Thursday, May 21, 2015

When did Europe become Christian?

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post about the "conversion" of the Roman Empire to Christianity. My thesis there was that most people simply changed their flags, not their hearts. My thesis is that the number of "true" Christians at any one time--individuals who are truly devoted in heart to God--is always a minority.

The current thesis of Ed Stetzer is illuminating, I think. His thesis is that the number of truly committed Christians is actually on the rise in America. The declining numbers of those who claim to be Christian is simply the fact that nominal Christians--people who self-identify as Christians but who really have little invested in it--are increasingly becoming "nones." In short, the declining numbers of Christians in America are mostly people who never had any real skin in the game to begin with.

So the question I am asking is when, if ever, Europe really became "Christian" in the first place--at least Christian in name.

1. As an addendum to yesterday's post, it is worth noting that the Roman Empire pretty much died after it converted to Christianity. It would be false, however, to draw a cause-effect relationship, I believe. Rome had been on a death trajectory before Constantine and you could probably argue that his conversion to Christianity was in part an attempt to save it.

Of course the pagans in Rome blamed the Fall of Rome on its abandoning the Roman gods. Augustine addresses this charge, if I remember correctly, in The City of God.  The core problem, I think, was that because of massive population decline and a failure to maintain a healthy military, Rome was unable to defend its borders.

Decadence over time could have had something to do indirectly with the failure to maintain a healthy military. But of course there would be something contradictory about claiming both that Rome failed because of moral decline and to argue that the conversion to Christianity from paganism was a great moral revolution.

2. The "barbarian" rulers of the Germans, the Slavs, and the Celts in northern Europe converted to Christianity in next few centuries. They would eventually become Catholic or Orthodox.

Polygamy was still practiced here and there, however. Indeed, if we are to go by the rhetoric of some of the early Christians, monogamy cannot be said to be Judeo-Christian for they indict Jews of the time for practicing polygamy. Martin Luther himself apparently did not completely condemn polygamy.

I don't think most of us would consider the sexual views that seem to have prevailed in the Middle Ages as a good Judeo-Christian norm. Celibacy increasingly became the ideal of a truly holy person. Sex was only for procreation purposes and had a certain sinful connotation. Of course there was no sense of a person having a "sexual orientation." Rather, certain sex acts were allowed and others weren't.

Inside cave church in Cappadocia
I am not nearly as critical of the Crusades as many. The first crusade was a counter-attack after centuries of Muslim conquest of what had been Christian territories. What is now Turkey was firmly Roman Christian territory in the 300s, as you can see if you go visit the caves of Cappadocia. It would be like the US trying to take back California if it were taken over by the Russians (Putin actually sees his actions in Ukraine in similar terms). Spain was mostly taken over by Muslims for a time in the Middle Ages.

3. In the lead up to the Protestant Reformation I think we have the same situation as it arguably has always been. There is always a true "remnant," a minority who truly serve God with their whole heart, mind, and soul. But the majority is just the never-ending struggle of those who want power and those who are going through the motions of whatever culture to which they belong. Christian in name, Christian in flag, but not really in heart.

The corruption of the medieval catholic church is thus no surprise. We should not be surprised if those in power are usually not particularly godly people... anywhere.

Christian lords in England might still demand prima nocte with newly married Scottish wives. Christian kings might still slaughter Scots. After the Reformation, the Protestant Henry VIII might chop off the godly Thomas More's head for not supporting him. Then Bloody Mary the Catholic might burn the Protestants at the stake. Has Europe yet become truly Christian? According to one tradition, Charles Spurgeon was once asked why the Baptists never burned anyone at the stake. His answer in the story, "We were never in power."

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