Essay: Christianity’s influence on state affairs

In this chapter, an analysis of different historical events will be made in order to emphasize Christianity’s influence on state affairs ‘ their political decisions, their foreign relations, their treatment of their own citizens. Christianity played an important role throughout history, not only because of its reach towards individuals, but because of its significant say in policy making, and this chapter will bring proof to that extent, analysing first Europe’s history, and then that of the United States of America.
1.1 Europe
Before Christianity, Europe was dominated by different religions and their many deities ‘ from the Greek and Roman Gods, to the Norse ones. The Trojan War, for instance, is said to have had its roots in a disagreement between gods, a disagreement made worse by Paris, the prince of Troy, when he chose one goddess to be the most beautiful, spiting the others .
Soon enough, however, all these other religions had faded and Christianity had not only entered Europe, it had come to be the dominant religion. A look at how this came to be will now be taken, analyzing how Christianity spread throughout Europe, how it flourished beginning with the Emperor Constantine, how kings and Popes fought for dominance and power, how Christianity affected state relations during the Great Schism, the Crusades and the Western Schism, how Moscow became the Third Rome, how the Reformation and then the Enlightenment shaped Europe, and finally, how Communism suppressed Christianity, only to have it play an important role in its demise in Poland.
Christianity, influenced by the Hebrew Bible, diaspora Judaism and Hellenistic Judaism, began as a Jewish movement in the Roman province of Judea. It was protected by Judaism at first, as it was considered an illicit religion in the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the disagreements between the Jews who believed Jesus to be the Messiah, and those who did not, forced the Christian community away from the temple and into Europe.
The spread of Christianity was influenced by several factors. The dispersion of the Jews in Asia Minor and the Roman Empire at that time was one important factor. Christian Apostles began ‘proclaiming the word of God in the synagogues of Jews’ and thus ended up across the Empire. Another factor was the pax romana ‘ a peace which had suppressed robbery and piracy along Roman roads, which enabled trade and communication among the Roman provinces and thus offered Christian missionaries a way to travel safely. The law permitted citizens to move freely inside the Empire, an aspect which further propelled the spread of Christianity, alongside the fact that the common language of trade and diplomacy in the Mediterranean was the Greek language, Koin??. This meant Christians could spread their faith in areas quicker, without having to spend time learning new languages.
More and more people in Europe became Christian. In Greece, for instance, the Gentiles who had found the monotheism of Judaism appealing, but whose conversion to Judaism had been seen to have drawbacks ‘ ‘male circumcision, obedience to ritual and dietary laws’ ‘ turned to Christianity. The marginalized, the poor, and the women, too, had soon seen the potential of becoming Christian, as the religion promised there would be ‘no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).
The Roman Empire targeted Christians at that time, trying to get them to denounce their faith. In 302, during Diocletian’s rule, the ‘Great Persecution’ began. Being in favor of rigidity, uniformity and authoritarianism, Diocletian saw the Christians’ refusal to follow one of his orders as deserving punishment. He had the priests arrested, their sacred books destroyed, and many killed. Some renounced their beliefs in order to avoid being executed. Most, however, stuck to their faith and the church used their ‘horrific deaths’ as ‘a standard of behavior and resistance to imperial authority’because it was an official government-initiated attempt to stamp out the religion.’
This was the first example of how Christianity influenced a state’s decisions (in this case, the decisions of an empire ‘ the Roman one). A ruler actively tried to kill off his citizens in order to eradicate this religion. His actions were not successful and, instead, he provided the church with martyrs it could use to further its cause.
Diocletian abdicated 3 years after starting these attacks and, with Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, the persecutions stopped. Under Constantine’s rule Christianity became an accepted and influential religion in the Roman Empire. His 313 Edict of Milan granted Christians ‘freedom of worship’ in the Empire, as well as restoring church property taken during the persecutions, and adding to that property the lands of those who had died without an heir. The clergy had ‘immunity from various civil responsibilities and bishops were provided imperial support for travel and administration’ . Constantine renamed the city of Byzantium after himself and, in 330, made Constantinople the ‘New Rome’.
Thus, one ruler’s preference for Christianity had led to the religion’s expansion ‘ its influence truly began to grow. It no longer held only the support of common people, but that of important political figures. It gained land and its priests had certain advantages, as well as a say in decision-making. This particular aspect, the power to impact state affairs, began to be contested, however, as rulers and Popes fought over who had more control. Three conflicts will be mentioned in the following paragraphs, in order to understand the fact that these were cases where Christianity displayed its impact ‘ it asked, and in some cases, fought for power, even though the kings wanted the Church to have less control in their states.
The ‘Great Charter of the Medieval Papacy’, for instance, distinguished between the power of the state and the power of the Church, using the distinction in the Roman law between executive and legislative power, with the latter being above the former. To Gelasius, Pope between 492 and 496, who created this ‘Charter’, the Church had legislative power, while the secular had the executive one. From his point of view, the Church’s power was above that of the state and the two entities were separate ‘ this being stated so that the emperor could be kept out of its affairs. Emperors did not agree and tensions arose.
This meant that Christianity’s rules were above those of states and emperors had no basis to object to this. They could not, according to the Charter, interfere in church affairs, and this stipulation did not meet their own expectations. The next example shows how this situation got over-turned, with the emperors and kings gaining more power in the ever-present struggle for control between church and state.
Otto the Great used the church so he could expand the German monarchy. He had been refused the imperial crown in 951, but was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in 962 once the Pope asked Otto for protection. The Pope wanted Otto to be the military protector of the church, but instead, Otto had the people he conquered swear allegiance to him. Enraged, the Pope started a revolt in Rome. Otto ended the revolt, deposed the Pope, appointed a successor and ‘inserted into the papal oath of election an oath of obedience to the emperor’ ‘ the Ottonianum. For nearly a hundred years, emperors intervened in papal affairs because of this. As a result, between 955 and 1057 there were ’25 Popes, 12 by imperial appointment and the rest by Roman aristocracy, five of whom were deposed by emperors’. Moreover, in an attempt to stop the Roman influence of the Christian Church, the German King Henry III appointed three Popes during his reign, all German. His choices led to an age of papal reform which gave emperors and kings less room for intervention, thus keeping their input more or less away from the affairs of the church.
The emperors therefore had tried to make the church more pliant to their designs, using its impact to further their own agenda, inserting their influence into that of Christianity. They succeeded for a while, but the church took back some of the control.
In England the quarrel between kings and church spanned centuries. In 1066, William refused to accept the Pope as ‘his feudal lord’, creating instead his own bishops. The Archbishop he appointed refused to bless the new bishops created by Henry I, once William had died and in the end, the king agreed that only the church could create bishops. Henry, however, delayed the appointment of a new archbishop for five years so he could benefit from the wealth of the church . It was not only the political influence of the church Henry sought, but its economic advantages. Christianity was not only a means to gain control over people for the king, but a way to finance his campaigns. In 1162, Thomas Becket was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and the king at that time, Henry II, hoped he would help him bring the church under his control. Thomas escaped England and four knights killed him on the altar steps of a cathedral, the king being forced to ask for the Pope’s forgiveness for this crime. He was whipped by monks in return. The Pope used this event to take back some of the Church’s privileges. This shows that even the king, the highest authority in a state, had to obey the command of the Pope. The next struggle will exemplify what happened when the king did not heed the Pope’s wishes. In 1209, King John, highly unpopular among his nobles because of his greed, fought with the Pope over who should be archbishop. The Pope in retaliation closed every church in the country and called on the French king to invade England. Five years later, John gave in and accepted the Pope’s choice, proving that the church had an important say in political affairs, and that, should its wishes be disregarded, it could go as far as calling for a military invasion of a country.

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