Church History to 1054

This first section is the course given to students for the priesthood at St John’s Seminary Wonersh and covers the period up until the great East-West schism of 1054.

Below are links to each of the classes.

1. The History of History

This covers how the study of history has progressed through the ages and discusses one or two big names. The video stops a bit abruptly, simply because I was still learning how to work the thing.

2. The Greek and Hebrew World Part 1

We discuss how the Greek and Jewish worlds met and interacted, made passionate lurve in Alexandria and gave birth to a vision that would change the world.

3. The Greek and Hebrew World, Part 2

More on Alexandria, Philo and the contribution that Greek and Hebrew thought made to each other.

4. The Roman Empire

This is about the world in which the early Church operated—the Roman Empire. What was it like to be a Roman citizen? What was Romanitas?

5. The Roman Empire, Part 2

Mostly about people in the Roman Empire, and how they behaved and lived.

6. The Roman Empire, Part 3

Slavery, Life in a Roman town, The Provinces, Stasis in the Empire. This is a short class, only about 15mins long.

7. Christians in the Empire, Part 1

The earliest days of the Church in the Empire, especially in Rome herself.

8. Christians in the Empire, Part 2

Early Church organisation; the Didache Heresy: Judaisers (Ebioniites, Elkesaites) and Hellenisers (Docetists)

9. St Ignatius of Antioch

The very early Christian martyr (he died about 110-112AD), and the letters he wrote to the local churches on his journey to Rome to die; the picture he paints of what the Church was like in his day.

10. Marcion, St Papias and St Polycarp

Marcion - the first big heretic, and his teachings; Papias - the man who wrote down things he had learnt from those who had known our Lord; Polycarp - the great bishop and martyr of Smyrna

11. Montanism and Gnosticism

This looks at two rather weird groups in early Christianity. Montanists with their rather Pentecostalist take on the Gospels, and Gnostics, who sought rather too hard to harmonise Christianity with Neo-platonic philosophy.

11b. Developed Gnosticism

A little class for those odd people who, like me, find something rather fascinating about Gnosticism. It describes how the Gnostics sought to distance themselves from Judaism with its God, and how they justified it. Finally there is a lengthy quotation from William Dalrymple's excellent and entertaining book 'From the Holy Mountain'. This is all going to come back to bite the Church with Catharism in the Middle Ages.

12. Justin and Irenæus

This is about how the Church sought to extricate herself from the mess of competing ideas that were being taught among those who called themselves Christians. We see clear expositions of what we would call orthodoxy whose lucidity and eloquence contrast so powerfully with the weird stuff that was so common and popular. Once people have these clear guidelines to understand the Christian sacred tradition, the Church gains a sense of self and purpose.

13. The Alexandrian Fathers 1 - St Clement

All about Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens) whom one might call the father of spiritual direction. He tackles gnosticism by making an orthodox Christian fusion of Platonism and Christianity.

14. The Alexandrian Fathers 2 - Origen

An understanding of Origen is important if we are going to be able to understand why Arianism was to be such a problem in the fourth century. And he's worth looking at in his own right.

15. Tertullian

This father of the Church lived in Carthage, modern Tunisia. He was the first outstanding Western Father (Irenaeus was a Greek who happened to live in the West) and from him we learn a lot about the contemporary world. Sadly he left the Church to join a Montanist group, and hence is not recognised as a saint.

16. Cyprian of Carthage 1

The great third century bishop of Carthage and martyr. There’s something here for those who love history and those who love patristics.

17. Cyprian of Carthage 2

More on Cyprian. Can heretics validly administer sacraments?

18. Dionysius of Alexandria

A very attractive character, a direct contemporary of Cyprian. Two important concepts—both are heretical: Sabellianism (Modalism, Monarchianism, Patripassianism) — the idea that the oneness of God means that there can be only one Person in the Divinity, creating as the 'Father', redeeming as the 'Son', sanctifying as the 'Spirit'. Extreme subordinationism — the idea that Father and Son are entirely separate from each other. Only the Father is fully God, the Son is distinct and has a lesser share in divinity.

19. Close of the Pagan Era 1 - Aurelian

This speaks about the dynamic Emperor Aurelian (270-275) and his tussles with Zenobia the feisty Queen of Palmyra. He introduces the worship of the Sun to Rome and puts the term 'Soli invicto comiti', (to the unconquered sun, my companion), on the coins. He also settles a property dispute for the Christians of Antioch, when Paul of Samosata oversteps himself. The term Homoousios, consubstantial, is condemned as it implies that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are really the same person working in three different ways.

20. Close of the Pagan Era 2 - Diocletian

Diocletian divided the Empire into four, with four Emperors, the 'Tetrarchy' each ruling a quarter. There were to be two 'Augustuses' Diocletian and Maximian, and two Cæsars, Constantius Chlorus and Galerius. Galerius persuaded Diocletian into an all-out persecutiion—the most bitter to date. Then Diocletian, extraordinarily, retired and a new Tetrarchy was initiated, bypassing two talented young men, Constantine and Maxentius, who were to cause a great deal of trouble.

21. Close of the Pagan Era 3 - The Rise of Constantine

The Second Tetrarchy collapses in disarray. Constantius Chlorus, the Western Augustus dies in York and his son Constantine is acclaimed Augustus by his troops. Maxentius seizes power in Rome, while Licinius seizes power in the East. On his defeat of Maxentius, Constantine and Licinius agree to end the persecution of Christians in 313, with the Edict of Milan.

22. Close of the Pagan Era 4 - The Triumph of Constantine

How Constantine moved towards establishing Christianity in a favourable position during the period between the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and his victory over Licinius in 324. For some reason on the Church Services website, 21 and 22 are inverted, but if you’re approaching from this page you shouldn’t have a problem.

23. Constantine and the Donatists

While master of the West, Constantine attempts to settle a dispute in North Africa concerning 'traditores'. This was to lead to the Donatist movement. Back to the debate with Cyprian: can a naughty person validly celebrate the sacraments?

24. Constantine and Arius 1

This introduces the character of Arius, also his supporter Eusebius of Nicomedia and his opponent Alexander of Alexandria.

25. Constantine and Arius 2 - the Council of Nicæa

Constantine, now master of the whole Empire, turns his attention to Arius, deciding that a council of the 'Ecumene', the whole world that mattered, would be the way to sort it.

26. Constantine and Arius 3 - After Nicæa

How Constantine was manipulated (mostly by Eusebius of Nicomedia) into supporting the Arian party, and how Athanasius was dealt with. Finally Arius dies, in a rather startling way.

27. The Sons of Constantine

This is about the three young sons of Constantine who divided the Empire among them after their father's death. Mostly it's about the second son who saw off the others, and then proceeded to bully the Empire into accepting Arianism.

28. Athanasius contra mundum

Athanasius against the world. This is the last element in the Arian section, and concludes with a brief look at the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa.

29. Eastern Monasticism

How the phenomenon of monasticism established itself in Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor.

30. Western Monasticism

Note that this section is a bit longer than the others, about 45mins. This is all about how monasticism was established in the West, with great figures such as St Martin of Tours, St Benedict and St Columbanus. We also look at the early history of secular priesthood.

31. St Damasus, St Jerome, St Ambrose

Three great figures associated mostly with the Western Church.

32. St Augustine 1

Another long one, 45minutes on the fascinating Western father, St Augustine of Hippo. His life, his works and his thought.

33. St Augustine 2

Augustine's last years; his debates over Pelagianism and his monumental work, Civitas Dei, the City of God. This episode is about 20m long.

34. St John Chrysostom

This short session is about St John the Golden-mouth, who said it like it was to the posh people in Constantinople, and was made to suffer the consequences.

35. The Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon

The Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus 381 and Chalcedon 451 which defined the nature of Christ as God and man: two natures in one person, but which disastrously split the Church as a result.

36. Visigoths, Vandals and the Fall of Rome, 410

How the catastrophically incompetent Emperor Honorius lurched from one blunder to another and succeeded in losing most of the Western Empire.

37. Odoacer and the Ostrogoths

This short talk is all about the collapse of the Western Empire, from which it was never to recover in the same form.

38. The Emperor Justinian

Certainly one of the greatest reigns in the whole history of the Roman Empire; this tells how he and his Empress Theodora recaptured much of what had been lost in the West by the skill of his generals Belisarius and Narses, the information derived from Procopius.

39. The Foundations of Christendom

We see the beginnings of Europe as we know it; Christendom was a band of independent nations bound together in the Holy Roman Empire with the aim of restricting the further growth of Islam, which had only recently reached as far as Poitiers, half way up France. This episode is a longish one, about 45m.

40. Iconoclasm

Constantinople gets anxious about having religious images: doesn't the Bible prohibit them? There are two periods of destruction of images, and two restorations, both at the hands of energetic and devout Empresses. This is the background to the coronation of Charlemagne and the establishment of the (Western) Holy Roman Empire. A brief talk, under 15m.

41. Irish Christianity

This describes how the culture of the Western Empire was preserved by the newly-converted Irish who copied just about the entire corpus of classical Latin literature from disintegrating papyrus onto durable parchment, who devised a grammatical system whereby Latin could be taught to those who, like themselves, had no Latin background (and which we still use to this day), and who in their spare time evangelised great parts of Europe north of the Rhine.

42. The Emperors Maurice, Phocas and Heraclius

This is really by way of an introduction to the rise of Islam. It describes how the Roman and Persian Empires utterly exhausted themselves and each other in a cataclysmic fight over the Eastern Mediterranean. A short video, about 15m.

43. The Rise of Islam

This is a long one. 53 minutes, so put the kettle on first. It follows Islam through its first centuries from Mohammed, explains the difference between Sunni and Shia (well, in general), talks about the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates with finally a bit on Islamic Spain, Al-Andalus.

44. The Arrival of the Anglo-Saxons

How some tough guys from North Germany and Denmark turned up in post-Roman Britain and quickly came to rule the roost.

45. The Anglo-Saxons begin to embrace Christianity

A little bit on Wales and St David, then the arrival and work of St Augustine of Canterbury and St Paulinus.

46. The Road to Whitby 664

This follows the conversion of Northumbria under Sts Aidan and Oswald, and then the battle between Irish and Latin forms of Catholic Christianity; we take this through to its resolution at Whitby, the Abbey founded by St Hilda.

47. Saints and Scholars of the Anglo-Saxon World

St Wilfrid, Sts Chad and Cedd, St Theodore of Tarsus, St Benedict Biscop, Ceolfrith and St Bede the Venerable.

48. Anglo-Saxon Art

This was a very rich period for art, and what survives gives us a keen indication of how much there must have been, and of what great quality.

49. The Vikings are Coming!

This is a brief episode (10 mins) describing the horror that the Vikings unleashed on Britain and Ireland.

50. Alfred the Great and his daughter Æthelflæd

This video is about Alfred the Great of Wessex and how he resisted the Danes, creating a united kingdom of England-outside-the-Danelaw. We also mention his remarkable daughter Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, who among Alfred's children best resembled her remarkable father.

51. The Anglo-Saxon Church

This 20 minute video is self-explanatory; Clergy, a little liturgy and church buildings.

52. St Dunstan

Probably the greatest churchman of the Anglo-Saxon era; a great reformer while the Church in Rome was in turmoil.

53. The End of Anglo-Saxon England

This video covers the reigns of Cnut ('Canute') and of Edward the Confessor. The Danes had returned in force and now became the strongest element in England, even with a King who was himself Saxon. But this king, when still a prince unlikely to succeed, seems to have promised the crown to a Norman known unpromisingly as William the Bastard, It looked unlikely to ever happen, but history has her own way of working things out……

54. The False Decretals of Pseudo-Isidore and the ‘Pornocracy’

Not the Church's finest hour. This is about forgeries intended to bolster the Church's independence and authority, and the dreadful state the Church had got into in Rome due to the influence of one Roman family, the Theophylacti. Plus a bit about the 12th century Investiture Crisis.

55. The Evangelisation of the Slavs

This is about Constantine ('Cyril') and Methodius' mission to evangelise the Slavic peoples of central Europe—roughly corresponding to Czechia, Slovakia, with parts of Hungary and Serbia. There is also a little about the conversion of the Russians and the Poles.

56. The Final Split of East and West: the road to 1054

This video is nearly an hour long, and brings this course to an end, or at least this part of it. We discover how the Orthodox East and the Catholic West came apart in 1054 never, so far, to be completely reunited.

For the course on Church History from 1054 until the Eve of the Reformation, please click here.