The History of Christianity

Portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de’ Medici and Luigi de’ Rossi. (Credit: Raphael / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Excerpt from When God Speaks for Himself: The Words of God You’ll NEVER Hear in Church or Sunday School, by Mark Tier and George Forrai (Inverse Books, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Mark Tier.

From Chapter 9: “Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburger” — Mark Twain

The History of Christianity

The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason by Charles Freeman tells the story of how Christianity, hand-in-hand with the power of the State once the Emperor Constantine made it an official religion of the Roman Empire, caused the suppression of reason, science and knowledge. All other religions, including Christian sects which refused to follow the church-state line, were now deemed heretical and violently suppressed with the full force of Roman law.

The result: Europe entered the “Dark Ages” until Greek thought was rediscovered with the invasion of Muslim Spain in the eleventh century. The consequent retreat of Christianity in the face of reason — and how and why it happened — is chronicled in The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, by Toby E. Huff.

Arab scholars preserved and extended Greek thought — yet Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras and other Greek thinkers had no impact in the Islamic or Byzantine Empires (where the language of Aristotle was the language of everyday life).

Huff exhaustively establishes the reasons why western Europe was different. There were many factors, the most significant being:

The Christian doctrine of free will, and the corollary that man has a conscience, which has no counterpart in Islam. In Christianity, the human being is free to choose his own destiny — admittedly, between the narrow choices of heaven or hell. A corollary is the principle of secondary causation: when you hit the white billiard ball which strikes a red one, the movement of the red ball is caused (secondarily) by the action of the white. In Islam, there is no secondary causation: everything, including the movement of the red billiard ball, is caused by Allah.

The separation of state and church: After the collapse of the western Roman Empire, Europe still had its monopoly Catholic church, centered in Rome, which was occasionally divided by dissension; but political power was fragmented between dozens of kingdoms and tiny principalities. Thus, temporal and spiritual power were separated, and competed for power. In Islam (and the Byzantine Empire) the Caliph was the ruler of both church and state, and the law of the state was the law of the church, and vice versa.

The “universitas” and the rediscovery of Roman Law: The rediscovery of Roman Law led to the idea of regular, universal laws, the codification of civil and canon (church) law, and the universitas, or corporation. Unlike today’s corporation, the universitas was a cross between a guild and a mini-state: it could make laws binding its members which had equal force with the laws of the state and church. One profession that established the universitas was that of teachers, the result being the University, which became yet another center of power, jealously guarding its legal privileges against both church and state. No equivalent to the flourishing universities of Oxford, Paris, and Bologna existed anywhere else on earth. They became transmitters of knowledge: a certificate from one university was recognized by others. In the Islamic world, a student could learn from an individual teacher, but if he changed teachers he would usually have to begin again. In any event, to Muslims everything was (and still is) to be found in the Koran, so any other source of knowledge was seen to be unnecessary, if not dangerous to the health of state and society. Such independent scholars as did exist did so on sufferance, or thanks to the (usually temporary) protection of a relatively-open-minded ruler.

The European universities of the time offered just four courses: Natural Philosophy (mainly Aristotle), Medicine, Law, and Theology. Natural Philosophy was the prerequisite for any of the other three schools. One result: Catholic theologians were all steeped in the methods of reason they learned studying the Greek philosophers. The greatest of these was Thomas Aquinas who, so to speak, turned Augustine on his head. (Another consequence, the reaction, was the Inquisition.)

This is a very abbreviated summary of just a few of the highlights of Toby Huff’s work. If you read just one other book related to our subject, I highly recommend this one.

Aristotle’s Children by Richard E. Rubenstein also analyzes the intellectual revolution the Greeks wrought (via the Arabs) on western civilization, focusing on the turmoil it caused within the church; and Edward Grant’s The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages shows how the roots of modern science began not with Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, and the Renaissance but with the influx of Greek thought in the eleventh century — and that the seeds of a revival of reason had sprouted even earlier.

Excerpted from When God Speaks for Himself by Mark Tier and George Forrai. Copyright © Mark Tier and Pronto Express, 2010. All rights reserved.

Mark TierMark Tier, an Australian based in Hong Kong, started writing when he was 14 – and hasn’t stopped since. His first work, Understanding Inflation, was a bestseller in his native Australia in 1974. That was followed by The Nature of Market Cycles, How To Get A Second Passport, and The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffett & George Soros, which has been published in 3 English (New York, London, & Hong Kong) and 11 other-language editions. Once labelled “the Eclectic Investor” for his wide range of interests, he co-edited two science fiction anthologies which won a Prometheus Award in 2005, an analysis of Christianity, When God Speaks for Himself, and a political thriller, Trust Your Enemies. His website is

Steven Pinker | The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Animated map shows how Christianity spread around the world

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