Links: The Medieval Period

General Information on Icons — Icons are crucial for an understanding of Eastern Christianity, which really began to have a separate identity in what we call the “medieval period.”  This is a helpful site on the topic, formatted as questions with answers.

Icon Blog — You may also find helpful this “Reader’s Guide” to understanding icons.  When iconographers create an icon, Eastern Christians say that they “write” the icon; as a result, one must learn how to “read” them, and this blog can help!

Description of Hagia Sophia — Here you’ll find a description of Hagia Sophia (the great church of Constantinople/Istanbul) from Procopius, a sixth-century figure who was alive when Hagia Sophia was built.  At the bottom of the page, there is a link to learn more about the destruction of the city in 1204 — that is interesting.  But the other link (“Hagia Sophia”) is dead, so don’t bother with it.  Also interesting is this link, which provides the history of the church up to the present, as well as a contemporary description.

A Full List of Popes — It’s impossible to think of medieval Christianity without thinking of the popes of Rome.  You’ll find many names in our textbook; however, if you’d like a full list of the popes — from Peter to Francis — check out this link to the Catholic Encyclopedia.  Each pope’s name also links to his biography  You’ll occasionally see the word “antipope” — that’s the word used when there was more than one pope claiming the office at one time.

Boniface and the Oak Tree — Early medieval Christianity also saw the development of Christian traditions among the Germanic/Teutonic peoples and the Celts.  The Germanic tradition included the work of several missionary monks, including the famous Boniface.  This link tells of his life — scroll down to chapter 6 for the famous story of the oak tree he cut down in the name of God.

The Life of St. Patrick — Similarly, the Celtic tradition of Ireland and Scotland had its famous characters, chief among them the man known as St. Patrick.  This link gives you his biography, written by a 7th-century monk.

Pope Gregory I on Mission Work in England — One of the important influences on British Christianity was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons.This is a rather famous section from the Ecclesiastical History written by Bede, the seventh-century English monk, regarding Gregory’s sending missionaries to the Angles and Saxons.  Note the pope’s instructions regarding native worship: don’t destroy everything, but see how it can be converted to the worship of the True God.  For more on Bede’s text, see this link.

Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne — One of the towering figures of early medieval Christianity is the Frankish king Charlemagne.  Happily, we have a biography of him from his contemporary Einhard.  Here’s a link to Einhard’s work, with a handy, click-able table of contents at the top, so you can scan for something that you’d like to read about.

Vikings in England — Not long before the turn of the second millennium CE, folks we call “Vikings” appeared on the shores of Western European lands, including Great Britain.  Here’s a link (including a nice map) that describes the Vikings’ raids into England, and the effects of those raids.

Gothic Architecture — An important development in medieval art was Gothic architecture, but you may not remember as much about it as you’d like.  Here’s a little more information, with images, about this style of architecture that became so influential and widespread in the High Middle Ages.  The language is somewhat technical, but I think it gets its information across.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris — One of the most famous examples of Gothic architecture is the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  This link is the official website of the Cathedral — in the English version.  You might find especially interesting the tab called “Cathedral for Art and History” — lots and lots of images there, including panoramic views of the structure.

More on the Crusades — One of the darkest episodes in all of church history is the Crusades.  Here’s more information on that movement.  The site is nicely organized, but it can be a little challenging to tell what is a link and what is just a heading, but it’s still useful.

Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae — This is a free online version of the great Dominican’s Summa Theologiae, perhaps the most famous single work of theology in all of Christian history.  It has a table of contents and links to each section, so that you can get an idea for how big this work is, and you can also peruse different articles within it.

Quodlibet Disputations — One of the great contributions of the medieval period to the modern world is the university.  However, medieval universities weren’t always peaceful places, as regular “disputations” were held — something like academic debates

.  These disputations can be revealed in written form in a variety of texts, but one that is interesting is what is called the “quodlibets” of medieval writers.  “Quodlibet” literally means “whatever,” and it refers to a semi-annual tradition in some universities where students could come and ask “whatever” question they wanted — essentially a “stump the professor” session.  Some of these sessions were recorded.  This link has translations of some of the quodlibets of Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval teacher.  Peruse the table of contents for something interesting to you.

More on the Waldensians — Here you can find more information on the Waldenses, or Waldensians, that group that was accused of heresy and also provided an important forerunner to Luther’s Reformation.  This site is run by Anabaptists, who are not historically related to the Waldensians.  But they do have some affinities with them, and so they have an investment in understanding this group more fully.

Two Perspectives on the Inquisition — This link is to the old version of the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on the Inquisition.  For material connected the Inquisition’s work against heresy (its original function), scroll or click down to the section called “The suppression of heresy by the institution known as the inquisition.”  For an interesting Jewish perspective on the Inquisition, see this link.

More on Indulgences — This site is an interesting one, as it considers famous historical trials.  One of those trials is that of Martin Luther, and one of the resources it includes is a page called “Questions & Answers Concerning Indulgences.”  For a modern Catholic perspective sympathetic to the use of indulgences, see this link.

The Borgia Family — You may have heard of the Borgia family, who were involved with “political corruption and immorality” to “unbelievable heights,” as one church history textbook has it.  If you’d like to know more about them, including Roderigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), see this link.

John Wycliffe’s English Translation of the Bible — Another important forerunner to the Protestant Reformation was the work of John Wycliffe, who among other things advocated the use of the Bible in the vernacular to aid in people’s understanding.  If you would like to read some of Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, see this link.  Granted, it is written in a form of middle English, so it might be challenging.  You might start with a book with which you’re familiar — like maybe “Romaynes” or “1 Corinthis,” or perhaps one of the Gospels.

Image credit (Girolamo Savonarola; edited by the blogger):

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the Reformation period)

In the News: Christianity in Iraq

As most of you know, there has been ongoing, armed conflict in the Middle East, especially in Syria and northern Iraq, for at least five years (not counting the activities in which the U.S. has been involved).  Occasionally, the reports of that conflict includes the Christians who are indigenous to the area, as in this recent story from FoxNews.

Now, on reading it, you might be thinking a couple of things: 1) “There are indigenous Christians in the Middle East?!?”  And 2) “There are Middle Eastern Christians in the US?!?”  The answer to both questions, of course, is “yes,” and I’ve got some resources that can help you learn more about the situation there.  First, if you want a sense of the country-by-country picture in the Middle East, then you can check out this primer from the BBC; granted, it’s a few years old, and so with the situation as it is, the numbers have probably dwindled, as the link associated with the image below suggests.  But still, the resource is good.  Also, if you want more information about the various groups involved, this link from the OrthodoxWiki is a good beginning, and of course you can go from there as you desire.

Coptic Christians at funeral of Pope Shenouda III in Cairo

As far as Middle Eastern Christians in the United States go, the situation is rather diverse.  Not surprisingly, there are high concentrations of Middle Eastern Christians in places where there are a lot of people of Middle Eastern descent.  It may surprise you, though, that the place with the strongest concentration is Dearborn, Michigan.  But, as discussed in the article, California is another hot spot, as are major metropolitan areas like Chicago, New York, etc.  That said, there are whole swaths of the country with no Middle Eastern Christians at all — so if you’re thinking, “I don’t know any folks of this description,” well, you’re not alone.  But you can learn, right?

And never forget — you can Google.  Search for the different groups named in the links above.  Don’t start with what others say about them — read what they say about themselves.  You won’t regret it; these are vibrant communities with a strong sense of their own heritage and, often, their own history.

Image credit:

Suggested next click: Back to the In the News home page

In the News: Catholics and Orthodox

As many of you know, there has been an official division between the Eastern and Western churches — later known as the “Orthodox” and “Roman Catholic” branches of Christianity — since the year 1054.  The separation actually began much earlier, but that’s the date people point to.

Pope and Patriarch KyrilThere have been glimmers of hope for reconciliation here and there (see this link and also this one, for just a few of the important events that have happened over time), but the two groups have never achieved full unity.  But just today, CNN posted a story about Pope Francis’s plan to meet the “Patriarch” (that is, the head) of the Russian branch of the Orthodox church.  The meeting is to take place next week in Cuba, during Patriarch Kyril’s planned visit to Cuba.  The story is a nice one for us, as it refers to multiple events in church history!

This kind of story warms my heart significantly.  I come from a branch of Christianity that has always said that we value church unity… but we haven’t done a good job of letting our actions match our words.  But I’m convinced that, in this century, we will find our similarities to be MUCH more important than our differences.  Let us remember Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John’s Gospel: “…that they may be one as we are one.”

So, a set of questions: What do you think?  Are you hopeful?  Pessimistic?

Suggested next click: Back to the In the News home page

Noll, Ch. 6: The Great Schism (1054 CE)

Chapter 6 may have come as a bit of a surprise to you, in that this event is not one that most of us “feel” every day – or every Sunday. The eastern and western churches have been divided for so long – nearly 1,000 years! – that we hardly notice the breach. It’s like when there was a family fight a couple of generations in the past; we know that there are long-lost cousins out there somewhere, and we hope that things are well with them, but we don’t miss them.

However, this chapter is an important part of the book, and an important part of our learning about church history, because this is where Noll teaches us about what we often call “Eastern Orthodox Christianity.” (Side note: “Eastern” is relative. If you were in Japan, they would properly be the “Western Orthodox.” Let’s just call them the “Orthodox,” since that’s what they call themselves.) As Noll says, the breach between East and West traces back quite early in church history, not least in matters of language, and then later in matters of culture, church organization, and worship. We tend to talk about the sad events of 1054 as a turning point merely because it made things official; it’s sort of like when a married couple has been estranged for a long time, but it’s only when the divorce decree is signed that it’s really final.

You may have been glad to know that there have been efforts at reconciliation, most recently in the last 50 years, especially with the pontificate of John Paul II. You may also have been excited to learn more about Christianity in Russia; many contemporary individuals still think of Russia as communist and godless, but this has actually been only a recent development. And then, you may have been dismayed to learn about some of the sad chapters of this part of our history, like the sack and occupation of Constantinople starting in 1204. (By the way, that episode really is one of the darkest ones in all of Christian history. It’s repugnant enough when we have done things like that to people of other faiths. But when we’ve done it to people of our own faith – to members of our own family? There are few words to describe the emotions that arise.)

In case you’d like to read the actual “bull of excommunication,” you can find it here:

Here are a few issues/questions to discuss on the chapter:

  1. The Great Schism, unhealed for over a millennium, had as much (or even more) to do with the personalities of leaders as matters of doctrine. Is it inevitable that strong personalities will divide churches? What value, if any, is there in preserving these divisions persisting after the deaths of those influential leaders?
  2. In the late Middle Ages, there were strong attempts on the part of the church hierarchy to reunite the Eastern and Western churches, but these efforts were ultimately rejected by the Eastern lay-people. Do you think today that the views of “ordinary pew-sitters” can mitigate the effectiveness of progressive efforts by leaders? Is there an appropriate role for church leadership to override the opinion of the laity for a greater good? Should, alternatively, a democratic principle reign in the church?
  3. Eastern Orthodoxy for much of its history as a distinct church has been “mostly separated from current affecting other Christians” (p. 125). Other Christian traditions have developed largely, if not exclusively, in isolation from the broader body of the church (i.e., Churches of Christ, Anabaptist churches). What are the benefits and detriments of this kind of isolation?
  4. In the 1200’s, Western Crusaders did great evil against Eastern Christians. The Crusades have made dialogue difficult, at times impossible, between East and West ever since. Is there a “statute of limitations” on fallout between descendants of old crimes? In America, racial relations are affected by the history of slavery. Is a few hundred years enough to heal the breach by these crimes against humanity? Is over a thousand years enough to forgive the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders? Are some crimes (i.e., the Holocaust) so great that reconciliation is not a realistic option?
  5. A major theological dividing point between the East and the West was the “filioque” clause. How do you respond to this theological debate? Is it a pressing issue or a “disputable matter?” How might your reaction be shaped by your own religious background, particularly if it was a non-creedal tradition?
  6. The acceptance of Orthodoxy in Russia changed the history of this ecclesiastical tradition. How might the demographic shifts in modern Christianity (to Africa, Asia and Latin America, away from Europe and European-descendants) shape the future of global Christianity? How is it already doing so, to your knowledge?

Credit for image of Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew:

Suggested next click: Chapter 7