Return to AOCI     Click to print this page

History of Christianity
From the "Middle Ages" to the "Great Awakenings"
by Dr. Denis O'Callaghan, Ph.D., Th.D., D.Litt., D.Phil., D.D.
Dr. Linda Smallwood, BBS, M.Min., D.Min.


In This Lesson
The Church in the "Middle Ages" | Early Middle Ages | Ecumenical Councils
High & Late Middle Ages | Controversy, Crusades & Inquisition | Crusades | Investiture Controversy
Medieval Inquisition | A New Land and Reformations | Protestant Reformation | Council of Trent
Religious Wars | Great Awakenings | Categories within Christendom


The Church in the "Middle Ages" (476-1520)
The transition into the Middle Ages was a gradual and localized process. Rural areas became power centers while cities declined. Although a greater number of Christians remained in the East [Greek areas], important developments were underway in the West [Latin areas] and each took on distinctive shapes. The Popes in the West were forced to adapt to drastically changing circumstances. Maintaining only nominal allegiance to the Emperor, they had to negotiate balances with the "barbarian rulers" of the former Roman provinces. In the East the Church maintained its structure and character and evolved more slowly.

Byzantine Iconoclasms
Following a series of heavy military reverses against the Muslims in the early 8th century, iconoclasm became a divisive issue. "Iconoclasm" refers to the prohibition and destruction of images used in religious worship.

In the 720s the Byzantine Emperor Leo III banned the pictorial representation of Christ, saints, and biblical scenes. In the West, Pope Gregory III held two synods [councils] at Rome and condemned Leo's actions. The Byzantine Iconoclast Council at Hieria in 754 ruled that holy portraits were heretical. The movement destroyed much of the Christian church's early artistic history. The iconoclastic movement itself was later defined as heretical in 787 under the Seventh Ecumenical council in Nicaea.1

Early Middle Ages
Christianity has been an important part of the shaping of Western civilization, at least since the 4th century. With the Roman Empire's decline and eventual fall, the Papacy became more a political player than a religious one. This was first visible in Pope Leo's diplomatic dealings with the Huns and Vandals. The Church also entered into a long period of missionary activity and expansion, also spreading among the Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic peoples as well as the Hungarians and Baltic peoples.

Monasticism Reforms
Monasticism2 is a form of renunciation of worldly pleasures whereby one renounces worldly pursuits and goes off alone as a hermit or joins a tightly organized community. John the Baptist is seen as an archetypical monk, and monasticism was also inspired by the organization of the Apostolic community as recorded in the book of Acts. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)

Eremitic [reclusive] monks live in solitude, whereas others live in communes, generally a monastery, under a code of practice and are governed by an Abbot. Originally, all Christian monks were hermits, following the example of Anthony the Great. However, the need for some form of organized spiritual guidance led Pachomius3 in 318 to organize his many followers in creating the first monastery. Soon, similar institutions were established throughout the Egyptian desert as well as the rest of the eastern half of the Roman Empire.

Central figures in the development of monasticism were Basil the Great in the East and Benedict in the West. Benedict created the famous Rule of Saint Benedict [a book of precepts written for monks living communally under the authority of an Abbot], which would become the most common rule throughout the Middle Ages, and starting point for other monastic rules.

Monasticism became a powerful force throughout Europe, and gave rise to many early centers of learning, most famously in Ireland, Scotland and Gaul, contributing to the Carolingian Renaissance4 of the 9th century.

  • The Cluny Abbey
    From the 6th century onward most of the monasteries in the West were of the Benedictine Order21. The Cluny Abbey [in Cluny, Saône-et-Loire, France] became the acknowledged leader of Western monasticism in the late 10th century, largely because of its stricter adherence to the Benedictine rule. In the Cluny Abbey, they created a large, federated order in which the administrators of subsidiary houses served as Deputies to the Abbot of Cluny. This spirit of cooperation was a revitalising influence on the Norman Church [of Normandy — French "Normands", German "Nordmänner"].

  • Cîteaux
    The next wave of monastic reform came with the Cistercian Movement5. The first Cistercian abbey was founded in 1098, at Cîteaux Abbey. The keynote of Cistercian life was a return to a literal observance of the Benedictine rule, rejecting the developments of the reformed Benedictines of their day. The most striking feature in the reform was the return to manual labor, and especially to working the fields.

  • Mendicant Orders
    A third level of monastic reform was provided by the establishment of the Mendicant [male member of a religious order that relies solely on donations] orders. Commonly known as Friars, mendicants live under a monastic rule with traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. However, they emphasize preaching, missionary activity, and education. Beginning in the 12th century, the followers of St. Francis of Assisi instituted the Franciscan order, and thereafter St. Dominic began the Dominican order.

[Back to Top...]

Ecumenical Councils
The Ecumenical [concerned with promoting unity among churches] Councils, in particular the first seven, figure quite extensively and conclusively in much of what Christendom is today. Herein is a brief outline of the first seven in which both Eastern and Western Christianity met in an attempt to reach orthodox consensus and to establish a unified State Church of the Roman Empire. This was important and remains so if for no other reason than the desire for unity in the Church of Jesus Christ. However, the schism [split] among the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches becomes ever more difficult to bridge when all three claim to trace their clerical authority and traditions by apostolic succession.

Not all of these Councils have been universally recognized as "ecumenical". The Assyrian Church of the East, for example, accepts only the first two, and Oriental Orthodoxy only three. Present-day nontrinitarians [those who deny the holy Trinity] — such as Unitarians, Latter Day Saints [Mormons], Quakers, Christadelphians, and Jehovah's Witnesses — reject all seven Councils.

Much of the following synopses is taken from "The First Seven Ecumenical Councils" on Wikipedia. The first seven Ecumenical Councils, as commonly understood, are:

  1. First Council of Nicaea (325)
    Emperor Constantine convened this council to settle a controversial issue, the relation between Jesus Christ and God the Father. The Emperor wanted to establish universal agreement on it. Representatives created a creed, the original "Nicene Creed", which received nearly unanimous support. The council's description of "God's only-begotten Son", Jesus Christ, as of the same substance with God the Father became a touchstone of Christian Trinitarianism [Christian doctrine stressing belief in the Trinity].

  2. First Council of Constantinople (381)
    The council approved the current form of the Nicene Creed as used in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox churches, but with two additional Latin phrases ("Deum de Deo" [God of gods] and "Filioque" [and from the Son]) in the West — except when Greek is used. The council also condemned Apollinarism [teaching that Jesus had a human body and a lower soul (emotions), but a divine mind].

  3. Council of Ephesus (431)
    Theodosius II called the council to settle a controversy raised by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who opposed the use of the Greek term Theotokos (meaning "God-Bearer") in reference to Mary as the "Mother of God". The council deposed Nestorius, renounced Nestorianism, and proclaimed the virgin Mary as the Theotokos.

    After quoting the Nicene Creed in its original form, as at the First Council of Nicaea, without the alterations and additions made at the First Council of Constantinople, it declared it "unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea." This act, in effect, denounced and nullified the changes the First Council of Constantinople made to the Nicene Creed.

    Additional Councils at Ephesus (448 & 449)
    In November 448, a synod at Constantinople condemned Eutyches, Archimandrite [superior of an abbey of monks] of a large Constinapolitan monastery, who taught that Christ was not consubstantial [the same in substance or essence] with humanity. The following year, 449, Theodosius II summoned a council at Ephesus, where he exonerated Eutyches and returned him to his monastery. This latter council was later overturned by the Council of Chalcedon and labeled "Latrocinium" ("Robber Council").

  4. Council of Chalcedon (451)
    The council renounced the Eutychian doctrine of monophysitism6; described and defined the "Hypostatic Union" and two natures of Christ, both human and divine; and adopted the "Chalcedonian Creed". For those who accept it, it is the Fourth Ecumenical Council, ruling that the previous council [see above], which was rejected by this council, as the "Robber Synod" or "Robber Council".

  5. Second Council of Constantinople (553)
    Instigated by Emperor Justinian in an effort to pacify the monophysite Christians [the heretical belief that there is one nature in Christ, not two], this council condemned certain writings by Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople. His teachings included a rejection of the title Theotokos ("Mother of God") for the virgin Mary (believed by many to imply that he did not believe Christ was truly God) and his belief that there are two separate Persons in the Incarnate Christ.

  6. Third Council of Constantinople (680)
    This council affirmed that Christ had both human and divine wills, and it renounced monothelitism [heretical belief that Christ had only one will even though He had two natures (human and divine)], a once-popular and widely-supported doctrine.

    Quinisext Council or Council in Trullo (692)
    The so-called "Quinisext" [meaning combined fifth and sixth] council has not been accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. Since it was mostly an administrative council for raising some local canons to ecumenical status, establishing principles of clerical discipline, addressing the Biblical canon, and establishing the Pentarchy [five joint rulers], without determining matters of doctrine, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not consider it to be a full-fledged council in its own right. Instead it is considered to be an extension of the fifth and sixth councils, thus the name "quinisext".

  7. Second Council of Nicaea (787)
    This is the last Ecumenical Council recognized by both Western and Eastern Christianity. Since the Protestant Reformation, Orthodox and Catholics unanimously recognize it while Protestant opinions on it are varied. It met in A.D. 787 in Nicaea (site of the First Council of Nicaea) to restore the honoring of icons [holy images], which had been suppressed during the reign of Emperor Leo III (717-741). His son, Constantine V (741-775), had held a council to make the suppression official.

High and Late Middle Ages

Schism between Western and Eastern Churches
From the 7th to the 13th centuries, the Christian Church continued to experience alienation between the so-called Latin or Western Christian branch [the Roman Catholic Church] and the Eastern, largely Greek, branch [the so-called Orthodox Church]. These two churches disagreed — and continue to do so — on a number of administrative, liturgical, and doctrinal issues, most notably Papal primacy of jurisdiction. The Second Council of Lyon in 1274 and the Council of Florence in 1439 attempted to reunite the two branches, but were unsuccessful and the two primary churches remain in schism to the present day. However, the Roman Catholic Church has achieved union with various smaller Eastern churches.

Avignon Papacy (1309-1378)
In 1309, Pope Clement V, due to political considerations, moved to Avignon in southern France and exercised his pontificate there. For 69 years Popes resided in Avignon rather than Rome. This was not only an obvious source of confusion but of political animosity as the prestige and influence of the city of Rome waned without a resident Pontiff.

During this 69-year-long period, seven Popes resided in Avignon. The period was one of conflict and controversy during which French Kings held considerable sway over the Papacy and rulers across Europe felt sidelined by the new French-centric papacy.

Two Popes & Two Sets of Cardinals (1378-1416)
Following Pope Gregory's death during a visit to Rome, a politically-motivated conclave [secret meeting] of Bishops elected an Italian from Naples, Pope Urban VI. His stubborn refusal to compromise in office soon alienated the French Cardinals, who withdrew to a conclave of their own, asserting the previous election was invalid since its decision had been made under the duress of a riotous mob. They elected one of their own, a Frenchman, Robert of Geneva, who took the name Pope Clement VII. By 1379, he was back in the palace of Popes in Avignon, while Urban VI remained in Rome.

Needless to say, there was considerable conflict concerning the rightful holder of the papacy — whether Pope Urban VI in Rome or Pope Clement VII in Avignon.

For nearly 40 years, there were two Popes and two sets of Cardinals, each electing a new Pope for Rome or Avignon when death created a vacancy. Each Pope lobbied for support among kings and princes who played them against each other, changing allegiances according to political advantage.

In 1409, a special Council was convened at Pisa to resolve the issue. The Council declared both existing Popes to be schismatic [divisive] and appointed a new one, Alexander V. But the existing Popes refused to resign, now resulting in three Papal claimants! When the Pisan Pope Alexander V died, John XXIII succeeded him. At yet another Council in 1414, the Council of Constance, they deposed [forced them to leave] John XXIII and Benedict XIII, even though Benedict XIII refused to come to Constance or consider resignation; and Gregory XII resigned voluntarily in July. Having finally cleared the field of multiple Popes and anti-Popes, the Council elected Pope Martin V who was regarded as the legitimate Pontiff by the Church as a whole.

Controversy, Crusades, and Inquisition
The cracks and fissures in Christian unity which led to the East-West schism mentioned earlier only intensified between the 4th to 11th centuries. Cultural, political, and language differences were often mixed with theological disputes, leading to an even deeper division.

By the 5th century, Christendom had been divided into a Pentarchy of five Sees [seats within a Bishop's diocese] with Rome accorded a primacy. The other four Sees of the Pentarchy considered Rome's primacy a purely basic and logical decision and not suggestive of any one church possessing patriarchal jurisdiction over the others. However, Rome began to interpret its primacy in terms of sovereignty, as a God-given right involving universal jurisdiction in the Church. Soon, all hopes of equality and harmony within the Church were abandoned in favor of supremacy of unlimited Papal power over the entire Church.

These ideas were finally given systematic expression in the West during the Gregorian Reform7 movement of the 11th century. The Eastern churches maintained specifically that Simon Peter's primacy could never be the exclusive prerogative of any one Bishop. All Bishops must, like St. Peter, confess Jesus as the Christ and, as such, all are Peter's successors. The churches of the East gave the Roman See primacy but not supremacy, the Pope being the first among equals but not infallible and not with absolute authority.

The other major irritant to Eastern Christendom was Rome's use of the filioque clause that was added to the Nicene Creed during the First Council of Constantinople.

    Filioque is Latin for "and (from) the Son", a phrase found in the Latin text form of the Nicene Creed, but not present in the Greek text of the Nicene Creed as originally formulated at the First Council of Nicaea.

    The Greek text reads verbatim: "And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, from the Father proceeding." The Latin text reads verbatim: "And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, who from the Father and the Son proceeds."

    These two differences, together with the Papal primacy issue, have been and remain major causes of schism between the Western and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

    The Eastern Church argued that the phrase "and from the Son" had been added unilaterally, and therefore illegitimately, since the East had never been consulted. In the final analysis, only another ecumenical council could introduce such an alteration.

[Back to Top...]

Beginning in 1095 the Roman Church launched a series of military campaigns in the Holy Land and elsewhere, which have come to be known as the "Crusades". These were primarily conducted for control over the lucrative trade routes running through the Middle East, and establishment of European — not necessarily Christian — influence in the region. However, many historians write that its purpose was for the defense of Christians and for the expansion of Christian domains against Islamic Turkish expansion. The Crusades ultimately failed to stifle Islamic aggression and even contributed to Christian enmity with the plundering of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

Investiture Controversy
The Investiture Controversy, or Lay Investiture Controversy, was a conflict during the late 11th and the early 12th centuries involving the monarchies of what would later be called the Holy Roman Empire [the union of Germany, Burgundy, and much of Italy], France, and England on the one hand and the revitalized papacy [government of the Roman Catholic Church] on the other. At issue was the customary privilege of secular rulers to invest and install bishops and abbots with the symbols of their office. The controversy began about 1078 and was concluded by the Concordat of Worms in 1122.8

The Investiture Controversy was the most significant conflict between the ruling secular and religious powers in medieval Europe.

Bishops collected revenues from estates attached to their Sees. Customarily, noblemen who held lands passed those lands on to their descendants. However, because Bishops did not marry and, therefore, had no legitimate heirs, when a Bishop died the King would appoint a successor. Although the King was virtually helpless in preventing noblemen from acquiring powerful domains via inheritance and marriages among other powerful noblemen, he could maintain control of lands under the domain of his Bishops. Thus, Kings would grant dioceses to members of noble families whose friendship they wished to secure or keep.

Also, if the King did not appoint a Bishop over a vacant diocese, he could then collect that diocese's revenues until he appointed a new Bishop. In theory, he was supposed to repay the earnings; however, the repayments were infrequent and a matter of additional disputes.

The Church wanted to end this lay [church member who is not ordained or does not have priestly responsibilities] investiture because of the potential corruption, not only from vacant Sees but also from other practices such as simony [the act of paying for sacraments and consequently for holy offices or for positions of hierarchy within a church]. Thus, the Investiture Controversy was part of the Church's attempt to reform these practices.

Pope Gregory VII issued the Dictatus Papae, which declared that the Pope alone could appoint or depose Bishops, or transfer them to other Sees. King Henry IV's rejection of the decree led to his excommunication and a revolt by the Dukes under his rule. Eventually, King Henry received absolution after a very dramatic public penance barefoot in the snow and cloaked in an uncomfortable shirt made of coarse animal hair. The revolt and conflict of investiture, however, continued.

[Back to Top...]

Medieval Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis ("inquiry on heretical perversity"), was a group of decentralized institutions within the justice system of the Roman Catholic Church whose aim was to "fight against heretics". It began in 12th century France and was later expanded to other European countries. Inquisition practices were used also on other, non-heretical offences against canon law.

The Inquisition was in response to movements within Europe considered apostate or heretical to Western Catholicism. The inquisitions, in combination with the Albigensian Crusade9, were fairly successful in ending heresy within the Church.10

[Back to Top...]

A New Land and Reformations
The Renaissance11 brought about a renewed interest in ancient and classical learning, discovery, and Christian missionary activity.

Discovery of a New Land
The discovery of America in the 15th century brought about a new wave of missionary activity. In fact, some historians believe Christopher Columbus, who was credited with the discovery, was actually on a mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to foreign lands.

The impulsion of colonialism by the competing European governments and the missionary zeal to convert the native inhabitants propelled Christianity across North, Central and South America, the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

[Back to Top...]

Protestant Reformation
Another major schism, known as the Protestant Reformation, resulted in the splintering of Western Christendom into several Christian denominations.

For the most part, the Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic Monk, protested against and denounced several key points of Roman Catholic doctrine. Others, like Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin also further criticized Roman Catholic teachings and worship.

The movement, which was called "Protestantism" [from Latin protestor meaning "to declare formally"], arose from these very public challenges to the Roman Church. These challenges renounced the primacy of the Pope, the role of culture and tradition in the Church's teachings, the Sacraments, and the selling of Indulgences12. The Reformation in England began 17 years later in 1534, when King Henry VIII declared himself to be the head of the Church of England. Beginning in 1536, he shut down the monasteries throughout England, Wales, and Ireland.

[Back to Top...]

Council of Trent
Soon after the Protestantism movement began, the Roman Catholic Church implemented a substantial process of reform and renewal, known as the "Counter-Reformation" or "Catholic Reform".

The Council of Trent played an important part in the Roman Catholic Church's Counter-Reformation. Whether Trent represented a positive move by the Catholic Church, however, is disputed even today. The primary reason for this contention is because any long-term reforms depended on the attitude of the Pope in power at any particular time. If there was no desire for change, then there would be no change. However, there were some Popes who were sincerely interested in positive reforms within the Catholic Church.

Pope Paul III (period of reign 1534-1549) called the Council of Trent during his 12th year as Pope. Although it would appear to have been ongoing for 18 years (1545-1563), it really only engaged in direct talks for a little more than four years. The reason: Most Popes during this 18-year period did not want to lose power and, therefore, had little or no interest in abolishing abuses that benefited them.

Even though the Popes did not physically attend the meetings, their official emissaries represented them and ensured the Popes' views were always made known. Thus, there was little danger of the Council becoming superior to the Popes.

The Council of Trent clarified and reasserted Roman Catholic doctrine. During the following centuries, competition between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states.

[Back to Top...]

Religious Wars
The schisms caused by the Protestant Reformation led to outbreaks of religious violence across Europe. This resulted in the establishment of separate government-sanctioned churches in Europe (i.e., Lutheranism in parts of Germany and Scandinavia, Anglicanism in England, and Catholicism in the remaining countries). Ultimately, the doctrinal differences that brought about the schisms led to the outbreak of major conflicts in which religion played a key factor, such as...

  • Thirty Years' War
    The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) was a series of conflicts principally fought in Central Europe, involving most of the countries of Europe. It was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, and one of the longest continuous wars in modern history.

    The origins of the conflict and goals of the participants were complex, and no single cause can accurately be described as the main reason for the fighting. Initially, it was fought largely as a religious war between Protestantism and Catholicism in the Holy Roman Empire, although disputes over internal politics and the balance of power within the Empire played a significant part. Gradually, it developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great powers of the time.13

  • English Civil War
    The English Civil War (1642-1651), often referred to as "The Civil War in Great Britain", was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers). The first (1642-1646) and second (1648-1649) civil wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third war (1649-1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

    The Civil War led to the trial and execution of Charles I, the exile of his son Charles II, and replacement of the English monarchy with the Commonwealth of England first, and then with a Protectorate [associated state] under Oliver Cromwell's personal rule. The monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in the Empire ended with the victors consolidating the established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.14

  • French Wars of Religion
    The French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) is the name given to a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, and both sides received assistance from foreign sources.

    The exact number of wars and their respective dates are the subject of continued debate by historians; however, they agree that the Massacre of Vassy in 1562 began the Wars of Religion and the Edict of Nantes ended the series of conflicts.

    At the conclusion of the conflict in 1598, Huguenots were granted substantial rights and freedoms by the Edict of Nantes, though it did not end hostility towards them.15

These three conflicts are not the only ones, but they are the most prominent examples of events that intensified the Christian debate on religious persecution and tolerance.

[Back to Top...]

Great Awakenings
The term "Great Awakening" refers to three or four periods of increased enthusiasm in Christendom, primarily in America, occurring between the early 18th century and the late 19th century. Each of these "Great Awakenings" was characterized by widespread revivals led by evangelical Protestant ministers, a sharp increase of interest in Christianity, a profound sense of conviction and repentance on the part of those affected, an increase in Evangelical church membership, and the formation of new religious movements and denominations.

First Great Awakening
The First Great Awakening covered a period of about 20 years from the 1730s to about 1750. During this first Awakening, preaching styles drastically changed. Prior to this time, most pastors would read their sermons to the congregation. The sermons, for the most part, were theologically dull and often lacking any great insight beyond advancing a specific argument or interpretation. Congregants were supposed to believe what they were told to believe. Period.

However, many of the leaders of the Awakening were not content to merely engage believers' minds. They were looking for an emotional response — like that which might have been evident in Mary Magdalene when she told the disciples she'd seen the risen Lord.

Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening occurred between 1800 to the 1830s. Although it occurred in all parts of the United States, it was particularly strong in the Northeast and Midwest. It moved beyond the educated and "churched" elite of New England to the un-churched and to those who were less wealthy and less educated.

In addition to a religious movement, it seemed to also foster or spur on other reform movements such as temperance, abolition, and women's rights. Temperance encourages people to abstain from alcohol; abolition was a movement intending to abolish slavery in the United States and the British Empire; and the women's rights movements grew from female abolitionists who realized they could also fight for their own political rights. In addition to these causes, reforms touched nearly every aspect of daily life, such as dietary, tobacco use, and dress reforms.

The second Great Awakening also sparked the beginnings of Restorationist groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter Day Saints [Mormons], and the "Holiness" movement.

Third Great Awakening
The Third Great Awakening began from 1850 to 1910 and was most notable for taking the movement around the world, especially in English-speaking countries. This Awakening was characterized by new denominations, active missionary work, and also the "Social Gospel" [tying the Gospel to social work among under-privileged persons, especially widows and orphans].

One group to emerge from this "Awakening" in North America was Pentecostalism, which had its roots in the Methodist, Wesleyan, and Holiness movements, and began in 1906 on Azusa Street, in Los Angeles. Pentecostalism would later lead to the Charismatic Movement16.

Fourth Great Awakening?
The Fourth Great Awakening is a debated concept that has not received the acceptance of the first three. Advocates say it happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At that time the "mainline" Protestant denominations weakened sharply in both membership and influence while the most conservative religious denominations (such as the Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans) grew rapidly in numbers, spread across the United States, had grave internal theological battles and schisms, and became politically powerful. Most of these organizations still stand today. There is no consensus on whether a fourth awakening has actually taken place.17.

[Back to Top...]

Major Categories within Christianity
The three primary divisions of Christianity are Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. However, there are a large number of Christian groups and denominations that do not fit neatly into one of these primary categories. As you are probably well aware, there are many different and sometimes opposing doctrines and practices among these groups, all calling themselves "Christian". These groups are sometimes classified under denominations, though for theological reasons many groups reject this classification system. Another distinction we have used in this lesson at times is between "Eastern Christianity" and "Western Christianity"; however, these distinctions are used primarily when talking about the Church before the Protestant Reformation and the discovery and settling of the Americas.

I suppose the most revealing and somewhat alarming thing you can say about Christianity is that it has never been a unified movement.

There were many diverse Christian communities with widely different...

  • Christologies [concerned with the Person, attributes, and deeds of Christ];

  • eschatologies [concerned with such final things as death and judgment, Heaven and Hell, the ultimate destiny of humankind]

  • soteriologies [concerned with salvation as the effect of a Divine Agency (God)]; and

  • cosmologies [concerned with the origin, evolution, and structure of the universe] that existed alongside the "Early Church". But then, the "early Church" was, at best, only a concept to guide and indicate which communities' views would become dominant.

I say this, not to deride Christianity as an institution, but to point out that the Church today — whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Ecumenical, Evangelical, Charismatic, or whatever — certainly is not what the Apostles had in mind when they proclaimed to the people, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins," (Acts 2:38) or "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

The fact is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was never supposed to become an "institution". Therefore, I maintain, perhaps rather naively, that the Gospel is not an institution; and the institution certainly is not the Gospel!

[Back to Top...]

Dr. Linda SmallwoodQuestions/Comments?
If you have questions or comments for us,
please visit my AOCI profile page where you may
leave a comment or send me a personal message.
I'd love to hear from you!

1 "First Seven Ecumenical Councils", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 19 June 2012. Web. 11 July 2012.

2 Monasticismn. a religious way of life characterized by the practice of renouncing worldly pursuits to fully devote oneself to spiritual work. In the Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic Christian traditions, males pursuing a monastic life are generally called "monks" while female monastics are called "nuns". Both monks and nuns are considered monastic. Some other religions also include monastic elements, most notably Buddhism, but also Hinduism and Jainism, though the expressions differ considerably.

3 Pachomiusn. also known as Saint Pakhom, Pachome, and Pakhomius, he is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism. The Egyptian churches celebrate his feast day on May 9. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches celebrate his feast day on May 15.

4 Carolingian Renaissancen. a period of intellectual and cultural revival of literature, arts, and scriptural studies during the late 8th and 9th centuries, mostly during the reigns of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, Frankish rulers. To address the problems of illiteracy among clergy and court scribes, Charlemagne founded schools and attracted the most learned men from all of Europe to his court. ["History of Christianity", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 8 July 2012. Web. 9 July 2012. ]

5 Benedictine Ordern. a Roman Catholic religious order of independent monastic communities that observe the Rule of Saint Benedict. Within the order, each individual community maintains its own autonomy, while the organization as a whole exists to represent their mutual interests.

6 Cistercian Movementn. The Cistercian order of monks evolved because some monks became disenchanted by the lack of strict discipline in the Benedictine orders. Cistercian beliefs spread rapidly. Monks from this order were required to eat a simple diet, wear only a single robe, and eliminate any type of decoration or adornment from monasteries and churches. Cistercians did not utilize peasant labor to work their lands. The Cistercians tended to live on uninhabited lands and wastelands. While the Cistercians attempted to live lives separate from the inhabited world, they were so successful in reforming their lands that they ended up controlling vast and productive tracts of farm land. ["Definition of Cistercians", John Cairns Historical Dictionary, np. Web. 19 July 2012. ]

7 monophysitismn. a Christian heretical teaching that challenged the established definition of the two natures (human and divine) in Jesus and instead believed there was a single divine nature.

8 "Investiture Controversy", Encyclopędia Britannica Online. Encyclopędia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 19 July 2012. <>

9 Albigensian Crusaden. also known as the Cathar Crusade, a 45-year military campaign initiated by the Catholic Church to eliminate Catharism in Languedoc. Catharism was a religious movement with dualistic and gnostic beliefs. It was extinguished in the early decades of the 13th century by the Albigensian Crusade.

   Gnosticism is a general term describing various mystically-oriented groups and their teachings. The term derives from the Greek gnosis meaning "knowledge", which refers to a private mystical consciousness. Gnostics claim this "consciousness" is the key to unblocking transcendent understanding [beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience], self-realization, and/or unity with God. Gnostics claim to possess a knowledge superior to and independent of faith, which made it welcome to many who were half-converted from paganism to Christianity.

10 "Inquisition", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 12 July 2012. Web. 19 July 2012.

11 Renaissancen. Renaissance began in Italy about 1350 and in the rest of Europe after 1450, and it lasted until about 1620. It was a historical era with distinctive themes in learning, politics, literature, art, religion, social life, and music.

12 Indulgencesn. In Catholic theology, the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted after the sinner has confessed and received absolution. An indulgence is not forgiveness of sin nor release from the eternal punishment associated with hell in Christian beliefs. The belief is that indulgences draw on the Treasury of Merit accumulated by Christ's abundantly-meritorious sacrifice on the cross and the virtues and penances of the saints. They are granted for specific good works and prayers. Indulgences in the Middle Ages replaced the severe penances of the early Church. Alleged abuses in selling and granting indulgences were a major point of contention when Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation (1517).

13 "Thirty Years' War", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 13 July 2012. Web. 20 July 2012.

14 "English Civil War", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 19 July 2012. Web. 20 July 2012.

15 "French Wars of Religion", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 13 July 2012. Web. 20 July 2012.

16 Charismatic Movementn. The term "Charismatic Movement" is used in varying senses to describe 20th-century developments in various Christian denominations. It describes an ongoing international, cross-denominational/non-denominational Christian movement in which individual, historically mainstream congregations adopt beliefs and practices similar to Pentecostals. Fundamental to the movement is the belief that Christians may be "filled with" or "baptized in" the Holy Spirit as a second experience subsequent to salvation and that it will be evidenced by manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Among Protestants, the movement began around 1960; among Roman Catholics, it originated around 1967. ["Charismatic Movement", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 13 July 2012. Web. 23 July 2012.

17 "Great Awakening", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 25 June 2012. Web. 23 July 2012.


Download the exam and answer sheet in the format you need.
Submit the answer sheee to
We will return your scored answer sheet via email with a Certificate of Completion for this level.

The ABTI Admin office will be closed until the end of October.
During that time, however, we will make every effort
to respond to your questions or submitted exam answers.
Please do not submit answer sheet more than once.

Christianity Timeline