Christ Book Critique
Everett Ferguson’s book Church History, Volume One: from Christ to Pre-Reformation explores the relationship between the church and secular historical events. Since the inception of the Christian religion, those in positions of leadership have utilized the faith in the religion to extend power to the followers, often coming into conflict with secular leaders such as kings and queens. The book covers an extended period of time and deals thoroughly with the various struggles of the Christian religion and specifically the Catholic Church. The book also explains the writing of the Christian Bible and explains the ways that the religion spread until it eventually became the most influential belief practice in the western world. In the text, the author makes several arguments regarding this dynamic which deal with specific periods in Christian history including the first rise of Christianity in the waning Roman Empire, the growth of the papacy as the supreme power in the Christian religion, and finally the conflicts that arose between Christians and other religions, particularly Muslims and people of the Jewish faith.
The rise of Christianity, according to Ferguson had less to do with a true conversion of faith and far more to do with a desire to increase political power. The Roman Empire had been the preeminent power in the world for a long time when Christianity began to have an impact on the society. More and more people were becoming interested in the monotheistic religion and were shying away from the Roman religion with its many Gods and hedonistic mythology. The conversion of the populous was what led Roman leaders to accept the new faith, rather than an individual change to the belief system. Rather than a theological issue, the conversion to Christianity was in fact political (Ferguson 2005, 88). Ferguson is not the first person to put forth this theory about Roman conversion, but he does provide factual data concerning the declination of the political power of those who help onto Roman polytheism. It is possible that the leaders of Rome became interested in Christianity in the centuries following Christ’s crucifixion, but the political aspect cannot be ignored.
The Pope is the established leader of the Catholic Church. Within the religion, no word is considered about his own as it is believed that he speaks directly to God and thus his word is that of God (Ferguson 2005, 39). When Christianity became the preeminent religion in the western world following the fall of Rome and the individual sovereignty of the new countries, there was a conflict between which leader had the primary authority, the king or queen of the nation or the Pope. Ferguson states that it was not until the Middle Ages and the rise of the serfdom that kingdoms became aware of a sense of nationalism. Before that time, they defined themselves as Christians rather than members of a national population. However, with the rise of the medieval system and the condensation of land into established nation states, people began to redefine themselves as citizens of a country first and members of a religious system second.
Finally, Ferguson makes an interesting point about the ways the Christians interacted with people from other religions, particularly Muslims and Jews, is counter to the teachings of that belief system. The Crusades are an example of the hypocrisy inherent in Christianity vs. The actions of supposedly Christian people (Ferguson 2005, 415). During that period, armed persons acting on the behalf of the Christian church invaded the Holy Land in order to take Jerusalem away from the Muslims who were living there, claiming dominion based on their religion. In doing this, the Christian soldiers killed men, women, and children of both the Islamic and Jewish faiths. It becomes evident that the religious principle behind the action was not as stated by the papacy. The intention was not only to reclaim the Holy Land from people the Christian Church deemed to be unworthy, but also to eradicate large numbers of people from opposing religions.
Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: from Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005)
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