus (a man's control). Beginning in the 400s, however, wives under Roman law were able to divorce an unfaithful husband. Polygamy slowly disappeared in Christian regions, and women also received inheritance rights.

In modern times Christians have opposed many of the egregious abuses of women around the world. Christian principles led the British authorities in 1829 to ban the Indian practice of suttee, the burning alive of widows at their husband's funerals. Foot binding, which caused pain and often led to infection or amputation, was outlawed in China in 1912, with Christian missionaries leading the opposition. Neither the giving of child brides nor female genital mutilation (clitoridectomy) has endured in regions with a strong Christian influence. Those who led the campaign for woman suffrage in the United States included many, like Frances Willard, who began as social activists in churches, and the civil rights struggle of the 1960s was rooted in the Christian church.


Jesus condemned divorce as well as the lustful attitudes that lead husbands and wives to reject their spouses to marry someone else (Matthew 5:27–32; Mark 10:1–12). Both Jesus and Paul appealed to the statement in Genesis that "they become one flesh" (2:24), interpreting this to mean that a husband and wife enter into an indissoluble unity. Certain New Testament texts intimate, however, that divorce might be allowed in the case of adultery (Matthew 5:32) and perhaps if willful desertion has occurred, especially on the part of an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15). Martin Luther suggested that impotence might be grounds for divorce. In modern times Christian pastors and counselors have discussed whether physical or verbal abuse, substance addiction, or simple marital unhappiness is a basis for divorce.

Today many Christian churches agree that at least some divorces are justified and allow divorced members to remarry with the church's blessing. Orthodoxy, for instance, allows remarriage but uses a more subdued ceremony than for a first marriage. Evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals tend to oppose divorce. The Roman Catholic Church does not acknowledge the legitimacy of divorce but insists that a physical separation of spouses, without the right to remarry in the church, is all that can be offered. On the other hand, it allows for annulment, which declares that an alleged marriage has no sacramental validity.

Jesus' teaching refers to a "husband" and "wife" in the singular, and references to Genesis also make it clear that monogamy rather than polygamy is understood as normative. Paul seems to have excluded polygamists from leadership in churches (Titus 1:6). As Christianity became dominant, many nations passed laws forbidding polygamy. The question reemerged during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially in Africa, where before contact with Christianity there had been a strong tradition of multiple wives for one husband. Many Western missionaries excluded polygamous households from the full benefits of church membership, and if they wished to be baptized, polygamists sometimes had to separate from all but one spouse. Some African Initiated Churches defend polygamy on the precedents offered by such Old Testament patriarchs as Abraham.

Paul used Genesis 2:24 as the basis for sexual ethics. Because sex creates a bond of "one flesh" between the partners, it is not to be pursued outside a marriage covenant (1 Corinthians 6:12–20). Many societies throughout the world have been tolerant of sexual activity between unmarried persons, but Christianity regards this as a sin almost as serious as adultery. Homosexual practice is debated in some Christian churches, but it is hard to find biblical texts or Christian writings before the late 1900s that favor it. Some argue that the church might reconsider the issue, however, just as it has its stance on slavery and women's rights.

The first imperative given in the Bible is to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28), and some people argue that the bearing of offspring is an inherent part of God's purpose for sexuality. Roman Catholic teaching, made explicit in the encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968; "Of Human Life"), holds that it is sinful to interfere with the process of conception by means of artificial birth control. Not only is it wrong to destroy an actual life through abortion but it is also wrong to prevent life from coming into existence through contraception. Catholic teaching allows for "natural family planning," which restricts sexual intercourse to the monthly periods when a woman is infertile and unlikely to conceive. In the decades since Humanae Vitae, however, many Catholics in developed nations have ignored the official church ban on contraception. Protestants generally accept the legitimacy of contraception for married couples, while the Orthodox attitude has been ambivalent.


period of four weeks, beginning four Sundays before Christmas, sometimes observed with fasting and prayer
Church of England, which originated in King Henry VIII's break with Rome in 1534, and those churches that developed from it, including the Episcopal Church in the United States; with a wide spectrum of doctrines and practices, it is sometimes called a "middle way" between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism
books of the Old Testament included in the Septuagint (Greek translation used by early Christians) and Catholic (including the Latin Vulgate) versions of the Bible but not in Protestant or modern Jewish editions
doctrine that the death of Jesus is the basis for human salvation
sacrament practiced by Christians in which the sprinkling, pouring of, or immersion in water is a sign of admission to the faith community
type of moral reasoning based on the examination of specific cases
formal instruction in the faith
major expression of Christianity that includes those who affirm the gifts of the Holy Spirit but who are not affiliated with Pentecostal denominations
anointing with oil
governance through councils of bishops
sacrament marking membership in a church
self-governance by a local congregation
January 6, a celebration of the coming of the Magi and, in Orthodoxy, of the baptism of Jesus
doctrine concerning the end of the world, including the Second Coming of Christ, God's judgment, heaven, and hell
Eucharist (Communion; Lord's Supper)
sacrament practiced by Christians in which bread and wine become (in Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy) or stand for (in Protestantism) the body and blood of Christ evangelicalism movement that emphasizes the authority of the Scriptures, salvation by faith, and individual experience over ritual
extreme unction
sacrament; blessing of the sick
unmerited gift from God for human salvation
period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, often marked by fasting and prayer
sacrament; the joining of a man and woman in marriage
the "anointed one," Jesus
sacrament, in which a person is invested with religious authority or takes holy orders
one of the main branches of Christianity, with a lineage that derives from the first-century apostolic churches; historically centered in Constantinople (Istanbul), it includes a number of autonomous national churches
seventh Sunday after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles
movement that emphasizes grace, expressive worship, evangelism, and spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and healing
Petrine primacy
view that, as the successor to Peter, the bishop of Rome (pope) is supreme
governance by a presbytery, an assembly of local clergy and lay representatives
one of the main branches of Christianity, originating in the sixteenth-century Reformation; rejecting the authority of the pope, it emphasized the role of grace and the authority of the Scriptures
sacrament; the confession of and absolution from sin
Roman Catholicism
one of the main branches of Christianity, tracing its origins to the apostle Peter; centered in Rome, it tends to be uniform in organization, doctrines, and rituals
any rite thought to have originated with or to have been sanctioned by Jesus as a sign of grace
devotional action or object
deliverance from sin and its consequences
God as consisting of three persons-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
any group observing Eastern rites but recognizing the authority of the pope

Political attitudes vary among Christians. In Christ and Culture H. Richard Niebuhr concluded that Christians have sometimes pulled away from secular society ("Christ against culture"), sought to create a synthesis of church and society ("Christ of culture"), or applied Christian principles to reform society ("Christ transforming culture"). When the church has existed as a small countercultural group—the early Christians, the Radical Reformers of the 1500s, or modern communes—it has often ignored politics. When the church has been culturally dominant, as with Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy, it has generally attempted to incorporate Christian principles into political life. When the church has been an expanding social force, as with Puritanism, it has sought to transform society, sometimes with the aim of achieving an ideal Christian community on earth.

Those who hold the ideal of "Christ against culture" are often pacifists, rejecting all use of violence. Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, and some Roman Catholics share this viewpoint. The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus commands his followers to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), is cited in favor of pacifism. Yet most Christians hold that force is legitimate under specific situations, explained in terms of the just-war theory. For a war to be just, there must be a genuine effort to find peaceful means of resolving the conflict, the cause itself must be just and not for selfish ends, a distinction must be maintained between combatants and noncombatants, and the force used must be proportionate to the situation. Just-war proponents cite Paul's teaching that the political state is given a "sword" to protect the innocent (Romans 13:1–4).

In distinction to the just-war theory is the idea of a holy war, a conflict of the righteous against the wicked inaugurated by God himself. While certain Old Testament passages speak of God commanding the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, the New Testament contains nothing of the kind. Instead, Jesus tells Peter, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Although the idea of holy war is not commonplace in Christianity, it appeared in the medieval Crusades, in the sixteenth-century radical Thomas Muentzer, and among white European colonists in New England, Latin America, and South Africa who sought to justify their actions against indigenous peoples.


The limited powers of government and the rights of the individual are basic principles in Judeo-Christian civilization. The Israelites considered their kings as subject to a higher law (Deuteronomy 17:14–20). They concerned themselves with offenses against people, and crimes committed against the lower classes were punished. Thus, the notion of the equality of all persons under the law had its roots in ancient Israel, and Christianity carried this tradition into the medieval and modern period. For example, the Magna Carta of 1215, which received strong endorsement from the head of the English church, laid the foundation for individual rights in England and, indirectly, for the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, which itself has been a model for other nation-states.

Whereas the Greeks and Romans regarded manual labor as fit only for slaves, the early Christians, who often arose from the lower classes, had a positive attitude toward such work. Jesus, a carpenter before he began his ministry, served as a role model. Thus, Christianity has had the effect of giving dignity to ordinary work. During the Reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin insisted that ordinary lay Christians—in distinction from priests, monks, and nuns—had a "vocation," or "calling," to serve God in their everyday activities. This teaching had a powerful effect in promoting economic development, with the sociologist Max Weber arguing in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) that Calvinistic Protestantism laid the foundation for modern capitalism.

The Romans spoke of liberalitas (generosity) as something given to impress others and win favors in return. Christian caritas (charity), however, was given to those in need without concern for repayment. Early Christians had a fund to support widows, the disabled, orphans, the sick, and prisoners and to provide for burials for the poor and the release of slaves. When plagues broke out, Christians cared for the sick in peril to their own health. In the late 300s Christians founded the nos-comia, probably the first institutions to provide ongoing care for the sick in the general populace. The church also founded orphanages, houses for travelers, institutions for the blind, and the first homes for the aged (gerontocomia). By the end of the thirteenth century, the Order of the Holy Ghost had opened more than 800 orphanages, and by the mid-1500s some 37,000 Benedictine monasteries cared for the sick. The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), founded in 1844 in London, provided aid in urban regions, as did the Salvation Army of William and Catherine Booth. Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, a devout Christian and member of Parliament, was instrumental in the Factory Act of 1833, which protected children from economic exploitation. In the nineteenth century Christian compassion motivated Dorothea Dix, who led a movement to improve care for the mentally ill; Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, important figures in the field of nursing; and Jean Henry Dunant, who founded the International Red Cross.

As early as the second century, Christians founded catechetical schools for new converts, which may have been the first to teach both sexes in the same setting. From the beginning Christian education was not limited to the upper classes, as was customary in Greco-Roman civilization. During the ninth and tenth centuries, monks kept alive the traditions of classical learning by recopying texts that would otherwise have vanished. The monastic leader Benedict has been called the "the godfather of libraries," and his Benedictines collected and loaned books. From the fourth to the tenth centuries, cathedral schools offered instruction in the seven liberal arts: the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy). While these schools were primarily for the clergy, they admitted others as well. Girls were educated in monasteries and nunneries.

It can be argued that the European university emerged out of the monasteries. During the medieval period the Christian character of the universities—Paris, Bologna, Salamanca, Oxford, Cambridge, and others—was unmistakable. In the 1500s and 1600s Protestanism was a religion of the book, and the desire to prepare learned ministers led to the founding of new institutions in Europe (Tübingen, Heidelberg, and Leiden) and America (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton). Protestants believed in universal education, and Martin Luther seems to have been the first modern author to urge compulsory school attendance. In 1837 Friedrich Froebel, son of a Lutheran pastor, began the first kindergarten in Europe. A number of Christians, including Thomas Gallaudet and Louis Braille, led in the education of the deaf and the blind. With the exception of the University of Pennsylvania, every college founded in America before the Revolutionary War began through the effort of a Christian church. Churches established more than 90 percent of all U.S. colleges founded before the Civil War.

The early Christians wrote doctrinal, moral, and apologetic works. By the fourth century they had begun to exhibit a new confidence, as shown in Jerome's On Illustrious Men (393), which argued that Christian orators, philosophers, and writers could rival the best that paganism had to offer. Augustine's City of God (426) argued that Christians could pursue the life of the mind as a form of service to God. Major works that are distinctly Christian include Alcuin's Rhetoric and Virtue (790s); Dante's Divine Comedy (c. 1321); Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1380s); Desiderius Erasmus's In Praise of Folly (1511); the seventeenth-century Metaphysical poetry of John Donne and George Herbert; John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), perhaps the greatest poem in the English language; Blaise Pascal's Pensées (1670); John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678); Charles Dicken'ss A Christmas Carol (1843); Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852); Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (1880); Four Quartets (1943) and other poetry and prose by T.S. Eliot; J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954–55); C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters (1942), Mere Christianity (1943), and The Chronicles of Narnia (1950); and the works of G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Shusako Endo.

Bible translations have had a major impact on literature. During the ninth century Cyril and Methodius invented the Glagolitic alphabet to render the sounds of the Slavic language and thus laid the foundation for Russian and other Slavic literatures. Through his translation of the complete Bible in 1534, Martin Luther established the modern German language. Similarly, the Authorized, or King James, Version of 1611 had an extensive influence on English usage, with hundreds of common expressions derived from it. In addition, biblical themes percolate through the entire Western literary tradition.

According to the New Testament, Jesus sang with his disciples on the night before his death (Matthew 26:30). Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they were to "speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19), and evidence indicates that certain biblical texts were sung before the New Testament was written (1 Timothy 3:16; Philippians 2:5–11). In the fourth century Ambrose had members of his congregation sing psalms, wrote hymns in metrical forms that all could follow, and thus laid the basis for congregational singing in the Western church. By the ninth century plainsong—music sung monophonically and without accompaniment and named Gregorian chant in honor of Pope Gregory I—was in common use. As early as the ninth century, biblical stories were dramatized and performed in the altar area of French churches, and modern opera evolved out of these dramas.

Ubaldus Hucbald (840–930), a French Benedictine, combined two or more melodies in harmony, thus ushering in polyphony, and Guido of Arezzo (c. 995–1050), another Benedictine, introduced the musical staff to indicate the pitch of notes and introduced the system of naming them. From the high Middle Ages until the twentieth century, every new form in Western music emerged in the context of church sponsorship and patronage. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), one of the greatest composers of all time, was a man of such profound Christian faith that he has been called "the fifth evangelist." At the end of each manuscript he wrote Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory). Great religious works by classical composers include Bach's masterpiece, Saint Matthew Passion, George Frideric Handel's Messiah, Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah, and Franz Joseph Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ and The Creation, as well as numerous works by such modern composers as Igor Stravinsky and Olivier Messiaen. These composers were practicing Christians who saw their music as an expression of worship.

The rich traditions of Christian hymnody, which began in the eighteenth century with Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, have continued to proliferate. There seems to be no musical style that has not been used for Christian purposes. Moreover, the direction of influence has often run from the sacred to the secular. Ray Charles, for example, scandalized some Christians in the mid-twentieth century when he used the emotive spiritual style of the black church in such secular songs as "Hallelujah, I Love Her So." Even earlier, blues and jazz grew out of black spirituals, which were a form of sacred song.

Before 200, Christianity developed little in terms of a tradition of visual arts, and this has been attributed to the persecution of the church, to the expectation of the speedy end of the world, and to the Jewish prohibition against the making of images that persisted among early Christians. Yet Christian ossuaries from the first and second centuries bore simple symbols—ships, plows, stars, trees, etc—that carried a Christian meaning. Early Christians borrowed from Greco-Roman artistic traditions. Jesus appeared in the guise of the pagan gods Orpheus, Apollo, and Dionysius, and holding a magician's wand when he healed. In the late third century, Roman catacombs were decorated with images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (a pre-Christian, Mediterranean motif), and a host of Old Testament figures—e.g., Jonah, Noah, and Daniel—in dramatic scenes of rescue and deliverance, often in the orans (lit., "praying") posture with hands upraised. When Christianity received sanction in the Roman Empire, the theme of rescue diminished and artistic works began to depict such regal and imperial scenes as Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and Jesus' enthronement as cosmic ruler (as in the Byzantine Pantokrator or "universal ruler").

The imperial sponsorship of Christianity encouraged new architectural traditions. The basilica—a place for Greco-Roman public gatherings—was adapted for Christian use beginning in the fourth century, with an altar set in the curved apse that had contained a statue of the emperor. The round tombs of rulers and heroes were used for saint's graves and sites of martyrdom. The floors often contained stone mosaics. Jesus appeared as clean-shaven youth, and only later portrayed as bearded and middle-aged. For centuries there were virtually no images of the crucifixion or a suffering Christ. Because of the destruction of Ethiopian Christian art by Muslims, most remaining monuments in Ethiopia date from the tenth or eleventh centuries, and these include the rock churches of Lalibela as well as vibrant murals and altarpieces exhibiting a distinctive Ethiopian style.

African Initiated Churches

African Initiated Churches (AICs; also called African Independent, Instituted, or Indigenous Churches) are denominations or congregations founded and governed by Africans. Some are much like missionary churches, while others are strikingly different. They tend to read the Bible literally and emphasize themes ignored by most Western Christians, such as revelation through dreams, divine healing, the struggle against witchcraft, and the need to destroy non-Christian religious objects. Whether directly or indirectly, AICs offer a critique of European missionary practice. Few mission churches allow polygamy, and yet many Africans regard the practice as consistent with biblical teaching. Likewise, Africans find that Westerners give insufficient attention to the spirit world, viewing technology and modern medicine as solutions for every need. AICs share the worldview of African traditional religions but forbid their members to participate in traditional ceremonies because of their alleged association with evil spirits. Members sometimes wear distinctive dress, such as white robes and headgear. AICs may observe the Sabbath (Saturday) as well as Sunday and follow Old Testament dietary laws, often expanded to include abstention from beer and tobacco.

One early African Initiated Church emerged in 1913–14 from the preaching of Prophet William Wadé Harris, who converted and baptized more than 120,000 villagers in what is now Côte d'Ivoire. Harris had been reared in the Episcopal Church but was expelled because of his ideas on polygamy. The theological foundation of Harrism lies in the biblical encounter between Jesus and Simon of Cyrene, the African who carried his cross, a moment that sealed God's promise to the African continent. Joseph Ositelu founded the Church of the Lord (Aladura) in 1925, when he served as a catechist for the Anglican mission. The Aladura Church prays over water, which is then used for healing. Women as well as men can serve as priests, though a woman, following the Israelite precedent, may not approach the altar during her menstrual period. AICs related to Roman Catholicism include the Jamaa movement, the Legion of Mary, and the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart. The largest AIC is the Kimbanguist Church. Though Simon Kimbangu's preaching lasted less than a year (1921) and he suffered imprisonment until his death in 1951, the movement he inspired has 7 million members.

Constantine (d. 337) helped create a Byzantine artistic tradition when he moved his capital to Constantinople, and, with help from his mother, Helena, erected the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (328–36) on the supposed site of Jesu's death and burial in Jerusalem. Christian sculpture was rare until well into the medieval period, and yet painting on wood panels offered images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. Justinian created an enduring legacy of Christian architecture in the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia, 532–37) in Constantinople, a structure melding the basilica and round church into a huge, light-filled space, with a largest dome ever created up to that time. The iconoclastic controversy in the Eastern Church (726–843) resulted in the destruction of icons, mosaics, and paintings, yet ended with an affirmation of art's devotionality. Reverence for an icon was reverence for Christ. Icon-painting reached a pinnacle with Andrei Rublev (ca. 1360–1430), whose images exude warmth and humanness.

In the west, the Celtic monks of Ireland and Scotland exhibited a unique aesthetic style in the dense ornamentation of the illustrated Book of Kells (ca. 800). On the continent, Charlemagne erected an octagonal chapel at Aachen (792–805) patterned after Byzantine models. Breaking with Byzantium, Franco-German artists began to produce images of a suffering Savior–-including a dead, life-sized crucifix at Cologne—starting in the 900s. In the later eleventh and the twelfth centuries, the Romanesque style of architecture adopted the arch and vault of the ancient Romans, and merged the basilica plan with a system of aisles and ambulatories. Booty brought back from the crusades allowed Europeans artisans to produce reliquaries and liturgical objects with precious metals and gemstones. Though some criticized this lavish used of wealth, Abbot Suger (1081–1151) considered the contemplation of precious things as a path to God. The Gothic style, beginning in the twelfth century, is generally regarded as the highest Christian achievement in architecture. By shifting the weight of stone roofs and towers onto columns, piers, and external butresses, Gothic churches rose in height. Walls were no longer load-bearing, and so contained stained-glass windows that flooded the interior with light.

The 1200s and 1300s witnessed a newer, naturalistic style in painting and sculpture—a trend culminating in the artistic brilliance of the Renaissance era. The bubonic plague of 1348-50 temporarily reversed the trend, and brought a return to more somber themes and less naturalistic images. By the 1400s Flemish painters showed the Virgin Mary in the cozy surroundings of a middle-class home, with household objects as spiritual symbols (e.g., a vase of lilies representing purity). Those who commissioned paintings were sometimes represented in the works alongside of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. Mathematical principles, such as symbolic ratios, geometry, and one-point perspective, were seen as reflections of God's own mind, and began to govern the work of artists and architects. Raphael was considered to have attained a perfect style. Yet Michelangelo—perhaps the first fully independent artist—produced the even more celebrated masterworks of the Sistine Chapel and statues of David and Moses. By the late 1500s, Benvenuto Cellini (1500–71) and others in the Mannerist style broke with earlier traditions by presenting elongated figures that strain and twist. Christian art in Germany continued to highlight suffering and compassion, as shown in Matthias Gruenwald's Isenheim altarpiece (1510–15) and its poignant image of the crucifixion.

Many early Protestants were iconoclasts like Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), who stripped medieval churches of all artwork and whitewashed their interiors. The iconoclastic style was also in vogue among John Calvin and his followers, including the Puritans of colonial New England, whose meetinghouses lacked representational art. Martin Luther acknowledged that religious art served a didactic function, and so Lutherans were never strict iconoclasts—though they like other Protestants often rejected religious sculpture. Anglican artistic sensibilities owed something to both Protestant and Catholic viewpoints. Protestant church buildings of the 1500s and 1600s eliminated the high altar, and raised the pulpit higher than ever—symbolizing the importance of the preached word.

Roman Catholics responded to Protestantism by highlighting the visual arts, though carefully controlling their content. (A Venetian artist, Veronese [1528–1588], who portrayed the Last Supper in 1573 was called before the Inquisition for incorporating dwarves, animals, and Germans into his painting!) Ironically, this highly controlled church art was also highly sensual, and featured saints of both sexes (sometimes nearly nude) writhing in agony or ecstasy. Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa" (1545–52) is a kind of religious theater, with erotic undertones. In the 1600s and 1700s, the Spaniard Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) offered stark scenes of saints lost in devotion, the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens painted allegorical scenes in bright colors, while the Dutchman Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) treated religious themes with a finesse and psychological depth that has never been surpassed, as in his "Return of the Prodigal Son" (ca. 1665). In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, aristocratic patrons of the arts lost interest in religious themes, and a secularizing tendency was apparent. Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) painted historical images with moral themes that substituted for traditional religious art.

Because of the influence of Enlightenment thought, which regards religion as a personal preference rather than an ultimate truth, the relationship between art and faith has become problematic during the modern era. Some consider "Christian art" as an antiquated category since about 1800. During the 1800s and 1900s, romantics, impressionists, cubists, expressionists, surrealists, and abstract artists offered works that touched on Christian themes, but often used religious images in ambiguous ways. Christian artists found themselves in a precarious position, since fellow artists did not share their faith commitment and fellow Christians did not welcome their aesthetic innovations. Critics of modern art have stigmatized it as formless, chaotic, and unsuitable for expressing spiritual truths. Yet earlier Romantics, such as William Blake (1757-1827) and P. O. Runge (1777–1810), delved deeply into religious themes. C. D. Friedrich (1774-1840) sought a religious dimension in his landscape painting. Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) experimented with religious themes in his "Yellow Christ" (1889) and "Ave Maria" (1891), as Vincent van Gogh (1853-90)—preacher-turnedartist—dreamt of renewing Christian art, and conveyed a spiritual presence through his intense expressionism. The Eisenach regulation (1861) mandated the Gothic style for church buildings in Germany, and church architecture of the last two centuries has generally mimicked earlier Christian styles or else followed a more functional and secular approach.

Christianity and Feminism

Christian feminists have argued that the subjection of women to men throughout history is not a reflection of God's purpose but a consequence of human sin, as shown in the biblical text concerning the fall of Adam and Eve: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16). This subjection, they argue, has been removed: "There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Consequently the traditional role distinctions between men and women in marriage and in the church are no longer in force. During the 1900s Christian feminism led women and men to launch a campaign, especially successful in Protestantism, to allow women to enter the ordained ministry. Feminist theologians have also challenged the traditional picture of God and developed an approach stressing God's mutuality, reciprocity, and intimacy with creatures.

Christian antifeminists have argued that the role distinctions between man as leader and woman as follower are part of God's original purpose, that the husband is to be "head" of his wife (1 Corinthians 11:3) and that the ordained ministry is limited to males (1 Corinthians 14:34–35; 1 Timothy 2:12–15). Some argue that Adam sinned because Eve tempted him, which shows that women must not lead men. They regard Jesus' decision to appoint 12 male apostles as a sign that the ministry belongs to men. Roman Catholicism argues that females cannot represent Jesus' priesthood in the celebration of the sacraments.

Another question is whether the traditional masculine language and imagery for God are acceptable in contemporary worship. Proposals for inclusive language have suggested new designations for people ("children of God" for "sons of God") and new terms for God ("Parent" for "Father God"). Such proposals have provoked controversy, especially when favorite hymns, traditional liturgies, or the Bible itself have been altered.

Today Christian feminism is an international movement. Among its leading authors are María Pilar Aquino (Mexico), Chung Hyum Kyung (Korea), Mercy Amba Oduyoye (Ghana), Teresa Okure (Nigeria), Kwok Pui-lan (China), Rosemary Radford Ruether (United States), and Margaret Shanti (India).

Religious themes occur marginally, though impressively, in works by Emil Nolde (1867–1956) and Marc Chagall (1887–1985). A twentieth-century artist of international stature known for his Christian faith is Georges Rouault (1871–1958). The Jesuit order has established the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (St. Louis, USA) and the Center for Contemporary Art (Cologne, Germany). Pope John Paul II has sought to reestablish the relationship of the church to artists, and of artists to the church, through his "Letter to Artists" (1999). A recent development is the Christian use of non-Western artistic media and content by Third World artists in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, India, Sri Lanka, Bali, China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. In light of this growing trend, the future development of Christian art could occur largely outside of the Western nations.

Michael J. McClymond

See Also Vol. 1: Anglicanism, Baptist Tradition, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Coptic Christianity, Eastern Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Evangelicalism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutheranism, Methodism, Pentecostalism, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Roman Catholicism, Seventh-day Adventists, Unitarianism, United Church of Christ


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CHRISTIANITY , a general term denoting the historic community deriving from the original followers of *Jesus of Nazareth; the institutions, social and cultural patterns, and the beliefs and doctrines evolved by this community; and – in the widest sense – the forms of civilization which it created or influenced. (Thus many elements in modern, secular, Western civilization are still, in one way or another, called "Christian" or attributed to "Christianity.")

The Term

The vague character of the term provides this wide range of meaning. In Christian tradition itself, however, a variety of more precise words are used to denote specific aspects of the religion; e.g., the body of all believers, conceived as a religious entity living in unity with Christ as head, is called the "Church." The Church itself can be looked at as a spiritual or "mystical body," in which case it is usually referred to in the singular; it can denote particular – nationally or denominationally organized – groups or organizations, in which case one speaks of the "Churches" (e.g., Roman Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, etc.) in the plural. Very often one differentiates between the major historical forms and traditions of the church(es), and hence distinguishes between Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern (orthodox as well as non-Chalcedonian) Christianity. Christianity can be viewed as a religious institution (whether as a universal church or as distinct churches), as a body of beliefs and doctrines (Christian dogma and theology), or as a social, cultural, or even political reality shaped by certain religious traditions and mental attitudes. When the reference is to the human societies shaped by these traditions and attitudes, the noun "Christendom" rather than Christianity is sometimes used. The term derives from the Greek word christos (Eng. "Christ") which is the translation, occurring already in the *Septuagint, of the Hebrew mashi'aḥ (which in English became *Messiah), "the anointed." While the precise nature of Jesus' beliefs about himself and the nature of the "messianic" task which he attributed to himself are still a matter of scholarly controversy, there is little doubt that at an early date his followers saw in him the promised mashi'aḥ, the son of David. This view is evident in the gospel accounts which attempt to trace the ancestry of Jesus back to David, evidently for the purpose of legitimizing his messianic status. Jesus himself seems to have rejected the term in favor of other eschatological titles (e.g., the "Son of Man"), but the early community of his followers (see *Apostles), believing in his resurrection after the crucifixion, evidently held this term to be the most expressive of the role which they ascribed to their master and "Lord" (Gr. kyrios). In due course the title ("Jesus, the Christ") became synonymous with the personal name, and the word Christ was used by the believers as the name of the risen Jesus (cf. Gal. 1:6; Heb. 9:11). The early followers of Jesus referred to themselves as "brethren" (Acts 1:16), "disciples" (Acts 11:26), and "believers" (Acts 2:44), and the Jews at first called them "Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5) – i.e., probably the followers of Jesus the Nazarene (cf. Matt. 2:23). The term "Christians" seems to have been applied to them at first by outsiders (Acts 11:26), but was soon adopted by them as a convenient term of identification. In 64 c.e., during the Neronian persecution, the term seems to have already become current in Rome (Tacitus, Annals 15:44). In its subsequent usage in modern European languages, the adjective "Christian" has come to mean everything decent, moral, and praiseworthy (e.g., "a real Christian" is a term of praise, and "unchristian behavior" is an expression of opprobrium). In Jewish usage the term acquired a certain pejorative tone, referring mainly to the contrast between the profession of high ideals (religion of love, turning the other cheek) unmatched by actual performance (pogroms, discrimination, antisemitism).

The Background

Strictly speaking, the career and ministry of Jesus, and his relations with his disciples, do not come under the heading "Christianity." They are rather part of the history of Jewish sectarian movements toward the end of the Second Temple period. As a matter of fact, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct with any degree of certainty the career and teachings of Jesus, and many scholars have given up the quest for the "historical Jesus" as hopeless. The extant sources (see *New Testament) reflect not the actual events of his life and his authentic preaching, but the emerging consciousness of the developing Christian community and the perspective from which they saw, that is to say, reshaped in retrospect, their traditions and beliefs concerning Jesus. As a result of "telescoping back" the consciousness and beliefs of the early church to the life and ministry of the founder, the use of the New Testament as a historical source requires much philological care and critical prudence. About one development, however, there cannot be much doubt: whatever the nature of the relationship of Jesus to the various Jewish groups of his time (*Pharisees, *Sadducees, and others – including the *Essenes and *Qumran Covenanters), the New Testament reflects a stage of development when relations between Jews and Christians had already begun to deteriorate. Hence, the New Testament describes Jesus as engaged in violent polemics against the "Scribes and Pharisees," and especially against the interpretation of Torah and Judaism which they represented. This embattled portrayal, as well as the tendency to ascribe to "the Jews" the responsibility for the passion and death of Jesus – articulated and exhibited in varying degrees in the different books of the New Testament – have made the New Testament, with its scriptural authority, the fountainhead of later Christian misrepresentation of Judaism and theological antisemitism.

Severance from Judaism

A major difficulty in tracing the growth of Christianity from its beginnings as a Jewish messianic sect, and its relations to the various other normative-Jewish, sectarian-Jewish, and Christian-Jewish groups is presented by the fact that what ultimately became normative Christianity was originally but one among various contending Christian trends. Once the "gentile Christian" trend won out, and the teaching of *Paul became accepted as expressing the doctrine of the Church, the Jewish Christian groups were pushed to the margin and ultimately excluded as heretical. Being rejected both by normative Judaism and the Church, they ultimately disappeared. Nevertheless, several *Jewish Christian sects (such as the Nazarenes, Ebionites, Elchasaites, and others) existed for some time, and a few of them seem to have endured for several centuries. Some sects saw in Jesus mainly a prophet and not the "Christ," others seem to have believed in him as the Messiah, but did not draw the christological and other conclusions that subsequently became fundamental in the teaching of the Church (the divinity of the Christ, trinitarian conception of the Godhead, abrogation of the Law). After the disappearance of the early Jewish Christian sects and the triumph of gentile Christianity, to become a Christian meant, for a Jew, to apostatize and to leave the Jewish community. It is only in modern times that in some missionary and other circles, the claim is again made that it should be possible to embrace faith in Jesus as the Christ (i.e., become a Christian) while remaining a Jew. The controversy found dramatic expression in the case of Daniel Rufeisen (see *Apostasy, *Jew) – a Jewish convert to Christianity and Catholic priest – who demanded recognition of his status as a Jew and to have the provisions of the Israel Law of Return applied to him. The majority of the court held – on grounds of secular rather than theological or halakhic reasoning – that in the historicosocial consciousness and in the linguistic usage of the ordinary man (and hence, by implication, of the Israel legislator) the term Jew could not be construed to include a Jew who had formally embraced Christianity, this act being tantamount, in the general feeling of most people, to opting out of the historical Jewish community.

The reasons for the extraordinary and tragic tension between Christianity and Judaism are not to be sought merely in the differences in religious beliefs and dogmas, which exist also in relation to all other religions. Neither are they, moreover, due exclusively to the long history of Christian persecution of the Jews (see *Antisemitism), since this was the result rather than the first cause of the tension between Christianity and Judaism. The tension is due essentially to the ambivalent position in which the Church found itself vis-à-vis Israel. By explicitly claiming not to be a new religion, and by conceiving itself the fulfillment of the promises in the Bible (the "Old Testament") as expressed in the *covenant with the patriarchs and in the message of the prophets, the Church placed itself squarely on a Jewish foundation: it was the consummation of the biblical promise. Jesus was not just a divinely chosen savior, but the promised Son of David, the Lord's Anointed (Mashi'aḥ ben David), and hence the Christian community, i.e., the Church, was the "true Israel" of God. It was the messianic universalization of that salvific destiny which God had in mind when He chose Abraham in whose seed all nations should be blessed, but which for reasons connected with God's own ways of allowing history to fulfill itself, was limited to one physical people ("Israel according to the flesh") for a certain preparatory period, i.e., until the coming of Jesus the Messiah. The doctrine that the "Law" – which had been an adequate and divinely willed institution during this preparatory period – had now lost its validity; that in Christ it had been "fulfilled," i.e., terminated, surpassed, and to all practical purposes abrogated; and that the order of Grace had now come in place of that of the Law – all these combined with the Gospel accounts of Jesus' harsh attacks on the Pharisees as hypocrites or as representatives of a mechanical religion of outward devotion, to create a climate of hostility and a negative Christian image of Judaism. The image implied that theologically Judaism was an inferior religion, historically the Jewish people had played out its positive role, and morally the Jews were examples of stubborn blindness and obduracy. Even at its best, i.e., in its biblical phase, Israel had been rebellious and had persecuted its prophets, and its Law – albeit divine – was but a preparatory discipline. Some early Christian writers had an even more negative view of the ancient Law or of Israel's understanding of it. Pharisaic Judaism was judged negatively altogether. The Church being God's "true Israel" according to the spirit, the Jewish people no longer had any vocation or reason to exist except as a witness to the misery and degradation that would befall a people originally chosen by God, but unfaithful to its election by rejecting the Messiah and bringing about his death. While the views sketched in the preceding lines do not describe all facets of Christian teaching on the subject – certainly not that of Paul who, in his Epistle to the Romans (ch. 9–11), grappled with what was to him one of the supreme and most agonizing mysteries of the divine economy of history – they certainly express what has been the dominant attitude of Christianity toward Judaism and the Jews. Had the Jews disappeared from the stage of history, it would have been possible to relate to them more positively as a preparatory phase in the coming of God's kingdom. Had the Church severed its ties to its Israelite antecedents and completely rejected the "Old Testament" and the "Jewish God" (as demanded by Marcion, whom the Church condemned as a heretic), then Christianity would have been a hostile but essentially separate religion. The Church, however, insistently maintained that it was the direct continuation of that divine action in history of which the election of Israel was a major part. Yet the Jews continued to exist, claiming the Bible as their own, their understanding of it as the only legitimate one and labeling Christian interpretations as heresy, falsehood, and idolatry. This mutual opposition created a climate of hostility and negation which made the Christian-Jewish relationship more ambivalent and complex, and hence, also, more pregnant with tragedy than any comparable relationship in history.

Jesus and His First Disciples

As has been indicated before, the teaching and activity of Jesus cannot be properly described under the heading "Christianity" but should rather be seen in the context of the religious, social, and political ferment in Palestine at the end of the Second Temple period, and in relation to the various sectarian movements at the time. Knowledge of the period and of the sectarian doctrines then extant has been revolutionized by the Qumran Scrolls (i.e., the writings of the so-called Dead Sea sect, probably identical with the Essenes), whose significance in a reappraisal of the origins of Christianity is still being evaluated by scholars. Although it may be difficult to penetrate the layers of tradition and legend in order to arrive at any certainty about the details of the life and ministry of Jesus, there is no valid reason for doubting his historical reality or assuming him to be a purely mythical figure. It is generally accepted that in most of his beliefs and practices, Jesus was closer to the Pharisees than to other contemporary groups, but that, at the same time, he shared the particularly intense eschatological expectations that were rife in certain circles (see *Eschatology; *Apocalypse). His meeting with *John the Baptist is described in the New Testament as having constituted a major turning point in Jesus' career and in his consciousness regarding his vocation. Jesus' subsequent preaching centered on the imminent apocalyptic events and the coming of the Kingdom of God, but much of it – probably deliberately – was obscure. After a relatively short period of activity as a wandering preacher, mainly in Galilee where he was revered by the multitude not so much for his teaching but for his reputed miraculous power in healing the sick and casting out demons, he went to Jerusalem. There his preaching led to his arrest, arraignment before the Roman procurator *Pontius Pilate, and subsequent execution – probably at the instigation of groups connected with the Temple priesthood and the Sadducean establishment. The precise background and details of his arrest, trial, passion, and death are almost impossible to reconstruct, since the only extant accounts are relatively late, tendentious, and inspired by the attitudes of the evangelists who were writing at a time when the rift between Jews and Christians had considerably widened, and Christianity was beginning to spread in the Roman Empire (hence the tendency to exonerate the Roman procurator and to ascribe the death of Jesus exclusively to the machinations of the Jews). After the death of Jesus on the cross, many of his followers undoubtedly lost their faith, but others soon came to share the belief that he had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven whence he would return before long in power and glory (the "Second Coming"). The elaboration of the twin themes of suffering and triumph, passion (i.e., death on the cross) and resurrection, subsequently became the warp and woof of Christian theology. The "risen Lord" came to be seen as more than a human figure, while the suffering savior was seen as the fulfillment of the obscure prophecies of the Deutero-Isaiah concerning God's Suffering Servant. The notion of the Davidic messiah, as well as that of a heavenly "Son of Man" merging with the specific Christian experiences, ultimately yielded the concept of the messiah, savior, and redeemer as essentially divine. Being committed to traditional biblical monotheism, as well as to a paradoxical belief in the identity of the human Jesus with the divine savior, Christianity developed a trinitarian conception of the godhead in which the ministry of the divine and pre-existent messiah was explained in terms of an incarnation. This doctrine was formulated by making use of the philosophic notion of a divine *logos as developed also by *Philo. In the Christology of the Church, however, the logos was identified with the second person of the Trinity which, in its human incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, was the messiah and savior of the world. Jesus was always present – through the Holy Spirit – in the spiritual community which he had founded and of which he remained the Lord. Life in and with God meant, in the Christian view of things, life in Christ and in the Church. In their development of the idea of the Church, the *Church Fathers subsequently drew heavily on the rabbinic interpretation of the Song of Songs as an allegorical representation of the relationship between God and Israel. The concepts of Trinity (God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), of the Son as the incarnate "Word" and Messiah (logos and christos), and of the Church (i.e., the community of God's spiritual people) became the basis of all later Christian theology. Although many of the specifically Christian ideas are apparently incompatible with Judaism, they – or some of their constituent elements – are, to a large extent, transformations of originally Jewish ideas, e.g., the idea of election, of the Holy Ghost (see *Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh), of a messiah, and of *atonement which the death of martyrs brings to the community. Early Christianity tried to buttress its claims by adducing proof texts from the "Old Testament," and hence polemics between Jews and Christians were, for some time, essentially exegetical in character, i.e., concerned with the proper interpretation of scriptural passages, prophecies, and predictions. Thus the so-called servant chapters in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 53) were interpreted by Christians as referring to the vicarious suffering and atoning death of Jesus. In addition, there arose a kind of Christian Midrash (allegorical or tropological exegesis) which enabled Christians to find allusions to their faith and doctrines almost everywhere in the Bible (see *Apologetics, *Disputations, and *Polemical Literature). For the Jews, the Christian interpretation perverted the obvious sense of Scripture; for the Christians, the Jews were spiritually blind and unable to perceive the true meaning of the "Old Testament" (ii Cor. 3:14f.).

Jewish Origins and Influence on Ritual and Liturgy

Christian liturgy and forms of worship bear the mark of Jewish origins and influence. The very concept of church ritual (i.e., assembly of the believers for prayer, reading of Scripture and preaching) is indebted to the example of the synagogue. The reading of passages from the "Old" and the "New" Testaments is a Christian version of the synagogue reading from the Torah and the Prophets. The Psalms, in particular, play an immense role in both Catholic and Protestant liturgy. Some early Christian prayers (cf. Apostolic Constitutions 7:35–38; Didache chs. 9–10) are quotations or adaptations from Jewish originals. The Jewish origin is also evident in many prayer formulas (e.g., *Amen, *Hallelujah), the Lord's Prayer ("Our Father which art in Heaven"), and in many ritual institutions (e.g. Baptism) – whatever their specifically Christian transformations. The central rite of Christianity, the Eucharist, Mass, or Lord's Supper, is based on a tradition concerning Jesus' last meal with his disciples (represented in some New Testament accounts as a Passover meal), and contains such traditional Jewish elements as the breaking of the bread and the use of the cup (kos shel berakhah). Christians subsequently interpreted this "Last Supper" as the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover in which Jesus, the "lamb of God," acted as the true sacrifice. While it is correct to say that Christianity, after its separation from Judaism and its spread through the Roman world, increasingly absorbed non-Jewish, pagan elements and patterns of thought (the so-called "Hellenization of the Gospel"), it should be remembered that much that has formerly been held to be purely Hellenistic may, in fact, have been taken from certain contemporaneous forms of Judaism. The Qumran texts, as well as the apocryphal and pseudepigraphic literature, suggest that there was far greater variety in Jewish beliefs than has previously been allowed for, and that elements in early Christian teaching which patently deviate from the norms of Pharisaic and rabbinic Judaism may be indebted to forms of sectarian Judaism and not necessarily, or always directly, to Hellenism.

Needless to say, the very existence of similarities merely exacerbated the conflict. For the Christians, the similarities were further proof that they were the fulfillment of everything that was valid in the "Old Covenant," and that the Jews preserved nothing but an empty shell, a degenerate and corrupt form of a misunderstood reality. For the Jews it became impossible to see the Christians as merely a strange and completely alien religion, since they appeared as claimants to the Israelite heritage, bent on dispossessing the Jewish people of the validity and authenticity of its religious existence. In due course the Jewish Christians were included in the category of those sectarians (see *min) whom the Jewish community rejected and anathematized. The malediction of the minim contained in the daily Amidah was introduced, viz., reformulated, in order to render impossible Jewish Christian participation in the service of the synagogue, and to consummate their separation. The development of gentile Christianity that took place under the influence of Paul's activity (and as distinct from the Jewish Christians in their conflict within the Jewish community) made the estrangement between the two even more evident. The universalization of the ethnic and religious concept of Israel (the "church" taking the place of the Jewish people) and the abrogation of the commandments (faith in the fulfillment of the biblical promises in the person of Jesus the Messiah taking the place of the duty to observe the mitzvot) spelled the parting of the ways. It should not, however, be overlooked that the first gentile Christians were not pagans totally unacquainted with Judaism; they were people who had been attracted to Jewish teaching and ethics and who, as it were, lived on the periphery of the synagogues in the Diaspora but were not ready to accept totally the "yoke of the commandments" (especially circumcision). For some time Jewish influence and example must have been strong or persuasive enough to constitute – in the eyes of Christian pastors – a definite danger to their flock. Accordingly, the polemics against the "Judaizers" in the epistles of the New Testament, and the violent, and even obscene, vilification of Judaism in the sermons of such Christian leaders as, e.g., *John Chrysostom (see *Church Fathers). With its spread among the gentiles, the pagan characteristics of Christianity gained in influence, and after Constantine the Great and the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the traditional Hellenistic-pagan forms of civic, social, and cultural antisemitism (see *Apion) merged with the specifically Christian theological motifs to form an amalgam that has left a tragic legacy to history.

Missions to Jews

While attempts at forced conversion (see *Baptism, Forced) were by no means rare, the early Church Fathers and the medieval Church did not cultivate genuine missionary activity toward the Jews. A missionary theology assumes that the gospel, i.e., the "glad tidings," have to be brought to those who do not know it. The Jews, however, were a priori in a different category, being the original recipients of God's promise and glad tidings but who, having rejected them, were living testimonies to obduracy, wicked blindness, and the wrath of God. Additional research is still required to determine the degree of validity to allegations, made by ancient Christian writers, as well as by some modern historians, that Jews instigated the anti-Christian persecutions by Roman emperors, such as Nero. The extent to which Christianity relentlessly persecuted and humiliated the Jews is detailed in the various articles dealing with the history of the Jews in Christian lands. Jewish history in the Christian world was marked by alternations of more or less violent oppression, relative toleration, expulsions, and occasional massacres, and at all times, restrictive legislation. All of these measures have varied according to time, place, and economic or other circumstances, e.g., legislative restrictions were periodically ignored by various rulers or mitigated by special privileges (see *Church; Church *Councils).

Attitudes Toward Jews

Various factors were operative, creating different combinations at different times. There were the more specifically theological theories regarding the Jews, their status in the divine scheme of things, and their destiny; there was legislation concerning the Jews in different forms: Roman law (see *Justinian), canon law (see especially the Fourth *Lateran Council), and various decrees and discriminatory regulations (and occasionally exemptions from the latter by special privileges) issued by rulers, feudal princes, or cities; and there were the attitudes cultivated by popular religion (e.g., Passion plays), reinforced by its understanding or misunderstanding of theological doctrines. The sacramental dimension of Christian religiosity led to the conclusion that the Jews stood outside the sacramental order of society, in fact, they belonged to a parallel, anti-sacramental order: the synagogue of Satan. According to the Law Code of Justinian, the Jews are "detestable people" that "live in darkness and whose souls do not perceive the true mysteries" (Novella 45). Even so, Roman Law provided for a minimum of respect for the Jew's life and person, but was often eviscerated by religious fanaticism and alternative forms of legislation. Thus, Thomas *Aquinas, basing himself on the traditional practice of the Church, as well as on natural law (i.e., the natural rights of parents to their children), opposed taking children away from their parents for baptism, although other canonists defended the practice. Even *Bernard of Clairvaux, who energetically opposed the massacres of Jews during the Second *Crusade, thereby saving many Jewish communities from a repetition of the fate they suffered during the First Crusade, used as his strongest argument the theory that Jews were not meant by Providence to be killed but rather to live in ignominy and misery until the last Day of Judgment as witnesses to their rejection of Christ. Accusations of desecration of the *Host and ritual murder (*blood libel) increased during the late Middle Ages. In spite of the interest in Hebrew studies, including the *Kabbalah, exhibited by some humanists (see *Kabbalah; *Reuchlin; *Pico della Mirandola), the *Reformation (see *Luther) did not in any way affect the general attitude toward Jews and Judaism. It was only in the 17th century that among Puritans and certain Calvinist and Pietist circles a new attitude toward the Jews began to emerge. This new attitude also gave a new impetus to missionary activity, since the Jews – especially if viewed positively – could not but appear as the "noble nation" of the Old Covenant, which, in the fullness of time, would enter into the perfection of the New Covenant.

The basic Christian pattern of contempt for and negation of Judaism persisted also throughout such later, though not specifically Christian, developments as the Enlightenment (cf. also *Voltaire), modern nationalism, and other secular movements (e.g., Socialism). Even the writings of anti-Christian or anti-clerical authors echoed the traditional Christian stereotypes regarding Jews and Judaism. The realization that the Christian heritage had decisively shaped the forms of national consciousness of European nations, and not only the general character of Western civilization, provided a basis for a new national antisemitism which was Christian in a socio-cultural, though not in a strictly theological, sense (cf. the *Action Française, or the role of Catholicism in France during and after the *Dreyfus Affair, and, for a Protestant example, the movement launched in Germany by the court preacher A. *Stoecker). It was only when these developments had run their full course and assumed their final and most diabolic form in 20th century antisemitism, that certain circles in the Christian world began to reexamine their positions. There was a groping toward the realization that antisemitism was in some fundamental sense also anti-Christian and admitting the Christian share in the responsibility for even anti-Christian antisemitism. Therefore, many modern Christian thinkers struggled for an understanding of their Christianity as a genuine fulfillment of the promise of biblical Israel in a manner that would not undercut the legitimacy and authenticity of Jewish existence. By striving to formulate an understanding of Judaism that would detract neither from the dignity of the latter nor from the dogmatic witness of Christianity, a number of Christian scholars and theologians are trying to correct the traditional caricature of post-biblical Judaism as a dead, petrified, or fossilized religion without spiritual vitality and dynamism. It is too early to say whether this effort is a pious wish doomed to failure, or whether it holds the promise for a new type of relationship between two groups committed to what is held by members of both to be a common loyalty to the same (biblical) God, and a common hope in this God's promise to humanity and creation. Many of the Christians rethinking their attitude toward Judaism do so on a narrowly religious basis (i.e., Judaism as a denomination), and consequently are bewildered by the fact that the Jewish people have recovered a sense of their national-ethnic existence with its social and political dimensions. Thus, many Christians who are ready to enter into a "dialogue" with Judaism as a religious (by which they mean denominational, theological, or semi-ecclesiastical) entity are at a loss how to face what is to them the "secular" phenomenon of Zionism and the modern State of Israel.

Orthodox Church

Within Christianity the various major and minor traditions (especially the three main divisions, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) exhibit characteristic differences of style, modes of thought, ethos, theological emphasis, forms of piety, and liturgical orientation. Much of what has been said above regarding a shift in Christian attitudes toward Judaism is true of the "Western" (Roman Catholic and Protestant) rather than the "Eastern" churches where traditionalism is stronger and the anti-Jewish heritage in liturgy and theology has been little affected by recent events. In fact, some Oriental (Uniate) churches in the Near East actively opposed the Vatican ii declaration on the Jews not merely for political reasons but because of basic theological attitudes. Leading Russian Orthodox intellectuals have often expressed anti-Jewish ideologies (cf. Dostoevski, Gogol), and even thinkers who sought a theological reappraisal (e.g. Leon Shestov, Nikolai Berdyaev) have never attempted to understand the living reality of Judaism but merely discussed a philosophical construct of their own minds.

Jewish Attitudes Toward Christianity

The Jewish attitude toward Christianity has been determined by the religious and social factors referred to above. Christianity, especially after it had ceased to be a Jewish heretical sect, became a dominant religion, and assumed its medieval Catholic forms (including the cultic use of images), considered by Jews to be idolatrous. The fact that for many centuries Jewish philosophy was influenced mainly by Muslim thought only strengthened this view, since Islam shared with Judaism a conception of God which could be described as more monotheistic than that of Christianity. Rabbinic authorities debated whether the laws and injunctions concerning commerce and contacts with idolators also applied to Christians. To the Jews the Christian world appeared as the incarnation of Rome, symbolized by Edom or Esau, and as the evil power of this world bent on destroying Jacob, which – but for God's promise and mercy – would have succeeded. Occasionally Jewish thinkers would suggest that Christianity, recognizing the divine character of the Bible and being less polytheistic than classical and primitive paganism, might be a providential instrument used by God to bring the gentiles gradually nearer to true religion (see *Apologetics; *Judah Halevi; *Maimonides). Yet, in spite of the traditional attitude of hostility and distrust, reinforced by Christian coercion of Jews to participate in disputations and to listen to conversionary sermons, there always was – as is inevitable where cultures coexist – a certain amount of mutual interest. Jewish thinkers (e.g. Maimonides; Ibn *Gabirol; in modern times especially Martin *Buber) have influenced Christian theologians and biblical exegetes (e.g., *Nicholas de Lyra). Christian presence is noticeable not only in the direct and obvious influences on Jewish thinkers (see *Hillel of Verona), but also in the more subtle and indirect ways resulting from what might be called cultural osmosis. Thus Y. *Baer has attempted to demonstrate specific Christian influences on certain aspects of the thought and devotional practice in the Zohar and in German Ḥasidism. The rabbinic theological evaluation of Christianity also had repercussions in the sphere of halakhah, and the exigencies of the latter in turn influenced theoretical attitudes (see J. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance). While modern Jewish biblical scholarship has been influenced by Christian "Old Testament" studies (see *Bible Research and Criticism), the latter still has exhibited enough of traditional anti-Jewish prejudice to provoke Solomon *Schechter's remark "Higher criticism – higher antisemitism," and Y. *Kaufmann's polemics. The liturgical reforms of *Reform Judaism have been clearly indebted to the example of contemporary Protestantism.


A comparison between Christianity and Judaism as religious systems, and an analysis of their points of contact and divergence are difficult to undertake, since much depends on the definitions and points of view with which one approaches the task. There are Jewish stereotypes of Christianity and vice versa, and different elements of the religions have been given varying degrees of prominence at different periods. Often similar ideas can be found in both religions (e.g., original sin, or vicarious suffering), but the roles they have played in the total context of the life and history of faith of the respective communities vary considerably. Christian "other-worldliness" has often been contrasted with Jewish "this-worldliness" (sometimes in laudatory and sometimes in derogatory terms), as have Christian asceticism with the Jewish affirmation of this life and its values, the Christian doctrine of mediation with the Jewish belief in immediate communion with and forgiveness from God, the Christian religion of "love" with the Jewish religion of the "Law," Christian "universalism" with Jewish "particularism," the hierarchical sacerdotalism, i.e., dominance of the clergy in many forms of Christianity, with the forms of religious authority in rabbinic Judaism. In addition, comparisons have been made between the respective conceptions of sin and atonement, and dualism in soul/body, i.e., spirit/flesh. Although some distinctions are valid (e.g., Jews do not believe in the Trinity or in the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, the Son of God, on the cross; Christians do not accept rabbinic tradition as the authentic interpretation of a still valid divine law), many others are inadequate, or have to be qualified, because both Jews and Christians have, in various historical periods, articulated different views about the details of their respective beliefs and the nature of their communities. There is, moreover, considerable variety within the two communities and apologetic interests, as well as the personal commitment and ideology of every writer on the subject, are apt to color his assessment of the issues. The problem is well illustrated by 19th-century idealistic philosophy which took it for granted that Christianity was the superior and Judaism an inferior form of religion. Accordingly, whatever variety in definitions of "Christianity," philosophers (e.g., *Hegel, *Fichte) described that which they considered superior as "Christian" and that which they considered inferior as "Jewish." Some Jewish thinkers, too, would accept the "Christian" norms and merely try to show that they were also taught by Judaism, while others emphasized the contrasts and rejected what was claimed to be the Christian norms. Modern secularism has posed for both religions – as, indeed, all religions in general, and theistic religions in particular – some apparently similar problems, though here, too, the similarities can be misleading since "secularization" has had different implications in a Jewish and a Christian context respectively. What is beyond doubt is the fact that Christianity, in spite of its Jewish beginnings and continuing Jewish associations through the Bible, has become a thoroughly distinct form of religious life with its distinct conceptions of salvation, forms of devotion and piety, emotional and intellectual attitudes, and historical consciousness. The ambivalence created by this sense of both relatedness and difference is still far from being resolved in the Christian world.

[R. J. Zwi Werblowsky]

Some 20th Century Christian Perceptions of Judaism and the Jews


The "New Look" in Christian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism goes back to the 1930s. The pioneer of new Christian understandings of Jews and Judaism James Parkes published his epoch-making The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue in 1934. He set out to study antisemitism and this brought him to the study of Jewish history and of Judaism. His conclusion was that Christianity based its theology on bad history. He wrote:

The Christian public as a whole, the great and overwhelming majority of the hundreds of millions of nominal Christians in the world, still believe that the Jews killed Jesus, that they are a people rejected by their God, that all the beauty of the Bible belongs to the Christian Church and not to those by whom it was written; and if on this ground so carefully prepared, modern anti-Semites have reared a structure of racial and economic propaganda, the final responsibility still rests with those who prepared the soil and created the deformation of the people. (J. Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (1961), 376).

Parkes cited one predecessor, Conrad Moehlman of the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, author of The Christian-Jewish Tragedy: A Study in Religious Prejudice (1933) which taught that the charge of deicide against the Jews rested on false accounts in the New Testament (J. Parkes, Anti-Semitism and the Foundations of Christianity, edited by A. Davies (1979), viii). Another pioneer work from the same year was Erik Peterson's Die Kirche aus Juden und Heiden which tried to present Jews in a positive light from the standpoint of Christianity.

But these were still lonely voices and the revision in traditional thinking is essentially a post-World War ii phenomenon which began to develop in the 1950s under the rather delayed impact of the Holocaust. Already in 1946, the first International Conference of Christians and Jews meeting in Oxford sought common ground on issues of "Responsibility and Justice" while a pioneering document on Jewish-Christian relations resulted from a further meeting in Seeligsberg, Switzerland, in the following year. This article will treat the issues thematically, quoting not only the new directions but also examples of stubborn retention of historical prejudices.

rejection of jews

Even in postwar times, certain Christian theologians have continued to find the roots of their belief in God's "rejection" of the Jews already in the days of the Old Testament. After the Second Vatican Council (Vatican ii) which ended in 1965, it was difficult for Catholics to express such extreme views (see below). But some Protestant sources, especially in Germany, still see the Jews as betraying the Covenant in the period following the Babylonian Exile. They maintain that the Jewish religion after the Exile was a break with the true faith of ancient Israel and represented a decline from "Israel" to "Judaism." Thus, the Bible scholar Martin Noth feels that the national life of Israel ended after the Babylonian Exile. By the year 70, "Jerusalem had ceased to be the symbol of the homeland, Israel had ceased to exist and the history of Israel came to an end." This was written in 1958 (see E. Fleischner, Judaism in German Christian Theology (1975), 31). Similar lines derived from classical Christian theology can be found in other New Testament scholars, such as Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann. Much Christian thought has held that if Jesus Christ is the last word, the New Testament is in the final analysis a rejection of the Old Testament. Christians continue to believe that the Old Testament can only be seen through the prism of the New Testament, although the original meaning and significance of the Old Testament is becoming known to growing circles of contemporary Christians, thanks to the insights of much of modern Christian Bible scholarship. The Vatican ii declaration, Nostra aetate, stated: "The Church of Christ acknowledges that the beginnings of her faith and her election are already found among the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God designed to establish the ancient covenant" (H. Kroner, Stepping-Stones to further Jewish-Christian Relations: An Unabridged Collection of Christian Documents (1977), 1).

This has been the signal for radical changes in the Catholic Church and within 20 years great strides have been made to introduce the Catholic masses to the Old Testament – to the chagrin of certain Arab Christian circles, for example in Lebanon and Egypt, which would prefer to see the Old Testament cut off, relegated, and ignored. It is not to be expected, however, that the traditional thrust of Christian interpretation can be dropped. For example, even the positive 1973 document of the Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations set up by French Catholic bishops, after stating that Christians must understand the Jewish tradition, must study the whole Bible and that the first covenant was not invalidated by the latter, continues "It is true that the Old Testament renders its meaning to us only in the light of the New Testament" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 62).

There are also significant individual voices. The Catholic Cornelius Rijk wrote that the biblical renewal in Christian thinking is of the most utmost importance and the theology is becoming more biblical. To Rijk (in a paper on "The Theology of Judaism") the whole Bible – Old and New Testaments – is gospel because the whole Bible throws the light of God's spirit on human history, revealing God and the covenant relationship. Or, as simply put in the Guidelines on Relations with Jews issued by the Vatican in 1974, "The same God speaks in the Old Testament and the New Testament" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones…, 13). On the Protestant side, Markus Barth has written:

Every page of the New Testament has a quotation or concept from the Old Testament – not merely as timeless symbols or apologetic proof from prophecy but because they saw their good news as the continuation and coronation of God's history with Israel. The Old Testament is cited in the New Testament as an invitation to listen to the dialogue between God and Israel – and to join in it (M. Barth, Jesus the Jew (1978), 24).

As simply put by Paul Van Buren, "The Bible reminds us we are not the first to be called" (P. Van Buren, Discerning the Way (1980, 156). Mention should be made of the very special significance of the Old Testament for African Christians. Africans identify with the Old Testament and its rituals (such as sacrifice) and this sometimes brings them into conflict with missionaries who emphasize a Christianity based on the New Testament and European cultural taste. Africans want to embrace the Old Testament literally – such as its marriage customs and its emphasis on community – and find inspiration and sustenance in the Exodus theme of Liberation (J. Mbiti, "African Christians and the Jewish Religion," in: Christian Attitudes on Jews and Judaism (October 1977), 1–4).

the pharisees

Moving forward into New Testament times, we find attempts to reach new understandings concerning the Pharisees – although the offensive tones linger, for example, the equation of Pharisaism with hypocrisy. But there are more original views. Paul Tillich has explained that the Pharisees were the pious ones of their times and they represented the Law of God, the preparatory revelation without which the final revelation could not have happened (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology (1978), 77). Guidelines laid down by the American Catholic bishops make a point of rejecting the identification of Pharisaism with hypocrisy (E. Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice (1977), 26).

The American Catholic Eugene Fisher writes that modern scholarship has reclaimed the image of the Pharisees and depicted them as they really were (of course this started long before the period we are dealing with, with scholars such as Travers Herford and George Foote Moore). Fisher quotes talmudic condemnations of hypocrisy and adds that Jesus' condemnations of hypocrisy are typical Pharisaic preaching. "To understand the teaching of Jesus," he writes, "one must be open to the teaching of the Pharisees, for in many ways he showed himself to be one of them" (E. Fisher, ibid., 52).

Another American theologian, Father Gregory Baum, notes two directions in which the New Testament was deliberately distorted against the Jews:

(1) Passages that were specifically directed to the Jews of Jesus' time were only later malevolently applied to all Jewish people;

(2) Prophetic passages made for purposes of propaganda of faith and not intended as literal descriptions of 1st-century Judaism received anti-Jewish meanings when repeated by gentile Christians as judgments on the Jewish religion (Introduction to R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide((1974), 2).

jesus the jew

The American writer Norman Cousins has commented that Jews and Christians have at least one thing in common: both have been unwilling publicly to live with the idea that Jesus was a Jew (see Journal of Ecumenical Studies (Fall 1984), 602). And Roy Eckhardt has written that antisemitism is in part the war of Christians against Jesus the Jew (A.R. Eckhardt, Elder and Younger Brothers (1973), 22). This implies that antisemitism is the triumph of the pagan in Christianity over the Judaic.

This attitude was reflected in the Ten Points of Seeligsberg in 1947 which stated: "Remember that Jesus was born of a Jewish mother of the seed of David and the people of Israel, and that his everlasting love and forgiveness embrace his own people and the whole world" (P. Schneider, Sweeter Than Honey (1966), 71). However, subsequently the subject has been handled gingerly and obliquely in official documents.

Individual theologians are prepared to go much farther. Eugene Fisher quotes a Catholic bishop preaching in Chicago in 1931 who dared to say Christ was a Jew. He was greeted with boos and hisses and a woman called out, "You're not a bishop. You're a rabbi." "Thank you, madam," he replied, "that's just what they called Our Lord." We need, says Fisher, to correct our traditional [Christian] teaching that sought to approach Jesus in isolation from his people, for the denial of Jesus' Jewishness is a denial of his humanity. To miss the distinctively Jewish context of his teaching is to miss the point entirely (E.

Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice, 30). Markus Barth in his Jesus the Jew enumerates Jesus' characteristics and ways of behavior which are typically Jewish:

(1) He cannot be dissuaded from respecting the Jews as the Chosen People. He held on to his God, even in his hour of death, and to the Law which he quoted to the end. He was a body-and-soul member of the Jewish community.

(2) He affirmed creation, and did not denounce the earth as a vale of tears. God's election calls for decisions and deeds.

(3) He eschewed any cheap optimism. He knew the world was unredeemed. He did not preach original sin. He proclaimed forgiveness, healing, revival.

"We cannot believe in Jesus," writes Barth, "without tending love and loyalty to the people out of which he came and whose mission among other peoples he confirmed for all times" (M. Barth, Jesus the Jew, 31).

Christian writers also now stress the fact that Jesus' message was, after all, to the Jews. Hans Küng writes: "Christendom has asserted that Jesus Christ was a human being – but is not so ready to admit he was a Jewish human being." At the time, in the situation, he could not have thought of proclamation to the gentiles. Küng shows Jesus' message as very much a critique of the Judaism of his time, but stresses his message was to Jews; without Judaism there would be no Christianity, and only with Judaism has Christianity a relationship of origin (H. Küng, "Pseudo-Theology about the Jews," in: Christian Attitudes on Jews and Judaism (June, 1977), 1ff.). Of course, allied to this is the Jewishness of the Apostles and Nostra aetate recalls that the Apostles and early disciples sprang from the Jewish people.

Arab Christians tend to read the statement that Jesus was a Jew as Jesus was an Israeli, and Arab Christian scholars often protest any reflection on the Jewish origin and character of Jesus.

the death of jesus

On the subject of Jewish guilt for the crucifixion, the traditional concepts so deeply ingrained in the Christian conscience will not be expunged in a decade or two. The Catholic sister Charlotte Klein in her Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology quotes many sources, mostly German, who continue to take the New Testament literally, while expressing her surprise that these New Testament scholars do not detect the hand of the redactor in the Gospel stories. For example, Martin Dibelius writes "Out of Judaism grew the hostility that led to Jesus' death. In this sentence of death, Judaism passed judgment on itself," (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology (1978), 112) and Leonhard Goppelt states that in the Jews' rejection of him, Jesus saw the conclusion of the conflict between God and Israel (ibid., 97).

But there are new directions, clearly laid down by the Vatican Declaration: "Not all that happened in Jesus' passion can be charged against all Jews then alive nor the Jews today. Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed" (Biblical Studies, edited by L. Boadt, H. Kroner, and L. Klenicki (1980)).

Fisher cites the 16th-century Catechism to the Council of Trent which reads: "In this guilt (i.e., the crucifixion) are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for as our sins consigned Christ to death on the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity crucify to themselves again the son of God as far as in them lies and make a mockery of him. This guilt seems more enormous in us than in the Jews since according to the testimony of the apostle, if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; while we, on the contrary, professing to know him, yet denying him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on him." Fisher notes that the essential Christian teaching has been that all humanity theologically is responsible for the death of Jesus. The same Council of Trent also declared that the crucifixion was Christ's free decision. Thus, guidelines were laid down long ago. The need is not to evolve a new theology but to teach the old (E. Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice, 76).

the election

We now come to the theological core of the Jewish-Christian relationship. The issues dealt with so far have been peripheral to Christian theology, even if they have had such a grim impact on Jewish history. But the question that arises after the crucifixion is basic – the election of Christianity and its assumption of the covenant between man and God. Hitherto, the Jews had been the chosen, the elected people with whom God had made His covenant. What was now the relationship between the new trinity – God, Judaism, and Christianity? With the New Covenant, what was the status, if any, of the Old? The key text here is Romans 9–11. Paul writes that God has brought forth the church from among the gentiles as well as the Jews but He has not cast off Israel and has not rejected the people He acknowledged of old as His own. Salvation has come to the gentiles to stir Israel to emulation. Paul's famous metaphor states "If the root is consecrated so are the branches … it is not you who sustain the root, the root sustains you." After the gentiles have been admitted in full strength, the whole of Israel will be saved.

Paul discerns great continuities between the Church and Israel but the effective discontinuity is greater. This basic text has been quoted and interpreted in many ways. Debate raged as to whether this means that the Jews were rejected, which is the thrust of classical Christian theology still to be heard today in fundamentalist circles – again, especially in Europe. Baum has stated that the anti-Jewish documents are deeply woven into the significant documents of the Christian religion and its expression of faith. At one time, he sought to show that the anti-Jewish trends were later developments in Church history but had to change his mind, recognizing that already New Testament passages reflect the conflict of Church and Synagogue in the first century. "As long as the Christian Church regards itself as the successor of Israel, as the new people of God, no theological space is left for other faiths and especially the Jewish religion," he writes. According to this exposition, the religion of Israel has been superseded, the Torah abrogated, its promises fulfilled in the Christian Church, and the Jews struck with blindness (G. Baum, in: R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, 1ff.).

Writing about the Protestant standpoint in 1978, Charlotte Klein finds that German theological books continue to start from the theses that Judaism has been superseded and replaced by Christianity; has scarcely any right to exist; its teachings and ethical values are inferior to Christianity; and so on. She gives some citations:

With the loss of the Temple, the last tie with the homeland was broken and the Jews as a people ceased to exist. Post-exilic Judaism is unhistorical and if it acts as a nation and intervenes in history, this merely shows its lack of trust in God. Obstinacy and guilt deprive the Jews of salvation. The Jews of today are different from those of the Old Testament. Not only did they not enter the plane of fulfillment, but are in opposition to it. (Leonhard Goppelt) (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology, 30).

This line of thinking is significant in indicating the theological rationale for Christian anti-Judaism, anti-Zionism to be found in certain Protestant circles and which has been encountered, for example, in World Council of Churches contexts. Michael Schmaus, author of the authoritative eight-volume Katholische Dogmatik writes:

Israel is obsolete and its existence meaningless. Its only eschatological hope is redemption by Christ. The tragedy of the Jews, indeed their guilt, lies in the fact that they do not regard themselves as precursors. Consequently, God's curse lies upon them. Israel can neither live nor die; only wait, blinded and hardened. (Michael Schmaus, Katholische Dogmatik (1959)).

Jews have forfeited all claims to be the Chosen People. Jesus' Jewish origin is merely of historical significance. Since his coming, the God whom the Jews worship is no longer the same as the God of the Christians. The Jews, in fact, are the synagogue of Satan and there is no possible way of Jew and Christian working together. The only possible relationship is the missionary one. (J.G. Mehl) (E. Fleischner, Judaism in German Christian Theology, 75).

But here too there are voices who reject "rejection" and, most important, these include official documents which represent Church thinking. For the Catholics, Nostra aetate was a landmark in that it explored the Church's continuity with Israel, referring to the "people of God," "the stock of Abraham," "election," "promise," and "covenantal revelation" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 1ff.). The 1974 Guidelines issued by the Vatican state that the history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem but it has continued to develop traditions rich in religious value (M.-T. Hoch and B. Dupuy, Les Eglises devant le Judaïsme (1980), 360). The Pastoral Council of Catholic Churches in the Netherlands stated: "The Jewish people has a special place in the Church's faith. They can never simply be equated with non-Christian peoples. The Church knows that she cannot be the Church for all nations without being connected with the living Jewish people of today" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 49).

The American bishops in 1975 said that the Church can understand its own nature only in dialogue with Judaism (E. Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice, 27), and there are documents from other countries in the same spirit. This revolution in Catholic thinking has been one of the major achievements in the Catholic-Jewish relationship since the 1960s.

On the Protestant side, the theology is not so monolithic, which makes it easier for extreme liberalism and extreme conservatism to sit side by side. The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches in 1968 stated that the separation between the Church and the Jewish people has never been absolute. God formed the people of Israel and it was God's own will and decision that made this one distinct people with its special place in history. The Jewish people still maintain their significance for the Church. They make it manifest that God has not abandoned them. "We reject the thought that their suffering down the ages is any proof of guilt. Why, in God's purpose, they have suffered in that way, we as outsiders do not know. What we do know, however, is the guilt of the Christians who have all too often stood on the side of the persecutors instead of the persecuted." It states that there is a difference of opinion among the Protestant Churches as to whether the Church is a continuation of Israel as the people of God or whether Israel is still God's elect people (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 74ff.).

The Swiss Protestant Churches in 1977 said that Israel and the Church coexist united in many ways, but divided on basic points. It lists the dividing points as: the Jewish attitude to Jesus; the blame attached by many Christians to the Jews for the crucifixion, for the stress on justice rather than grace, for insistence on ritual law; and because some Christians have seen Jews as cursed, to the extent of extermination. The two have also been divided by Church attitudes on the Holocaust and the State of Israel. The uniting points include: the Jewishness of Jesus and of his teachings; the Old Testament basis of the New Testament; the fact that the Church issued out of Judaism; that the first Christians were Jews; and that Christianity has taken many practices from Judaism (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 238ff.).

Most liberal thinkers mentioned have expressed themselves against the concept of rejection. James Parkes was a pioneer in challenging the idea that the Church is successor to the Synagogue, suggesting that Judaism is not an alternative scheme of salvation but a different sort of religion. The fundamental difference is that Judaism is directed to man as a social being while Christianity is directed to man as a personal being. Christianity seeks to transform man; Judaism, to transform society (A.R. Eckardt, Elder and Younger Brothers, 82ff.).

In the German Catholic scholar Franz Muessner's "Traktaet ueber die Juden," we hear for the first time a Catholic priest, who is not a radical, express far-reaching ideas on the subject. His stated object is to prove that Judaism is a living reality which exists rightfully side by side with the Churches. Israel was not only the matrix of Christianity at its origin but remains at the root of the Church today. God's covenant with Israel was not abrogated by a later covenant. He also stresses the special role of the Land of Israel in the religion of the Jews (a subject to which we will return). Christians are not bound to a special country, but the land does form an integral part of Israel's election and covenant. In Judaism, religion, nationhood, and land cannot be separated (Christian-Jewish Relations, No. 71 (June 1980), 23ff.).

One of the main theological issues that has divided Christianity and Judaism has been Christianity's stress on grace at the expense of Law. There remains among the conservative Christians a consistent line, condemning the law and its observance. These translate Torah as "law" and give it pejorative implications. Many could still be living in earlier periods of Christendom. Charlotte Klein quotes a whole succession of writers who have no understanding of law as a spiritual confrontation with God the lawgiver. Père Benoit writes that it is the fault of the Jews that in its historic realization, the system of the law failed, and that God's help and grace are no longer given to the Jew (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism, 66.). Time and again we meet the same polemics, but there are also those who admit that law presupposes God's gift of grace to men and is itself grace.

And here on the positive side, we may quote one of the most influential of books on the subject, Rosemary Ruether's Faith and Fratricide. She points out that the original criticism of Jesus against legalistic aspects was internal Jewish criticism, Jew against Jew. So, if applied today, criticism of legalism and hypocrisy should be applied internally, to one's own people and to Church leaders, and not directed to another people with which the Church no longer identifies. This will recover the valid prophetic critique of the New Testament. The modern equivalent of Pharisees, she suggests, is theologians. She says that the most difficult schism to criticize is alleged Jewish particularism against so-called Christian universalism. What was seen once as the universal mission of the Church is on the wane and today survives mainly in Western imperialism and neocolonialism. Christianity has only conquered completely within the area that is heir to the Greco-Roman tradition; so from a world perspective, Christianity is highly particularistic, one particularism among many other particularisms. On the other hand, universalism and particularism are two sides of the relationship between Judaism and other peoples, with what is generally expressed through the concept of the Noachide laws.

She makes an important point regarding the effect of terminology. Compare Christian language concerning itself and Judaism, and pejorative connotations regarding the latter are apparent. Here are some relevant pairs: old and obsolescent/new; law, legalism, judgment/love, grace; universalism/particularism; eschatology/perfidy; spirit/letter. According to dictionaries "Christian" is a synonym for "humanitarian" and "Jew" for miser or cheat. Brought up and educated in such terminology, the Christian has an inbred attitude of superiority to Judaism, although not always realizing the implication of his everyday terminology (R. Ruether, Faith and Fraticide, 246).

mission to the jews

The subject of mission remains a thorny question in Christian-Jewish relations. The traditional position is clear. The Jew existed, and was allowed to continue to exist, as an object of mission. The non-Christianization of the Jews delayed the Second Coming and therefore mission to the Jew was integral to the Christian plan. Certain Christian enthusiasm for Zionism has not been out of identification with Zionism per se but out of the belief that the return of the Jews to their land was one step before their Christianization and two steps from the Second Coming. Such ideas are frequently heard in the context of fundamentalist evangelical theology.

Christianity, then, has been dominated by the hope for the conversion of the Jews. But new voices, formulations, and attitudes are making themselves heard in liberal Christian circles. There is, for example, the demand that there be no active proselytization, and there is the conviction that any hope of conversion should be deferred and left in the realm of eschatology, with a belief that the whole concept should be recognized as a mystery of God. Man should leave it to the Divine and, until such time as God makes Himself manifest on this issue, we should recognize and respect each other, walking side by side on our respective paths to God. This parallels the approach on the Jewish side by *Rosenzweig and *Buber. Most recently this has been beautifully expressed by Paul Van Buren. "The desire to share a blessing can be commended," he says, "and so the desire to show other gentiles that there is a Way through the mess of this world is to be commended. But the Jews are already in the Way. The only proper call is to a secularized Jew, calling him to be faithful to the Way of his people" (P. Van Buren, Discerning the Way, 53.).

Whether the mission to Jews is special or is the same as mission to other non-Christians is an oft-discussed question. Old-school theologians say that there is no difference; Judaism has lost its privileges and is in the same league as paganism. Others say Israel is no longer among the peoples of the world, but that it occupies a unique privileged position. Reinhold Niebuhr, who is seminal to contemporary liberal Christian thinking on Jews, wrote that missions are wrong because the two faiths, despite differences, are sufficiently alike for the Jew to find God more easily in terms of his own religious heritage than by subjecting himself to the hazards of guilt feeling involved in the conversion to a faith which, whatever its merits, must appear to him as a symbol of an oppressive majority culture (A.T. Davies (ed.), Anti-Semitism and the Christian Mind (1969), 145).

There are also voices from the Catholic side. Hans Küng has written: "The Church can never seriously take up the task of missionizing the Jews. The Gospel cannot be presented as something alien and external to them. They have never been guilty of false faith. In fact, before the Church existed, they believed in the one true God" (H. Küng, The Church (1967), 142). Paul Démann has distinguished between Israel and missionizable people. The Christian missionary task is to implant and give flesh to the gospel in a soil that has been alien. Since Israel is the mother soil out of which Christianity has grown, the concept of mission is not applicable. We must shift, he says, from a missionizing to an ecumenical outlook. This is easier among Catholics than among Protestants because missionary work among Jews has been less organized and more sporadic among the Catholics (E. Fleischner, Judaism in German Christian Theology, 31). An important Catholic statement, made by Tommaso Federici, said that the Church rejects all forms of proselytism (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 371ff.). Indeed, another major post-Vatican ii development has been the cessation of Catholic missionary activities aimed at Jews. In the words of Gregory Baum: "After Auschwitz, the Christian churches no longer wish to convert the Jews as this would only reinforce the Holocaust. Major churches have come to repudiate mission to the Jews and to recognize Judaism as an authentic religion before God" (G. Baum, in Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era, edited by E. Fleischner, New York 1977, 113). The Dutch Catholic bishops in their 1970 statement said that any intention or design for proselytism must be rejected as contrary to human dignity (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 197ff.).

Far less satisfactory, by and large, are the official Protestant statements. Many of these continue to be rooted in past prejudices and sometimes betray little awareness of post-Holocaust sensitivities. Of course, the pluralistic composition of Protestantism must be remembered, with the impossibility of an ex cathedra statement at the top and with the input of variegated churches, including the less liberal, from below.

The document of the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948 is ambivalent. There were conflicting statements by two subcommittees, and they were both put in without any attempt to reconcile them. On the one hand, it stated: "To the Jews, our God has bound us in a special solidarity, linking us together in His design. We will call upon all our churches to make this concern their own." Those who wished to pursue dialogue have seized on this text. But the document also says: "Jesus Christ said, 'Go ye into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.' The fulfillment of this commission requires that we include the Jewish people in our evangelistic task. The Church has received its spiritual heritage from Israel and is in honor bound to render it back in the light of the Cross. We have, therefore, to proclaim to the Jews, 'The Messiah for whom you wait has come.'" It goes on to express regret that the mission to the Jewish people, the first Mission of the Church, has been neglected – but states it should now be a regular part of parish work and churches should have special ministers for this task.

The World Council of Churches' 1968 Faith and Order Commission also spoke in two voices, although in some ways it was an improvement on the earlier pronouncement. "If we stress the Church as the body of Jesus Christ," it says, "the Jews are outside and the Church's mission is to bring them to acceptance of Christ. The Church and the Jewish people can be thought of as forming the one people of God and the attitude to Jews should be different from that to other non-believers. We reject proselytising in the sense of the corruption of witness, in cajolery, undue pressure, or intimidation or improper words" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 81–82).

According to the "Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue," issued by the World Council of Churches' Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies in 1983, "Christians are called to witness to their faith in word and deed. The Church has a mission and it cannot be otherwise. Christians have often distorted their witness by coercive proselytism … rejection of proselytism and advocacy of respect for the integrity and identity of all persons and all communities of faith are urgent in relation to Jews, especially those who live as minorities among Christians. Steps towards assuring non-coercive practices are of highest importance" ("Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue," World Council of Churches (1983), 9). The Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in 1984 recommended a statement which repudiated "organized proselytising" of Jews ("Luther, Lutheranism and the Jews," Lutheran World Federation (1983), 9).

The Rhineland Protestant Synod of 1980 came out with a statement: "We believe that Jews and Christians in their calling are witnesses of God in front of the world and in front of each other. Therefore, we are convinced that the Church has the testimony to bring its mission to other people – but not to the Jewish people."

This conclusion stirred up strong opposition in Germany where theological circles often stand strongly behind mission. A widespread counter document to the Rhineland Synod was published by a group of well-known theology scholars at the University of Bonn. It stresses the importance of mission. The gospel of Christ is for all people, it says, and the Church cannot give up the idea of teaching gospel to all people" (B. Klappert and H. Starck (eds.), Umkehr und Erneuerung (1980), 256; Erwagungen zur kirchlichen Handsreichung zur Erneurung des Verhältnisses von Christen und Juden, Evangelisch-Theologisches Seminar der Rheinisches Friedrich-Wilhelm Universitat Bonn, May 1980).

antisemitism and the holocaust

This subject requires a separate essay; a few individual insights may be mentioned. In various writings, Rosemary Ruether has explained that modern radical antisemitism is not a direct continuation of Christian anti-Judaism, but Christianity provided the essential background for this development. Without 20 centuries of Christian vilification of the Jews it is impossible to understand why it was the Jews, rather than some other group, that became the main Nazi victims. Christian anti-Judaism was not genocidal in the modern sense; in Christian terms, the final solution of the Jewish problem was conversion.

The Church, which fomented a cultural myth about the Jew as Christ killer, must now meet itself as Jew killer. Those who pursued the Jews for deicide are now guilty of at least laying the ground for genocide. In the long run, Rosemary Ruether has been deeply pessimistic. She suspected that anti-Judaism was too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out without destroying the whole structure (A. Davies (ed.), Anti-Semitism and the Foundations of Christianity (1979), 230ff.; R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, 11ff., 227ff.).

Many Christian scholars have been concerned with the chain leading from Christian antisemitism to Auschwitz. Roy Eckhardt lists in parallel columns Nazi law and Canon anti-Jewish law, showing them to be virtually identical. "Streicher" he says, "was simply carrying out what Luther had summoned any believer to do" (A.R. Eckhardt, Elder and Younger Brothers, 12.). It should be mentioned that the Lutheran Synod of New York has disavowed the antisemitic views of Luther and called upon its council to submit a declaration expressing their regrets to the Jewish people for the harm done by Christians to the Jewish people, especially that nourished by the views of Luther. It states that Luther's "On the Jews and Their Lies" is in flagrant contradiction of the New Testament and for four centuries has been cited by antisemites to justify the persecution of the Jewish people. It regrets that it has just been published in English, as part of the complete works of Luther, and calls for any profits made by the sale of the book to be used to fight antisemitism (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 141–42). The Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in 1984 recommended a statement rejecting Luther's anti-Jewish views (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises).

Christians of all colors and denominations have expressed their condemnation of antisemitism – "a sin against God and man," as the World Council of Churches stated in 1948, also saying, "In the light of antisemitism and gas chambers, Christian words have become suspect in the ears of most Jews." However, some of the condemnations are tepid and remind us of Eckhardt's comment on Vatican ii's remarks about the Jews: "They would have redeemed a little in the 13th century" (A.T. Davies (ed.), Anti-Semitism and the Christian Mind (1969), 43). Another American Christian scholar, Franklin Littell, has published extensively on the responsibility of German Christianity in making the Holocaust possible.

Various writers feel that despite efforts on the part of ecclesiastical authorities and some theologians, not much in the Church's attitude to Jews has really changed. Charlotte Klein concludes that Christian postwar theology speaks of Judaism as it did before the War, certainly in the European ambience in which she specializes (C. Klein, Anti-Judaism, 13). Since she wrote, however, the Synod of Protestant Christians in the Rhineland has stated unequivocally that Christians were guilty and co-responsible for the Holocaust, for the persecution and murder of Jews (Klappert and Starck, Umkehr und Erneuerung, 264).

zionism and israel

With reference to attitudes to Zionism and the State of Israel, this too is a full subject. The situation is complex and a few haphazard quotations would be a distortion. Therefore a selection of some official Church pronouncements follows.

Vatican statements avoid or skirt the subject while the statements of the World Council of Churches are, for Jews, highly disappointing. Its 1948 statement remarked that a Jewish State threatens to complicate antisemitism with political fears and enmities. It failed to mention the problem of the refugees and the Holocaust survivors (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 71ff.). By 1968 its Faith and Order Commission had to mention the State, "an event of tremendous importance for the great majority, giving them a new feeling of self-assurance," but also with evenhandedness it adds that it has brought suffering and injustice to the Arab people (ibid., 74–75). The World Council of Churches' International 1974 Consultation on Biblical Interpretation and the Middle East carefully sets out the contrasting positions: it mentions first those who hold that the Old Testament has no specific bearing on the Middle East today. In their opinion one cannot speak of the theological or biblical relation between the modern State of Israel and the ancient state of Israel, or of the promise of the land and its present occupancy; nor is there any connection between the election of the people of Israel in the Old Testament and the Jewish community in the world today. It then quotes the opposing view that God's promises are irrevocable and that there is a theological foundation for a national self-expression on the part of the Jewish people in the land. Far from being nullified or transmuted by the Christ event, these promises and events are seen as confirming the faithfulness of God. The report of the Consultation focused on the question of justice, seeking equal justice for both the Palestinian people and the Jewish people in the Middle East. It called for mutual recognition and equality, with freedom and self-determination for both parties (documents published by World Council of Churches, Program Unit in Faith and Witness, March 11, 1974). The 1983 "Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish Christian Dialogue" of the wcc acknowledges the links between the Jews and their land saying "there was no time in which the memory of the Land of Israel and Zion, the city of Jerusalem, was not central in the worship and hope of the Jewish People," adding that "the continued presence of Jews in the Land and in Jerusalem was always more than just one place of residence among all the others." It goes on to say, "Now the quest for statehood by Palestinians Christians and Muslims – as part of their search for survival as a people in the Land – also calls for full attention" ("Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue," World Council of Churches (1983), 8).

A different angle was conveyed in the 1970 statement of the Dutch Reformed Church on "Israel: people, land and state." It opens its statement: "Today the State of Israel is one of the forms in which the Jewish people appear. We would be closing our eyes to reality if we were to think about the Jewish people without taking the State of Israel into consideration." It develops the statement that Israel was always convinced that the Land was an essential element of the covenant and being allowed to dwell in the Land was a visible sign of God's election and a concrete form of salvation. The enforced separation of people and land has been abnormal. Then the statement executes some curious acrobatics, with: "This cannot be said of the city of Jerusalem or of the independent state, which were not inherent in Israel's election. The special importance of Jerusalem was based on the place of the sanctuary, chosen by God; the city of the Davidic kingdom as a symbol for the land and the people…." "We do not know," it continues, "if Jerusalem still has eschatological significance…. We rejoice in the reunion of the people and the land. But this is not to imply that this is the final stage of history or that the people can never again be expelled from its land. God's promise is people-land, not people-State. Perhaps some time in the future Jews could live unhindered without forming a specifically Jewish state, but as of now only a State safeguards the existence of the people and offers them a chance to be truly themselves" (H. Kroner, Stepping Stones, 94ff.).

The Swiss Protestant Churches in 1977 also addressed themselves to the theme. Zionism, their statement says, is a movement with biblical roots. Many Christians, and especially Jews, see in the foundation of the State, the fulfillment of certain prophecies. Others, Jews and Christians, only see in it a political act originating in human and political problems. The Swiss take a midway stand, stating that the birth of the State was good news for some, bad news for others. "If we are concerned for the Jewish people, we are also concerned for the Palestinians," and proceeds to balance the two. On Jerusalem, it is positive. "We know the Israeli government is making great effort to adapt itself to the situation but it is impossible to satisfy all interested." It pays tribute to Israel's care for the Holy Places and notes that there is more religious freedom in the country today than under the British or Jordanians (Hoch and Dupuy, Les Eglises, 236ff.).

Other Christian statements, many emanating from the United States, have expressed a deep understanding of the State of Israel and its significance for the Jewish people and for Jewish-Christian relations. One of the most recent, issued by the National Conference of Brazilian Catholic Bishops, says that "we must recognize the rights of the Jews to a calm political existence in their country of origin, without letting that create injustice or violence for other peoples. For the Jewish people these rights become a reality in the existence of the State of Israel."

new insights

There has been argument as to whether one can speak of a "Judeo-Christian tradition." For Tillich, for example, this was an historical and present reality, not a pious fiction manufactured to promote goodwill between adherents of the two faiths. Jews and Christians, he maintained, are united insofar as both regard a unique series of events recorded in the Hebrew Bible as revelatory. They belong to each other in a special way: it may properly be said that Christianity is a Jewish heresy, and Judaism is a Christian heresy. Christianity will always need the corrective influence of Judaism. Judaism is a permanent ethical corrective of sacramental Christianity (B. Martin, "Tillich and Judaism," in Judaism, 15, 2 (Spring 1966), 180ff.).

Ruether finds the phrase "Judeo-Christian tradition" a misleading oversimplification. She calls on Judaism to reexamine its misunderstandings of Christianity: that it is polytheistic (as it sees the Trinity); that good works have no place in Christianity; that it espouses blind faith; that it is ascetic and otherworldly (in contrast to Jewish this-worldliness); that it is pessimistic; that it maintains belief in magic and superstition; that it believes only Christians can be saved. These, she finds, are Jewish misnomers. According to Pawlikowski, Christianity would be enriched from aspects of Jewish tradition, especially its affirmation of life, its sense of peoplehood and community, its positive valuation of sexuality, its close interweaving of prayer and social action, its sense of creation as a visible experience and locale of God's presence, its emphasis on dynamism over form in religious experiences. Ruether goes further. To accept Jewish covenantal existence, Christians must learn the story of the Jews after Jesus; they must accept the Oral Torah as an authentic alternative route by which the biblical past was appropriated and carried on. This requires the learning of a suppressed history (Journal of Ecumenical Studies (Fall, 1974), 614; R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, 257).

Another statement comes from Markus Barth: "The intervention by Jews on behalf of social justice, their generosity, their joy in work, their steadfastness in suffering shame us. Often they carry out what was entrusted to the Church. Their survival and security, in Israel or the Diaspora, is essential for the continuing existence and faith of the Church if the Church is not to become a pagan culture and social institution but is to represent, together with the Jews, the one people of God on earth" (M. Barth, Jesus the Jew, 39).

Krister Stendhal, former dean of Harvard Divinity School and now Bishop of Stockholm, has written:

Christian theology needs a new departure. We cannot find it on our own but only by the help of our Jewish colleagues. We must plead with them to help us. We must ask if they are willing, in spite of it all, to let us again become part of their family – relatives who believe themselves to be a peculiar kind of Jews. Something went wrong at the beginning. Is it not possible for us to recognize that we parted ways not according to but against the will of God (E. Fleischner, Judaism in German Christian Theology, 122).

Paul Van Buren, in his Discerning the Way, the first of a projected four-volume work on "the Jewish-Christian reality," puts it this way:

We define ourselves as gentiles by reference to the Jews because Our Way has no starting point and no possible projection except by reference to the Way in which Jews were walking before we started and are walking still. The first walkers who produced the Apostolic Writings were convinced that our Way could only be walked with the help provided by carrying with us the Book that Jesus and all his apostles had understood to be their one and only Scriptures – which St. Jerome liked to call the 'Hebrew truth.' That book, backed as it was by the continuing vitality of the Jewish people, most of whom at least hear it in its original tongue, reminds us that we are gentiles, not Jews, although gentiles who worship Israel's God. When we talk of God we mean the one called in the Scriptures 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' We mean always and only the God of Israel. In everything that has to do with our future movement along the Way, we are profoundly dependent upon the Jews. We use a Jewish vocabulary (such as 'law,' 'prophets,' 'creation,' 'covenant,' 'sin,' 'repentance,' 'holiness,' 'Sabbath,' 'judgment,' 'resurrection'). God's dealing with Israel made our walk possible in the first place. The Church developed the view that the Jews have been cast off and developed the teaching of contempt. The Holocaust and the foundation of Israel have forced a re-thinking. If God was not faithful to His people, why should we assume He will be any more faithful to the gentile Church? What is our final hope in the Jewish-Christian conversation? To be one? How? Not one assimilating the other. Maybe walking side by side. (P. Van Buren, Discerning the Way, 25ff.).

And a final Catholic voice – Cornelius Rijk (in a paper on "The Theology of Judaism"):

One critique of Vatican ii was that it spoke about Jews in Christian categories and showed no understanding for how Jews think about or see themselves. The later documents show development in this area, with their emphasis on reciprocity and their exclusion of proselytism. They emphasize the permanence of the religious values in Judaism and advocate social collaboration between the two religions because both have the concept of human dignity. Common involvement in the service of the world in the name of justice, covenant and charity is an efficient way of understanding each other, even on the theological level. Moreover, Jewish-Christian relations are essential for Christian unity as this unity cannot be attained without returning to the sources of Christianity.

appendixsome official documents


For the statement issued at the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, see *Church Fathers. Ten years later, the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued the following "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration":

The Declaration Nostra Aetate, issued by the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1965, "On the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" (n. 4), marks an important milestone in the history of Jewish-Christian relations.

Moreover, the step taken by the Council finds its historical setting in circumstances deeply affected by the memory of the persecution and massacre of Jews which took place in Europe just before and during the Second World War.

Although Christianity sprang from Judaism, taking from it certain essential elements of its faith and divine cult, the gap dividing them was deepened more and more, to such an extent that Christian and Jew hardly knew each other.

After two thousand years, too often marked by mutual ignorance and frequent confrontation, the Declaration Nostra Aetate provides an opportunity to open or to continue a dialogue with a view to better mutual understanding. Over the past nine years, many steps in this direction have been taken in various countries. As a result, it is easier to distinguish the conditions under which a new relationship between Jews and Christians may be worked out and developed. This seems the right moment to propose, following the guidelines of the Council, some concrete suggestions born of experience, hoping that they will help to bring into actual existence in the life of the Church the intentions expressed in the conciliar document.

While referring the reader back to this document, we may simply restate here that the spiritual bonds and historical links binding the Church to Judaism condemn (as opposed to the very spirit of Christianity) all forms of antisemitism and discrimination, which in any case the dignity of the human person alone would suffice to condemn. Further still, these links and relationships render obligatory a better mutual understanding and renewed mutual esteem. On the practical level in particular, Christians must therefore strive to acquire a better knowledge of the basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism: they must strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience.

With due respect for such matters of principle, we simply propose some first practical applications in different essential areas of the Church's life, with a view to launching or developing sound relations between Catholics and their Jewish brothers.


To tell the truth, such relations as there have been between Jew and Christian have scarcely ever risen above the level of monologue. From now on, real dialogue must be established.

Dialogue presupposes that each side wishes to know the other, and wishes to increase and deepen its knowledge of the other. It constitutes a particularly suitable means of favoring a better mutual knowledge and, especially in the case of dialogue between Jews and Christians, of probing the riches of one's own tradition. Dialogue demands respect for the other as he is; above all, respect for his faith and his religious convictions.

In virtue of her divine mission, and her very nature, the Church must preach Jesus Christ to the world (Ad Gentes, 2). Lest the witness of Catholics to Jesus Christ should give offense to Jews, they must take care to live and spread their Christian faith while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty, in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae). They will likewise strive to understand the difficulties which arise for the Jewish soul – rightly imbued with an extremely high, pure notion of the divine transcendence – when faced with the mystery of the incarnate Word.

While it is true that a widespread air of suspicion, inspired by an unfortunate past, is still dominant in this particular area, Christians for their part will be able to see to what extent the responsibility is theirs and deduce practical conclusions for the future.

In addition to friendly talks, competent people will be encouraged to meet and to study together the many problems deriving from the fundamental convictions of Judaism and of Christianity. In order not to hurt (even involuntarily) those taking part, it will be vital to guarantee, not only tact, but a great openness of spirit and diffidence with respect to one's own prejudices.

In whatever circumstances as shall prove possible and mutually acceptable, one might encourage a common meeting in the presence of God, in prayer and silent meditation, a highly efficacious way of finding that humility, that openness of heart and mind, necessary prerequisites for a deep knowledge of oneself and of others. In particular, that will be done in connection with great causes, such as the struggle for peace and justice.


The existing links between the Christian liturgy and the Jewish liturgy will be borne in mind. The idea of a living community in the service of God, and in the service of men for the love of God, such as it is realized in the liturgy, is just as characteristic of the Jewish liturgy as it is of the Christian one. To improve Jewish-Christian relations, it is important to take cognizance of those common elements of the liturgical life (formulas, feasts, rites, etc.) in which the Bible holds an essential place.

An effort will be made to acquire a better understanding of whatever in the Old Testament retains its own perpetual value (cf. Dei Verbum, 14–15), since that has not been canceled by the later interpretation of the New Testament. Rather, the New Testament brings out the full meaning of the Old, while both Old and New illumine and explain each other (cf. ibid., 16). This is all the more important since liturgical reform is now bringing the text of the Old Testament ever more frequently to the attention of Christians.

When commenting on biblical texts, emphasis will be laid on the continuity of our faith with that of the earlier Covenant, in the perspective of the promises, without minimizing those elements of Christianity which are original. We believe that those promises were fulfilled with the first coming of Christ. But it is nonetheless true that we still await their perfect fulfilment in His glorious return at the end of time.

With respect to liturgical readings, care will be taken to see that homilies based on them will not distort their meaning, especially when it is a question of passages which seem to show the Jewish people as such in an unfavorable light. Efforts will be made so to instruct the Christian people that they will understand the true interpretation of all the texts and their meaning for the contemporary believer.

Commissions entrusted with the task of liturgical translation will pay particular attention to the way in which they express those phrases and passages which Christians, if not well informed, might misunderstand because of prejudice. Obviously, one cannot alter the text of the Bible. The point is that, with a version destined for liturgical use, there should be an overriding preoccupation to bring out explicitly the meaning of a text, while taking scriptural studies into account. (Thus the formula "the Jews," in St. John sometimes according to the context means "the leaders of the Jews," or "the adversaries of Jesus," terms which express better the thought of the Evangelist and avoid appearing to arraign the Jewish people as such. Another example is the use of the words "Pharisee" and "Pharisaism," which have taken on a largely pejorative meaning.)

The preceding remarks also apply to the introductions to biblical readings, to the Prayer of the Faithful, and to commentaries printed in missals used by the laity.

Teaching and Education

Although there is still a great deal of work to be done, a better understanding of Judaism itself and its relationship to Christianity has been achieved in recent years thanks to the teaching of the Church, the study and research of scholars, as also to the beginning of dialogue. In this respect, the following facts deserve to be recalled:

It is the same God, "inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments" (Dei Verbum, 16), who speaks both in the old and new Covenants.

Judaism in the time of Christ and the Apostles was a complex reality, embracing many different trends, many spiritual, religious, social, and cultural values.

The Old Testament and the Jewish tradition founded upon it must not be set against the New Testament in such a way that the former seems to constitute a religion of only justice, fear, and legalism, with no appeal to the love of God and neighbor (cf. Dt 6:5; Lv 19:18; Mt 22:34–40).

Jesus was born of the Jewish people, as were his apostles and a large number of his first disciples. When he revealed himself as the Messiah and Son (cf. Mt 16:16), the bearer of the new Gospel message, he did so as the fulfillment and perfection of the earlier Revelation. And although his teaching had a profoundly new character, Christ, nevertheless, in many instances, took his stand on the teaching of the Old Testament. The New Testament is profoundly marked by its relation to the Old. As the Second Vatican Council declared: "God, the inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New" (Dei Verbum, 16). Jesus also used teaching methods similar to those employed by the rabbis of his time.

With regard to the trial and death of Jesus, the Council recalled that "what happened in his passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today" (Nostra Aetate).

The history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem, but rather went on to develop a religious tradition. And, although we believe that the importance and meaning of that tradition were deeply affected by the coming of Christ, it is nonetheless rich in religious values.

With the prophets and the apostle Paul, "the Church awaits the day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and serve Him with one accord (Soph 3:9)" (Nostra Aetate).

Information concerning these questions is important at all levels of Christian instruction and education. Among sources of information, special attention should be paid to the following: catechisms and religious textbooks, history books, the mass media (press, radio, movies, television).

The effective use of these means presupposes the thorough formation of instructors and educators in training schools, seminaries, and universities.

Research into the problems bearing on Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations will be encouraged among specialists, particularly in the fields of exegesis, theology, history, and sociology. Higher institutions of Catholic research, in association if possible with other similar Christian institutions and experts, are invited to contribute to the solution of such problems. Wherever possible, chairs of Jewish studies will be created, and collaboration with Jewish scholars encouraged.

Joint Social Action

Jewish and Christian tradition, founded on the word of God, is aware of the value of the human person, the image of God. Love of the same God must show itself in effective action for the good of mankind. In the spirit of the prophets, Jews and Christians will work willingly together, seeking social justice and peace at every level – local, national, and international.

At the same time, such collaboration can do much to foster mutual understanding and esteem.


The Second Vatican Council has pointed out the path to follow in promoting deep fellowship between Jews and Christians. But there is still a long road ahead.

The problem of Jewish-Christian relations concerns the Church as such, since it is when "pondering her own mystery" that she encounters the mystery of Israel. Therefore, even in areas where no Jewish communities exist, this remains an important problem. There is also an ecumenical aspect to the question: the very return of Christians to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted onto the earlier Covenant, helps the search for unity in Christ, the cornerstone.

In this field, the bishops will know what best to do on the pastoral level, within the general disciplicary framework of the Church and in line with the common teaching of her magisterium. For example, they will create some suitable commissions or secretariats on a national or regional level, or appoint some competent person to promote the implementation of the conciliar directives and the suggestions made above.

On October 22, 1974, the Holy Father instituted for the universal Church this Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, joined to the Secretariat for promoting Christian Unity. This special Commission, created to encourage and foster religious relations between Jews and Catholics – and to do so eventually in collaboration with other Christians – will be, within the limits of its competence, at the service of all interested organizations, providing information for them, and helping them to pursue their task in conformity with the instructions of the Holy See."

Various Bishops' Conferences have issued their guidelines for local implementation of the Vatican documents. One of the recent ones, issued by the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops issued in 1983, reads as follows:

orientations for catholic-jewish dialogue

National Commission for Catholic-Jewish Religious Dialogue: cnbb National Conference of Brazilian Bishops)

After twenty centuries of co-existence which were given a particular hall-mark by the events in Europe which preceded and accompanied the Second World War, a new awareness of the origins and history of both Judaism and Christianity demonstrates the need for reconciliation between Jews and Christians. This reconciliation must take the form of dialogue, inspired by a healthy desire for knowledge of one another, together with mutual understanding.

It is indispensable for dialogue that Catholics should strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves, that is to say, as a people clearly defined by religious and ethnic elements.

The first constitutive element of the Jewish people is its religion, which in no way authorizes Catholics to envisage them as if they were simply one of the many religions in the world today. It was in fact through the Jewish people that faith in the one true God, that is to say, monotheism, has entered into human history.

It should be noted, on the other hand, that according to biblical revelation, God himself constituted the Hebrews as a people. The Lord did this after having made a covenant with them (cf. Gen. 17:7; Ex. 24:1–8). We are indebted to the Jewish people for the five books of the Law, the Prophets and the other sacred books which make up the Hebrew Scriptures that have been adopted by Christians as an integral part of the Bible.

Judaism cannot be considered as a purely social and historical reality or as a left-over from a past which no longer exists. We must take into account the vitality of the Jewish people which has continued throughout the centuries to the present. St. Paul bears witness that the Jews have a zeal for God (Rom. 10:2); that God has not rejected his people (Rom. 11:1ff); He has not withdrawn the blessing given to the chosen people (Rom. 9:8). St. Paul teaches also that the Gentiles, like a wild olive shoot, have been grafted onto the true olive tree which is Israel (Rom. 11:16–19); Israel continues to play an important role in the history of salvation, a role which will end in the fulfillment of the plan of God (Rom. 11:11, 15, 23).

It is thus possible for us to state that all forms of antisemitism must be condemned. Every unfavorable word and expression must be erased from Christian speech. All campaigns of physical or moral violence must cease. The Jews cannot be considered as a deicide people. The fact that a small number of Jews asked Pilate for Jesus' death does not implicate the Jewish people as such. In the final analysis, Christ died for the sins of all humanity in general. Christian love, moreover, which embraces all persons without distinction, in imitation of the Father's love (Matt. 5:44–48), should likewise embrace the Jewish people and seek to understand their history and aspirations.

Particularly in catechetical teaching and in the liturgy, unfavorable judgments with regard to the Jews must be avoided. It is desirable that courses in Catholic doctrinal formation, in addition to liturgical celebrations, should emphasize those elements common to Jews and to Christians. It should be pointed out, for example, that the New Testament cannot be understood without the Old Testament. The Christian feasts of Easter and Pentecost, as well as liturgical prayers, the Psalms especially, originated in Jewish tradition.

A contrast must not be made between Judaism and Christianity, claiming, for example, that Judaism is a religion of fear while Christianity is one of love. We find, in fact, in the holy books of Israel the origins of the expressions of the great love which exists between God and humanity (Deut. 6:4; 7:6–9; Pss. 73–139; Hos. 11; Jer. 31:2ff; 19–22; 33:6–9).

It is fitting to recall, as well, that the Lord Jesus, his holy Mother, the apostles and the first Christian communities were of the race of Abraham. The roots of Christianity are in the people of Israel.

In what concerns the land of Israel, it is well to remember that, as the fruit of his promise, God gave the ancient land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants in which the Jews lived. The Roman occupation and successive invasions of the land of Israel resulted in harsh trials for the people who were dispersed among foreign nations. We must recognize the rights of the Jews to a calm political existence in their country of origin, without letting that create injustice or violence for other peoples. For the Jewish people these rights become a reality in the existence of the State of Israel.

We should emphasize, finally, the eschatological expectation which is the hope of Jews and of Christians, in spite of their different ways of describing it. Both are awaiting the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God; this has already begun, for Christians, with the coming of Jesus Christ, while Jews are still awaiting the coming of the Messiah. At all events, this eschatological perspective awakens as much in Jews as in Christians the consciousness of being on the march, like the people who came forth from Egypt, searching for a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:8).

(Taken from a French translation)


In 1983, the Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies Department of the World Council of Churches published "Ecumenical Considerations on the Jewish-Christian Dialogue."


One of the functions of dialogue is to allow participants to describe and witness to their faith in their own terms. This is of primary importance since self-serving descriptions of other peoples' faith are one of the roots of prejudice, stereotyping, and condescension. Listening carefully to the neighbors' self-understanding enables Christians better to obey the commandment not to bear false witness against their neighbors, whether those neighbors be of long-established religious, cultural or ideological traditions or members of new religious groups. It should be recognized by partners in dialogue that any religion or ideology claiming universality, apart from having an understanding of itself, will also have its own interpretations of other religions and ideologies as part of its own self-understanding. Dialogue gives an opportunity for a mutual questioning of the understanding partners have about themselves and others. It is out of a reciprocal willingness to listen and learn that significant dialogue grows

(wcc Guidelines on Dialogue, iii.4)

In giving such guidelines applicable to all dialogues, the World Council of Churches speaks primarily to its member churches as it defines the need for and gifts to be received by dialogue. People of other faiths may choose to define their understanding of dialogue, and their expectations as to how dialogue with Christians may affect their own traditions and attitudes and may lead to a better understanding of Christianity. Fruitful "mutual questioning of the understanding partners have about themselves and others" requires the spirit of dialogue. But the wcc Guidelines do not predict what partners in dialogue may come to learn about themselves, their history, and their problems. Rather they speak within the churches about faith, attitudes, actions, and problems of Christians.

In all dialogues distinct asymmetry between any two communities of faith becomes an important fact. Already terms like faith, theology, religion, scripture, people, etc. are not innocent or neutral. Partners in dialogue may rightly question the very language in which each thinks about religious matters.

In the case of Jewish-Christian dialogue a specific historical and theological asymmetry is obvious. While an understanding of Judaism in New Testament times becomes an integral and indispensable part of any Christian theology, for Jews, a "theological" understanding of Christianity is of a less than essential or integral significance. Yet, neither community of faith has developed without awareness of the other.

The relations between Jews and Christians have unique characteristics because of the ways in which Christianity historically emerged out of Judaism. Christian understandings of that process constitute a necessary part of the dialogue and give urgency to the enterprise. As Christianity came to define its own identity against Judaism, the Church developed its own understandings, definitions and terms for what it had inherited from Jewish traditions, and for what it read in the Scriptures common to Jews and Christians. In the process of defining its own identity the Church defined Judaism, and assigned to the Jews definite roles in its understanding of God's acts of salvation. It should not be surprising that Jews resent those Christian theologies in which they as a people are assigned to play a negative role. Tragically, such patterns of thought in Christianity have often led to overt acts of condescension, persecution, and worse.

Bible-reading and worshipping Christians often believe that they "know Judaism" since they have read the Old Testament, the records of Jesus' debates with Jewish teachers, and the early Christian reflections on the Judaism of their times. Furthermore, no other religious tradition has been so thoroughly "defined" by preachers and teachers in the Church as has Judaism. This attitude is often enforced by lack of knowledge about the history of Jewish life and thought through the 1,900 years since the parting of the ways of Judaism and Christianity.

For these reasons there is special urgency for Christians to listen, through study and dialogue, to ways in which Jews understand their history and their traditions, their faith and their obedience "in their own terms". Furthermore a mutual listening to how each is perceived by the other may be a step towards understanding the hurts, overcoming the fears, and correcting the misunderstandings that have thrived on isolation.

Both Judaism and Christianity comprise a wide spectrum of opinions, options, theologies, and styles of life and service. Since generalizations often produce stereotyping, Jewish-Christian dialogue becomes the more significant by aiming at as full as possible a representation of views within the two communities of faith.

Towards a Christian Understanding of Jews and Judaism

Through dialogue with Jews many Christians have come to appreciate the richness and vitality of Jewish faith and life in the covenant and have been enriched in their own understandings of God and the divine will for all creatures.

In dialogue with Jews, Christians have learned that the actual history of Jewish faith and experiences does not match the images of Judaism that have dominated a long history of Christian teaching and writing, images that have been spread by Western culture and literature into other parts of the world.

A classical Christian tradition sees the Church replacing Israel as God's people, and the destruction of the second temple of Jerusalem as a warrant for this claim. The covenant of God with the people of Israel was only a preparation for the coming of Christ, after which it was abrogated.

Such a theological perspective has had fateful consequences. As the Church replaced the Jews as God's people, the Judaism that survived was seen as a fossilized religion of legalism – a view now perpetuated by scholarship which claims no theological interests. Judaism of the first centuries before and after the birth of Jesus was therefore called "Late Judaism". The Pharisees were considered to represent the acme of legalism, Jews and Jewish groups were portrayed as negative models, and the truth and beauty of Christianity were thought to be enhanced by setting up Judaism as false and ugly.

Through a renewed study of Judaism and in dialogue with Jews, Christians have become aware that Judaism in the time of Christ was in an early stage of its long life. Under the leadership of the Pharisees the Jewish people began a spiritual revival of remarkable power, which gave them the vitality capable of surviving the catastrophe of the loss of the temple. It gave birth to Rabbinic Judaism which produced the Mishnah and Talmud and built the structures for a strong and creative life through the centuries.

As a Jew, Jesus was born into this tradition. In that setting he was nurtured by the Hebrew Scriptures, which he accepted as authoritative and to which he gave a new interpretation in his life and teaching. In this context Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and in his resurrection his followers found the confirmation of his being both Lord and Messiah.

Christians should remember that some of the controversies reported in the New Testament between Jesus and the "scribes and Pharisees" find parallels within Pharisaism itself and its heir, Rabbinic Judaism. These controversies took place in a Jewish context, but when the words of Jesus came to be used by Christians who did not identify with the Jewish people as Jesus did, such sayings often became weapons in anti-Jewish polemics and thereby their original intention was tragically distorted. An internal Christian debate is now taking place on the question of how to understand passages in the New Testament that seem to contain anti-Jewish references.

Judaism, with its rich history of spiritual life, produced the Talmud as the normative guide for Jewish life in thankful response to the grace of God's covenant with the people of Israel. Over the centuries important commentaries, profound philosophical works and poetry of spiritual depth have been added. For Judaism the Talmud is central and authoritative. Judaism is more than the religion of the Scriptures of Israel. What Christians call the Old Testament has received in the Talmud and later writings interpretations that for Jewish tradition share in the authority of Moses.

For Christians the Bible with the two Testaments is also followed by traditions of interpretation, from the Church Fathers to the present time. Both Jews and Christians live in the continuity of their Scripture and Tradition.

Christians as well as Jews look to the Hebrew Bible as the story recording Israel's sacred memory of God's election and covenant with this people. For Jews, it is their own story in historical continuity with the present. Christians, mostly of gentile background since early in the life of the Church, believe themselves to be heirs to this same story by grace in Jesus Christ. The relationship between the two communities, both worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is a given historical fact, but how it is to be understood theologically is a matter of internal discussion among Christians, a discussion that can be enriched by dialogue with Jews.

Both commonalities and differences between the two faiths need to be examined carefully. Finding in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments the authority sufficient for salvation, the Christian Church shares Israel's faith in the One God, whom it knows in the Spirit as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. For Christians, Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father, through whom millions have come to share in the love of, and to adore, the God who first made covenant with the people of Israel. Knowing the One God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit, therefore, Christians worship that God with a Trinitarian confession to the One God, the God of Creation, Incarnation and Pentecost. In so doing, the Church worships in a language foreign to Jewish worship and sensitivities, yet full of meaning to Christians.

Christians and Jews both believe that God has created men and women as the crown of creation and has called them to be holy and to exercise stewardship over the creation in accountability to God. Jews and Christians are taught by their Scriptures and Traditions to know themselves responsible to their neighbors, especially to those who are weak, poor and oppressed. In various and distinct ways they look for the day in which God will redeem the creation. In dialogue with Jews many Christians come to a more profound appreciation of the Exodus hope of liberation, and pray and work for the coming of righteousness and peace on earth.

Christians learn through dialogue with Jews that for Judaism the survival of the Jewish people is inseparable from its obedience to God and God's covenant.

During long periods, both before and after the emergence of Christianity, Jews found ways of living in obedience to Torah, maintaining and deepening their calling as a peculiar people in the midst of the nations. Through history there are times and places in which Jews were allowed to live, respected and accepted by the cultures in which they resided, and where their own culture thrived and made a distinct and sought after contribution to their Christian and Muslim neighbors. Often lands not dominated by Christians proved most favorable for Jewish diaspora living. There were even times when Jewish thinkers came to "make a virtue out of necessity" and considered diaspora living to be the distinct genius of Jewish existence.

Yet, there was no time in which the memory of the Land of Israel and of Zion, the city of Jerusalem, was not central in the worship and hope of the Jewish people. "Next year in Jerusalem" was always part of Jewish worship in the diaspora. And the continued presence of Jews in the Land and in Jerusalem was always more than just one place of residence among all the others.

Jews differ in their interpretations of the State of Israel, as to its religious and secular meaning. It constitutes for them part of the long search for that survival which has always been central to Judaism through the ages. Now the quest for statehood by Palestinians – Christian and Muslim – as part of their search for survival as a people in the Land – also calls for full attention.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all maintained a presence in the Land from their beginnings. While "the Holy Land" is primarily a Christian designation, the Land is holy to all three. Although they may understand its holiness in different ways, it cannot be said to be "more holy" to one than to another.

The need for dialogue is all the more urgent. When under strain the dialogue is tested. Is it mere debate and negotiation or is it grounded in faith that God's will for the world is secure peace with justice and compassion?

Hatred and Persecution of Jews – A Continuing Concern

Christians cannot enter into dialogue with Jews without the awareness that hatred and persecution of Jews have a long persistent history, especially in countries where Jews constitute a minority among Christians. The tragic history of the persecution of Jews includes massacres in Europe and the Middle East by the Crusaders, the Inquisition, pogroms, and the Holocaust. The World Council of Churches Assembly at its first meeting in Amsterdam, 1948, declared: "We call upon the churches we represent to denounce antisemitism, no matter what its origin, as absolutely irreconcilable with the profession and practice of the Christian faith. Antisemitism is sin against God and man." This appeal has been reiterated many times. Those who live where there is a record of acts of hatred against Jews can serve the whole Church by unmasking the ever-present danger they have come to recognize.

Teachings of contempt for Jews and Judaism in certain Christian traditions proved a spawning ground for the evil of the Nazi Holocaust. The Church must learn so to preach and teach the Gospel as to make sure that it cannot be used towards contempt for Judaism and against the Jewish people. A further response to the Holocaust by Christians, and one which is shared by their Jewish partners, is a resolve that it will never happen again to the Jews or to any other people.

Discrimination against and persecution of Jews has deep-rooted socio-economic and political aspects. Religious differences are magnified to justify ethnic hatred in support of vested interests. Similar phenomena are also evident in many interracial conflicts. Christians should oppose all such religious prejudices, whereby people are made scapegoats for the failures and problems of societies and political regimes.

Christians in parts of the world with a history of little or no persecution of Jews do not wish to be conditioned by the specific experiences of justified guilt among other Christians. Rather, they explore in their own ways the significance of Jewish-Christian relations, from the earliest times to the present, for their life and witness.

Authentic Christian Witness

Christians are called to witness to their faith in word and deed. The Church has a mission and it cannot be otherwise. This mission is not one of choice.

Christians have often distorted their witness by coercive proselytism, conscious and unconscious, overt and subtle. Referring to proselytism between Christian churches, the Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches stated: "Proselytism embraces whatever violates the right of the human person, Christian or non-Christian, to be free from external coercion in religious matters" (Ecumenical Review, 1/1971, 11).

Such rejection of proselytism, and such advocacy of respect for the integrity and the identity of all persons and all communities of faith, are urgent in relation to Jews, especially those who live as minorities among Christians. Steps towards assuring non-coercive practices are of the highest importance. In dialogue ways should be found for the exchange of concerns, perceptions, and safeguards in these matters.

While Christians agree that there can be no place for coercion of any kind, they do disagree – on the basis of their understandings of the Scriptures – as to what constitutes authentic forms of mission. There is a wide spectrum, from those who see the very presence of the Church in the world as the witness called for, to those who see mission as the explicit and organized proclamation of the gospel to all who have not accepted Jesus as their Saviour.

This spectrum as to mission in general is represented in the different views of what is authentic mission to Jews. Here some of the specifics are as follows: There are Christians who view a mission to the Jews as having a very special salvific significance, and those who believe the conversion of the Jews to be the eschatological event that will climax the history of the world. There are those who would place no special emphasis on a mission to the Jews, but would include them in the one mission to all those who have not accepted Christ as their Saviour. There are those who believe that a mission to the Jews is not part of an authentic Christian witness, since the Jewish people find its fulfillment in faithfulness to God's covenant of old.

Dialogue can rightly be described as a mutual witness, but only when the intention is to hear the others in order better to understand their faith, hopes, insights, and concerns, and to give, to the best of one's ability, one's own understanding of one's own faith. The spirit of dialogue is to be fully present to one another in full openness and human vulnerability.

According to rabbinic law, Jews who confess Jesus as the Messiah are considered apostate Jews, but for many Christians of Jewish origin, their identification with the Jewish people is a deep spiritual reality to which they seek to give expression in various ways, some by observing parts of Jewish tradition in worship and life style, many by a special commitment to the well-being of the Jewish people and to a peaceful and secure future for the State of Israel. Among Christians of Jewish origin there is the same wide spectrum of attitudes towards mission as among other Christians, and the same criteria for dialogue and against coercion apply.

As Christians of different traditions enter into dialogue with Jews in local, national, and international situations, they will come to express their understanding of Judaism in other languages, styles, and ways than have been done in these Ecumenical Considerations. Such understandings are to be shared among the churches for enrichment of all.

Many individual Protestant Churches have also issued statements. During the Lutheran year (1983–84), the Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation recommended to its constituents the following statement concerning Luther's utterances about the Jews:

We Lutherans take our name and much of our understanding of Christianity from Martin Luther. But we cannot accept or condone the violent verbal attacks that the Reformer made against the Jews. Lutherans and Jews interpret the Hebrew Bible differently. But we believe that a christological reading of the Scriptures does not lead to anti-Judaism, let alone antisemitism.

We hold that an honest, historical treatment of Luther's attacks on the Jews takes away from modern antisemites the assumption that they may legitimately call on the authority of Luther's name to bless their antisemitism. We insist that Luther does not support racial antisemitism, nationalistic antisemitism or political antisemitism. Even the deplorable religious antisemitism of the 16th century, to which Luther's attacks made an important contribution, is a horrible anachronism when translated to the conditions of the modern world. We recognize with deep regret, however, that Luther has been used to justify such antisemitism in the period of national socialism and that his writings lent themselves to such abuse. Although there remain conflicting assumptions, built into the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity, they need not and should not lead to the animosity and the violence of Luther's treatment of the Jews. Martin Luther opened up our eyes to a deeper understanding of the Old Testament and showed us the depth of our common inheritance and the roots of our faith.

Many of the anti-Jewish utterances of Luther have to be explained in the light of his polemic against what he regarded as misinterpretations of the Scriptures. He attacked these interpretations, since for him everything now depended on a right understanding of the Word of God.

The sins of Luther's anti-Jewish remarks, the violence of his attacks on the Jews, must be acknowledged with deep distress. And all occasions for similar sin in the present or the future must be removed from our churches.

A frank examination also forces Lutherans and other Christians to confront the anti-Jewish attitudes of their past and present. Hostility toward the Jews began long before Luther and has been a continuing evil after him. The history of the centuries following the Reformation saw in Europe the gradual acceptance of religious pluralism. The church was not always the first to accept this development: yet there have also been examples of leadership by the church in the movement to accept Jews as full fellow citizens and members of society.

Beginning in the last half of the 19th century antisemitism increased in Central Europe and at the same time Jewish people were being integrated in society. This brought to the churches, particularly in Germany, an unwanted challenge. Paradoxically the churches honored the biblical people of Israel but rejected the descendants of those people, myths were perpetuated about the Jews, and deprecatory references appeared in Lutheran liturgical and educational material. Luther's doctrine of the Two Kingdoms was used to justify passivity in the face of totalitarian claims. These and other less theological factors contributed to the failures which have been regretted and repeatedly confessed since 1945.

To their credit it is to be said that there were individuals and groups among Lutherans who in defiance of totalitarian power defended their Jewish neighbors, both in Germany and elsewhere.

Lutherans of today refuse to be bound by all of Luther's utterances on the Jews. We hope we have learned from the tragedies of the recent past. We are responsible for seeing that we do not now nor in the future leave any doubt about our position on racial and religious prejudice and that we afford to all the human dignity, freedom and friendship that are the right of all the Father's children.

See also *Church, Catholic; *Church Councils, *Jewish-Christian Relations.

[Geoffrey Wigoder]


A. von Harnack, What is Christianity (1901); R.T. Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (1903); F. Gavin, Jewish Antecedents of the Christian Sacraments (1928); F. Jackson and K. Lake, Beginning of Christianity, 5 vols. (1920–33); S.J. Case, Evolution of Early Christianity (1932); N. Levison, The Jewish Background of Christianity (1932); C.W. Dughore, Influence of the Synagogue on the Divine Office (1944); J. Parkes, Judaism and Christianity (1948); idem, Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (19612); W. Maurer, Kirche und Synagogue (1953); A.H. Silver, Where Judaism Differed (1956); J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (1958); J. Brown, Christian Teaching and Anti-Semitism (1957); J. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (1961); B. Blumenkranz, Les auteurs chrétiens latins du moyenâge… (1963); idem, Juifs et chrétiens dans le monde occidental (1960); J. Isaac, The Teaching of Contempt (1964); S. Sandmel, We Jews and Jesus (1965); M. Simon et al., Aspects du Judéo-christianisme: Colloque de Strasbourg (1965); L. Baeck, Judaism and Christianity (1966); C.Y. Glock and R. Stark, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism (1966); B.Z. Bokser, Judaism and the Christian Predicament (1967); W.O. Oesterley and E. Rosenthal, Judaism and Christianity, 3 vols. (1969); D. Flusser, Jesus (Eng., 1969); A.T. Davies, Anti-Semitism and the Christian Mind (1969), Pelican History of the Christian Church.


views updated May 17 2018


The general orientation and setting

The early movement—doctrine and organization

Forms of Christian institutionalization

The trend to religious establishment

Formation of the Western church

The medieval system and the Renaissance

The Reformation and its aftermath

Ascetic Protestantism

American Protestantism

The modern ecumenical trend


This article will deliberately focus on the particular problem of the importance of Christianity for the modern phase of the development of societies. This is, of course, only one combination of aspects of the almost infinitely complex phenomenon that is Christianity.

What social scientists call the modern type of society does not have multiple independent origins but has originated in one specific complex, within the area broadly called western Europe, and has been diffused from there, now even to areas with altogether non-Western culture, the first notable case being Japan. On the religious side the area of origin of modern societies has been Christian, with direct involvement, in decisive periods, of numerically small Jewish subcommunities and with largely hostile, although still culturally significant, interaction with the Islamic world.

The main carrier of the Christian traditions significant to modern society was its Western branch, which developed around the Roman papacy in the area inherited from the western Roman Empire. Apart from the sense in which Eastern Orthodoxy underlies the recent importance of Russia in the modern world, the Eastern branch cannot be said to have been a main center of modernizing innovation, in a sense comparable to the Western.

A somewhat parallel, although different and in many ways more complex, differentiation took place in the Reformation period, with the Protestant sector taking the lead in the relation of religion to modernization. This situation came to a head in the movement of “ascetic” Protestantism (as Max Weber called it) and particularly in its more individualistic and “liberal” branches, especially as they matured in Holland and England and were extended to the United States and the English-speaking British dominions. These processes, however, have been intimately involved in complex interactions both with Catholic Europe and with the nonascetic, especially Lutheran, branches of Protestant Europe.

This article will stress two primary themes. The first is the basic continuity of the evolutionary trend. This begins with the Israelitic and Greek cultural backgrounds of Christianity, each of which laid certain decisive foundations of the movement. It then continues through the establishment and survival of the early church, the establishment of the Western church and its differentiation from the Eastern, the very gradual institutionalization of the Christian society of the High Middle Ages, the transition into the Renaissance, and then the Reformation and the developments that led to modern society. I will place special emphasis on the Protestant branch in what follows, because I believe the major turning point in the development of modern society was not, as has so often been held, the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth century but rather the developments of the seventeenth century, which centered in Holland and England and, in a special way, in France, which, although profoundly involved in the Reformation, ended up as a Catholic power.

The second primary theme is the analytical complexity of the explanation of what has occurred and what may be projected. This article does not assert that Christianity as a religious movement “produced” modern society; rather it holds that Christianity contributed a crucial complex of factors, which, because of its own internal trends of “transformative” development and because of the great diversity of nonreligious conditions at various stages of the process and in various areas, operated very differently at different points in the developmental process.

Incorporating and synthesizing elements from both of its two main cultural forebears, the Israelitic and the Greek, and developing a new religious pattern of its own, the Christian movement crystallized a new pattern of values not only for the salvation of human souls but also for the nature of the societies in which men should live on earth. This pattern, the conception of a “kingdom” or, in Augustine’s term, a “city” of men living according to the divine mandate on earth, became increasingly institutionalized through a long series of stages, which this article will attempt to sketch. Later it became the appropriate framework of societal values for the modern type of society.

Christianity, through the societal values it has legitimized, has been one principal factor in the evolutionary process that has led up to modern society. At every stage, however, the religious system and its values have stood in complex relations of interdependence with other factors, notably economic and political organization and interests, the underlying institutions of kinship and social stratification, and certain aspects of secular culture. Several times, as in the rise of monasticism and the Puritan “errand into the wilderness,” the main innovative trend has been associated with the withdrawal of its carriers from the main societal arena, rather than with short-run acquisition of control over them. Indeed, in the larger perspective the power of religiously grounded values to shape secular life has depended on the increasing structural differentiation of religion from the organization of the secular society, as is indicated in the great weakening and eventual abolition of the longstanding institution of established churches.

Although the present article is confined to Christianity, it is written in the perspective of the comparative status of Christianity among the historic “world” religions, in their relations to the development of the societies in which they have originated and to which they have become diffused. (This perspective derives, more than from any other source, from the work of Max Weber.) Some centuries before the origin of Christianity, not only in the world of the eastern Mediterranean but eastward through India to east Asia, there had developed the varied system of “historic” religions, including Judaism, Hinduism–,Buddhism, and Confucianism–Taoism. All of them in varying ways and degrees sharply accentuated the differentiation between the profane and the sacred, temporal existence and eternity, worldly and otherworldly, natural and super-natural. These great cultural movements redefined the problems of the meaning of human life both for the individual as a personality and for human societies. One main axis of the problems concerned the relative devaluation of the profane, the temporal or the natural. Should the interests of temporal life be renounced in favor of some conception of radical salvation? Was there to be religious legitimation of those temporal interests or even of human societies with their necessary natural and secular anchorage? How were the two basic references to be balanced in relation to each other?

The general orientation and setting

Christianity developed a very special pattern of solutions to these questions. It was second to no other religion in emphasizing the transcendental character of its conception of divinity. The God which the Christians inherited from the Hebrews was the creator–ruler God, the sole creator and governor of the world, which included the human condition generally—the condition of all peoples. Not only was Christianity a transcendental monotheism, but its theology focused specifically on the conception of a divinely ordained, active mission for man. God created man “in His own image” in order for man to “do His will” on earth. That will, in turn, ordained the performance of a great collective task that eventually was believed to consist essentially of the building of a society in the temporal world in accord with the divine plan. This conception of the God-man relationship greatly influenced the social world through the commitments of its adherents to remake that world in accord with the divine plan. It contrasted very sharply with some of the Oriental religions that motivated “adjustment to” the immanent order of the nonempirical universe.

This transcendental–activistic attitude alone, however, does not account for the broad societal impact of Christianity. It has also characterized Judaism and Islam, but neither of these great movements originated the makings of a modern society on its own. Judaism, after a brief period in a politically independent, “divinely ordained,” small kingdom, was dispersed into small enclaves widely scattered over the civilized world and too small, politically powerless, and insulated to exert a major influence on very large-scale societal developments. Islam so directly fused religious leadership and the government of large-scale, rapidly expanding empires that it could not (at least within a short enough period of time) adequately control the institutional conditions of social change to channel them in the religiously indicated directions. Furthermore, the development of the religious orientatation system itself was not “rationalized” and systematized in a manner comparable with the Christian.

The theme of human imperfection, in acute contrast with the transcendence and thus in some sense the glory of God, is sharply accented in Judaism and became the basis of the Christian doctrine of sin. Such imperfection, however, was inherently relative to the deep theme of the goodness of the divine creation, of which man, “created in God’s image,” was clearly the highest part. Then even such expressions as the “total depravity” of sinful man are not to be taken so literally as to imply no basic potential for religiously legitimized good. It is not the “things of this world” or of the “flesh” which are inherently evil but primarily man’s willfulness, his presumptuousness in disobeying the divine commandments and in thinking he can do without divine guidance.

The other essential ingredient of Christianity came from Greek culture, which had distant relations to Hebraic culture but was predominantly independent of it in development and pattern. The institutional structure of Roman society had sufficiently fused with Hellenistic culture in the area in which Christianity originated, so that we can consider the parts played in the shaping of Christian theology by Greek philosophy and by the institutionalized individualism and law of the Roman polity to be of a piece. Greek culture provided a major constitutive component of Christian religious orientations, and early Roman imperial society provided both an environment in which the movement could spread and institutional components, notably a legal system, which were eventually absorbed by the Christian religious system and the church itself.

Particularly important to the Christian orientation to human society was the Greco–Roman conception of a universalistically defined system of order in the “nature” of the world. In its more cosmic references it underlay the Greek contributions to the beginnings of natural science. But it also had relevance to human relationships, and in this connection, especially among the Stoics, the ideal of human society came to involve the ordering of these relations in accord with the “order of nature.” The fullest institutionalization of this universalistic conception came with the systematization of Roman law, which, by including both the jus civilis (which defined the rights and obligations of Roman citizens) and the jus gentium (which defined the relations among persons of a different civic or ethnic allegiance) in a single, coherent legal system, transcended the parochial particularism that characterized previous conceptions of social order. Furthermore, this transcendence implies that the basic bindingness of such an order must be defined in general terms and not in highly specific prescriptions and prohibitions as has been characteristic of many systems of religious law, such as those of Talmudic Judaism and Islam. This universalism of the secular normative order could then be matched with the universalism of religious evaluation, which was one of the crucial religious features of the Christian movement.

The marriage of Hebraic and Greco–Roman elements that produced Christianity involved a crucial differentiation of the new sociocultural entity from both parent sources. Judaism and Greek and Roman religion had been the religions of already established sociopolitical communities, the People of Israel and the city-states of the Greek and Roman worlds. To use the terms loosely, they had been “ethnic,” “civic,” or “national” religions. On the level of social structure it was decisive that Christianity arose as a sect within Judaism, at a time when Palestine was Hellenized and Romanized—certainly the members of the elite were culturally quite Hellenized. Since all sectarian movements have a separatist tendency, it was natural that early Christianity raised questions about how its differences from the rest of the Jewish community were relevant to the general Greco—Roman matrix. These questions reached a crux when St. Paul initiated the church’s historic break with the traditional Jewish community by declaring that the observance of Jewish law had no bearing on a convert’s status as a Christian. This status was to be based only on the individual’s act of commitment to the church and the saving message of Jesus (Nock 1938). It seems that this development was occasioned by problems stemming from the very success of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles— that is, by the fact that many Christians were essentially alien to the particularities of Jewish tradition.

Its break with the Jewish community gave the church freedom to develop and expand. This freedom was realistically important, particularly because of two main features of the society of the Roman Empire at that time, perhaps especially of its eastern half. First, under the pattern of order just noted, this society was predominantly individualistic in a sense matched by no other society of comparable scale until modern times. In spite of its many regional and ethnic particularities, Rome effected its governmental authority over an exceedingly wide area and maintained substantial peace and internal order for a considerable period. A primary factor in this stability was the highly universalistic system of law, with its quite generalized principles allowing very substantial freedom within its framework. It was a society in which considerable mobility for migration and settlement was feasible and in which the main urban centers, at least, were highly developed and cosmopolitan communities.

Second, the society was psychologically ready for the type of soteriological movement which Christianity represented. Within the Jewish community there had developed much interest in the salvation of the individual, in addition to the traditional primary focus on the destiny of the People of Israel, as recent research has particularly emphasized. Deutero-Isaiah emphasized the individual aspect, and the Christians were not the only sect within Judaism, as, for example, the Essenes show. Beyond the Jewish community there was also considerable ferment of this general character (Nock 1964). The Greek mysteries and various kinds of Oriental cults spread widely through the empire, for example, Mithraism and the Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris, and schools of philosophy took on a quasi-religious, if not fully religious, character (Cumont 1910). All of these movements attracted individuals on terms ranging from the clientele of a simple cult to membership in relatively firmly structured associational groups.

The early movement—doctrine and organization

The church was the corporate vehicle of the implementation of a distinctive religious orientation. The God of the Christians was of course the God of Israel, in His transcendence as creator and ruler of the universe and as the One who defined man’s mission on earth. Compared to the main lines of Judaism, however, there was a new centrality of the conditions of the salvation of the individual soul rather than of the fate of a community. The Saviour was not the Messiah—although partially identified with him—not a new Moses who would lead his people into a new Promised Land, but the bringer of eternal life to the souls of believers.

The critical thing was the Christ figure as the mediator between the divine and the human levels. As the conception of Christ became stabilized through its elucidation in terms of Neoplatonic philosophy, he was at the same time both divine and human; he was, as formalized in the Nicene Creed, of the same—not similar—substance as the Father. (For the importance of the homousias formula, see Lietzmann 1938.) But as mortal, as dying in the crucifixion, he was a man, sharing all the attributes of humanity. He was the “Word made Flesh.”

The strict monotheism of Prophetic Judaism was thereby modified. God the Father had “begotten” his divine Son. The Son had the power to “save” the souls of men and they in turn could have access to this incomparable gift through faith, through commitment to him and his mission, not through belonging to the Chosen People. This conception in turn called for a third “aspect” of divinity, the Spirit which Christ emanated to the believers and by virtue of which they were reborn into eternal life. Hence the doctrine of the Trinity, which was at the same time one and three divine persons.

Against the background of Judaism the Christian doctrine can be seen to have preserved the transcendence of God, but at the same time broken the bond to the Chosen People as the sole basic vehicle of implementing the divine plan for man. The place of the People of Israel could be taken by the church, which by virtue of the role of the Holy Spirit could be conceived also as at once divine and human, the company of souls “in Christ,” which after death were somehow in “eternity” but in this life on earth constituted a special sort of sacred association. Basically it could only be a collectivity grounded on belief, not an ethnic one (the “People”). This was the theological basis of a critical step of differentiation between the religious system and the main structure of secular society, without which the historic mission of Christianity could not have occurred.

It was crucial that the constitutive symbolism of Christianity was built about the problem of death. The central validating event of Jesus’ mission was the crucifixion. That he died was the symbol of his humanity; that he was resurrected was the symbol of his divinity. The relation of the church to the risen Christ constituted a crucial break with Judaic tradition in that its promise to men was not the reward of a worldly collectivity (the Chosen People) in a future “land of milk and honey,” but the spiritual participation of the individual believer in “eternal life” and “in Christ.” Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, death in general was for the believer not denied but transcended (Nock 1964). The granting of divine status to the mortal human being, to the flesh, and to worldly concerns was perhaps more firmly repudiated than in any other religious tradition. However, in being given the opportunity for salvation, man was called to participate in the world of the divine, in his purely spiritual capacity. Thus, the great Christian step was to spiritualize man while still retaining the legitimation of a mission for him in this world. By contrast, what may be called archaic religions went much further in the direction of divinizing the human—for example, by regarding the Egyptian pharaoh as a god. Indeed, the formula for the spiritualizing of man constituted the essential religious basis of the conception of the church.

Against the background of Hellenism the universalism of the conception of order in human relations in this world could be preserved. Even though the pagan society of imperial Rome could not be positively sanctioned, it could be negatively tolerated, as in the formula “render unto Caesar [a pagan emperor] the things that are Caesar’s,” and Paul could be proud of his Roman citizenship. The articulation with the Christian theology, however, could go beyond the conception of an immanent order of nature to that of a potential new order which developed through the penetration of human society by the Divine Spirit through the agency of Christ and his church and the souls which had been elevated by their Christianization. There was here a new source of leverage over the world of secular human life, a basis, over the long run, of profound influence over it, the efficacy of which depended on many conditions, one of the most important of these being preservation of the basic Israelitic conceptual pattern that the mission of mankind was divinely ordained. The dimensions of this basic cultural orientation can be illuminated by its relation to four of the heresies that had to be combated well down into the Middle Ages.

The Gnostic heresy was perhaps most formidable in the eastern area in the early centuries. Derived from Neoplatonism and certain elements stemming from Persian and Egyptian cults, without the correctives of Hebrew and Roman empiricism and realism, it would have deprived Christianity of its leverage over the secular world by denying the reality of nature in favor of a realm of idealistic symbolization.

The major initial crisis, however, was over the Arian heresy, which in a certain sense was the obverse of the Gnostic heresy. It would essentially have denied the divinity of Christ by making him in substance only “similar” to the Father and thereby have deprived the church of the primary source of its leverage over the world. The church would have been at best divinely legitimized rather than “inspired.” Without the Athanasian victory over Arianism it is hard to see how the church could have maintained its independence under the pressures of institutionalization as the state religion of the Roman Empire.

The Manichaean and the Donatist heresies were particularly important in the developments from Augustine to the High Middle Ages. The Manichaeans, to whom Augustine at one time belonged, would have destroyed the integration of the divine and human spheres, which was so crucial to the mission of Christ and the church, in favor of a basic metaphysical dualism that saw human life as an unending struggle between the forces of light and darkness. The Augustinian doctrine, on the contrary, saw the Christian task as not merely to defeat the forces of evil, but to organize and eventually include the lower and worldly elements in the higher. Although the secular world of his time was only negatively tolerated, Augustine affirmed the potential of Christianization for the “City of Man.”

Finally, the Donatist heresy, although it had presented a major challenge even at the time of Augustine, came to a head at the time of Pope Gregory VII in the issue of the status of the clergy. It located the religious efficacy of priesthood not in the Holy Spirit as infused in the church but in the state of grace of the priest as an individual. Had it prevailed, it would have destroyed the fundamental collective character of the church, its capacity to serve as the agent of reorganization of secular life in the service of the religious ideal.

Thus, the early Christian church became clearly differentiated from any collective structure of the secular societies in which it originated and into which it spread. It thereby achieved a position of independence from all the structures of secular society, which was to prove of the utmost importance (Troeltsch 1912). As a collectivity itself, it embodied a type of structure that both favored its spread in the societies of the time and provided societies which had a considerable Christian population with a model for their change. Thus, in the Middle Ages the church was far more nearly modern in structure than was feudal society. Change came to be the modification of secular society to resemble the church, far more than the accommodation of the church to the secular patterns.

Forms of Christian institutionalization

The Christian theological orientation provided the cultural grounding for establishment of the church as an association of believers committed through the faith and in a way that differentiated their status as church members from other elements of the status of the same people in the society in which they lived. The main patterns of institutionalization that the Christian church has assumed follow.

The first broad type is represented by the early church and in a considerably modified form by the many sectarian movements that have appeared throughout the history of Christianity. The common characteristic is the existence of the religious association of the Christian type as essentially a separate entity within a host society, without clearly stabilized relations to the rest of the society. It could, as the early church gradually did, move in the direction of establishment. It could also, like many pietistic sects, come to be stabilized in some kind of enclave within the society, under some kind of toleration—the Diaspora Jewish community is a model. Otherwise, it could fail to preserve its identity and could be dissolved or absorbed.

In the case of the early church the surrounding society was pagan. The church enjoyed a relatively high order of toleration, partly because in the earlier phases its members were relatively obscure people and were centered in the more impersonal urban communities. They supported themselves by work in the relatively ordinary ways; as Paul said, a man “must work that he may eat.” This social situation was associated with the eschatological orientation of the early phase. Concern was overwhelmingly with eternal life and preparation for it. The Second Coming was, at least in a mythological sense (how literally is difficult to tell), paramount in Christian expectations and was to be associated with the Last Judgment and the end of the temporal world.

This orientation was repeatedly renewed, but most sects took positions short of this extreme dissociation from the environing society. In the first place, the society itself had become in some sense Christian; hence the differentiation was interpreted to mean that it was imperfectly so. Very broadly, we can say that the worldly “activism” that we have considered to be a major feature of the Christian movement generally has precluded full long-run stabilization in a sectarian status. An innovative movement within the Christian system would in the nature of the case be oriented to influencing the definition and structure of the system as such, including of course its relation to secular society. Many movements with a more or less sectarian origin have of course found a “niche” —for example, as religious orders within the Catholic system or as denominations within the Protestant.

The second primary type of Christian organization is the Catholic. This is interpreted in the sense of an established church, which is the “state” religion of a politically organized society. The critical difference here from other cases in which membership in the religious community coincides ideally with that in the secular is the differentiation of the church as a social collectivity from the secular political collectivity, the state in more or less the medieval sense. Church and state in this sense are distinct organizations. Their relations to each other, however, have necessarily been complex. Again very broadly, the Eastern Orthodox church, which took primary shape within the Byzantine political structure from Constantine on, was, as Harnack in particular has emphasized, oriented by the transcendental concerns of Christians. It therefore tended to be concerned eventually with its particular version of monasticism and to give the orders a kind of primacy over the secular priesthood, which did not exist for the Roman Catholic church. This in a sense gave by default a special position to the secular political authority, since there was no papal monarchy to match the secular. By contrast, the Roman papacy and secular priesthood gave the church a stronger organizational position, especially in the earlier phases, by contrast with the weak secular structures of the declining western Roman Empire.

Both were Catholic, especially in the sense of establishing a sacramental order, which gave the visible church a specifically transcendental character. The sacraments as the “power of the keys” were in fact the direct means of dispensing divine grace (Troeltsch 1912).

The third basic type is the Protestant. Here the break is fundamentally with the sacramental system, making the “true” church “invisible” and salvation dependent, from the human side, on faith alone. Again, there have been, in the broadest terms, two main forms of Protestantism. The first of these carried over the pattern of the established church from the Catholic versions, with its presumption of the coincidence of the religious and the secular political communities. This position carried with it the obligation of the enforcement, by ecclesiastical and political authorities in varying relations to each other, of doctrinal orthodoxy as a condition both of religiously acceptable standing and of secular citizenship.

The second type of Protestant orientation has basically differentiated the religious from the political systems, in a sense far more radical than that of the Constantinian church and its successors. It “privatized” religious adherence, introduced religious toleration, and eventually promoted denominational pluralism and the separation of church and state.

The special “sectarian” character of the early church was an essential condition of the church’s institutionalization in the Roman Empire as differentiated from the secular “politically organized society.” Moreover, of the two main versions of Catholicism, the Roman had the greater evolutionary potential because it could give a special, new meaning to the conception of the “City of Man,” under the tutelary aegis of the church.

The shift to Protestantism essentially meant the abandonment of this tutelage with its special kind of religious paternalism. The Lutheran branch, however, had a sufficiently “inward” character, so that it entrusted the responsibilities for secular affairs to political authority in a manner somewhat similar to that of the Byzantine church and its Orthodox successor. The other main branch of Protestantism, the Calvinistic, was parallel to the Roman branch of Catholicism in developing in the activistic direction, placing the greatest emphasis up to that time on the conception of the kingdom of God on earth.

The trend to religious establishment

The spread of Christianity did not fail to occasion considerable disturbances, including the well-known persecutions of the Christians. However, the reign of the emperor Constantine the Great saw a consolidation of the social position of the movement. In 313 Constantine proclaimed full religious freedom for the Christians, in the Edict of Milan. He later took such an interest as to preside personally over the Council of Nicea (although perhaps partly for its political implications) and eventually was converted. By the end of the fourth century Emperor Constantine had established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire.

When the church came to comprise a large sector of the upper class of the empire as well as the emperor and his court it was necessary to restructure the terms that had defined the distinction between Christians, who as such were free of the entanglements of the sinful world, and pagans, who constituted the secular society. By the third century, the spreading movement comprised a considerable proportion of the population of the Roman Empire and had begun to penetrate the higher social levels of the empire. The Roman upper groups may have been corrupt and pleasureseeking, as legend of the Christian world has it to this day, but they were the carriers of the social responsibilities of their society, however badly they may have failed in their obligations. Clearly, not all of the upper-class converts to Christianity could withdraw from the secular world. Many of them, to be sure, did become anchorites. But some continued to be local magnates and even to hold imperial office.

The expansion of the church up to the critical period of the early fourth century was a slow and complex process. The basic role was evidently performed by the apostles, who as missionaries went from community to community to make converts. Among them, the original apostles, who had been the personal followers of Christ, were only the first of a continuing series. Where the apostles succeeded local associations were formed, which at first were highly informal. However, “teachers” and “deacons” soon appeared to assume certain differentiated functions in maintaining the doctrine and in carrying on the simple administrative tasks of the group. The oldest and largest churches, usually those located in communities that were particularly important in the secular society, became preeminent, and their officials assumed a special importance, especially in relation to the secular political order. Such preeminence soon became involved in the relations between the separate churches, and hence the offices of the leading churches became the points of crystallization for the episcopal organization of the church (Harnack 1902). It was natural that the emerging sacramental system and the administrative functions should become consolidated in the same office at both parish and episcopal levels.

This was a classic case of success threatening the deeper foundations of the values for which the original great commitments were made—not the last such case in Christian history. There is little doubt that this development presented the Christian church with an exceedingly severe temptation and that it partly succumbed. It succumbed much more fully in the eastern half of Christendom than in the western, a differentiation which became crucial in the development of the Western world and had much to do with the great schism of the eleventh century.

A most important feature of the Christian movement, as so far analyzed, was its establishment of independence from the ascriptive ethnic and lineage ties—whether Jewish or Greco-Roman—in which its predecessors had been involved. This was accomplished by combining a specifically religious orientation and a type of collective social organization of the religious community, which was in some respects as great an innovation as the constitutive religious symbolism itself. This independence was, however, notably threatened by the very success of the movement in reorganizing the religious constitution of the Roman Empire. The development of organized collective monasticism, as distinguished from individualistic anchoritism, was in important degree a response to this critical situation. This process—the major innovations being the work of St. Basil—resulted in a differentiation within the church that may be regarded as even more fundamental than that between clergy (administrators of the sacraments) and laity. This was the differentiation between the religious and the laity.

The religious, as members of the orders, became the elite of the church. Their withdrawal from the world, symbolized above all by the vows of poverty and chastity, insured the independence from secular ties which had been so basic to the early church but which had become so much more difficult for most Christians to attain under the new conditions. The vow of obedience can be seen as assuring selective obedience to religious authority, specifically of the abbot, and hence protection against non-religious influences and pressures.

In a sense this was a snobbish discrimination by “superior” Christians against “inferior” Christians. However, it differed crucially from the dualism of the early church in that the lay Christians were still Christians, not pagans, and were expected in principle to comprise practically the whole population of the relevant secular society, even though it took a long time to accomplish this. The pagan element had been religiously upgraded through its conversion by the Christian movement and had become eligible for inclusion, as a total society, in the category of Christian, at least potentially. Moreover, the society was not a small, precarious Chosen People in a vast sea of more powerful alien societies, but was the great Roman Empire, the secular organization of what then seemed to be practically the whole civilized world.

The conversion of Constantine was the event which symbolized concomitantly the enormous opportunity of the Christian church to shape the secular world and the equally enormous threat to its independence represented by its generalization to a great total population and by its conversion of the socially influential and responsible classes. The reality and importance of the threat is evidenced by the long series of conflicts between church and state and, more subtly and insidiously, the involvements of the clergy (and on occasion the orders) in the nexus of secular interests.

Formation of the Western church

The next great stage of Christian history was associated with the differential fate of the two halves of the Roman Empire. In its original cultural constitution Christianity was much more Greek than Roman (Nock 1964; Jaeger 1961). It seems that it could not have arisen and grown to the level it attained had it been confined to the western half of the empire, since not only the Judaic but the Hellenistic component of its heritage was essential. Nevertheless, its greatest mission materialized not in its eastern “homeland,” but in the west. One condition of this lay in the fact that, for a longer period, the west proved to be politically less stable than the east. At the same time, the west was the focus of both the ancient origin and the medieval resurgence of the distinctively Roman institutions of autonomous legal order; in both respects it developed much further than the Greek and the Byzantine elements indigenous to the east.

The decline of the Roman Empire was in the first instance that of the western empire. The eastern portion became highly stabilized, surviving the western by a full millennium. Even though its structure was gradually undermined, the sheer length of this survival is an extraordinary fact. In the west, however, the new crisis of the disorganization of the secular society (beginning with the removal of the capital from Rome to Constantinople) was associated with a great and many-sided surge of organization and innovation in the church.

The tendency for the two halves of the empire to split politically was related to a parallel tendency within the church. At the time of the Council of Nicea, the Arian faction derived its main support from the eastern segments of the church and the Athanasian faction from the western (Lietzmann 1936). In accord with this division, the east moved broadly toward political stabilization without major cultural innovation, whereas the west tended more to foster cultural innovations within the church and organization changes partly determined by them. Four principal trends crystallized within a relatively short period.

(1) The highest levels of theological formulation were greatly transformed by the figure whose doctrines, more than those of anyone else, shaped the distinctive nature of western Christianity, namely, St. Augustine. He lived and worked in western north Africa and wrote in Latin, not Greek. As Harnack so clearly put it (Harnack 1916; Vasi1’ev 1917–1925), Augustine’s conception of the “City of God” was, in one of its two main references, a potentiality for human life on earth. It was not confined to the realm of eternal life after death. Although the emphasis on the basic metaphysical dualism between divine and human, spirit and flesh, remained as sharp as in the Alexandrian theology and was even sharpened in certain respects, salvation was conceived to be not only from the sinfulness of the flesh but also for participation in the divine mission that God had ordained for Christian man in and through the church. The use of the concept of city is particularly significant in that it emphasized the continuity of the conception of the church with that of the polis. This was indeed part of the larger framework within which Augustine produced a new level of cultural generalization in the synthesis of the Christian soteriological message and the main patterns of classical culture. The main orientations of the Eastern church remained at the level of theological concern established by the Alexandrine Fathers, whereas, with Augustine, the west began to build a new foundation, upon which grew the whole Western development, including both Scholasticism and the Reformation.

(2) We have noted that the monastic movement was first established in the east, emerging in close relation to the spread of Christianity, which culminated in its becoming the state religion of the empire. Basilian monasticism, which predominated in the Eastern church for many centuries, was overwhelmingly contemplative and devotional in its emphasis. But in the west there followed closely upon the theology of Augustine and certainly in connection with it a new turn in the monastic movement, starting with the establishment of the Benedictine order (Tufari 1965). The Benedictine Rule instituted a regime of secular useful work for its members, labor in agriculture and in crafts, as a religiously valued ascetic exercise—as Weber particularly noted. One might say that labor was no longer conceived as simply the “curse of Adam,” but as an essential component of the most fully Christian way of life. It was patently connected with a synthesis of the transcendental focus of Christianity and the exigencies of Christian life in this world. Fostering this orientation, the Benedictine order was the first in a series of involvements by the monastic elements of the Western church with the problems, first, of firmly establishing the church in its relations with secular society and, second, of improving secular society itself from a Christian point of view.

(3) The west strongly consolidated the organizational structure of the church itself, with special reference to the position of the secular clergy and their control. In contrast to the Byzantine pattern, which placed the emperor religiously as well as politically above any bishop, the crucial factor in this development was the consolidation of the Roman papacy and the establishment of the primacy of the See of Rome and of the position of its bishop as the true head of the church in the west. Presumably the pope could not have assumed primacy had be been confronted with an emperor who claimed to be head of the church and was resident in the same city. But with the emperor a thousand miles away and Italy in a condition of relative political chaos, the elevation was possible. Of course, the traditions of Peter’s mission to and martyrdom in Rome provided cultural legitimation for this crucial organizational change.

(4) Underlying this organizational consolidation were developments in the sacramental system, especially its extension to all the laity. The core sacrament, the Eucharist, formally ritualized the central constitutive symbolism of Christianity, the sacrificial death of Jesus and its transcendence. The Mass was the primary occasion upon which the communal solidarity of all members of the church was demonstrated at the parish level. (Weber [192la] especially emphasized that the common participation in the Mass included all social classes.)

The sacramental system required a formally ordained, professional priesthood. The episcopal system organized the priesthood in a firm way, and papal monarchy had an opportunity to hold the territorially scattered bishops to a common organizational focus. These features of the organization of the church, which gradually became increasingly formalized and systematized through the development of canon law and administrative agencies, was particularly important because of the decentralized, segmented nature of the emerging feudal society. In the face of these tendencies the church in the west maintained a fundamental unity and a relatively bureaucratic structure.

What was new in the Western church was the idea that the church was not only ordained for the salvation of souls for eternity, but that it also had a mission for this world, to establish the kingdom of God on earth. In the first instance, this was to be realized in the monastic life, then in the church as a whole, and eventually in the whole of secular society. In contrast, the Eastern church had only one focus: eternity and the afterlife of the individual (Harnack 1916). Even when secular society had been Christianized (in the fourth-century sense), the true Christian was to live by the tenet “in but not of” it, almost in the Pauline sense. At the same time the church as organization had to come to terms with secular society, a fact particularly conspicuous at the parish level in the status of the priesthood as both married and virtually hereditary. At the highest social level the direct involvement of the church with government was indicative of a similar mode of accommodation. There was never an independent status of the church, with respect to secular society as a whole, comparable to that attained in the west. The Eastern church remained, in Harnack’s striking phrase, “frozen” at the level of religious concern attained by Christianity generally in the third and fourth centuries under the influence of the theologians who had been Neoplatonists in philosophy. In these terms, a great turning point in the history of Christianity came in the west with the theology of Augustine.

The medieval system and the Renaissance

The first culmination of the Western development was what Troeltsch called the “Christian society” of the High Middle Ages. This was partly preceded but also accompanied by a major development in monasticism, centering first in the Cluniac order, and by a new surge of energy and organizational reform in the church itself, especially during the papacy of Gregory vii, who had probably been a Cluniac monk himself. Certainly one of the most significant reforms was the formal institutionalization of clerical celibacy for the secular priesthood, which contributed greatly to the organizational independence of the church. However imperfect the enforcement of celibacy may have been, the policy meant that no priest—including bishops, who were often men of great power—could have legitimate heirs, so that clerical office could not become hereditary. This was particularly important, as Lea (1867) made clear, because the institution of aristocracy was becoming so central to secular society at that time.

Monasticism was also very much involved in the new theological developments, under the stimulus of Scholastic philosophy, especially within the Dominican order. Culminating in the Summa theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Scholasticism carried the integration of theology and philosophy a long step forward and, through the influence of the rediscovered text of Aristotle, accomplished a new and more thorough incorporation of classical culture.

Greater involvement in the secular world was symbolized by the active building of churches, especially of cathedrals, all over Europe. This not only implied an increased concern for the lay Christian, providing better for his worship, but also gave him more opportunity to express his religious concern, since church building required immense efforts from whole communities. Great ecclesiastics competed for the services of architects; village stonemasons embellished the great piers of cathedrals with intricate carvings, and elaborate façades were peopled with sculptured figures, while painting and stained glass decorated interiors.

There was certainly a connection between these religious developments and the growth of urban communities. For example, the guilds, which were becoming ever more prominent in the secular organization of the cities, profited immensely in wealth and power from their part in building the cathedrals and great abbeys. Significantly, no less an authority than St. Thomas held the urban way of life more favorable to Christian virtue than the rural (Troeltsch 1912, p. ’295 in vol. 1 of the 1960 edition)—an interesting contrast to some nineteenth-century religious views. A new level of concern for the laity was also shown in the increasing ecclesiastical emphasis on Christian charity, in which again monasticism, particularly the Franciscan movement, played the leading role. The material, as well as the spiritual, welfare of the economically disadvantaged Christian became more and more the concern of the church.

In growing measure the ecclesiastical development of the Middle Ages became Pan-European, at least from south to north. Italy, as the seat of the papacy, in many respects took the leading role, despite the fact that Scholasticism centered in Paris rather than in Rome; but in general the characteristic changes were as conspicuous north of the Alps as south. The Middle Ages developed a European society and culture far more than ever before, even at the height of Roman influence.

The medieval Christian system was hierarchical. At the top stood the members of the religious orders, who lived the fully religious life—with whatever lapses—and stored up “treasure in heaven” for the benefit of their less committed lay brethren. Not only did the orders exhibit an increasing concern for the world, both in church and in secular life, but also, in sharp contrast to Buddhist monasticism, this religious “upper class” was linked to the laity by an independent secular clergy that controlled the power of the keys.

The Christian laity were in religious terms all presumptive equals. Of course, one must recognize that at this stage there was no implication of secular, social or economic, equality. Not even slavery was morally condemned, although humane treatment of slaves was enjoined. Secular society was highly stratified, with rapidly crystallizing institutions of hereditary aristocracy. These changed gradually from predominantly feudal forms into territorial monarchies, with the monarchs heading the aristocratic classes. The mass of the common people were the tillers of the soil. However, European society differed from many others with a predominantly peasant base and an aristocratic elite in that, largely as a heritage of classical antiquity, corporately organized towns played a very important part. Their organization provided essential models and centers for the development of more egalitarian forms of political institutions and of law, as well as of guild industry and commerce. Crucially, their bourgeois citizens were neither aristocrats nor peasants, but an essentially independent middle class.

Medieval European societies were the first in history to have basic religious uniformity for a very large population as a whole. At the same time they fundamentally differentiated the religious organization, the church, from the secular structure, what in this special sense has been called the state. Thus, within the context of the total society, the church was able to maintain its structural independence. This fact, combined with its organizational features and relatively this-worldly orientation, enabled the church to exert an unprecedented influence on the process of social development.

Both culturally and socially there were certain inherent elements of instability in the medieval system which a certain contemporary romanticism is prone to obscure. On the whole, however, these seem to have involved openness to progressive change rather than a tendency to breakdown or societal regression. On the cultural side, the Scholastic system was shot through with tensions and controversies. Certainly, the emergence of nominalism as a major movement on the borderline between theology and philosophy was highly significant (Mcllwain 1932; Southern 1953; Kristeller 1955; Huizinga 1919). In accord with Thomas’ example in seeking confirmation from Aristotle there was a general turning to classical sources and models—for example, the humanistic concern with classical literature and the revival of interest in Roman law which, especially in relation to the place of canon law within the church, began early in the Middle Ages (Gierke 1881). In fact, the high medieval culture merged almost imperceptibly into that of the Renaissance, however important certain dramatic advances may have been, such as those of Giotto and Masaccio in painting.

These processes of cultural elaboration and differentiation were grounded in the commitment of the Christian movement, especially accentuated in the west, to a genuine synthesis with classical culture. The critical development was the emergence of a differentiated system of secular culture more or less directly articulated with Christian orientations and, despite many tensions, legitimated in general by Christian values. Perhaps the most obvious field is that of art, where architecture was heavily oriented to the church and where painting, besides embellishing churches, dealt almost exclusively with religious subjects.

There was also instability in the relations between the church as organization and secular society. The imposition of clerical celibacy had been in one respect a measure to protect the autonomy of the church from over-involvement in the responsibilities, as well as the perquisites and privileges, of secular affairs. The “investiture controversy” was typical of the structural difficulties at the feudal core of the system, because the bishops, as the principal officers of the church, were responsible for both its political and its property interests. But in feudal terms, the church as corporation could not simply “own” property or enjoy political “rights” in the modern sense. The church was so interwoven with the feudal system that, as property holder, it also became the lord with temporal political jurisdiction, a circumstance that gave rise to a basic question of allegiance: Where did it lie, with the church or the secular authority? In medieval terms, no clear answer was possible (Troeltsch 1912, chapter 2, parts 3 and 4).

Thus, there was an unstable oscillation between ecclesiastical subordination to secular authorities and the direct assumption of secular power by the church, as in the papal states and in a few ecclesiastical principalities north of the Alps. It was inevitable that religious and ecclesiastical problems became intertwined with secular politics, so that the tensions in one sphere fed into the other. This situation goes far to explain the fact that the Reformation stimulated a full break in the unity of western Christendom rather than a “reform” of the church in the more usual sense.

The whole spectrum of cultural development, however, from the spheres of philosophy closest to the theology of the church to the most secular aspects of arts, letters, and eventually science, steadily eroded the cultural foundations of the medieval system. Socially, the feudal core of the society receded in relative importance before the rise of the Italian city-states with their commerce and manufacturing, the growth of the free cities of the Holy Roman Empire north of the Alps from Switzerland to the Netherlands, and the establishment of truly national states, particularly France and England.

The Reformation and its aftermath

The Reformation was the culmination in the strictly religious sphere of the general trend of social and cultural change away from the medieval system and toward modernity. Although it was hostile to certain of the Renaissance achievements (e.g., in art), its basic continuity with the Renaissance is the more impressive fact, as evidenced in the close following of the Italian initiatives in science by Protestant scientists in Holland and England and the hostility of the Protestant north to many of the artistic innovations coming from Italy. It is not unimportant that the founder of the more “progressive” wing of the Protestant movement, Calvin, was trained in law as well as in theology. The Reformation became intimately related to the development of nationalism—vernacular translations of the Bible multiplied—and some Protestant areas advanced very rapidly in economic development.

Although its consequences and implications took long to unfold, the Reformation constituted both a truly fundamental innovation and an authentic evolutionary development from the medieval Catholic base. The aspect of greatest interest here concerns primarily the relation of the religious system to the secular society.

At the strictly religious level the crucial development was the upgrading of the Christian laity. This was effected by ending the individual’s dependence on sacerdotal mediation. The individual soul stood in immediate relation to God through Christ (Bellah 1964). With respect to the ancient triad of functions the effect was to throw emphasis strongly away from the institutional forms of the “cure of souls” and of “casuistry.” It opened the door to an altogether new emphasis on “conscience,” which emerged particularly in the Calvinistic branch, once the more subjective concerns of Lutheranism had given way to concern with objective activism in secular callings. Although it is true that the basic status differential was eliminated, this did not imply any lowering in the evaluation of the clergy or of the system, within which statuses had been “equalized.”

The upgrading is expressed in the basic Protestant doctrine of the invisibility of the true church. The visible social organization, the concrete church with its priests and sacraments, is not the mystical body of Christ; the latter exists only in the souls of those who by faith are its true members in the eyes of God. The visible church has become “secularized.” But in the true visible church the layman has been placed on equal footing with the religious. If the layman truly gives his commitment of faith and accepts the divine grace, his status of sanctification is fully equal to that which had previously been reserved to the monk.

The radical implication was that it is not necessary, in order to be sanctified, to lead a way of life apart from the secular world and under a special discipline (Weber 1904–1905). Religious merit was in principle compatible with any ethically acceptable worldly “calling.” Moreover, as Luther himself deliberately dramatized, it was compatible with marriage. Thus, the two crucial vows of poverty and chastity were no longer preconditions of the “truly” Christian life. The same fate for the vow of obedience was inevitable because, in the monastic state, obedience was owed to a human ecclesiastical authority, in the first instance to the abbot. The differentiation of church and state clearly meant that ecclesiastical authority could not govern conduct in secular callings and presumably not in any complete sense in marriage and family life. The legitimation of monastic separatism as the one pattern of the fully Christian life was thereby destroyed.

The change in the status of the sacraments as administered by the secular clergy was parallel. The direct relation of the individual’s soul to God in seeking grace through faith precluded any humanly administered mechanism from intervention in God’s dispensation of grace. The minister became basically a teacher, counselor, and leader of his congregation (Troeltsch 1912, chapter 3 in vol. 1 of the 1960 edition).

The human individual was no longer conceived as a unitary entity, whose secular or worldly life was inseparable from its spiritual state, but as encompassing a much sharper differentiation between the two components. The aspiration to gain sanctification would yet have consequences for conduct in the secular world, but the commitment of the religious would no longer be embodied in a way of life concretely different from that of the nonreligious. The same principle obtained in regard to the sacraments. No concrete acts of human beings could automatically dispense or withhold grace. The only source of grace was directly divine, and grace could come to the individual only through his private, subjective acceptance of it.

To understand the potential significance of this shift it is essential to reconsider the whole development since early Christianity. The early church and its membership constituted a precarious island of sanctification in a sea of paganism, the latter comprising the whole structure of the secular society. With the successful proselytization of the whole of Western society and Christianity’s emergence as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the newly differentiated religious orders became the elite vanguard of the church. They preserved the central Christian orientation from secularization by absorption in an environment that was not fully Christian in the religious sense and led the movement to the upgrading of the whole lay population on Christian terms.

The Christian society of the High Middle Ages was a class-stratified religious society in that the visible church was endowed with a kind of fundamental guardianship, first and foremost over secular society—the position of the state in this connection being highly equivocal. Within the church there was a parallel guardianship of the laity by the clergy, both regular and secular. Since the Reformation was in the first instance a “revolution” within the church, its primary consequence was, as noted, the emancipation of the laity from this guardianship by the clergy. The implications for secular society, however, were implicit and could not fail to become salient unless the whole development were suppressed.

Although events moved much more rapidly during the Reformation than during the spread of Christianity in the ancient world, there is a significant similarity of pattern. Once a movement apparently so alien to the Roman ethos as Christianity was able to reach a position to bid for religious ascendancy in the empire, an alliance with secular authority was inevitable. In this case, it took the form of conversion of the legitimate Roman emperor and the eventual proclamation of the official status of Christianity. It would have made some, but perhaps not a fundamental, difference if a Christian military leader had gained political supremacy by conquest, as was typical in the spread of Islam. In either case the secularizing influence of political involvement would have operated. As noted, the primary response of the Christian church was to protect its independence, first, by the development of religious orders that had considerably more independence from secular society than the secular clergy, and, second, by retreating into the politically disorganized west, where the secular authority was relatively weak.

The parallel events in the Reformation involve Luther’s alliance with the German princes. (In certain contexts Luther may be considered the Constantine of his day—in the sense of being a politicized churchman, not a converted emperor.) Had not this religious innovation, too, enlisted political power during its crucial period, it could never have succeeded. It could not have become consolidated in strategic metropolitan centers and thus enjoyed the opportunity to spread into new areas. The price of this alliance, however, was a conservative turn—in the social sense—of the religious movement itself, exemplified by Luther’s repressive attitude toward the peasant revolts and his general support of secular authoritarianism.

The developments of this period were the result of a complex combination of innovating and conservative elements at work. The princes were in fact pioneers in the construction of the national state, one of the institutional foundations of modern society. They were, however, at the same time markedly authoritarian in regard to independent movements within their jurisdictions. Luther’s conservative position in economic affairs and especially affairs of political sovereignty vis-à-vis the subjects of the princes, accorded with this context. In an important sense, conservatism culminated in the Lutheran movement’s acceptance of the Erastian principle that the political sovereign should also be the formal head of the church. Here, the development tended, as in Eastern Christianity, toward a symbiosis of church and state, severely compromising the religious potential for reconstructing the secular world. The parallel to the mystical, otherworldly orientation of Eastern monasticism was the Lutheran stress on “inwardness” of the Protestant Christian orientation, which also precluded undertaking major responsibilities in secular affairs. The truly Christian individual was to be primarily concerned with settling his accounts with God and hence relatively indifferent to the fate of secular affairs. The main responsibility for these affairs was to be left to a divinely ordained secular authority. Furthermore, the whole orientation was shot through with pessimistic convictions about the essential sinfulness of secular man, which would inevitably manifest itself in widespread unethical conduct, which could be checked only by a liberal resort to coercive measures on the part of the civil authorities (Troeltsch 1906; 1912, chapter 3, part 2 in vol. 1 of the 1960 edition). Although this conception was another version of the Christian society, it was not a very inspiring one from the viewpoint of secular idealism.

As must be expected of social movements directed toward such broad and generalized social change (Smelser 1962), Reformation Christianity has been characterized by a multiplicity of sectarian movements having a wide variety of orientational content and possibilities for influencing later social developments—as indeed has virtually every subsequent phase of Christianity. Some have been strongly chiliastic and sometimes antinomian and as such have generally failed to become permanently institutionalized—historically one of the most important was the Anabaptist movement (Cohn 1957; Knox 1950). Others have secured more or less stable interstitial positions (e.g., some of the Pietistic movements). Still others, like the two most important American movements, Mormonism and Christian Science, have been relatively close to the main line of ascetic Protestant development.

Ascetic Protestantism

The major Protestant alternative to the Lutheran development may be considered the main developmental line of Protestantism, if not of Christianity as a whole. Broadly, this started with the Calvinist wing of the Reformation. There is a striking parallel between this major differentiation within Protestantism and that between the eastern and western branches of the earlier church, even the geographical reference remaining stable in that the western was the more activistic branch. Indeed one might even suggest some significance in the fact of continuity with Rome; whereas Luther was a German monk steeped in Scholastic philosophy, Calvin was a Frenchman who had a predominantly lay education with special reference to law in the Roman tradition.

Asceticism within the Protestant framework had to be “this-worldly” in Weber’s sense. Precisely by maintenance of the basic radical dualism between the transcendental and the “world” within that framework, the activistic potentials inherent in the whole Christian movement (and indeed back of it, in Judaism) were accentuated to a far higher degree than had been possible in the Catholic tradition. On the one hand, Calvinism, in common with the Lutheran branch, had emancipated secular society from ecclesiastical tutelage and put it “on its own”; on the other hand, the Calvinist version of the tensions between the divine mission and the human condition gave a far stronger anchorage to activistic orientations than did the Lutheran tendency toward resignation in the face of sin and divine Providence.

The Calvinist pattern centered on the conception, foreshadowed by Augustine but newly accentuated, of the holy community destined by divine mandate, but implemented by human agency, to bring into being a kingdom of God on earth (Miller 1956). This was from one aspect a collective orientation, but from another was perhaps the most radical expression of Christian individualism; at least it was an orientation to realistic possibilities of institutionalization in secular society rather than otherworldliness or antinomian expectations. Calvinism was, however, a developing religious system in a complex cultural and social environment, so that considerable time elapsed and many changes occurred before certain of the most important potentialities could emerge.

In the more immediate situation, the Reformation precipitated a critical period of conflict and reorganization in European society as a whole (Elton 1963)—to be sure, other factors were also involved, for example, the political impetus which led to and derived from the discoveries and extra-European expansion. The broad outcome of the tensions, which in secular terms operated mainly at the political level, was the creation of a northern European tier of predominantly Protestant communities. However, there were many crosscurrents in the political struggles, including those within the Protestant movement. The Catholic political bastions were Spain and the eastern Hapsburg domain, with disunited Italy being a continual battleground of interests. Northeastern Germany became solidly Protestant and with Scandinavia was the main focus of the institutionalization of Lutheranism. However, the most potent political unit of this system, the monarchy of Prussia, came to be dominated by a special version of Calvinism (Kayser 1961).

On the western wing, England, while also becoming, with her colonies in North America, the most important “mother” of institutionalized ascetic Protestantism, adopted in the Church of England the most nearly Catholic type of ecclesiastical organization of any Protestant church. France, after a bitter internal struggle in which the Protestant forces almost gained control, was carried by the most important Catholic victory during the wars of religion, but in a form which destroyed her religio–political “orthodoxy” and in some important respects paved the way for the French Revolution. Holland, in the heat of her struggle for independence from Spanish rule, was for a time the most Protestant of countries, only gradually to attenuate this characteristic in the subsequent period —a fact associated with the preservation, largely under French auspices, of the Catholicism of Flanders and of the German Rhineland, especially of its northern reaches.

The outcome of these complex restructurings, which was clear by the early eighteenth century, was politically inconclusive, but in one sense it was crucially decisive. The Reformation permanently broke the medieval form of the religious unity of western Christendom, and a Europe was created in which religious and political elements were interwoven in a very intricate, pluralistic fashion. Thus, in the mid-eighteenth century His Most Catholic Majesty, the king of France, could find himself first in an alliance negotiated by a cardinal with the Calvinist king of Prussia against the Hapsburgs and then in support of the very Protestant American colonies in their war of independence against the also Protestant British. After 1688 the danger of old-style political-Catholic domination of Britain was past. The position of Prussia made clear that there could be no Catholic reconquest of the eastern boundaries of the main European system—the Hapsburg monopoly was broken. Moreover, major societies of European origin and of predominantly ascetic Protestant orientation had been implanted overseas, beyond any basic control of the parent European system.

The main foundations of the ascetic Protestant religio-political system were laid in Holland and particularly in Great Britain (including Scotland) during the seventeenth century. The earlier version of the conception of the holy community was most dramatically embodied in the Commonwealth under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Although this drastic political innovation lasted only a few years, like the Calvinist movement in France, it left indelible marks on the whole future of the country. The Restoration brought back the monarchy and aristocracy and consolidated the position of the Church of England, but by the time of the Settlement of 1688, religious toleration was assured and opportunity was opened for nonconformism to develop further—a Catholic restoration of the French type would surely have precluded a Methodist movement so soon after the Stuarts.

Besides the religious movement itself, this enormous “effervescence” crucially advanced the development of the British parliamentary system, which eventually extended into a political democracy. It greatly aided the consolidation of the characteristic features of the common law and hence the establishment of the foundations of the legal component of modern citizenship, the famous “rights of Englishmen” (Little 1963; Marshall 1934–1962). It also created a social environment more congenial to the development of science than any hitherto found in the west—the century and country of Cromwell were also those of Newton (Merton 1938). Finally, the very fact that the political emphases of the Cromwellian venture failed to gain ascendancy probably shifted the balance in favor of the economic emphases, which Weber elucidated in his famous analysis. All of these factors—admittedly combined with various others—had much to do with the fact that in the later eighteenth century it was Great Britain that fostered the momentous beginnings of the industrial revolution.

The foregoing summary is not meant to imply that the development in seventeenth-century England was either unitary or independent of non-Protestant antecedents. The depth of the internal division which was manifested politically in the English Civil War is clear. However, the Stuart Restoration did not become consolidated and a new unity was achieved after 1688 which broke the chronic tendency of the crown under the Stuarts to ally itself with Catholic powers and to threaten the Protestant succession. The main framework of the legal system was established, as was religious toleration. In the case of science, of course, the main foundations of the modern development had been laid in Renaissance Italy with Galileo as the most notable figure, but England provided a newly favorable cultural and social environment for the next main phase, with Newton as the great symbolic figure, and the establishment of the Royal Society as the organizational focus.

England was thus unique in the combination of cultural and social factors which led toward modernization. Its only close rival was Holland. Here, however, the efflorescence was briefer and somewhat less widespread—for example, there was less development in the fields of law and parliamentary institutions. Moreover, the insular position of England encouraged the development of a solidary national community and protected her more fully against the inhibiting and disruptive influences of the complex Continental situation, such as the military threats that would encourage a large standing army and restrictions of economic access to trade with immediately neighboring countries. In particular, England was in a strikingly advantageous position to extend her politico–economic influence beyond Europe, and this included religious as well as other types of development overseas.

On the cultural side, another extremely important difference seems to have been established, broadly, between predominantly Catholic and predominantly Protestant Europe. It has been emphasized above that the relation between Christianity and the more secular elements of culture, with their special roots in the classical heritage, presented problems of great significance. The Christian capacity to synthesize with these cultural movements, which in its terms have been primarily secular, has been one of its most important features.

The rise of early modern science, in its connections with philosophy, presented a new set of problems for the nature of this synthesis. Here the more ascetic branches of Protestantism seem to have been able to develop a relation with substantially less immediate and overt conflict than the more predominantly Catholic cultures—with the exception of what later came to be defined as the “fundamentalist” trends in Protestantism. The somewhat special relation between science and Puritanism in seventeenth-century England is a prominent case (Merton 1938), although the situation in Holland was similar in the same period.

By contrast, there seemed to be a greater conflict between science, and more generally the “intellectuals,” and religion in the Catholic sphere. This came to a head in eighteenth-century France in the Enlightenment. By and large, the orientation of the Enlightenment was antireligious, which of course meant anti-Christian. Since the religious structure was Catholic, it was also anticlerical because of the central place of the clergy in the Catholic system. On the whole, the antireligious themes among persons committed to the secular intellectual disciplines have been much less prominent in Protestant areas, again especially those of ascetic Protestantism, although of course it has not been absent. This division still persists, especially between Continental European intellectuals and those of Anglo-American provenience. Thus, the resonance of Marxism has been notably weak in the latter area, which can almost certainly be associated with the militant anti-Christianism of the Marxists.

American Protestantism

There is an important sense in which the modernizing outcome of the European development of ascetic Protestantism occurred mainly in North America, although also in other places. In any case, the development there may serve to illustrate the second main subtype of Protestant institutionalization defined in the classification that was outlined above, namely, that characterized for a whole society by the “privatization” of organized religion and hence by the separation of church and state and the “spelling out” of religious toleration in a system of denominational pluralism, in which there is no distinction, as has persisted in England, between an established church and a set of “nonconformist” groups.

This development marks an important step in the general evolutionary trend of the Christian system from the “aspiration to Universal Brotherhood, to the institutionalization of Universal Otherhood” (Nelson 1949). The United States represents by far the largest scale of institutionalization of this type, and in addition, the fact of the American position of power and influence on the world scene, which has developed in the present century, gives this case a special empirical importance.

The case is, however, meant to deal with the realization of the “liberalizing” potentiality of Protestant development from a Calvinistic base, because of the special evolutionary significance of that trend in the total Christian picture. The role of this Protestant liberalism has been one of leading a trend, which could in turn be adopted by other groups, partly because of the generally modernizing developments in the respective societies, as in Scandinavia and much of Lutheran northern Germany and partly because of the impact of the “liberal” Protestant model which, for example, has certainly affected the development of the Catholic church.

Early Calvinism was predominantly collectivist in orientation. At the purely religious level it embodied the old Christian duality of spirit and flesh in the radical form of the doctrine of predestination. As interpreted in certain phases of Calvinism, this purported to categorize concrete human persons as either saved or damned, by divine decree, from eternity. Although the strict theological terms admitted of no visible signs of election, the social tendency was toward a certain kind of elitism, the rule of the presumptively elect over the presumptively damned, the reprobates. Nevertheless; this doctrine basically undermined the institution of aristocracy in the older European sense. There was never the slightest suggestion that God “predestined” persons to election by virtue of their ancestry; had there been, it would have been indefensible in theological terms. Moreover, the invisibility of the status of election raised the question of whether those who claimed it were not merely self-appointed.

Predestination tended continually to be confused with predeterminism and in this interpretation never could have been a genuinely Christian doctrine. It is one thing to assert that salvation comes to all men as a gift of God and that men are thus predestined to salvation. It is quite another to assert that some men are predestined to election and others to rejection. This latter interpretation was too radically in contradiction to the central conception of the mission of Christ to mediate the salvation of all humanity.

There is now clear evidence that the radical” social elitism of original Calvinism should be regarded as characteristic only of an early phase of its development (Loubser 1965). In only two major cases has it actually lasted into the modern situation, namely, that of Prussia and that of the conservative wing of Dutch Calvinism in South Africa. In both the Prussian and the South African cases there was a crosscutting with religiously adventitious factors, which made anything like the relatively “pure” development of North American Christianity impossible. Both cases have in common an element of Christian militancy in facing a threatening environment on a frontier in such a way as to make their pattern of action religiously acceptable. Furthermore, in both cases the populations embodying the perceived threats were regarded as inferior by the bearers of the main tradition, namely, the Slavs on the eastern border of Germany and the “blacks” in South Africa.

American Protestant “fundamentalism” might be regarded as a third survival of “old Calvinism.” In the South it has been intimately associated with racial segregation and the doctrine of the inferiority of the Negro. Like the South African and Prussian cases, it has been related to the frontier experience and indeed has recently been associated with the parts of the country where frontier traditions persist the most.

There can be little doubt, however, that the main line of development from the Calvinistic base has been a liberalizing one and, moreover, has not been predominantly secularizing in the sense of loss of religious commitment. Development along this main line has occurred in a number of nations, certainly in Holland and England, but most purely in the United States, with its earlier phases centering in Massachusetts.

As the general Protestant differentiation between the spiritual and secular components of an individual person matured, the predestination theology, with its categorization of total persons in temporal life as either sanctified or damned, became untenable. The basic Protestant tenet of salvation by faith then gained application to any individual who would make the commitment of faith, With this development, the conception of the church as in partnership with the political authority to enforce church discipline on the unregenerate also became untenable. The invisible church was a communion of souls in the faith, and the visible church of necessity became a voluntary association (Loubser 1964).

This development had gone so far by Independence that the provisions of the first amendment, separation of church and state and freedom of religion, were not seriously contested in the Constitutional Convention (Miller 1965). This fact was an index not of religious indifference, but of consensus on the religious principles involved. Another indication is that many local churches disapproved of taxation for support of the church well before it was held to be unconstitutional.

This article does not assert that on religious grounds alone the development that took place in America was inevitable. That, as contrasted with Dutch Calvinism in South Africa and, indeed, with much of American fundamentalism, it did take this direction was a function of a variety of social, economic, and political circumstances, some of which will be outlined. The crucial point here is that the religious system had the potential for this development, which was a religiously authentic and legitimate alternative. Its emergence, in stronger form than elsewhere, cannot be interpreted simply as the “rationalization” of a developing set of economic interests, as has so often been asserted.

This development was certainly favored by political decentralization, which predominated during the earlier phases of American society and gave wide scope for voluntary associations. The political structure also favored independent activity of the committed Christian in his calling—and not necessarily in any context of association—hence in that aspect of individualistic economic action associated with Max Weber’s analysis of the relation between Protestantism and the development of capitalism. For a variety of reasons and under a variety of influences, America during the nineteenth century became in certain senses increasingly individualistic. However, this fact should not be placed outside the larger context of the conception of a holy community. The conception of the holy community was paramount among the early Protestant colonists, in Virginia as well as in New England (Miller 1956; 1959). As the scope of communication, trade, and common destiny grew the independent units tended to consolidate into a single community, a new “nation under God.”

By the time of its establishment the new nation was religiously and politically pluralistic and was progressively developing increasing degrees of social and economic pluralism. Religiously, it went very far toward basing itself on the principle of voluntary association, a tendency that was virtually complete early in the nineteenth century. Although the exigencies that constrain political voluntarism are harsher, the trend was also toward a “free” polity more exposed to the hazards of populism than to those of traditional European authoritarianism.

The “individualism” of ascetic Protestantism should be understood in this context. It should be remembered that the Reformation eliminated the “two-world” system by virtue of which secular life in general and the secular callings of individuals in particular could not be valued equally with the “religious” callings. However, just as the religious calling and achievement of the individual in the monastic system occurred within the framework of the church, so the religiously critical performances of the Protestant layman in his calling occurred within the context of the holy community, which included both visible church and secular society, even though they were differentiated. Ascetic Protestant activism meant that “innerworldly” callings constituted the primary field for the individual to implement his religious commitments. The intensive activism of the general Christian commitment to regenerate (and hence upgrade) life was thereby channeled into achievement in worldly callings, among them, although by no means predominantly, business achievement.

This individualistic pattern bestowed the strong sanction of religious commitment on what is now often called achievement motivation and fostered the internalization of such motivation by typical individuals (Weber 1904–1905). It imbued the typical ascetic Protestant with a strong sense of responsibility for achievements in this-worldly callings, the obverse of which was the ambition to “succeed.” This has not been primarily an anarchic individualism of impatience at all social restraint but an institutionalized individualism, the achievement of the individual ideally being a contribution to the building of the holy community. Thus, American individualism has been congruent with a prominent development of nationalism and the pervasive presence of many varieties of association, including much large-scale organization. What there is of the attempt to break down restraints in general—and there is a good deal—is more ideology than direct expression of the central cultural pattern.

American society has recently developed a trend that seems most important against the background of the historical trends sketched above. In its formative period the United States was an overwhelmingly Protestant society and one that developed its religious constitution in a liberal direction and toward a relatively advanced level of religious toleration. By immigration it acquired a large number of non-Protestants, so that by now about a quarter of the population is Roman Catholic and a very substantial number are Jewish. The change in the religious character of the immigrants culminated in the generation extending from about 1890 to World War i.

The crucial phenomenon is the inclusion of the non-Protestant groups in a national community which, though of course secular in government, still retains its religious character as a holy community in the transformed sense of a “nation under God.” It has become a Judaeondash;Christian ecumenical community having the positive form of religious toleration entailed in a denominational pluralism, which has been extended to all major groups in the population, including “secular humanists,” who prefer to avoid involvement in organized denominational bodies (Herberg 1955; Parsons 1960). The important core of such groups is not the religiously “indifferent” who simply “backslide” in their religious principles, but the intellectuals who have severe reservations about commitment to any of the more traditional denominational positions. By contrast with much of Continental Europe, the American groups have generally not been characterized by militant atheism or anticlericalism.

We can thus speak of a near-consensus on a “civic” religion—perhaps somewhere near the boundary between theism and deism—expressed in such conceptions as “One Nation Under God” and “In God We Trust” (Bellah 1965). This in turn articulates with and legitimates the broad moral consensus on what I have called the pattern of institutionalized individualism, most massively expressed recently in the civil rights movement, which had the conspicuous backing of all the important religious groups as well as of the “humanists” and agnostics.

The religion of the churches, on the other hand, has been both voluntarized and privatized. More detailed belief systems, more specific observances, variations in ecclesiastical polity, and the extent of the individual’s commitment to them are largely confined to the denominational level and its embodiment in the particular parish. Broadly, all of the groups that historically have belonged in the established church tradition—for which a Jewish equivalent may be discerned in Orthodox Judaism —have “accepted” this situation, some of course more enthusiastically than others.

This process has been interdependent, as suggested above, with a structural pluralizing in the society as a whole: residence, socioeconomic status, occupation, and political attachment have become increasingly dissociated from religious affiliation and from the ethnic components which have historically been so closely associated with religion. This process is by no means complete, and it is unlikely that a society will ever completely “privatize” ethnicity and religion. However, there can be little doubt that recent American developments have reached an altogether new level, certainly if scale is taken into account. The new American “secular city,” as Harvey Cox (1965) has called it, despite all its complex strains, conflicts, and imperfections (which from any religio-ethical point of view are many and serious), has been legitimized as a genuine holy community in the ascetic Protestant sense. Yet, it has undergone a development that few of its Protestant forebears could have expected in its ecumenical aspect, having come to include all those who live under the God of Israel and of Jesus Christ. The newly pluralistic framework has come to be institutionally established, however incomplete the implementation of its grand pattern.

It seems justified to consider this another version of the institutionalization of what Troeltsch called a Christian society. To be sure, Troeltsch did not deal with it, or any European variant, as such, but seemed to contend that such a conception implied the institutionalization of an established church. With his dichotomy of church and sect, he seems not to have understood the most important unit of such a pluralistic system, the denomination, which is a voluntary religious association that is nevertheless accepted, both by its members and by others, as an institutionalized unit in the social order. Furthermore, it is not only a Christian society, but a Christian-Jewish-humanistic society, with its very important inclusion of elements from beyond strictly Christian boundaries.

The modern ecumenical trend

If American society has produced the most highly developed version of the pluralistic ecumenical religious constitution that has so far appeared within a national framework, important developments have also continued in Europe. With the exception of the special fusion of Lutheran and Calvinistic elements in Prussia, perhaps the most obviously important movements have developed on a Lutheran base and have been more spiritual-cultural than organizational, from the point of view of the relation of religion to the secular society. However, they have already had a major impact on the contemporary situation.

Perhaps the most important reference point here is again the impact of the development of secular culture and, in particular, science. In the more western areas, in European terms, the two most important modes of coming to terms with science were the relatively full “synthesis” achieved, especially on an ascetic Protestant base—reaching a high point in the eighteenth century with Jonathan Edwards (Miller 1949)—and the antireligious orientation and acceptance of the challenge associated with the Enlightenment.

In the more eastern sector, centering in Protestant Germany, one main base was the movement of idealistic philosophy. This was intimately associated with Protestant theological concerns and also brought such traditions into close contact with the Enlightenment and its romantic counterpart. Against the background of Kant and Hegel, the more rationalizing theology was best exemplified by Schleiermacher. This trend also involved the philosophical grounding of Marxism, which is more central European than western European in its main cultural foundation, although it linked with the Enlightenment in being strongly anti-Christian. The other major trend took its departure from the “subjectivism” of the Lutheran tradition. Its great landmark was the Christian existentialism of Kierkegaard, which in its cognitive structure stressed the limitations on rational philosophy that had been highlighted in the Kantian tradition. This general orientation has also been involved in the “neo-orthodox” movements in Protestant theology, starting with Karl Barth. In broadest terms, the existentialist movement seems to serve as a major counterfoil to the relatively empirical rationalism and the conception of a legally ordered pluralistic society, which have characterized the influence of ascetic Protestantism. It has figured in the revolt of both religious and secular intellectuals whose points of reference have ranged from the ascetic Protestant to the secular, at certain points even being based on Marxist philosophy.

This complex welter of cultural movements could not but become closely involved with the status of the Catholic position. Catholicism has, in its orientation to the secular society, comprised an immense range of different subtypes, from positions, in such areas as northern France and part of Germany and Belgium, that were very close to the Protestant to those, in southern Europe, that often preserved an antimodern traditionalism that was close to medieval.

Doctrinally, the Counter Reformation had hardened the Catholic position, not only against Protestantism but also against the movements of secular philosophy that began prominently in the seventeenth century. Until relatively recently we could therefore speak of the dominance of Neo-Thomism in the church. Although it certainly enhanced the activistic elements in Catholicism, the main concern of the Counter Reformation was to bolster the sacramental position of the church as the core of a Christian society. Hence, it operated to preserve a structural element that tended to be fundamentally premodern.

It can, however, be said that although all of these movements have been at work within the Catholic world, it has felt the impact of two of them especially strongly. On the one hand, the ascetic Protestant pattern of institutionalization of religion, in relation to secular society, has gone far to provide a model sharply different from the traditional Catholic pattern of the relation of church and state. This situation is, perhaps, best exemplified by the fact that the very large Catholic minority in the United States has come to accept the separation of church and state and its own position in the system of denominational pluralism; but this is by no means an isolated phenomenon. On the other hand, the impact of the more subjective-existentialist orientations has worked to attenuate the rigidity of the older Catholic conceptions of sacramental order in favor of what may be called a “spiritual individualism.”

These cultural movements have been associated with institutional changes that have broadly followed the American pattern. Thus, although in only a few European countries have historic Christian churches been totally disestablished, only in the most conservative Catholic areas of southern Europe has the religious freedom of other groups, including the secular humanists, been severely restricted. For the most part, European society has become religiously pluralistic. Even Spain has recently shown signs of an incipient pluralization. The aristocracy, which has been a most important factor in bolstering religious conservatism everywhere, has been considerably more prominent in Europe than in America; but major changes have taken place in the present century, so that aristocracy no longer counts heavily in the more “modernized” countries.

Although the structural changes in European society have been retarded relative to the relevant aspects of American society they have been considerable. How far they have gone has to a certain extent been masked by such factors as the segmentation of Europe into a sizable number of national states, the political disturbances of the present century (especially the two world wars, which had their primary centers in Europe), and the political movements of fascism and communism.

Fascism has been predominantly a regressive phenomenon in the context of the evolutionary scheme developed in this article and is not likely to have left any major mark on the sociocultural constitutions of the societies in which it has figured prominently; it is not the basis of a new fundamental variant of Western society, although it has been a major source of disturbance, and has inflicted severe social injury.

The communist movement is quite another matter. It certainly should be classified as at least a quasi-religious movement that has certain striking resemblances to Calvinism, both with respect to its mission as the agent of building an ideal secular society and with respect to the elitism of the two-class system, the party as the “vanguard” of the “proletariat” and the still socially unregenerate masses. Marxism is largely an offshoot of German idealistic philosophy and as such intimately associated with Protestantism. Indeed, the militant secularism of Marxism may be regarded as, in certain respects, the ideological accentuation of the importance of the kingdom of God on earth, or the “secular city”—God as the author of this great plan being replaced by the “dialectic of history.” For these reasons it seems legitimate to treat the communist movement as part of the more general development of the relations between religiously grounded culture and the organization of secular society.

It is a striking fact that the communist movement has not—contrary to Marx’s predictions— gained political ascendancy in any of the more advanced industrial countries, either in Europe or outside it. Its first great success was in Russia, which was a semi-European power, substantially backward industrially as compared with western Europe, and the largest single area whose Christian history had been dominated by the Eastern Orthodox church. Communism in the Soviet Union— and in China—has certainly been intimately connected with the problem of modernization. Its spread to the “satellite” countries is of course a direct function of Soviet political control in eastern Europe. The communist movement therefore cannot be regarded as a long-run basic alternative to the historic developments of Christianity, although this judgment may not be possible to confirm— or disprove—for a considerable time. At any rate, the acute mutual antagonism between virtually all Christian denominations, perhaps particularly Roman Catholicism, and “atheistic communism” seems to have begun to subside somewhat.

Against this background the catalytic influence of the brief papal reign of John xxiii and the council, Vatican ii, which he called may well constitute a major breakthrough in the development of the Christian system, concerning the relation of the different branches to each other, of all of them to secular society and culture, and of Christianity to non-Christian religious movements and institutions. The fact that the initiative came from Rome seems to be particularly significant.

In the first place, this seems to indicate a further extension of the pattern of secular responsibility that the church had affirmed in the late nineteenth-century encyclicals on labor and related questions. Second, it seems to represent a major step in Catholic movement toward an ecumenical position. It seems to represent very considerable mitigation of the relatively rigid position that has officially obtained ever since the Counter Reformation. In addition to this, the action taken by the council on the problem of relation to the Jews has gone far toward including them in a wider religious community going beyond Christian boundaries. In this respect the Catholic church as a whole has moved appreciably closer to the position that had been crystallizing in the United States, brought to a head especially in connection with the candidacy, election, assassination, and public mourning of John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic to be president of the United States— indeed the first non-Protestant.

Third, the Vatican Council, along with parallel movements in Protestantism centering in the World Council of Churches, seems to represent a very important step in the direction of mitigating the exclusiveness of religious legitimation, even of the Judaeo-Christian complex, in favor of a still wider ecumenicism, which in particular has made overtures to the historic religious traditions of Asia. Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Holy Land could be interpreted in a purely Christian context, although its break with the tradition of remaining in Italy was striking, and it brought him necessarily into official contact with Jewish and Muslim groups. His visits to India and to the United Nations, however, must be interpreted as symbolic gestures in the broadest ecumenical context.

It thus seems justified to consider that Christianity is entering on a new phase, part of the trend to institutionalization of Christian values in secular society. The proper type of this society, broadly called modern society, is widely valued. This is not to say that modern society is acceptable to Christian ethics in all detail and without any critical reservation. Quite the contrary, like any other actually existing human society, it is shot through with elements of “evil,” which range from the deplorable to the intolerable. Moreover, differences of evaluation within the Christian community have by no means disappeared, although they have been substantially mitigated.

There seems, however, to be emerging a consensus on a broad framework of the institutions of the morally acceptable society and on social problems to be solved. Thus, high standards in the economic, health, and education fields, certain fundamental patterns of equality, notably of citizenship and opportunity, and certain aspects of freedom and autonomy for individuals and associational groups are almost universally valued. Conversely, the widespread problems of illness and poverty, of exclusion from educational, occupational, and many other opportunities, and of destruction due to the use of physical violence are more widely recognized and protested against than ever.

Many of the intrasocietal and intersocietal problems that distress the modern world owe much of their salience and form of statement to the processes of institutionalization of Christian values sketched above. The distress over them is not so much a measure of the irrelevance of the historic impact of Christianity as a measure of the incompleteness of institutionalization; a conception which implies that there has been in the past significant relative success. The magnitude of the tasks ahead often seems appalling, but they would not even have been defined as tasks if the attitudes of the earlier phases of Christian development still prevailed.

Talcott Parsons

[See alsoProtestant political thoughtand the related articles listed underReligion. Other relevant material may be found in the biographies ofAquinas; Augustine; Calvin; Erasmus; Luther; Troeltsch; Weber, Max.]


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Christianity is a religion built on the life and words of Jesus of Nazareth (c. 6 bce–c. 30 ce), also known as Jesus Christ. Christianity is founded on the ideas of personal salvation (deliverance from sin) and eternal life for its followers. The Bible is its chief sacred text, and there are three main branches: Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Protestantism. Modern Christianity is further divided into an estimated twenty-two thousand different denominations (a group within a faith that has its own system of organization). In addition to being possibly the most divided religion in the world, Christianity is the world's largest religion, with 2.1 billion followers. Believers live around the globe, but the heaviest concentration of Christians is in Europe and North and South America. The United States contains the most number of Christians, with 85 percent of the population, or 225 million people, who claim to be Christians. Other major areas of Christian population include Europe, with about 550 million; Latin America, with about 450 million; Africa, with about 350 million; and Asia, with about 310 million.

History and development

Christianity's earliest foundations are based on historical events. The central event of Christianity is, as Huston Smith notes in The Religions of Man, "the life of a little-known Jewish carpenter who … was born in a stable, died at the age of thirty-three as a criminal rather than a hero, never traveled more than ninety miles from his birthplace, owned nothing, attended no college, marshaled no army, and instead of producing books did his only writing in the sand." It was this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who so affected people that a religion was built around his words and actions. In the early twenty-first century Christianity now includes one-third of the world's population as believers.


In Christianity, the sacrifice and death of Jesus Christ to redeem humankind from its sins.
A religious ceremony in which a person is dipped in or sprinkled with water as a sign of being cleansed of sin.
From the Greek, this word refers to the community of all Christians. It is also the place where Christians go to worship.
When a person adopts a new set of religious beliefs.
A statement of belief or basic principles.
The suffering and death by nailing or binding a person to a cross.
A person who accepts and assists in spreading the teachings of a leader. In the Bible, one of the followers of Jesus Christ.
A set of ideas held by a religious group.
Describing a Protestant group that emphasizes the absolute authority of the Bible and forgiveness of sin through belief in Jesus.
Officially deprive a person of the rights of church membership.
A statue or other image that is worshipped as a god.
Immaculate Conception:
The principle of the Roman Catholic Church that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived with a soul free from Original Sin.
In Christianity, the belief that God took on bodily form through Jesus Christ, making Jesus at once fully human and fully divine.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the belief that paying money to the Church would allow a person to get into heaven or be forgiven for sins that were not yet committed.
The expected deliverer and king of the Jews, foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament; used by Christians to refer to Jesus Christ.
Original Sin:
The sin that fell upon humankind when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; this act, in turn, led to the separation of humans from God.
The rising of Jesus Christ from the dead three days after his Crucifixion, or death on a cross.
A sacred rite, or ceremony.
In Christianity, someone who is judged to be particularly holy and worthy.
The deliverance of human beings from sin through Jesus Christ's death on the cross.
In Christianity, the union of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three divine persons in one God.
Virgin Birth:
The Christian belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and born of a virgin mother.

The historic Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus was a Jewish teacher and healer from the first century ce. Although Jesus is accepted as an actual historical figure, there is little known about him outside the stories found in the Bible. According to the Bible, Jesus was born in a stable in the town of Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, to a young woman named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph. Little is known of Jesus's childhood or youth. According to the Bible, at age twelve he was taken on a trip to Jerusalem and became separated from his parents for a time. He was finally found in the temple, where he was listening to and questioning Jewish scholars.

By his late twenties Jesus began his teaching near his hometown of Nazareth in northern Palestine. He traveled all over Galilee, gathering disciples (persons who accept and assist in spreading the teachings of a leader), including the fishermen Simon (renamed Peter, or "rock" in Greek, by Jesus) and Andrew. Soon he had gathered twelve disciples who traveled with him as he spread a message of love, acceptance of others, and the power of God's love for humanity. Jesus inspired in his followers a sense of mutual affection and joy and urged them to get rid of the selfish boundaries between people. As Jesus said in Matthew chapter 22, verses 37-40 (also referred to as 22:37-40), "You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." Jesus also preached that those who followed the word of God would have everlasting life.

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus spoke of the power of forgiveness: "If you forgive men their trespasses, our heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." For Jesus, love and forgiveness were the keys to salvation.

He soon attracted many followers. According to the Bible, Jesus also had the power to heal; he restored movement to the lame, sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf. His followers began to suspect that he was the Messiah for whom all Jews had been waiting. The Jewish Bible speaks of a Messiah, a person appointed by God to free the Jews from their enemies and then become King of the Jews.

Ultimately this popular new movement with Jesus as its leader attracted the attention of the authorities. Although the territory of Palestine, where Jesus lived, was technically under the control of the Roman Empire, traditional Jewish leaders maintained quite a bit of authority. The ruling body at the time was a group of seventy-one Jewish elders called the Sanhedron. The Sanhedron felt threatened by Jesus's teachings and by the popular opinion that he might be the Messiah. They did not have the authority to eliminate Jesus, but they knew that the Romans did. The Romans did not want any mass movements in Palestine that might challenge their authority. Visiting Jerusalem for the Jewish holy days of Passover, Jesus held a final meal with his followers and announced that he knew that one of them would betray him. This dinner became known as the Last Supper.

About Christianity

  • Belief. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that his Crucifixion (death on the cross) and subsequent Resurrection (rising from the dead) all make up for the sins of humankind. A belief in Jesus and his suffering leads to salvation.
  • Followers. Christians number about 2.1 billion, making Christianity the world's largest religion.
  • Name of God. The Christian god is called God and is also known as the Lord or the Father. Jesus is believed to be the Son of God. The concept of the Trinity makes God a combination of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • Symbols. The cross and the simplified sketch of a fish are two dominant Christian symbols.
  • Worship. Religious services are held in churches. Most Christians pray and observe the sacraments, or rites, of baptism and Holy Communion.
  • Dress. There is no special dress for Christians.
  • Texts. The Bible, consisting of the Old Testament, of Jewish origin, and the New Testament, written after the time of Jesus, is the sacred text of Christianity.
  • Sites. The Holy Land (the places in Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank connected with the birth, life, and death of Jesus) contains sites sacred to all Christians.
  • Observances. Christmas and Easter are the two major holy days in the Christian calendar. Christmas observes the day of Jesus's birth. Easter recognizes his Resurrection from the dead.
  • Phrases. There is no single phrase that unites all of Christianity, though many would recognize and respond to a phrase such as "May the Lord be with you."

Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of his followers, and arrested by the Sanhedron. When Jesus refused to defend himself, the Sanhedron took him to the Romans, charging him with sedition, that is, encouraging people to rebel against the government. Again, refusing to make any defense at his trial, he was sentenced to death by the Roman governor of the region, Pontius Pilate. Jesus suffered a painful death by crucifixion (execution by nailing or binding a person to a cross) and was placed in a tomb. Three days later it was discovered that the heavy stone that sealed the entrance to his tomb was moved and that his body was gone. According to the Bible Jesus later appeared to his disciples. He had risen from the dead. It was word of this miracle, known as the Resurrection, that the disciples spread.

In his death and Resurrection, Jesus proved to be an even more powerful figure than in life. Soon Jesus became known by a title coming from the Greek word christos, or "anointed one," a meaning similar to "messiah." The form was shortened to Jesus Christ, and common use turned this title into his last name.

The rise of early Christianity

Although it is not clear whether Jesus himself ever claimed to be the Son of God, his disciples did claim it. They began to write down their own interpretations of his life and words. His followers and believers called themselves an assembly. By the third or fourth century ce, this specific type of assembly took on the name church, from the Greek, kuriakon, which means "belonging to the lord." "Church" came to mean not just the building where Christians worship, but also the group of believers. These early believers, including the apostles (Jesus's twelve closest followers, or disciples) Peter, James, Matthew, John, and Thomas, preached the word of Jesus only to Jews at first. But soon the word of the Resurrection spread across the Mediterranean world.

The spreading of the religion outside the community of Jews was largely due to the work of a converted Jew, Saul of Tarsus (died c. 67 ce), who later became known as Paul or Saint Paul. Paul was not one of the original apostles. In fact, he had been involved in persecutions (campaigns of mistreatment aimed at stopping the growth of a religion) directed against disciples of Jesus. It was only long after the execution of Jesus that Paul had his conversion experience (or change of beliefs) and began his ministry. He was the first to begin preaching to the Gentiles (those who were not Jewish).

Through the writings and teachings of Paul, Christianity slowly began to separate itself from Judaism. The new religion adapted many of the forms of worship of the older Judaism, even incorporating its holy book, the Tanakh, into its teachings. Christians refer to the Tanakh as the Old Testament. At the same time Christianity was developing its own texts. The four Gospels, written in the first and second centuries, detail the life of Jesus. Christians soon also developed two primary sacraments, or sacred ceremonies: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is a religious ceremony in which a person is dipped in or sprinkled with water as a sign of being cleansed of sin. In the Christian religion baptism also signifies that a person has been admitted to church membership. The Last Supper, also referred to as the Eucharist, is a remembrance of Christ's last meal with his disciples before he died. The faithful met on Sundays, for it was on a Sunday that Jesus had risen from the dead. They said prayers together, reading from the Old Testament and from Paul's letters.

Soon the church began to organize. Members of the congregation (gathering or group) took on the jobs of preaching, leading the Sunday services, and collecting offerings from the believers. These tasks were later taken over by church officials. Bishops became administrators, overseeing the operation of the church in a city or district, while priests led worship. These offices slowly came to be officially separate from the laity, or regular members of the congregation. A ceremony called ordination gave a person holy orders or the duties of a priest.

Meanwhile, missionaries spread the gospel (a term meaning "good news") of Christ, finding converts throughout the Roman Empire. (A convert is a person who changes their religious beliefs.) The first pope, or leader of the church, was established at the end of the first century. The New Testament was collected by about 130 ce, and this helped to spread Christianity.

Persecution of early Christians

For the first few centuries of its existence, Christianity was a martyr's religion. (Martyrs are people who sacrifice their lives for the sake of their beliefs.) Some of the worst persecutions of early Christians happened during the reigns of the Roman emperors from about 81 to 305 ce. The emperors made the new religion illegal and often executed believers who would not give up their faith. Such persecutions were the result of Christians refusing to worship the Roman state or its emperor. In ancient Rome, the emperor himself was considered a god. Worshipping the emperor and the gods of Rome was a sign that a person was a good Roman citizen. A religion like Christianity that taught there was only one God and whose believers could not worship the emperor was a threat to the emperor's power.

Despite such difficulties, by the fourth century, Christianity had spread as far west as Spain and into both Persia (present-day Iran) and India to the east. In 313 the Roman emperor Constantine (d. 337; ruled 306–337) declared a policy of religious tolerance. He made Christianity a legal religion in the Roman Empire. Then in 380 Theodosius I (347–395) declared it the official religion of the Roman Empire. As of 410 Christians had the power to ban non-Christian religions from the empire. The church adapted parts of the Roman culture to its organization. It used Roman political districts to mark its own religious districts and allowed more state involvement in church affairs.

With mainstream acceptance came internal quarreling over doctrine (a set of ideas held by a religious group) and beliefs. From about 275 the church, especially in Asia Minor (the area of modern-day Turkey), became involved in doctrinal arguments. For the next several hundred years, large councils of bishops (clergymen who rank above priests) met to decide matters such as the nature of the doctrine of the Trinity. Under the doctrine of the Trinity, God is united into a single figure with three sides: the Father (a creative side), Son (the earthly part), and Holy Spirit (the supernatural, or spiritual, aspect). Still, some believed that God the Father was more powerful than the other two parts. Councils in 325 and 381 decided that issue. They wrote the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief in one God with three aspects.

The first monasteries are formed

During the fifth to tenth centuries the monastic system arose. This development was prompted in part by early hermits who had escaped Roman persecution by going off into the desert and living there in seclusion (alone). In this new system, a person could dedicate himself to a secluded and celibate (having no sexual relations) life of thinking about Christ and the Bible. These men were called monks. Buildings called monasteries became places of safety from persecution as well as places of spiritual contemplation (deep thinking) and learning.

The Benedictine Rule, or Benedictine Order, was one of the first such monastic orders, founded in 525 at Monte Cassino, Italy. Other monastic orders formed throughout the early history of Christianity, helping to preserve the traditions of the church. The orders kept the sacred texts in huge libraries and practiced the forms of religion and prayer as established by the early Christians.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is established

The two centers of Christianity were Rome and Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey). These cities were also centers of the Roman Empire. With invasions from northern Europe in the fifth century and the loss of political power, Rome was placed in a much weaker position than Constantinople, the eastern capital of the empire. There were divisions between the two seats of power. The church in Rome by the end of the second century began using Latin as the language of worship and in religious texts. The church in the East, however, still used Greek. The bishop of Rome became the pope, or leader, of the church in the West (the countries of Europe and the Americas). The Eastern Church had a less centralized structure, with the patriarch, or district leader, of Constantinople as the unofficial head of that branch. Most real power in the East, however, lay in the hands of the emperor.

These differences intensified over questions of doctrine, particularly over the Nicene Creed. Finally in 1054 a formal separation took place, resulting in two distinct churches: the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Thereafter, the popes in Rome fought for secular, or political, power with the princes and kings of Europe. By 926, European states had loosely joined together as the Holy Roman Empire, with the pope in Rome as the spiritual head. The pope would in turn make one of the many princes in Europe the emperor. This system remained in place until 1806. However, there was continual competition between the popes and the princes for power.

Meanwhile the Eastern Orthodox Church extended its control over Asia Minor and over Christians in the Middle East. Constantinople became the center of what was called the Byzantine Empire. This empire ruled over what had been the eastern half of the Roman world, including Asia Minor, the Middle East, parts of North Africa, and some of Europe, including what is now northern Greece, from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries. This control, however, soon found new competition in the form of another religion, Islam.

Early conflict between Christianity and Islam

In the eighth century the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Empire faced another challenge. Traditional Christian areas of North Africa, Egypt, and Palestine came under the control of the followers of Islam (a religion marked by belief in one God, Allah, and the acceptance of Muhammad as the chief and last prophet of God). The Catholic Church in the West also felt the power of Islam when Spain was invaded in the eighth century and Muslim, or Moorish, rule was established there.

Although in some instances the two religions managed to live peacefully side-by-side, relations were more typically hostile. Such hostility was a result of different beliefs about Jesus. Christians see Christ as godlike and part of the Trinity. But for Muslims, Jesus was just one more prophet or messenger of God, and Muhammad was the major prophet. Muslims also believe the Bible is not accurate. For them, the Qur an, the holy book of Islam, is the final word of God. The religious differences between Muslims and Christians led to tension between the two groups.

This hostility led to the Crusades, a series of military expeditions undertaken by European Christians in the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries in an attempt to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims. (The Holy Land consists of the Biblical region of Palestine, which includes sites considered sacred by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.) The Crusades were largely unsuccessful. Although those who participated in the First Crusade did retake Jerusalem in 1099, later Crusades could not maintain this foothold in what had become a Muslim-dominated region.

The Inquisition and humanism

As the Roman Catholic Church gained power over the princes and kings of Europe in the Holy Roman Empire, it also created the Inquisition, a group formed to control heresy (opinions or beliefs that go against church teachings) by means of harsh punishments. The Inquisition began in the thirteenth century and by the sixteenth century it had become an official office of the Catholic Church. During the Middle Ages (the period of European history from c. 500–c. 1500), the Inquisition used forms of torture to get confessions of heresy from people. Those found guilty were burned at the stake.

In 1453 Constantinople, the center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, was conquered by the Muslim Ottoman Turks, a tribe that was creating a great Islamic empire in the Middle East and in Asia Minor. In time the Turks also took over Greece, causing many Christian scholars and intellectuals to flee. These intellectuals arrived in Europe and joined a revival of classical art, literature, and learning in Europe that was slowly giving a new emphasis and focus to the way humans looked at the world and at God. This spirit of humanism, a philosophy based upon human reason, actions, and motives without concern for supernatural phenomena, was at odds with the elaborate form of religion practiced by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Reformation gives rise to Protestantism

By the sixteenth century European explorers were spreading Christianity to the New World, both North America and South America. At this time, too, there was growing discontent with practices of the Church, such as the selling of indulgences. An indulgence was when people would pay money to the Church with the impression that they could buy their way into heaven or be forgiven for sins that were not yet committed. Critics thought that such practices distorted the original goals of the Church. Salvation should not be sold, these critics said. Rather, it should be earned by belief in Jesus Christ and by good works.

The German Augustinian monk Martin Luther (1483–1546) opposed such practices in 1517 by supposedly nailing his ninety-five theses, or propositions, onto the door of the local church. He was excommunicated, or removed from membership in the Catholic Church, because of his action. Luther went on to preach a reformed Christianity that emphasized individual faith as the most powerful ingredient in a person's salvation. Luther's proposed changes ending the selling of indulgences, and simplification of rituals drew new believers and inspired other reformers. Because the movement sought to reform church practices, it became known as the Reformation. Since it began as a protest against the perceived abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, the new sects that resulted became known as Protestant.

Catholics reacted to these reform movements with the Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth century. Led by conservative Catholics and Pope Paul III (1468–1549), the Counter-Reformation wanted to reform the church, but slowly and from within. They hoped their reforms would stop Protestant advances and preserve Catholic traditions.

Protestantism continued to grow, giving rise to new groups with different beliefs. Organized forms of Christianity, however, faced a new test with the revolutionary ideas of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment focused on the power of human reason instead of divine wisdom and placed new focus on the logic of science over faith.

In the nineteenth century scientific discoveries and new theories about life's beginnings led many people to feel that a literal reading of the Bible was no longer reasonable. The church's influence over individuals and nations began to weaken. At the same time, however, many new Christian denominations appeared, stressing Adventist doctrines. These beliefs asserted that the Second Coming (or Advent) of Jesus Christ was near, that the world would be destroyed, and only the faithful would be with Jesus Christ in heaven. The North American group Jehovah's Witnesses is an Adventist religion.

Christianity in the twentieth century

Christianity continued to grow throughout the twentieth century. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) was an attempt at reviving Catholicism. The council also hoped and worked for closer connections with other Christian branches and with Judaism. Communist governments throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which had prohibited many types of religious celebration, collapsed in the late 1980s. The political system of communism eliminates private property and gives the state control of goods and services. After communists lost control, the Eastern Orthodox Church in many central and eastern European countries and in Russia was able to hold services without fear of repression.

Another trend in the twentieth century was a decline in Europe of religious affiliation, or formal connection with an organized church. This was accompanied by a sharp rise in church membership in Asia and Africa. Changes in social values forced Christian churches to address issues once avoided, such as female clergy. Many Christians, especially those belonging to more conservative Protestant denominations, object to the changes introduced in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. They feel that these changes, like changing ad (Anno Domini, In the Year of Our Lord) and bc (Before Christ) to ce (Common Era) and bce (Before the Common Era), is an example of the secular, or nonreligious, world taking power over religious life.

Sects and schisms

There have been three major schisms, or divisions, in Christianity, resulting in three major branches: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. In addition, some scholars consider that there have been four major schisms, with the fourth being the creation of the Eastern Rite Churches, or Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Churches.

Rise of the Eastern Orthodox Church

Doctrinal disputes over the Trinity were at the heart of the disagreement between the Western Church, centered in Rome, and the Eastern Church, centered in Constantinople. In 1014 the Western Church included "filioque" in the Nicene Creed, the statement of the chief beliefs or tenets of Christianity. That statement read, in part, "I believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ … And in the Holy Ghost … Who proceedeth [comes or arises] from the Father and the Son."

The addition of "filioque," or "and the Son" to this fundamental declaration meant that such a spirit does not come solely from God but from God and the Son, Jesus Christ. This idea went against teachings in the Eastern Church. As a result, the patriarch of Constantinople closed all Latin-speaking churches in the city, the official language of the Western Church. This act led to countermeasures by Rome, until each church by 1054 had excommunicated the other, or forced them out of membership. Thereafter, the Eastern Church, claiming to be the legitimate, or official, version of Christianity, called itself the Eastern Orthodox Church. In turn the Western Church, claiming to be the universal version, called itself the Roman Catholic Church.

Although there was an attempt to reach peace between the two branches, both continue to use different versions of the Nicene Creed. There are many other differences as well. The Eastern Church is less centralized in its administration. Instead of an overall leader such as the pope in Rome, it has patriarchs or metropolitans, who do not rule the entire Eastern Church but only a portion of it. Neither is the Eastern Church the primary religious teaching authority, as it is in Catholic tradition. Moreover, priests in the Eastern Church are not required to be celibate, although their bishops are. Members of the church who are not clergy also have more power and responsibilities in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Salvation is more of a group concern in Eastern Church tradition, and the mystical element of the religion is emphasized. Eastern Orthodox tradition is the dominant religion in Bulgaria, Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and the Ukraine and is also found in Albania, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the United States.

The Roman Catholic Church after 1054 solidified its standing in Europe and then spread to the New World with voyages of discovery in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Austria, Poland, and Portugal in Europe are strongly Catholic countries, as is much of Central America and South America. The Catholic Church differs from the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity in its central organization. The idea of papal infallibility, meaning that the pope cannot make mistakes in matters of religious doctrine, is unique to Roman Catholicism. The church is the teaching authority of the faith, and the pope has the final word about matters of faith or morals.


The next major schism within Christianity occurred within the Western branch. By the sixteenth century the Roman Catholic Church had become top-heavy in bureaucracy and ritual. Purists, or those who believed in traditional standards, felt that the meaning of Christ's suffering had become lost in all the rituals. Many rituals of the time were performed without any true feeling. Reformers such as Martin Luther wanted to return to a simpler form of the religion.

For such reformers, the Bible was the central authority, not the people who ran the church. They protested against practices such as selling indulgences. Men like Luther, John Calvin (1509–1564), Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), and John Knox (c. 1514–1572), believed in the idea of "justification by faith alone." In other words, for these reformers faith was not simply a matter of accepting Christian doctrine and doing good works, but of actually and personally experiencing the presence of God. Good works do not necessarily lead to salvation, but they do follow from someone who already has faith.

Protestant denominations

For Protestants, no priests or other people are needed to help a believer know God. These reformers believed in a personal faith founded on what came to be called the Protestant Principle: that a person's devotion is to God and not to the trappings of religion or to the priests of religion. All the accessories of religion, such as ceremonies and icons (pictorial representations or symbols), should be examined and never placed on a higher level than a direct love of God. Protestants do use the accessories of religion, but they try not to rely on them more than on God.

The personal experience of God that the Protestant Reformation stressed and the Catholic Counter-Reformation diminished dominated much of sixteenth century history in the West. But this emphasis on the personal experience of God led to the multiplication of many Protestant sects. Most differed from Roman Catholicism primarily through the ways they ran their churches, but a few introduced important new ideas into their theologies. For instance, Calvin taught that humans are so wicked they can do nothing to bring about their own salvation and must depend solely on God's grace and mercy. This idea opposed the theological idea that salvation could be "earned" through good works. This theological, or religious, idea called predestination, or the idea that God sets aside some people to be saved and others not to be, is central to Calvinism, the religion founded by Calvin.

The Anabaptists, a group with its origins in Germany and Switzerland, believed only adults, those who could freely choose faith should be baptized. Anabaptists also were pacifists (people who believe in nonviolence), who denied believers the right to use weapons even in selfdefense. Southern Baptist Convention and the American Baptist Convention are two North American branches of Anabaptists.

Another major division within Protestantism came from England. There, King Henry VIII (1491–1547) broke from Rome in 1534 over the pope's refusal to grant him a divorce. The Anglican Church, or the Church of England, maintaining many of the rites of the Catholic Church, was formed as a result. Anglicanism gave rise in North America to the Episcopal Church.

Reaction against the authority of the Anglican Church led to the multiplication of Protestant sects in England. Puritanism was a sect that grew out of the Anglican movement. The Puritans wanted to further "purify" the religion from any of the practices associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The Baptist Church, founded by John Smyth (c. 1570–1612), grew out of one of many separatist movements in the Anglican Church. As the name suggests, Baptists take the sacrament, or holy rite, of baptism as a central belief and ritual. Quakers and Methodists also came from Anglicanism or reacted against it. George Fox (1624–1691) founded the Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, in the mid-seventeenth century. Pacifism is a central belief for Quakers. They do not practice the sacraments but rather seek an individual experience of God within themselves. John Wesley (1703–1791) founded Methodism in 1739. This denomination also values a direct experience of God. Wesley taught the idea of perfectionism, a belief so high and pure that it cleanses the individual of Original Sin.

Christianity's 2.1 billion members can be broken down by religion and branch: 1.1 billion Roman Catholics; 510 million Protestants; 216 million Eastern Orthodox; 158 million independents; and 31.7 million without a clear connection to a larger umbrella group, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Basic beliefs

The central belief in Christianity is that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of humankind. By believing in Jesus's death and Resurrection, people can be saved. Their sins can be redeemed, and they can find eternal life in heaven after death. "I am the way," Jesus said in John 14:16, "and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me." These words took on new meaning following the death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Primary Christian doctrines

The words of Jesus were put down in writing during the century following his death in the first four books of the New Testament, called the Gospels. In addition to these books, there are also numerous creeds, or statements of belief, made by later followers in large church councils and not included in the New Testament. The life and deeds of Jesus portrayed in the Gospels are considered the heart of Christianity. These later creeds record the attempts of followers to make sense of the teachings of Jesus and to combine them in an organized body of thought and belief. Not all Christians agreed on all creeds, and this, among other differences, led to an array of Christian denominations. Three primary doctrines, however, are fairly standard across denominations: Incarnation, Atonement, and the Trinity.

The doctrine of Incarnation holds that Jesus was both man and God at the same time. According to this creed, God the Father became incarnate, or took on bodily form, for the sake of humanity. It was not that Jesus was half human and half divine. Rather, as the Council of Nicea decided in 325, Jesus was of the same substance as God the Father.

The doctrine of Atonement speaks of reconciliation between God and humankind, a settlement ending the separation between God and humans. This separation was caused, according to some interpretations, by Original Sin. (The doctrine of Original Sin says that sin, or disobedience to God, began when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.) This Original Sin had to be paid for, and it was the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross that redeemed humanity. Others see this separation in a more psychological (dealing with the human mind) manner. For example, the word sin has roots that are similar to the word sunder, meaning "to split" or "to divide." In this interpretation Original Sin represents the sense of alienation, or distancing, that humans have from one another and from God. Through belief in Jesus people can erase sin and achieve a sense of oneness. For Christians, belief in the Atonement of Jesus is the way to salvation.

Related to salvation is the Christian concept of the afterlife. Although this may vary between denominations and individual Christians, the vast majority of Christians believe in some kind of heaven, in which believers enjoy the presence of God and the company of other believers after death. Views differ as to whether those of other faiths or those of no faith will be in heaven. Concepts of what heaven will be like differ as well. Fewer Christians believe in the existence of hell, where unbelievers or sinners are punished. There is also no complete agreement as to whether hell is eternal and whether its punishment is spiritual or physical. Some Christians reject the notion of hell altogether.

The third major doctrine of Christianity is belief in the Trinity. While Christianity is monotheistic, it also holds the concept that the single, eternal God is composed of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This three-in-one concept of God stirred great debate in early Christianity, just as the idea that Jesus was wholly human and wholly divine at the same time did.

Added to these basic beliefs are others, not necessarily held by all denominations. Some hold a firm belief in the historical Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. Not all denominations believe in the virginity of Mary and thus in the virgin birth of Jesus. Some believe that Jesus was the messiah who was foretold by the Jews or that Jesus will return in the so-called Second Coming and will judge all humans and receive, or allow into salvation, those who are faithful. Many believe that the Bible was inspired by God but written by humans and is the first and last word of authority for Christianity. Christians believe more or less strongly in each of these doctrines, depending on their denominations.

Sacred writings

The Bible, composed of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is the sacred book of Christianity. The word "Bible" is from the Greek word meaning "the books." Christians largely believe that the Bible is the word of God as written down by men. The Old Testament is made up of parts of the Jewish Bible, the twenty-four books of the Jewish Tanakh. The Roman Catholic Church also includes parts of what is known as the Septuagint, or the Apocrypha, while the Eastern Orthodox Church includes still other Jewish texts. Protestants generally accept that the twenty-four books of the Tanakh make up the Old Testament.

The New Testament, concerned wholly with the development of Christianity, comprises twenty-seven books, originally written in Greek. These books come from the early Christian period, the earliest being the seven epistles, or letters, written by Paul between about 50 and 60 ce. Much of the rest of the New Testament was written in the succeeding fifty to one hundred years. The organization of the books in the Bible, however, does not reflect the chronology, or order in time, of its writing. Rather, the New Testament begins with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which tell of the life of Jesus and what he said and did. Then follow the Acts of the Apostles, a history of the missionary efforts of the apostles. This, in turn, is followed by the Pauline epistles (those written by Saint Paul), clarifying and enlarging on religious doctrines, and then by general epistles. In all, thirteen of the epistles have been attributed to Paul, accounting for about one-third of the New Testament. The final book of the New Testament is Revelation, which reveals the secrets of the workings of the heavenly world and foretells the Second Coming of Christ.

Sacred symbols

The primary symbol of Christianity is the cross, representing the suffering, Crucifixion, Atonement, and Resurrection of Jesus. The cross is a strong symbol in churches and often appears on their roofs and in homes. Its presence recalls the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The cross is also sometimes worn around the neck as jewelry.

Another early symbol of Christianity is the primitive drawing of a fish made of two curving lines, or arcs. In the early days of persecution, if two Christians met they could identify themselves to each other by this symbol. One would draw an arc in the sand, and the other would draw a reverse arc to fashion the shape of a fish. Two things make this a powerful symbol. One is the reference in the Bible to Christians as being fishers of men. The other is the fact that the Greek word for fish, ichthus, also forms, in Greek, the first letters of the words "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." Thus, this simple symbol was a heavily encoded message.

While the cross and the fish are primary symbols of Christianity, the religion is filled with other icons and symbols. The dove is another Christian symbol, especially when depicted with a halo of three rings. The dove is used to represent the Holy Spirit, while the three rings of the halo represents the Trinity. The image of a lamb similarly symbolizes Jesus, the "lamb of God" (agnus Dei in Latin).


The form of worship for Christians was established in the early days of the Church. At first some of the worship service was borrowed from Jewish forms, so that the faithful said prayers together, sang from psalms (biblical hymns), and read scripture, mostly from the Old Testament at first and later from Paul's letters. As Christianity developed more of its own writings in the New Testament, the readings tended to come more and more from that section. Worship services were held on Sunday, considered the day of Jesus's Resurrection. In addition, the early church had two main sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper, also known as Holy Communion or the Eucharist. The Lord's Supper is a reenactment of the Last Supper, when Jesus and his disciples shared bread and wine on the night before his Crucifixion. At one time this Lord's Supper was a community dinner after which the faithful received symbolic bread and wine. Now, it is a more symbolic gesture of drinking holy wine and eating a blessed bread wafer, representing the body and blood of Jesus.

Modern forms of worship largely follow this basic format. Services are held in churches and cathedrals, buildings that often double as community centers. Sunday school classes are often held for children to teach them church doctrine. No special clothing needs to be worn for services, though the faithful usually dress formally. Members of the congregation sometimes sit in pews, or rows of benches, and also stand at various times during the religious service or kneel with their hands held in front of them to pray. All branches of Christianity observe the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper with varying forms and meanings.

Besides baptism and the Lord's Supper, both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church recognize other sacraments: confirmation, or formal acceptance of a person into the church; marriage; the taking of holy orders to become a bishop, priest, or deacon of the church; extreme unction, a rite that is meant to give spiritual comfort to the sick and dying; and penance, during which sins are confessed and forgiven. Protestants, in general, have fewer ceremonies and rites.


A part of the service in most branches of Christianity, however, includes a sermon or homily, a discussion by the priest or clergy about some aspect of the Bible or perhaps a topic of current social interest viewed in context with Christian teaching. In some denominations, laypersons are encouraged to speak, while in others, only the official clergy or priests conduct services. Music is often a part of services, with choirs and organ accompaniment.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Church the reenactment of the Last Supper is the central part of the worship service. Catholics call this celebration the Eucharist or Mass. In the orthodox tradition it is called the Divine Liturgy (liturgy is a public act of worship). For Anglicans it is the Holy Eucharist. In all three traditions a priest leads the service. In both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, Sunday attendance is required of all members and is called a "holy day of obligation."

There are two parts to the Eucharist or Divine Liturgy. The first part consists of hymns, prayers, Bible readings, and recitations of various teachings and prayers by the entire congregation. The second part is the actual celebration of the Last Supper, with the symbolic eating of a wafer and drinking of wine. Catholics also make the sign of the cross at various times during the service by placing the right hand to the forehead, to the breast and to the left shoulder and to the right shoulder, with the words: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." Music and singing also forms a part of the mass.

The Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer is one of the oldest prayers of the Christian Church. The Bible attributes it to Jesus himself, who taught it to his disciples. Versions of it appear in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and it continues to be used in most Christian denominations. Most Christian authorities consider it a central statement of belief.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses; as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

A typical worship service in a Protestant church is led by a preacher or minister and focuses on a sermon or a teaching from the Bible. Some services are opened with prayers from the Bible. Though the Lord's Supper, also called communion, is part of Protestant worship, it is not necessarily a weekly matter. Some Protestant denominations observe it monthly; others, every three months. The congregation sings hymns together and recites prayers, such as the Lord's Prayer.

Observances and pilgrimages

The primary holy days for Christianity are Christmas (celebrated on December 25 in the Western tradition) and Easter (celebrated in the Western tradition on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring). Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, although it is not known for sure what time of the year he was born. Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus. Although these holy days are commonly celebrated worldwide on the dates recognized by the Western tradition, in some areas, including parts of Eastern Europe and in the Middle East, they are often celebrated later. This is because some churches in the Eastern tradition continue to calculate the dates of Easter and Christmas using the older Julian calendar (established by the Roman Empire, establishing a 12-month year with 365 days) rather than the more modern Gregorian calendar (a 1582 revision of the Julian calendar).

Christmas takes its name from the old English Christes maesse, literally "Christ's mass." Christians have been celebrating Jesus's birth on December 25 since at least the early fourth century. On this day, Christians attend a special mass. They will listen to a priest read the account of Jesus's birth in the Bible and sing songs in praise. Even for Christians who do not practice their faith daily, Christmas is an occasion that will bring them back to the church.

In the weeks leading up to Easter, called Lent, Christians go without something notable in their lives to honor the sacrifice made by Christ when he died on the cross. They attend mass and hear special readings from the Bible.


Pilgrimages for Christians are voluntary journeys; they are not required. People make them for a number of reasons. Some go in search of a miraculous cure. Others wish to renew their faith by visiting sites mentioned in the Bible or connected with the life of Christ. Such visits most often include the Holy Land (modern-day Israel), Jordan, and the West Bank, where Christ was born and preached his message. Among the sites is Jerusalem, a city holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This is a site of many of the events in the life and death of Christ. The Via Dolorosa, or way of suffering, is traditionally believed to be the path Jesus followed on his way to his crucifixion. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (tomb) is believed to be built on the spot where Jesus was crucified and near where he was buried. Also in the Holy Land is Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, and Nazareth, where he came of age.

Santiago de Compostela, in the northeast of Spain, has also long been a pilgrimage site for Christians. The remains of St. James, one of the original twelve disciples, are believed to be buried here. The medieval pilgrimage route of several hundred miles, the Way of Saint James, or Camino de Santiago, is still walked today by the faithful. Pilgrims also visit the church in the city and pray to St. James, hoping for a miracle to solve their problems or cure their illnesses. There are many holy shrines around the world associated with curing powers or with miracles. Lourdes, in southern France, is one such place, and Fatima, in Portugal, is another. Both are believed to be places where Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to young people who had prayed to her.

Throughout Europe there are shrines and cathedrals that have special importance for Christians. Many Catholics take a trip to Rome to visit Vatican City, the headquarters of their church and residence of the pope. Protestants often visit the Church of Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Germany. This is considered the center of the beginnings of Protestantism. Great cathedrals such as Notre Dame in Paris and the Cologne Cathedral in Germany draw millions of visitors, both religious and non-religious, each year. Such cathedrals, built over generations (and sometimes over centuries), represent for Christians a visible sign of belief and faith, and often hold relics of famous early Christians. Nonreligious visitors can appreciate the cathedrals for their beauty and art.

Everyday living

Many Christian denominations practice fasting (cutting food intake back to one full meal a day) and abstinence (avoidance of meat for the day) as part of their observance of holidays. During Lent, for instance, Roman Catholics are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) and Good Friday (the Friday before Easter). Certain days are also set aside for abstinence. In the Roman Catholic tradition, each Friday during Lent is declared a day of abstinence, when the faithful are asked to avoid eating meat. The Church does not recognize fish as a type of meat, so observant Catholics may eat fish on these days.

There is no specific dress code or diet for Christians. The clergy of various branches, denominations, and orders do, however, have distinctive clothing. This includes the priest's collar, the robes of some monks, the black attire and headpiece that nuns (women who have devoted their lives to God) used to wear, and the distinctive robes and circular hats worn in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In the Western tradition, the pope, the cardinals, and the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church wear hats or caps called mitres that are presented to them when they enter into their offices. Mitres are related to the ancient crown of the Roman emperors in Constantinople and are a sign of the authority these people hold.

Rites of passage

Major stages of life, or rites of passage, are celebrated by the Christian church. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions make these rites into central sacraments. Protestant churches also celebrate them. The first rite of passage comes at birth with baptism. Since baptism is a sign that a person belongs to Christ and is a Christian, the ceremony is also called a christening. The newborn usually has a few drops of water splashed on its head or is immersed in shallow pool. An official of the church, such as a priest or minister, carries out the ceremony, while saying "I Baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." This service is attended by friends and family and by persons chosen by the parents to be godparents, who promise to help raise the child as a Christian. In some Protestant traditions, though, children are not baptized until their parents and other church members feel they are old enough to understand the commitment they are making in the ceremony.

The next major rite of passage for Christians is confirmation, or joining the church as an adult. This service basically "confirms" the promises of faith made at baptism. Some groups that do not practice infant baptism, such as Baptists and Pentecostals, have a separate adult baptism for this ceremony. Children in the Catholic religion receive penance and First Holy Communion at age seven or eight, which is considered the "age of reason." Confirmation follows because they are now believed able to understand the promises made at their baptisms.

Before the service, candidates for confirmation usually study their religion in small groups. At the service, the young person answers a series of questions about his or her faith and promises to reject evil. Then, in the Catholic tradition, the bishop puts his hand on the person's shoulder, says the person's name (there may be a special confirmation name after a saint), and traces the sign of the cross on the forehead with holy oil to show this is a child of god. Methodist ministers also put a hand on the candidates. In the Baptist church everyone watching the confirmation extends his or her right hand. This shows acceptance and fellowship of the group. This ceremony formally accepts the candidate into the religion.

Weddings are another rite of passage in Christianity, as they are in many other religions. Christian weddings are usually celebrated in a church, but they can also be held at homes or even outside in parks or at the beach. Inside or outside, the groom usually stands in front of the minister or priest performing the service. Then the bride's father will bring the bride to the groom, symbolically handing over his daughter to her new husband. A minister or priest generally reads from standard wedding vows in which the bride and groom promise to be true to one another in all circumstances. Many couples write their own vows, or wedding promises. The couples also exchange rings, which they wear on the fourth finger of the left hand.

In the Eastern Orthodox church the ceremony most often follows service, which is followed by the marriage service. In the betrothal service, the priest first blesses the rings the couple exchange, and places them on the fourth fingers of their right hands. Later comes the marriage ceremony. The priest gives the man and woman lighted candles to hold, signifying that the light of God will follow them through their married lives. A wedding crown, made of flowers or an actual crown of gold and jewels, is placed on the groom and then on the bride, and the two drink from a common cup to signify the life they will be sharing. Portions of the Bible, including the letters of Paul, are read at these services.

Finally, Christianity also provides for believers at their time of death. For Christians, death is not an ending, but a beginning. Christians believe that there is a life after death. This is stated clearly in the Apostle's Creed: "I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints; the Forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and Life everlasting." For Christians, death is a passage to eternal life. Just before death, if possible, ministers or priests will give a final sacrament to the believer. This is called the anointing (touching with oil) of the sick. The priest or minister touches the dying person with holy oil and says, "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up. Amen." Catholics also confess their sins to the priest so that they can go to heaven without waiting in purgatory.

After death, all Christian traditions follow a similar routine. There is a public announcement of the death, the body is prepared, there are funeral services at a church, a procession of cars to the cemetery, and then a burial, where the body is placed in a coffin into the ground, or a cremation, where the body is burned and the ashes placed in a container and later buried or scattered. Often, there is a viewing of the body. This is usually held at the funeral home after the body has been embalmed, or preserved with chemicals. The coffin lid may be open so that mourners, those saddened by the death, can see the dead person one last time Funeral services include prayers, the singing of hymns, and speeches, or eulogies, in honor of the dead person. In Catholic tradition, there is a vigil service (where people come to grieve over the dead person) at the funeral home or church. This is followed several days later by a funeral mass in the church, and then another ceremony, the rite of committal, when the body is buried.

In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the vigil service is called parastasis or panikhida, and is a time for thinking about death. The Eastern funeral service includes hymns, chants, and Bible readings. Burial is preferred but the Orthodox Church allows cremation if the law of the country requires it. Christian funerals are usually followed by a meal at the home of the deceased or dead person. This is a chance for friends and relatives to express their sadness over the death and release their emotions.


Another rite that has an ongoing role in the lives of Catholics and Orthodox alike is the sacrament of confession. Confession, also called penance, is a sacrament through which sins can be repented and absolved, or forgiven. For Catholics confession is officially called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Reconcile means to restore, and by confessing, Catholics believe they restore their relationship with God. This can be done sitting face-to-face with a priest and telling the sins one has committed. Confession also happens at regular times in a confessional, a kind of booth where the priest is shielded from the layperson by a screen.

Sins are of two types, minor, or venal, and major sins, or mortal. Examples of venal sins are gossiping, rudeness, and cursing. Examples of mortal sins are sex outside of marriage and divorce. The priest will forgive the sins and give the believer religious duties to perform, such as reciting the Lord's Prayer many times. Catholics are required to confess twice each year. However, for Protestants, who believe that no intermediary is needed between humans and God, such confession of sins is a private matter. Anglicans (Episcopalians) have a voluntary private rite of confession similar to that of Catholics, but not all members of the faith use it. General confession during Holy Communion is more common. For all Christians such periodic confession is an important part of the faith.

Christianity's influences

Christianity has been one of the most influential religions in world history. It has been a dominant force not only in theology, or the formal study of religion, but also in education, art and architecture, in the structure of Western society, and even in politics. The Christian church has, in large part, shaped societies in Europe and the Americas.

The very rhythms of life in the West are attuned to Christianity. For example, the workweek typically begins with Monday and ends with Friday or Saturday, with Sunday being a day of rest. The occasions of Christmas and Easter likewise shape annual rhythms. The concept of the nation and state grew with the Western church. The pope, at times, has proved a mighty leader of the West. Such leadership did not always result in the best outcomes: the long and bloody history of the Crusades, for example, and the harsh years of the Inquisition, are not high points of Christian history.

With its emphasis on helping the poor, the weak, and the ill, Christianity has led missions around the world to aid the sick and feed the hungry. Christians worldwide have spearheaded programs to bring social justice (the idea that all people should have equal opportunities) and fair treatment to people who are oppressed, or mistreated, by their governments. Christians have also played an important part in opposing war and promoting global peace.

Christianity has had a long tradition in education. Some of the earliest universities in Europe were founded by the Christian church. Some of the greatest medieval thinkers, such as Italian Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), advanced philosophy through their close examination of religious questions. Christianity still plays a large role in education in the United States, where many schools from kindergarten through university are run by faith-based institutions. Many fundamentalists (people who believe in the Bible as a complete and accurate historical record and statement of prophecy) question scientific theories that conflict with Christian theology, such as the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin (1809–1882), and put forward alternative theories to describe the way that life on Earth has evolved.

Influence on the arts

Perhaps one of the most visible areas of Christian influence has been in literature. The Bible stands as one of the earliest and most popular texts in the world. Writers such as Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) have found inspiration in Christianity's doctrines. His Divine Comedy describes the poet's journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven. England's Geoffrey Chaucer (1340–1400) wrote his Canterbury Tales about a group of pilgrims traveling to a shrine, creating one of the classics of literature in any language.

Since the time of Dante and Chaucer authors of all nationalities have found further inspiration in Christianity and the Bible. Modern examples of writers influenced by their Christian beliefs include the poet T. S. Eliot (1888–1965), one of the most important poets of the twentieth century. His poems and plays criticize the material world that has forgotten spirituality. The novels of the Englishman Graham Greene (1904–1991), such as The Power and the Glory, were strongly influenced by his Catholicism.

Christianity has also had great influence in art and architecture. Art in the Middle Ages was primarily religious in theme. Italian painters Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) made religious themes the subject of their most famous works. Michelangelo is remembered for his famous paintings of scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, part of the Vatican (the head of the Catholic Church) in Rome. Leonardo's fresco, or wall painting, in Milan, Italy, called the Last Supper is equally famous for its depiction of Christ and his disciples. It was not until the sixteenth century that Western painting began to move away from Christian themes.

Architecture was also strongly influenced by Christianity. During the late Middle Ages builders began designing and building Gothic (a style of architecture) churches that feature soaring vaults and pointed arches that make the faithful look heavenward. Western music also was heavily influenced by Christianity. Much of the work of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), for example, was created for church services. From literature to architecture to music, Western art would not be what it is without the influence of Christianity.

For More Information


"Christianity." The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion. Edited by Jonathan Z. Smith. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1995.

Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. New York, NY: Atheneum, 1976.

Lace, William W. Christianity. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, Inc., 2005.

McManners, John. The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity. New York, NY: Oxford Illustrated Press, 2001.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. "Christianity: An Overview." In Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. Edited by Lindsay Jones. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

Smith, Huston. The Religions of Man. New York, NY: Perennial Library, 1989.

Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981.

Tomkins, Steven. A Short History of Christianity. London, England: Lion Books, 2005.

Wagner, Richard J. Christianity for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: For Dummies, 2004.

Woodhead, Linda. Christianity: A Very Short Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.


"Christianity." BBC Religion and Ethics. (accessed on June 5, 2006).

"Christianity." Overview of World Religions. (accessed on June 5, 2006).

"Christianity." (accessed on June 5, 2006).

"Christianity." Religious (accessed on June 5, 2006).

"Christianity." United Religions Initiative—Kids. (accessed on June 5, 2006).

"Christian Origins." Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. (accessed on June 5, 2006).

World Wide Encyclopedia of Christianity. (accessed on June 5, 2006).


views updated May 23 2018


The present entry is restricted to Christian belief and scarcely touches on the origins of "Christianity" or its history and institutional forms. Among Christian beliefs only a few can be treated; certain others, such as the existence and attributes of God, are discussed in other entries.

Christian Belief

Perhaps the first thing that should be said about Christian belief is that it does not constitute a philosophy. That is to say, it is not a metaphysical system comparable, for example, to Platonism or the systems of Aristotle and Benedict de Spinoza. Although the body of Christian doctrine does consist largely of metaphysical beliefs, in the sense that they are beliefs whose scope transcends the empirical world, it differs from what are usually identified as philosophical systems by its essential relation to and dependence on particular historical events and experiences. Such systems as Platonism begin with philosophical concepts and principles and seek by means of these to construct a comprehensive mental picture of the universe. Christianity, on the other hand, begins with particular, nonrecurrent historical events that are regarded as revelatory and on the basis of which Christian faith makes certain limited statements about the ultimate nature and structure of reality.

The relationship between experience and discursive reflection in Christianity can be brought out by distinguishing two orders of Christian belief. There is a primary level, consisting of direct reports of experience, secular and religious, and a secondary level, consisting of theological theories constructed on the basis of these reports.

At the primary level Christian literature affirms a number of both publicly verifiable historical facts and "religious facts," or "facts of faith." The latter consist of incidents in the history of Israel as understood and participated in by the prophets and in the life of Jesus as he was responded to by the apostles, these events being seen by faith as revelatory of God. The resulting testimonies of the prophets and apostles are not formulations of theological doctrine but direct expressions of moments of intense religious experience. The four New Testament gospels are writings on this primary level, recording events that occurred either within the purview of secular history or within the religious experience of the early Christian community.

Within this primary stratum of Christian belief certain facts of faith have always stood out as being preeminently important. By means of these Christianity has defined itself in distinction to other religions. Among the total body of those who have called themselves Christians there is no universally agreed-on list of these defining facts of faith, except insofar as such lists have been adopted, locally or more widely, by particular Christian communions, sects, or movements. However, it is safe to say that the main streams of contemporary Christianity, claiming continuity of faith with the first Christian generation, affirm at least the following: the reality of God and the propriety of speaking of him in a threefold manner, as Father, Son, and Spirit; the divine creation of the universe; human sinfulness; divine incarnation in the person of Jesus, the Christ; his reconciliation of man to God; his founding of the Christian church and the continuing operation of his Spirit within it; and an eventual end to human history and the fulfillment of God's purpose for his creation. Stated in this general form these are facts of faith that cumulatively define Christianity. Many further tenets are regarded as essential by different subgroups within Christianity, but the above probably constitute the permanent core that is acknowledged by virtually the whole of Christendom, past and present.

The second order of Christian belief consists in theological theories or doctrines that seek to explain these facts of faith and to relate them to one another and/or to human knowledge in general. The formulation of doctrines is essentially a discursive and speculative activity, differing from theory construction in secular philosophy only in that the theologian includes in his data, and indeed accords a central and determinative importance to, the special facts of Christian faith.

This distinction can now be illustrated by reference to some of the central Christian themes, noting both the relevant facts of faith and the theological theories that have been developed about them.


The doctrine of creation (which Christianity holds in common with Judaism) stands somewhat apart from the other doctrines to be described below. The others have arisen out of reflection on specific historical phenomena, but belief in the divine creation of the universe, although connected with the religious experience of absolute dependence on God, has presumably been arrived at primarily as an implicate of the monotheistic understanding of God as the sole ultimate reality.

The doctrine of the divine creation of the universe out of nothing stands in contrast to other conceptions of its origin. This doctrine denies that the universe is eternal, although the denial does not entail the belief that it was created at some moment in timeAugustine, for example, taught that time is itself an aspect of the created world. The doctrine also excludes the Platonic notion of a Demiurge fashioning the world out of a formless matter and the Neoplatonic notion of the physical universe's coming to be by emanation from the Absolute. In distinction to these ideas the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo asserts that the universe has been summoned into existence out of nothing (that is, not out of anything) by the creative will and purpose of God.


Jesus was born about 5 BCE in Palestine and was executed by crucifixion at Jerusalem probably in 29 or 30 CE. There immediately arose a conviction among his disciples, reflected in all the New Testament documents, that he had been raised by God from the dead, and under the compulsion of this conviction the Christian church came into existence, witnessing to both the divine status and the saving power of Jesus, now proclaimed as the Christ.

The beliefs of Jesus' disciples about him are reflected in the four memoirs, or gospels, which were produced in different centers of the apostolic church during the second half of the first century. On the one hand, these depict him as fully and authentically human, subject, like other men, to temptation, hunger, pain, fatigue, ignorance, and sorrow. But at the same time they affirm that he is Lord, Messiah (Christos ), the Son of God. This extremely exalted view reaches its highest expression in the Fourth Gospel, which claims in its prologue to Jesus' life that the Word (Logos), which was in the beginning with God, and was God, and through which all things were made, "became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14; the conception of the Logos in the Fourth Gospel derives both from the Word and the wisdom of God in the Old Testament and from the Logos as the universal principle of reason in Greek philosophy). The faith that Jesus was the Christ apparently arose out of a practical acceptance of his status as one who had authority to forgive sins, to declare God's mind toward man, to reveal the true meaning of the divine Law, to heal diseases, and to assume that men's eternal destiny and welfare was bound up with their responses to him. This practical acknowledgment of his unique authority probably crystallized into conscious conviction as to his deity under the impact of the resurrection events.

In the gospels these two beliefs, identifying Jesus both as a son of man and as the Son of God, occur together without any attempt to theorize about the relationship between them. Thus, this primary stratum of Christian literature contains, as data for theological reflection, reports of (a ) the publicly observable fact that Jesus was a man, and (b ) the fact of faith that he was divine, in that "in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19).

During its first four centuries of life these data provided the church with its chief intellectual task. The eventual outcome of the Christological debates, formalized by the Council of Chalcedon (451), was not to propound any definitive theory concerning the relationship between Jesus' humanity and his divinity but simply to reaffirm, in the philosophical language of that day, the original facts of faith. The various views that were from time to time branded as heretical came under this condemnation because directly or by implication they denied one or the other of the two fixed points of Christian thought in this field, the human and divine natures of Christ.

The first of the Christological heresies, the Docetism of some of the Gnostics in the first and second centuries, denied the real humanity of Christ, suggesting that he was a human being in appearance only. The motive behind this theory was to exalt his divine status, but the effect was to deny one of the foundation facts of Christianity as historically based faith. The next great heresy, Arianism, in the fourth century, went to the opposite extreme, denying continuity of being or nature between the Godhead and Christ and regarding him as a created being, so that "there was a time when he was not" (̑ν τε οκ ν ). It was in the controversy with Arianism that the notion of substance (οσία, substantia ) became a key category in the Christological debates. Arius declared that the Son was μοιούσιον τ̑ πατρί (of like substance with the Father), whereas the Council of Nicaea (325), excluding Arianism as a heresy, insisted that the Son was μοούσιον τ̑ πατρί (of the same substance as the Father). It was made clear by Athanasius, the champion of orthodoxy, that the iota's difference between these formulations involved an immense religious difference, for only a savior who came from the Godward side of creation could offer man an ultimate salvation. This Homousian Christology was reaffirmed by the Council of Chalcedon and has ever since been the position of the main streams of historic Christianity.

Since the mid-nineteenth century a number of theologians (for example, the Ritschlian school and H. R. Mackintosh) who accept the Nicene and Chalcedonian affirmations of the full humanity and real deity of Christ have questioned the adequacy of the category of substance in terms of which that affirmation was made. They have pointed out that it belongs to the thought-worlds of Plato and Aristotle and that it is a static notion, contrasting in this respect with such characteristically dynamic biblical categories as purpose and action. Accordingly there is now a fairly widespread tendency to describe the incarnation as a complex event constituting God's self-revealing action in man's history. In the New Testament records we see God at work in and through a human life, dealing with human beings in a way that makes plain the divine nature in its relation to man. The acts and attitudes of Jesus toward the men and women with whom he had to do were God's acts and attitudes in relation to those particular individuals, expressed in the finitude of a human life. Along these and other lines Christological discussion continues.

the trinity

The Trinitarian doctrine is a second-order Christian belief. It was gradually developed within the church both to take account of certain data at the experiential level and to aid the development of the general system of Christian doctrine, some of the key points of which are related by the Trinitarian framework.

The New Testament basis for this doctrine was the Christian community's threefold awareness of God, first as the transcendent moral creator witnessed to in the prophetic tradition received from Judaism; second, as having been at work among them on earth in the person of Christ; and third, as the Holy Spirit, which was referred to apparently indiscriminately as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, inspiring and guiding both individuals and the Christian community.

The doctrine of the Trinity developed in close conjunction with Christology and made possible the completion of the church's thought concerning the person of Christ. For it had never been the accepted Christian conception that God, simply as such and in his totality, became man in the incarnation. The belief that "God was in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:19) was held in conjunction with the belief that God was also and at the same time sustaining and governing the universe. The God who was incarnate in Christ was the God who had created heaven and earth. This was expressed by the affirmation that God is both Father and Son; and the reality of the Spirit, operating in the world both before and after the thirty or so years of the incarnation, required the further expansion into a Trinitarian formulation. Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity (a ) asserts the full deity of Christ as the second person of the Trinity; (b ) prohibits a too simple conception of incarnation (as one branch of the theological tradition has put it, Christ is totus deus, wholly God, but not totum dei, the whole of God); and (c ) recognizes the universal presence and activity of God in the world as the divine Spirit. This latter point is of great practical importance because it entails a Christian message not only about God's actions in the past but also about a divine activity in the present that can directly affect the individual today.

In the Trinitarian discussions that accompanied the Christological debates one of the main questions concerned the issue of equality versus subordination within the Trinity. Is the Son subordinate to the Father, or the Spirit to both? The answer that was eventually embodied in the Quicunque vult, or "Athanasian" Creed, of the sixth century was that the members of the Trinity are coeternal and have an equal divine status; the Son is eternally begotten by the Father, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. (The latter point was the occasion of the rift in the sixth century between the Eastern church, with its center at Constantinople, and the Western church, with its center at Rome. In its original form the Nicene Creed described the Spirit as proceeding (only) from the Father. Later the Western church added the famous filioque "and the Son"an insertion that Eastern Christianity rejected as an unwarrantable tampering with the creed.)

In the accepted Trinitarian language the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are spoken of as three "Persons," the Latin persona having been used to translate the Greek ύπόστασις (which had displaced πρόσωπον literally, "face"in this context). Persona is not, of course, the equivalent of "person" in the modern sense of an individual center of consciousness and purpose. Originally a persona was the mask worn by an actor, then his part in the play, and then by further extension any part a person might play in life. Thus, whereas τρει̑ς ύπόστασεις suggests three divine entities, tres personae suggests three roles or functions of the deity. These two different conceptions have each been developed in Christian thought, leading to what have been called respectively "immanent," or "ontological," and "economic" theories of the Trinity.

According to the ontological theories the doctrine of the Trinity is an affirmation about the transcendent metaphysical structure of the Godhead. It asserts that God in his inner being consists of three divine realities that are individually distinct and yet bound together in a mysterious unity"three in one and one in three." The extreme form of this view is the "social" conception of the Trinity as comprising three consciousnesses. According to the economic theories, on the other hand, the doctrine is about God specifically in his relation to the world. It asserts that the one God has acted toward humankind in three distinguishable waysin creation and providence, in redemption, and in inner guidance and sanctification. God must indeed, in his inner being, be such as to become related in these ways to his creation, but this does not necessarily require the postulation of three distinct and yet intimately related divine realities.


That human beings are sinful is a theological statement of the observable fact that men and women are persistently self-centered and that even their highest moral achievements are quickly corrupted by selfishness. Yet although we thus fail, exhibiting a chronic moral weakness and poverty, our failure is not inevitable; we are ourselves, at least in part, responsible for it. The biblical story of the fall of man depicts this situation by means of the myth that man was originally created perfect but fell by his own fault into his present state, in which he is divided both in himself and from his fellows and God.

At its primary level of belief Christianity claims that by responding to God's free forgiveness, offered by Christ, men are released from the guilt of their moral failure (justification) and are drawn into a realm of grace in which they are gradually re-created in character (sanctification). The basis of this claim is the Christian experience of reconciliation with God and, as a consequence, with other human beings, with life's circumstances and demands, and with oneself. The "justification by faith" of which Paul spoke, and which represented the main religious emphasis of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, means that men are freely accepted by God's gracious love, which they have only to receive in faith. In Paul Tillich's contemporary restatement, a man has only to accept the fact that although unacceptable even to himself, he is accepted by God.

In this case, work at the secondary level of theological reflection did not begin seriously until the church had been preaching the fact of divine reconciliation and atonement for about a thousand years. Anselm, in the eleventh century, taught that the death of Christ constituted a satisfaction to the divine honor for the stain cast upon it by man's disobedience, and this remains the core of Catholic atonement doctrine. Martin Luther and John Calvin, in the sixteenth century, spoke of Christ's death as a substitutionary sacrifice by which Christ suffered in his own person the punishment that was justly due humankind, and this remains the core of official Protestant atonement doctrine. In the nineteenth century, however, the thought was developed (going back to Anselm's contemporary Peter Abelard) that God's forgiveness does not need to be purchased by Christ's death, but that this brings home to the human heart both man's need for divine forgiveness and the reality of that forgiveness. There were in the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first century continuing efforts to understand Christ's redeeming work in a way that would bring together the valid insights in these and other traditional views, each of which by itself has seemed one-sided.

heaven, hell, and judgment

Jesus impressed upon his hearers in the strongest possible terms the absolute importance of decisions made and deeds performed in this present life. He regarded men and women as free and responsible persons on whose daily choices depended their own final good and happiness or irretrievable loss and failure. In doing this he used the traditional language of heaven and hell, which were understood until comparatively recently in terms of a prescientific cosmology, with heaven located in the sky above our heads and hell in the ground beneath our feet. Heaven is now generally conceived of as the enjoyment of the full consciousness of God's presence and participation in the divine "kingdom," which represents the final fulfillment of God's purpose for his creation; and hell is viewed as self-exclusion from this.

There are many perennially debated questions in this area. Are men divinely predestined, some to eternal salvation and others to eternal damnation ("double predestination"), as Augustine and Calvin taught? Does "hell" signify an eternal state, or is it a temporally bounded purgatorial experience that might lead to eventual salvation? (The adjective αώνιος, which is used in the New Testament, can mean either "eternal" or "for the aeon, or age"). Or does "hell" perhaps signify sheer annihilation? Can the final frustration of God's purpose by the loss of part of his human creation be reconciled with his ultimate sovereignty, and does the idea of never-ending torment, as a form of suffering out of which no good is finally brought, rule out the possibility of a Christian theodicy? Are all men to be finally saved ("universalism"), or only some?

In relation to such questions it is perhaps useful to distinguish between two standpoints from which eschatological statements may be made. There is the existential standpoint of "real life," in which we exercise a fateful responsibility in our moral choices and are confronted with the tremendous alternatives of spiritual life and death, symbolized by heaven and hell. There is also the detached standpoint of theological reflection, in which it seems possible to deduce from the two premises of the sovereignty and the love of God that although damnation is abstractly conceivable and is known in existential experience as a dread possibility, God's saving purpose in relation to his creatures will nevertheless in the end be triumphant, and eternal loss will remain an unrealized possibility.

the church

Although Christianity as historically institutionalized lies outside the narrow scope of this entry, it must be added that Christian faith has always drawn people together into a community of faith, or church. The largest Christian institution, the Roman Catholic Church, holds that the authentic Christian community is defined by its visible continuity, manifested in a succession of bishops and popes, with the earliest church. Protestantism holds that the Christian community is defined by a different continuity, that of faith, and affirms that the external institutions associated with Christian faith are continually in need of reformation in the light of the original Christian data embodied in the scriptures.

See also Abelard, Peter; Anselm, St.; Arius and Arianism; Aristotle; Calvin, John; Gnosticism; God, Concepts of; Heaven and Hell, Doctrines of; Luther Martin; Neoplatonism; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Ritschl, Albrecht Benjamin; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de.


the bible

Old Testament. 7th ed. Edited by R. Kittel. Stuttgart, 1951. Hebrew text.

New Testament. 2nd ed. Edited by G. D. Kilpatrick. London, 1958. Greek text.

American Revised Standard Version. New York, 19521957. Old and New Testaments and Apocrypha in translation.

New English Bible. Vol. 1: New Testament. London, 1961. Translation.

collections of christian literature

Baillie, John, John T. McNeill, and Henry P. Van Dusen, eds. Library of Christian Classics, 26 vols. London and Philadelphia, 1954.

Migne, J. P., ed. Patrologia Graeca. 162 vols. Paris, 18571866.

Migne, J. P., ed. Patrologia Latina. 221 vols. Paris, 18441864.

Roberts, Alexander, and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. 10 vols. Grand Rapids, MI, 1951.

Schaff, Philip et al., eds. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, MI, 19521956. Two series, each in 14 vols.


Campenhausen, H. F. von et al., eds. Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 3rd ed. 7 vols. Tübingen: Mohr, 19571965.

Hastings, James, ed. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 13 vols. Edinburgh, 19081926.

Vacant, A. et al., eds. Dictionnaire de Théologie catholique. 3rd ed. 15 vols. Paris, 19231950.

history of christianity

Latourette, K. S. A History of the Expansion of Christianity. 7 vols. New York and London: Harper, 19371945.

history of christian thought

Harnack, Adolf von. Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte. 4th ed. 3 vols. Tübingen, 19091910. Third ed. translated by Neil Buchanan as History of Dogma. 7 vols. London, 18941899; New York: Russell and Russell, 1958.

Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines. London: A. and C. Black, 1958.

Seeberg, Reinhold. Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte. 4th ed. 4 vols. Basel, 19531954. Translated by C. E. Hay as Textbook of the History of Doctrines. Grand Rapids, MI, 1952.

Wolfson, H. A. The Philosophy of the Church Fathers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956.

roman catholicism

Denzinger, H. J. D. Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, 29th ed. Freiburg, Germany, 1952. Translated by R. J. Defarrari as The Sources of Catholic Dogma. St. Louis, MO: Herder, 1957.

Schmaus, Michael. Katholische Dogmatik. 5 vols. Munich, 19481958.

Smith, G. D., ed. The Teaching of the Catholic Church. 2 vols. London: Burns, Oates and Washburne, 1948; New York: Macmillan, 1949.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Contra Gentiles. Editio Leonina Manualis. Rome, 1934. Translated by A. C. Pegis, J. F. Anderson, V. J. Bourke, and C. J. O'Neil as On the Truth of the Catholic Faith. 4 vols. New York, 19551957.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae. 6 vols. Editio altera Romana. Rome, 1894. Translated by the English Dominican Fathers. London, 19111922; New York, 19471948.


Barth, Karl. Kirchliche Dogmatik. Munich: Kaiser, 1932. Translated as Church Dogmatics, edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: Clark, 1936.

Calvin, John. Institutio Christianae Religionis. Basel, 1536. Critical ed. by P. Barth and W. Niesel. Munich, 1926. Translated by F. L. Battles as Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by J. T. McNeill. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Luther, Martin. A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. Edited and translated by Philip Watson. London, 1953.

Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans. Translated by W. Pauck. London and Philadelphia, 1961.

Luther, Martin. Werke. 58 vols. Weimar, 18831948.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Der Christliche Glaube. Critical ed. by M. Redeker. Berlin, 1960. Translated as The Christian Faith, edited by H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart. Edinburgh, 1928; New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19511964.

eastern orthodoxy

Bulgakov, Sergei N. L'Orthodoxie. Paris, 1932. Translated by E. S. Cram as The Orthodox Church. London: Centenary Press, 1935.

Tsankov, Stefan. Das orthodoxe Christentum des Ostens. Berlin, 1928. Translated by D. A. Lowrie as The Eastern Orthodox Church. London, 1929.

Zernov, Nicholas. Eastern Christendom. New York: Putnam, 1961.

contemporary ecumenical movement

Bell, G. K. A., ed. Documents on Christian Unity. 4 vols. London, 19241958.

Neill, Stephen C., and R. Rouse, eds. A History of the Ecumenical Movement, 15171948. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954.


Gilkey, Langdon B. Maker of Heaven and Earth. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959.

the person of christ

Baillie, D. M. God Was in Christ. London and New York: Scribners, 1948.

Hendry, G. S. The Gospel of the Incarnation. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958.

Knox, John. Jesus: Lord and Christ. New York: Harper, 1958.

Mackintosh, H. R. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ. London and New York: Scribners, 1912.

Pittenger, W. Norman. The Word Incarnate. New York: Harper, 1959.


Anselm. Cur Deus Homo?, edited by F. S. Schmitt. Bonn, 1929. Also in Opera Omnia, edited by F. S. Schmitt, Vol. II. Anonymous translation in Ancient and Modern Library of Theological Literature. London, 1889. "Satisfaction" theory.

Aulen, Gustaf. Christus Victor. Translated by A. G. Hebert. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1931. "Christus Victor" theory.

Denney, James. The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation. London: George H. Doran, 1918. "Penal-substitutionary" theory.

Mozley, J. K. The Doctrine of the Atonement. New York: Scribners, 1916. Historical.

Rashdall, Hastings. The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology. London: Macmillan, 1919. "Moral influence" theory.


Franks, R. S. The Doctrine of the Trinity. London: Duckworth, 1953. Historical.

Hodgson, Leonard. The Doctrine of the Trinity. London: Nisbet, 1943.

Welch, Claude. In His Name. New York, 1952. Welch and Hodgson represent the two types of theory described in this entry.


Althaus, Paul. Die letzten Dinge. 4th ed. Gütersloh, 1933.

Cullmann, Oscar. Christus und die Zeit. Zürich, 1946. Translated by F. V. Filson as Christ and Time. Philadelphia, 1950; rev. ed., London, 1962.

Hügel, F. von. Eternal Life. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1912.

christianity and other religions

Farmer, H. H. Revelation and Religion. London: Nisbet, 1954.

Kraemer, H. Religion and the Christian Faith. London: Lutterworth Press, 1956.

other recommended titles

Beaty, Michael, ed. Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990.

Feenstra, Ronald, and Cornelius Plantinga Jr., eds. Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989.

Flint, Thomas, ed. Christian Philosophy. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990.

Morris, Thomas. The Logic of God Incarnate. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986.

Murray, Michael, ed. Reason for the Hope Within. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.

Padgett, Alan, ed. Reason and the Christian Religion: Essays in Honour of Richard Swinburne. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Swinburne, Richard. The Christian God. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Swinburne, Richard. Responsibility and Atonement. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Swinburne, Richard. The Resurrection of God Incarnate. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003.

Van Inwagen, Peter. God, Knowledge and Mystery: Essays in Philosophical Theology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Vesey, Godfrey, ed. The Philosophy in Christianity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

White, Vernon. Atonement and Incarnation: An Essay in Universalism and Particularity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

John Hick (1967)

Bibliography updated by Christian B. Miller (2005)


views updated May 21 2018


As social, economic, and intellectual changes occurred in the United States from 1870 to 1920, reactions from religious communities ranged from those who welcomed and embraced the changes to those who saw in those same changes dire threats not only to religion but to the nation's future as well. The fracturing of denominations within Protestantism and a profound diversification of Roman Catholicism and non-Christian religions further complicated the spiritual landscape. The diminution of the place and prestige of religion in society, as Henry Steele Commager has noted, amounted to one of the essential differences between the nineteenth- and twentieth-century mind-sets.

The nation's effort to recover from the Civil War experience marked the beginning of this transition. Denominations divided during the struggle between the North and the South (principally Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians) considered how and even whether they should reunite after the war. Congregations and denominations of black worshippers emerged to provide leaders and direction for their people. Newly arriving immigrants brought with them sometimes quite different religious practices and beliefs. Revivalism became a prominent, if stereo-typed, outlet for periodic religious fervor. Earnest desires to improve literacy yielded an impulse not only for public education but also for the establishment of Sunday schools. The rapid expansion of the Roman Catholic population gave clerics stronger voices while also presenting problems of diversity, sometimes addressed by founding parochial schools. It was a time of opportunity but also a time when the culture's values and beliefs were challenged on almost every level. That challenge could only be fully addressed by a broad-based reconsideration of the religious paradigm.


Typically, historians of the period from 1870 to 1920 identify at least four forces shaping intellectual and religious life: industrialization-urbanization, immigration, Darwinism, and European thought, particularly biblical criticism. The political, social, and economic manifestations of these forces can be elaborated in the stories of burgeoning cities and factories, semicompetent presidents, corrupt politicians, populism, progressivism, nativism, trade unionism, and three wars (the Indian wars, the Spanish-American War, and World War I). As a result, the nation looked quite different in 1920 than it had in 1870. It was an urban nation, one of the most powerful in the world, and had shed its "innocence."

In the fifty years between 1870 and 1920, dozens of cities in the United States tripled, quadrupled, and even quintupled in population. Individuals and families from rural communities and immigrants from abroad flooded into towns, transforming them into cities teeming with diverse peoples. They pursued fabled opportunities to prosper in the emerging industrial economy. Relocation often entailed a bitter adjustment not only to the physical environment but also to the emotional landscape of the cities. For one familiar with patterns of rural life, being surrounded by cluttered buildings and incessant noise alienated the individual from "nature's" God and God's nature. The sermons of a country parson or parish priest, reflecting on the wonders of creation evident in a field of hay or on the truths of many parables rooted in agrarian lifestyles, seemed irrelevant amid the jostle of urban survival. Village churches gave way to storefronts, and uniform congregations became confusing conglomerates.

At least among many Protestant churches, a wellchronicled "work ethic" seemed to predispose members to active participation in the Industrial Revolution. On closer examination, however, many of the values of industrialization contradicted traditional teachings of Protestantism. Martin Luther and John Calvin had indeed opened the door to the possibility that all vocations might be considered sacred. They, however, operated primarily in a commercial agricultural context. Industrialization, as it developed in Europe well after the Protestant Reformation and eventually exploded in the United States after the Civil War, encouraged and rewarded unbridled competition, emphasized profit, and exploited labor as a means to a capitalist end. Religious leaders who spoke against the abusive nature and contrary values of the new economy sometimes found themselves challenged either to moderate their positions or to reinterpret scripture in light of the realities of modern life. Catholics could take some solace from the position of Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum that soundly defended private property as well as the rights of labor to organize and agitate for social change.

A new wave of immigration added to the growth of the cities. Between 1865 and 1920, 25 million immigrants poured through the gates of opportunity into American society, increasing the population by 80 percent. The unplanned increase in demands for housing, basic services, and jobs both taxed the social resources of American cities and provided a cheap labor pool for industry. This new period of immigration brought people from eastern and southern Europe and from Asia rather than from western and northern Europe. The new immigrants were Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists rather than Protestant Christians. As they settled into neighborhoods in large cities or secluded themselves in the countryside, many of the immigrants struggled to maintain homeland traditions while adjusting to the demands of their new environments. The new immigrants formed parochial school systems, settled in strictly defined neighborhoods, built their own churches, synagogues, mosques, or temples, and sometimes identified with a single segment of the economy. The paradox of engagement and isolation often created tension with people who touted longer histories in the United States. A vigorous nativist movement reemerged in the country, questioning the desirability of so much immigration and intimating dire consequences from the unchecked mixing of diverse populations. Henry Adams brooded over the decline of America in his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1918), while Jacob Riis in The Making of an American (1901) and Mary Antin in The Promised Land (1912) chronicled the triumph of their Americanization.

The dark foreboding that centered on immigration came not only from workers being displaced by cheaper laborers but also from a variation of Darwinian thought. First, the formal works of Charles Darwin were debated in the universities, and then religious leaders began to tease out the theological implications. Some rejected the theory of evolution. For example, Charles Hodge, Princeton Seminary professor and leading conservative theologian, labeled Darwinism "atheism" in a famous 1874 publication. Others embraced evolution; James McCosh, president of Princeton University, found no incongruities between faith in a God with unlimited creative capacity and the mechanisms, even evolution, through which that creativity might be manifested. Eventually, the use of the theory of natural selection took an ominous turn when Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner (an ordained minister as well as a sociologist), and later Francis Galton argued that public social policy should be shaped by assumptions about "survival of the fittest" and the elimination of "defective" gene strains from the human pool.

The impulse to examine critically the sacred texts, generally labeled "higher biblical criticism," spread across the Atlantic primarily from German universities and English scholars. Appropriation of techniques from linguistics, history, anthropology, and archaeology to the examination of the text, rather than relying on church doctrine and a literal reading, challenged standard interpretations of authorship, meaning, and application of Christian scriptures. Generally labeled as an element of liberal Protestantism, higher biblical criticism served the interests of those searching to understand the context of the ancient writings as well as to extend their application to the modern environment.

Many other historical factors, such as westward expansion, entailing conflict with Native American peoples and spirituality, influenced the course of religious thought and behavior in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. None, however, carried the weight of the four noted above. Similarly, these four points of social cleavage—industrializationurbanization, immigration, Darwinism, and European thought, especially biblical criticism—formed the most significant framework for a consideration of literature with religious themes. On many levels, the culture felt its religious moorings slipped by the necessity to reject or accommodate new ideas and practices. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. may have expressed the thoughts of thousands when, while convalescing from Civil War wounds, he concluded that he was done with religion and would henceforth seek meaning and comfort in other sources of belief. Many of the intellectual elites of his generation no longer felt obliged to acknowledge theological or doctrinal roots of their thoughts and theories. The experiences of war, followed by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the chaos of Reconstruction, were dark clouds at the dawning of a new era. Gradually and in diverse ways, literary figures, politicians, artists, and ministers responded to the challenges.


The nation struggled with the implications of building a modern society. Whether due to the failure of "cultural authority" or as the culmination of a "crisis of belief and values," social critics rejected what they considered the negative implications of modern life. Some turned away from the rigors of modern life and encouraged a resurgence of Romantic ideals. The comforts and conveniences of the modern age eroded sensitivity to sin and induced an "abandonment of moral responsibility," they argued (Lears, p. 300). The postwar "Holiness movement" encouraged its followers to adopt traditional dress, behavior, and thought in order to resist corruption by modern ways. At the other extreme in the rejection of modernity lay an effort to meet head-on the forces that threatened to pull the nation along the path of modernity. Reform movements motivated by an effort to prevent the abuses of industrialization resulted. Henry Adams (1838–1918) and William Dean Howells (1837–1920) were representatives of these branches of antimodernism. Adams's "religious quest," prompted by the deaths of his wife and sister, was a metaphor for the quest many experienced after the cultural death experience of the Civil War. Inspired by religious architecture such as the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel and the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Chartres, Adams wrote that the modern scene lacked an ability to conceive of and execute such monuments to God and to beauty. His critique of contemporary America embraced the old virtues and beliefs and mourned their degradation. In a letter to a friend, Adams lamented: "Hell is all there was to make life worth living. Since it was abolished, there is no standard of value" (p. 285).

A variation of Adams's Victorian antimodernism may be found in the work of William Dean Howells. Howells's novels and public expressions displayed the confrontation with each of the threatening forces evident on the late-nineteenth-century scene, including capitalist individualism, Social Darwinism, and scientific positivism. In The Leatherwood God (1916) and The Undiscovered Country (1880), he examined the flaws of hyperemotional spirituality and the threat of spiritual manipulation. Howells saw not only rampant industrialization but also the quasi-scientific efforts of the Progressive Era reforms as elements of social policy that threatened to overturn the virtues of collective identity. In one historian's analysis, Howells came to "espouse Marxian socialism" but one that was firmly rooted in Christianity (Parrington 2:245). In The Rise of Silas Lapham (1884) and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), Howells examined the personal and spiritual costs of participation in the aggressive capitalist order. Through the Eye of the Needle (1907) even more pointedly infused Howells's critique of modern culture while offering his utopian solution. A New Moral World (1885) by James Casey, Garden of Eden, U.S.A. (1895) by W. H. Bishop, and Paradise on Earth (1913) by Jeff Hayes—all promoted optimistic visions of social change predicated on goodwill and cooperation, whereas Abraham Cahan's The Rise of David Levinsky (1917) presented a dark picture of Jewish assimilation.


Howells recognized the need for a religious response to modernity that used arguments and ideas not entirely dredged up from the past. He supported an approach known as "liberal Protestantism," headed by Lyman Abbott and Henry Ward Beecher, which argued that biblical higher criticism and Darwinian thought, rather than contradicting Christian belief, provided deeper understandings of the marvels of God's creative ability. In addition, it confronted the doctrines of original sin and eternal punishment as faulty readings of the text. Ministers such as Charles Sheldon, William Ware, and E. P. Roe produced novels that placed moral messages in a nineteenth- and twentieth-century American context. Sheldon (1867–1928) used the simple question "What would Jesus do?" (again in vogue in the early twenty-first century) to suggest that the truths of the New Testament could be appropriated for an ethic in modern times. Sheldon introduced the question in In His Steps (1898). Edward Bellamy's (1850–1898) Looking Backward (1888) advanced his hero into the future in order to comment on the state of contemporary society. Bellamy's utopia was a profoundly Christian critique of his own age, encouraging a revival of faith in order to redeem all of society. Similarly, Howells's A Traveler from Altruria (1894) cast his version of a utopia based on true Christian principles. On another track, Abbott and others argued for a kind of "Christian evolution," whereby believers might become more and more perfect through the practice of Christ-like behavior. Washington Gladden's Who Wrote the Bible? (1891) contributed to what came to be called the "New Theology" school that welcomed biblical criticism and comparative religion as tools to deepen spiritual sensitivities. Liberal Protestantism also opened the door for even more unorthodox expressions. Francis Ellingwood Abbot drafted "Fifty Affirmations" for the Free Religious Association. Its essence promoted a universal affiliation of believers, without the need for denominations, creeds, or specific views of divinity. The association eventually merged with the much older Unitarian Fellowship. Felix Adler founded the Society for Ethical Culture, and Mary Baker Eddy established the Christian Science Church.

Industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller provided still other options for reconciliation with modern life. Carnegie defended the accumulation of wealth as a worthy goal in life by touting a "Gospel of Wealth" based on the "sacred" principles of free enterprise. He argued, and demonstrated in his own life, that the duty of the rich was to spend their money on projects improving society. As far as he was concerned, "the man who dies rich dies disgraced" (Mathisen, p. 216). John D. Rockefeller taught Sunday school nearly all his life, helped found the University of Chicago as a Baptist institution (but which later originated the New Theology), and funded an inquiry into the effectiveness of missions that became a model for many organizations. Carnegie, Rockefeller, and others thus testified to a link between the industrial elite and the religious ethos of the nation. Certainly the novels of the Unitarian-educated Horatio Alger elevated the image of the decent young man achieving respectability by the exercise of good character. Even more popular was the minister Russell Conwell's "sermon," Acres of Diamonds, in which he defended the accumulation of wealth as a natural process and the rich as models of character.


On the opposite end of the spectrum from liberal Protestantism lay a pervasive cynicism regarding religious practice and its positive influences on culture. When Beecher became embroiled in a sensational morals trial (he was accused of having an illicit affair with one of his parishioners), caustic commentators intimated that a "modern" view of the doctrine of eternal punishment had produced the "loosening" of standards of behavior. Mark Twain (1835–1910) employed religious themes and subjects in many of his works and consistently challenged hypocrisy and intolerance. To him, the standard beliefs and practices of American Christianity defied logic and smelled of pomposity. In a series of articles in the North American Review (1902–1903), Clemens ridiculed the Christian Science Church. Especially in The Diary of Adam and Eve and Letters from the Earth, Clemens revealed that he knew a great deal about the Bible but also that a serious subject could be handled well with humor. Going one step further, Robert Ingersoll (1833–1899) came to be known as "the notorious infidel" for his aggressive promotion of atheism. Ingersoll traveled the country debating ministers, giving public lectures, and challenging the religious elite to think beyond their prescribed boundaries.

William James (1842–1910), a leading figure in the development of pragmatism, posed still another set of responses to the forces confronting religion at the end of the nineteenth century. James's work, especially his landmark The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), focused not only on the psychological dimensions of belief but also on the social impact of expressed faith. He argued that pragmatism offered a reorientation of the focus of religious life, resembling the Protestant Reformation and on the same order as the campaign against established churches and toward voluntary associations that had begun at the time of the American Revolution. Furthermore, as a "theistic evolutionist," he found much to admire in evolutionary theory, especially as it might apply to the social sphere. James saw nothing incongruent between his Protestantism and a deterministic description of society. But his admiration of religion was limited to his particular brand. James discounted Catholic contributions and bordered on anti-Semitism.


A theological analysis of the religious trends of the period reveals a decidedly mixed bag. Within its boundaries, arguments for a "social" gospel, fundamentalism, and even atheism made their cases. In the process, public figures and private citizens struggled to discern their own paths and the purpose of their religious institutions. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of this struggle appeared in Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896). The novel serves as an object lesson for understanding the personal toll of the theological battles raging as a simple upstate New York minister struggles to understand and to contend with the modern world. Ware steps into the fray when he decides to write a book. In collecting materials, he finds his long-accepted religious beliefs challenged, and he moves inexorably toward doubt. Exposure to biblical criticism, comparative religions, and scientific rationalism leads to risky behaviors and nearly personal disaster. The message is that one option for addressing the modern world is to embrace it, but at great personal hazard. This message, embedded within a popular novel, demonstrated that the popular press had become the chief agent for engaging rather sophisticated religious debate and was much more persuasive in informing the masses than the traditional pulpit.

Though the Social Gospel movement did not entail a highly developed theology, it nonetheless posed theological arguments that deserve attention. Not content to await God's judgment of society nor to condemn "the world" in a detached manner, Social Gospelers sought ways to enlist liberal Protestantism in political, social, and economic battles. Primarily through the work of Washington Gladden, George Herron, W. D. P. Bliss, and Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918), the Social Gospel centered on providing social services through urban churches. Criticized for its thin emphasis on sin and salvation, the movement replied, in effect, that it was difficult to hear the Gospel message when one's stomach was growling. The Social Gospel movement supported reform measures designed to improve housing, food distribution, medical services, and general living conditions of the urban poor, often invoking the Golden Rule as their justification. Social Gospelers were often associated with worker organizations, publicizing their plight and motivating church support. Rauschenbusch's A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917) attempted to capture both the need for and the justification of an ecumenical approach to social ills. Gone was the antebellum confidence that reform might happen one person at a time. The church, social agencies, and even government itself must be organized and focused on the amelioration of misery and injustice.

One final theological impulse emerged around the resistance to biblical criticism and Darwinian evolution. When some seminaries and ministers tried to incorporate elements of these new views into the curriculum or sermons, cries of heresy arose and several trials ensued. Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian seminaries, and several ministers, stood trial for their expressions of unorthodox belief, particularly on the inerrancy of Scripture and the literal reading of the stories contained therein. "Holiness" movements in the late nineteenth century emphasized personal purity through adherence to a strict behavioral code and a conservative view of Scripture. Ostensibly rooted in Methodism and tied to antebellum "perfectionism," the postwar movements attracted rural followers who intuitively believed that the challenges to biblical authority sprang not from scholarship but from a spiritual crisis. D. L. Moody (1837–1899) championed the more urban wing of the revivals that invariably accompanied the expression of spiritual angst. Moody skillfully combined marketing techniques usually used to promote consumer goods with traditional messages of sin and salvation to forge an international revival organization. Edward Eggleston in The Faith Doctor (1891) subjected "faith healers" to ridicule for their hyperemotionalism.


Moody stood in the gap between the holiness groups attempting to address the evils of society by providing a positive alternative and the more Calvinistic rejection of society as a whole. Late in the nineteenth century, pastors and denominational leaders began to form discussion groups and Bible schools to explore the implications of the "dispensationalist" writings of J. N. Darby (1800–1882). At first loosely organized, "fundamentalism" took center stage in the spiritual wars brewing in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Drawing on fears within society, the fundamentalists spotlighted the most obvious religious threats of the day. No one was more visible in this struggle than Billy Sunday (1862–1935), the man who, one historian contends, "stands at the center of the cultural confusion of the years 1890–1920" (McLoughlin, p. 146). Capitalizing on his popularity as a professional baseball player, Sunday crafted an influential series of campaigns as a traveling evangelist. His message was traditional though his methods matched those of the finest marketing firms of the day. Sunday was a consummate entertainer, playing on the emotions and sentiments of his audience. He preached against the evils of the day (including the liberal Protestants) and of the necessity to "hit the sawdust trail" (many of his revivals were held in large tents with aisles covered in sawdust). Sunday focused his social reform enthusiasm on Prohibition and "cleaning up" the cities in which his revivals took place.

Sunday's popularity illustrated the swing in theological temperament and general religious sentiment. Antebellum America's optimism, expressed in reform impulses and exuberant expansion, rested on an anticipation of the literal return of Christ to the earth, known as postmillennialism. In this view, society's improvement was a precursor to the fulfillment of prophecies regarding the Messiah. After the Civil War the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and the Witnesses (later Jehovah's Witnesses) built significant followings based on their message anticipating the imminent return of Christ to the earth. The Witnesses went so far as to target 1914, ironically the year of the beginning of the Great War, as the time when the Kingdom of God would be fully established. Premillennialism, the expectation that a time of trials and testing of the faithful would precede the Second Coming, became the more compelling popular view following the culturally devastating effects of the Civil War and in light of the nation's declining moral character into the twentieth century. Woven together with dispensationalism from England and enlivened by revivals such as Sunday's—particularly the Pentecostal Azusa Street revival of 1906—fundamentalism both reflected and fed popular apprehensions about society. Pentecostalism eventually yielded to the pressures for greater organization, gathering together in the Church of God in Christ, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the Assemblies of God, and the Foursquare Church.


It is fitting to end with a comment about Henry James (1843–1916), brother of the psychologist and pragmatist William James. Henry James reflected the double-mindedness of Americans about their newfound state of being. At once proud and insecure, the characters in his novels fumbled into the modern world expectantly and afraid, just as the nation did in reality. In the midst of the paradox of renunciation and confident engagement, the period immediately after the Great War witnessed what Henry May called the "end of American innocence." By that turn of phrase May meant that America came fully to grips with the implications of the period of industrialization, urbanization, immigration, expansion, education, philosophy, and intellectual challenges. One segment of society, the liberal Protestants in the case of religion, adopted the values of efficiency and professionalism and applied them across the board. Another segment—the fundamentalists, holiness advocates, antimoderns, and cynics—found ways of resisting and subverting the forces of modernity. With new technologies allowing wider distribution of their works, literary figures described and elaborated on Americans' attempts to maintain their moral and spiritual footing.

See alsoThe Bible; Catholics; Christianity and the Social Crisis; Christian Science; The Damnation of Theron Ware; Jews; Mormons


Primary Work

Adams, Henry. Henry Adams to Elizabeth Cameron, 16 April 1900. In Letters of Henry Adams, 3 vols., edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford, 2:285. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1930–1938.

Secondary Works

Baetzhold, Howard G., and Joseph B. McCullough, eds. The Bible according to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.

Carter, Paul A. The Spiritual Crisis of the Gilded Age. DeKalb: University of Northern Illinois Press, 1971.

Davies, W. E. "Religious Issues in Late Nineteenth-Century Novels." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (Manchester) 41 (1958–1959): 328–359.

Engeman, Thomas S. "Religion and Politics the American Way: The Exemplary William Dean Howells." Review of Politics 63, no. 1 (2001): 107–128.

Handy, Robert T., ed. The Social Gospel in America, 1870–1920. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Henderson, Harry B., III. Versions of the Past: The Historical Imagination in American Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Hutner, Gordon. American Literature, American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Kazin, Alfred. God and the American Writer. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Lears, T. J. Jackson. No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.

McLoughlin, William G. Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay of Religion and Social Change in America, 1607–1977. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Martin, Jay. Harvests of Change: American Literature, 1865–1914. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1967.

Mathisen, Robert R., ed. The Role of Religion in American Life. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982.

May, Henry F. The End of American Innocence: A Study of the First Years of Our Time, 1912–1917. New York: Knopf, 1959.

O'Connor, Leo F. Religion in the American Novel: The Search for Belief, 1860–1920. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984.

Parrington, Vernon Louis. Main Currents in American Thought: An Interpretation of American Literaturefrom the Beginnings to 1920. 3 vols. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927–1930.

Reynolds, David S. Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Reynolds, David S. "Shifting Interpretations of American Protestantism, 1870–1900." Journal of Popular Culture 9 (winter 1975): 593–603.

Cole P. Dawson


views updated May 08 2018


CHRISTIANITY, in its many forms, has been the dominant religion of Europeans and their descendants in North America ever since Columbus. It proved as adaptable to the New World as it had been to the Old, while taking on several new characteristics. The ambiguous and endlessly debated meaning of the Christian Gospels permitted diverse American groups to interpret their conduct and beliefs as Christian: from warriors to pacifists, abolitionists to slave owners, polygamists to ascetics, and from those who saw personal wealth as a sign of godliness to those who understood Christianity to mean the repudiation or radical sharing of wealth.

Colonial Era

The exploration of the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries coincided with the Reformation and Europe's religious wars, intensifying and embittering the international contest for possession of these new territories. Spanish, Portuguese, and French settlers were overwhelmingly Catholic. English, Dutch, Swedish, and German settlers were predominantly Protestant. Each group, to the extent that it tried to convert the American Indians, argued the merits of its own brand of Christianity, but few Indians, witnessing the conquerors' behavior, could have been impressed with Jesus's teaching about the blessedness of peacemakers.

Puritans created the British New England colonies in the early 1600s. They believed that the (Anglican) Church of England, despite Henry VIII's separation from Rome, had not been fully reformed or purified of its former Catholic elements. The religious compromises on which Anglicanism was based (the Thirty-nine Articles) offended them because they looked on Catholicism as demonic. The founders of Plymouth Plantation (the "Pilgrim Fathers" of 1620) were separatists, who believed they should separate themselves completely from the Anglicans. The larger group of Massachusetts Bay colonists, ten years later, remained nominally attached to the Anglican Church and regarded their mission as an attempt to establish an ideal Christian commonwealth that would provide an inspiring example to the coreligionists back in England. Neither group had foreseen the way in which American conditions would force adaptations, especially after the first generation, nor had they anticipated that the English civil wars and the Commonwealth that followed (1640–1660) would impose different imperatives on Puritans still in England than on those who had crossed the ocean. We are well informed about the New England Puritans and their reaction to seventeenth-century events because of their exceptional literacy and loquacity. From the works of Increase Mather (1639–1723) and his son Cotton (1663–1728), for example, we can reconstruct a worldview in which every storm, high tide, deformed fetus, or mild winter was a sign of God's "special providence." Theirs was, besides, a world in which devils abounded and witchcraft (notoriously at the Salem witch trials, 1692) seemed to present a real threat to the community.

More southerly colonies, Virginia and the Carolinas, were commercial tobacco ventures whose far less energetic religious life was supervised by the established Church of England. Maryland began as a Catholic commercial venture but its proprietors reverted to Anglicanism in the bitterly anti-Catholic environment of the Glorious Revolution (1688–1689) in the late seventeenth century. The middle colonies of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, by contrast, were more ethnically and religiously diverse almost from the beginning, including Dutch Calvinists, German Lutherans and Moravians, Swedish Baptists, and English Quakers.

All these colonies, along with New England, were subjected to periodic surges of revival enthusiasm that are collectively remembered as the Great Awakening. The Awakening's exemplary figure was the spellbinding English preacher George Whitefield (1714–1770), who brought an unprecedented drama to American pulpits in the 1740s and 1750s and shocked some divines by preaching outdoors. The theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) of Northampton, Massachusetts, welcomed the Awakening and tried to square Calvinist orthodoxy with the scientific and cognitive revolutions of Newton and the Enlightenment.

Christianity in the Revolution and Early Republic

By the time of the Revolution (1775–1788), growing numbers of colonists had joined radical Reformation sects, notably the Quakers and Baptists, belonged to ethnically distinct denominations like the Mennonites, or were involved in intradenominational schisms springing from Great Awakening controversies over itinerant preaching and the need for an inspired rather than a learned clergy. The U.S. Constitution's First Amendment specified that there was to be no federally established church and no federal restriction on the free exercise of religion. Some New England states retained established Christian churches after the Revolution—Congregationalism in Massachusetts, for example—but by 1833 all had been severed from the government.

This political separation, however, did not imply any lessening of Christian zeal. To the contrary, the early republic witnessed another immense upsurge of Christian energy and evangelical fervor, with Baptists and Methodists adapting most quickly to a new emotional style, which they carried to the rapidly expanding settlement frontier. Spellbinding preachers like Francis Asbury (1745–1816) and Charles Grandison Finney (1792–1875) helped inspire the revivals of the "Second Great Awakening" (see Awakening, Second), and linked citizens' conversions to a range of social reforms, including temperance, sabbatarianism, and (most controversially) the abolition of slavery. Radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) denounced the Constitution as an un-Christian pact with the devil because it provided for the perpetuation of slavery. John Brown (1800–1859), who tried to stimulate a slave uprising with his raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, saw himself as a biblical avenger. He anticipated, rightly, that his sacrificial death, like Jesus's crucifixion, would lead to the triumph of the anti-slavery cause. Christian abolitionists who had prudently declined to join the rising, like Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), claimed him as a martyr. Beecher's sister Harriet published Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852, a novel saturated with the sentimental conventions of American Victorian Protestantism; it popularized the idea that abolition was a Christian imperative.

In the South, meanwhile, slaves had adapted African elements to Gospel teachings and developed their own syncretic style of Christianity, well adapted to the emotional idioms of the Second Awakening. Dissatisfied with attending their masters' churches, they enjoyed emotional "ring shout" meetings in remote brush arbors, or met for whispered prayers and preaching in the slave quarters. Slave owners too thought of themselves as justified in their Christianity. Well armed with quotations to show that the Bible's authors had been slaveholders and that Jesus had never condemned the practice, they saw themselves as the guardians of a Christian way of life under threat from a soulless commercial North. The historian Eugene Genovese has shown that on purely biblical grounds they probably had the stronger argument.

The early republic also witnessed the creation of new Christian sects, including the Assemblies of God, the Shakers, the Oneida Perfectionists, and the Mormons. Those with distinctive sexual practices (Shaker celibacy, Oneida "complex marriage," and Mormon polygamy) were vulnerable to persecution by intolerant neighbors who linked the idea of a "Protestant America" to a code of monogamy. The Mormons, the most thriving of all these groups, were founded by an upstate New York farm boy, Joseph Smith (1805–1844), who received a set of golden tablets from an angel. He translated them into the Book of Mormon (1830), which stands beside the Bible as scripture for Mormons, and describes the way in which Jesus conducted a mission in America after his earthly sojourn in the Holy Land. Recurrent persecution, culminating in the assassination of Smith in 1844, led the Mormons under their new leader, Brigham Young (1801–1877), to migrate far beyond the line of settlement to the Great Salt Lake, Utah, in 1846, where their experiments in polygamy persisted until 1890. Polygamy had the virtue of ensuring that the surplus of Mormon women would all have husbands. Mormonism was one of many nineteenth-and twentieth-century American churches in which membership (though not leadership) was disproportionately female.

The Mormon migration was just one small part of a much larger westward expansion of the United States in the early and mid–nineteenth century, much of which was accompanied by the rhetoric of manifest destiny, according to which God had reserved the whole continent for the Americans. No one felt the sting of manifest destiny more sharply than the Indians. Ever since the colonial era missionaries had struggled to convert them to Christianity and to the Euro-American way of life. These missions were sometimes highly successful, as for example the Baptist mission to the Cherokees led by Evan Jones, which created a written version of their language in the early nineteenth century that facilitated translation of the Bible. The Georgia gold rush of 1829 showed, however, that ambitious settlers and prospectors would not be deterred from overrunning Indians' land merely because they were Christian Indians; their forcible removal along the Trail of Tears was one of many disgraceful episodes in white-Indian relations. Southwestern and Plains Indians, meanwhile, often incorporated Christian elements into their religious systems. The New Mexican Pueblo peoples, for example, under Spanish domination until 1848, adapted the Catholic cult of the saints to their traditional pantheon; later the Peyote Way, which spread through the Southwest and Midwest, incorporated evangelical Protestant elements.

Further enriching the American Christian landscape, a large Catholic immigration from Ireland, especially after the famine of 1846–1849, tested the limits of older citizens' religious tolerance. It challenged the validity of the widely held concept of a Protestant America that the earlier tiny Catholic minority had scarcely disturbed. A flourishing polemical literature after 1830 argued that Catholics, owing allegiance to a foreign monarch, the pope, could not be proper American citizens—the idea was embodied in the policies of the Know-Nothing political party in the 1850s. Periodic religious riots in the 1830–1860 era and the coolness of civil authorities encouraged the Catholic newcomers to keep Protestants at arm's length. They set about building their own institutions, not just churches but also a separate system of schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages, and charities, a work that continued far into the twentieth century. The acquisition of Louisiana in 1804, and the acquisition of the vast Southwest after the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), also swelled the U.S. Catholic population.

Soldiers on both sides in the Civil War (1861–1865) went into battle confident that they were doing the will of a Christian God. President Lincoln, and many Union clergy, saw their side's ultimate victory as a sign of divine favor, explaining their heavy losses in the fighting according to the idea that God had scourged them for the sin of tolerating slavery for so long. The defeated Confederates, on the other hand, nourished their cult of the "lost cause" after the war by reminding each other that Jesus's mission on earth had ended in failure and a humiliating death, something similar to their own plight. The slaves, freed first by the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and then by the Fifteenth Amendment (1865), treated President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) as the Great Liberator and compared him to Moses, leading the Children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt.

Christianity and Industrial Society

Rapid industrialization in the later nineteenth century prompted a searching reevaluation of conventional theological ethics. Fluctuations in the business cycle, leading to periodic surges of urban unemployment, made nonsense of the old rural idea that God dependably rewards sobriety and hard work with prosperity. The theologians Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918), George Herron (1862–1925), and Washington Gladden (1836–1918) created the social gospel, adapting Christianity to urban industrial life and emphasizing the community's collective responsibility toward its weakest members. Vast numbers of "new immigrants"—Catholics from Poland, Italy, and the Slavic lands; Orthodox Christians from Russia and Greece; and Jews from the Austrian and Russian empires—continued to expand America's religious diversity. They established their own churches and received help from religiously inspired Protestant groups such as the Salvation Army and the settlement house movement.

Meanwhile, Christianity faced an unanticipated intellectual challenge, much of which had been generated from within. Rapid advances in historical-critical study of the Bible and of comparative religion, and the spread of evolutionary biology after Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859), forced theologians to ask whether the Genesis creation story and other biblical accounts were literally true. These issues led to a fracture in American Protestantism that persisted through the twentieth century, between liberal Protestants who adapted their religious ideas to the new intellectual orthodoxy and fundamentalists who conscientiously refused to do so. In the fundamentalists' view, strongly represented at Princeton Theological Seminary and later popularized by the Democratic politician William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), the Bible, as God's inspired word, could not be fallible. Anyone who rejected the Genesis story while keeping faith in the Gospels was, they pointed out, making himself rather than the Bible the ultimate judge.

Observers were surprised to note that in the twentieth century American church membership and church attendance rates remained high, indeed increased, at a time when they were declining throughout the rest of the industrialized world. Various theories, all plausible, were advanced to account for this phenomenon: that Americans, being more mobile than Europeans, needed a ready-made community center in each new location, especially as vast and otherwise anonymous suburbs proliferated; that church membership was a permissible way for immigrants and their descendants to retain an element of their families' former identity while assimilating in all other respects to American life; even, in the 1940s and 1950s, that the threat of atomic warfare had led to a collective "failure of nerve" and a retreat into supernaturalism. Twentieth-century Christian churches certainly did double as community centers, around which youth clubs, study classes, therapeutic activities, "singles' groups," and sports teams were organized. Members certainly could have nonreligious motives for attendance, but abundant historical and sociological evidence suggests that they had religious motives too.

Christianity and Politics in the Twentieth Century

Christianity remained a dynamic social force, around which intense political controversies swirled. In 1925 the Scopes Trial tested whether fundamentalists could keep evolution from being taught in schools. A high-school biology teacher was convicted of violating a Tennessee state law that prohibited the teaching of evolution, but the public-relations fallout of the case favored evolutionists rather than creationists. In the same year the Supreme Court ruled (in Pierce v. Society of Sisters) that Catholic and other religious private schools were protected under the Constitution; the legislature of Oregon (then with influential anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan members) was ruled to have exceeded its authority in requiring all children in the state to attend public schools.

In 1928 a Catholic, Al Smith (1873–1944) of New York, ran as the Democratic candidate for president in a religiously superheated campaign. Southern whites were usually a dependable Democratic block vote, but their "Bible Belt" prejudice against Catholics led them to campaign against him. This defeat was not offset until a second Catholic candidate, John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), was elected in 1960, keeping enough southern white votes to ensure a wafer-thin plurality. After this election, and especially after the popular Kennedy's 1963 assassination, which was treated by parts of the nation as martyrdom, American anti-Catholicism declined rapidly. Kennedy had declined to advocate the federal funding of parochial schools and had refused to criticize the Supreme Court when it found, in a series of cases from 1962 and 1963, that prayer and Bible-reading in public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

While the Supreme Court appeared to be distancing Christianity from politics, the civil rights movement was bringing them together. A black Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956) and became the preeminent civil rights leader of the 1950s and 1960s. Ever since emancipation, ministers had played a leadership role in the black community, being, usually, its most highly educated members and the men who acted as liaisons between segregated whites and blacks. King, a spellbinding preacher, perfected a style that blended Christian teachings on love, forgiveness, and reconciliation, Old Testament visions of a heaven on earth, and patriotic American rhetoric, the three being beautifully combined in the peroration of his famous "I have a dream" speech from 1963. Like Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi, to whom he acknowledged a debt, he knew how to work on the consciences of the dominant group by quoting scriptures they took seriously, interpreting them in such a way as to make them realize their failings as Christians. Religious leaders might disagree about exactly how the movement should proceed—King feuded with black Baptists who did not want the churches politicized, and with whites like the eight ministers whose counsel of patience and self-restraint provoked his "Letter from Birmingham Jail"—but historians of the movement now agree that he was able to stake out, and hold, the religious high ground.

Among the theological influences on King was the work of Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). Born and raised in a German evangelical family in Missouri, Niebuhr was the preeminent American Protestant theologian of the century. Reacting, like many clergy, against the superpatriotic fervor of the First World War years (in which Christian ministers often led the way in bloodcurdling denunciation of the "Huns"), he became in the 1920s an advocate of Christian pacifism. During the 1930s, however, against a background of rising totalitarianism in Europe, he abandoned this position on grounds of its utopianism and naiveté, and bore witness to a maturing grasp of Christian ethics in his masterpiece, Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932). His influential journal Christianity and Crisis, begun in 1941, voiced the ideas of Christians who believed war against Hitler was religiously justified. He became, in the 1940s and 1950s, influential among statesmen, policy makers, and foreign policy "realists," some of whom detached his ethical insights from their Christian foundations, leading the philosopher Morton White to quip that they were "atheists for Niebuhr." Niebuhr had also helped bring to America, from Germany, the theologian Paul Tillich (1886–1965), who became a second great theological celebrity in the mid-century decades, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), who worked for a time in the 1930s at Union Seminary, New York, but returned before the war and was later executed for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

To match these Protestant theological celebrities—of whom Niebuhr's brother Richard (1894–1962) was a fourth—the Catholic Church produced its own. The émigré celebrity was the French convert Jacques Maritain (1882–1973), who wrote with brilliant insight on faith and aesthetics, while the homegrown figure was John Courtney Murray (1904–1967), whose essays on religious liberty were embodied in the religious liberty document of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Men like King, the Niebuhr brothers, Maritain, Tillich, and Murray enjoyed almost the same prominence in mid-twentieth-century America that the Mathers had enjoyed in the seventeenth century, Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth, and the Beechers in the nineteenth—another sign of the persistence of Christian energy in America.

Ever since the Scopes Monkey Trial the evangelical Protestant churches had retreated from politics, but they had continued to grow, to organize (taking advantage of broadcasting technology), and to generate exceptionally talented individuals of their own. None was to have more lasting importance than Billy Graham (b. 1918), whose revivals became a press sensation in the late 1940s. Graham eschewed the sectarian squabbling that many evangelists relished. Instead he tried to create an irenic mood among all evangelicals while reaching out to liberal Protestants with an emotional message of Christian love, forgiveness, and Jesus as personal savior. He traveled worldwide, befriended every president from 1950 to 2000, and said, perhaps rightly, that more people had seen him and knew who he was than anybody else in the world.

Another skilled evangelical, the Baptist Jerry Falwell (b. 1933) shared many of Graham's skills but brought them directly into politics in a way Graham had avoided. Falwell, convinced that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the feminist movement, the counterculture, and the changing nature of the American family were signs of decadence and sin, catalyzed the Moral Majority, a pressure group that contributed to the "Reagan Revolution" in the election of 1980. That election was particularly noteworthy as a moment in Christian history not only because of the sudden reappearance of politicized evangelicals but also because the losing candidate, President Jimmy Carter (b. 1924), was himself a self-proclaimed born-again Christian and Baptist Sunday school teacher.

Nearly all America's Christian churches with a liberal inclination participated in a religious protest against nuclear weapons in the 1980s. Nearly all those with a conservative inclination participated in campaigns against legalized abortion. Indeed, as observers noted at the time, both sides in these and other sundering political controversies were strongly represented by Christian advocates. Collectively they demonstrated the extraordinary vitality and diversity of American Christianity into the third millennium.


Ahlstrom, Sidney E. A Religious History of the American People. 2 vols. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972.

Albanese, Catherine L. America, Religions and Religion. 2d ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1992.

Fox, Richard Wightman. Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: W. Morrow, 1986.

Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

May, Henry F. Protestant Churches and Industrial America. 2d ed. New York: Octagon Books, 1977.

Miller, Perry. The New England Mind. 2 vols. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.

Morris, Charles R. American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners who Built America's Most Powerful Church. New York: Times Books, 1997.

Noll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdman's, 1992.

Ostling, Richard N., and Joan K. Ostling. Mormon America: The Power and the Promise. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1999.

Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Wuthnow, Robert. The Restructuring of American Religion. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Patrick N.Allitt

See alsoBaptist Churches ; Catholicism ; Creationism ; Episcopalianism ; Evangelicalism and Revivalism ; Fundamentalism ; Indian Missions ; Latter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of ; Protestantism ; Puritans and Puritanism ; Religious Thought and Writings .


views updated May 23 2018


When Jesus was born, there was no tobacco in Palestine or anyplace else in the "Old World." Thus, neither the Hebrew Bible nor the Christian gospels have anything to say about tobacco. Nevertheless, from 1492 onward, the history of tobacco and Christianity intersect in many places. Tobacco was an argument for and hindrance to the evangelization of Native Americans, a cause for theological conundrums, and an inducement to immorality. Despite the generally negative view of tobacco held by religious authorities of diverse Christian denominations, clerics contributed to the spread of tobacco, and ecclesiastical institutions benefited from taxes on its sale. Today, basing their opposition on scientific research showing tobacco's harmful health effects, many church groups actively oppose the global tobacco industry, and some denominations forbid their members from consuming tobacco.

Tobacco and Diabolical Idolatry

Because Ferdinand and Isabella, known as the "Catholic Kings," sponsored Christopher Columbus's inadvertent voyage to the Americas, the first European power to colonize in that hemisphere was Spain. The rulers of Spain quickly sought a papal bull to legitimize their territorial claims: In May 1493 Pope Alexander VI ceded the papal bull known as the Inter caetera divinae, which gave the Spanish Crown full and perpetual dominion in America in return for bringing people into the Christian faith. Accordingly, from the beginning of the colonial project, it was important to establish that the indigenous peoples of America lay well outside the community of Christians and to identify them as heathen and, oftentimes, as idolatrous.

This partly explains why, for the first eighty or so years of the European presence in the Americas, tobacco was identified as a manifestation of Indian barbarism, idolatry, and even diabolical intervention. In 1535, the first published reference to tobacco appeared in Historia General de las Indias (General History of the Indies), authored by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, a conquistador-turned-chronicler. The first mention of tobacco appeared in a section entitled the "crimes and abominable customs and rites" of the indigenous people of Hispaniola (Taíno). Oviedo introduced the section on tobacco with the statement, "The Indians of this island have among other vices one that is very bad, which is taking smokable things which they call tabaco in order to leave their senses." Thus, he began by singling out tobacco use as a particularly vile example of Indian vices. Later, when describing the Caquetío Indians (northern Venezuela), he identified tobacco as a substance that allowed Indian shamans to summon and communicate with the Devil. Oviedo's works influenced subsequent European chroniclers' and historians' views of tobacco and initiated a long-lasting legacy of stigmatizing tobacco as an accessory to pagan rites and a diabolical influence.

Oviedo was motivated to demonize Indian religion—and so expose tobacco as a manifestation of barbarism—to justify the claims and depredations of the conquistadors. Others were committed to the evangelical project and sought to find the best way to convert Native Americans into Christians. At first tobacco was of little concern as missionaries focused on practices more obviously at odds with Christian beliefs, such as human sacrifice in the former Aztec domains of Mexico and what they took to be "idol worship" throughout the Americas. By the second half of the sixteenth century and the seventeenth century, however, some clerics, recognizing the integral place of tobacco in many indigenous religions, viewed native tobacco practices as a hindrance to genuine Christian conversion. Accordingly, in 1556, the synod of Santa Fé in Colombia prohibited Indians from growing or using tobacco. In the early seventeenth century, a cleric in Mexico discovered that "idolatry"—or traditional Mesoamerican beliefs and practices—was rife among his parishioners in central Mexico. His report, entitled "Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions and Customs That Today Live Among the Indians Native to New Spain," documented the pagan vestiges in the rites used by midwives to deliver babies, doctors to cure illness, farmers to rid growing fields of anthills, theft victims to recover stolen goods, fishermen and hunters to catch fish and birds, woodcutters to fell trees, travelers to protect themselves on long journeys, and householders to ward off misfortune from newly constructed houses. In all of these he detected the malign influence of tobacco lurking. He found that even the medicinal uses of tobacco were intertwined with beliefs about tobacco's divinity; healers would pray and summon deified tobacco as they applied it to wounds. By that time, however, tobacco was used as much, perhaps even more, by the colonial elite and residents in Spain, so there was no discussion of outlawing tobacco.

Catholic Orthodoxy

Even as tobacco became folded into a discourse of Indian idolatry, some observers, including Oviedo himself, recognized that increasing numbers of Christians, as well as pagans, ranked among tobacco devotees. Many such users cited tobacco's purportedly salubrious effects, but clerics such as Bartolomé de las Casas condemned it as a vice. He lamented that even when reprimanded, these smokers insisted that "it was not within their power to quit." By the second half of the sixteenth century, it was clear that the tobacco habit was well rooted in the New World among Europeans and Africans, along with the Indians. There soon appeared a flurry of Catholic Church edicts concerning tobacco use that targeted Creoles (European inhabitants in the Americas) and Europeans.

Given tobacco's diabolical and pagan associations, it is striking that there was no serious effort to ban tobacco. Rather, Church edicts and theological guidelines sought to define orthodox usage and prevent tobacco from contaminating sacred spaces and activities. The earliest directives targeting European tobacco consumers related to worries that tobacco consumption might interfere with transubstantiation during mass (the Roman Catholic belief that the bread and wine in the Eucharist become the body and blood of Christ). A provincial synod that met in Lima, Peru, in 1583 ruled that priests could not consume tobacco before administering communion:

It is forbidden under the penalty of eternal damnation for priests to take tobacco before administering mass whether taking tobacco or sayre (the Peruvian term) in smoke orsnuff, by way of the mouth, or the nostrils, even under the guise of medicine.

Likewise, in 1585, a provincial meeting in Mexico ruled that "because of the reverence which should be shown in the taking of communion," no priest should take tobacco before administering mass, nor should its use taint anyone receiving communion. The overt concern was that by ingesting tobacco, priests would break the condition of a total fast required for the wafer to become the body of Christ.

By the early seventeenth century, tobacco had become well entrenched in the daily habits of increasing numbers of people living in Europe. Theological regulation followed close behind. Treatises in Catholic Europe echoed the Latin American synods, insisting that priests should abstain from tobacco before administering communion on the grounds that it interfered with transubstantiation. However, other authorities disagreed. In the mid-seventeenth century, the Italian theologian Antonio Diana stated, in his treatise on canon law, "I respond negatively to the question posed, namely whether the consumption of tobacco in leaf, powder or smoke impedes communion, for tobacco in leaf and powder is consumed through the nose and therefore does not break the natural fast because it is not consumed by an eating action which is done only with the mouth." But there was no clear consensus, and local synods appeared to decide the matter themselves; in 1685, the Council of Tarragona threatened excommunication to those who smoked or chewed tobacco before (or an hour after) saying mass or receiving communion.

More generally, some Church authorities viewed tobacco as filthy (and thus unsuitable for Church or other sacred spaces), generative of other vices (such as drunkenness), and generally suspect because of its pagan origins. In 1642 Pope Urban VIII issued a bull that forbade the smoking or taking of tobacco in churches or in their environs in the archbishopric of Seville, under penalty of excommunication. The bull called attention to the fact that tobacco abuse had reached the point that tobacco stained the floor and its odor pervaded church. Similarly, in 1650, Pope Innocent X threatened excommunication for those who committed sacrilege by using tobacco in St. Peter's. In 1642, the vicar general of Seville also forbade ecclesiastics, "be they regulars or seculars, and men or women, and of whatever estate, trade, condition, or dignity," in the archbishopric from using tobacco "in public." The edict called attention to the scandal caused by the uncontrolled use of tobacco by the clergy "at all hours, in all places, with publicity." In addition, discomfort about tobacco's pagan origins lingered. A pamphlet published by one of the proponents of the 1642 papal bull argued that the "idolatrous priests of the Indies invented and introduced it . . . so that the Devil, by the properties of tobacco, could affect their imagination."

The repetition of such edicts makes it clear that clergy were a conspicuous subset of tobacco devotees. In the case of the Italian priest Joseph of Cupertino (d. 1663)—revered for his mystical visions, asceticism, and levitations—his snuff habit jeopardized efforts to make him a saint. Opponents of his canonization charged that Joseph's frequent recourse to snuff made him unfit for sainthood. However, his advocates argued that he took snuff for its health benefits, and, more importantly, because of his humility. They insisted that with the smell of tobacco, he disguised the great odor of sanctity that he emitted and that suffused his cell, thereby proving that he did not seek to exalt himself over his brothers and that he was free of the sin of pride. In fact, Joseph's canonization did not succeed until after Pope Benedict XIII rescinded the prohibitions against the use of tobacco by the clergy in sacred places.

The church with the least tolerant policies toward tobacco was the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1634 the patriarch of Russia categorized tobacco use (smoke and snuff) as a deadly sin, leading the czar to prohibit its use. First-time offenders received whippings and nose slitting, whereas repeat offenders faced the death penalty. The prohibitions remained in effect until the end of the seventeenth century, when Peter the Great gave concessions to an English joint stock company to import tobacco in return for an ample sum.

Protestant Responses

In Protestant Europe, the approach to tobacco resembled that of Catholic regions. Although many clerical authorities reviled tobacco, few serious efforts were made to ban it outright. The most famous early critic of tobacco on religious and health grounds was James I. As the king of England, James I was also head of the Anglican Church. In A Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604), he fulminated, "[T]here cannot be a more base, and yet hurtful, corruption in a Country, then is the vile use (or other abuse) of taking Tobacco in this Kingdom." He vilified tobacco and its users by calling attention to its Indian origins:

What honor or policy can move us to imitate the barbarous and beastly manners of the wild, godless, and slavish Indians, especially in so vile and stinking a custom? . . . Shall we, I say, without blushing, abase our selves so far, as to imitate these beastly Indians, slaves to the Spaniards, refuse to the world, and as yet aliens from the holy Covenant of God? Why doe we not as well imitate them in walking naked as they do? in preferring glasses, feathers, and such toys, to gold and precious stones, as they do? yea why do we not deny God and adore the Devil, as they do?

More particularly, he charged that those who abused tobacco "sinned against God," for they were guilty of lust and drunkenness. "Are you not guilty of sinful and shameful lust . . . that although you be troubled with no disease, but in perfect health, yet can you [not] be merry . . . if you lack Tobacco to provoke your appetite to any of those sorts of recreation, lusting after it as the children of Israel did in the wildernesse after Quailes?"

King James I also compared tobacco addicts to alcoholics. He described the trajectory of an alcoholic—"no man likes strong headie drinke the first day but by custome is piece and piece allured, while in the ende, a drunkard will have as great a thirst to bee drunke, as a sober man to quench his thirst with a draught when hee hath need of it"—to that of the tobacco user who needs more and more of it to achieve the same ends. Yet despite his diatribe, there is no evidence that James actually succeeded in banning tobacco. Instead, he, like so many other heads of state facing depleted treasuries, used tobacco's suspect status as justification to levy successive taxes on the weed, beginning in 1604, the year of the publication of the Counterblaste. The poet-theologian Joseph Beaumont (1616–1699) wrote in his sermonic verse, Tobacco, that "Wee/Mistook thy power, whose cheife & mightiest part/Doth on yeSoule not on ye Body prey/And can heal this, whilst it doth destroy," and charged that smokers "rather than part with thee," were willing to "look like Hell." Moralists in Catholic and Protestant countries alike often linked tobacco smoke to the infernal fumes of hell.

As in Catholic Europe, moralists thought it particularly unseemly for clergymen to indulge in tobacco. This was part of the reason that authorities prohibited students—many of whom were clerical candidates—from smoking at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the early seventeenth century. However, in practice many men of cloth also belonged to the community of tobacco users.

Some Protestant sects did go so far as to forbid laity and clergy from using tobacco. In New England, the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 prohibited the sale or use of tobacco within the colony unless "upon urgent occasion for the benefit of health and taken privately." The ordinances were repealed but before long promulgated again, their authors having found that "since the repealing of the former Laws against Tobacco, the same is more abused then before." In 1638 and again in 1647 the assembly ruled as follows:

Nor shall any take tobacco in any Inne or common Victualing-house, except in a private room there, so as neither the Master of the said house nor any other Guests there shall take offence therat, which if any doe, then such person shall forthwith forbear, upon pain of two shillings sixpence for everie such offence. And for all Fines incurred by this Law, one half part shall be to the Informer the other to the poor of the town where the offence is done.

Similar measures were decreed in other North American religious settlements. In Connecticut, Puritan regulations dating from 1647 ruled that youths under the age of twenty-one could not smoke, and that those over twenty-one wishing to consume tobacco required a physician's certificate stating that it was medically necessary, accompanied by court license.

In the eighteenth century, some Methodist congregations strongly discouraged tobacco use on the grounds that it was "needless self-indulgence . . . unless prescribed by a physician." Preachers were ordered to enforce "vigorously, but calmly the rules concerning needless ornaments, drams, snuff, and tobacco," and for preachers to receive approval by the governing body, they had to respond affirmatively to the question, "Do you take no snuff, tobacco, drams?" By 1792, leaders of the congregations repealed the tobacco rules.

Benjamin Rush, a famous physician, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and devout Presbyterian, opposed tobacco on moral as well as medical grounds. He charged that "the use of Tobacco, more especially in smoking, disposes to idleness, and idleness has been considered as the root of all evil." He also posed the rhetorical question and its answer:

What reception may we suppose would the apostles have met with, had they carried into the cities and houses to which they were sent, snuff-boxes, pipes, segars, and bundles of cut, or rolls of hog, or pigtail Tobacco? Such a costly and offensive apparatus for gratifying their appetites, would have furnished solid objections to their persons and doctrines, and would have been a just cause for the clamours and contempt which were excited against them.

Religious authorities continued to inveigh against tobacco use in the nineteenth century, but increasingly on grounds of its deleterious effects on health and its association with liquor. The nineteenth century was a period of religious reawakening in the United States, and many religious groups sought stricter adherence to moral codes. Though not as despised as alcohol, tobacco became the target of moral reformers in the Temperance Movement. In fact, one of tobacco's primary faults, in the view of the crusaders, was its association with alcohol. As Rev. Orin Fowler stated in 1833, "Rum-drinking will not cease, till tobacco-chewing and tobacco smoking and snuff -taking shall cease." Lucy Gaston was one of the most formidable leaders in the antitobacco movement, which focused increasingly on cigarettes. Applying the tactics learned in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, she turned her attention to tobacco in the 1890s, urged children to wear antitobacco pins, and rallied groups of children to sing songs against smoking to shame their addicted elders. Such efforts led to temporary successes: between 1895 and 1921, fourteen states banned the sale of cigarettes, though all these laws were eventually repealed.

The Mormon denomination of the Latter-day Saints also emerged in the nineteenth century and came to forbid their members from taking tobacco. In 1833 the Church's founder, Joseph Smith, received a divine revelation known as the "Word of Wisdom," which declared that tobacco was "not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man," except as a poultice for bruises and treating "all sick cattle." The origin of the revelation is often connected to an incident in which Smith's wife, Emma, complained to him about cleaning up the tobacco mess left behind by his disciples, prompting him to ask God for guidance about tobacco use. The basis for the prohibition rested in tobacco's hazardous effects on health. The strength of the Mormon Church in Utah contributed to efforts of the state to enact prohibitions against tobacco between 1896 and 1923.


It might so far seem that Christian denominations worked to obstruct the use of tobacco throughout the world. But, in fact, different churches—or some of their members—benefited from tobacco, and, in turn, tobacco taxes and profits supported various ecclesiastical institutions. Because of the pan-European and, after 1492, global character of the Catholic Church, clerics were themselves often agents for the diffusion of tobacco. Spanish missionaries—not all of them so zealous as Ruiz de Alarcón—who lived and worked among Indians learned of tobacco's medicinal and recreational uses and brought back samples and know-how to their orders in Europe. A nuncio (papal representative) named Prospero di Santa Croce is credited with having introduced tobacco to Italy in 1585 after his sojourn in Lisbon, an early byway for American goods and knowledge. (His botanist protégé celebrated his achievement by comparing it to those of his Crusader ancestors: "Prospero di Santa Croce when he was sent as nuncio of the Holy See to Portugal brought this [plant] hither for the advantage of the Roman people. As his ancestors brought the wood of the holy cross, in which all Christianity rejoices, so the family of Santa Croce is called distinguished and zealous for our bodies and our souls.") Likewise, Spanish missionaries—some coming directly from the Americas—likely brought tobacco to Asia at the end of the sixteenth century.

Ecclesiastical institutions, like secular states, also came to rely upon tobacco taxes as an important source of revenue. The papal states—those territories in Rome where the papacy exerted temporal as well as spiritual power—implemented a tobacco monopoly in 1655. Following the loss of lands and revenue after the Protestant Reformation, the papacy came to rely increasingly on revenue from Italy itself; the increasing consumption of tobacco and the model of other monopolies made a tobacco monopoly an appealing expedient. Like so many other European states in the seventeenth century, the papal states established a state monopoly in which the exclusive right to manufacture and sell tobacco was granted to a private entity in return for annual payments. Catholic institutions also directly engaged in tobacco cultivation. Most notably, in colonial Paraguay members of the Jesuit Order organized tobacco plantations, relying on the labor of Guaraní Indians until the Jesuit expulsion in 1767.

Protestant churches in the tobacco regions of colonial North America relied on tobacco to support their clergy. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ministers of the Anglican Church in colonial Virginia received their salaries in tobacco (which served as currency more generally). For instance, in 1696, Virginia ministers received 16,000 pounds of tobacco annually. Consequently, during years of high demand, they prospered, but when demand fell, so did their purchasing power. The considerable fluctuations in the price of tobacco also contributed to the instability in their earning power. In Maryland, the Anglican General Assembly levied a poll tax of forty pounds of tobacco. The Quaker minority, unhappy with the Anglicans' efforts to establish themselves as the state church, refused to submit to the tobacco tax and petitioned the king, as well as the assembly, for its repeal. The king agreed to repeal the law, but the assembly passed a revised version in 1696; two more rounds of repeal and revision ensued. Finally, the assembly succeeded in passing the tax, which ultimately became void with the American Revolution.

Contemporary Christianity

Today, nearly all Christian denominations view tobacco as a scourge to physical and sometimes moral health. Within this general consensus, however, there is a wide range of approaches, encompassing pastoral counseling, mandates of abstinence, education campaigns, and political and corporate lobbying. In general, the contemporary theological basis for the negative attitude evinced toward tobacco by various Christian denominations comes from Paul's admonition in Corinthians 6:19: "What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" In other words, the basis for tobacco opposition is firmly grounded in its deleterious health effects, long suspected but given recent confirmation by the scientific studies in the late twentieth century.

Despite this common theological ground, various denominations and even members of the same church approach antitobacco efforts in very different ways. For many, the issue begins by discouraging or even prohibiting individual use. Seventh-Day Adventists and Mormons are required to abstain from tobacco use. Other denominations urge church members to resist or to give up tobacco habits, often focusing their efforts on youth.

Some Christian religious groups and churches go further and use their moral authority to combat what they see as immoral corporate and governmental practices. In 1991, the American Baptist Churches passed an antitobacco resolution that, among other actions, condemned tobacco corporations' practices of targeting products to particular social groups and securing land in developing counties to raise tobacco ("thus taking land out of food production and increasing tobacco consumption within those nations"), and it called for Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to end tobacco subsidies to growers. In 1994, a coalition of antismoking religious groups that included Catholic Charities USA, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, and the United States Methodist Church lobbied Congress for a two-dollar-a-pack tax increase in the federal tax on cigarettes (over the 24 cents-a-pack federal tax in place at the time), asserting that it was "not only wise policy, but a moral obligation." A denomination particularly engaged in efforts to stem worldwide tobacco use is the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Its humanitarian arm (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) has education and/or smoking cessation programs in Mongolia, Morocco, and Cambodia, among other places. A coalition of churches in England and Ireland called Christian Aid has focused on poor labor practices used in tobacco-growing regions in southern Brazil, blaming Souza Cruz, a subsidiary of BAT, for growers' health problems caused by pesticide use and for forcing growers to sell their crops for too little money.

Another tactic employed by religious groups is to mobilize their power as institutional investors to challenge corporate policies. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of 300 Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish institutional investors, began in 1980 to urge tobacco companies to limit tar and nicotine levels and add health warnings on cigarettes sold in developing countries. In more recent years, the coalition has aimed its efforts at discouraging nontobacco companies from benefiting the tobacco industry. It counts as successes McDonald's 1994 ban on smoking in corporate-owned restaurants and 3M's 1996 announcement of a global phase-out of tobacco advertisements for its billboards.

Finally, many use spiritual teachings of Christianity and other religious traditions to help them in their efforts to quit smoking. Some find prayer indispensable in their quest to give up tobacco. The notion of appealing to a higher power is also important in the more outwardly secular, twelve-step recovery programs. In the Nicotine Anonymous movement, smokers "ask God to help us accept the craving . . . and to give us the courage not to take care of this craving—as we have always done—by smoking one more cigarette."



"American Baptist Resolution on the Promotion and Sale of Tobacco by U. S. Firms, 8187: 6/91." Available: <>.

Beer, George Louis, The Origins of the British Colonial System, 1578–1660. New York: P. Smith, 1933.

Brooks, Jerome E, The Mighty Leaf: Tobacco Through the Centuries. Boston: Little, Brown, 1952.

Crosby, Michael H. "Religious Challenge by Shareholder Actions: Changing the Behaviour of Tobacco Companies and Their Allies." BMJ 2000, 321 (5 August): 375–377. Available: <>.

Dickson, Sarah Augusta. Panacea or Previous Bane: Tobacco in Sixteenth-Century Literature. New York: New York Public Library, 1954.

Fernández de Oviedo, Gonzalo. In Historia general y natural de las Indias. Edited by Juan Pérez de Tudela Bueso. Madrid: Ediciones Atlas, 1959.

James I. A Counterblaste to Tobacco. Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1604. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1969.

McGrew, Jane Lang. "History of Tobacco Regulation." Available: <>.

Nicotine. Available: <>.

Norton, Marcy. "New World of Goods: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Spanish Empire, 1492–1700." Unpublished Ph. D. Dissertation. University of California, Berkeley, 2000.

Oliver, Ansel. "World Church: No Tobacco Day Draws Adventist Support." May 27, 2003, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. Available: <>.

Ortiz, Fernando. Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar. Translated by Harriet de Onís. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947. Reprint, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995.

Robert, Joseph C., The Story of Tobacco in America. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1949

heathen any person or group not worshiping the God of the Old Testament, that is, anyone not a Jew, Christian, or Muslim. May also be applied to any profane, crude, or irreligious person regardless of ethnicity.

Creole originally, a person of European descent born in the Spanish colonies. Later, the term was applied to persons of mixed European and African descent. As an adjective, it can describe admixtures of European and African cultural components such as language, cookery, and religion.

snuff a form of powdered tobacco, usually flavored, either sniffed into the nose or "dipped," packed between cheek and gum. Snuff was popular in the eighteenth century but had faded to obscurity by the twentieth century.

concession a grant of land, usually by a government, to produce and market certain commodities or perform certain services for profit. Agricultural concessions were sometimes offered by European governments to encourage immigration.

plantation historically, a large agricultural estate dedicated to producing a cash crop worked by laborers living on the property. Before 1865, plantations in the American South were usually worked by slaves.

subsidiary in commerce, a branch or affiliate of a larger unit that provides components or support services.

tar a residue of tobacco smoke, composed of many chemical substances that are collectively known by this term.


views updated May 29 2018







Christianity, as its name suggests, is a religion practiced worldwide devoted to the worship and example of Jesus Christ. Jesus was a preacher who lived and taught in Israel two thousand years ago. The word Christ means anointed and refers to the fact that his followers believed he was anointed by God, whom many Christians believe to be his father, to redeem Israel. These disciples considered the work of Jesus to be the fulfillment of prophesies in the Hebrew scriptures, which they came to call the Old Testament. For a New Testament they added gospels (stories of his life) and epistles, which were letters to early Christian communities. These focus on the account of Jesus death by crucifixion, their belief that he was raised from the dead, and the idea that his disciples were commissioned to carry his message to the entire world.


Despite the common roots of Judaism and Christianity, almost at once Christians and Jews went separate ways and sometimes fell into conflict, which led to Christian anti-Semitism and frequent persecutions of Jews. In the twenty-first century serious efforts are bringing the two communities into conversation and often common action, but relations remain tense in some communities.

From their original home in Jerusalem, believers in Jesus quickly moved north and east, where at Antioch in Syria they were first named Christians. During the next four centuries this faith born in Asia also became a vigorous presence in North Africa, which was part of the Roman Empire, and in Europe, with which it came to be most identified until the twentieth century. In the fourth century Christianity, once harassed or forbidden, became the favorite of emperors and the established religion of the Roman Empire. In and after the sixteenth century missionaries and colonialists took the faith into South and North America, and in the early twenty-first century its churches prosper most in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. About two billion followers, almost one-third of the human race, consider themselves Christian.


Though Roman emperors were some of the first enemies of Christianity, the sudden rise of Islam in the seventh century led to Muslim conquests of most of North Africa, where Christianity eventually all but disappeared. Muslims also conquered Palestinethe Holy Land to Christians, Jews, and Muslimsand advanced in Europe. During the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries Christian leaders called for crusades to retake the holy places, especially in Jerusalem, and undertook many military ventures against then-Islamic territories.

Internal conflicts also beset Christianity. In the eleventh century the Eastern and Western churches, long in tension over doctrine and practice, separated. At issue in the separation was both the refusal of the Eastern Christians to regard the pope as the supreme authority and a doctrinal point about how Jesus Christ related to God the Father. Many political and cultural issues also led to the break. Within Western, or Roman Catholic, realms there was also conflict, some of it marked by the Inquisition, a name given to severe efforts by official Catholicism to purge itself of individuals and groups that were suspected of heresy against the church (which generally included anyone who was not a practicing Catholic or who refused to convert). The Protestant Reformation, beginning in the early sixteenth century, permanently divided the Western church. That Reformation was fought over, among other things, the authority of the church and the Bible, with Protestants claiming that they relied only on the divinely inspired scriptures and not on human authority, such as that of the pope (the leader of the Roman Catholic Church). In more recent times Protestants have argued among themselves over biblical authority: was the Bible the inerrant word of God, or might it be interpreted in such ways that its human elements also stand out?

Through it all the same zeal that produced crusades, inquisitions, schisms, and reformations inspired clerics and laypeople alike to create distinctive cultures marked by the invention of the university in the late Middle Ages, cathedrals, great art, and institutions for providing health care. Such energies also led to diversity in teaching and governance. Roman Catholics remained loyal to the pope. Lutheranism, inspired by the German religious reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), eventually became recognized worldwide as another denomination of Christianity. Similarly the Church of England (Anglicanism), or in the United States the Episcopal Church, rejected papal authority. A third tradition, often called Reformedinformed by the writings of the French theologian and reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) in Switzerland, parts of Germany, and the Netherlands along with John Knox (1513-1572) in Scotlandstressed divine sovereignty. Still another cluster, sometimes called Radical or Anabaptist because its adherents rebaptized those who had been received into the church through infant baptism, spread, though its members were often persecuted by other Christians.


While Christian teaching draws most deeply on the Bible, its leaders found it necessary to advance from telling informal stories to engaging in more formal expression in doctrinesofficial teachings that define the tenets of the faith. At a series of ecumenical (worldwide) councils during and after the fourth century, theologians, emperors, and bishops wrestled with basic questions. Christianity is strongly monotheistic, professing faith in one God (as is Judaism and Islam). But Christians also believe in a complex doctrine called the Holy Trinity, by which God is considered as existing in three persons: the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. They also wrestle with the ways to affirm and proclaim that the human Jesus also has divine status. Later councils dealt with the workings and effects of Christ in the church and in the greater community. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus is regarded as the savior of believers from their sin, which has distanced them from God, as well as the one who brings them salvation and inspires them to acts of love and justice.

Christians have worked with many forms of organization, usually stressing either episcopal governmentwhich means rule by bishops, as in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanismor more democratic patterns, such as rule by elders or congregants themselves in the millions of local Protestant congregations or parishes. Referring to Christianity as a community may seem strained, because it is broken into around thirty thousand subcommunities called church bodies or in some places denominations. In the third millennium the most rapid new growth is in Pentecostalism, a movement of believers who profess the power of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism stresses the immediate experience of God through signs, such as healing or speaking in indecipherable spirit-guided vocalizations (speaking in tongues).

The central act of Christians everywhere is worship, usually guided by an ordained or specially appointed leader, named a priest, pastor, or preacher. Christian worship can be formal in cathedrals or informal in home and outdoor settings. Most Christians stress preaching at worship, meaning pronouncing judgment on erring believers and verbally offering forgiveness or grace to those who repent and set out to change their ways.

The other feature in most Christian assemblies is the sacramental life. Most Christians baptize new members with water and offer followers a sacrament, or Eucharist, which was instituted at Jesus Last Supper, where bread and wine are consecrated and consumed in remembrance of Jesus death (also called the Communion). Through this sacrament it is believed that members receive forgiveness, deepen their community life, and are empowered to serve God, especially by serving their neighbors and people in need.


Throughout its history Christianity has been influenced by the societies in which it thrives. After opposition within the Roman Empire early on, Christianity became the religion established and protected by law. The spectrum of attitudes within the Christian community includes everything from ascetic monasticism to artistic creations. In early Christianity church and regime were separate, and in modern free societies church and state remain legally distinct. At the same time Christian faith is very much a public affair, promoting movements of social reform and charity. Furthermore while Jesus own teaching inspires pacifists and other peacemakers, faith in a powerful and judgmental God has also authorized arbitrary rule and wars.

Devoted as Christians have been to social, cultural, and often political expressions, their creeds or statements of faith also teach that the world as it is now will someday end. While many Christians may agree that the future and the end are determined by God, they differ widely on the questions of how the end will come, though somehow most associate it with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

SEE ALSO Church, The; Church and State; Coptic Christian Church; Greek Orthodox Church; Heaven; Hell; Jesus Christ; Judaism; Martyrdom; Orthodoxy; Protestant Ethic; Protestantism; Rastafari; Religion; Roman Catholic Church; Santería


Bowden, John, ed. 2005. Christianity: The Complete Guide. London: Continuum.

Edwards, David Lawrence. 1997. Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Littell, Franklin H. 2001. Historical Atlas of Christianity. 2nd ed. New York: Continuum.

McManners, John, ed. 1990. The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Martin E. Marty

Christianity: Overview

views updated May 29 2018

Christianity: Overview

According to the writers of the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth gathered a small group of disciples and went about for three years in first century Galilee, preaching a message of hope to the poor and healing the sick. John the "Baptist" had gone before him, calling people to repent and be baptized, promising the imminent coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. He recognized in Jesus a far greater preacher than himself, sent from God. Jesus and his disciples eventually set out for Jerusalem. He threw out those who were trading in the temple precincts. He prophesied that the temple would be destroyed. The Jewish leaders pressed for his punishment and the Roman authorities authorized his crucifixion, with a mocking title nailed to the Cross: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Three days after Jesus's body was buried it was discovered to be missing from the tomb where it had been laid. Some of the disciples said they had seen and spoken to the Risen Lord and later that they had seen him ascend into heaven. They began to declare him to be the Son of God.

The spread of Christianity toward the West, through the Roman Empire and eventually the whole world, began with the conversion of the Saul of Tarsus, known after his conversion as Paul. He had been determined to eradicate this new sect until he had a vision on the road to Damascus that took him from an energetic Judaism to missionary zeal for Christianity. It was he who persuaded Peter and the other disciples that it was God's will that they should preach the gospel of Jesus to everyone and not just the Jews.

Jesus wrote nothing, and the lack of contemporary accounts of his ministry makes the "historical Jesus" hard to be sure of. The Holy Scriptures of the Christian faith were composed after his death. The four Gospels, accounts of the life of Jesus, the Acts of the Apostles (a history of the early church), a series of pastoral letters to young churches by Paul and others, and an Apocalypse describing the end of all things came to be accepted by the end of the fourth century as a divinely inspired "New Testament" to be added to the Old Testament of the Jewish Scriptures to form the Bible. The Bible has always been used as authority, taken literally by fundamentalists but in most centuries figuratively interpreted as a means of resolving apparent contradictions within it and using it to answer questions it does not directly address.

Christianity and Secular Thought

A series of Christian authors during the first centuries c.e., later known as "the Fathers," defended the faith to contemporary philosophers. Roman imperial religion was syncretistic. Apart from the Christians only the Jews refused to mingle their God with the gods of the pagans. Christians claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and had promised to send the Holy Spirit, or Paraclete, into the world to be "with" his people. Contemporary philosophy described a Trinity in descending order: a Supreme Being, a Logos, a "Soul of the World." Christians insisted that the three "Persons" in one God in their Trinity were equal and coeternal. There were long-running debates about the manner in which God could have "become man." The definitive creed of the council of the whole church held at Nicaea in 325 provided an "official" statement of the approved faith.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the arena of debate changed. In the Eastern, Greek-speaking half of the old Roman Empire, Christian learning survived in deeply conservative monasteries and focused on a mystical spirituality colored by late Platonism. Christian thought and learning in the West moved into the new Christian monasteries, the cathedral schools, and eventually, from the end of the twelfth century, into the newly created universities. Islamic scholarship had preserved and developed Greek thought and was absorbed in its turn by the Christian scholars of the thirteenth century.

Thinkers of the Middle Ages such as Peter Lombard (c. 10951160) and Thomas Aquinas (c. 12241274) worked out a "systematic theology" covering the existence and nature of God, Unity, and Trinity; the way in which God became man and why; a doctrine of the church and the sacraments; and the relationship of human free will to the foreknowledge and predestination and grace of an omniscient and omnipotent God. For most of fifteen hundred years in the West the church dominated intellectual endeavor to the point where philosophy and science were subsumed in theology.


Christians, despite their schismatic tendencies, always put a premium on unity of faith. Yet the Christological debates of the third to fifth centuries ultimately led to the separation of the Monophysite Churches after the Council of Chalcedon (451). In 1054 the Orthodox Church and the Western Roman Church divided, partly over the Western addition to the creed of the assertion that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son.

The Reformation of the sixteenth century in western Europe divided the Roman Catholic Church from the Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and other "reforming" communities. In dispute at this period were the claims of the institutional church to provide the only route to salvation and the reformers' claim that the individual needed only a justifying faith and the Bible to read, and the grace of the Holy Spirit would do the rest. In the eighteenth century the Methodist Church separated from the Church of England (Anglican) over the validity of its ministry and in due course itself became a worldwide "communion."


From the second half of the twentieth century there have been serious attempts to restore Christian unity. From 1948, the World Council of Churches, which influenced the whole of the twentieth century with its work on "faith and order" as well as on "peace and justice," excluded the Roman Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s put the Roman Catholic Church's stamp of approval on the modern ecumenical movement and allowed it to enter into bilateral and multilateral dialogues with other Christian communities.

Christianity and Modern Thought

The eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment returned to "natural" religion, those "truths" that can be arrived at by rational observation of the "created world." This was a first step in allowing changes of fashion in modern secular philosophy and political assumption to drive new thinking in Christian theology. Theologians were prompted to fresh thinking by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant. Friedrich Schleiermacher continued the challenge into the nineteenth century. Søren Kierkegaard called for a move away from believing "propositions" to living the Christian life. Charles Darwin's work on the Origin of Species forced Christians to think radically about the story of the Creation told in Genesis. Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Karl Rahner are leading theologians of the twentieth century who have attempted modern restatements of the faith that allow for the changed philosophical infrastructure. "Process theology" (Alfred Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne) postulated that God is changeable and challengeablea process, not a substance. Don Cupitt and others have experimented with the idea of the "death" of God. Postmodernism, a multiple and shapeless movement emerging after World War II, and the "deconstruction" of language and forms (Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida) have undermined old certainties.

Christianity and Secular Politics

The Gospels say that Jesus taught his disciples to be compliant citizens, "rendering to Caesar" what the law required. The Roman Empire became officially Christian with the conversion of the emperor Constantine the Great in the early fourth century. Modern manifestations of the resulting long-term tension in relations of church and state include liberation theology in South America in the late twentieth century, which pressed for recognition of the dignity of the poor. Liberal feminism, especially vigorous in the United States in the late twentieth century, called for inclusiveness of language and an end to the assumption that God is a "he." Women are ordained to the Anglican, though not the Roman Catholic or Orthodox, priesthood and episcopate in the early twenty-first century. The old debate about the relationship of science and religion has moved partly into the political arena and is now preoccupied with the ethics of the mapping of the human genome, genetically modified food, and the means now available to achieve live births of human children not conceived by ordinary sexual intercourse.

Mission and Interfaith Relations

The Gospels relate that Jesus charged his disciples with spreading the Gospel, and the first generations took it throughout the Roman Empire. Gregory the Great sent a mission of Augustine of Canterbury to England in 597, and from there Boniface in the eighth century took missions into continental Europe. Christianity was still spreading east and north in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The crusading period from the late eleventh to the thirteenth century brought Christianity into contact with Islam in the Middle East and the first translation of the Koran was made in the West in the mid-twelfth century. With world explorations and discovery of the Americas in the sixteenth century it was carried to the New World. There the Roman Catholic tradition dominated Latin America and the colonies established by the Spanish and French in North America, with the future United States predominantly colonized by Protestant exiles from Northern Europe. The nineteenth century saw a somewhat "imperialist" spreading of the faith into the Far East and Africa and the Pacific. Much of this later missionary endeavor has been "denominational"; American Baptist missionaries entered Orthodox Russia after the fall of communism. Throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period the Jews had lived in Europe alongside the Christian communities. During World War II the Roman Catholic Church did not protest about the Holocaust, and Pope John Paul II eventually apologized for the silence of the Church. Interfaith dialogue in the early twenty-first century seeks to establish a basis of mutual respect on which adherents of different faiths may live.


Christianity remains numerically probably the largest world religion, with Islam close behind. About a third of the population of the world was Christian in the 1990s, and the majority of the non-Christian population knew of Christianity or had some opportunity of contact with it. The largest number of Christians resided in Latin America, with Europe second and Africa third, then North America, then South Asia. Postcolonialism and globalization pose major challenges as to how far the faith can absorb local culture without itself being essentially changed. But paradoxically the loss of heritage makes for conservatism. The fastest-growing Christian community is in Africa, where the intellectual history of the patristic and medieval West is often unfamiliar. Conservative fundamentalism is making the ordination of homosexuals as priests and bishops in the West a church-dividing matter in parts of Africa. The altered balance of the Christian populations worldwide has begun to throw into question the continuance of an intellectual tradition now culturally remote from many Christians while it continues to privilege the Bible as the foundation text and ultimate authority.

See also Christianity: Asia ; Free Will, Determinism, and Predestination ; Heaven and Hell ; Heresy and Apostasy ; Philosophy and Religion in Western Thought ; Philosophy of Religion ; Pietism ; Puritanism ; Religion and Science ; Religion and the State ; Ritual: Religion ; Sacred and Profane .


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, ed. The Medieval Theologians. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

Ford, David, ed. The Modern Theologians. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

Gascoigne, Bamber. A Brief History of Christianity. London: Robinson, 2003.

Lindberg, Carter, ed. The Reformation Theologians. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

McBrien, Richard P. Catholicism. 3rd ed. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1994.

Piepkorn, Arthur Carl. Profiles in Belief: The Religious Bodies of the United States and Canada. 4 vols. New York: Harper and Row, 19771979. Covers all the main Christian denominations with an account of their differences.

Sanders, E. P. The Historical Figure of Jesus. London: Penguin, 1995.

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Ward, Keith. Christianity: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000.

Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. New ed. London: Penguin, 1993.

G. R. Evans

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