The importance of the Christian religious tradition to history is undeniable, whatever one’s personal faith. As the official religion of the Roman Empire since the Emperor Theodosius (379-395), it has shaped the culture and politics of Europe. Yet, many remain ignorant of Christianity’s internal development and cultural impact. A variety of misconceptions flourish. The purpose of this course is twofold: 1) to provide a historically reliable summary of Christianity from the time of Constantine until just prior to the Protestant Reformation; and, 2) to show how Christianity was shaped by, and gave shape to, diverse political and cultural worlds in that time period.
This course also focuses on the Trinitarian and Christological controversies that plagued any effort at achieving unity of belief across the empire. Arianism, Monarchianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Iconoclasm, and other -isms competed with the emerging orthodox resolution to the nature of Christ and the relationships, or “divine economy,” of the Trinity. These controversies and accompanying political involvement, led to the Great Schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism.
The process whereby popes, monks, and German kings formed a new society in Europe called Christendom will also be explored for both its positive cultural accomplishments (cathedrals, universities) and its more negative political adventures (Crusades, investiture, inquisition). What were the roles played by monks and mendicants, mystics and inquisitors, crusaders and theologians, popes and peasants? We will examine both the glory of the medieval synthesis and the elements of corruption that called for reform, a call that many heeded even before the Reformation of the 16th century.